Monday, October 30, 2006

Better Days remembered - ICA C86

I very nearly didn’t go to either of the C86 gigs, but I suppose that’s a risk you take when you entrust buying the tickets to a rampant alcoholic with a short-term memory. On the upside, I missed Friday’s gig, thereby saving £25 on seeing the Magic Numbers. I did see them at the ICA a few years ago around the time Heavenly were signing them; a number of the Heavenly mafia were gushing to me animatedly about how brilliant the Numbers were after that show. I couldn’t see it myself and the passage of time hasn’t improved their standing in my mind.

Desperation to get a ticket for Saturday even had me emailing Phil Wilson, someone with whom I’ve had contact for at least a week, but, almost unbelievably, he had at least 8 friends he’d known longer than a week. Tickets were eventually secured legitimately without any pulling of strings or involving showbiz pals.

Saturday was a good evening, if bloody expensive (£25 tickets – that’s including your booking fee, pedants – and £3.20 for a beer). First up, The Wolfhounds unleashed the most scabrous, unholy, ferocious, screaming noise. There’s every chance a number of indie kids are now suffering permanent hearing damage and calling that gig “their Who concert”; it’d be better calling it just a bit fucking stupid.

Possibly fucking stupid of me to stay right to the end, but when they hit their scratchy intensity full-on they could be quite special. I part company with The Wolfhounds somewhere around the second album, Bright and Guilty, when they were a little too hard’n’heavy for my liking, but up till then they had some true flashes of greatness. It was a rare treat to hear Rent Act, as vital to 1988 as Elephant Stone and There She Goes; as an epitaph, any band should be happy with that...

“No one is listening, but let’s shout out loud to prove that we’re alive!” Obviously Phil Wilson has to start with “I Fall” just because of that battle cry. Later there’s a simpler one from Phil: “Twee my arse!”

It was just him and trumpeter Big John; the rest of the music came pre-recorded – with authentic, shambolic mistakes, according to Phil. Now, I loved their show in that Peckham pub in January; better still – maybe because it was my first time, or just the bigger space accommodated them more favourably – was the Spitz return four years ago. This time round, much as I enjoyed the gig, I wasn’t sure about the hissing drum machine used on the backing track. A quick poll of my friends revealed exactly half for and half against the drum machine.

Still, Phil kept his word to this blog and played Better Days. Which was nice.

From Postcard-influenced pop (c’mon, you can hear Josef K’s Chance Meeting in The June Brides, can’t you?) to one of the original Postcard pop stars, Roddy Frame. Roddy opened with his debut for Postcard – and still his best song, I reckon – Just Like Gold. He followed that with a version of Orange Juice’s debut Falling and Laughing. Two women in my immediate vicinity cried during How Men Are. He can still move people to tears.

It did get a bit showbiz, what with getting the audience to sing parts of songs, but Roddy was a great raconteur and entertainer. If you ever get the chance to see him in a smaller environment – his gig four years ago at St Aloysius Social Club in Euston was my favourite that year; more recent shows at the 12 Bar Club had a warmth and intimacy far greater than even this personal, touching show - then go and don't look back.

As for being a 20-year anniversary of C86 or indie’s birth, this was a fine night, but the anniversary is celebrated - often far better - by events like the two Scalaramas in 99 and 2000, or Track and Field’s annual Pow To The People day. There are others around the country; there are ‘popfests’ in San Francisco; C86 and its spirit lives on in such events.

Whether we needed the ICA to commemorate something so vibrant and living – and at such great expense to the consumer, used to far cheaper gigs, and far cheaper everything (did no one at the ICA see the excerpts from the Hungry Beat documentary where a number of people banged on about the scene’s links with socialism?) – with such profiteering is another matter entirely.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bee Gees box set - great Idea

According to the Official Encyclopaedia of Rock, the Bee Gees invented disco, beards, boybands and high-voiced harmonies. Maurice even married Lulu, a role that primed her 35 years later for a night or two of cross-generational boyband rumpo with Howard Donald (or was it Jason Orange? Ask Lulu. She might remember).

What this official story overlooks, of course, is the first three albums The Bee Gees made in 1967-8 when they arrived back in England from Australia. These three albums, First, Horizontal and Idea, have been given the deluxe reissue treatment. If you have the spare £42 that the boxset is retailing at, grab them now. Otherwise, pick up the originals in your local second hand shop when you see them.

The best - and one of the best albums of the 60s - for my money is Idea. In an album high on drama, laden with atmospherics and wrapped in a quilt of soaring strings and stirring pop-psych guitars, there can be no greater chutzpah than starting off with the biblical "Let There Be Love" and finishing with the portentous "Swan Song". In 1968, The Bee Gees knew no bounds to their ambition, and this remarkable work is the pinnacle of an outstanding trio of releases.

If you're unfamiliar with the album, you may recall Another Sunny Day's reading of "Kilburn Towers" or The Lucksmiths' more recent working of "I Started A Joke". Fine versions both; but if you like those, you will really love Idea.

PS If anyone from the record company stumbles across this, yes, I will have a promo; or if anyone with shitloads of money is reading, yes, I will gratefully accept a present.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Phil Wilson is Paul McCartney

Darling Adorable Paul

If you met a girl who was very pretty but she was only 15, but she looked and acted older and you were attracted to her, would you go out with her?

A friend of mine wants to know.

I love you,

Muncie, Indiana

Dear Isabel,

Thank you for the lovely letter.

I am so sorry that I have taken so long to reply. However, the timing could not be better as I have just split up with my wife (I now realise she was mad from the start, and you should not believe any of the stories you read in the papers about me. Bar the occasional spliff, a G&T in the early evening and an addiction to the WWF I am nothing like the stories she has told).

Now, if you could just wait a minute while I get out my calculator. 15 in 1964? That would make your friend now.......Oh bugger.


Phil was also kind enough to point out that the ICA gigs are not really a C86 anniversary - that link being the ICA's idea rather than Bob Stanley's. All the acts playing next weekend's two nights are relevant to the Hungry Beat documentary, charting indie's birth and rise from Postcard to The Stone Roses.

In return, I pointed out that "Ooh La La" from The Concretes' last album is more than slightly "inspired" by The June Brides' "No Place Called Home" and that Phil should consult his legal team to tap EMI for some publishing money.

Phil also said he was going to play "Better Days" at the gig, so I had to go. I am going.

As ever, I'm still looking for Contemporary Stars of Stature to answer love letters written to The Beatles in 1964 but, as yet, unanswered. As always, Paul and Ringo, if you're reading this, get in touch.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Tobias Cummings and the Long Way Home

One of my favourite nights of last year, for various reasons, included seeing Tobias Cummings and the Long Way Home in Melbourne for the second time. I'd loved them the time before but as I was heavily medicated that first time, thanks to an unlikely sports-related injury (that, I'm quite certain, won't be repeated), I was in greater awe the second time around.

The easy facility this band has with country-inflected pop brings home warm memories of when Wilco really mattered - Summerteeth, you remember - and the almost effortless ability to switch from brooding intensity to upbeat pop marks them out for greatness.

I got talking to the band in the bar after that second gig and, as it turned out, Tobias asked me to write his biography. I did, but then he needed a press release instead, which, after consultations and revisions with Tobias and his label boss, turned out to what you see below. If you haven't had a chance to hear any of the music, go straight to and listen to Sunny Disposition. It's got handclaps. Handclaps are always a good thing.

click to enlarge

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

David Kilgour film: Far Off Town - Dunedin to Nashville

Went to see the David Kilgour film, Far Off Town – Dunedin to Nashville, last week and was a little disappointed.

I would’ve loved to see a film about David Kilgour, to find out why, in over a quarter of a century, there haven’t been more than a handful of Clean records, to have a first-hand appreciation of the post-punk spirit and 60s idolatry that lit the fuse in Dunedin for all of those great bands that found their way on to the Flying Nun roster in the early 80s.

Sure, Kilgour’s record collecting - buying Dylan in secret from his mum when he was 12 – was touched on, but there was no feeling for what came after. When Robert Scott – and I’m still pressing year after thankless year for a baronetcy or some lesser honorific like a knighthood to be bestowed upon the great man – walks past your camera, you’d switch focus and have a word, surely? But no.

This film is about David Kilgour going to Nashville and the making of the Frozen Oranges album in which the cast – Lambchop as backing band, musicians such as David Berman (and I think an honorary knighthood for him will be my next campaign after Robert Scott’s got his recognition) and assorted Merge label signings – talk more than the main subject.

I appreciate Kilgour is perhaps a truculent individual, or a shy one, or a private one. The thing is, this film didn’t tell us which of these he was. All it told us was a few facts in a few interview segments with the subject. The star of this film is really Nashville, its independent music scene, embracing both its country traditions and its contemporary indie stylings, and the clubs and personalities of the city.

If you forget the David Kilgour and Dunedin bits of the title, then you’ve got a more accurate picture of this film. A disappointment for this confirmed Kilgour fan – Sugar Mouth is one of my most played albums of these past dozen years, for example – but great for fans of Lambchop, “alt-rock” and Nashville.

There’s a good David Kilgour film to be made – and a great Flying Nun/Dunedin one, too – but this isn’t it.

The Swedish Beatles

Simon Aurell of Fanfarlo - who have just released their marvellous debut single on Fortuna Pop - has quite rightly stepped up to the plate as a Contemporary Pop Star of Stature to answer a Beatles' fan's love letter from 1964.

click to enlarge

Dear George
I recently read that while you were in America you were asked if you were going to buy any American clothes. You answered, "Yes, only what I need." They asked, ""What's that?" And you said, "underwear, the American kind." Well, what's the difference betweens American and English underwear? Our fan club needs this information before our next meeting.

Thank you,

Joan B,
President, Beatle Fan Club, NYC

Dear Joan B,
What mainly distinguishes American underwear is that it seems to be worn on the head a lot.
Thank you,

As Joan B's been wating 42 years for her answer, and her fellow fan club members must be getting a little impatient by now, we asked a proper American what the difference was. Neil O'Brien, Butterfly of Love, the tallest member of a very tall band, raconteur and gentleman, said:

"About the american kind of underwear, I haven't the slightest. Am I supposed to make a joke? Boxers & briefs. Maybe he meant the kind without any holes wore in them."

Hope that helps, Joan. Good luck with the meeting.

ICA announce C86 festival

I'm sure you've all heard about this event at the ICA. Here are the official details:

Still Doing It For Fun
Friday 27 and Saturday 28 October, 2006
ICA, The Mall, London SW1Friday
27 October: The Magic Numbers, Gokart Mozart, Vic Godard & theSubway Sect + DJs St Etienne and Jeff Barrett (Heavenly Recordings)
Saturday 28 October: Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera), Phil Wilson(Junebrides), The Wolfhounds + DJs The Pastels

Some people have demanded "what the fuck have these bands got to do with C86?" In the case of The Magic Numers, nothing. Go-Kart Mozart, well, Felt were much loved around that time and shared a label, tours and fans with many archetypal C86 bands. Subway Sect - trickier one this, but seeing as musical chameleon Vic Godard is revered as Saint Victor by the grandfathers, founding fathers and fathers of C86/early Creation/Postcard then that booking's explained.

Roddy Frame, ex-Postcard recording artiste, a man about whom there can be no quibbles. Er, except he's got no links to C86. I'd be interested to see Phil Wilson solo, if only because that means he might play Better Days. Um, the line-up's pretty patchy in its C86 connection, really; just as well I didn't "leak" the line-up I heard about in the summer, because it contained the Young Marble Giants, who aren't playing, and The Pastels, who are DJing, rather than playing.

The real reason for this line-up is not the acts' relationship with C86 - and the only act we can really complain about and for my money shouldn't be on the bill is the Magic Numbers - but their relationship with the record labels that are backing the fandango. Rough Trade would seem an obvious choice, but Heavenly less so.

Heavenly, started in 1990, is only linked to C86 through its founder, Jeff Barrett, known to those who worked in the music press in the mid-80s, I am told by a veteran of those years, as "indie Jeff", who - and wikipedia may have a comprehensive biography of the fellow, but this is my knowledge and it's enough for these purposes - after being a Creation Records PR ran the short-lived but estimable Sub Aqua label before launching Heavenly.

But the real reason these labels - Domino are on board, too - are involved is not which C86 or related bands they released in 1986, but their ongoing commitment to the indie ethics founded by the C86 scene. You are aware of Rough Trade, Domino and Heavenly, I'm sure, so I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about whether they are appropriate labels for this weekend.

One other possibility: the press release bumf states proudly:

"Without it, groups like Franz Ferdinand and The Arctic Monkeys would not exist."

Well, get Franz Ferdinand and The Arctic Monkeys to play the gigs, then. Bring on more fans to the C86 cause, catch a broader and deeper section of ver youth of today to the history and the vital present of today by having these headline-grabbing bands (no, the fucking Magic Numbers are not good or popular enough) and have some great bands from 2006 supporting them - if you're stuck for ideas, I'm sure Fugu (France), Sambassadeur (Sweden), Anthony Atkinson (Australia) and Voxtrot (USA), for example, could manage it brilliantly and represent C86's worldwide influence.

Maths and Physics Club new album

Matinée sent over this press release, which may be of interest to some of you. I've liked enormously what I've heard of this band so far; I hope they can maintain their attraction over a whole album.

Hello! We are releasing the debut album from Math and Physics Club on October 16th and thought you might like to know.

You can swipe the album cover, listen to other tracks, find band photos and other information here, and the band is playing a handful of shows in the next two weeks to promote it:

  • Friday, October 6th @ Union Hall, New York, NY with The Envelopes;
  • Saturday, October 7th @ Pianos, New York, NY with The Icicles (early show –6:30 pm!);
  • Sunday, October 8th @ The Elevens. Northampton, MA as part of the New England Popfest;
  • Saturday, October 14th @ Sonic Boom Records (Ballard), Seattle, WA (FREE 6pm in-store performance); and
  • Saturday, October 14th @ Sunset Tavern, Seattle, WA with Boat and The Seaworthies – RECORD RELEASE SHOW!!

Following is more information on the album. Hope you enjoy it!

CD catalog number: matcd042
Format: 10-track
CD release date: 16 October 2006
Tracklisting: 1. Darling, Please Come Home 2. I Know What I Want 3. April Showers 4. Holidays and Saturdays 5. La la la Lisa 6. Look at Us Now 7. You'll Miss Me 8. Cold as Minnesota 9. Such a Simple Plan 10. Last Dance

Highly anticipated debut album from indie darlings Math and Physics Club! The world fell in love with this Seattle band as soon as its debut ‘Weekends Away’ was released in 2005. The EP sold out of its initial pressing in just a few months and has now earned the distinction as the best selling single on Matinée. The follow-up ‘Movie Ending Romance’ was released later that year to worldwide acclaim and proved the success of the debut was no happy accident.The band spent the past year writing and recording its debut album and the results are truly spectacular.

The self-titled album features ten highly melodic songs about relationships and heartbreak. From the first moment ofthe opening track you know you’re in for a treat and it doesn’t let up until the final note some 30 minutes later.The album kicks off with a new indie classic called ‘Darling, Please Come Home.’ The lyrics draw you in immediately with images of fireflies and coals burning low, while the jangling guitars, precise drumming, and keyboards keep things moving. What would normally be a difficult one to follow for most bands is handled with ease by second track ‘I Know What I Want,’ a strings-laden jangler that builds to a superb Softies-inspired finish. Its wings! 'April Showers’ comes next and shows that here’s a band that holds theHousemartins in the high regard they deserve. A sweet valentine written staring out the window at the rain (of course...this is Seattle), it recalls the brilliance of the famous Hull act with its ba-ba-ba’s and jaunty melodies. ‘Holidays and Saturdays’ is the moody one of the bunch, showcasing plaintive lyrics and some violin to match, while ‘La La La Lisa’ picks it back up with the story of a high school crush on a girl with a bass guitar that is made especially grand with some genuinely inspired trumpet parts.‘Look At Us Now’ is perfect café music with its sparse bossa nova beat, ba-ba-ba’s, and violin…perhaps the best Style Council song Paul Weller never wrote? ‘You'll Miss Me’ is classic Math and Physics Club with a surprise rollicking piano in the second chorus, while ‘Cold As Minnesota’ has a bit of Motown/Supremes flavor to it—full of tambourine, handclaps, organ andviolin flourishes along with some very Peter Buck guitar work. ‘Such A Simple Plan’ is another perfect three-minute pop song with excellent lyrics and a toe-tapping quotient that can’t be beat, and final track ‘Last Dance’is a swanky little number that will make you want to dance like Fred Astaire.

Perfect for fans of the abovementioned bands, The Lucksmiths, Belle and Sebastian, The Smiths, or Acid House Kings, this is a remarkable debut that will surely rank among the best albums of the year.