Archive for the ‘music’ Category


The Shadow Kabinet – Nostalgia For The Future review

By Stefano on April 22nd, 2013


If you have never heard The Shadow Kabinet’s epic album Smiling Worlds Apart I suggest you do it pronto. Especially if you love The Beatles. For with tracks like Tabla Motown (a quirky sitar driven instrumental) Office Life (Lovely Rita style pop) and the title (think Harrison’s droney psych), multi-instrumentalist Steve Somerset, for he is The Shadow Kabinet created a Sgt Pepper in miniature. And very good it is too – Spotify link below.

Now four years on and Somerset is back with the third SK album Nostalgia For The Future. Having made his Fabs’ inspired pop masterpiece Somerset has fast forwarded a decade or so with Nostalgia and many of the tracks sound like they have their roots in the 70s as opposed to the 60s vibe of his earlier albums.

Sure there’s a smidgeon onf psych, especially in the album’s opener – the title track – and its Lennon-esque finale Let It Go, but in between the music’s inspiration hovers somewhere between 73-76.

So you have Dust Descends Into Light – a droney slice of Wish You Were Here era Floyd complete with Gilmour-esque guitar and  Ladder To The Moon, whose jazzy interludes and odd instrumentation recall Peter Frampton. The album’s opening single Angelville even has a whiff of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Games about it.

In some respects then Nostalgia doesn’t connect quite as quickly as its predecessor, but give it time. It really gets under your skin and stays there.

Somerset’s songwriting has blossomed too. There are some great off the wall lyrics, such as Have We Got Max On Board which imagines how a world war was temporarily postponed so the world’s inhabitants wouldn’t miss the final of the X-Factor. Or the story of a girl who falls out of her window in Camden in the intriguing Ladder To the Moon.

While the lyrics are often inspired and the arrangements ambitious it is the melodies that carry this excellent album. The title track may be Somerset’s best ever though Honey Glow Afternoon – a gorgeous slice of folk pop – runs it very close.

If you have ever loved Pugwash, XTC, The Orgone Box or any number of McCartney influenced US power poppers then you’ll adore this.

It is available for download here.


Gadgets, music

Jack White’s amazing working Record Booth – video

By Stefano on April 19th, 2013

recordbooth01Record Booths, basically mini recording studios where you went in to sing your songs and came out with a newly pressed bit of vinyl, were all the rage in the 40s and 50s. These days, with cassettes and digital recording, not so much. In fact they pretty much disappeared in the 1970s,

So it is so amazing that Jack White has brought the concept back to life at the Third Man Record Store in Nashville.

Especially for Record Store Day, but it will be working all year round, the refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine records up to 2 minutes of audio and dispenses a one-of-a-kind 6″ phonograph disc to the user.

The machine has been tweaked too to create 45RPM vinyl ratehr than the 78RPM it used to dispense in the middle of the last century.

Like the record booths of old those who make recording at the refurbished booth are encouraged to mail their records to friends and loved ones and Third Man offers custom-printed envelopes and postage stamps to make that happen.

And if musicians want a wider audience then they will be able to submit digitised versions of their recordings to Third Man to be streamed on a dedicated page on the Third Man Records website.

So can we have one in London pronto, please. Top-end of Brick Lane round the back off Rough trade would be ideal.

Anyhow here’s Brendan Benson in action creating his one-off 45. More info here


A tribute to the king of album sleeve designs – Storm Thorgerson

By Stefano on April 19th, 2013

DarkSideOfMoonSimon Poulter of What Would David Bowie Do? remembers a brilliant designer.

If you were to ask me to make a list of the greatest albums of all time, I could start now and probably never finish. Magazines and radio stations regularly try to give it a go, but rarely come up with a top 10, top 100 or even top 100 that will truly cover things adequately.

You might, however, stand a chance of coming up with a decent list of the greatest albums based on their cover art.

From Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to London Calling, album covers were an integral part of the record buying experience in the pre-CD era.

With the 2013 Record Store Day taking place throughout the world tomorrow, you won’t have to go far to hear old heads – like me – ruing the disappearance of gatefold sleeves, of liner notes and lyrics, and the whole tactility of buying music in a physical format.

As a schoolboy, album art meant as much to me as the music contained within. Dull geography lessons on Upper Volta would pass more meaningfully while recreating band logos in biro on the cover of an exercise book. Entire band back catalogues could be filed and discussed according to their sleeve art, while no adolescent male could resist a sneaky peak at Roxy Music’s Country Life while perusing the record racks on a Saturday afternoon.

Some covers – and more pertinently, their designers – became synonymous with the impact of the album’s musical content. Barney Bubbles was the creative force behind Stiff Records during the New Wave, while further back, Roger Dean’s elaborate fantasyscapes will be forever associated with Yes.

Storm and the Floyd

But, perhaps, the most inventive and iconic cover art designer of them all was Storm Thorgerson, who died yesterday from cancer at the age of 69.

He is mostly associated with Pink Floyd, but together with Hipgnosis, the design collective he co-founded in 1968, Thorgerson was responsible for designing covers for 10CC, Muse, Led Zeppelin, Audioslave, The Cranberries, Peter Gabriel, Black Sabbath, Ian Dury, Steve Miller and Genesis.


Growing up in Cambridge, Thorgerson was a childhood friend of eventual Floyd members Syd Barrett, Roger Waters and David Gilmour. “We first met in our early teens,” Gilmour wrote yesterday on his website. “We would gather at Sheep’s Green, a spot by the river in Cambridge and Storm would always be there holding forth, making the most noise, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. Nothing has ever really changed. He has been a constant force in my life, both at work and in private, a shoulder to cry on and a great friend.”

In 1968 Thorgerson and fellow Cambridge designer Aubrey Powell were asked by the Floyd to design the cover for A Saucer Full Of Secrets. It was to seal Thorgerson’s association with the band forever: “The artworks that [Storm] created for Pink Floyd from 1968 to the present day have been an inseparable part of our work,” Gilmour added in his online tribute.

Dark Side Of The Moon

In 1973 the band released Dark Side Of The Moon, for which Thorgerson came up with a cover design as iconic as the record itself. It’s origins were pretty functional: the band’s Rick Wright had suggested Thorgerson came up with something simple and straightforward. The outcome is something so straightforward and simple that it has adorned T-shirts and posters for the last 40 years

“No amount of cajoling would get them to consider any other contender, nor endure further explanation of the prism, or how exactly it might look,” Thorgerson has explained. “‘That’s it’, they said in unison, we got to get back to real work, and returned forthwith to the [Abbey Road] studio upstairs.”

“The refracting glass prism referred to Floyd light shows – consummate use of light in the concert setting. Its outline is triangular and triangles are symbols of ambition, and are redolent of pyramids, both cosmic and mad in equal measure, all these ideas touching on themes in the lyrics. The joining of the spectrum extending round the back cover and across the gatefold inside was seamless like the seguing tracks on the album, whilst the opening heartbeat was represented by a repeating blip in one of the colours.”

Throughout Thorgerson’s work, artistic influences can be easily identified, from Picasso to Magritte, but also plenty of humour. With the Floyd’s Animals, Thorgerson created another icon, with a pig famously flying over Battersea Power Station.

The shot has now passed into lore thanks to the inflatable pig used for the photograph slipping its mooring and drifting off into the incoming flight path for Heathrow Airport.

Other work

As the 1970s unfolded, and conceptual cover art became increasingly intertwined with musical narrative, Hipgnosis expanded their client roster to include other bands, and notably those on the artier side of rock, like Genesis and 10CC.

The studio also picked up Black Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy, the cover of which was once described eloquently by Ozzy Osbourne as “two robots screwing on an escalator”

More often than not covers were conceptual interpretations rather than literal representations, eschewing the pop notion that albums should be adverts for the bands, featuring the members themselves.


Through Thorgerson’s work with Pink Floyd, however, notable design cues emerged that would appear in his work for other acts. Anonymity played a major part. Even with albums like Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, …And Then There Were Three by Genesis, and jazz-rockers Brand-X’s Moroccan Roll (my favourite album title ever), which feature photography of people, they are never in close-up. Faces are never clear and in several cases feature figures with their backs to the camera.

Distance is always significant, something Thorgerson’s work shared with Floyd’s Roger Waters, who became increasingly obsessed with absence and separation, culminating in the entire narrative of The Wall. Thorgerson returned to Water’s feelings with the cover for Is There Anybody Out There?, the box set of the live Wall show, which simply features the four face masks worn by the fake Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason at the beginning of the ambitious show.

One dominant cue throughout Thorgerson’s projects has been the prominence of flat, green grassy fields in the lower half of the cover, blue sky in the upper half, and a prominent object or objects in the immediate foreground.

Grantchester Meadows

Perhaps inspired by Grantchester Meadows in Cambridge (immortalised by Floyd on Ummagumma), Thorgerson returned to this device again and again, on everything from Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother and The Division Bell through to Biffy Clyro’s single God & Satan and Synrise by obscure Belgian electro band Goose. Along with the setting, Thorgerson’s photography would often have an unreal reality about it – rich greens in the grass, bold blues in the skyscapes, and an unnerving clarity of objects in the fore.

“I listen to the music, read the lyrics, speak to the musicians as much as possible,” Thorgerson has explained. “I see myself as a kind of translator, translating an audio event – the music – into a visual event – the cover. I like to explore ambiguity and contradiction, to be upsetting but gently so. I use real elements in unreal ways.”

As albums have become reduced to bitstreams, and music consumption shifts from having the patience to listen to two or even four sides of vinyl to downloaded singles or Spotify mixes, Thorgerson’s artistry is, sadly, diminishing.

There are still, thankfully, champions of the art of record design, who regard the packaging and presentation of their music as more than just a marketing exercise, and who look to today’s multiple formats as an opportunity for renewed design creativity.

But with Storm Thorgerson’s passing, we should mourn the death of an era when the album cover meant more than just the thing that stops your record from getting scratched.

Article originally published here.


Psych round up – Len Price 3′s Maggie Thatcher song, Beaulieu Porch album, Smoking Trees single

By Stefano on April 16th, 2013

It has been three long years since The Len Price 3 issued their fabulous Pictures album, so it really exciting to hear the first track from the band’s upcoming, as yet untitled, new album.

Maggie, is as you might have guessed, a non-tribute to the recently departed ex-PM and if you are in any doubts where the boys stand on Thatcher the pay off line is ‘see you again on judgement day.’

I wonder if they recorded this very recently or if it has been in the can for a while. Anyhow great tune and much better than other Thatcher protest songs we could mention.

Another big fave here this week is the track Merry Go Maggie (which may or may not be the most bizarre Thatcher song yet – I haven’t decided) from LA’s Smoking Trees. The band has recently signed to the brilliant Ample Play Records, who have got The Sufis, excellent Belgian band The Bed Rugs and French psychsters The Sudden Death Of Stars, and their album Acetates is due in May.

This track sounds like a refugee from one of those Piccadilly Sunshine compilations given a contemporary spin. The album is very trippy in places yet has a strong pop edge to it. If you like The Sufis and Paperhead, then you’ll enjoy this too.

Also out this week is the second album from Salisbury’s psych band Beaulieu Porch - We Are Beautiful. I’ll review it properly later this week, but after a couple of plays I can safely say that if you loved the debut album you’ll find plenty to cherish here too.

Also on constant rotation here is the upcoming album from “>London’s Shadow Kabinet - Nostalgia For The future. It is very different from the band’s last album – the Sgt Pepper in miniature that was Smiling World’s Apart, but every bit as good.


Were the 60s Mods the footsoldiers who propelled Margaret Thatcher to power?

By Stefano on April 12th, 2013


One of the most intriguing books about popular culture in a while went on sale last month. Richard Weight’s Mod: A Very British Style is not a rose-tinted, nostalgic romp through the history of a movement that has had profound impact on British culture, but a serious academic (yet still very readable) study of what Mod is and was and how the 60s Mods have influenced British society.

It scope – which goes way beyond most books about Mods -has already attracted criticism from hardcore Mods who may or may not have a point that the author talks too much about the influence of German art school Bauhaus at the expense of say, how Makin Time and The Prisoners took Mod in a new direction in the 80s.

It doesn’t help Weight’s case that there is the odd detail too that isn’t quite right. Nevertheless even if he has Blur coming from Chelmsford rather than Colchester, he still makes some fascinating observations

For me the pivotal part is Weight’s dissection of how the 60s Mods – not the original late 50s/early  60s ones who were a different tribe altogether - changed the way Britons live, think and most of all shop.

But the one connection he only loosely makes is how the mid-60s Mods influenced British politics. Which is a shame because there is a lot of evidence to suggest when those youngsters hit adult life they became the foot soldiers of the politics we now know as Thatcherism.

The parallels really are quiet scary.

When Mod was at its mainstream peak - between 1963-66 – it was a movement that had the following traits.

1 Hierarchical - the scene was dominated by Faces – think Sting in Quadrophenia – who had the best gear, the classiest scooters etc. Mods who couldn’t match the sartorial eloquence of their superiors were known by the A List as Tickets.

2 Individualistic - although there were, for want of a better word, uniforms, for most Mods the devil was in the detail. Your suit had to tick the right boxes in say number of buttons, but choosing the right material and colour to make it your own was just as important  As Paul Smith, a tailor who was an original Mod, would become known for – Mod clothes were all about classics with a twist.

3 Conservative – Mods weren’t trying to change society in a outwardly political way. In fact according to Weight and others many Mods respected and admired their elders and parents and wanted to not just emulate them but better them.

Aspirational and acquisitive – Much of Weight’s book focuses on the Mods obsession with shopping, not just for clothes but for other items too. He attributes much of the success of Habitat in the 70s and Ikea more recently to the way that style and design were passed on from the Mods to subsequent generations.

5 Southern and class-based - Mod was also more of southern England tribe than a northern one and most of its adherents came from, what in old money would be referred to as the more aspirational sector of the working class. In other words these were youngsters whose parents had manual jobs, but thanks to improving post-war educational standards they were able to take on skilled work or white collar jobs in offices.

Ultimately these were youngsters who had seen the deprivation that their parents had endured through the war years and before and wanted better.

Thatcher’s supporters

Take a look then at the demographic which propelled the Conservatives to power in 1979 and kept them there for the best part of two decades. They were young-ish, based in the south and were drawn from upper working class and lower middle class groups. They were clearly aspirational and wanted their own homes (to buy their own council houses?) yet not seeking big changes in British society. Sound familiar?

If you look too at the end of the Callaghan government - Andy Beckett’s When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies is a great re-telling of the story – Sunny Jim was largely betrayed by Union leaders whose workers were constantly pushing for more money to maintain standards of living that they had accrued in the earlier part of the decade. Just take a look at the groups who went on strike during the winter of discontent - public sector employees, nurses, train drivers – these are all arguably comprised of individuals who fit the class profile of the 60s Mods.

The irony is that while the old school union leaders unwittingly ushered in their worst nightmare – a government that would destroy much of their power base – their younger members got a government that was far more in keeping with the values that Mod had endowed in them in the 60s. It was a government that they voted for time and time again because its shared the same visions and enacted legislation like the buying of council houses - that fitted their aspirations. Bear in mind too that the unemployment that characterised much of the 80s was more prevalent in the north than the south.

One 70s Mod who said he would vote Tory in 1979 was Paul Weller. He now says it was a publicity stunt but it must have made sense at the time. And there’s a good chunk of the mid-60s Mod aristocracy who are either Conservatives – including Kenny Jones, Bill Wyman, Phil Collins and Bryan Ferry – or are largely ambivalent about politics.

Ultimately though the changes that Margaret Thatcher made to Britain were because a society had emerged which made her world view more acceptable. And I wonder if that society had been shaped by a youth culture that defined Britain a decade earlier.







The Three O’Clock announce rarities album and star on US TV show

By Stefano on April 11th, 2013

Some big news this week from The Three O’Clock – quite possibly the 80s finest pop psych band. The Paisley Undergrounders, who reformed this year to play Coachella (and please, please, please some UK dates too), have announced the release of a new old album which pairs many of their most popular songs with a some rarities.

Titled The Hidden World Revealed the album, which is due in June, features a slew of alternate versions, rarities that only made the European release of their epic debut Baroque Hoedown and more.

In a news release announcing the album, drummer Danny Benair says:

“The Hidden World Revealed takes you from the early days of recording in Michael Quercio’s garage to the days leading up to Arrive Without Traveling and beyond. A combination of the well-known and the unknown. The completist guide to The Three O’Clock — ten years in the making 30 plus years of recording. . . whoosh!

The tracklist is as follows

1. “All In Good Time”
2. “With A Cantaloupe Girlfriend”
3. “In Love In Too”
4. “Stupid Einstein”
5. “Lucifer Sam”
6. “Rodney On The ROQ Commercial” *
7. “Jet Fighter”
8. “When Lightening Starts” (Alternate Version) *
9. “Sound Surrounds” (Demo)*
10. “Around The World”
11. “On My Own” (with Strings) *
12. “I Go Wild” (Alternate Version) *
13. “In My Own Time” (Alternate Version) *
14. “Why Cream Curdles In Orange Tea” *
15. “A Day In Erotica” (Alternate Version) *
16. “Jennifer Only” (Home Demo) * – The Salvation Army
17. “The Girl With The Guitar (Says Oh Yeah)” (Demo) *
18. “Seeing Is Believing”
19. “Regina Caeli”
20. “Feel A Whole Lot Better”

The band also appeared on an American chat show Conan, playing With A Canteloupe Girlfriend, the opening song on Baroque Hoedown – and they sound great.

The band last played a date in the UK in Dingwalls, Camden in 1985. Weirdly enough the support band on the bill were locals called The Thrashing Doves – whose single, Beautiful Imbalance got the thumbs up from a certain female politician who recently died, when she appeared on TV kids programme Saturday Superstore. Odd…



The genius that is Edwyn Collins and his superb new Understated album

By Stefano on April 11th, 2013


Simon Poulter of What Would David Bowie Do? fame salutes a pop legend.

Europe is cold. No matter which part of the continent you find yourself, it is as cold as the proverbial sorceress mammary gland. Brass monkeys. ‘Taters. Choose your analogous epithet.

In Europe’s southern half, where I currently find myself, it is not only cold and wet, but economically freezing.

In the northern half, the Old World equivalent of Punxsutawney Phil has declared the sixth ice age back on and has buggered off back to the warmth of his lair.

This should be the first weekend of Spring: lambs should be gambolling in daffodil-edged fields, country strolls should be protected by clothing measured by layer, not tog rating, and Easter egg hunts should not require ice picks and crampons.

But no. We shiver. We shudder. We pull the duvet up over our heads and vow to stay there until something changes outside.

Into this bleak landscape, however, pokes one green shoot hinting at winter’s eventual demise: Understated by the blessed Edwyn Collins. Given his recent history (if you missed it, in 2005 Collins suffered two brain haemorrhages that very nearly finished him off), Collins could release an EP of him just playing the spoons and that will be enough for those of us of a certain age to be happy.

Such winsomeness in blokes like me, hanging on to life’s supposed midpoint, is that Edwyn Collins had a small but significant part to play in our social development. The 1980s were a bleak time to be British. Our country was being run by a mad woman who was a cross between Hyacinth Bouquet and, well, Hyacinth Bouquet. And that is not something any country wants. Even Italy.

As we progressed through our teenage years, we gradually shed our pre-pubescent musical interests in rock bands whose logos could be sown onto our army-surplus napsacks, and we took interest in bands that were a little more chirpy, and thus, could be enjoyed in the company of girls, which would subsequently end in snog action. This didn’t always work out so, but the theory behind it couldn’t be faulted.

However, we couldn’t or wouldn’t part company with proper bands. Bands with guitars and drums and, you know, instruments. So, since we would never allow ourselves to acknowledge the legitimacy of electronic bands or dance music (kind of like Hamas recognising Israel), we latched on to the likes of Collins’ Orange Juice, his compatriot Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera, The Blow Monkeys and Lloyd Cole. All of whom, I’ve just realised, are Scottish.

But let’s skip past the frankly unedifying collective image of the thirty years past to hail this, Edwyn Collins’ second album since his brush with the Reaper, which sees his self-confidence come on leaps and bounds

Eight years after virtually teaching himself to walk, talk and play guitar all over again, Understated is as bright and breezy as Sarah Greene in a dayglo puffball skirt (happenin’ 80s reference there kids!), and as emphatic as a Welsh male voice choir in full muster.

Collins’ ability to blend languid melody with frisky guitar pop (augmented by session musicians due to his continued difficulties playing the instrument) hasn’t diminished, but in addressing his medical experiences through his songwriting, he has added a distinct husk to his music.

Understated is a consummate pop album, rooted around the guitar but drawing references and influences from across the musical spectrum, including Motown (Too Bad, That’s Sad), ballad (Love’s Been Good To Me) Northern Soul (the title track) and country (the delightful Carry On, Carry On). Over this canvas, Collins doesn’t stray too far from addressing the aftermath of his illness. But not to wallow.

Some of the time he’s extending a single-fingered salute to nature’s cruelty, at other times he’s simply self-depreciating. But at no time does he descend into self-pity. Quite the opposite. As he sings on the Velvet Underground-like Forsooth, “I feel alive, I feel reborn”.

If your sole experience of Edwyn Collins has been Orange Juice’s Rip It Up 30 years ago (a storming live version is included on the iTunes deluxe edition of Understated) or A Girl Like You, Collins’ timely hit at the height of Britpop, you won’t be at a disadvantage listening to this album. The Caledonian post-punk spirit of Collins’ breakthrough act is still in there, but three decades – and the last eight years in particular – have emboldened Collins. Understated is anything but, but with abundant variety and a warmth that, with a winter hanging around like a malingering teenager, is more than welcome.

Article originally published here.

Pic Iain Fenton

features, Gallery, music

Ten great vinyl only albums – The Beatles, Velvet Underground, The Cleaners From Venus and more

By Stefano on April 5th, 2013

Not long to wait now. Record Store Day is coming a week on Saturday and I’ll be spending that day hunting down  obscure 80s indie singles and long lost psych albums.

And to celebrate – well we have got in a tad early – here is a list of ten of the greatest albums that have are vinyl only and have never had a CD reissue.

Except a few of them have – but either on dodgy low quality bootlegs or in legit reissues that have never ever turned up in the UK.

Anyhow, the best way to hear them is buying the vinyl. Here’s our list. What have we missed?

Lee Hazlewood - Forty £25

Picture 1 of 10
Picture 1 of 10

In his packed 70 years cosmic cowboy Lee Hazlewood recorded a string of wonderful albums many of which were on obscure labels. Thanks to the sterling work of labels like Light In The Attic many have now been reissued. Not Forty though. Clearly the runt of the Hazlewood litter Forty, recorded when the maestro celebrated that milestone birthday, is low on Hazlewood originals and high on sugary covers of standards like September Song and It Was A Very Good Year which don’t really suit the fella’s gruff voice. There are some stellar tunes here though most notably The Bed, which starts as a depressing country-esque lament before strings, brass and a female vocal kick in to turn into a jaunty pop tune, and the rather miserable but nevertheless marvelous The Night Before.

features, music

The Stones at Glasto. The Roses on tour. Is rock and roll now an old man’s game?

By Stefano on March 28th, 2013


Well it wasn’t me who said it. The words actually came from the lips of one Robyn Hitchcock. But then again he has a new album to promote – which is very, very good – and it is his 60th birthday.

But it does strike me that there might be a grain of truth in his words, what with those hip young gunslingers The Rolling Stones headlining Glastonbury and the summer full of reunions of 80s and 90s bands hoping for one last big pay day.

And this week I had a bit of an epiphany in comparing the latest releases from NME’s flavour of the month Peace and the new album from 80s indie rock legends The House Of Love.

The Peace album has its moments, but it clearly isn’t anywhere near as good as the hyped review from the NME and others makes it out to be. It sounds like B list Brit Pop – and not in a good way.

As for The House of Love’s She Paints Words In Red, it boasts lots of crafted tunes, inspired guitar and intelligent lyrics. It lacks a little of the oomph of the band in its heyday – especially on their epic pair of first two albums, but it is way better than the Peace album.

It also strikes me that the latest crop of hyped bands – like Peace, the Palma Violets etc aren’t that great. Last year’s mob – Jake Bugg, Toy, Temples etc were a lot more interesting.

However before you write me off as an ageing curmudgeon with a Suede fetish, I actually listen to more new music than at any point in my life courtesy of the wonder that is Spotify.

What is wrong with British music fans?

My theory is that rock music has become an old man’s game – but only in the UK and that is because of the weird legacy of the old music press and the way it shaped how we saw new bands.

In the UK we are still suckers for the concept of the package – the band with the personalities, clothes, images and haircuts – as much as the music. Trouble is they don’t come along very often. The last band to perfectly fit the bill were The Strokes (who took off in the UK long before they mean anything in the US) and they made, well one great album and one good one, and the new one is horrendous. Maybe The Arctic Monkeys too, though before Alexa rocked up they looked like a few northern plumbers on a Thursday night pub crawl. It is why we are still obsessed with The Libertines too, who were a great soap opera, but musically nowhere near as good as their heroes.

So the great stars of yesterday – who had the image and the music and something to say too – the Stones, Roses, Bowie etc still fit the bill of what we except from our rock stars.

It feels like the rest of the world doesn’t share our obsession with the package. Tame Impala are a huge global band now and they are clearly way more passionate about their music than they are about their trousers. As are countless of other American, Australian and European bands.

So maybe it is time us Brits stopped fretting about outdated notions of what rock stars should and shouldn’t be. It really is all about the music now. And until we embrace that hundreds of really great British bands and artists like The Horrors, Ulysses, The Clientele, Magic Theatre, The Real Tuesday Weld, Darren Hayman and The Soundcarriers to name but a few, aren’t going to get the attention their superb music truly deserves.


Psych round up – Ulysses, Bedrugs, Shadow Kabinet, Mmoss, Magic Theatre, The Primitives and more

By Stefano on March 26th, 2013

It has been a really great week for albums with a pair of excellent new releases.

Band of the week has to be Ulysses who return with their second album Kill You Again, and just like that debut it is an absolute corker. Think noisy glam rock meets Who-like psych with a few outrageous musical steals along with way. Best of all though it has some amazing tunes. If you like Art Brut, David Devant or even The Len Price 3 there is plenty to love here.

The Primitives
are back too, well with a kind of new old album. Everything’s Shining Bright rounds up all their indie recordings for the label Lazy at the end of the 80s. It has some real gems too. Their run of singles from that era includes the Morrissey fave Stop Killing Me (think Ramones meets Monkees) through to the bubblegum psych of Through The Flowers. Also included is a live recording and some demos from the album that eventually morphed into Lovely. This wonderful tune is on there too. There’s a double album reissue of Lovely on the cards soon too.

Cornershop’s Ample Play label has two really exciting new releases coming in the early summer. Bedrugs are a Belgian band with a guitar heavy psych sound not too dissimilar from the excellent Brits Temples but with a whiff of bands like Toy and The Horrors, while The Sudden Death Of Stars hail from France and are influenced by The Byrds, Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Church. There is some superb sitar playing on their album too, especially on the Supernovae single featured below.  More info here. Both albums are excellent.

London’s Shadow Kabinet have finally announced a release date for their long awaited Nostalgia For The Future album. Whereas their last album Smiling Worlds Apart was a Sgt Pepper-ish minestrone of psych, the newie sounds like the band have shifted forward a decade or so and are mining mid 70s sounds. The title track (on the vid below) is superb.

Another band who have been away way too long is The Magic Theatre. Basically a project of some ex-members of the hugely under rated Brit-Popper Ooberman, the band released a wonderfully ambitious, heavily orchestrated sixties influenced pop album a few years back called London Town. The new one, The Long Way Home, has a track listing and is apparently in the can. The band’s Dan Popplewell described it as

‘Comparing it sonically to the previous album it sounds much better – more rich, alive and real. Compared to The Beatles it’s a tiny bit louder and brighter. Compared to Abba it’s fat and loud. Compared to The Beach Boys it’s very clear and pristine. Compared to Katy Perry it’s more natural and rich. Oops giving away my bad taste there.’

The line up of the Liverpool’s Psych Fest in September is coming together now and there are some real treats including a very rare (is it their first?) UK visit from the hugely rated psychsters Mmoss. The band’s album Only Children has been one of my most played in a long while. Also coming over are Nashville’s superb Paperhead, Dutch psych wunder kid Jacco Gardner and our the brilliant Byrdsie Brit psychers Alfa 9.

Finally this week sees Le Beat Bespoke in London which marks the first performance in well over a decade for one of the very best English psych pop bands ever The Aardvarks.

The band’s complete recorded history is now rounded up here – and very good it is too. Hope they play this one.


features, music

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon – masterpiece or over-rated prog rock noodlings?

By Stefano on March 26th, 2013

Pink_Floyd_Large_1233758930_crop_500x338Simon Poulter of What Would David Bowie Do puts the case for the Floyd album which is 40 years old this week.

Along with the ubiquity of fast food drive-throughs, questionable road surfaces and sparring with trucks large enough to have their own electorate, the essence of the American road trip lies in wading through the alphabet soup of radio stations that blanket the country.

As you cruise along at genteel, radar-enforced speeds, you dial through the stations like a master safe cracker, frantically trying not to get stuck on a frequency offering country music, hellfire-and-damnation religion, or whack jobs spewing forth on the right to use uranium-tipped bullets when hunting small animals.

Eventually in this megahertz miasma you will come across something as familiar as your own face, and indeed as old as your face. It will be a riff, a chorus or a solo. You have found a classic rock station.

We Brits may have developed an awkwardness towards our own musical legacy, but Americans positively embrace those who led the British invasion of the 1960s and 70s. The likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Cream, the Stones and even The Beatles are often considered their own, part of the fabric that built the modern American culture. It is no accident that Tony Soprano, that icon of the American dream, drove – and frequently crashed – to the sound of New York’s WAXQ, being of the generation of Americans who hold due reverence for the music that defined the rock era.

In the UK, classic rock artists – while still celebrated (as we saw during last summer’s Olympic entertainment) – have been consigned to darkening corners of the radio spectrum. Although Stairway To Heaven was never released as a single, the idea of playing it in daylight hours is akin to walking naked down Oxford Street playing the German national anthem on a kazoo – somewhere between unfashionable, eccentric and arrestable.

But find yourself within 100 miles of any American conurbation between sea and shining sea and you will never be more than 20 minutes away from a station playing a track from Rumours or Frampton Comes Alive. Or a track from one of the most revered albums ever made, one that continues to draw superlative regard as it enters its fifth decade, and which, this week, celebrates its 40th anniversary: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Their masterpiece

With more than 50 million copies in circulation in the world and a cover that even those who’ve never listened to the record will recognise, Dark Side Of The Moon was a landmark record, full of landmarks. Musically, it is the definitive Pink Floyd album (although the surviving Floyd members still dispute this – Roger Waters citing The Wall, David Gilmour favouring Wish You Were Here).

It is also as musically accessible as anything in the Floyd canon. Breathe, the album’s first musical track, is seemingly built out of an extended bluesy jams that were the band’s hallmark in their early days in London’s underground club scene, the only notable shift being Richard Wright’s Miles Davis-influenced chord changes on the piano.

flord-sdrak side

In principle, however, DSOTM is a concept album, lyrically owing much to bassist and lead writer Roger Waters’ perennial obsessions with distance, separation (the loss of Syd Barrett) and death (the loss of his father at Anzio during World War II), and a growing cynicism towards the modern world.

Not that Dark Side Of The Moon is so starkly contrived. Like so many albums of its time, it’s as much a collection of happy accidents as a narrative of conscious statements on these topics: death is covered more or less melodically by The Great Gig In The Sky, with Clare Torry’s lyric-free, lung-rattling one-take vocal (for which she received the princely fee of £30 – later successfully contested in court), built over Wright’s mournful piano. Happy it may not be, but by its end, few listeners have ever been anything other than exhilarated by one of the most memorable vocal performance in music history.

Sixth form poetry?

Lyrically DSOTM engenders some reasonable criticism. Even Waters himself has described lines like those on Breathe as “a bit Lower Sixth” (‘Breathe, breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care. Leave, don’t leave me. Look around and choose your own ground), but such lack of erudition can be easily glossed over by the mammoth impact of the album’s music.

Like most episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the social commentary of Money, is dating, especially if you regard new cars and caviar the height of extravagance. Still, as prescient as references to LearJets and buying football teams may have been, reflecting Waters’ underlying socialist bent, they’re hardly in the same league of rock star awkwardness as We Didn’t Start The Fire or Sting singing about the plight of Russian children.

While Money afforded a generation of gauche adolescents the opportunity to let rip with the “goody-good bullshit” line, it also became the first Floyd song to be a commercial hit. One of the most unlikely aspects of this is one of the song’s least obvious aspects – its obscure 7/4 time signature providing the 1-2-3-4-1-2-3 cyclical bass figure, a walking blues with its roots in Booker T & The MGs’ Green Onions. And, of course, it features that looped sound effect of a cash register and the splash of coins being thrown by Waters into one of his wife’s pottery creations, with the loop then spliced into seven pieces and hooked around upturned chair legs to keep with the 7/4 time.

Money isn’t the album’s only taste of sound effects, of course: the ticking and ringing alarm clocks of Time and the pulsing heartbeat that heralds the opening track, Speak To Me and the album’s first words: “I’ve been mad for fucking years, absolutely years, been over the edge for yonks”. This and other excerpts of spoken voice throughout the album was the result of Waters using cue cards to ask stock questions to various hangers-on around Abbey Road Studios including (but never used) Paul McCartney, road manager Peter Watts (father of actress Naomi) and the cheerful studio doorman Gerry O’Driscoll (“I’m not afraid of dying. Any time will do”).

And there’s the mournful Us and Them, a song loosely about depression (another Waters theme), and built on a Rick Wright composition originally written for the 1970 film Zabriskie Point by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni (and featuring a brief appearance by Harrison Ford, trivia fans). In place of a traditional middle eight, it features roadie Roger ‘The Hat’ Manifold, airing his wisdom on a road rage perpetrator.

I mean, they’re not gonna kill ya. If you give ‘em a quick short, sharp, shock, they won’t do it again. Dig it? I mean he got off lightly, ’cause I would’ve given him a thrashing – I only hit him once! It was only a difference of opinion, but really…I mean good manners don’t cost nothing do they, eh?

Impact on punk?

Dark Side Of The Moon has been hailed greatly and derided selectively. To the punk movement it was a convenient target, hippies going mad amid a barrage of bloated excess and overwrought self-examination that famously remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for decades after its release. Along with Emerson & Palmer’s invention of the behemoth stadium tour, DSOTM is frequently suggested as one of the seeds of punk. It isn’t, and shouldn’t, and in some respects Money even predicts the coke-shoveling, overblown state that rock music found itself in during the mid-1970s, giving punk a platform to rail against.

At just over 42 minutes’ long – constrained, of course, by the capacity of vinyl – DSOTM is short by comparison with some of the opuses of the day. And while it may well, as Waters ascertains, been the beginning of the end for Pink Floyd (or at least the album on which the creative tensions between Waters and Gilmour began to turn more dysfunctional), it is still, 40 years on, a remarkable record.

On March 24, 1973, when Dark Side Of The Moon was released, the concept album wasn’t anything new. Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper, even Who’s Next had all attempted some sort of narrative, musical theatre of the mind. But unlike Waters’ deliberately more theatrical effort with The Wall, DSOTM presents a more subtle collage, the central theme being modern life and how rubbish it really is.

Gloriously melancholy, in a way only an English songwriter could write. Perfect, then, for driving on American roads.

Article originally published here.


Amazing pics of the day The Beatles played to just 18 people

By Stefano on March 25th, 2013


Take a look at this pic. It is quartet of likely looking fellas from the early 60s enjoying a sneaky beer.

Look again though and it becomes clear that in the picture is a very young John Lennon and an even younger George Harrison – who at eighteen is only just old enough to be swigging from the bottle.

It is part of an amazing series of images on the site Retronaut that show The Beatles in December 1961 playing a gig in Aldershot to only 18 people.

According to Wikipedia

“Sam Leach, The Beatles’ then agent, and wanting to become their manager, attempted to introduce the group to London agents by promoting a gig at The Palais Ballroom, Aldershot, on 9th December 1961. The show was not advertised properly and, as a result, only 18 people attended.”

It will probably come as no surprise then that a few weeks later Leach was given the boot in favour of Brian Epstein.

Here’s another of the band on stage. If only the two women in the picture knew what exactly they were witnessing…


Books, music

Rock and Roll Is Dead – ace new Twitter inspired novel from Steve Lawson

By Stefano on March 25th, 2013


If you are a serious bass player chances are that you’ll know the name of Steve Lawson. Over the years he has written countless articles about his beloved instrument, recorded a series of acclaimed albums, and via social media, delivered some very interesting perspectives on the future of the music industry. He has fascinating views on Spotify.

So we have high hopes for his debut novel which he has just released via Leanpub on a ‘pay what you can tarrif.’

Written in 2009 Rock and Roll Is Dead is the story of a band who realise they’ve missed everything their younger selves ever dreamed of by getting stuck in a cycle of pub gigs, wedding gigs and functions. Initially working on the assumption that ‘this is what we’ll do til we make it’, their dreams turn to a fairly grim reality and they finally decide to do something about it.

But this is more than just story of rock and roll ne’er do wells, Lawson suggests that it is something of a fictional ‘new music manifesto’ adding that

‘Almost all of the individual events in the book are based in truth, and the conversations that the band are having with people on twitter all actually happened.’

It is available now from here.

Exhibitions, features, Gallery, music

Review: David Bowie is, Victoria and Albert Museum (March 23rd to August 11 2013)

By shinychris on March 21st, 2013

David Bowie is - Victoria and Albert Museum

Picture 1 of 18
Picture 1 of 18

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973. Design by Brian Duffy and Celia Philo, make up by Pierre La Roche

I’ve always loved David Bowie. From Ziggy Stardust via the Thin White Duke to the smartly dressed Hamlet-inspired creations of the Serious Moonlight Tour. Even the movie roles in The Man Who Fell To Earth and (very differently), Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.  These ‘characters’ shaped the style and attitude of my teenage years, while Bowie’s music of the period touched me like it did all angst-ridden teenagers all over the world with its predominant themes of alienation/otherwordliness/isolation (delete as appropriate). And although my love of Bowie has waxed and waned since the 1990s, I was still like an excited kid in a sweet shop to get a preview invite to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the David Bowie Is retrospective – along with thousands of other mostly 40 and 50 somethings.

What’s striking about the exhibition is that it’s not just about Bowie, but very much about the world that shaped him and consequently us all. So for example we see his early influences such as artists Gilbert and George singing ‘Underneath the Arches’, mime artist Lindsay Kemp who Bowie was a student of during the 1960s and several films of the ’70s, particularly Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001: Space Odyssey and his extremely disturbing Clockwork Orange. If this gives the impression of Bowie as a cultural magpie who borrowed from here, there, everywhere that’s probably because he was – and is. That’s not to say there isn’t a focus on his own work too. There are his own child-like sketches of the dystopic ‘Hunger City’ which was the inspiration for the Diamond Dogs tour of 1974, handwritten lyrics from many of his biggest hits as well as iconic photographs of Bowie from the period, taken by celebrity photographersbowie_stripped_bodysuit like Terry O’Neill and Brian Duffy (most famous for the iconic Aladdin Sane cover).

There are also interviews with those who have worked with Bowie over the years, perhaps most notably record producer Tony Visconti who talks about the work process with Bowie and basically how easy he is to get along with. There’s even a section on ‘The Verbasiser’, a computer program that Bowie helped develop which randomly chops up words from various stories to make the process of song writing simpler. “It’s like the storylines you get from dreams without the boredom of having to sleep,” explains Bowie.

Then of course there are the stage costumes – around 60 of them in total. While some of these are magnificent, particularly the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie along with Alexander McQueen for the cover of 1997 album Earthling as well as Yamamoto’s Striped Bodysuit from Aladdin Sane (see pic), others – like those from the Serious Moonlight tour and the jumpsuit from the famous Top of the Pops Starman appearance – look disappointingly washed out. Time may not have diminished Bowie as an artist with The Next Day being (nearly) as good as anything since 1983′s Let’s Dance, but it seems to have taken its toll on just about everything else. As Bowie himself once sang: “Time – He’s waiting in the wings, He speaks of senseless things, His script is you and me boys.”

Brandish was a guest of Sennheiser who provide the GuidePort sound system for the Bowie is exhibition which runs at the Victoria and Albert Museum from March 23rd to August 11th. Tickets cost £15.40 (concessions available).

Related posts:

David Bowie’s The Next Day – The Best Comeback Album Ever
Sennheiser launches Momentum limited edition headphones inspired by David Bowie 



Football, music

Vinyl psych revival – reissues incoming for The Orgone Box and The Monochrome Set

By Stefano on March 21st, 2013

orgone-boxPush comes to shove my favourite unheralded psych pop album of the 90s is the debut from the Orgone Box. It is a power pop tour de force where every track boasts a stellar tune, soaring harmonies and wonderfully psychedelic guitar.

The great news is that it is going to reissued shortly on vinyl. I know there is a CD version but In am not sure that it was ever released on vinyl which makes the news from SugarBush even more exciting.

The record will be out in May and according to the label the track listing is revised and there is one new track. The band’s main man Rick Corcoran has re-recorded a few of the 4 track numbers with new vocals and backing and there is also a totally new version of what is possibly the band’s signature song, Mirrorball.

It is limited to just 300 copies, so you may have to move quickly.

If you want to know why we rate is so highly read here – or just listen to Spotify.

monochriome set

Also coming shortly – in the middle of May to be precise – is The Monochrome Set’s – Volume, Contrast, Brilliance which is being reissued on vinyl courtesy of Optic Nerve Recordings who delivered the excellent Cleaners From Venus and The Charlottes albums a month or so ago.

The album is limited to 500 copies with the first 100 issued on blue and black vinyl, in homage to the op art sleeve. The further 400 will be on blue vinyl.

The album rounds up many of the best songs that the band produced in their early years which are presented here either as singles or session versions that they performed for the BBC. It includes the nearest thing they had to a hit, Jet Set Junta (kind of what Inspiral Carpets) might have sounded like if they had gone to Eton) their classic early single He’s Frank and the record they put out on the iconic El Records label, Reach for Your Gun.

It will set you back £14.99.

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