Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sneaky Feelings

"We don’t pride ourselves on our underground music taste.”

It was 1991 and Flying Nun, the label founded by Roger Shepherd, was issuing a ten-year retrospective, Getting Older, a history of the label to date. We weren’t on it. Sneaky Feelings, who’d made more albums than any Nun band except the Verlaines, and was one of the supposed founders of the Dunedin Sound. The best fucking band on the label, in our humble opinion, had just been officially Rogered.

'You’re writing us out of the label’s history. It’s as if you’re saying we never really existed.'
From Positively George Street, a very personal (as well as very readable and very enjoyable) history of Sneaky Feelings and the Flying Nun label, by Sneaky Feeling Matthew Bannister.

A more balanced view would be that Sneaky Feelings weren’t a founder of any sound. According to the press release to their final album, 1988’s Hard Love Stories, they:
Found themselves somewhat outside of what one of the band called “a cosy little scene” in Dunedin, which had built up around the success of New Zealand’s leading post-punk godfather-types The Clean. Why Sneaky Feelings fell outside the prevailing scene might have something to do with their immediate record collection; as Bucketful of Brains said, Sneaky Feelings ‘drew on The Beatles, The Byrds, Neil Young and Fairport Convention among others, by-passing punk completely’.

Just about all of Flying Nun’s other acts swore their allegiance to either 1977 punk noise or 1967 Velvets drone, and all you can safely assume had a copy of Nuggets. Sneaky Feelings, however, were the pop band. They were also the best Flying Nun band.

I realise placing Sneaky Feelings at the top of my FN ratings is thought of as eccentric by a few friends; about four years ago I was introduced to Roger Shepherd at a Marshmallow (whatever did happen to them? Their eponymous album is great) gig in London and shared my opinion of Sneaky Feelings with him.

He agreed: they were his favourite Flying Nun band, too. Contrary to Bannister’s opinion, Sneaky Feelings weren’t “Rogered”; I think that they were omitted because they just didn’t fit in to the ‘label sound’ or the Flying Nun scene.

But misfits often make the best music. Positively George Street is also the name of a 22-track retrospective of this band with three great songwriters, which newcomers to the band should buy. Oddly, though, it doesn’t include the David Pine composition, Wouldn’t Cry, described by Bannister as “a perfect, complete song”. So here’s Wouldn’t Cry, because it’s not available and it's the best song Sneaky Feelings ever did and it’s definitely one of the finest Flying Nun moments and this is a public service…

Bannister released a fine album, Moth, last year under the band name Matthew Bannister & the Weather. I don’t know about the solo efforts of David Pine or Martin Durrant, but if anyone’s got any tips, please share them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sixteen Again

Saturday night’s gig in front of forty people who knew they just had to be there, proved that if the recording studio is not quite yet the right place to harness The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart's frantic janglepop and explosive punk force, then live their twin-engine guitar and keyboards assault hits all the right buttons.

That’s the basic impulse of bubblegum pop played fast, dirty and gleefully just like the Ramones; it’s the way the Modern Lovers took the good bits of the Velvet Underground (the elated, scuzzy rock’n’roll) and dispensed with the avant-garde trickery; it’s the same feeling as My Bloody Valentine flying close to the sun in 1987 with rapturous tunes and walls of feedback; and it brilliantly recalls how at their best Rocketship fused furious guitars with driving organ melodies.

Very few bands manage to transport their wild spirit and the legacy of their trailblazing heroes into something this special. At their best – which live was the entire set – they make you feel sixteen again. Or what being sixteen is meant to feel like. It’s here I must turn to Pete Shelley, who put it so well:
Things don't seem the same the past is so plain
This future is our future this time's not a game
This time you're sixteen again
Buzzcocks Sixteen Again

There was a band called Sixteen Again, who put out a self-titled single 18 years ago. They only made the one ep. It still sounds great. I think, like Buzzcocks, they were from Manchester. Now would seem an appropriate time to listen to it.

There’s still a chance to catch Popbah (as people seem to be calling them) in the UK:
26 Feb: The Glebe: w/ Manhattan Love Suicides, Horowitz - Stoke
27 Feb: The Royal Park: w/ Manhattan Love Suicides - Leeds
29 Feb: Buffalo Bar: w/ Manhattan Love Suicides, Strawberry Story, The Hillfields - London

Monday, February 25, 2008

Edwyn Collins tour

St Edwyn has announced a UK tour at the end of April.

photo credit: Alistair McKay

Sun 20th April 2008
Glee Club - Birmingham

Monday April 21
Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland

Tuesday April 22
Oran Mor, Scotland

Thu 24th April 2008
Northumbria University Students Union - Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Fri 25th April 2008
Manchester Academy 2 (UMIST) - Manchester

Tue 29th April 2008
Shepherds Bush Empire - London

Tickets can be bought here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Evangelist

I was fortunate to receive a copy of Robert Forster’s new album, The Evangelist, his first solo album in 11 years, last week. There are 10 songs:

If It Rains
Forster has obviously not got "out of folk and into rare groove"; the opener sets a sombre tone – complete with thunderstorm sound effects – but offers relief that although having the same production team as The Go-Betweens’ final album, Oceans Apart, it isn’t going to suffer from that album’s weak standing.

I know that many people celebrate The Go-Betweens’ ninth album, Oceans Apart, as a classic, but to my ears it’s almost as bad as their first album, Send Me A Lullaby. Both Robert and Grant were ruefully aware that their “odd numbered” albums were less artistically successful than their even numbered.

Of course, The Evangelist is not a Go-Betweens album; it's a Robert Forster album, with three songs co-written with Grant, but with obvious links to various past Go-Betweens moments.

Demon Days
Co-written with Grant, this torchlight song features a wistful melody, maudlin strings and the refrain “something’s not right/something’s gone wrong”. Hmm. Maybe the song’s about Grant.

Fans will know that in rock’n’roll terms, The Go-Betweens always took the chequered flag. Pandanus captures the vim and vitality of Robert’s Spring Hill Fair songs and, even with this more downbeat take, the chequered flag is still in sight.

Did She Overtake You
Robert in familiar mood as he imagines himself playing Bob Dylan’s 1966 black Stratocaster. I can hear a little bit of the Modern Lovers’ adolescent exuberance in there, too. A natural successor to Bright Yellow Bright Orange's Make Her Day.

I asked Forster at the time of release about the similarities between Maker Her Day and Roadrunner. He raised his eyebrows and exclaimed: “I know! I don’t know where that came from, because I’m 46 and that’s the sort of song that would come from a 19-year-old. I’m as surprised – and pleased – as anyone.” (slight paraphrase, as from memory)

The Evangelist
A song about Forster’s German wife, Karin:
I took her out of her home
A cabin near the woods
And took her to this desert
With threatening neighbourhoods.

There’s some almost flamenco flourishes on this - if you can imagine an acoustic take on The Clarke Sisters you're getting close.

Following his marriage, Forster claimed that he’d “fulfilled every Australian male’s fantasy by marrying into the brewing industry”. I asked him about this 5 years ago and he dismissed his earlier comment with good humour, saying that as his wife’s from Bavaria, almost everyone there is involved in the brewing industry; his father-in-law’s brewing interests did not in fact make him a brewing heir.

Let Your Light In, Babe
Violins reel tipsily, camp fires burn brightly and country music’s spirit is evoked. This song joyously recalls Don’t Call Me Gone.

A Place To Hideaway
If there were an acoustic version of Liberty Belle, this song would be included. Go-Betweens fans will know that there is no higher praise.

Don’t Touch Anything
That wild mercury sound is back! This time, Forster contemplates ageing and reflects on his maturity to the musical backing of a teen pop masterpiece. You might remember Forster’s comments on The Go-Betweens’ debut single, Karen:
Nineteen-years-old, depressed, nervous and probably distrustful [I made] the decision not to write about Universal Themes, but about my feelings in the bedroom, Brisbane, driving my car and anything from overheard conversations.

This song does just that.

It Ain’t Easy
Co-written with Grant, Robert’s lyrics are a tribute to his soul mate:
It was a head trip it was a friendship
He picked me up when I might have tripped

A sly grin that played to win
We will not see his kind again

I write these words to a tune
That he wrote on a full moon
And a river ran and a train ran
Through everything he did

I wonder if there’s an echo of Head Full Of Steam in this song. I think there is. Obviously, that’s an entirely good thing.

From Ghost Town
The album closes with a simple piano riff driving this touching elegy to Grant:
I hope I get it right as I go on
As I move on it’s strong what remains
For a thousand years it will not fade

There are places he could’ve stayed
But he had to go cause he loved the rain

There were hearts there were places
But he couldn’t love them because he couldn’t love himself

And he knew more than I knew
And I hated what he hated too

The Evangelist is released 21st April 2008. The cover art, above, is, er, interesting, no?

Let Your Light In, Babe will be released as a download-only single by Tuition on 3rd March 2008. The track is coupled with Demon Days. Both tracks featured on the single are 'radio edits'.

Pre-emptive strike: no, I will not upload this album.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Caledonia Dreamin'

This Friday (22 February) BBC4 is airing a documentary, Caledonian Dreamin’, about Scottish pop:

Caledonia Dreamin' reveals the hidden history of Scottish pop music, including how a small record label inspired bands like Orange Juice, Altered Images, Wet Wet Wet and Franz Ferdinand.
Fri 22 Feb, 22:00-23:00 60mins

An hour’s programming does seem a little tight; given the amount of free airtime on that channel, a four-part series could easily have been accommodated in the schedules and given Scottish pop a closer analysis.

Still, treats in store include Justin Currie of Del Amitri (bear with me) saying:
If you saw Edwyn Collins from the top of the bus it was like seeing Elvis. I had 'I love Edwyn' written on my school bag in 4th year and got called a poof.
Stuart Murdoch says:
The spirit of Postcard affected everything that we did. We wanted to be the sons of Postcard.
Hilariously, author Christopher Brookmyre claims that Wet Wet Wet suffered at home because
In Scotland there's an enduring hatred of people who are too successful.
Silly me, I thought it was because they were cunts who made shit music.

Edwyn Collins mentions that he’s fallen out with Alan Horne, who “hates nostalgia” so won’t appear in the programme. His wife Grace doesn’t think that Horne:
…behaved any worse than before. He got in touch when Edwyn was unwell [having suffered two brain haemorrhages]. I miss Alan: he could be very funny, and when I think back, the pair of them were arrogant so-and-sos.

"Ach, I suppose we were," Edwyn says.

Straight after that programme, you can watch more Edwyn in the Edwyn Collins: Home Again documentary:
Edwyn Collins, former lead singer of Orange Juice and a successful solo artist in his own right, suffered a brain haemorrhage in February 2005 and almost died.

Miraculously he pulled through, despite contracting MRSA after undergoing a risky operation, but had to face a lengthy and arduous rehabilitation programme to learn how to walk, speak and play the guitar again. This programme follows him through therapy and back into the recording studio as he completes the solo album - Home Again - that he began before falling ill.
Fri 22 Feb, 23:00-23:35 35mins

Scottish Pop

Isobel Campbell’s reflections on Scottish indie in last Friday’s Guardian were enjoyable but flawed. I appreciate that her ruminations were a personal perspective rather than a sociological consideration of Scotland’s indie traditions, but her perspective lacked a little focus.

Discussing the article with a mate at The Wraiths gig last night, some very interesting points – more due to him than me, I’m sure he’d be quick to point out – were made. Campbell repeated the myth that the west of Scotland owes an enormous musical debt to the west coast of America. That debt, however, is largely owed to Memphis.

Orange Juice, the forefathers of both Scottish indie and indiepop itself, were far more influenced by the sound of Memphis than the sound of, for example, California’s Love or The Byrds; their soul-influence comes as much from Memphis’s Al Green as it does anyone else.

Yes, Edwyn Collins might once have worn his fringe like Roger McGuinn on Consolation Prize, but what was the song Orange Juice covered on that same album? That’s right, L.O.V.E. Love by Al Green.

And yes, what was the name of the band James Kirk formed after leaving Orange Juice? Memphis, of course.

When Campbell writes that, “Teenage Fanclub, too, have a huge affinity with the music of the west coast - just listen to their harmonies,” she’s obviously unaware that all of TFC’s songwriters have made numerous references in interviews to the influence of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, from Memphis’s Big Star, on their work, that Bandwagonesque was as much a wry comment on their jumping on the Big Star bandwagon as it was about the contemporary grunge bandwagon-jumping, and the follow-up, 13, was named after a Big Star song.

Secondly, Campbell ignores Orange Juice’s reconfiguration of rock’s traditional machismo which is the very essence of indiepop’s attitude. While Collins’s stance nods in the direction of Jonathan Richman (from America’s east coast), his primary influences in being “so frightfully camp” are London’s Vic Godard (“for a male group like Subway Sect the idea was to work not with power, but with weakness and introversion” – Alan Horne) and Manchester’s Buzzcocks.

In one of Collins’s greatest lyrics, his whip-smart wit sets out the case for indiepop’s deliberate reversion to childlike innocence, the ‘boredom’ of cock-rock posturing and the rallying cry to rip it up:
You know me I'm acting dumb-dumb
You know this scene is very humdrum
And my favourite song's entitled 'boredom'

Rip it up and start again

Listen to Rip It Up and you’ll hear the solo to Buzzcocks’ Boredom in the background playing during the lines quoted above. Incidentally, a friend’s colleague went on a date with Pete Shelley once. It didn’t go very well. “He just didn’t seem that interested,” she complained, clearly confused.

Thirdly, when Campbell states
Up until this point I had mainly championed the indie-schmindie bands of boyfriends and, as the girlfriend, had taken a back seat. I had always wanted to be in a pop group; I just didn't know that I was allowed to be.

you have to wonder just what sort of record collections the blokes she went out with before 1996 had. Ones with no Girls At Our Best or Dolly Mixture or Raincoats or Shop Assistants or Heavenly or Go-Betweens or Velvet Underground or Beat Happening or Vaselines get the idea...

Cruller people than me would suggest that there was an entirely different reason why Campbell wasn't allowed in a band, but we’ll let that one pass.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be right to let the comment that “Primal Scream...they also had good haircuts” pass without a derisory snigger.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Apes In Control

Many of you will know that The Wee Cherubs’ Dreaming was released on the Bogaten label. The first release on Bogaten was by Apes In Control, who featured Hector Bain, co-owner of Bogaten with Ali McKenzie of the Alleged.

I know very little about Apes In Control; what I do know comes from Chuck Warner’s authoritative liner notes to Messthetics 105, an excellent expoloration of Scottish post-punk treats that slipped through the floorboards. Maybe Chuck will reissue this single – mine you will notice is a little crackly; I do know that he’s working on issuing The Wee Cherubs demos, so keep an eye out on his hyped2death label.

I don’t know if there were any other Bogaten releases apart from Apes In Control and The Wee Cherubs, but if anyone out there has more information, please share your knowledge.

Joined In The Dance

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Denim - Summer Smash

Cause i think i'm gonna come

Straight in at number one

And stay there all summer

It didn't happen like that, of course. Summer Smash was being played on daytime Radio 1 in August 97, the charts were beckoning and the insanely catchy summertime ditty was shaping up to be the most glorious holiday chart invasion until some Hello magazine fare got themselves killed in a car crash.

Summer Smash was subsequently deemed unsuitable during a time of national mourning (me? I was down the pub wearing bright colours, thanks very much). EMI shelved the release and Denim were dropped as Summer Smash was another failure for the band and label. That's the official story anyway.

The unofficial story that a few people "in the know" have told me over the years is that EMI wanted to drop Denim and Summer Smash was the excuse to do it.

Still, you can now
gonna sing along
to a brand new Denim song
about the summer

Summer Smash

And you'd be a fool not to listen to the b-side, Sun's Out. This great number considers a holiday in the seaside town of Paignton on what is laughingly called the English Riviera. There are at least three Devonians numbered among this blog's readership, so perhaps they can regale you about Paignton's charms.

It may help your listening experience to know that this 7" single is pressed on ice-lolly effect lime-coloured vinyl.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Robert Forster - The Evangelist new album

“The album is an emotional and primarily acoustic real instrument feeling album. I want people to be able to lean into the record and feel comfortable with it.” Robert Forster

After the death of Grant McLennan, his writing partner of twenty five years, Robert Forster was unsure if he would ever record again. The body of work he had assembled in their seminal band The Go-Betweens surpassed all their contemporaries in its quality and consistency. Many commentators have pronounced them the greatest ever Australian group.

Yet here, almost two years after McLennan’s tragic demise, Forster returns with a stunning album that is both wildly progressive and haunted by the ghost of his soul mate. It offers a brave and heartrending insight of a man at the crossroads of his life that will find a place in the soul of anyone who has endured loss.

Like its predecessor, the Go-Betweens’ swan song Oceans Apart, it was produced by Mark Wallis and Dave Ruffy at Good Luck Studios in South London . The band consists of remaining Go-Betweens and long time collaborators; bassist Adele Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson. They are augmented by Audrey Riley who provided the string arrangements on the legendary Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express.

The songs daringly run the gamut of emotion and arrangement; ‘Demon Days’, co-written with Grant McLennan shortly before he died, is a spine tingling journey into oblivion. ‘Pan da nus’ and ‘Did She Overtake You’ are lively juggernauts that delightfully reprise the rhythmic tensions of Spring Hill Fair. ‘The Evangelist’ is a wistful cousin to ‘He Lives My Life’ and ‘From Ghost Town’ is a deeply personal and poignant farewell to a lost brother. Throughout The Evangelist is a masterpiece of honesty and compassion.

Robert Forster recently described the album thus: “It’s 10 songs long and is my first solo album in 11 years. In May 2006 Grant McLennan, my song writing partner died, bringing to an end The Go-Betweens. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to make another record but this summer it just materialized. It’s a direct record. I’ve written seven of the songs, and three are co-written with Grant. Adele and Glenn from The Go-Betweens are with me. It’s not Oceans Apart 2 – it’s something else, but with trails going into the past and I’m proud of it.”


Adele Pickvance • Glenn Thompson
Dave Ruffy • Mark Wallis • Audrey Riley
Seamus Beaghen • Greg Warren Wilson
Chris Tombling • Sue Dench • Gill Morley

Released 21st April 2008

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Even More Indiepop Lovin'

MJ Hibbett's entertaining autobiography charting 10 years of playing third support at the Bull and Gate, selling t-shirts emblazoned with the legend that is his very name, interpreting Boom! Shake The Room via the medium of the ukulele, writing in CAPITAL LETTERS, hangin' tough with indie overlord Steve Lurpak, being an internet celebrity and having gurls talk to him because he's a superstar troubadour, contains enough bodice-ripping page-turning exploits to gird the loins of the whole of the indiepop world.

Slightly disturbingly, however, we learn that MJ spent the night with WIAIWYA label commander, John Jervis. John?
Blimey... I wish I could remember ANYTHING... I slept with hibbett...
I feel a bit grubby...

Someone is obviously lying here. Who could forget a night with MJ "indie love machine" Hibbett? John, a night with Leicester Love God MJ, a man versed so skilfully in the physical and pneumatic aspects of actually doin' it, a powerhouse so dynamic from strumming his axe vigorously for an hour a night on stage and then servicing doe-eyed groupies backstage until the champagne and cocaine has run out, MJ "Percy" Hibbett's gargantuan, Herculean thrust would've seen your spleen NAILED to the roof of your MOUTH.

MJ will be taking the story of his Exciting Life In Rock to the Edinburgh Festival this summmer. You can follow his progress on myspace.

Friday, February 01, 2008

More Indiepop Lovin'

Some say that The Bible is The Greatest Story Ever Told. But then there are some who haven’t been following the continuing saga of Crystal Palace Andy Looking For Justine From Kilburn, or “One man's quest to make up for his inability to work his own mobile phone aka: 'How I plucked up courage to talk to a lovely girl, she gave me her phone number but I lost it'.”

Before you can utter Whitesnake’s immortal verse
The love of a woman
The needs of a man
I try so hard to believe
But I don't understand
The search goes on

there’s a Find Justine Benefit gig (relax, Whitesnake will not be playing) tomorrow night from 7pm at the Queen Bodecia pub in Clerkenwell. For facebook fans, there’s a link to the event here.

Once again, good luck, Andy. And Justine, if you’re reading this, do us all a favour or this saga will turn into a Channel 5 documentary Why Indie Boys Can’t Get Laid. We can, you know. We can.