Archive for the ‘features’ Category

Accessories, features, music

Happy Birthday Keith Richards – a tribute (and some cool photos)

By Stefano on December 18th, 2012

Simon Poulter of the always excellent – What Would David Bowie Do? blog on the human riff.

Britain’s Daily Mail, a newspaper you can regard with varying degrees of editorial pointlessness, surmised in June that Keith Richards – the Human Riff, the Human Lab, and a dozen other nicknames reflecting both guitar prowess and indestructibility – was now so broken, so ravaged by arthritic hands and addled memory that he was finding it hard to perform.

Almost in unison, a section of the paper’s permanently seething readership waded in with a barrage of reaction, some berating Keef for even being alive, others suggesting the Rolling Stones had ended their relevance a long time before and should now just give up.

This may go some way to explain why, when the band announced their four 50th anniversary shows, a nuclear mushroom cloud appeared above Middle England as concerned representatives of the Mail’s readership turned apoplectic at news Richards, Jagger, Watts and Wood – with a combined age of 273 – were to roll once more.

Well, today we can make that 274, as Richards chalks up his 69th birthday. It’s an unlikely milestone, even he’ll admit. This apparent freak of nature, who only gave up hard drugs eight years ago, has, for the best part of adulthood, tested human pharmaceutical endurance to its limits while seeing so many contemporaries succumb to rock’s lethal distractions. He is at a loss to explain how he has survived and others didn’t. Perhaps he should just say “pleased to meet you – hope you guessed my name”.

The brilliant autobiography

Much of Richards’ homespun philosophy can be found in his brilliant book Life. A stupendously refreshingly read, Life tells Keef’s story with well managed honesty and little obvious attempt at embellishment, either of the hard truths or the apocryphal tales. It is an engagingly rich story of a boy emerging from London’s bombsite-ridden suburbs to embrace the music of America’s impoverished south, turning such an unlikely affection into the spiritual heart of the most famous – some maintain greatest – rock and roll band of the last 50 years.

That’s an accolade that welcomes challenge: bands have come and bands have gone. “Every generation throws another hero up the pop charts”, sang Paul Simon, and the Stones have faced plenty of competition. They’ve also faced plenty of challenges of their own, not least of which the sibling fractures between Richards and Jagger that have seen them fight, tussle and, seemingly, fall apart irreparably on regular occasions.

Something, however, has always brought them back together again. Richards has always maintained that he and Jagger share a true brotherly love, a bond that occasionally breaks. In his words, Richards has, though, tended to paint Jagger as the more nefarious Glimmer Twin, the posher of the two middle-class Dartford boys, the Stone with the business sense and, now, the knighthood.

Richards, on the other hand, has frequently played up his image as the Stones’ pirate captain, the rock’and’roll rogue: unpredictable and possibly dangerous, like John Belushi’s character Bluto in Animal House, but beneath it all, fundamentally a good guy.

For a while – particularly in the wake of John Lennon’s murder – Richards regularly carried either a knife or a gun, or both. He’s not the Stone to be messed with by any order. Just go to YouTube and find the memorable clip from their 1981 tour, when Keith sees a fan jump on stage and starts charging towards him and Jagger (who deftly takes a swerve), removes his Telecaster by the neck and hacks the fan to the ground before strapping the guitar back on to continue playing. “The cat was in my space,” said Richards, matter-of-factly, “so I chopped the mother down”. That’s why you’ve got to love Keith. Liam Gallagher may have looked like he could do something like that, but you suspect only Keith Richards would.

Immersing myself in Richardsville

Over the last few months I have been immersed in the Rolling Stones. Whatever commercial voodoo they performed around their 50th anniversary has clearly worked. I’ve bought their book and visited the Somerset House exhibition of the book’s photographs; I’ve acquired Blu-ray Discs and DVDs of them in concert in the 70s, 80s and 90s, of them jamming with their great hero Muddy Waters, in the brilliant Stones In Exile documentary, and setting new records on the Bigger Bang tour. And I’ve spent a frustrating 30 minutes attempting to blow what’s left of my life savings on a ticket to one of – any of – their London and New Jersey shows. Somewhere there is a bulldozer with a tongue logo on it shovelling cash into four or five large piles.

While this accumulation will be due in part to Sir Mick Jagger’s assumed stewardship of Rolling Stones Inc. (actually, a Dutch-registered public limited company called Promotone BV which holds its annual company meetings in the curious-to-say-the-least location of Amsterdam), the company’s Chief Riff Officer and CEO Jagger’s fellow Wentworth Primary School, Dartford, alumnus, Richards, might be comfortable with his rewards, but remains at his happiest strumming a blues in an open D tuning.

These last few weeks, the more Stones material I’ve been exposed to, the more I’ve come to appreciate their music, especially its subtlety. That is not a word you associate with the Stones, who’ve often been regarded by music snobs as a Premier League Status Quo for the chugging, thumbs-in-belt-loops-ahoy boogie of Honky Tonk Woman, or the cringeworthy street patois of Miss You, and it’s equally abhorrent disco beat.

But then listen carefully to Sympathy For The Devil, Paint It Black or Gimme Shelter, or some of the live standards like Monkey Man or Tumbling Dice or Midnight Rambler, along with lesser known gems hidden away on their 26-odd studio albums. Why, even more recent fare like Love Is Strong and Doom And Gloom – knocked out in a Paris studio over a couple of days – still deliver the goods as far as Rolling Stones songs go.

You could say that for half their careers, the Rolling Stones have faced calls to quit on the grounds that they’re too old. Keith Richards, at 69, may be today a more avuncular version of his former self, with his clean living and throaty, bronchial laugh (not to mention his parodic turn as Captain Jack Sparrow’s father in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise – with Johnny Depp happy to admit Sparrow was based on Richards), but he and his ageing band have endured.

That endurance has come from tampering little with the brand: The Beatles started out as rock and rollers before discovering psychedelia and inventing progressive rock; The Who applied a rock edge to Tamla Motown; Led Zeppelin deconstructed and then reconstructed the blues; but the Stones are and have always been the Coca-Cola of rock.

Classic Stones

Sure, like Coke (Classic anyone?) they’ve taken a few ill-advised diversions, but today the Stones remain, pretty much, the same thing enjoyed by each generation that has come across them. Snobs blame this absence of variety on a fairly limited musical spectrum, but much of this is down to Keith. It is, mostly, his songs and riffs that have dictated the Rolling Stones musically.

Richards might have willingly – and at times, to his patent regret – left the running of the band to Jagger, but the spirit of the Stones, the heart and soul of the Stones belongs to him. It was Keith, not Brian Jones who found the triangulation point between the Mississippi Delta, Chicago and London. It was Jagger who then took the concoction and turned it into something more exotic, more 5th Avenue than Dartford High Street, like Levi-Strauss turning workwear into the most enduring fashion item of modern history.

But that’s why we love Keith. If he has pretensions and delusions of grandeur, he keeps them well hidden. He has amassed a fortune, and his properties display copious evidence of his wealth, but unlike the apparent airs and graces of his writing partner, Richards doesn’t overplay the finer things in his life.

To see him on stage today, earnestly toiling away on his collection of Telecasters and other luthiered exotica, is to see a master craftsman at work. He may never be a virtuoso in the manner of a Clapton, a Beck or a Page, but I don’t think he particularly cares. And nor should you. Happy Birthday Keith.

Images PA

Article originally published here.

Mick and Keith - US tour 1975

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Christmas 2012 goodies, features, Round ups

7 Awesome Alternative Christmas Movies – Die Hard, Gremlins and more!

By Gerald Lynch on December 18th, 2012

What’s your favourite Christmas movie? Miracle on 34th Street? It’s A Wonderful Life? Bah! humbug! I laugh at your sentimentality!

Where are the guns? The explosions? The sex!? I need more drama from my festive flicks!

Here Brandish recommend 7 awesome alternative Christmas movies, each set during the Yuletide period but each often overlooked as a holiday film.

Die Hard

Bruce Willis’ finest hour, Die Hard is set on Christmas Eve. It’s also maybe the greatest action flick of all time, with Willis’ New York cop John McClane taking on a terrorist gang holding an entire tower of people hostage. And not a mince pie in sight. Yippee ki-yay!

Gremlins

Comedy horror film Gremlins all kicks off with an early Christmas present yielding unexpected results. Sure, a little cuddly bear pet thing sounds like a good idea at the time, but when it multiplies into hundreds of deadly little green monsters, you’ll wish you got given safe old socks instead.

Home Alone

OK, so I’m pretty sure you’re all aware that Home Alone is a Christmas flick. I mean, it’s theme tune is one of the most Christmassy tunes of all time ever. The problem is, Home Alone is so good, it’s on the TV all year round, so many of us probably forget that its a Christmas film at all. Throw in the casual child-on-adult uber violence (Macauley Culkin’s Kevin maims, burns and bludgeons hapless burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern repeatedly over the course of the film) and the sort of neglectful parenting that’d make an NSPCC advert look like an episode of Little House On The Prairie and you’ve got a far darker Christmas flick than you perhaps first thought.

Batman Returns

Burton’s Batman always knew how to have fun. The Batman flick that best captured the feeling of the comic books, it’s a wild gothic tale that sees the Catwoman and the Penguin out to ruin the winter holiday. Nothing says Christmas like an army of penguins with missiles strapped to their backs!

Brazil

Terry Gilliam’s surreal masterpiece Brazil is set over Christmas. No seriously. Double check. There’s no reason for it to be, other than to make the warped foreboding world that star Jonathan Pryce inhabits feel all the more callous. A Kafka-esque tale of a white collar worker’s attempt to correct an administrative error, only to have the whole state gunning for him, is as funny and discomforting as it is insane. One to watch after a few sherries I’d say.

Trading Places

They’ve both had a checkered silver-screen track record since their Trading Places heyday, but for belly laughs with a festive framing, Trading Places has Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. A classic role reversal movie (hobo conman Murphy ends up replacing executive Aykroyd on the board of a Wall Street firm as part of an elaborate prank by a pair of mean spirited zillionaires), this’ll be far funnier than any Christmas special cooked up for the Christmas break by broadcasters.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

Another action flick with a Christmas theme, Geena Davis seems like the perfect housewife, though amnesia has knocked a fair chunk of her memory off kilter. Amnesia, as ever, has clouded the fact that Davis is actually a kick ass assassin, whose skills with a knife see her castrating carrots and gangsters alike. She’s like a hot Jason Bourne, with enough claret spilled on the snow to keep in line with the Christmas colour scheme.

Any alternative Christmas flicks that we’ve missed that you feel deserve a mention? Give us a shout in the comments section below and let us know what you think!



Cars, features, Sport

Great pictures from The Golden Age of Formula One – the 60s and 70s

By Stefano on December 17th, 2012

So F1 fans chin up! The new season starts four months today in Australia. Time will fly by. So to help fill the void in your life caused by lack of racing here is a quick trip back to the golden early days of Formula One in the 60s and 70s.

In some ways it is a bitter sweet journey for many of the stars of these images met awful premature deaths. You look at Jim Clark winning the US Grand Prix in  1967 knowing that a few months later his life would be claimed by a tree at the notorious German Hockenheimring circuit. Then there’s the fresh faced Jochen Rindt, the man many predicted would dominate F1 in the 70s who lost his life while practising for the Italian Grand Prix in 1970. He was just 28 years old.

I am also reminded of the really stupid deaths like that of British driver Thomas Pryce who was killed after a collision with a marshal who stepped on to the track at the 1977 South African Grand Prix.

Heaven knows what kind of impact these deaths must have had on the other drivers. And spurred on by a public, who were now getting sick of seeing images of grieving girlfriends with tear-filled eyes tucked behind their shades and the staff of constructors teams with ever more furrowed brows, Jackie Stewart and other drivers embarked on a long journey to make the sport a safe one.

In spite of the tragedies though,there is something incredibly glamorous about F1 in the 60s and 70s. Maybe it is clothes, the hair (or the sideburns as a certain person got bang on here), the curved shape of the cars or the stunning backdrops of circuits like Monaco (when they weren’t only a quick and cheap Easyjet flight away), but it just seemed way more sophisticated, elegant and classy back then.

Much of that elan was captured in the 1966 John Frankenheimer-directed film Grand Prix in which an American driver played by James Garner battles it out with French counterpart Yves Montand . The film wast a staple on TV in the 70s and 80s but doesn’t get screened as much now. It is worth watching for a gripping story line, some gorgeous photography and the cameo appearance of French singer and style icon Francoise Hardy.

So enjoy these images and let’s celebrate the all too brief lives of some of F1′s true giants.

Pics from PA

Jim Clark 1968 in his Lotus

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Clark won the F1 driver's championship twice in the 1960s. Tragically he died in 1968 when his car hit a tree at Germany's notorious Hockenheimring, circuit.



features, Gifts

The best Christmas gifts for her: gadgets, fashion, accessories and beauty

By Elisabeth Edvardsen on December 12th, 2012

Let’s talk Christmas guys. Have you started thinking about presents for the missus yet, or will you do a mad dash around the shops the last weekend, picking up things willy-nilly without any thought or love put into it? I’ll be honest, unless it’s a really expensive diamond ring or a trip to Tokyo, most women will notice that you haven’t put much planning into your shopping and resorted to the last-minute-panic-buy approach. We’re clever that way you see.

Now you haven’t got much time if you’d like to give your lady a great gift this year. But don’t panic just yet. Over on Brandish’s sister-sites ShinyShiny and ShinyStyle there are some superb Christmas gift ideas that I’m sure your girlfriend/fiance/wife would like – and five Christmas gifts women definitely DON’T want to find under the tree this year.

If she’s a geeky girl, here are 10 cool gadgets and accessories, all over £100 to make sure you’ll stay in the good books, or if you’ve spent a bit too much going out with your mates, 10 rather fun gifts under £50. For the more fashion and beauty obsessed girl, you can find 25 Christmas gifts women want easily or if you’re thinking about getting her a jumper look no further – these are the 10 best Nordic-inspired sweaters around.

While you think about which Christmas gift list to browse, here are the Victoria’s Secret Angels singing a festive song. I know, we think about everything… Happy shopping!



features, music, News

Top 5 bands to watch in 2013: Haim, Cheatahs, Palma Violets, Savages, Daughter

By Gerald Lynch on December 11th, 2012

A new year, a new start, a new favourite band to devote your life to! With 2013 almost upon us, we’ve hand picked 5 ace new bands to put you ahead of the cool curve next year. Haim, Cheatahs, Palma Violets, Savages and Daughter are all destined for big things in the coming months. Namedrop ‘em now and you’ll look like some sort of clairvoyant Lester Bangs come the summer. Scroll down to give them a listen, each with a short description of why you should be getting excited about them and what’s shaping up to be a vintage year for new guitar-based music.

Haim


Haim (comprising Este, Danielle and Alana Haim) will be soundtracking your summer with a folk-meets-R&B-pop sound that recalls equal parts Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac and Kate Bush and Belinda Carlisle. It’s quintessential California pop, like swigging down on a bubble-gum fizzy drink with sand between your toes, waves lapping at your feet. Expect a debut album in the Spring, with the band now signed to Polydor.

Cheatahs


God, Cheatahs’ SANS EP was one of the most exciting things we heard this year. Lead single The Swan matches Ride melodies and My Bloody Valentine’s shoe-gazing, wavvy vibes with Dinosaur Jr drive. Now signed to Wichita Records (making them stablemates of The Cribs, Best Coast and Les Savy Fav), this East London based four-piece push the tunes to the fore without compromising shimmering soundscapes. We can’t wait for the album.

Palma Violets


Winners of the NME Track of the Year with their single Best of Friends, Palma Violets are being tipped as next year’s The Libertines or The Vaccines. And while this London four piece’s raucous guitars would certainly put them in the good company of those two bands, there’s more than a whiff of Echo & The Bunnymen’s post-punk experimentation in there too. Like a sonic crossbreed between The Walkmen and The Clash, these lot will be unavoidable by the Spring. Their debut album lands on 25 February 2013 through Rough Trade.

Savages


Another London based-band, Savages are an all-female post-punk offering that’s dark and intense. Think Public Image Limited, Siouxsie and The Banshees and Joy Division and you’d be on the right track. A formidable live band with a cult following building around them, it’s harsh, more than a little bit angry and ear-searingly cool. Angular and erratic, they’ll be the panda-eyed alternative to Haim’s sun drenched melodies for anyone with a bottle of black hair dye to hand next year.

Daughter


Something a little softer to round off the list, Daughter are take the open-heart approach of Laura Marling and wrap it in shimmering sounds you’d expect from Sigur Ros or The XX. It’s delicate, gut-wrenching stuff, and with the mighty 4AD label behind them, expect these forward-thinking folkies to go mainstream pretty quickly.

Any bands we’ve missed? Who are your big musical hopes for 2013? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.



features, Gadgets

2012′s 21 hottest gadgets – iPad mini, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, I’m Watch and more

By Stefano on December 10th, 2012

Our pals over at Tech Digest have seen an awful lot of gadgets this year. They have checked out the latest Smart TVs, weighed up whether the iPad mini is worth the extra dosh over the Google Nexus 7 and snapped away on the latest cameras.

So we asked them to help us come up with the year’s 21 best gadgets. Obviously it is tablets and phones that grab the limelight, but we have also added TVs, cameras, watches and whole load more.

Here then are the 21 gadgets that we consider to be the be desirable of this year’s selection.

What have we missed? Tell us in the comments.

 

 

Google Nexus 4 £239.99

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The Google Nexus 4 is the best smartphone bargain we've ever seen. God only knows what sort of subsidised deals the search giant has lined up in order to deliver a smartphone just as powerful as its premium rivals at almost half the price. But we're not complaining; for the cost of a mediocre smartphone, the Nexus 4 delivers the latest version of Android, a super-fast processor, a beautiful display and superb new camera functionality. At its £239.99 entry price it's a steal, and one we can't recommend highly enough

Other gadget round ups

Weirdest gadgets

Best sub-£200 gadgets

Best retro gadgets

 



features, music

The most under-rated British Indie bands of the 90s – Marion, Rialto and more

By Stefano on December 9th, 2012

I have a theory that it takes a decade or two before we can properly appreciate the popular culture from an earlier decade. Much of what we love about the 60s, from The Beatles to Peter Blake, was hideously unfashionable in the 70s and didn’t really return to the mainstream until the mid 90s. Similarly the shoulder pads and wonky keyboard bands of the 80s were held in high disdain for decades and it wasn’t until the noughties  that we remembered how much fun some elements of that decade’s music were.

And now it has  to be the 90s to turn to be re-assessed. Sure the first ripples of a 90s revival are already starting to appear. Watching Danny Boyle’s amazing Olympics opening ceremony I was struck by how much of it made me think of the optimism and colour of the early Blair years. Then a couple of weeks later I was off to see the climax of the games –  a gig  by the band who eventually won the Brit Pop war – Blur. In fashion too the heritage brands that had such a resurgence in the 90s are back and selling well.

Then when Chris Gentry of Menswear paraded his fake platinum disc for the band’s Nuisance album, it spawned a host of features about the band including this semi serious piece in The Guardian.

The first books about the 90s are also on the horizon. Alwyn Tuner wrote a very fine mini ebook about the 1992 election and its ramifications for politics and he will have an apparently more definitive tome on the 90s available very shortly. There will also be an interesting examination of London in  the 90s soon which looks among other things at the art school roots of Brit Pop and the way in which Hoxton was transformed from a seedy east London no go zone to the home of the main movers in  Brit Art.

Musically too there are the first rumblings of a 90s revival with Jake Bugg doing a very impressive impersonation of The La’s on his debut album and the growth of 60s obsessed psych bands, many of whom would have been very at home at the fringes of Brit Pop.

So now seems as good a time as any to take a look back over some of the 90s most neglected bands. I asked on Facebook and Twitter send in their nominations and ended up with about 50 bands to choose from.

There are so many that could have made the list from gothic popsters Jack through to harmony drenched power pop of Silver Sun. Maybe we ‘ll look back at them another time.

For now though here are ten, plus a whole load more on the Spotify list below.

Who have we missed? Tell us in the comments…

10 Five Thirty

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At the turn of the decade Five Thirty's take on Jam style power pop, albeit with a lot of twists and turns, was unique. Some blistering live performances and an exhilarating single, Air Conditioned Nightmare, made them one of London's hottest acts for a few brief months. An album, Bed, followed soon after, but the big break never came and they split in 1994. There's no Five Thirty on Spotify, but some great videos on YouTube.

 



Accessories, Cameras, Clothing, features, Gadgets

Christmas shopping for men; your complete guide – gadgets, jumpers, scarves, randoms…

By Stefano on December 7th, 2012

Over the last few weeks we have been ultra busy putting together a series of guides which may prove very useful if you are buying presents. Here then is the full list

Gadgets

Top weirdest gadgets and gifts

Best gadgets for under £200

The ultimate tech Xmas present

Retro gadgets that are actually very cool

Best Android phones

Best PC games

Best mini tablets – iPad mini, Nexus, Kindle Fire HD

Best ereaders

Style

Best classic jumpers

Best trophy jumpers

Best under £30 jumpers

Cashmere jumpers on the cheap

Best scarves

Five party shirts

Velvet party jackets

Iconic rock band t shirts

Cool Chambray shirts

Music

Top debut albums

Top psychedelic albums

Random gifts

Best Blu-ray movies

Bikes, scarves, accessories etc



Clothing, features, Gallery, knitwear

The Nordic invasion: Why Scandinavian brands are rising in popularity among British men

By Elisabeth Edvardsen on December 6th, 2012

Menswear has traditionally taken a background role in the world of fashion, letting women mode reign the catwalks, column inches and shopping baskets. But over the last couple of years something has been brewing and these days menswear is as interesting – if not more – than the apparel made for women.

Leading the leading the pack are brands that come from the North – no not Newcastle, not even Scotland. We’re talking about brands that hail from the Nordic countries, the countries of snow, darkness and ingenuity. But why is Scandinavian menswear proving so popular on the isles known for their traditions?

Why are Scandinavian brands so popular among British men?

Anyone who has spent some time scouring the high street and internet for interesting menswear will have taken note of brands from Denmark, Norway and especially Sweden.

As a born and raised Scandinavian who is now living the life of an expat in my adopted home town of London – a modern day Viking, without the violence – it is fascinating to see the Scandi influence on British menswear these days. I won’t go into much detail about how amazing Scandinavian culture, lifestyle and designs are as this could be considered rude of me (but they really are).

But something of the Nordic minimalistic design has captured the interest of British men. Perhaps it is the focus on functionality (never underestimate the power of the humble fleece jacket when it’s minus 25 degrees outside!), as knitwear and weatherproof garments are seeing yet another season of popularity, combined with style and comfort.

The Scandinavian way of life

Of course the influx of Nordic flavour in all areas of life in recent years will have helped put the Norse firmly on the map: TV shows (The Killing!), furniture and housewares (Ikea is a favourite), music (think First Aid Kit and Sigur Ros), and not to forget the food and drink (meatballs, salmon, reindeer, sickly sweet cider).

It also helps that the hipsters and stylish geeks in London (and other cities) have embraced what us Norse consider practical mountain wear to be part of their uniform. Who doesn’t like a Fjellraven backpack for city hiking to the summit (read: riding a fixie bike to Dalston).

Whatever the reason is, as a Scandi expat, one thing is certain: Britain is starting to feel (even more) like home…

If you’re after some inspiration on which Scandinavian brands to include in your wardrobe, check out the gallery below. Just be warned, as with most Scandinavian things they also come with the price tag to match.

Acne

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Pamuk blue sweater. Available from Acne for £240

 

 

 



features, music

There’s more to The Pogues than just Fairytale of New York

By Gerald Lynch on December 4th, 2012

Let’s set the record straight first of all. The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is without a doubt the best Christmas song there’s ever been, and likely ever will be. The 1987 classic is often highlighted for its dry, humorously dark take on Christmas, full of alcoholism and drug addiction, and features the most fractious relationship in pop duet history. “Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last” may be the line that everyone remembers, but it’s the crushingly down-to-earth, cynical regrets of call-and-response line “I could have been someone / Well so could anyone!” that really tugs the heartstrings. It’s a beautiful song, perfectly produced and arranged and is rightfully on track to compete for this year’s Christmas number one, 25 years after it narrowly and wrongly missed out on the title to a vapid Elvis cover by the Pet Shop Boys.

But for many, Fairytale of New York is where their knowledge of The Pogues begins and ends. Skewed by the stereotype-enforcing image of sometimes drunken, shambling and warbling frontman Shane MacGowan, many miss the beauty, poetry and keen political charge of The Pogues’ wonderful back catalogue. MacGowan may well be an alcoholic, but at his best, he’s also a genius.

When The Pogues first appeared on the scene in the early 1980s, they arrived like a hurricane. MacGowan, an Irish punk living in London, pulled together a band whose ability as technically marvellous traditional folk musicians was matched by their raucous live energy and politically astute punk ethics. Teetering on the brink of collapse with every note, The Pogues’ working class liberalism was a perfect match for their punk-infused-folk tunes, a stark contrast to the safe, sanitised synth-pop that dominated the airwaves that decade.

While banjo runs and tin whistle airs collided heroically against punk rock screams, MacGowan’s unique, wry lyrics are where the real magic of The Pogues lays. It’s often overlooked how evocative a storyteller MacGowan can be. Whether documenting a surreally drunken, liberating dream encounter with Irish Republican Brendan Behan in Streams of Whiskey to the solemn, seedy dissolution of big city life in The Old Main Drag, MacGowan’s romantic style deserves to be as revered as Bob Dylan’s lyrical work.

MacGowan’s alcoholism and drug addiction would eventually lead to the band’s demise in 1996, and while the albums Waiting for the Herb and Pogue Mahone (written following MacGowan’s 1992 departure) are still wonderful, they lack the bite and vitriol of MacGowan-era Pogues, a spark the band only reclaimed once they began reuniting with the troubled frontman once more for their shows since 2001.

The Pogues first three albums however (1984’s Red Roses for Me, 1985’s Rum Sodomy & the Lash and 1987‘s If I Should Fall from Grace with God) are absolute gems. Fairytale of New York may well be the hit, but no self-confessed punk or folk fan’s record collection is complete without those choice Pogues cuts. Likewise, as a live band The Pogues are still a force to be reckoned with; even as men of advancing years, their annual Christmas and St Patrick’s Day shows are the stuff of legend, joyous riots that all fans of live music should experience at least once.

If you’re still not sure where to start, here’s a handful of our favourite Pogues songs.

If I Should Fall From Grace With God

“If I should fall from grace with God where no doctor can relieve me / If I’m buried ‘neath the sod but the angels won’t receive me / Let me go boys”

The Pogues at their very finest in our opinion: a wild song of proud Irish nationalism and rebellion, there’s anger, hope and euphoria all scrunched tight as a fist as MacGowan decries centuries old British influence over Northern Ireland, and highlights the little-known plight of Irish slaves during the colonisation of America. A live highlight.

The Old Main Drag

“In the cold winter nights the old town it was chill / There were boys in the cafes who’d give you cheap pills / If you didn’t have the money you’d cajole and you’d beg / There was always lots of tuinol on the old main drag”

A sad, reflective (arguably autobiographical) tune from MacGowan documenting an Irish immigrant’s disillusionment and decline upon arriving in London’s “Big Smoke”. The Old Main Drag in question is the Red Light District of Soho and/or Kings Cross,  areas of the capital that even today are where you end up when you fall through the cracks of London society. Keep an ear out for that sustained, discordant note at the end; chilling stuff.

The Body of an American

“He fought the champ in Pittsburgh and he slashed him to the ground / He took on Tiny Tartanella and it only went one round”

Perhaps best known now for appearing at the close of hit TV show The Wire, The Body of an American sees MacGowan tearing through one his fastest, funniest and also saddest lyrics. Describing the manic attempts to have an Irish national repatriated upon his death in the USA, it turns to farce as the mourners get a bit too “piskey”. Jim Dwyer, the dead man in question, lead a troubled life that saw him pulled from his native Ireland to become a pro boxer, making loads of cash before having his reputation ruined for refusing to throw a match. It’s riveting stuff if you can keep up with MacGowan’s fast-paced delivery.

Fiesta

“”Come on you rambling boys of pleasure and ladies of easy leisure / We must say adios until we see Almeria once again!”

Written in tribute to a four day party in the middle of a desert the band had while filming the movie Straight to Hell (incidentally one of the maddest films of all time), it’s the sort of soundtrack few parties can ever live up to. To have been on that particular four day bender would have been quite an experience, if this song is anything to go by.

Sally Maclennane

“We walked him to the station in the rain / We kissed him as we put him on the train / And we sang a song of times long gone / Though we knew that we’d seeing him again”

A bit more ambiguous this one, describing the life and times of both a pub and a guy named Jimmy, who goes off to seek his fortune only to return home to find his his old way of life (and those who inhabited it) no longer exist. It also sings of some of the best qualities of the Irish people, not least the hope they’re able to express even upon the loss of someone dear. With the whole song able to be viewed as a metaphor for an Irish wake, it’s joyful rather than sorrowful.

Thousands Are Sailing

“Ah, no says he twas not to be, on a coffin ship I came here / And I never even got so that they could change my name”

We’ll throw this one in as a bonus, as it’s not written by MacGowan, but by Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron. Another beautifully evocative tale and tune, it tells of “the ghosts” of the Irish that “haunt the waves” following the mass migration to the United States over the centuries.



features, Watches

Is Apple gunning for your wrist? How the iWatch could revolutionise smart watches

By Stefano on December 4th, 2012

As a gentleman of discerning taste and impeccable grooming you are probably wearing a watch. It is likely to have been made by a high-end Swiss company and quite possibly cost you a fair bit of money.

If that is you the you are in fact part of a dying breed. Male watch wearers have been on the decline for several years now and there are many good reasons why. Firstly the economy. With many people watching their cash watches are often seen as a luxury that ultimately we can do without.

Secondly you simply can’t escape from devices that tell you the time. Even bus shelters let you know not just how long it is until the next 73 but also what the time is right now and how late you are going to be.

The overwhelming reason though for the decline in watch wearing is that it is one of many gadgets that has been usurped by the mobile phone. I bought my first mobile in 1997, which was around the time I stopped wearing watches on a regular basis. I have bought a few since, but they reside in a draw in my room and only appear on special occasions.

Nope if I want to know what the time is I pull out my phone, or if I am at home, my iPad. From a functional perspective there really is no need for me to own one.

SPOT and the early smart watches

The first whiff of change came a decade or so ago when a flurry of smart watches that appeared that added brought live data and gadget functionality to the wrist. Microsoft unveiled something called SPOT technology which drew in basic info like traffic details and the weather via FM transmissions. In spite of a hard core geeky fan club though SPOT never really took off.

I also remember a flurry of watch MP3 players like this one from Casio. There were also watch cameras too and I remember Sir Paul McCartney getting very excited about wearing one and sharing all his images with the press. There was also a Casio MP3 watch which received lots of press coverage, but attracted very few purchasers.

More recently has seen the growth of mobile phone watches which team up with Bluetooth headsets and enable the user to make and receive phone calls as well do basics like send text messages. The market leader here appears to be sWaP whose range can be bought SIM free in the UK via Amazon.

But it is only now that the smart watch has come of age and now shows signs of going mainstream. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the technology that enables watches to communicate with smart phones has matured to point whereby exciting data (ie your latest Facebook updates!) can be ported to the watch’s screen. Secondly our growing desire to archive every area of our lives – from the number of steps we take to the messages we send – has meant a renaissance in wearable technology and the wrist is a great place to keep a device to ensure that it is easy to access.

The new generation of smart watches

A great example of how smart watch technology is heading is the I’m Watch from Italy. This teams up with any number of smartphones (iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile) via a Bluetooth connection to deliver a huge selection of features. You can do the basics, make and receive calls, send text messages etc. But you can also use it to get updates from social networks, see your email, play music, check the weather and more. There are also developers working on new features to add to the watch.

The I’m Watch has its rivals. Sony’s Liveview, and the just launched Cookoo, both of which have fewer features but are significantly cheaper and may have great mass appeal.

Then there is the Pebble which gives you access to lots of apps so that you can turn your watch into a cycle computer or fitness performance analyser.

Almost all of the watches let you customise the face too, and you can even opt for an old school analogue type fascia.

You can bet too that companies who pioneered gadget watches like Swatch, are monitoring the new breed of devices and will be working on partnerships and developing their own products very soon.

Is the iWatch next?

There is one company though that could seriously propel smart watches into the mainstream – you guessed it Apple. Having sewn up the smartphone and tablet markets there is a huge amount of speculation as to where the company will be turning its attention to next. Some critics believe that Apple’s focus will be reinventing TV. However if it wants to explode a maturing market smart watches would be a sensible move. The reach would be huge and the watch would be complementary to Apple’s existing range of devices.

Apple is especially good at coming up with interfaces and operating systems that make devices easier to use. What bigger challenge could there be than making that tiny screen useful? Maybe Siri could play an important role? Secondly Apple is also genius at creating products that excite consumers. If anyone is going to be able to produce a gorgeous hi-tech watch it has to be Apple.

Finally Apple has a great track record of taking nascent technologies and perfecting them so that they are mass market friendly.

In some way the company has already done the groundwork in that iPad nano has the screen size of a smart watch and already has many of its features. All it would need to do would be for Apple to add a Bluetooth connection to the iPhone that enables the nano to access data and it would have a smart watch.

So, for any gadget lover a smart watch sounds like a no brainer. Except that there are a few significant obstacles that will have to overcome before they become mass market.

The biggest is battery life. Most smart watches need a recharge every few days and do you really want another device you have to power up.

Then there’s the making and receiving calls process. Apparently none of us are especially keen on being Dick Tracey and having a conversation via our watches.

Then there is the frustration of being able to access information but not really responding it. To reply to that tweet or email you will probably still have to get out your mobile.

Finally smart watch makers need to get design right. Producing watches that will appeal to techy boys and girls is one thing. Creating a timepiece that has the elegance and sophistication of say a Tag is another.

Over to you Jonathan Ive.

In the meantime here are the watches mentioned in the article.

I'm Watch from £300

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Picture 1 of 8

Arguably the most sophisticated smart watch to date the I’m Watch runs a form of Android and hooks up to Android, iPhone and Windows mobiles and delivers a huge amount of features. You can do the basics, make and receive calls, send text messages etc. But you can also use it to get updates from social networks, see your email, play music, check the weather and more. There are also developers working on features to the add to the watch.



features, music

The Unmissables – the top 15 Psychedelic albums of 2012 – Tame Impala, Mmoss, Alfa 9 and more

By Stefano on December 3rd, 2012

Here at Brandish Towers we are huge psych fans. From the bonkers nursery rhymes on acid tunes of early Floyd through to the dream pop melange that is The Horrors we can’t get enough of it.

Here then are our favourite Psychedelic albums of 2012. It does of course  beg the question what exactly is Psychedelia?

Literally it is mind expanding music which over time has come to be associated with bands in thrall to its golden age of the late 60s.

These days it has become more of a catch all term though for bands who take mind expanding music from the past (Kraut Rock, Shoegazing, Dream pop and even a bit of prog) and give it a contemporary spin.

This year has all been about the huge success of Tame Impala. They are, however, the tip of a very large iceberg. Labels like Trouble In Mind in the US and Ample Play in the UK as well mags like Shindig and blogs like The Active Listener show just how exciting and diverse the psych scene currently is.

Here then are our favourite  15. What have we missed? Tell us in the comments. Spotify playlist below too.

Here our are top debut albums and singer-songwriter albums too.

15 Sky Picnic - Paint Me A Dream

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Picture 1 of 15

The second album from Brooklyn's biggest Floyd fans, Paint Me A Dream is a wonderfully trippy listen that incorporates elements of psych, early prog and kraut rock. The stand out track, Rippled also has a whiff of The Church's epic Priest=Aura opus, while Translucent Lucy is prime Brit 60s psych pop. Only available via bandcamp (and on vinyl too) at the moment.

 



features, Gadgets, Gallery

Stocking fillers – 2012′s 20 weirdest gadgets and gifts

By Stefano on November 29th, 2012

Ever wanted a pair of sunglasses that can shoot video? A USB based hand warming system? Or even a cushion that can moonlight as a remote control? Nope me neither. But I sure love reading about them.

Here then are 2012′s weirdest gadgets. Some are actually quite cool, others are borderline useful, but all are just plain weird.

Stockists under the gallery.

 

Electronic Guitar T shirt £29.99

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Picture 1 of 20

Ok, it might just look like a black T shirt with a pretty naff design, but this is actually one of the hottest bloke gifts this Christmas. That's because that guitar print is (kind of) a real guitar which lets you play chords and strum along to your favourite rawk tunes. It even comes with a mini amp that apparently goes up to 11. If you are more Hot Chip than Van Halen there's also a drum machine kit in the range too.

Electronic Guitar

Table Tennis

Camper Van

Viper R/C copter

USB hand warmer

Shower curtain

Jetlev

Bluetooth shower speaker

Bike Light

Remote Pillow

Camera Lens Mug

Trotify

Baby suit

Video sunglasses

iPad joystick

Lavnav

Self-stirring mug

Thumbs Up

iPad retro music centre

Ed

 



features, music

The Unmissables – 2012′s top 12 under the radar singer songwriter albums

By Stefano on November 29th, 2012

Today’s Spotify playlist brings together tracks from twelve songwriters whose 2012 albums might have passed you by.

It’s actually been a pretty good year for one man and his guitar type troubadours with stunning albums from Richard Hawley, Paul Weller and the young pretender Jake Bugg. Monday also sees the release of Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch, which is likely to be as brilliant as it is, well, bonkers.

There are a few that you may have missed, especially from British songwriters, so here are twelve great albums ranging from the quirky 60s pop of Suzi Chunk through to the return of cult legends Bob Lind and Bill Fay.

The number one album is astonishing and IMO by some distance the album of the year.

Do you agree with the choices? What have we missed? Check out the Spotify playlist below. If you want the top den debut albums of 2012 go here and for a round up of the year’s best music polls check out this brilliant blog.

12 Bill Fay - Life Is People

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Picture 1 of 12

One of the year’s most unlikely comebacks, Fay was a feted 60s songwriter whose two albums from that era are often described as the missing link between Nick Drake and Ray Davies. Musically he is still in the same territory on Life Is People and tracks like There Is A Valley are likely to win him many new fans



features, knitwear

Stocking fillers – five jumpers for under £30

By Stefano on November 26th, 2012

We haven’t had a jumper post on this website for a day or two now, which is odd because as John Lewis email pointed out this morning it is only 29 sleeps until Christmas.

Round about now the great jumper sale begins with high street brands traditionally slashing prices in a bid to piss off people who did their Christmas shopping early tempt us to finally buy the knitwear that first caught our eye in September.

Even without the price cutting though there are however a few rather decent sub £30 jumpers that we would take a punt on, and here are five of them.

The massive downsides of cheap jumpers are 1 If they are mainly acrylic then they can be a bit scratchy to wear. 2 If they are cheap wool or wool mix they don’t tend to wash too well and may be out of shape by the time you pull the Christmas tree down.

The massive upside is that you can wear them with pride over the festive season (and in the snow that is inevitably going to hit the UK in December) and they are cheap as chips.

If you have a bit more budget check out these Cashmere, Classic and Statement jumpers.

ASOS Blue Fairisle £26

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Picture 2 of 5

It's a lightweight Acrylic/Cotton mix with a fairisle pattern and great value at £26

Stockists

Burton’s

River Island

H&M

Atom Retro BJ

ASOS




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