• King Creosote & The Earlies at Band on the Wall Manchester 25/2/2011

    Feb 27 2011, 18:31

    Fri 25 Feb – King Creosote, The Earlies, Withered Hand
    This is now in my top two gigs of all time (the other being The Flaming Lips supported by British Sea Power at Rock City, Nottingham, on the Yoshimi tour).

    Two support acts, the first a singer-songwriter from Blackburn whose name I didn't get, and the second the completely wonderful Withered Hand who performed half an hour of reflective, biting folk pop, despite laryngitis. Thank goodness for Dr. Kenny and his prescription of merocets! Withered Hand was gorgeously assisted by Alun Thomas on drums and Hannah Shepherd on cello.

    King Creosote and The Earlies were beyond all my expectations. I've been banging on about KC to my husband for years, and forced him to come and watch when he performed with James Yorkston and Pictish Trail at Green Man a couple of years ago. My 12th Bit of Strange in 15 Years was a different prospect, all bouncing rhythms, joyous brass from The Earlies and an almost giddy Kenny Anderson jumping and grinning around the stage. A live album on tour, unlikely to be recorded for official release, KC invited us to record if we wanted to.

    "Side 1" of the album consisted of There's No Escape, Collector of Mundane, Trigger Happy I Am, Bats in the Attic and Details. The Earlies parped, squelched and tweeted their hearts out alongside KC, bringing a beefier feel to the normally whimsical but cheeky folk pop. The collaboration seems to be a marriage made in heaven, and I can almost forgive KC from stealing The Earlies away from making another album of their own.

    "Side 2" of our live non-album (after the crowd had partaken of an imaginary cup of tea and creme egg dished up by KC) kicked off with Swallow Dive, with its Proclaimers-esque drum intro, followed by J, Tits Up, This Simple and The B All and End All of That. As ever with gigs in Manchester these days (I don't mean to carp but, really, if you want to go out for a drink and a chat, why pay £13 for the privilege? Just go to the pub.), there was much chatting towards the back of the room. This became painfully evident as the last fragile chords of The B All... faded away, forcing one heroic soul to shush those at the back. To give them credit, they did shut up, and the most beautiful song of the set drew to a hushed and delicate close. Perfect.

    Knowing that Band on the Wall is usually punctual about its 11 p.m. curfew, I didn't anticipate an encore, but we were treated to three classic KC songs - my favourite song off Rocket Diy (Twin Tub Twin), a song I know but can't (frustratingly!) remember the name of (thanks to thenothinginme: it was Space from Kenny and Beth's Musakal Boat Rides), and No One Had It Better from Flick the Vs.

    It had been a hard week at work, and King Creosote and The Earlies made me forget my woes and disgruntlements. Like I said, in the top two gigs of my life so far.
  • 9 for '09

    Dic 21 2009, 12:20

    2009 was a slow year for me buying albums. Nothing much grabbed me. Perhaps this is a sign that I'm getting old. Certainly the words "That sounds just like..." spring to my lips more and more often when I hear "new" music. Anyway, as I only bought 8 albums myself, and had another one bought for me for my birthday, I can't really do a 2009 Best Of, so here's a rundown of what I bought.

    The record buying year started in April with the long-awaited fourth studio album from Doves. After the mixed bag that was Some Cities in 2005, I was a mixed bag myself over whether to get the new one. Kingdom Of Rust, though, was everything I'd hoped Some Cities would be. It's the album I've listened to most throughout the year, and each single or EP release has brought new joys in the form of b-sides like Push Me On, Ship of Fools and remixes by Andrew Weatherall, Sasha and the Glimmers, among others. That it has taken four years for them to rediscover their mojo can be forgiven. Their mojo is a thing to be treasured. Best tracks are House of Mirrors, Kingdom of Rust, Jetstream, Compulsion and Winter Hill.

    My next purchases were inspired by a disappointing weekend at the Green Man Festival at Glanusk Park. Disappointing for me, because I liked it better when it was at Baskerville Hall and was more folky niche. Still, I got to see Stornoway (no album yet, and only one single so far - come on lads) and The Phantom Band, who were both highlights, King Creosote performing with Pictish Trail and James Yorkston, Jarvis giving a last-night-of-the-tour knackered performance, a devastatingly dad-rock Wilco (which saw the band I would travel anywhere to see plummet drastically to I'd think more than twice about seeing them again status), and various other bright new things who completely underwhelmed me.

    All of which brings me to my next purchase, and the album which might just pip Doves to the post for my record of the year. The Phantom Band's Checkmate Savage was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise suffocating plastic bag of musical nonsense. Live, they are muscly and mesmerising. On record they can occasionally miss the mark they're aiming for, but at least they're trying to aim for something. A mixture of folk, punk and prog, this was a debut album to die for. Folk Song Oblivion, Left Hand Wave and Howling are album highlights for me.

    The Rough Trade tent at the Green Man also inspired me to purchase King Creosote's 516th recorded release (he must be somewhere around the 516th mark by now). Flick the Vs is a hotch potch of sounds and experiments, not least a delightful falsetto on Two Frocks At A Wedding. The album is something of a departure from the Anderson norm, but bears repeated listens. Opener No One Had It Better is all glitchy beats and weird synth vocals that then flows into a skittish folk masterpiece. No Way She Exists is joyous and honkingly exuberant, despite the lyrical content. Coast on By also deserves a mention.

    While in the Rough Trade tent, I also picked up Waxing Gibbous by Malcolm Middleton. Opener Red Travellin' Socks is a guitar heavy shout-along bounce fest. Musically and lyrically, Waxing Gibbous is pretty much more of the same for Mr Middleton. Aside from the occasional foot-stomper, it's pretty much the usual sweetly sad and occasionally bitter heartbroken melancholy. He puts me in mind of The Delgados a lot of the time. Beautifully packaged by Full Time Hobby, stand out tracks are Ballad of Fuck All, Shadows and Made Up Your Mind.

    My third Rough Trade tent purchase was Jarvis Cocker's Further Complications. I can't decide about this one. Glam corker Angela is the best track on it. Much of the rest sounds like an old man yearning for his youth. Some of the observations would have sounded funnier if he weren't in his 40s now. While his lyrics have always declared him to be a bit of a perv, now he just sounds seedy. I Never Said I Was Deep is perhaps his apologist track on this record. Caucasian Blues is Sex Pistols meets the Monkeys and the sound of a man in need of a good lie down.

    September saw the purchase of Richard Hawley's Truelove's Gutter. Hawley sounds like Jim Reeves on this album, his deep growl taking on an ever-more transatlantic twang, particularly on Ashes on the Fire which would fit nicely into my mother's record collection. It's a late night album, best listened to curled up with someone you love.

    A birthday in October brought the new Flaming Lips album. Embryonic is definitely different, from its track titles to its lack of internal coherence, and yet somehow it works. A departure from the lushness of recent chart botherers Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi and Mystics, it is a return to their earlier experimentalism. Not for the faint hearted, it perhaps won't win them many new fans, but as an old fan I'm happy to hear their krautrock, age of aquarius meanderings. Opening track Convinced of the Hex is low-fi and mesmerising, Evil starts like a Boards of Canada track before turning into an out-take from Soft Bulletin, and the first of three collaborations with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gemini Syringes, is all electronic fabness and 1969 hippydom. My other stand-out from this album is Worm Mountain, a dense MGMT-tinged track of buzzing synths and kraut drums.

    A nod in the direction of more new music from an old friend saw the November purchase of Wild Beasts' Two Dancers. This is my third contender for album of the year. Lots going on here, including lots that makes me use my old fogey phrase referred to above, but in a good way. Currently stuck in my car cd player, this is an album of Smiths-inflected dark joy, with hints of post-punk. I'd say that Wild Beasts is the band that Editors desperately wants to be, but isn't. Hooting & Howling, We Still Got the Taste Dancin' on our Tongues and Two Dancers (ii), are my stand-out tracks.

    Final purchase of the year is the Badly Drawn Boy soundtrack to the Caroline Aherne-penned ITV film Fattest Man in Britain. Is There Nothing We Could Do? is all gentle, toyshop piano and swooning strings. Some of the instrumental tracks rely heavily on songs that have been and gone before, while others necessarily carry the film soundtrack themes, but the new songs are a delight, and while we wait for a studio album proper, this one will more than do. The man has a voice I could listen to forever, and a way with a tune that turns his everyday-mundane lyrics into pure poetry and romance. Title track Is There Nothing We Could Do? is a pastoral masterpiece and a Gough classic. Guitar Medley is all breathless vocals over a simple acoustic guitar motif that plucks the heartstrings, while Just Look At Us Now is an escapee from One Plus One Is One with added Carpenters and quite beautiful. Other highlights are Wider Than A Smile, with its cathedral like beginning, and tender closing track I'll Carry On.

    So not a bad year, really!
  • Oh, alright then..

    Apr 6 2009, 10:04

    I was anticipating disappointment, I admit it. I was anticipating more terrace anthems and Doves by numbers. I lacked faith in their ability to take an extended leave of absence and come back as anything other than flabby and middle aged.

    I was wrong.

    The rest was as good as a change. Kingdom Of Rust is everything a Doves album should be a decade or so down the line.

    Familiarity with Jetstream from the free download is making me like it more. I like the disco-ness of the drum track. I like the twittering synths. There's even something a little New Romantic about it that reminds me of early Ultravox and Duran Duran.

    Kingdom of Rust drags you back to Fulsome Prison-era Johnny Cash. It's bordering on The Coral with its scousadelica bassline, which I'm trying desperately to ignore. I haven't seen the video for the single version because I'm old now and they won't let me on YouTube with my zimmerframe, but I really hope they're in some mocked up Wild West town wearing Man With No Name outfits. The sweeping, epic, filmic string section demands it. Hmm. It started off cheesy, but managed to worm its way in.

    The Outsiders starts like Godieko's theme to Monkey, all prog synths and mentalness, but soon settles into a dirty little rock number. I hope it wasn't inspired by the weak tv drama starring him out of Eastenders and a Should-Have-Known-Better Brian Cox (not the one I was at school with, not the spacetime one, no - the actor). It takes that lightly groaning slightly buzzing guitar riff that Elbow flirt with from time to time and makes it what it should be. Pure filth. I want to get into my car and drive really fast to this one.

    Winter Hill swirls around inside your brain like the wind at the top of said hill does. A bit of a rough diamond this one. Elements of it are spot on, the twiddly dee synths and guitars, the chorus, the slightly fucked up Magic Roundabout air to it, for example, but other parts sound like they could do with a bit more of a polish. Maybe a Williams singing it would have been a better option?

    10:03 is Doves do The Strokes, in a way. The vocal would fit well around Jules Casablanca's larynx. And then it segues into something Burt Bacharach might be more than halfway pleased with, before veering off into the lush territory normally inhabited by Richard Hawley. A Williams creeps in, in the background, and spooks things up nicely, allowing more Spaghetti Western guitars to thump the song towards a psychotic post punk groove. And then it fades prettily back to The Strokes. Nice.

    The Greatest Denier does all the things a Doves song should do. It makes your skin tingle. It makes you want to run down dirty streets and pretend you're on the run from someone or something bad. It makes you want to drink neat vodka and shout obscenities at chavs. It is dark and angry and sorrowful and beautiful and great and everything. This is what Doves should have spent the last album being.

    Birds Flew Backwards suggests they have spent a lot of their time away from the limelight watching the Wicker Man. This is better than anything Paul Giovanni and Magnet (not the Swedish solo artist, the band put together to record the film's music) wrote to soundtrack Edwardwoodward's descent into madness and immolation.

    Spellbound starts off like a blast from the Lost Souls past, with its lilting 3/4 beat. They're better musicians now and can clearly afford better sound equipment, because this is huge and meaty in sound. It makes me think of summer. I can imagine this blaring from stereos through open car windows whose drivers are stuck in traffic on leafy Cheshire roads or en route to Glastonbury. It'd get you in the mood for a picnic or a festival, for sure.

    Compulsion doesn't know if it wants to be funk, disco, ska or blues. It does know where the heart of darkness lies, though. It's in Jerry Dammers' suitcase. Yes, it is. He brought it all the way from India to Coventry and now he has let Doves have a peek inside. I'd like to see a badger dance to this one. While sipping a daiquiri.

    House of Mirrors is a little bit Siouxie, a little bit 3.10 to Yuma, a little bit steady on, now, lads. It's like James Dean put his stetson on and went round to rough up a fairground. He's looked at himself in the attraction of the song title, commandeered the waltzers already and is heading for the ghost train. Marvellous stuff.

    Lifelines opens with lyrics that sound like they were stolen from the terraces at the City of Manchester Stadium. I almost put Maine Road, then. Goodwin comes over all Will Young (it's a GOOD thing), the guitars chime, the synths muddy the waters and someone, somewhere climbs into a rocket and heads for the moon.

    Welcome back, my feathered friends.
  • Revisited: Badly Drawn Boy/Have You Fed The Fish

    Gen 17 2009, 13:32

    Damon Gough is a genius. There isn't really much to add to that statement, but since I've been listening to Have You Fed The Fish again, and since I've started this journal entry, I'm going to knock myself out by adding more.

    The lack of critical acclaim since his Mercury Prize winning debut, in comparison with the mindless fawning that happens over the turgid outpourings of Coldplay or the idiotic attempts to seem hip and cool by claiming a backward looking bunch of miserabilists from Glasgow are the best things since sliced Mary Chain, is astounding.

    I remember HYFTF being on the receiving end of lukewarm reviews when it came out. The Hour of Bewilderbeast was an outstanding debut, it's true, but HYFTF is a completely different kettle of piscine activity.

    Perhaps the reaction was something akin to the hiss of Judas when Dylan went electric, because HYFTF is an electric album. Not just in the use of more electronic instrumentation, but in the move away from the acoustic/folk troubadour vibe of Bewilderbeast towards a work that fizzes with the electricity of confusion and change.

    Gough claimed at the time that HYFTF was his tribute to personal musical hero Bruce Springsteen. It's a tribute that takes its inspiration from the work of another artist but doesn't slavishly copy it. The power chords, the grunt of blue collar expectation that life can be better than it is, plus the rawness of Springsteen is embedded in Gough's work, but he hasn't remade Thunder Road.

    HYFTF is the Badly Drawn Boy album that is most likely to get me singing along, jigging about and grinning like a lunatic. The romanticism of Bewilderbeast is still there, the documenting of his love affair with his missus, but there's an added edge that comes with new experiences and new territory.

    Gough had moved from lowkey acoustic darling of the music inkies (a status achieved through the likes of EPs 1-3) to everyone's favourite behatted "Mancunian" (with the success of Bewilderbeast) and there must have been a cosmic shift in his life. Feted by the mass media and his cracked genius recognised at last, what other album but Have You Fed The Fish could he have written?

    The album is chockful of arrogant swagger. From the self-mockery of Coming Into Land (that cloud looks just like... Badly Drawn Boy!) to the cocksure percussion and guitar of Born Again, from the lushly orchestrated All Possibilities through the sleazy funk of The Further I Slide to the darkly delicious lullaby Bedside Story, everything about this album is different to what came before.

    Except it's not. It takes themes that have been there from the first EPs and makes the most of having money to use whatever instruments, studio, production Gough wants to use.

    Gough the perfectionist claims never to be happy with his output. Mere mortals like me, listening to his work, surely struggle to understand.

    He deserves more recognition. He deserves less carping from soft-arsed journalists because he isn't constantly churning out his first album (hello Chris Martin) but is growing as an artist and incorporating that growth in his work.

    Have You Fed The Fish is, in my opinion, his best album. It is the most Gough-like of all his albums - flawed genius writ large.
  • Revisited: Del Amitri/Change Everything

    Lug 27 2007, 1:43

    Change Everything reminds me of the year I graduated. It reminds me of visiting a friend who was doing a placement in Coatbridge. It reminds me of living in Preston seven years later and having a neighbour who LOVED Del Amitri. So much so that I didn't have to play any of the albums. I could hear them for free through the wall.

    I can't find a single fault with this album. Okay, so it's soft rock. Okay, so it doesn't break new ground. But Justin Currie has a good voice, and I can only think of two other bass players that I like who also sing. And they're Paul McCartney and Jimi Goodwin.

    Highlights for me are Sometimes I Just Have To Say Your Name, First Rule Of Love, When You Were Young, To Last A Lifetime, Be My Downfall, Always The Last To Know, and everything else on the album.

    I'm just giving an Old Bird shout out for a band I like.

    Wear it.
  • The Mary Onettes / The Mary Onettes

    Lug 15 2007, 16:06

    I'm having a listen to The Mary Onettes. I'd forgotten I had this album, I've been so wrapped up in Interpol and Final Fantasy of late.

    People say The Mary Onettes sound like Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Smiths, and The Jesus & Mary Chain. I think they sound like a-ha doing Martha & The Muffins covers in a Bunnymen style, with music direction from Julian Cope.

    I'd like to see them re-enact the video for U2's New Year's Day. That would be marvellous.

    This is a good album. Stomping beats, atmospheric vocals, thumping, chiming guitar work and soaring synths.

    Void starts out like Echo Beach. Slow is the dark side of A-ha (no, really - I'm serious. A-ha were good. Just listen to Stay On These Roads, or Manhattan Skyline. Cry Wolf, even...) mixed with the theatricality of Kent. Lost owes a bassline and a keyboard debt to New Order in their Movement era. I half expected Barney to start singing after the opening bars. It's a song that's jump-around-good. Explosions starts out sounding like Johnny Boy, all resounding Phil Specter beats, and ends up full of the sentiment of Kevin Shields. It wouldn't sound out of place on the soundtrack to Lost In Translation.

    This is an album that makes winter sound like summer, somehow, and it's well worth investigating. If you haven't been clever enough to pick it up already.
  • Final Fantasy Has A Good Home...

    Lug 15 2007, 11:46

    ...and He Poos Clouds.

    I went to see him last night in Manchester.

    It was amazing. As amazing as last time. Apart from the tossers who spent the entire gig chatting and texting their mates then reading the texts out to the mates they were with. And the tossers who felt the need to do an instant analysis of the meaning of the songs and impress upon their mates that they practically discovered Owen Pallett single-handedly (which would be why the room was packed, of course).

    I seem to have reached an age where I loathe young people with ever increasing bile.

    But anyway. The gig. In spite of the current album bearing a host of supporting musicians, Owen Pallett still plays everything himself live. He's also still funny, witty, sweet and clever. I was surprised at how many songs he played from Has A Good Home. I was expecting it to be mostly second album material. It was a pleasant surprise.

    He was ably assisted by a girl called Stephanie, who performed mini movies on an overhead projector. They had something of the Rick Myers about them. They were gorgeous and mesmerising.

    The best moment, if the entire gig hadn't already been good enough, was the encore. Owen Pallett returned to the stage to explain that his involvement in the Manchester International Festival meant that he had been interviewed earlier in the day. He had been asked a lot about Manchester music and realised he knew very little about it. So to make amends he was going to play a song by a Manchester band.

    He proceeded to perform the most beautiful version of James' Hymn From A Village I've ever heard. Bearing in mind that I've only ever heard James perform it, less than competently, that's not really hard. But this was gorgeous. And it shut up all the twats who had probably only just been born when James first performed it on Look North West (introduced by a bemused Stuart Hall, Tim Boon sweating to death in a ridiculously large woolly jumper), because although their hair was ironically high, they had no idea what the song was.

    The most ironically coiffeured among them later assured their less cool acolytes that it was an early New Order song.

    See? I hate young people. They have nothing.

    Owen Pallett, however, has everything.
  • Revisited: Pixies / Here Comes Your Man

    Lug 7 2007, 0:42

    I know that Black Francis claims he wrote it years before it appeared on Doolittle, but all the same this track is redolent with R.E.M.-isms.

    Listening to it now, almost 20 years after its release, washes me in waves of nostalgia. But all the same, I have to say it's a fairly average track. Listenable. A standard, almost.

    I saw Pixies a couple of years ago. I think it was at V. I felt sad, in the midst of enjoying hearing the songs of my youth. I partly felt sad because they are too old now. Really. Think about it. You know it's true. But I also felt sad because there were people 15+ years younger than me paying homage to them, but not really getting it.

    Still. Velouria is a better track than Here Comes Your Man. And yet it was this one that garnered them a number 3 in the Billboard chart.

    Poor Pixies.
  • Revisited: Field Music / Write Your Own History

    Giu 30 2007, 14:50

    I wrote a review of this album when it first came out. Listening to it again this morning, as I'm uploading more albums to iTunes and rediscovering recordings I'd forgotten I owned, I think I'd pretty much stand by what I said.

    With the benefit of hindsight, though, and with a little more distance between me and the eponymous and much-loved debut album by Field Music, these tracks stand out as being more than just b-sides.

    Trying To Sit Out is better than I first considered it. Mellow and simple, it is redolent with melancholy. The pared down quality that I originally dismissed as sounding like a demo is the thing that makes the song.

    I'm Tired is still as gem-like as it ever was, while Can You See Anything (first heard as a b-side on the single release of If Only The Moon Were Up) is more Sgt Pepper-esque Beatlesish poignancy.

    Current album Tones Of Town has so far failed to grab me. Maybe I'll give it another spin - listen with fresh ears this time.

    Write Your Own History is still a Field Music completist's album, but it's not a bad one to have in your collection.
  • Revisited: Oasis / Definitely Maybe

    Giu 29 2007, 23:23

    What happened?

    I'm tempted to leave it at that.

    What did happen? Other than that they left Burnage, made some money, no longer had that intrinsic anger that fuelled the songs on their debut.

    I was living in Plymouth the year after this album came out. Living in Plymouth is depressing, especially when you're from the North West. Definitely Maybe possibly saved my life on a number of occasions.

    This means I'll always have a soft spot for it, but listening to it now, with the benefit of however many albums it is that have followed it and failed to move on from this basic imprint, it doesn't sound as raw or as good as it did that first time around.

    Live Forever still soars, Columbia is still filthy with the grime of snorting coke off a loo seat, Cigarettes and Alcohol does rock'n'roll the way Primal Scream wish they could do it, but much of the rest of the album is cartoon-like. A precursor of the Yellow Submarine-esque descent into "I Wanna Be John Lennon" later albums.

    Maybe if they'd progressed, if they hadn't continued to churn out that Beatles-lite, terrace anthem sound, I'd feel differently.

    It sounds snobbish because it is, but I'm not your average music listener. I rarely buy the cds that are on special offer in the supermarket. I don't buy into that whole "music as replacement for real feelings" thing that so many people with less imagination than an amoeba do. Oasis mostly leave me cold these days. Including a lot of this first album, as it turns out.

    Too much exposure to the way Liam Gallagher enunciates his words. Too little exposure to the gentle talent that lurks behind the bluff facade of Noel's faux working class demeanour.

    Noel is no longer working class. He ceased to be working class when he made his first million and fled his home turf for the nondescript existence that is living the celebrity lifestyle in London. Liam's just thick. He can't help it. Noel, though, had some talent. He possibly still has talent. Who knows?

    The last time they were good was 1994, when they released Whatever as a single and included Half The World Away as a b- (or maybe c-) side.

    Fleeing Manchester to make it elsewhere is only really feasible if you're Morrissey and you don't play on your Manc-ness as a marketing tool.

    Oasis's failure to grasp that simple concept just leaves them looking like tools.


    It's a shame, because I truly loved this album, and the band, at the time it was released.

    Now they just leave me feeling apathetic.