Monday 30 March 2015

"You know who I am..."

M.I.A. is someone whose music I really admire, though I have to say I'm a little torn about the artist herself. A British-Tamil, born Mathangi Arulpragasam (we share the same birthday, though she's four years younger), she is described (on Wikipedia, anyway) as "singer, songwriter, rapper, visual artist, activist, record producer, photographer, fashion designer, model" which is rather impressive, I suppose. Either way, it's her music I'm interested in, and some of it is very interesting indeed.

To be honest, I'm really not a fan of electronic music, but sometimes it can have as much of an impact as a dozen squalling guitars coming at you at light speed. Very few achieve this, but M.I.A. certainly has her moments. One of the things I like most about her is how she doesn't shy from experimentation. One of my favourite songs is Steppin' Up from her third album 'Maya' (2010) which is built around the sounds of power tools. Hard as friggin' nails, this track.

She also isn't afraid to use other people's stuff in her songs, often to great effect. $20 from 2007's 'Kala' is based on the bassline of Blue Monday and incorporates segments of Pixies' Where Is My Mind. From the same album, the single Paper Planes uses the instantly recognisable riff from the Clash's Straight To Hell.

I like artists who intrigue me and challenge my perceptions. This is why I always look forward to a new M.I.A. record - you never quite know what you're going to get. That said, I wasn't over struck on last year's 'Matangi' album, but that might just be me. As for M.I.A. herself, well I can't help but think she's a bit of a shameless self-publicist. Her politics are dodgy to say the least, even if her heart is in the right place, and her antics at the Superbowl with Madonna in 2012, and the graphic violence depicted in her video for Born Free do make you wonder if she's deliberately courting controversy in a bid to be noticed. However, she also does a lot of philanthropic work, including building schools in Liberia, helping war crime victims and supporting a children's cancer charity.

Either way, I prefer to stick to the music, so here's the tunes I mentioned above.


Saturday 28 March 2015

The Genius Of... Tim Smith #9

 #9: Tarred And Feathered by Cardiacs

Pretty much everything you ever needed to know about Cardiacs can be encapsulated in just three songs: Dirty Boy, Is This The Life and Tarred And Feathered. The latter is just a marvellous ditty of the very oddest variety. It is blessed with Tim's ridiculous genius in every sense: fucked-up time signatures - check; big, bold, singalong bits - check; indecipherable lyrics - check; unashamed silliness - biiiiig check...

  "I find I understand the rules but cannot find the reasons."

Indeed; never a truer line written by the great man. Tarred And Feathered is a miraculous work. How such a song came into being in the first place is a wonder, but the fact it is one of the band's best-loved tracks is a bleedin' marvel.

AND... it has probably the greatest video of all-time. Or not. You decide.

Friday 27 March 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #28, #29 & #30

These three have already been written about here in one way or another. They're all more than worthy of being included in this series, so here's what I said about them (with a tweak or two to keep it relevant). Links to the original articles are included if you're interested.

#28: Emmylou - First Aid Kit
(adapted from 'Country Boy', 23 May 2014)

Sometimes, something comes totally from left-field and bowls you over. When I first heard First Aid Kit’s Emmylou, it was one of those moments the tears started welling up. (To be honest, I have one of those moments every time I hear it!) If you didn’t know better, you would think it’s a 70s country classic sung by one of the legendary Nashville-based female superstars of the era. So when you realise it’s actually two teenage sisters from Sweden in 2012 it adds another level of wonderment. I mean – those voices! Those harmonies!

Live they take it to another level - it's spine-tingling how good they make it sound. Emmylou is not only one of my fave tunes of the past few years, but my daughter's too. It shows how far country music has reached over the years and how many generations it continues to inspire.

#29: True Faith - New Order
(adapted from 'This Is Pop!', 28 February 2014)

It was when I was 16 and part way into becoming a fully-fledged ‘indie-kid’ that I somewhat belatedly got into New Order. I heard True Faith and became immediately hooked. It’s one of those tracks that moves me tremendously; there’s just something about it that gives me a pang in my stomach and makes my hairs stand up on end.

It also has one of my favourite ever sleeves. The golden leaf image on True Faith was the work of Peter Saville, Factory’s in-house designer and has been revived in numerous forms and colour schemes on New Order releases since. It struck me as a fine example of ‘the perfect package’ – the outside and the inside combining style and substance in harmony.

#30: The Winner Takes It All - Abba
(adapted from 'Abba, Antmusic and ‘Ashes To Ashes’', 12 February 2014)

I have absolutely no problem whatsoever admitting to liking Abba.  When I was between 8 and 11, they were my favourite band.  I claimed my mum’s copy of Greatest Hits Volume 2 as my own, and the 'Super Trouper' album accompanied my first proper record player for Christmas 1980. What lay at the heart of Abba for me back then – and to many to this very day – were the songs.  They were proper songs, written and performed by a proper group.  This wasn’t lost on me even as a young boy.

The Winner Takes It All still strikes me as being one of their highlights. Abba could do heartbreak songs really well and this one was the epitome of heartbreaking. It sent chills through me even at 9 years old. It sends shivers through me now at 43.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Welsh Wednesday #29

#29: Cerdded by Yr Ods

Yr Ods (trans: The Odds) formed at Aberystwyth University in 2006, though members hail mainly from Bangor. To date they have released two full-length albums, the most recent of which was 'Llithro' in 2013. The band has been in the studio of late, but will be venturing out on the festival circuit over the summer.

Today's track comes from the 2011 debut 'Troi A Throsi'. Cerdded (trans: walking/move on) is a terrific example of 60s-influenced pop, a really catchy tune with a chorus that even non-Welsh speakers can sing. Yep, it's bi-lingual with Welsh verses and an English chorus.

Monday 23 March 2015

From Inside The Pod Revisited #8

I was feeling on the up-side when I compiled this podcast three years ago. This was a time when quite a few music blogs were shut down, yet I was still going and decided to get busy. To be honest, my site was nowhere near popular enough to worry the powers-that-be.

'Rollin'' was one of my favourite podcasts at the time and it remains a particularly good 'un. As usual the article that follows is as it originally appeared.

Pod 27: Rollin'
(first published 2 March 2012)

I suppose I'm on a bit of a roll at the moment. Dunno why. Maybe it's because the time for blogs like this is numbered. The Feds are cranking up the pressure (while the record companies are cranking up the prices of their recently-deceased stars' records. And if you believe, as Sony would have it, that it was an "employee error", then quite frankly you deserve to be treated like the idiots they clearly think we all are...) and good music sites are biting the dust one-by-one. I have loads more to share with you so perhaps that's why I'm churning these out at the rate I am - get them out there while I can.

Whatever, Pod 27 sees a return to the random mix format. No theme, no concept, just a half-hour of great tunes. Enjoy.

1. The Godfathers I Want Everything [1986, Hit By Hit]
One of my favourite songs of all-time this. It has swagger, energy and loud guitars, all built around a basic 12-bar rock 'n' roll structure. What more do you need?

2. Richard Hawley Some Candy Talking [2006, b-side of Hotel Room]
I met Richard Hawley around, ooooh, 17 years ago when he was lead guitarist with the Longpigs. I managed an after-show chat with him and his bandmates in (of all places) Barnstaple. A jolly nice chap he was too. Since then, he has forged a career as a  much respected solo artist, and collaborated with Pulp, Elbow, Arctic Monkeys and All Saints (!). This cover of the Jesus & Mary Chain's 'Some Candy Talking' is a perfect showcase for his wonderfully resonant baritone voice.

3. Young Marble Giants Choci Loni [1980, Colossal Youth]
Very few acts can ever claim to have released just one album which has since become hailed as highly influential, even rising to 'classic' status. The La's are one, the Sex Pistols another. Cardiff's Young Marble Giants are not talked about in the same breath as those other luminaries perhaps, but they can count Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Belle & Sebastian and R.E.M. among those who gained enormous inspiration from their only official album 'Colossal Youth'. And I defy anyone to tell me The xx are not indebted to them also. It's so obvious, isn't it?

4. Steel Pulse Handsworth Revolution [1978, Handsworth Revolution]
One of British reggae's finest moments came in 1978 with the release of Steel Pulse's debut album. The Birmingham outfit have gone on to become one of the most successful British bands in the US, but for me (and most fans), it is 'Handsworth Revolution' that marks their zenith.

5. Luke Haines Gorgeous George [2011, 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970's & Early 80's]
Eccentric, maverick, genius - just a few words used over the years to describe Luke Haines, former frontman of the Auteurs and Black Box Recorder. There's no doubting, whatever your viewpoint, that the subject matter of his second solo record is perhaps more than a tad off-the-wall. If you are not British, you probably won't get it. If you are but did not grow up in the 1970s and tune in avidly every Saturday lunchtime to watch the wrestling on World Of Sport, you won't get it either. References to Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Rollerball Rocco et al are strewn across the record, though oddly this track is named after legendary American wrester 'Gorgeous' George Wagner who fought between 1932 and 1962.

6. Cardiacs Dive [1988, A Little Man And A House & The Whole World Window]
Talking of eccentrics... Though Cardiacs may remain unheard of in many quarters, they remain hugely influential. At their peak, their blend of punk, jazz and prog-rock accentuated their utterly bizarre image. This track is taken from one of my all-time top LPs. Can't believe its 24 years old this year! See a live version of 'Dive' here.
(2015 update: 'A Little Man And A House...' is 27 years old now!)

7. Lucy Wainwright Roche Wild Mountain Thyme [2007, 8 Songs]
Daughter of Louden, half-sister of Rufus and Martha, Lucy is the latest of the Wainwright clan to grace the world with her musical abilities. She certainly has the family touch - her releases so far have not been far short of wonderful. This beautiful take on the traditional Irish folk ballad appears on her debut mini-album from a few years back.

8. Clearlake I Hang On every Word You Say [2001, Lido]
While he could never be on a par with Luke Haines or Tim Smith, Clearlake's Jason Pegg might still be justifiably tagged mildly eccentric (he actually contributed a track to the recent Tim Smith benefit album 'Leader Of The Starry Skies'). The band seems to be on hiatus currently; their fourth album has been on ice for a few years in spite of being finished. This track remains a big fave of mine from their debut.

9. Yank Rachell's Tennessee Jug Busters Get Your Morning Exercise [(1963) 1998,   Mandolin Blues]
A sort of blues supergroup featuring guitarist Sleepy John Estes (after nearly 20 years out of the public eye and at one point presumed dead), harmonica pioneer Hammie Nixon and mandolin player Yank Rachell. The classic album 'Mandolin Blues' was recorded in two informal sessions in the early 60s, during which the foot-stompin' became so enthusiastic, it dislodged plaster from the ceiling in the apartment below!

10. Calexico Love Will Tear Us Apart [2005, Sweetheart 2005: Love Songs]
Considering they've been together fifteen-plus years, released a number of critically-acclaimed albums and had their music featured in all kinds of ads and movie soundtracks, it's a mystery how most people I know still have never heard of Calexico. Their interpretation of the oft-covered Joy Division classic is probably my favourite.

Roll with it right here.

Saturday 21 March 2015

The Genius of... David Gedge #9

#9: Spiderman On Hollywood by The Wedding Present

2008's 'El Rey' is sadly not regarded as Gedge's finest work, which is a shame as it's got some excellent songs on it.  Spiderman On Hollywood, for instance, is one of my fave Gedge tunes post-reformation. It's a song about things - in this case, and in typical Gedge fashion, a relationship - not always being what they first appear.  Musically it's not far removed from 'Bizarro'-era Weddoes. Lyrically it's also one of Gedge's best, his wit shining through as much as in any song he's written.

  "I thought I saw a superhero but it was just Spiderman on Hollywood
  I thought I saw a supermodel but she had hair where I don't think she should."

One of our Dave's favourite topics is that of failing relationships. While most of them tend to be bitter and resentful, this one seems to be a more amicable split with the protagonist seemingly accepting of his own misplaced assumptions and naïveté.

  "That's what's so funny, honey
  You looked like my girl for so long
  That I thought you would always be beside me
  But I'll be the first to admit I was wrong."

There are a few other dead good tracks on 'El Rey'. It's a somewhat lighter record than its predecessor 'Take Fountain', harking back to some classic Wedding Present reference points. Spiderman on Hollywood is probably its most illustrative number.

Friday 20 March 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #27: Green & Grey

There are some songs that, when I hear them, I can't stop myself from singing along with them very loudly (and, as MrsRobster is always keen to remind me, very badly). This is one of them.

In fairness, there is a whole heap of other New Model Army songs that could have made this list - Here Comes The War, Stupid Questions, March In September, I Love The World - in fact the whole of 'Thunder And Consolation' album from 1989 (and from which Green & Grey is taken) is a serious contender for my 20+ Albums list. But the very first time I heard Green & Grey I was struck by its genuine feeling of sadness for a lost friend; how that friend left the valleys community they were raised in for bigger and better things; and how those left behind are still thinking of him/her, in spite of said friend seemingly forgetting all about them.

The one thing you do get with New Model Army is genuine feeling. In Justin Sullivan they have a remarkable singer who you can really believe. You wouldn't dare argue with the fella, such is the persuasiveness of his delivery. As well as sadness, Sullivan conveys resentment and a touch of anger at his old friend, yet the love remains even if it's not expressed explicitly.

  "And tomorrow brings another train
  Another young brave steals away
  But you're the one I remember
  From these valleys of the green and the grey."

Green & Grey is one of New Model Army's best songs, no doubt, but it's also one of their most emotive, most touching. However good 'Thunder and Consolation' is as an album, however good the band's entire back catalogue is - and if you compile all their singles you'll get an idea just how strong that is - there is one song that stands tall over all the rest.

New Model Army are still going from strength to strength. Their last couple of releases have been top notch, 2013's 'Between Dog And Wolf' in particular is as good a record as they've ever made. But it's Green & Grey that I keep coming back to.


Wednesday 18 March 2015

Welsh Wednesday #28

#28: Hapus? by Colorama

Colorama formed in Cardiff in 2007. Its frontman and only constant member is Carwyn Ellis, who hails from Anglesey. He's had a busy career, even if you're not familiar with his name. Over the years he's worked with the likes of Oasis, UNKLE, Roddy Frame, Shane MacGowan, and Edwyn Collins with whom he has an established collaborative relationship.

To date, Colorama have released four full-length albums, though oddly their debut 'Cookie Zoo' was released only in Japan, only being made available in 2013 on iTunes. Today's tune Hapus? (trans: Happy?) was a stand-alone 12" single issued in 2012, though it was compiled on 'Mere Dewn!', a compilation of their Welsh language songs from 2007 to 2013. It's a rather blissed-out affair, a little transcendental and Balearic, even. It doesn't sound much like Wales in March, but we can all do with a nice relaxing few minutes in the sun this time of year, can't we? So in the absence of that, here's your soundtrack.

Monday 16 March 2015

Vintage Vinyl #7

Althia & Donna - Uptown Top Ranking
Bought from: Kelly's Records, Cardiff
Price paid: £2

Reggae music was garnering more and more mainstream attention in the UK by 1977, thanks in part to the punk movement (especially the Clash, the Ruts, Don Letts and John Peel). Like punk, a lot of reggae was protest music, the sound of disaffected groups railing against the societies they lived in and the desire for freedom.

But like pop music, sometimes it reflected lighter things in life such as fashion and image. One such record was Althia & Donna's Uptown Top Ranking. One of the year's surprise hits, it was a response to Three Piece Suit by Jamaican deejay Trinity and even used the same riddim (which in fact had first appeared a decade earlier on Alton Ellis' I'm Still In Love). Althia and Donna became the youngest female duo to have a UK number one, but sadly they couldn't repeat the success of their debut. While an album of the same name came out the following year, further singles failed to chart and alas the pair are remembered only for this sole song. But hey, what a song!

Uptown Top Ranking was co-written by Althia, Donna and reggae producer Errol Thompson. Thompson, along with Joe Gibbs who produced this record, worked together as The Mighty Two, and the B-side of Uptown Top Ranking is actually credited to them - in essence a dub version of the A-side. I picked up an original copy of the 7" when it practically leapt into my hands from the reggae section at Kelly's. It's in fine condition for its age and well worth the couple of quid I paid.


Saturday 14 March 2015

The Genius of... Jack White #8

Apple Of My Eye by The Upholsterers

One of Jack's lesser known projects was the band he briefly formed with his boss while working as a furniture maker in Detroit. The White Stripes were a going concern at the time, having released two albums. Nevertheless, White's desire to make music with anyone who would work with him resulted in The Upholsterers. White played guitar and sang, while Brian Muldoon - who Jack was working for as an apprentice - played drums.

They released just one single, the three-track 7" EP 'Makers Of High Grade Suites' in 2000. The lead track was a Jack White song entitled Apple Of My Eye and to all intents and purposes sounded like early White Stripes with better drumming. White squawks his trademark vocals while Muldoon beats the skins to within an inch of their lives. It's kind of what you expect really, but I do rather like it if I'm being honest.

The other two songs are short cover versions: Willie Dixon's Ain't Superstitious and Pain (Gimme Sympathy) by 60s outsider guitarist Jack Starr. Only about 150 copies of the single were pressed, and it is one of the most collectable and valuable items in White's discography; copies occasionally crop up online
if you're lucky - for a few hundred dollars a time!

Legend has it that a second Upholsterers single was pressed and that while working for Muldoon, White hid copies inside the furniture they made. Reports on his website suggest that two copies are known to have been found. But we all know how Jack has always liked to spin a good yarn...

Friday 13 March 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #26: Ashes To Ashes

There's nothing I can write about this song; you'll know it all anyway. My dilemma was never what to write, it was more what Bowie song to include. I could easily have gone for Absolute Beginners, 'Heroes', Cracked Actor, Wild Is the Wind, I mean the list is potentially endless. The main reason I went for Ashes To Ashes in the end is because it's the first Bowie song I can remember really taking any notice of.

When Ashes To Ashes came out in August 1980, I was a 9-year-old Abba fan and The Winner Takes It All was number one in the charts. I wasn't big on weird pop stars - yet - so this bloke with whom I was unfamiliar in all but name, all bedecked in white and makeup, unusual music and quite a disturbing voice, he was safe to say outside of my comfort zone.

Ashes To Ashes was Bowie's fastest selling single at the time and a fortnight after release it had shot to number one. My problem wasn't so much the song's success, it was that it knocked The Winner Takes It All off the top. That put David Bowie in my bad books. For a while it did anyway. By the time Let's Dance came around, I'd forgiven him that cardinal sin and over the subsequent years Bowie became one of the most important artists in my life. He's close to God, as far as a committed atheist such as myself is concerned.

But among all the hundreds of incredible songs the great man has made over the last 50 years, Ashes To Ashes can still send shivers down my spine. It still sounds like nothing else ever recorded. It's still an incredible record and should be taught in every school around the world.

There's nothing I can write about this song. One listen is all you need - it speaks for itself.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Welsh Wednesday #27

Maes B by Y Blew

Most people, even in Wales, have probably never heard of Y Blew, but the truth is they have huge historical significance in Welsh rock music. Y Blew (trans: The Hair) are widely credited as being the first Welsh language rock band. During the 1960s, Wales was a bit behind other parts of the UK in terms of its music scene. OK, so we had Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Amen Corner blazing a trail internationally, but only the traditional male voice choirs and folk music were performed in the native tongue.

Y Blew formed and split in 1967, but during their short tenure, they became one of the most important bands in the nation's history. As attitudes towards the Welsh language changed with the younger generations, and Welsh political issues gaining more and more support, the climate was right for a band like Y Blew. They played three successful tours of South Wales and a show at that year's National Eisteddfod in the North Wales town of Bala. It was there they got the title for their only release.

Maes B (trans: Field B - the stage they played at the Eisteddfod) became the band's only recorded output, released as a single in November 1967. It and its b-side[1] were recorded in Swansea in just two hours as the band rushed to get it finished before travelling to Aberystwyth to play two gigs that same evening. Their last gig took place over the Christmas period that year and they split before the New Year.[2]

There wasn't a plethora of Welsh language rock bands that immediately followed in Y Blew's wake. In fact, it wasn't until the 1970s that Welsh language rock music began to take off, but even then it was considered something of a niche market. Yet today, Y Blew are considered trailblazers and an inspiration to Welsh-speaking musicians and performers alike. In fact, the rock music stage at the National Eisteddfod has retained the name Maes B in honour of the band.

[1] The B-side was Beth Sy'n Dod Rhyngom Ni (trans: What Comes Between Us), a version of Curtis Mayfield's You Must Believe Me.
[2] Trivia: Some years later, lead guitarist Richard Lloyd became a founder member of Socialist a capella outift the Flying Pickets, who had a number one hit in 1984 - at the height of the Miner's Strike - with a cover of Yazoo's Only You.

Monday 9 March 2015

Memories of 2015's gigs 1-3

MrsRobster and I are trying to get out more now that the Sprogsters are old enough to be left alone for a few hours. Over the last two years we've been to more gigs than we'd been to over the previous 10 combined. So as an extension to my 'Memories of a thousand gigs' series, I thought I'd document our shows this year, for better or worse. So here's the first three of 2015. We have more lined up, but this isn't one of them...

#1: First Aid Kit
St. David's Hall, Cardiff - 15 January 2015
Support: Kimberly Anne

Last September, First Aid Kit took my breath away with their show in Bristol. This time around, as brilliantly wonderful as they were once again, the thrill was somewhat diluted. I guess seeing them play much the same set in a slightly inferior venue explains it a little. The audience seemed rather shy and subdued too for some reason. Not disappointing by any means, but I might wait a while before seeing them again.

I wrote a little piece about support act Kimberly Anne here.


#2: Future Of The Left
Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff - 31 January 2015
Support: The St. Pierre Snake Invasion, WaLL

This was a special one-off hometown show to support Independent Venue Week. Bristolian friends The St. Pierre Snake Invasion were asked along for the ride and went down a storm, while WaLL opened the show to far fewer people and made somewhat less of an impression.

Maybe because of the occasion, Future Of The Left played a lot of old songs, with only a few from their most recent two albums. Kept by Bees opened the set, Arming Eritrea, Manchasm and The Lord Hates A Coward were aired too.  They even ran through a 'cover' of No Covers by mclusky, the band singer Andrew Falcous and drummer Jack Eggleston were previously members of.

But a Future Of The Left show in Cardiff isn't complete without some great banter between band and fans. Following Falco telling an audience member he looked like Jeffrey Archer he was somewhat predictably asked: "Who's Jeffrey Archer?" to whit: "He's like Nigel Farage but not as good a writer."

"Fuck Nigel Farage," came another shout.

"Yes," replied Falco as quick as you like. "Fuck Nigel Farage, but not to the point where he enjoys it!"

And so it continued. "Fuck the Stone Roses."

“I’m concerned by your obsession with sexual violence.  ‘Sexual violence rarely solves anything,’ my mother always said."

At the climax of a wonderfully loud, noisy and riotous set, it all got even more noisy and riotous as the ritual dismantling of the drum kit unfolded. Fans joined the band onstage to take part in hitting various percussive items while feedback squealed and guitars fuzzed for longer than most of the songs in the set. Some lucky punter even had bassist Julia on his shoulders as she noodled along to the cacophony. 'Twas one of the most fun shows I've attended in the last few years.


#3: Royal Blood
Newport Centre - 3 March 2015
Support: Mini Mansions

The future of British rock: Royal Blood sold out their last tour in two minutes. This tour was bigger - more dates, larger venues - and sold out within an hour. It seems everyone wants a piece of Royal Blood, and why not? Loud, noisy guitar music is always welcome in my neck of the woods, so when a band like Royal Blood comes to Newport, it's a no brainer really.

MrsRobster perfectly summed up support band Mini Mansions - a trio from LA - with just two choice phrases. Of their look: "They look like they're all in different bands;"[1] and on their sound: "They remind me of old dirty dishwater." Enough said.

Once we'd moved away from the really annoying woman in front of us who seemed to want to film the entire night on her mobile phone in 2-minute sequences, I tried to enjoy Royal Blood. I really did try. But they just weren't doing it for me. Don't get me wrong, they were tight, they played well and they sounded great. But that's the problem for me - they just sounded too good. It was all a little predictable, it sounded pretty much exactly like the CD. I could have listened to it at home and got as much out of it.

It also felt they were padding the set out somewhat. If a band has just one album to their name, there will always be limitations, but you can't fill things out with long pauses between songs and a pretty pointless cover of 20th Century Boy. The loud noisy jam at the very end of the set was the best part of the show for me, but otherwise I and MrsRobster came away pretty unmoved. Maybe part of it was the venue - maybe a little too big for them.

Alas, I fear the time to catch Royal Blood live has passed. Put them in a small space and they'd undoubtedly lift the roof off. Sadly, the future of British rock seem to have gotten too big too fast.


[1] The bassist was like a half-arsed Nicky Wire of the Manics with a tiny fraction of the charisma; the keyboard player could have been in any hipster electropop band like, say, Alt-J or Metronomy; and the stand-up drummer looked like he was in a bad Spandau Ballet tribute band playing tunes from their shite years!

Saturday 7 March 2015

The Genius Of... Tim Smith #8

Ocean Heaven by Tim Smith

Following the release of Cardiacs' 1989 album 'On Land And In The Sea', Tim Smith went into the studio to work on new material. But this wouldn't turn out to be for a Cardiacs release. In fact the line-up that had graced the previous two albums was close to dissolving. Instead, this was a one-man affair - the Tim Smith solo album.

The songs clearly sounded like the mad genius was behind them, but they were different to Cardiacs - and indeed all his previous side-projects - in many ways. The primary difference was the proliferation of keyboards with the guitars toned right down. As a result, it was lighter, more psychedelic than much of the Cardiacs' work.

The results of the project were finally released in 1995 as 'Tim Smith's Extra Special OceanLandWorld', ten tracks recorded and performed almost entirely by the great man (his wife Sarah playing sax on one track was the only guest contribution). It definitely wasn't a Cardiacs album, though a couple of tracks definitely had an air of his band about them. Rat Mice Lice Time was not a million miles away from the sort of sound we'd get on 'Guns', Cardiacs' last album, while England's, the one with Sarah, sounds like old-school Cardiacs, probably because of Sarah's part. For the most part though, this was a very different sounding record for Tim.

Between recording and release, Cardiacs splintered and became a four-piece, recorded 'Heaven Born And Ever Bright' and started work on 'Sing To God'. Tim and Sarah also split up as a couple. While 'OceanLandWorld' doesn't quite come up to the standard of his best works, it is an interesting project and a worthwhile venture. Maybe doing his own thing helped Tim focus his mind in the midst of chaos. Or maybe it didn't. You never know with him...

Ocean Heaven is the album's closing track and has a lot going on in it. It pretty much sums the record up in a single song.

Friday 6 March 2015

Happy Birthday The Doopster

Fifteen years ago today, the youngest of our clan was thrust into an unsuspecting world. TheDoopster (not her real name) has always seemed to me to be a little... different - but I mean that in a good way. She's pretty quiet and doesn't give a lot of herself away - "emotionally retarded" is how MrsRobster rather amusingly (though somewhat accurately) describes her. She is, however, frequently hilarious and silly. She also has a quite amazing knowledge of animals and space, though sadly not animals in space...

In terms of music, Doopster has never expressed a particular preference for any type of music, though she has long been a Lily Allen fan. She loves playing music herself though, having been playing the clarinet since primary school and over the last 12 months has taught herself to play piano. Her mum used to borrow her iPod to listen to music as she walked to work. She (MrsRobster) loaded a bunch of albums onto it and Doopster subsequently inherited them.

Unsurprisingly, one of her faves had an animal link to it - Cold Black Kitty by Pete & The Pirates. It featured on the band's second and final album 'One Thousand Pictures'. A good choice. What was unexpected was her most listened-to track, Emmy The Great's Paper Forest. When I asked her what she liked so much about it, she just gave me a wordless shrug as she so often does when you want her to reveal something about herself!

She's an enigma, our youngest. I still haven't quite worked her out in 15 years. Still, plenty of time and at least she has taste. Penblwydd Hapus, Doop!


Wednesday 4 March 2015

Welsh Wednesday #26

#26: Rockaway Beach For Me, Heartbreak Hotel For You by Helen Love

This one is dedicated to our German pal Dirk as I know he's a bit of a Helen Love fan. Formed in Swansea in 1992, Helen Love are fronted by Helen Love - wow! What a coincidence! - and have basically made a career out of being unashamed fans of the Ramones. Song titles like Joey Ramoney, Debbie Loves Joey and Rockaway Beach For Me, Heartbreak Hotel For You kind of give the game away somewhat. In fact, the late Joey Ramone was a fan of Helen Love, singing on their song Punk Boy and introducing a BBC session by the band.

Other famous fans include comedians Dave Gorman and Phill Jupitus, and everyone's favourite Irish punk-pop band Ash. Helen Love are very much a singles band, recording just three albums in 23 years, their most recent being 2013's 'Day-Glo Dreams', but there are three compilations of singles and EPs - 'Radio Hits' 1, 2 and 3.

Today's track is one of those Ramones-referencing numbers and first appeared on the 1994 EP 'Summer Pop Punk Pop' and later the same year on 'Radio Hits 1'. Summery bubblegum pop in March? You betcha! "Blast out the disco on the radio."

Monday 2 March 2015

Blues Monday #7: Don't Mash My Digger So Deep by Bo Carter

We've reached the part of the series where we lower the tone somewhat and get all Finbarr Saunders. Yes, the blues has always had an undercurrent of naughtiness about it, but some songs are more obviously bawdy than others.

Bo Carter was born and raised on a plantation in Mississippi. As well as being a successful solo artist during the 1930s, he was also a member of the renowned Mississippi Sheiks. Carter recorded the original version of Corrine, Corrina in 1928, a song that has since become a standard. However, it is his innuendo-ridden songs for which he is chiefly remembered. I mean, who could resist songs with titles like: Banana In Your Fruit Basket, She's Your Cook But She Burns My Bread Sometimes and Let Me Roll Your Lemon?

Despite his enormous influence, Carter's popularity began to wane during the 40s and by the end of WW2 he had dropped out of the music industry altogether. He passed away in 1964 aged 71. The hilarious Don't Mash My Digger So Deep was recorded around 1936.