Wednesday, 30 November 2016

World Tour

l-r: Ania, Manon Meurt, Fabian, Messer
Week 13: Central Europe

Mainland Europe is fairly easy to get around, so we're driving north out of Kosovo, through Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia to Poland where the wonderful Ania Dąbrowska resides. Her hometown is Chełm, in the south east of the country, a city that once belonged to Imperial Russia. Ania (as she is credited on her records) was featured a couple of times on my old blog. She finished 8th in a series of Idol (Poland's version of Pop Idol) in 2002 and has gone on to have four number one albums in her homeland. However, she isn't like your average talent show wannabe pop star - Ania sounds like a sort of cross between Saint Etienne and Stereolab, a real retro-European vibe.

Here's a track from her second album 'Kilka Historii Na Ten Sam Temat' from 2006, followed by a truly brilliant video for her version of Nancy Sinatra's Bang Bang from her album of songs from movies. Reckon her bright yellow dress is a reference to THAT outfit worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill?





Driving west, we eventually leave Poland and enter the Czech Republic. West of the capital Prague is Rakovnik, an unremarkable town other than the fact that it is the hometown of Manon Meurt. This lot play lovely ethereal shoegaze and seem to be getting a bit of a following. They completed a successful European tour back in October, and their debut EP - initially only released in their own country in 2014 - was recently picked up by Label Obscura in Canada and given a worldwide release. Here's a track from said EP.


Next, we're going north to Germany. It's a mere three-hour drive to the city of Leipzig, once one of East Germany's most important cities. It also has a rich musical heritage. Richard Wagner was born there, and the likes of JS Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Mahler all lived and worked there.

These days, Leipzig is known for its independent music scene and is home to a number of indie labels and small music venues. It also hosts Wave-Gotik-Treffen, the world's largest Goth festival, and is the hometown of Fabian, a young post-punk band fronted by the wonderfully-named Vitiko Schell. They have so far released an EP and an album - both self-titled - and you're getting a track from each. Dark and a little bit frightening - just like this sort of thing should be.





I want to stay in Germany for a little while. I went there more than 30 years ago to visit family friends. I loved it; I remember buying lots of records. Besides, I want to visit a couple of German buddies. I believe Walter lives in or near Stuttgart in the south west and I think I owe him a beer or two for the fine music he's introduced me to over the past few years. And then there's the one and only Dirk. I'm not sure where he lives, but I'm sure I'll track him down. I'll just follow the sound of classic punk and new wave music and the uproarious laughter that he seems to bring out in others - one of the funniest people on the internet, he can only be more fun in the flesh.

Then we're off to Münster in the north west, a city that claims to be the bicycle capital of Germany. It is also where Tanita Tikaram was born. Now, I mentioned that Walter has introduced me to lots of great music. One of the bands he featured earlier this year is Messer. Now I have to say I was already aware of this band and they were always going to feature here, but it shows what a purveyor of good taste he is.

Messer make a splendid post-punk noise from a similar mould to Eagulls, although their new single Die Hölle is something more Krautrock-sounding, verging on Kraftwerk territory, even. Their third album is about to be set free (might be out by now....). However, I've gone for a couple of songs from their previous releases.



This track is from the 'Kachelbad' EP which was released back in the summer.



I was tempted to take in Austria, but Walter has featured some excellent bands from that country over the past several months so he's pretty much got that covered. Therefore, we continue north next week as we venture into Scandinavia.


Monday, 28 November 2016

Memories of 2016 gigs #9 & #10

#9: New Model Army
Tramshed, Cardiff - 18 November 2016
Support: Mad Dog McCrea

I'd never seen New Model Army live before. This baffles me. More than 30 years into their career, they are still churning out some great stuff, their most recent offerings being as strong and absorbing as anything they've done. What exactly keeps them going? And more to the point, what keeps them so relevant? Having now broken my duck and seen them live, it's as clear as the nose on my face.

One of their secret weapons is their fanbase. Many of the people at the Tramshed were probably there right at the start in the early 80s as NMA emerged from the post-punk and New Wave wasteland, crossing politically-charged punk rock with folk music as Thatcher's evil empire took hold. There were a lot of angry souls back then, and there are many angry souls now. More than half the audience looked exactly as I imagined more than half the audience would look like - they'd survived the dark times once and were now raging once more - older and wiser, but as angry as ever.

My politically-active years were the early 90s when I caught on to the sort of bands New Model Army undoubtedly influenced. Which is probably why the support band didn't do much for me. Mad Dog McCrea can be best described as a Levellers-lite pub band. Sorry, but I'd seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt, got bored and left that party more than 20 years ago. Nothing new, nothing interesting.

The Tramshed recently celebrated its first anniversary. "Nice place," observed Justin Sullivan. "Bit new though; be better in 25 years. We'll still be around." It has been a good year for the venue, but I doubt it had seen a better show than the one that was about to take place, for New Model Army were simply outstanding. The set was not what I expected, comprising mostly of new and recent material. There were a few predictable cries from the audience for No Rest (which ultimately went unheeded), and one shout of "Play some old stuff!" But if I'm being honest, I can't fault what was played. I love NMA's recent albums and their new stuff has an angry almost tribal feel to it. In fact the drums dominate the sound, with the bass player doubling up as a second drummer in places. The performance was superb, the energy and dynamism on stage undoubtedly fuelling that of the crowd, and Justin's voice is as strong and growly as it ever was.

There were highlights a-plenty, but among my faves were Part The Waters, Die Trying and Eyes Get Used To The Darkness from the current album 'Winter'; Stormclouds from 2013's 'Between Dog And Wolf', and the oldies Wonderful Way To Go, 51st State and Poison Street. The ardent fans seemed to appreciate the old songs, but they hollered the new ones with as much abandon as the classics. This is another reason why New Model Army keep doing what they do; their fans allow them - nay, demand of them - to stay fresh. No greatest hits cabaret circuit for this lot, and for that they must be applauded. Not even the first encore yielded a nostalgia-fest, though we were rewarded in a second encore (which is in itself something I haven't known a band do for quite some time).

Before the band came back on for one final showing, the strains of the violin were heard. The guest violinist walked on, playing solo, followed shortly afterwards by Justin who picked up a guitar and played along. The pair meandered around the stage duetting, constantly looking at each other before the familiar strains of Vagabonds broke out. The pair of them played the first verses and choruses together before the rest of the band joined in, with THREE of them playing drums in an uproarious rendition of the long-time crowd pleaser. And when it seemed that it couldn't get any better, they closed with I Love The World, one of my favourite NMA songs. As Justin sang "You blind yourselves with comfort lies like lightning never strikes you twice / And we laugh at your amazed surprise as the Ark begins to sink," you realise exactly why New Model Army remain so relevant. If ever two lines sum up the state of the world right now, it's those words right there. I, and pretty much everyone else in attendance, bellowed "Oh god I love the world, I love the world, I love the world, I love the world," as much in defiance as despair.

It was bloody hot and the sweat was dripping from me at the end of the night, which made walking out into the freezing (yes, actually freezing) November night more than tolerable. All three of us (Our Mate Colin, MrsRobster and I) reckoned this was the best gig of the year so far. Sure, we've got some pretty big shows coming up in December, but the bar has been set incredibly high.

MrsRobster's verdict: "I nearly texted my boss to tell her 'That's it, I quit! I'm going on tour following New Model Army!'" And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably the most fervently enthusiastic response I've ever heard from her!



Soundtrack:

Here's Justin Sullivan performing Die Trying, a song about the plight of the Calais Jungle refugees from the latest album:




#10: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls
Great Hall, Cardiff University - 26 November 1016
Support: Felix Hagan & the Family, Esmé Patterson

This was TheMadster's birthday present. I bought her two tickets and asked who she would be taking with her. She seemed puzzled at the question. "You, of course," she replied. There can't be many 19-year-old girls who actually want to go to a gig with their dad. I should be proud and honoured. Except that she knows I'd probably end up driving us there, buying the drinks and shelling out 25-quid for a t-shirt!

Anyway, we watched American singer-songwriter Esmé Patterson from the back which wasn't the best idea because the sound was terrible back there. Perhaps unfair to judge her on that. We moved forward a bit for the next act, the exuberant Felix Hagan & the Family. Now, how can I describe this lot? Kind of like the Scissor Sisters with some glam rock mixed in. Cornier than a ripe cornfield. Camper than Carry on Camping. Really not my thing at all, and I suspect someone else wasn't taken by them - before the first song was over, a fire alarm went off! The sound cut out and the lights came on. After a five minute delay, they came back on and finished their set, but this was another first for me.

Pic by TheMadster
The one thing you can say about Frank Turner's audiences is they are LOUD! So loud, I couldn't actually hear him for the first two songs! His fans are rabid, singing every song word-for-word as loudly as they can. Now, I'm not blown away by much of his music and have grown a little weary of him of late. But the one thing I cannot deny is the guy knows how to work a crowd, and he makes sure he involves them at every opportunity. At tonight's show, he pitched one side of the audience against the other, every so often telling us which side was best. To decide it once and for all, he pulled a girl from the middle (or Switzerland, as he called it), and had her crowd surf to a guy in one corner, then across to a guy in the other corner, then back on stage where she had to judge which side was best. (It was our side, by the way.)

In the encore, Frank ordered a circle pit for a massive mosh (Madster went straight in!) and a Wall of Hugs, a nicer version of the death metal Wall of Death in which instead of charging at each other, we were instructed to hug a stranger. Yeah, a bit gimmicky and cringey for an anti-social old fart like me, but someone thought I was worth it as he grabbed me from behind, squeezed me and moved on to the next person.

By far the best track of the night for me was a solo acoustic rendition of Josephine, proving there's only so far you can go with shouty raucous anthems. Frank finished off by crowdsurfing himself while singing Five Simple Words. A heck of a showman, for sure. I'd like him to do something a bit different for his next album though.

TheMadster's verdict: "These hands have been blessed." Yep, she copped a feel of Frank's leg as he surfed the crowd. And: "I got stamped on a lot." She said this with a smile on her face, which is such a great thing for a dad!



Soundtrack:

Friday, 25 November 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #45: Dry


So this is the reason I expunged Sheela-Na-Gig from my list of 50 songs to take to my grave. One of my self-imposed rules was that I couldn't have an album that included one of the 50 songs. Makes sense I suppose. As the 50 albums series continued, I realised I just can't be without PJ Harvey's sensational debut, so a swift edit to the 50 songs list had to be made.

I actually wrote about 'Dry' when I did my PJ Harvey albums series last December, so this piece is basically that same one (with minor tweaks).

(originally published December 2015)

Having played with bands in and around her south-west home (The Family Cat, Automatic Dlamini, Grape), Polly Harvey had never had an outlet for her own material. With a bunch of songs ready to go, she formed her own power-trio and branded them with her own name, figuring that whatever happens in the future she could always take the name with her. And so it was that PJ Harvey the band went into a studio in Yeovil in the latter half of 1991.


Harvey has said of the resulting album: "[It was] the first chance I ever had to make a record and I thought it would be my last. So, I put everything I had into it. It felt very extreme for that reason." She wasn't joking. 'Dry' is phenomenal in its ferocity. It's raw and sparse, yet it's so unashamedly in your face your first impression is sheer terror. Listening to 'Dry' more than 20 years later, it still strikes me as one of the most intense records I've ever heard. Yet it's so honest, also. Other than the use of some cello, violin and double-bass, there are very little adornments to the guitar-bass-drums-vocals setup. Those embellishments are essential though. Dress stands out for the way that bowed double-bass and Polly's violin dance demonically throughout. The almost discordant strings on Plant And Rags sound as menacing as Harvey's lyrics: "The sun doesn't shine down here / In shadows."

Sheela-Na-Gig is arguably one of the best singles released in the 1990s. It sits right in the middle of the whole thing, taking us to a peak rarely surpassed by anyone. But it's the beginning and the end that sets the pulses racing. Oh My Lover wastes no time at all presenting Harvey as not-your-average wannabe pop star: "Oh my lover / Don't you know it's alright / You can love her / You can love me at the same time." O Stella deals with religious iconography, the Stella of the title being Stella Maris (aka: the Virgin Mary). Her devotion is expressed in an outpouring of fuzzy guitar and screams of "Gold / No! No!" while in Dress, she becomes "a fallen woman in a dancing costume."

Then, to conclude, Water builds like a storm before the final strains of Harvey and Rob Ellis yelling "Waaaa-teerrrrrr!" can be heard. It ends. The dam is fit to burst. If Harvey really did make this record as if it were her last, she certainly ended it sounding like there was unfinished business. This particular listener was left wanting more.

The acclaim heaped on 'Dry' since its release is fully deserved, yet still feels woefully inadequate. It is one of the most tense and emotional albums you'll ever hear, and the fact it is the work of a 22-year-old Dorset girl makes it even more startling. I had never met any woman close to my age who could make my hairs stand on end like Polly Harvey could. Words just can't cut it; 'Dry' is an experience you simply have to live through to get it.



Soundtrack:

Video for Sheela-Na-Gig:



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

World Tour

l-r: Fine, It's Pink; Lower Cut; The Glasses
Week 12: Southeastern Europe

We're driving a long way today. We're leaving southeast Ukraine heading west, crossing into, through and out of Moldova and, just a short distance over the border we reach the historical Romanian city of Iași, in the heart of the former region of Moldavia. The city was burned to the ground three times - THREE TIMES! - by invaders between 1513 and 1686.


Nowadays it is an important economical hub with health care, education, tourism, technology and culture among its core sectors. In fact, Iași has long been feted as one of the leading centres of Romanian social, cultural, academic and artistic life. So it makes sense that we should stop off here and look for our next act. And I've found them, a band with perhaps the most intriguing name of our tour so far - Fine, It's Pink.

Ambient electropop? Dream pop? Post-indie? All adjectives that Fine, It's Pink have scattered about their Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages. They do remind me of several things, but nothing I can quite put my finger on. I suppose that's a positive as they clearly have something different about them. They've self-released two or three singles as well as last year's 'Young Burns' EP which features the track Kids. Also, here's a video of the band performing a live cover of Landfill by London folkies Daughter.


Trying another new file host that looks clean and friendly. Feedback appreciated as always...




Back in the car we go, and we're southbound, through Romania, through Bulgaria and into Greece. Right down in the south, where it's by far the warmest place we've been for quite some time, we arrive in the capital Athens, the second city of that name we've visited. But this one's been around for some considerable amount of time longer.

I've found a band from Athens I'm quite excited about. Lower Cut have released two EPs (that you can grab for free from their Bandcamp page) and an excellent debut album. That latter release came out in 2014, but this year they returned with a rollicking new single. Among the descriptive tags on their Bandcamp page are 'dream rock' and 'postgaze'. Make of that what you will, but I strongly recommend you listen to these songs. The video is for the recent single, the MP3 is a highlight from the album.





We finish this week's leg in a country that is only partially-recognised as an independent state, a place that has seen its fair share of troubles in recent years. Kosovo is still claimed by Serbia, and many countries support this claim. Nonetheless, it has its own flag, its own parliament, its own president and, since 2015, its own official national football team. Kosovo is about half the size of Wales, making it one of the world's smallest nations. It is also one of Europe's poorest with high unemployment, still not having fully recovered from the war in 1998-99.

The music scene is Kosovo is small and there aren't many venues for bands to play. However, there are rock bands and one of them takes inspiration from some of the biggest bands in Britain. The Glasses cite the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Arctic Monkeys among their main influences, as well as Jack White, The Strokes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. On first listen, I definitely heard early Arctic Monkeys in them, but there are other things creeping into their sound.

Here's a couple of tracks from their debut album.






Central Europe beckons. Dirk and Walter are awaiting our arrival. Get the kettle on, chaps.


Monday, 21 November 2016

New Order Covered, part 2

'Power, Corruption And Lies' is widely accepted as being New Order's best album. You can debate that as much as you like, but it was the one that probably made the band's biggest statement. The gloom of Joy Division was still evident, but on PC&L New Order decided that electronic was the way to go. The drum machine used was cutting edge at the time and the experimentation that came with learning to use it resulted in Blue Monday being written.

You know of my love for Buffalo Tom, so little point in banging on about it. In 2011 they put out an acoustic EP which featured their take on PC&L's opener Age Of Consent. The original is one of my favourite New Order tracks. As much as I love BT and, in particular Bill Janovitz's voice, I'm not sure they really do it justice here. It is a live take, mind, so that probably accounts for its roughness.

Destroyer, from Canada, are one of those bands I feel I really should know more about, but don't. I call them a band, but they're actually more of a conduit for the musical talents of Dan Bejar. This version of Leave Me Alone, PC&L's closing track, was recorded for Mojo magazine's 'Power, Corruption & Lies Covered' CD from 2012.

And finally, well how could I miss this one out? The Jolly Boys have been one of Jamaica's top folk bands for more than six decades. Some of their members are well into their 70s and 80s. The style of music they play is called mento, a form of folk music that heavily influenced ska and reggae. In 2010, The Jolly Boys released 'Great Expectation', a collection of covers including Passenger (Iggy Pop), Rehab (Amy Winehouse), Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash) and New Order's Blue Monday. It's even more utterly brilliant than it sounds!


(Think I've found a file host that allows streaming of the file as well as download. Not as malware-laden as Zippyshare, with any luck. Let me know how well it works for you.)


Soundtrack:

Friday, 18 November 2016

"I kinda dig these awkward silences"

Here's a band who have a sound I really really like. To be honest, I've never actually followed The Hold Steady or know much about them. They just happen to be on my radar and I like what they do. While The Hold Steady don't do much on the way of choruses, they don't shy from a good song title - Charlemagne In Sweatpants, Chips Ahoy! and I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You being some of my favourites.

Coincidentally, this post ties in with the reissue of the Hold Steady's first two albums. Honestly, it is a concidence. Anyway, here's a handful of my fave tracks. The first one is from the band's second album 'Separation Sunday', released in 2005. The second one is from 2014's 'Teeth Dreams', and the video is a terrific live version of my favourite Hold Steady song, originally from 2007's 'Boys & Girls In America' album.



Soundtrack:




Wednesday, 16 November 2016

World Tour

Clockwise from top left: Palms On Fire, Gnoomes, Slow Earth, Possimiste
Week 10 - Eastern Europe

One day, it might be possible to cross the Bering Strait from Alaska into Russia. It has been talked about for more than 100 years, and the Russian government has even said it will contribute a significant sum to the construction of the long-awaited tunnel. Currently though, it is nigh-on impossible. Entering Russia at its easternmost point is fraught with difficulty. This area is known as Chukotka and it remains a closed state more than 20 years since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Permission to travel through Chukotka is rarely given to foreigners and even when it is, you'll have had to not only endure a bureaucratic nightmare to get it, but also agree to a strict travel protocol.

From 2001 and 2008, the Governor of Chukotka was none other than Roman Abramovich, current owner of Chelsea Football Club! He tried to resign his position in 2004, but Vladimir Putin denied his request and reappointed him. You don't argue with Putin!


Anyway, it's a long haul to our destination. We're heading for two cities east of Moscow. We'll have to fly - that much is clear, but we can't go direct from Alaska, we'll have to go via Los Angeles. I'm not sure of the actual route from there. I have a funny feeling we have to go eastwards, flying over the US, the Atlantic and Europe rather than in a westerly direction as I'd planned. But still... We land in Moscow, and have a choice of car, train or plane. A 20-hour train ride sounds like fun, doesn't it, so let's do it. We're going to Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurt Republic in the Volga region. It is also, apparently, known as the capital of Russian electronic music. The band we're here for though aren't electronic, rather they're far more in the twee indiepop mould. If you like stuff from classic British indie labels (Heavenly, Sarah, etc) or Spanish label Elefant, you'll probably love Palms On Fire. I reckon I have a few takers lurking around here... Sword And Shield opens the band's debut full-length album which came out at the start of the year. It's available from their Bandcamp page.


A four-hour drive northeast, takes us to the city of Perm (once known as Molotov). It has a football team in the Russian Premier League who once played Fulham in the first round of the Europa League in the season Fulham shocked everyone by reaching the final. Perm is also home to Gnoomes, a band I think I learned about through Swiss Adam. They are a trio firmly entrenched in psychedelia, and regularly play psych festivals around the world, including Liverpool Psych Fest which they played this year alongside Super Furry Animals, The Horrors, Gwenno and Steve Davis. Yes, THE Steve Davis, former multiple world snooker champion, part-time DJ and full-time prog/psych fan.

Gnoomes released their debut album 'Ngan!' last year. Well, I say album - it only has four tracks on it, but two of them are more than 14 minutes long. I've chosen one of its shorter tracks for you. Moognes kind of sound a bit like Pale Saints used to, with a bit of My Bloody Valentine thrown in. 



Here's the video for the single version of a track from their debut EP 'It's Moonbow-Time, Boy' from 2014.



We're catching a train to our next port of call. We travel north to St. Petersburg where we change and head west into Estonia. Formerly a member of the Soviet Union, Estonians are historically, culturally and linguistically closer to Finland than Russia. It is also the least populous nation in Europe.

Now, some years ago when I was running my old blog From Inside The Pod, I discovered a young lady from Estonia making delicate, ethereal electronic tunes under the name Possimiste. She continues to make music, posting tracks on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, though there's no album to date. Nowadays resident in Iceland, Possimiste is nonetheless my Estonian representative. Here's a track she put out as a 7" in 2013, perhaps her liveliest offering to date. Rather lovely it is, too.



And here's another of her best tracks:



We're going south by train for the final leg of this week's journey. We're taking in the capitals of Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine and it's in the latter of these nations - right down in its south east - that we find our next band Slow Earth. This lot hail from Zaporozhye. A couple of years ago, they witnessed first-hand the horror of the Russian occupation of nearby Crimea: “In our region, Russian militaries are trying to cut some territories we live in. We can see men with shotguns out there. People are dying. Roads are blocked.”

Because of the unrest, they postponed a planned tour of the UK to promote their EP 'Latitude And 023', though they did eventually make it over. Don't confuse this Slow Earth with a band of the same name from Atlanta, GA. Someone at Discogs has made that error...

The band seems to be tagged with such descriptions as 'progressive rock' and 'experimental', but I really don't think that's accurate. See what you think - here's a taste of the EP.



Next week, the hidden delights of southeastern Europe.


Monday, 14 November 2016

Nouvel Ordre (New Order Covered, part 1)

Nouvelle Vague released a new album a couple weeks ago. This is good news. I know they might be considered a bit of a novelty but I like them a lot. For the uninitiated, Nouvelle Vague are a French outfit consisting of Marc Collin, Olivier Libaux and various female singers. Their name means 'New Wave' and they've made their name covering classic new wave hits from the 70s and 80s in a bossa nova style ('bossa nova' itself being Portuguese for 'new wave').

Their early work involved singers who had never heard the original songs and being taught them by the band. They released four studio albums between 2004 and 2010 plus an acoustic album. Since then, Libaux put out a Queens Of The Stone Age tribute album of a very similar ilk, but Nouvelle Vague remained inactive for five or six years. Then a couple months ago, they put an EP out featuring two 'new' tracks, including a version of the Cocteau Twins' Athol Brose. The new album might well appeal to some readers; it's called 'I Could Be Happy' and features their take on the title track, originally by a band close to a certain blogging chum's heart.

The first time I heard Nouvelle Vague was while watching Robert Rodriguez's hilarious zombie b-movie Planet Terror. In one scene, Nouvelle Vague's version of Too Drunk To Fuck by the Dead Kennedys was playing. My immediate thought was "This is amazing, what the fuck is it?" My second thought was to Google it. And that's where it started.

Of course, I expect some (all?) of you to know about Nouvelle Vague, but I had planned to do a couple of articles dedicated to covers of New Order songs. It was while I was putting a list together I realised this lot have done a few New Order tunes themselves, and the first song they ever did was Love Will Tear Us Apart. So a post of their own they get. Blue Monday appeared on the second album 'Band á Part', while Confusion was a bonus track on the US edition. This version of Bizarre Love Triangle was recorded live for KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic - in a street, by the sounds of it...



Soundtrack:

Here's Melanie and Camille from Nouvelle Vague performing Bizarre Love Triangle live:




Friday, 11 November 2016

So long, Len



Soundtrack:

"All governments are liars and murderers..."

"Out of focus ideology / Keep the masses from majority."

The 21st Anniversary edition of Super Furry Animals' classic debut album 'Fuzzy Logic' hit the shelves a week ago. Among all the added bonuses is a set of demos the band made in 1995, including a very early take on The Man Don't Give A Fuck. It's great to hear these raw versions of works in progress. Interesting to hear how the song started, but let's not pretend it's anywhere near as amazing as the final product.

The song was considered for the album initially, but wasn't finished in time. Then it was mooted as a b-side, but the band felt it was too good for that, so they put it out as a standalone single at the end of the year instead. That version is, quite rightly, hailed as a classic of both Cool Cymru and Britpop, and showed a new act that sounded like no one else around at the time.

Over the years, The Man Don't Give A Fuck has been one of the highlights of the band's live set, usually as the set closer, giving techno wizard Cian Ciaran the opportunity to twiddle knobs galore (quiet at the back!) and the rest of the band the chance to change into their yeti costumes for the final few minutes. This extended wig-out was taken to its extreme in 2004 when the band played Hammersmith Apollo and dragged it out for more than 22 minutes. This extraordinary version, with its Bill Hicks-sampling intro (see post title), was released as another standalone single and outdid the original both in terms of chart position (#16 as opposed to #22) and for the number of times the word "fuck" appeared in a chart single, beating the record previously set by the original studio version.

Next month, I'm catching SFA as they play both the first two albums back-to-back live for the first time. I'm pretty sure they'll find room for The Man Don't Give A Fuck, though. It simply wouldn't be a Furries show without it. And let's face it - if it isn't more relevent now than at any other time in our lives, then it never will be!


Soundtrack:

And here it is again, closing their festival-stealing show at last year's Glastonbury.



Wednesday, 9 November 2016

World Tour

l-r: Alvvays, Small Time Giants, Tanya Tagaq, Historian
Week 10: North America, pt. 2 - The Arctic

There are SO MANY bloody good bands and artists from Canada. Arcade Fire, Neil Young, Broken Social Scene, Tegan & Sarah, Barenaked Ladies, Leonard Cohen, Cowboy Junkies, Godspeed You! Black Emperor... there's just the weeniest of a handful of people you're no doubt more than familiar with. We are talking about a nation with immense musical talent throughout its vast space - it's the second-largest nation on Earth in terms of total area. Yet its population of 35m people is little more than half that of the UK! Isn't that incredible? And more than 80% of Canada's population live in urbanised areas near its southern border with the USA.


In fact, that's where we're going next. I fancy a road trip. Now, I know it's like the "done thing" to travel across America from East to West on Route 66, but as you know I'm really not one for convention. We're going from South to North, heading out of Georgia, through South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and into the state of New York at its western extreme, then, via Buffalo, into the state of Ontario in Canada. This will HAVE to include a visit to Niagara Falls as we skirt around the western edge of Lake Ontario on our way to Toronto.

Now there are quite frankly hundreds of great bands bursting to be discovered in Canada, but I've come across this lot called Alvvays (pronounced 'always'). This is old school indie pop that wouldn't have sounded out of place on classic British labels like Sarah, Subway or 53rd & 3rd back in the late 80s/early 90s. Their self-titled debut album from 2013 picked up loads of plaudits and is packed to the rafters with classic-sounding jangly guitar-pop. I bet Brian and SWC will love this (if they're not already aware of them).

Archie, Marry Me is one of the best tunes on the record, and I don't know if it's just me, but singer Molly Rankin seems to have more than a little bit of Debbie Harry about her in the video.





We're returning to Canada shortly, but first we're off to a place I'd love to visit to see what's there besides snow - Greenland. Trouble is, it's a bitch to get to. So much so that I'm going to have to break one of my few self-imposed rules for this series - you see, you cannot get to Greenland directly from Canada! Not even by boat (unless it's part of a cruise, but bugger that!), so we'll have to fly. And we have to fly via... Iceland. Discussions continue about creating a new airport in Greenland to serve Canada as well as Iceland, but for now we're stuck with this long-winded diversion. So we (eventually) arrive in Nuuk on Greenland's Western coast, but we're not there yet. We need to get to the country's fourth-largest town Qaqortoq. Get this - there are NO ROADS between towns! If we're really lucky, we might be able to get there by helicopter, but we're better off hopping on the Arctic Umiaq Ferry which serves the south-western coastline down to Qaqortoq (see inset). It takes 32 hours!

Good job the band we're going to see is bloody good. Small Time Giants are one of Greenland's most popular new bands. They perform mainly in English and released their debut album 'Stethoscope' in 2014. More recently, they composed and performed We Are The Arctic, the theme of the 2016 Arctic Winter Games. Small Time Giants' songs have an epic-sounding air to them, yet somewhat Nordic. The song I've chosen for you is called 3-9-6-0 and appears on the album. The video's decent too. You watch that I while work out how the heck to get to our next destination!





Holy shit, it doesn't get any easier! We have to go completely back the way we came (Qaqortoq > Nuuk by ferry; Nuuk > Reykjavik by plane) and fly back to Canada. Typically, I've chosen another remote destination - our furthest north yet - firmly rooted in the Arctic Circle. So (ready for this?), from Iceland we fly to Edmonton, Alberta, then catch a connecting flight north to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territory. From here there's a daily plane service to Cambridge Bay, a hamlet on the southernmost tip of Victoria Island, Nunavut. This is true inuit country. Cambridge Bay's traditional name, Iqaluktuttiaq, means "good fishing place" and is known to have been occupied as far back as 4000 years ago. Today, it has three radio stations, two TV channels and broadband Internet!

It is also the hometown of Tanya Tagaq, an Inuk throat singer. I posted a short piece about Tanya two years ago. Nobody gave a shit. Well, I'm bigging her up again whether you like it or not. Tanya has made four studio albums to date, her most recent only emerging last month. She's worked with the likes of Björk and the Kronos Quartet, and covered songs by Pixies and Nirvana (she does a version of Rape Me on her new record). Her previous album 'Animism' was enormously acclaimed and won the Polaris Music Prize and a Juno Award. And rightly so, it's amazing. Her new one, entitled 'Retribution' is certainly an interesting listen. It's not one for dinner parties, unless the people you have round for dinner enjoy experimental electronic tribal throat-singing fusion type stuff. Take for instance this track. Bear in mind, this is the single...




Pretty out there, huh? But utterly fascinating at the same time. If you fancy something a shade more conventional, here's that Pixies cover from 2014's 'Animism'.


Back we go: Cambridge Bay > Yellowknife > Edmonton, and from here we can fly back to the USA, only this time we're heading west to Alaska, one of only two states disconnected from the rest of the country (the other is Hawaii, of course). It's bloody expensive - the cheapest flight is going to set me back nearly £400! But what choice do I have? It's a hell of a long way and I can't exactly get on a bike, can I?

Half of Alaska is inside the Arctic Circle, but its capital Anchorage isn't. Nonetheless, it's still a bit nippy this time of year. Alaska is the USA's largest state by area, its third least populous and its least densely populated. Half its entire population lives in or around Anchorage. But perhaps the most interesting thing I know about Alaska is that it once belonged to Russia, and the US purchased it in 1867 for 2 cents per acre! Bargain.

There's also a really good band from Anchorage called Historian. To date they've put out a couple of EPs, and this cracking single from 2014. It's a bit like early Foals meets Arcade Fire to these ears.



Next week we're back in Europe, but we're still a long way from home. And it might still be rather chilly.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Memories of 2016 gigs #8

#8: Teleman
The Globe, Cardiff – 17 October 2016
Support: The Hearts

The scene: Two 20-something blokes who looked like they just walked off the set of Made In Chelsea, talking loudly throughout the support band, throughout the interval and through the first three songs of the main act, paying no attention to the show whatsoever. Cue large, burly guy stood near them who butts in and, very politely, asks: "Excuse me guys, but are you going to talk all the way through this?"

My question: What would you do if you were said annoying talkative blokes?
  a) Apologise and stay quiet for the rest of the show?
  b) Apologise and leave because you're not interested in the band and don't want to cause annoyance to anyone else? Or
  c) Say "Yeah, we are," and show utter astonishment when advised that your loud obnoxious attitude is spoiling the show for those around you and that it might be better to either pipe down or go outside to have the conversation?

Think about this for a moment. If you answered c), you were probably one of those two utter pricks at the Teleman show in Cardiff on Thursday night. They did keep the noise down somewhat afterwards and spent occasional spells of up to one whole minute at a time actually watching the band between continual (quieter) conversations and looking at stuff on their phones, but you have to wonder what the fuck they were doing there. The burly geezer and his mate (who looked a little bit like Heston Blumenthal) were staggered at the pair of them and I couldn't help but congratulate them afterwards for stepping in and saying something while remaining calm and polite.

Anyway, the gig. The Globe was busier than I thought it would be, a near sell-out. Supporting were The Hearts from Newport. They sound like The Killers. Oh my god, do they sound like The Killers. Second album-era Killers, with a touch more 80s thrown in for good measure. One of their songs seems to steal the melody of Somewhere In My Heart by Aztec Camera. Clearly very good musicians with a very clearly defined sound, but with an excitement level only everso slightly higher than a magnolia-painted wall.

As for Teleman, well musically they sound a little more humble than The Hearts, but their often-understated pop can still hook you and have you humming their songs out loud without warning. Both albums have some splendid tunes on them, and it seems for their set they decided to play the best tracks from both.

While MrsRobster thought the sound was a little bass-heavy in places, the sound was far better than the last show I saw at the Globe. If anything, I thought it was just a tad quiet. Which kind of sums Teleman up really - nothing overblown, nothing unnecessary. No gimmicks, no glam, no bombast. Just bloody good tunes, one after another for an hour or so. They played MrsRobster's fave songs (Fall In Time and Tangerine), and left mine right to the end. In fact, their two-song encore seemed to epitomise what you get from Teleman - the melancholic debut single Cristina, followed by the outrageously catchy Glory Hallelujah from the current album.

While Teleman may not fill Wembley Stadium or headline Glastonbury, if you pay attention you'll realise what a good band they are. It's difficult to write such consistently good songs and carry them off in such a charmingly unassuming manner. If, however, you choose to go to their gig and talk incessantly like a total nobrot, you will never realise this and forever remain a total nobrot.

MrsRobster's verdict: On The Hearts - "Everything sounds like the songs at the end of 80s movies." This is pretty much EXACTLY what they sound like. After she said that, all I could see in my head were images of Michael J. Fox, Molly Ringwald and Corey Feldman. On Teleman - "They were good. I don't have anything insightful to say about them though." Well, sometimes "They were good" is enough. She was taken by a couple near the front though who spent the set enthusiastically bopping about and singing all the songs to each other: "They were really cute."



Soundtrack:



Saturday, 5 November 2016

Matchday

The Autumn Internationals kick off today. Or if we are to use the official sponsor's title... the Under Armour Series starts today. Nah, sounds rubbish. Autums Internationals it is. In case you're not a rugby fan, each year, a group of touring teams visit Europe. It gives the Welsh national team a chance to host some of the other top teams in the world. It's not a tournament or even tournament qualifiers, but they are competitive games (certainly not friendlies) and carry ranking points with them.

This afternoon, Wales, currently ranked 5th in the world, play Australia, ranked 2nd, at the national Principality Stadium (formerly known as the Millennium Stadium) in Cardiff. It's going to be a tough game, and we don't have a great history against the Aussies. In fact, in 39 meetings since 1908, Wales have won just 10. Traditionally, we don't do so well during the Autumn series. I've been to a couple of games in recent years with TheMadster. Wales lost them both. We generally fare much better in the Six Nations tournament in February/March. The other three matches in the series this month are against Argentina (8th), Japan (12th, and the surprise package at last year's World Cup), and South Africa (4th).

There's always an amazing atmosphere in Cardiff on matchday, with fans from both sides mingling together in the pubs and in the streets before, during and after the game. Rugby is something of a religion in Wales, and in Australia too, so I expect there will be a lot of singing and drinking going on throughout the rest of the day.

To get us in the mood, here's a track I've been saving for today. I featured Pontypridd's The People The Poet in my Welsh Wednesday series. This track, called Matchday, is taken from their new EP. The video is hilarious and features the band playing in a rugby sevens match (a smaller-scale version of rugby with 7-a-side teams). The acting leaves something to be desired, but it's supposed to be a bit of fun and it sums up Welsh humour perfectly.

Hopefully Wales won't suffer a battering like the Beddau Vickings... Come on boys!




Soundtrack:


This is my last Saturday post for the time being. Going to try posting on Fridays for a bit instead.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

World Tour

l-r: Yokozuna, Mexrrissey, Arbor Labor Union
Week 9 - North America (pt. 1)

So what exactly is "North America"? Depending on who you talk to, it could comprise of different nations and/or regions. What isn't in doubt is that the USA and Canada are definitely part of North America, but the rest of it? Commonly, Mexico is included in the definition, as is Greenland, Bermuda and French island province of St. Pierre & Miquelon. Sometimes the Caribbean is included, including Cuba and Puerto Rico, plus the countries of Central America.

Whatever. The geo-political aspect of it isn't my concern - I'm here for the music. This is probably one of the richest regions for pop music in the entire universe, so it's not going to be terribly difficult to find good stuff, particularly in the States and Canada. However, we're starting off in Mexico. Leaving Guatamala City, we can drive it, bus it or fly it. Hmm, bus could be fun. It'll take a while and we'll have to change en route, but hopefully it's worth the hassle.



Now Mexican music is not all about acoustic guitars and trumpets played by moustachioed hombres in big hats you know. You'll know that, of course, from Monday's post about an unforgettable Le Butcherettes gig I recently attended in Cardiff. There are plenty of other really good noise merchants in the country. Yokozuna, for instance, play crunching post-hardcore riffs with extra HEAVY on the side. Hailing from the capital Mexico City, the duo has released three albums and two EPs so far, and are named after the former American wrestler Rodney Agatupu Anoaʻi who adopted the ring name Yokozuna.

Interestingly, there's another band called Yokozuna based in London who also play loud, noisy sounds not unlike this lot. Don't confuse the two. My guess is the London band don't speak Spanish quite as well.

Prometéa is taken from (the Mexican) Yokozuna's third album 'Quiero Venganza' released in 2013. It's a blinder, a bit like Royal Blood with bigger balls and shoutier voices. Both very good things. The video's a lot of fun, too.




Before we leave Mexico, I have another little treat from the capital for you. Now, we all know our favourite old misery guts, Mr Stephen Patrick Morrissey, has a fondness for Mexico, and Mexico, in return, adores him. So it comes as little surprise that we should find a Morrissey tribute band here. Mexrrissey sound unlike other Morrissey tributes though. They embrace the more traditional Mexican sounds as they recreate Salford's favourite son's hits. They recently released their debut album, a mix of studio and live interpretations of the great man's work. Here's a couple of examples of what they do. The video for the first one was filmed at Salford Lads Club. How's that for authenticity!?



This one is live at a London bus stop. Yes, really...





Onwards, and into the USA. After that mammoth bus journey, I'm wimping out and hopping on a plane. Where are we headed? New York, the home of Punk? California, home of the Beach Boys? Maybe Detroit, home of Motown? Or even Seatlle, home of grunge. Nope, nope, nope and nope. Not this time. A plane from Mexico City takes us over the Gulf of Mexico to the Georgia capital Atlanta. From there it's a short bus ride to Athens, home of one of the most important bands of my life - R.E.M. Also, of course, The B-52s, Pylon and Arbor Labor Union. Arbor who?

Earlier in the year, SWC and Badger contributed a series of articles to JC's place called 'The £20 Challenge'. Quite, quite brilliant it was too, as is everything that pair puts together. Anyway, in one particular episode, Badger recounts how SWC gave him a memory stick with lots of music on it. One of the albums included was the debut from Arbor Labor Union, and he posted its opening track Mr. Birdsong. Well, to say I was blown away would be an understatement.

This album, entitled 'I Hear You', has become one of my Top 5 records of the year so far, and one I turn to when I need a bit of a lift. Think 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi'-era R.E.M. crossed with Talking Heads and The Hold Steady with a touch of The Fall and the Blue Aeroplanes thrown in. You likey the soundy? If you didn't get the hint from Badger's piece back in June, then please, for the sake of humanity, do so now. Here's a couple of songs from it.




Next week we go further North. Like, MUCH further North. Bring yer woolies...