Monday, 22 January 2018

This Is My Street (Daytrip Records)

No music scene has pilfered the British Swinging Sixties songbook quite as shamelessly as the one crudely dubbed Britpop. Guitar bands decided to stop making singles that sounded indie and wanted to write classic pop again. The movement of wanting to write songs that sounded great coming out of the caff radio and whistled by the postman was triggered by the twin polls of the release of the Beatles' Anthology series and Ian MacDonald’s faultless Fabs almanac Revolution in the Head. It's perhaps then unsurprising that it's the Beatles that were most pastiched. Not just the riffs and the lyrics, but everything from the drum loops to the haircuts and interview sound bites. When Britpop relocated to London, suddenly swinging again and a hub of creativity, it was the Kinks turn to have their back catalogue ransacked.

And of course what a back catalogue it is. The run of singles on Pye from 1964 to 1970 is an incredible body of work. Each record slightly better than the last and each bringing something new, unique and exciting to the party. 1964's All Day and All of the Night manages to sound drum tight and marvellously unhinged all the same time. It was the the first punk single, ripped off wholesale on the Doors' Hello, I Love You and covered faithfully by the Stranglers. It was the blueprint for the pre-Tommy career of the Who. Ray Davies seemed to ooze confidence and verve and each record sounded more sophisticated and interesting than the last. Tired of Waiting For You sounded slightly sulky and utterly terrific. See My Friends sounds like the party described by the kid who had smoked too much pot. The arguable high point coming in '67's Waterloo Sunset. It's not so much the sound of the record but the feeling it evokes. It's so ridiculously evocative ('chilly, chilly is the evening time') that it's like stepping into a painting. It sounds like London in the same way The Drifters' On Broadway sounds like New York and Ghost Town sounds like the Thatcher era in the Midlands.

Still Britpop almost steadfastly refused to doth their collective caps to the Davies song writing cannon save for furtively ripping it off. Only Blur's Damon Albarn seemed to want pay homage, with a slightly too sleepy reading of Waterloo Sunset (a post breakdown Davies plays guitar and looks on bemused) on TV's The White Room. Luckily, Indiepop is not so shy to give credit where it's due, as displayed on Daytrip Records' compilation of Kinks covers This is My Street. And what lovingly wonderful record it is.

Cosines kick off with a sleek, confident version of Someone Stole My Car from 93's Phobia album. It's very bold and slightly glam and drags the song from the red neck saloon to the urban wine bar. It's instantly infectious and beautifully executed.

Slightly more out there is Los Bonsais take on All Day and All of the Night. It sounds like fuzzed up cross between the Mary Chain and Velvet Underground. It's slightly stoned, very cool and sexy as fuck.

Equally thrilling is Picture Book by The Just Joans which sounds all the world like The Fall at their most unhinged with a shade of Talking Heads thrown in. It's really brilliant, slightly piss takey in the best possible way, a tad bonkers and totally ace. Imagine Mark E Smith bouncing on Buckfast.

The School's Animal Farm is a delight, like a Sylvie Vartan cover version-slightly bashful but lovely, all tambourines, harmonies, and fringes. Gorgeous.

I'm Not Like Everybody Else by Sweet Nothings is a proper belter. A twitchy, angry version that captures the claustrophobia of the original whilst bringing it's own earthy slightly grimy twist.

Darren Hayman's weighs with a lovely piano led wistful reading of Come Dancing. It's just on the right side of woozy and impossibly pretty. It ends with a Ronnie Lane-esque jam and would sound perfect in an old boozer after five pints of Best Bitter.

Eux Autres deliver a driving take on A Long Way From Home. It's proper road trip material this, managing to make Ray Davies reflective original sound like Bruce Springsteen.

Stephen Todd's Bontempi version of No Return sounds like Smog at their most reflective. A brave and oddly moving reading.

Little My slightly fey but faithful take on Autumn Almanac is impossibly pretty. It's lovingly delivered with warmth and is delightfully twinkly.

Wendy Darlings trashy Spector-ish take on Stop Your Sobbing is like a gritty girl group, bubblegum picked off and chewed from the pub floor. Wonderful stuff.

Simon Love's pastoral reading of Till Death Us Do Part is a stunner, aching and very very beautiful. It sounds like a what a Noel Gallagher record sounds like in Noel Gallagher's head.

Laura K's breathy and poptastic version of Victoria is a breezy treat. Airy, sweet and rather lovely, it's faithful treatment recorded with real love and affection and will steal your heart.

It takes balls of steel to cover a standard like Waterloo Sunset, but happily Catenary Wires are more than capable and their version is very very beautiful. The vocal ping-pongs from sweet to sour, from darkness to light, from the dirtiness of the river to the brightness of the taxi light. The harmonies are exquisite and and the lend the song a confidence and verve. It's shimmery and lovely and would make old Ray dead proud.

'THIS IS MY STREET' - a compilation of Kinks songs performed by indiepop artists, released by Daytrip Records on the 16th of February 2018 9AM GMT.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Live review: Onsind @ Partisan, Manchester 24/11/17

Fears that my first outing to gig since becoming a dad would see me somewhat ring rusty turned out to be well founded. Finding the venue, Manchester's Partisan, proved something of a mission. After tens of minutes wandering round in circles with a decidedly unhelpful Google map, I finally followed two people who looked vaguely punk and found it that way (it's to the right of the faintly terrifying snooker hall then right again).

I've been, quite understandably slightly wary of 'safe spaces' after being in one in Leeds and seeing a pissed middle aged man call the lead singer and songwriter of the headline band a 'blonde girl cunt' and proceed to kick seven shades of shit out her tour van. Partisan, however, is everything it claims to be. The space is excellent, the sound brilliant and everyone from the bar tenders to the doormen (not quite to the world weary cheerfulness of the Star and Garter bouncers but not far off) are super friendly and happy. The whole audience seemed relaxed and at home. Job done Partisan, job done.

I arrived just in time to catch the last two songs by Zaplain, who sounded brilliant. I quietly berated myself for my poor orienteering skills that prevented me catching the rest of the set. Brighton's Just Blankets cheered me up again, however. Their gloriously noisy set was infectious with melody and good cheer. Set highlight, Short Walks ('How many short walks/to make this place feel like home?/I don't know') can be found on their Like Velcro EP out now on Everything Sucks. Go buy it. It's class.

Onto the tonight's main attraction, the much missed Onsind. Blooming from a punka troubadour two piece to a newly established five piece, they bound on stage with an odd mix of nervous energy and extreme confidence. The set explodes into Magnolia, taken from their incredible new LP We Wilt, We Bloom on Specialist Subject Records. It's immediately and abundantly clear that the band are skin tight, they sound absurdly confident and absolutely terrific. New cuts are proudly unveiled. Immature, the classic in waiting Sectioned and a poignant Loyalty Festers, introduced by a long and heartbreaking monologue by Nathan about a school friend of his being swept away by the dark icy waves of the far right. (Shamefully, a small gang about the back continued laughing and chatting away through out this speech. It got to the point where the sound man had to go and tell them to be quiet. I've never ever understood this; why go and see a band and talk to your mates all the way through?).

New babies proudly shown off, the band went into a section of what Nathan called, tongue firmly in cheek, 'the hits'. And what beauties there are in their cannon. The still furious BA77, the moving Dissatisfactions, poignant Suicide is Painful and the personal highlight of the evening God Hates Facts. Now, this song is so powerful and emotive it would sound good played on the spoons, but this line up absolutely smacked it out the park. There's a tiny bit of my stomach only the 'Meet me at the reservoir' bit can reach. Heterosexuality Is a Construct has turned into an absolute monster. Delivered at break neck speed (“We are gonna do it faster and faster it last, like, a minute” jokes Nathan), so fast it's a challenge to sing along. Class.

Just before the encore, the promoter comes up to the stage with a cake celebrating Onsind's 11 years as a band. The band are quite visibly touched. “It's vegan too!” adds the promoter, getting one of the biggest cheers of the night. Then onto the promised encore, the greatly anticipated Pokemon City Limits. “Lets get rid of some Tory's” spits Nathan “Seriously, I want to see some fucking heads on spikes”. It doesn’t really get more comforting or cathartic than Manchester screaming never trust a Tory in unison.

This is the key to Onsind I think. Anyone buying their new LP hoping for a map through political swamplands or a cure for mental illness will be left wanting. What the band offer is a hand to hold in the darkness. There's nothing like mental illness, anxiety and disgust at a political climate to make you feel alone. Onsind are not the antidote, but sometimes finding someone or something just as fucked up and fucked off as you are is a comfort. Here's to the next eleven years.  

Friday, 27 October 2017

Fate, Feist and the Northern Quarter

Back in 2003 I had an affair with a girl from Manchester which went quite predictably and quite disastrously wrong. I ended up going back to Shrewsbury with a broken heart and my tail placed pretty firmly between my legs. The scars from the relationship, as they tend to do, healed up with time. I found myself getting over the girl, but my love for the city of Manchester stayed unabashed and undimmed. Usually, during this time in my life I would get over a break up by getting myself as drunk as possible but I found this wasn’t quite the ticket.

This was my busy music period. I was attending as many gigs as humanly possible. If there wasn’t a show to go to, I would catch the train, as painful as it was, back to Manchester and spend a day record shopping. I used to enjoy a post shop drink in Dry bar, but one day descended the stairs to the toilet to witness two huge men passing over (and I've ransacked my memory of this but it always gives the same results) a yellow balloon full of what I can only imagine to be cocaine. After that (a most embarrassing encounter, they were clearly waiting for me to finish my business but the shock of seeing my first ever proper drug deal had left my penis unable to piss) the port of call for a post record shop drink was next door at the Night and Day café. I fell in love with the place a couple of years previous, during a hopelessly romantic and stupidly and pretentiously dim poetic stage. When I walked in the girl behind the bar wore a stripy top, peddle pushers and ballet shoes. She looked like something from a Kerouac novel, and I found myself quite smitten with the place.

I found myself going there more and more. It's great place to sit and think, the perfect point of communication (or lack of) for a heat broken berk from Shropshire. It was at this time that that things got a little weird between the café and I. I had found a 7” single in the bargain bin in Vinyl Exchange which I had, in truth, only bought because I liked the sleeve. It was a black and white shot of girl framed by a circle. She had a perfect fringe and white tights with arrows drawn on in thick marker pointing down. It was sexy; a bit sixties, a bit mod. The record was One Evening by Feist. The A side was really good, an organ led half pissed on wine ditty to new and unexpected love (which as you can imagine was quite the tonic) but the B-side was better, a piano led woozy ballad called Lovers Spit, a song about relationships being a curse, which as you can imagine suited me even better. It's about now that strangeness kicks in. I strutted into Night and Day with the 7” in a cute little plastic bag to find Feist playing over the PA. Strange, I thought as I ordered my cup of tea. But this would go on happening. Over the next few trips I found (and I swear I'm not making this up) which ever record I bought would be playing when I walked into Night and Day. This happened maybe four or five times until it got to the point where I was almost expecting it. This is where things turn really strange.

I had finished my record shop at Vinyl Revival and walked out to head to Night and Day fully expecting to here my purchases played when I got there. As exited the door, there was two teenagers, a girl and a boy, looking at the stock in the shop window. The girl had caught sight of something exciting, possibly the mugs and yelled at her friend with great animation 'Hey! Joe!' whilst pointing at whatever took her fancy. Of course my mental jukebox started playing Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix. I took the minute walk to Night and Day and, mind blowingly, the said tune was belting out of the speakers. Spooky, no? I tried to rationalise all this. Told myself that the people behind the bar at N&D probably picked up the same bargains at nearby Vinyl Exchange, but then I thought about the amount of people shuffling the thousands upon thousands of cards in the CD racks and thought no. I read somewhere that it would be, statistically speaking, odder not to hear the tune you were humming come on the radio seconds later than to hear it. But five times on the spin? Was my insomnia making my brain make weird connections?

A few months later, after playing her debut LP to death, I found out Feist was doing a gig at the Night and Day. I took this as some sort of sign and booked myself a ticket. I'm not sure what I was expecting. The heavens to open and some sort of light to pour down on me through the Manchester sky. To meet the love of my life maybe? I don't know, but I was expecting something. As it turned out, the gig was uneventful. So uneventful that I can't find any record of it even taking place. There's nothing on the internet, but it happened. I was there. So were maybe thirty other people and place seemed sadly empty for such a great performance. She was brilliant (as was her band), a total star. Speaking in French between songs and belting out her songs like her life depended on it. She even wore the outfit she donned on the 7” sleeve. The support that night was a young lad called Sam Hammond and he was brilliant too. He was a good looking lad with a strong jaw of wispy beard and dressed (almost certainly by Pop Boutique) like an old blues man. He looked like he travelled with nothing but a small suitcase and a guitar and sang like someone who had lived a thousand lives. His songs were peppered with Dylan, but with an urban coffee shop twist. I thought his set was brilliant. I went home, though slightly disappointed that Dionysus didn't appear or anything, happy; trying to put such daft thoughts about coincidence and fate out of my head.

A couple of months after that, I went to a gig a lot closer (ten minutes from my house in fact) to home at the Buttermarket in Shrewsbury. It was by a Manchester band called Longview who had released a few singles on the 14th Floor label that had bothered the indie charts a bit. I usually, or at least did, get to gigs nice and early but being so close to my house I had left pretty late and when I climbed the steps to the hall the lights were already out signifying the support had started, I made my way through the dark the the bar when I heard a familiar voice singing. “I'm just a pawwwwn in her gaaayme'. It was Sam Hammond. He played another blinder, though weirdly to few more people than the Feist gig and had gone down well. I saw him at the bar after his set and bought him a pint. Told him I thought his said was great and how weird it was that I saw him randomly a few weeks back and even weirder here. He gave it the old 'Oh thanks man' with that slow head nod pop stars do when they are being flattered. 'So what music to you like?' he asked. I told him I was stuck on a song called Dark of my Moon. 'They Gene Clark song!' he shouted suddenly animated, spilling his Guinness over his suit 'I bloody love that song!'. He wrote down the chords for me, we shook hands. He most likely went his way, and I went mine.

I hadn't thought about any of this, the N&D coincidence, the Feist gig or any of it for well over a decade. There was a post recently, a pretty funny meme, on twitter about Bob Dylan that had gone 'viral'. The poster was someone called Sam Hammond. Was it the same guy? It was, of course, and the memories came flooding back. I tried to find Sam's CD, unplayed for a good twelve years, but searching the house high and low couldn’t find it. I tried searching Ebay to buy another copy but found that I couldn't remember the title. I half remembered it being named after the date it was recorded. And there it was. Sam Hammond. 171203. It was cut exactly four years before the death of my father. Spooky, no? 

Friday, 6 October 2017

Oh, Maybe: On sadness in pop

I was having a pint with my mate Kendo recently as and as usual the topic turned to music. One of life's little pleasures for Kendo is going to Sainsbury's after work on a Friday and buying a four bottles of beer and a freshly released CD. It's his way of keeping a hand in. Last weeks purchase was the new album by The National. “It's alright” he mused, supping a pint “but how many albums can you get out singing about heartbreak? Christ knows what his wife makes of it all”

Everyone has a personal source of sad songs to sooth in times of distress. My own port of call is End records. After seeing the success of Heartbreak Hotel, label owner George Goldner wisely started to fuse Doo Wop with early rock and roll and started recording and releasing teenage paeans to heartbreak. This was the late fifties, just before Elvis and lust cornered the teenage record buying market. If the kids were still too puritanical to scream blue murder and throw knickers at a stage, they could still express themselves through their post pubescent sadness in the privacy of their bedroom or slow dancing with beau. Jerry Leiber described Goldner as having the taste of a fourteen year old girl. It was meant as a compliment, Goldner's ear for talent and production earning him after hit after hit. It was music for teenagers by teenagers. Crossover smash Frankie Lymon and the Teenager's Why do fools fall in love was one of his, as was Tears on my Pillow by Little Anthony and the Imperials (later unmemorably covered by Kylie Minogue and shmaltzed up on the Grease soundtrack). But by some distance the jewel in his and End's crown is Maybe by the Chantels.

Two minutes and fifty four seconds of absolute wonder, Maybe is a phenomenal piece of work. From the melody (not dissimilar to future weeper Unchained Melody, released eight years later) to the leather lunged, hand wringing plea of vocal by Arlene Smith to the simple yet completely emotionally devastating lyric (the line Maybe/If I held your hand/You would understand never fails, however times I hear it, to cut me to the quick). Smith was reportedly an uncredited co-writer of the song (Goldner, an inveterate gambler, had, co-writing credit on the record, later taken off. It's plausible he needed the royalty money to pay off debt), aged sixteen at the time, her authorship would explain the pain of the lyrics.

It wasn't just teens cashing in on the heartbreak, mind. Released a few months before Maybe and written by a twenty five year old (young obviously, but ancient in the world of pre-Beatles pop) Conway Twitty, Only Make Believe hit the number one spot in the UK and the US and arguably kick started the career of Roy Orbison. It's a terrific record, slowly but steadily ascending to the heart wrenching crescendo of the chorus. How Elvis must have heard it and wept.

The tear jerkers slowly crept their way into R&B and soul too. Released on Wand in 1962, Getting Ready for the Heartbreak by Chuck Jackson (a long overdue reissue of his hits and rarities has just been released on Ace Records) is a truly devastating 45. If the vocal (It's almost like he's just been dragged to the mic after falling asleep whisky drunk in a bus shelter, he constantly sounds on the verge of breaking down and crying) doesn't do the damage, the lyrics will.

Closed up all my windows/so no-one could see
Even told the mailman to pass by me/
Cos' my love is coming today/
And I know what she's going to say.

It's an incredible piece of work. Rarely has being in the shit with the other half sounded so wonderful.

The sadness even came, if stealthily, by more commercial soul. Tucked away on the flip of her 1964 number one smash My Guy, Mary Wells' Oh Little Boy is one of Motown's (and Stateside's) hidden gems. Sad yet sassy, with a gut buster of a vocal, it could have been an Aretha hit. Saucer eyed and bordering on demented, the lyric is almost spat out. When she sing No! No! No! You can almost see her hands go up palms front. If you don't own this record, do your self a favour and splash out a fiver on Ebay. Tell 'em I sent you.


Modern pop has struggled to match the sadness and madness of these records. I'm not sure if it's the production of the early singles or the simplicity of the lyric, but writing a sophisticated modern sad pop hit has proven hard. There are examples of obviously, and when the formula works, be it Unfinished Sympathy, Nothing Compares 2U or Missing by Everything But the Girl, the bonding theme is that you feel the song is written about you, that heartbreak is a universal theme. Where songwriters get it wrong, particularly with indie bands, is the songs are written over egged in angst and lacking in sincerity.

Worst offender is Creep by Radiohead. Now, in his mind, you can see Thom Yorke thinking he is the poet laureate of the dispossessed, but in reality he comes across like a stalker sniffing his ex's tights. Like Lennon's Jealous Guy it's the worst kind of record, self obsessed rather than self assessing. A self love song. See also the Manic Street Preachers. Their quote lead assault of pop nihilism has not dated well (Black Horse apocalypse if you please) and listening to the Manics these days is rather like masturbating. It's perfectly acceptable in your teens abut a bit desperate in your thirties.

One of the only sad indie records to remain unscathed by public and critic alike is Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. From the sleeve to it's pioneering production it's a classic. For all the myths and legends, it's Factory's finest hour. If they had only released this it would still be in the top ten labels. Ever. It's beauty is it's ability to suck you into it's world from the very first drop of the needle. Lyrically it takes punks ability to document the chaos around it into documenting the chaos inside Ian Curtis' mind. I love Tony Wilson, his chutzpah, his talent of praising talent and raising pop music to the level of fine art. But his biggest crime (other than not signing the Smiths) was trying to propel the myth of Curtis into Jim Morrison levels. When he hung himself, we not only lost a musical pioneer, but a young girl lost her 24 year old dad.

The recent biopics and documentaries about Curtis love to tell us about Hooky's Sunday dinner. We love to watch Peter Saville's pained anguish when he tells the anecdote about telling Wilson there was a tomb on the sleeve for the thousandth time, and Paul Morley quip about going to see the Great Rock and Roll Swindle instead of attending the funeral, but what the film makers have conveniently left out his Ian's mother, Doreen's account of her reaction to finding out that her son was dead. Punk it is not, but sincere, honest, down to earth and brutally sobering it is. No art, however beautiful, is worth dying for.


So then, the saddest song ever? Easy. Hands down, by a country furlong it's Diana by Paul Anka. Not so much the song itself, which actually rather jaunty, but the story behind it. A 16 year old Anka had cocked his hat at young girl at his local church, Diana Ayoub, and in an attempt to woo her wrote her a song. His advances were spurned, but the song became a world wide hit. Every time I hear the song, I picture a young Anka waiting in the wings at another gig in another county having to sing, for the four hundredth time, about a girl who broke his heart. Now that's tragic.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Laughter in the Dark-On Laughing Man by Rain

When I was 14, I was skiving out of doing my homework one night by watching Brookside with my mum. It was a pretty average episode until Mike Dixon, leather jacketed heart throb and rebel with a chin, came on the screen wearing a black T-shirt with the legend Rain printed on it in white writing. At this point I was steadily building my encyclopedic knowledge of indie music, and remember feeling somewhat miffed that a band could slip stealthily under my radar on to prime time television.

As well as building an internal database of indie artists, I was steadily puting together the foundations of my record collection. It was no small thrill when I found in the local advertisement paper coupon entitling the holder to purchase cheap records, namely 12” for £1 and 7”for 50p. I didn't know it at the time, but the shop dropping the discounts, Rainbow Records, was closing down. I had bought my cassettes from there, and found myself daydreaming about the small rack of 45s. No sleeves, just the paper die cut sleeve with the artist and title written in biro. This I found unbearably exciting. No pictures, no labels, no clues.

I was even more giddy when I rocked up one Sunday morning brandishing my voucher,and was told to go upstairs. When I reached the top I found a room containing the shops whole vinyl stock laid out on the floor, either randomly put together in plastic boxes or propped unsteadily on the floor. I've never found a better place to burn my paper round money.

I bought as much as my money would stretch to and my arms could carry (I could have bought the lot for a few of hundred quid) but the pick was a 10” called Lemonstone Desired and 7” on clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve called Taste of Rain. Both records where by an artist called Rain.

The music was good. Guitar lead, with hints of blues and psychedelia. The music was driven, seemingly honed by years of hard touring, tight but with dirt under the fingernails. I flipped the 45 over to play the B-side. I've never stopped playing it.

                                                              * * *

In his lecture, Has the iPod changed our relationship with music?, Bill Drummond describes the downside of having a whole library of music inside a tiny box. The problem, as he sees it, is one finds themselves skipping tracks, whole albums worth, in a bid to find something satisfying. I had the same problem, but came up with my own solution. I split songs into two category's-Ipod friendly and not. The former contain songs with a bit of oomph about them,unfussy and uncomplicated. Good walking music. The latter contains more delicate songs designed for listening to in ones bedroom. When I say that, I don't mean songs to play in the car or do the washing up to. I mean songs to listen to. It's dying art, just listening to a record. Just watching the vinyl of round and inhaling nothing but oxygen and the sounds coming out the speakers. Laughing Man, the B-side of Taste of Rain, is the perfect song for this. It's beautiful, one of my top five. An acoustic balled peppered with slightly Spanish flecks of chiming guitar. Seemingly about someone trying to look after someone else (I see you/You see me/Take my hand/and we'll be free/Just as darkness turns to light/I will help you through the night) but tentatively holding on themselves (The laughing man/Came beating down my door/I'm laughing man/But I can't take no more). It's real 4am,whisky in hand stuff.

I was obsessed by the song, playing it in the dark through headphones, trying to make sense of it. The words, the emotion of the track. Clues were thin on the ground. The band were signed to Sony, something I figured was due to the track Lemonstone Desired,a slightly 60's sounding record which echo's the Byrds.(you can hear the influence of Rain to a certain degree in The Coral but quite majorly in the Stands).

 I could picture some A&R man trying to coin in the Stone Roses buck, down to it's Sally Cinnamon vibes . The sleeves bore witness to this, painted nude women, a mouth exhaling smoke. Who was the Laughing Man? For a while I though it may be based on the JD Salinger story of the same name, then after reading a dedication on the sleeve (“To all women everywhere, we would!”) and changed my mind. I sent an SAE to a mysterious 'Diane' via a Liverpool PO Box written in small print on the sleeve begging for information (and cheekily, some hand written lyrics to the song which gives you some understanding of my obsession) but received nothing back. The band had just vanished in to thin air. The song is possibly the only one I've played regularly since my teens. I love that song.

                                                            *** ***

So I contacted the band, and one of the songwriter for contribution to this piece, and both , in a reaction eerily similar to Diane's, have been ignored. I was initially a bit pissed off, but once I got over taking it personally, I was actually pretty chuffed. Maybe it's better that it's not possible to find out a song meaning with a quick click on Google, maybe I will paint my own picture of what the writer is trying to tell us. Mystique is wonderful thing. If you read this far, you are probably itching to hear the record. Well, tough. There are no MP3's on Google, no tracks on Youtube. If you want to hear it, then just like me you will have to hunt down the record. With ipod , we are trying to find a track to rescue us, but the best songs are the ones trying to find us. As we get older, I think, we find less and less music that defines us, but it never stops being able to console and heal. A 7” record can change your whole body chemistry in seconds. Long may it run.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Six Feet Under Milk Wood-Goodbye Evans the Death

I didn’t know it at the time, but as the car sped it's way through the breath taking Welsh countryside, the planets were aligning above me. The motor contained me and my pal John (specialist skills-Charisma, Ex-Gothness) and the plan was to head away from meeting mutual friends just off the coast of Llandudno to London where we would attend a gig headlined by the Garlands. There I would leave John to head to Bristol to attend the rest of the Big Pink Cake curated weekender. At the time, I had joined an online forum called Anorak, and was beyond inspired by it. Sat in the passenger seat, head heavy with plans to write about music, start a club night and put on gigs for myself, the world seemed suddenly open. The club night would eventually manifest itself as the Salopian shindig Just Like Honey and, as we shall see, I finally got to promote pop shows, but I had already started to write a blog called Brilldream (originally called I Had an Excellent Dream after the Dentists song, which proved a bit too much of a mouthful). It was pretty basic stuff at the time, like a songwriter learning the chords before finding it's own muse and own voice but it was SOMETHING.

The plan was going quite wonderfully until we hit the traffic coming into London and any bonhomie slowly turned into fatigue as the boredom of the stationary traffic started to gnaw at our souls. John was keen on sacking off the gig and just going for a curry instead, and stated the plan quite plainly. I however, persisted on going, and eventually won out. It was a very fortunate victory.

The gig was amazing. I got to meet a few of the inspirational people of Anorak. It was odd meeting them in the flesh, like the characters of your favourite novel popping out the pages and offering to buy you a pint. I was dizzily trying to take this all in, admiring the signed BMX Bandits poster on the Betsey Trotwood wall when out of nowhere a stunningly pretty girl bounded up to me, said she loved my T-shirt and insisted I attended her club night before slapping a flyer in my hand and bounding off again. As it happened, I wouldn't be able to attend the night (distance, real life, that sort of thing) but I was intrigued by the flyer. The night was called Librarians Wanted and the flyer was shaped as a bookmark, most wonderfully of all (due to all consuming passion to find new bands to write about) was a list of bands, three of them I had not heard of. One these bands was called Evans the Death.

I listened to all the bands on the bill, but it was the tracks off the Evans the Death Myspace (oh yes) that sent me a bit giddy. In particular the demo versions of So Unclean and Sleeping Song. I listened again and again,as my tea grew ever colder, in rapture. Everything was there, the songs, the lyrics that mixed genuine teen angst/ennui with Smithsonian whimsy, the voice. That voice! Like an instrument in itself, a voice to be trusted. Admired even. I abandoned my tea and set about writing down how brilliant it all was, how odd people so young could create something so perfect. I got a thanks off them via email for the write up and I somewhat cheekily asked them for an interview, which they accepted. It was, I think, their first ever and sparkled with wit and genuine inspiration. It was brilliant.

A little while later they sent out requests for promoters to fill in gaps in their tour, and it's around here where things get a little cosmic. Now, I was no promoter (far from it) but I knew I had to put them on. And we duly did, the second ever event under the Just Like Honey banner. The gig was wonderful, if sparsely attended (it was a Monday night in March, complete with snow blizzard) and was everything I hoped it would be. The band played a blinder, and later they got drunk on the free Red Stripe (one band member in particular who loudly claimed to have snorted cocaine off a dog with a member of indiepop royalty who will for reasons of libel remain nameless. We had to carry him back to my house, bless him) and we even managed to break even. Now, the reason I'm so fond of this gig is it in a very roundabout way lead me to meeting my partner, Rachel. The story is I got friendly with a lad called Dave who was mainly there to see the local-ish support band Bad Grammar, and in a few years time I would lend him a bass guitar and he would introduce me to the woman who would go on to be the mother of my baby. A pretty unremarkable story until you tick off the myriad of variables that could have put pay to the meeting. What if we had gone for that curry? What if I had not been at the bar when Silja gave me that flyer? What if we had set up Just Like Honey a month later and missed out? What if Evans had been shit? What of they had said no the interview? It goes on and on. The two weirdest ones for me was the fact that the original support band had pulled out a week before the gig, leaving us slightly in the shit (but still lending us loads of amps. Thank you Chris! I've not forgotten you!) and Bad Grammar had got in touch THE NEXT DAY practically begging for a slot. Even weirder was the fact that at work, we had a full drum kit just laying around, which had (and I swear I'm not making this up) been donated as a raffle prize three weeks before the gig and remained unclaimed. I'm not much one for fate, but bloody hell.

So, it's with sadness that I learned that Evans the Death are to be no more. It's obviously upsetting that we will get no more albums (which got more weird, more wonderful and more ambitious with every release), that the radio wasn't saturated with Moss Bros tunes and they never got to headline the range of festivals that their ambition heralded. What really irks me (quite personally actually) is that Katherine Whitaker never got to be a major influence on young women around the world. Her empathy, wit, and political intelligence should make her the pin up of choice over the new crop of singers and it reamains no short of a travesty she's not a global identity as big as Beyonce. When Martha, my daughter, is old enough to form a band, I will play her the EtD albums and tell her how Katherine (who will no doubt by then by the first MP with a Turner prize) and the boys once stayed at daddies house and how I met her mother.

The final Evans the Death show will be at the Windmill in Brixton on 23rd September. I won't be there (distance, real life, that sort of thing) but you should go. Maybe, just maybe, the planets will align for you.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Honeys Dead: JLH 2013-2017

It is with sadness that we announce the termination of the Salopian club night Just Like Honey.

The main reason is for half of JLH moving to France. We could barely organise the night when we lived in the same end of town, so to keep it going would be folly. We,of course, wish John and Daphne all the luck in the world.

We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved with JLH. We've gone from playing in the pub opposite Al Piccolino's to festivals supporting Saint Etienne. It's been quite the ride.

When I first germed the idea of starting the club night, I had a handful of ambitions. I wanted to play Felt, Teenage Fanclub and Orange Juice, I wanted to bring people from the big cities to Shrewsbury, I wanted to play a big city when that was achieved, I wanted to play Indietracks and wanted a couple to meet at our night and fall in love.

We've played those bands at every gig (You've not heard Primitive Painters until it's boomed out of a huge PA) plus being the only place for miles and miles that played the likes of Martha, The Spook School and Evans the Death. One punter was so excited about finding out what song we were playing that he skidded on the dance floor with pace. That, I think, is the sign of a good record. It was Everybody Deserves at Least One Summer of Love by The Understudies, and it is indeed a tune.

We've been very lucky insomuch that for a tiny night we've attracted people from Manchester, Cardiff, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and London to our nights (it's still a thrill thinking that when someone hears the word Shrewsbury, the first thing they think of is our night), even attracting some Italian Joy Division fans. We've played a gig in London and supported BOB The Spook School and the June Brides. We've played a set at Indietracks which was not only a highlight in my 'career' but my life too. We have met and worked with some of the most amazing and inspiring people in the world. We've been very lucky.

What I'm most proud of is the fact we kept going really. It was a mental idea to do a night playing obscure records, battling it out with super clubs playing you the same old shit. There's a great quote by Dave Haslam about the eclecticism of the Hacienda which goes

“No-one had the ambition or the madness or the genius to say lets be different to everywhere else and lets open our minds”

And that's what I'm most proud of at JLH, we did play anything and everything, we did play records that challenged. We treated our audience as grown up intelligent people rather that idiots expecting to be spoon fed the usual shit and we always made sure everyone had a good night. We are and always will be different to the point of unique. There's no night in the world quite like Just Like Honey.

One message we really want to get across is if you really wanted to something, write a book, form a band, write a song, put on a a night/shows then GO FOR IT. JLH is probably the first time in my life I actually stopped worrying and just put my guts into it. It really is amazing where a daydream can take you.

There will be a few a farewell nights, next one being 18 of March, look out for further night and a rather special night in May.

Oh, and no-one to my knowledge ever did meet and fall in love at a JLH night, but I met a lad called Dave when we put on Evans the Death (our second event under the banner Just Like Honey) who I got on with very well. Years later I leant him a bass guitar, and on the evening I handed the axe over he was with a very pretty girl. The pretty girl was called Rachel and we got on very well. It turned out we were both DJ's and we spent the night discussing politics, Pulp and Dolly Parton. We are expecting our first child in July. It is a fool who underestimates the power of pop.

Pour les enfants, toujours

Shaun and John xx