Monday 29 June 2015

Memories of a thousand* gigs #43-#45

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

Three gigs you could describe as ‘doorstep shows’ for me, being as they were played just a mile or so from my front door here in deepest darkest Newport…

#43: Editors
Newport Centre - 4th October 2007
Support: Ra Ra Riot, The Kissaway Trail
Also present: MrsRobster

This was the tour for Editors’ second album ‘An End Has A Start’, their best record in my opinion. As well as having some extraordinarily good songs, Editors proved what an amazing live band they could be too, especially with frontman Tom Smith at the helm. In just a single song, he would bounce and leap between lead vocals, piano and frenzied guitar thrashing. At times he resembled a Tasmanian Devil; it was exhausting just watching the guy. The band was excellent and the songs really lent themselves to the live setting. Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors in particular sounded mightily epic. I just can't believe they've fallen from grace so dramatically over the next two records - it's like a different band. I prefer to remember them like this.


#44: Elbow
Newport Centre - 12th March 2009
Support: The Acorns
Also present: MrsRobster

Some people have told me they could never go to an Elbow gig as it would be “soooo booooring.” People who have seen Elbow live will tell you they are magnificent, enchanting and incredibly uplifting. I’m in the latter camp. I’ve always liked Elbow, but until I saw them live, I thought they were primarily a studio band. I was wrong. In Guy Garvey you have a frontman whose humility, warmth and genuine affection for his bandmates and fans can do nothing but endear you to him. It’s such a rarity in music today, and the overall feel of the show was as if you had invited the band round to your house to play in your living room for you and a few mates. Even in a mid-sized space such as the Newport Leisure Centre, it was as intimate a show as I’ve experienced. And there was room for some of Guy Garvey's trademark wit: "As you can tell from my Olympian physique I'm no stranger to buildings such as this." MrsRobster cites this as one of her favourite shows of all time.


#45: Manic Street Preachers
Newport Centre - 13th Sep 2013
Support: Telegram
Also present: a very reluctant MrsRobster[1]

The first time I saw the Manics was in Torquay in July 1993. They were fucking awful, all make-up and glam-punk posturing, little in the way of substance. They turned me a few years later, surprisingly as a support act for Oasis at Knebworth. It was at that point I ‘got it’ and became a fan, though I never saw them live again, until… Ffwd 17 years: playing to a home crowd in Newport, the Manics are absolutely in their element. This didn’t have the feel of yet another rock & roll concert, this was like having some old friends round for a chat about the rugby and a sing-song, except these old friends were bonafide rock stars. “In the 70s you had albums like ‘UFO Live at the Budokan’,” observed James Dean Bradfield, as a reminder of how rock bands made a statement of how huge they were with the release of a live album recorded in a mega-sized venue. “Ours would be ‘Manic Street Preachers Live at Newport Leisure Centre’.” Oh, and it’s worth noting Richard Hawley dropped by to do a tune as well; the icing on the cake as it were.


[1] MrsRobster is a big fan of Public Service Broadcasting, but most certainly not the Manics. She agreed to come to this show because PSB were the advertised support, even billed on the tickets. Two days before the show, I noticed they were on a festival bill for the same date. I emailed the band to see what was going on and I got a personal email back from J. Willgoose Esq. himself admitting that there seemed to be a balls up on the promoter's part; they were not supporting the Manics until the second leg of the tour. I broke the news to MrsRobster - she was not best pleased. The band that actually supported, Telegram, were never going to make up for things, but bless her, MrsRobster endured the Manics show regardless, keeping herself amused with a good session of people watching. She enjoyed that!

Saturday 27 June 2015

The Genius Of... Tim Smith #11

#11: Big Ship by Cardiacs

The 'Big Ship' EP, released in 1987, wasn't particularly well-received by critics, but two or three songs from it remain firm favourites with the band and their fans. The title track in particular was ever-present in the band's live shows since before its release - it appeared on the previous year's 'Live Bootleg' album. The studio version soon disappeared once the EP had sold out, but reappeared when compiled on 'Songs For Ships And Irons' in 1991.

It's a typically grandiose effort laden with all the things we loved about the Cardiacs, especially during their 'classic line-up' era. There's loads going on as you'd expect, but it's from 3:18 onwards that does the business for me. It's like a joyous hymn, an anthem - yes, an international anthem to all the lovely, wonderful things that make it a delight to be alive. Imagine the whole world singing Big Ship whilst celebrating happiness and joy all around the world, on land and in the sea.

"We grin like alligators," sings Tim. Oh, indeed we do. Yes.

Utterly glorious live version from the 'All That Glitters Is A Mare's Nest' VHS, recorded 1990. 

Friday 26 June 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #25: Screamadelica

Every so often, on very rare occasions, a record comes along that defines not just a scene, not just an era, but an entire generation. 'Sgt. Pepper' is one; 'Never Mind The Bollocks' is another. For my generation, it has to be 'Screamadelica'.

'Screamadelica' is a rock album that sounds like no other rock album ever made. 'Screamadelica' is a dance record that sounds like no other dance record ever made. It captured the spirit of an age in the UK, when successive Tory governments had bled the poor dry, fed the rich and created a culture of greed and selfishness. Young people either had to conform or resign to a life on the slagheap of society. Some of us chose neither. Some of us made a third, previously unviable choice.

'Screamadelica' is the sound of two previously disparate groups - the indie kids and the ravers - coming together as one, united against the vile rulers who tried to crush us. Primal Scream had been a fey indie band, then a heavy rock band. Going dance was not a move anyone expected them to make, but when Loaded came out, there really was no more perfect a record to herald the times. Oddly, the next three singles were largely ignored, but when 'Screamadelica' hit the shelves, it was like a revolution had started. It was a record so of its time, yet I can still listen to it now and not believe it's 24 years old. Fuck! I was 20 when it was released! Jeez - where did that time go?

It kicks off with the uplifting Stones-esque Movin' On Up, before giving way to the laid-back psychedelia of Roky Erikson's Slip Inside This House. Then you get the floor-filling thomp of Don't Fight It, Feel It with one of Denise Johnson's finest vocals which she no doubt sang with a massive smile on her face. Just three tracks in and already 'Screamadelica' had said more to the kids than every parent, every politician, every corporate tosspot in the land for all of time itself.

I could stop there - I should stop there - but come on, how can I not talk about the blissed out, loved-up vibes of Come Together, present here in extended remix form? This was our national anthem, dammit. "Come together as one." The soulful, bluesy comedown of Damaged makes me swoon; the Orb's radical dissection of Higher Than The Sun (A Dub Symphony in Two Parts) is audacious. It kind of feels out of place in a way, yet that also totally justifies it inclusion. It's like it represented those of us listening - out of place mavericks on the edges of 'normality'. I ask you this - what record represents today's misfits? Where is their defining moment? Oh how we need another 'Screamadelica'.

You can argue all you like - 'Stone Roses', 'Bummed', whatever. For me, 'Screamadelica' has everything that defined those heady, hedonistic days those of us of a certain age can barely remember, yet strangely recall as if it was yesterday. The music, the people, the drugs, the parties, the dancing. It's an epochal masterpiece. It's the record that made me accept dance music, that forced me to embrace what was going on around me and realise that whatever the music, whatever the clothes, whatever the drugs, we were the same; indie kids and ravers united. "We are together. We are unified. And all for the cause."

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Welsh Wednesday #42

#42: Our Boy Billy by Houdini Dax

Cardiff's Houdini Dax have been around for a few years now, but it's only recently people have been noticing them. They have been listed on many a festival line up this year and are becoming a more and more familiar name in blogs and music publications.

Their sound is very reminiscent of classic British garage bands of the 60s, though the more contemporary comparisons you could make would be Arctic Monkeys and The Strypes. In fact Houdini Dax have supported the latter on tour. They've also toured with Charlotte Church, though don't sound much like her. In March this year, they had all their gear nicked from their van, but have managed to perservere thanks to generous donations from fans and fellow bands on the Welsh scene.

Their debut album 'You Belong To Dax Darling' was released in 2011, and its long-awaited follow-up 'Naughty Nation' is imminent. A number of singles have made it out in between though, their latest being Apple Tree, the band's poppiest offering yet. But for today's post, I've chosen one of their best tracks - 2013's single Our Boy Billy, a swaggering, energetic stomper that pretty much sums them up. A seriously good track, it is.

Monday 22 June 2015

Just because...

Thee Tsunamis hail from Indiana and make a splendid racket akin to a cross between the Cramps, the Stooges, 60s girl groups and classic surf-guitar bands. They've been together a few years and have just released their second album 'Saturday Night Sweetheart', 30 minutes of lo-fi fuzzed up trashy rock 'n' roll. And when I say lo-fi, boy do I mean it - all analogue recordings, distortion and all. Love it.

Rather than post something brand new, I've chosen something from last year's 7" EP 'Delirium And Dark Waters' - a short, sharp blast of what they're about.


Saturday 20 June 2015

From Inside The Pod Revisited #10

As much as I've always tried to seek out and promote new music, I still cannot accept most people not giving a shit. I'm better than I was, mind. I used to get in a right strop about it. I closed my old blog down when I realised my audience only seemed to enjoy the covers podcast I used to post over those that consisted mainly of original material. Nowadays, I'm more likely to satisfy myself that I'm far more advanced, educated and superior in my musical interest tht 99% of everyone else. Even if that's not true, I still like to think it is.

Only two more podcasts after this one were forthcoming before I crashed the pod. I still intend to post a few more here though before I finally bring the whole thing to a definitive halt. This was the last of the covers ones I released at the time. As usual, the following notes remain as they were at the time of the original posting.

Pod 28: re:Covering 4
(first published March 2012)

Covers yada-yada-yada.  You sure you're not getting tired of this concept yet?  You wouldn't rather hear some original material?  Well?  Oh go on then, here's another bunch for you.

1. Ian McCulloch Lover Lover Lover [1992, Mysterio]
(original by Leonard Cohen)
Len's back in vogue with his new album 'Old Ideas' topping the charts in 9 countries (making him, at 77, the oldest artist to score a number one in Finland.  How's that, fact fans?!) and reaching number 3 in the States, his highest ever chart position there.  The critics have raved about the record and everyone seems to want to cover his songs again.  Echo And The Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch has done a couple himself, this excellent take on 'Lover Lover Lover' being released as a single from his second solo album.

2. Zee Avi First Of The Gang To Die [2009, Zee Avi]
(original by Morrissey)
It's always an act of bravery to even attempt a cover of a Smiths/Morrissey song.  You leave yourself wide open to all sorts of (often unjustified) criticism from the diehards.  God forbid you should tamper with the gospel, eh?  Zee Avi, a 27-year-old singer-songwriter from Malaysia, makes a bold move with her fine version of the track Morrissey recently declared to be the one he is most proud of.  Stripping it down to just voice and acoustic guitar, she even deviates from the original melody line to make the song totally her own.  The cheek of it! Can you hear the purists seething?

3. The Raveonettes I Wanna Be Adored [2010, 50 Years Of Dr. Martens]
(original by the Stone Roses)
Talking of seething purists... I'm personally not overwhelmed by the Stone Roses reunion.  I mean, just listen to that pretty-much perfect debut album.  How can you recapture that 23 years after the event?  Mind, with that attitude, it might be easy to dismiss anyone else's interpretations of those great (and I really do mean GREAT) songs.  But I love the Raveonettes.  While the Roses very much defined an era, the dynamic Danish duo constantly sound like they're trying to discover some lost musical paradise hidden in a rift in space and time that falls somewhere between 1957 and the present day.  If this had come out in 1989 instead of the original, we could have been talking about Copenhagen instead of 'Madchester'.  Maybe.

4. Sonic Youth Ça Plane Pour Moi [1992, Freedom of Choice: Yesterday's New Wave Hits As Performed By Today's Stars]
(original by Plastic Bertrand)
Right, without resorting to Google or Wikipedia, how many famous rock & roll Belgians can you name?  Give up?  You probably got Plastic Bertrand and then...?  And to be honest, 'Ça Plane Pour Moi' was his only big hit, but the fact it became one of the biggest selling French language songs worldwide ever makes him worthy of 'fame'.  Sadly, it all went wrong for Bertrand (real name Roger Jouret) when after a decade of living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, he began to resemble Elvis circa 1977, before going on to flop in the Eurovision Song Contest representing Luxembourg!  The song lives on however, having been covered countless times - Richard Thompson, Vampire Weekend, the Presidents of the United States of America and Kim Wilde (!) have all had a pop - but Sonic Youth's noise-drenched romp-thru is up there with the better ones.  Oh, the guy who invented the saxophone was Belgian.  And so, apparently, was Audrey Hepburn...

5. A Camp Boys Keep Swinging [2009, Covers EP]
(original by David Bowie)
Strangely, Bowie fans are not as fiercly protective of their idol's work as Morrissey/Stone Roses nuts.  They tend to welcome covers of his songs rather than forbid them.  No wonder then that there have been many superb interpretations of Bowie classics (and one or two duff ones).  A Camp is a side-project of Swedish popmeisters The Cardigans, led by Nina Persson.  They update our Dave's cocksure, coke-fuelled original (from 1979's 'Lodger'), adding a touch of typically Scandinavian pop-pizazz to the proceedings.

6. Miranda Sex Garden Exit Music (For A Film) [2001, Anyone Can Play Radiohead - A Tribute to Radiohead]
(original by Radiohead)
Pretentious buggers, Radiohead.  Agreed?  Fitting therefore that they should be covered by London's finest (only?) neo-classical avant-garde goths Miranda Sex Garden.  This take on one of 'OK Computer's more downbeat moments (and there were more than a few of them) was actually the very last thing MSG released.

7. Hayseed Dixie Ace Of Spades [2004, Let There Be Rockgrass]
(original by Motörhead (on The Young Ones!))
Something to cheer us up a bit after that.  There can be no-one who doesn't know 'Ace of Spades'.  If there is, I don't want to know them.  Ever.  But if Lemmy's brand of heavy, fast punk-metal doesn't do it for you, how's about a bluegrass version?  Hayseed Dixie began life as an AC/DC tribute band (AC/DC = Hayseed Dixie... see what they did there?) but branched out, covering (in a redneck-stylee) other rock behemoths such as Kiss, Queen and Black Sabbath, before moving onto pop in the form of Franz Ferdinand and Scissor Sisters.  Nowadays, they write more of their own material, but remain hilarious and actually bloody amazing musicians.

8. Camille O'Sullivan Sna Bróga Seo (In These Shoes) [2009, Ceol 09]
(original by Kirsty MacColl)
I understand the Burlesque movement is making a bit of a comeback.  Not that I would know about such things of course.  Irish chanteuse Camille O'Sullivan is tapping into that, taking an interesting array of other people's songs to such audiences.  She seems to be a fan of Nick Cave, tackling three or four of his songs, and her latest album also includes two Radiohead numbers.  This stab at Kirsty MacColl's 'In These Shoes?' was recorded in the Irish Gaelic language for a compilation album.  The more I hear it, the less I actually care for it that much.  Perhaps it's because I'm a Kirsty purist (oh the irony!) but I think the lyrics really make this song and unless you speak Gaelic, it's kind of wasted.  And performance-wise it's a little... meh, something you could never have accused the lovely Kirsty of.

9. The Joy Formidable It's Over [2011, The Big More EP]
(original by Roy Orbison)
I talked of bravery when describing Zee Avi taking on a Morrissey track.  So how about a young Welsh trio with a female vocalist tackling one of the most famous songs by arguably the most remarkable, heartbreaking male voice of all-time?  A hardy challenge for sure, and make of it what you will, but I simply cannot rate this band highly enough.  I demand that you love them! Here's the video for this amazing version.

10. The Wedding Present Back For Good [2008, How The West Was Won (box set)]
(original by Take That)
Let's face it, if anyone can take a bonafide British boyband classic and turn it into a gloomy indie anthem complete with loud guitars, squealing feedback and a Northern accent, the boy Gedge can.  And how!  I hope he's still churning stuff out when he gets to Leonard Cohen's age.

Download it!

Friday 19 June 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #24: Reading, Writing & Arithmetic

Captivating. There's a word I could use to describe The Sundays. Those shimmering guitars. That voice - oh that voice. I can't help it, I fall for it every time. There was little to prepare us for the beauty and wonder of the Sundays back in 1989. The Smiths were a distant memory and Madchester was about to break loose. Yet, down in Reading, the spirit of Johnny Marr was living on in David Gauvrin while his girlfriend Harriet Wheeler seemed to be channelling Elizabeth Frazer. There was still a place for delicately crafted indie-pop, and the Sundays filled it.

Spellbinding. There's another word I could use, in particular to refer to the debut single Can't Be Sure. When that came out, I was overwhelmed. It's quite simply spectactular, yet for two and a half minutes of its total length (3:15), it remains teasingly restrained. Gauvrin's chorus-laden chimes, Patch's rack-tom rumblings, and Paul Brindley's humming bass underpin Harriet's swooping vocals. Then, finally, it kicks in properly before climaxing a mere 40 seconds later. It's one of the closest things to sheer perfection I've ever heard in pop music.

They weren't just one trick ponies. They had a whole album's worth of delights. When 'Reading, Writing & Arithmetic' saw the light of day in January 1990, it engulfed me - there were 10 bewilderingly beautiful elegies. Skin & Bones is simply hypnotic and is one of David Gauvrin's shining glories. Here's Where The Story Ends is an obvious hit, which is probably why it became one some years later for Tin Tin Out. Harriet makes me swoon on Hideous Towns, especially when she does that "Oh" at the end of the chorus... She also glows on A Certain Someone as she sings "If I could have anything in the world for free / I wouldn't share it with anyone else but me / Except perhaps a certain someone." I'm sure I wasn't the only person wishing he was that certain someone. Oh, and I adore that "oooooh" that comes from nowhere at the end.

My Finest Hour is another fave of mine. Melodically it's one of the strongest songs on the album, and everything just seems to come together. It would have made a cracking closing track. But that honour went to Joy, quite possibly the most aptly-named song in history. It really is a true delight and ends things on a high.

I brought this post forward by a few weeks following a recent discussion on Scott's superb Spool's Paradise. One of the comments, from The Swede, read: "The Sunday's debut LP is a timeless classic in my opinion. At no point since its release has it sounded even slightly tired, dated or out of step." I wondered if there was much point writing this after that - it says it all really. No one ever sounded like the Sundays then, no one sounds like the Sundays now. The songs have undoubtedly stood the test of time. A shame they've been so sporadic with their releases, and as lovely as the other two albums were, they never quite recaptured the joy and gorgeousness of that debut.

I don't believe in Heaven (or Hell, for that matter). Even if I did, I don't think I'll be going "up there", which is a shame as I reckon it would sound like the Sundays.

Oh, entrancing. That's another good word...

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Welsh Wednesday #41

#41: Eira by Sŵnami

Sŵnami are one of the most hotly-tipped Welsh language bands doing the rounds. They name Arctic Monkeys and the Maccabees as their biggest influences. They formed in 2010 in the north-west Wales town of Dolgellau in beautiful, beautiful Snowdonia. The band has moved on considerably since winning the National Eisteddfod's Battle of the Bands competition in Wrexham in 2011. They've gained national exposure through the BBC's Horizons and Introducing projects and have even taken their infectious indiepop to Europe.

To date, there's no album but a clutch of singles and an EP have kept Sŵnami in the spotlight, and they seem to spend an awful lot of time on the road, gigging relentlessly. They'll be back home in Dolgellau in July to play their home town's culture festival Sesiwn Fawr, and will be appearing at this year's Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion, one of the UK's most popular and highly regarded new music festivals.

Eira is a single released in 2012 and remains one of their best tracks to these ears.

Monday 15 June 2015

Vintage Vinyl #10

Dusty Springfield - You Don't Have To Say You Love Me and What's It Gonna Be? 7"s
Bought from Kelly's Records, Cardiff
Price paid: £3 each

A wonderful double-bill to bring this series to a pause for the summer. There cannot be a single person in the world with an ounce of soul in their being who could not be convinced that Dusty Springfield was one of the most incredible vocalists ever to have walked the Earth. How can you not fall for her? Today's X-Factor wannabe warblers all seem to adhere to the Aretha Franklin 'sing as many notes per syllable as you can' school of singing. Dusty never had to do that. She was a troubled woman, but everything she sang was perfect, honest and utterly joyous.

I found quite a number of her old 7-inches in Kelly's, and as tempted as I was to buy the lot, my accountant (aka MrsRobster) would never have allowed it. So I thought I'd plump for one that everyone knows and one slightly lesser-known one. I don't have to say I love You Don't Have To Say You Love Me - that much should be obvious. What I will say is that I would loved to have heard a version without the big orchestra and choir. Imagine - just Dusty and a pianist; gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Released in 1966, it was Dusty's only number one single - how ludicrous is that? Just one #1?! Its b-side is the upbeat Every Ounce Of Strength which again showcases her astonishing vocal talents even if the song is just about average.

Sadly by the end of the following year, the hits began drying up. What's It Gonna Be was the second of four successive non-charting singles. A shame because I love it; that twangy guitar makes it for me I think, though of course the voice steals the show. The b-side, Small Town Girl, is a passable ballad which probably wouldn't have much going for it were it shorn of Dusty and the seemingly de rigueur orchestral backing.

There would be a couple more big hits - I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten and Son Of A Preacher Man both went top 10 in 1968 - but sadly while Dusty would continue to record, her next decent hit didn't arrive until she teamed up with the Pet Shop Boys in 1987. I'm tempted to buy a couple more Dusty records to feature in the next run of this series.

Right, going to have to buy some more singles over the summer. Watch out, wallet...!


Saturday 13 June 2015

Memories of a thousand* gigs #42

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

Imelda May
The Point, Cardiff - 8 February 2009
Also present: MrsRobster

I think like many, my first taste of Imelda May came via Jools Holland. She looked a great deal of fun, and after hearing her second album 'Love Tattoo' I was convinced. She played The Point in Cardiff on a freezing cold February evening. MrsRobster's mum and stepdad were supposed to be joining us, but conditions were too poor for them to get to us from rural Herefordshire. We braved it though, and the Point proved to be a lovely warm, intimate venue; a converted church with a nice feel and good sound.

The warmth continued throughout Imelda's set. She is a phenomenal presence on that stage, especially when she starts singing. Her lovely Southern Irish lilt, which just melts me when she speaks, suddenly becomes this huge bellowing jazz voice that at times comes over not unlike Etta James. This blend of jazz and rockabilly is what makes Imelda such a unique talent. Add to that a bit of banter with the crowd, displaying a touch of Irish humour, and we have someone who can set a venue alight.

Her set was dominated by tracks from 'Love Tattoo', but also included a smattering of tracks from her debut, a couple new ones which appeared on her next record 'Mayhem', and some warmly received covers. Among those covers was a version of Primitive, a song made popular by The Cramps. She dedicated it to Lux Interior who passed away just a few days before. Closing her set with a take on Gloria Jones' evergreen classic Tainted Love, Imelda made the whole thing seem effortless.

I wasn't sure how MrsRobster would take to this show - it's not the sort of music she's ever engaged with a great deal, but she rated Imelda May highly, both in terms of the performance and Imelda herself. We were also agreed that the Point was a really good venue. Sadly, as is the way, this was one of the last gigs held there. New apartments had been built opposite, and one - yes, just ONE - of those new residents complained to the council about the noise. The Point was forced to close its doors as a result. Nevertheless, this was a great show to go out on.


And here's some footage of the night in question (not shot by us, though):

Friday 12 June 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #32: Head Gone Astray

Not sure if this one ever featured in JC's wonderful long-running Saturday's Scottish Single series, but even if it did, it's certainly worthy of yet another reappraisal. The Soup Dragons was one of the very first indie bands I ever got into. I caught them towards the end of their best period, just before their debut album. Those early singles were just brilliant. The cream of the crop for me was Head Gone Astray.

There's so much I like about it. The way the solo jangly guitar gives way to two loud drum beats, then launches into a full-blown assault of playful tunage. The way that single piano note is furiously pounded all the way through until it remains the only thing that can be heard. Sean Dickson's vocal, all full of beans and joyful (in spite of the song being a social comment on capitalism and greed). Jim McCulloch's Rickenbacker, a thing of beauty. Drummer Ross Sinclair's hair... in fact, take Ross out of 1987 and plonk him in some student hangout in 2015 and he'd fit right in - he had the hipster look nailed 28 years ago!

It's always been my fave Soup Dragons track, but two others come pretty bloody close; one of them was the b-side of this very single - Girl In The World. (Oh, the other one is the splendid follow-up Can't Take No More, a fine, fine single indeed.) I do find the 12" version of Head Gone Astray far more satisfying than the shorter 7", so that's the one I'm posting. Such a crying shame that with great songs like this in their canon, they'll only be remembered for a dreadful cover of a Rolling Stones b-side. Woeful.

(The original video is for the 7" edit, but here someone has taken the full-length 12" version and re-edited the video to fit. Unfortunately they've also decided to add the (incorrect and misspelt) lyrics to the bottom...!)

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Welsh Wednesday #40

Caer O Feddyliau by Kizzy Crawford

Kizzy Meriel Crawford is one of the rising stars of the Welsh folk scene. She's just 18 and has been performing for little more than two years, but has already played Glastonbury (on the BBC Introducing stage last year) and on the eve of a show in Kansas in February, was booted out of the States by US immigration numbskulls for no apparent reason despite having been let in the day before!

Her single releases usually contain an English and Welsh version of each song. Her most recent track Shout Out / Yr Alwad soundtracks the 2015 Visit Wales ad campaign (in both languages). Kizzy hails from Merthyr Tydfil, but has Bajan (Barbados) heritage which gives her a pretty unique pot of cultural reference points to draw from. She's got a great soulful, jazz-tinged voice. I'm not sure if she's appeared on Jools Holland's show yet, but she's right up his street I reckon, and she'd go down a storm with viewers.

I've chosen to feature a track from her debut EP 'Temporary Zone' from 2013 called Caer O Feddyliau (trans: City of Thoughts). She describes it as "a song about giving women an anthem and a voice to express all that we are and to celebrate ourselves as strong welsh women. To break free from the chains of centuries of patriarchy and misogyny." Err... Go Kizzy!?

Anyway, it's just a mere example of Kizzy's extraordinary talent. I reckon she's destined for big things. Let's hope so.

Saturday 6 June 2015

It Came From Japan #1: Taffy

Japan - the land of the rising sun. Also the land of manga, sushi, sumo wrestling and Hello Kitty. Oh, and some pretty fabulous music. Forget the fact the Japanese gave the world the dreaded karaoke, they've also brought us some fine pop music over the years. To celebrate this, I'm going to do a short monthly series featuring a different Japanese band I'm rather fond of, and today it's Taffy.

Taffy are based in Tokyo and have a sound that could have hailed from mid-90s Britain. While there are elements of classic-era indie bands like the Primitives, and shoegaze stuff like Ride, Taffy's main points of reference seem to be Britpop. In fact, if this lot had been around c.1996, they'd have fitted in so well with the likes of Catatonia, Sleeper, Echobelly et al. They even admit to having more of an affinity to the UK than their homeland, singing in English rather than Japanese. Singer Iris is in fact a fluent English speaker.

Taffy tour regularly and have recently been on the road promoting their new EP 'Darkle' which came out just last month. They have also put out two studio albums and a b-sides & rarities compilation. And in the very un-Japanese monikered Ken, they have probably the cheeriest drummer in rock.

I'm giving you two tracks released as singles - the first is the rather marvellous So Long, the closing track on their debut album 'Caramel Sunset' from 2012. It's got an immensely catchy, earworm of a chorus. The following year, its follow-up 'Lixiviate' contained Taffy's unique take on the Cure's Boys Don't Cry. It's a soaring 6-minute epic that sounds not unlike the way a certain Mr Gedge would have done it. Brilliant.


The videos:

Friday 5 June 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #31: Insomniac

We can look back on Britpop now and admit that an awful lot of it was crap. Some of it though is immortal. Insomniac by Echobelly is one of those songs that will live forever for me. When I hear it, everything else is just a blur. It really is in a different class.

OK, that's enough Britpop puns. But everything I say is true. Echobelly were kind of a lower-mid table team in Britpop's Premier League, like a West Brom or Crystal Palace. OK, maybe that's not strictly fair. Maybe they were capable of breaking into the Europa League places. Either way, I always felt they deserved far more acclaim than they actually received.

In Sonya Aurora Madan, Echobelly had Britpop's finest vocalist, a singer with an extraordinary range. It's that soaring high note in the chorus of Insomniac that got me hooked - anyone with a voice that interesting had to be worth further exploration. I fell in love with Sonya the first time I saw a picture of her; she was adorable. Echobelly fast became one of my fave bands of the era.

Insomniac was the first Echobelly track I heard and I instantly loved it. It just sounded so unique at the time, yet so totally a part of everything that was going on as well. I still get chills to this day when I hear it. To be fair, Echobelly had a whole heap of really good songs, but for me, without Insomniac, I may well not have noticed them at all; they'd have just been mid-table mediocrity.


Wednesday 3 June 2015

Welsh Wednesday #39

June is going to be 'emerging talent month' for Welsh Wednesday. For the next four weeks, I'm featuring a few of my favourite new acts coming out of this fair little nation, ready to take the world by storm...

#39: Luna by Cut Ribbons

I haven't featured anyone from Llanelli in this series yet - so here's a first. Cut Ribbons is a band I've only just discovered and I can't get enough of them. They make the most wonderful noise, they really do. The closest comparisons I can think of would be The Joy Formidable and Arcade Fire. The band's key dynamic seems to lie in the joint lead vocals of Aled and Anna; Anna especially has a great voice, with a range that rivals anyone.

To date, the band has released a couple of EPs and a few singles, the latest of which, Clouds, came out last month. They've played numerous festivals (including Reading and Leeds) and will no doubt be out and about this summer too. They're on my list of 'must sees' for sure.

I saw a clip of them at Reading recently. They played Luna, and I knew instantly that it would have to be a Welsh Wednesday track. So here it is.

Monday 1 June 2015

Blues Monday #10: Mud, Honey by Joanne Shaw Taylor

If you were asked to describe a typical successful blues musician, let's be honest, you wouldn't make any mention of a blonde female in her 20s, hailing from the West Midlands, would you? Yet that is exactly what we get in Joanne Shaw Taylor. She's definitely up there with the finest new artists of the genre. Her guitar playing is authentic and rootsy; her voice is raspy and earthy; and her songwriting is true to the traditions of the Chicago Blues and the subsequent British blues boom.

Joanne was discovered by Dave Stewart (he of Eurythmics fame) who took her on tour when she was a mere 16 years of age. Since then she has gone on to make four acclaimed albums, the most recent of which - last year's 'The Dirty Truth' - was recorded in Memphis, TN. Mud, Honey features on said record and pretty much sums up her extraordinary talent in three short minutes.


And here's a live session version she performed solo last Autumn.

Blues Monday is taking a rest for now but may return at some point in the future. There's loads more blues I want to share.