Friday 23 December 2016

You Rascal You

When TheMadster came came home from uni one weekend last month, she asked me if I'd seen the new Levis ad. Now we don't have a TV in the house - I hate TV - so of course, I said no. She went on to tell me the song sounded a lot like Jack White, but she'd never heard it before. So I looked it up, and this is what I found:

Now I knew of Hanni El Khatib, and have probably heard some of his stuff on 6 Music, but he's not an artist I've ever investigated. And Madster was right - there's more than a touch of Mr White in here. It's from Hanni's first album, 2010's 'Will The Guns Come Out'. I looked it up and found out it's not one of his songs, but was actually written way back in 1929 by Sam Theard, then titled I'll be Glad When You're Dead. Since then, it's been covered numerous times. I read the names of some of those who have done it... Sammy Davis Jr., Fats Waller, Louis Jordan, Dr. John, Louis Armstrong...

"Oooh, can you find Louis Armstrong's version," asked an excited Madster. "I love Louis Armstrong." Now I'm not a jazz fan and don't own any Louis Armstrong records so I'm a little surprised she not only knows about him, but is a fan also. "A lot of my uni friends are surprised about my music taste," she told me. "They don't really get why I'm into old stuff, but I love it." Funny, however much I despise teenagers, every now and then my heart is warmed when one of mine says something like this. There may yet be hope for the youth of today. So just for TheMadster, here's a tremendous clip of Satchmo performing the song, now titled I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You. And look out for Velma Middleton, the dancing lady - she's a rather large-ish girl, but my, what a mover!

I'm often rather miserable this time of year, but that clip has me beaming from ear to ear just like Louis.


I'm deliberately avoiding anything related to that dreaded seasonal C-word, but if you celebrate such things, do have a fine holiday. I'll see you in 2017. Be good, children.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

World Tour

l-r: Shopping; The Van T's; September Girls; Estrons
Week 16: The British Isles

Ah. Home sweet home. Well, not so sweet these days, sadly, and I'm not completely done and dusted yet, for we still have some music to discover. Some of you may be wondering why I've dubbed the final leg of our journey 'The British Isles' and not Great Britain or the United Kingdom. Well, I'm taking in Ireland which isn't part of Great Britain but is part of the British Isles. If you're confused, don't worry - I guarantee most British people don't know the intricacies of what is or isn't British (which is ironic in so many ways I don't want to discuss right now...). Maybe this will explain things. Or not... 

Anyway, we're flying back to Blighty from Finland and in London, well it looks like 2016, but it sounds a lot like 1978. Shopping are a trio who sound so firmly rooted in the original British post-punk scene, it comes as a massive shock to see how young they are. Gang Of Four, The Slits, The Cure - all immediately come to mind when you hear Shopping. They've released two albums to date, 2013's 'Consumer Complaints' and last year's 'Why Choose?'. Here's a track from each.

Driving north to Bonnie Scotland and, well, obviously, there are so many brilliant bands in Scotland. That's why there are so many brilliant music bloggers there, right JC, CC et al? While I'm here you guys can take me round your haunts. Coffee and cake (or beer and crisps if you prefer) are on me. I do want to pop into Glasgow though as that's where we'll find The Van T's.

Fronted by twin sisters Hannah and Chloe Van Thompson, The Van T's play echoey, psyched-up guitars with a 60s surf swagger. In 2016, they have supported the likes of Yuck and Rat Boy, played the festival circuit including the BBC Introducing stage at T In The Park, and been talked up in all the cool places like Consequence Of Sound and Clash Magazine. They've just released their fourth single Fun Garçon in November. I like the sound of these guys - look out for them in 2017.

And while we're on a fuzzy psych trip... we're flying to Ireland now to the fair city of Dublin. Here's another country with a rich musical history, we're spoiled for choice. However, I'd long decided who my Irish representatives were going to be. September Girls' second album 'Age Of Indignation' is one of my favourite records of the year. It's been played loads in the car, a good way to start the day.

They started off as the wackily-named pop band Talulah Does The Hula, but morphed into September Girls in 2011, taking 60s garage rock as their inspiration. Debut album 'Cursing The Sea' came out in 2014, closely followed by the 'Veneer' EP, the title track of which remains one of their best tracks to date. But 'Age of Indignation' really raised the bar, a riot of swirly, noisy retro-fused psych rock with more than decent tunes. Love it.

And here's Jaw On The Floor from the latest album:

All good things must come to an end, and so it is we return to where we started from - but not before we take in one more band. And WHAT a band. Now, we could drive south from Dublin to Rosslare and catch the ferry across the Irish Sea to Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. But instead we're actually hopping on the ferry from Dublin and docking in Holyhead on the island of Ynys Môn (or Anglesey to give it its English name). From there, we can get onto the mainland and drive south on the A470 through stunning Snowdonia, the desolate splendour of mid-Wales, the beautiful Brecon Beacons, all the way to Cardiff.

It's here we should be able to catch up with Estrons, the Welsh band most likely to be fecking huge quite soon. Originally formed on a beach in Aberystwyth, Estrons (trans: Aliens) are fronted by the striking Taliesyn Källström. As her name suggests - she's half Welsh, half Swedish. I caught about 5 minutes of Estrons live when they supported Bob Mould back at the start of the year. They sounded awesome and I wish I'd got there a bit earlier. They played Cardiff again last month, but my schedule was too busy to see them then. By the time I do catch them, they'll probably be playing much bigger venues. Their song Make A Man (from last year's 'Whoever She Was...' EP) got loads of radio airplay. Since then they've travelled the world, played the festival circuit and released more songs, including the brand new three-song EP 'She's Here Now' which sounds absolutely IMMENSE! Really, it does.

Take my word for it, Estrons are a band to look out for. Here's a couple of songs for you - Drop was a single released back in the summer, and the video clip shows them performing Make A Man at this year's SXSW Showcase in Texas.

And half an hour later, I'm back home in Newport. Well, the last 16 weeks have been rather arduous, occasionally a little scary, and absolutely exhausting. But it was also a lot of fun. Thanks for joining me. I'm off to bed for a week...!!!

Monday 19 December 2016

Memories of 2016 gigs #13

#13: Super Furry Animals
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff - 17 December 2016
Support: Goldie Lookin' Chain, Ffugs

A week before Christmas and people are generally winding down or partying excessively. Either way, when a band comes on stage, you want them to shake you down and blow your head off with their genius; their musical dexterity, their lyrical poetry, and their sheer enigmatic stage presence. And so it was, a week before Christmas, and we get all that and more because, ladies and gentlemen, Goldie Lookin' Chain are in the house!

Back at the Motorpoint for the second time in 10 days (having only set foot in the place twice in the previous ten years) and this promised to be a real biggie. The last date of the Super Furry Animals current tour - in which they are playing their first two albums complete, in order, back to back - was a hometown gig in the city's biggest indoor venue. It was an exclusively Welsh line-up, but openers Ffug (pronounced 'fig') were on so early we missed them, which is a shame as I quite wanted to see them. MrsRobster wouldn't have objected to the running order being swapped - she's not exactly a fan of Goldie Lookin' Chain. But they did seem to get the crowd going. Ten tracksuited, baseball cap-sporting chavs[1] bounded about the stage, extolling the virtues of Newport convenience shops (Baneswell Express), dealing marijuana (21 Ounces) and psychopathic girlfriends (Your Missus Is A Nutter). "It's like a fucked-up exercise class," observed the ever-erudite MrsRobster. "Worst support band ever." There were many there who would definitely disagree, though in fairness a fair few were off their heads.

The only real downside of GLC's titanic performance was the really poor sound, and this sadly continued throughout the main set. There were times during Super Furry Animals' performance when you couldn't actually hear much of what was going on other than the heavy beats and Cian's electronics. It didn't stop a frenetic response to nearly every song by the audience. You could consider the set to be a brave move by the band - they haven't played some of these songs in years, and I suspect one or two had never been played live at all! One thing that did strike me was how much 'Fuzzy Logic' seems to work as a live album. The songs are generally upbeat with plenty of singalong parts to them. 'Radiator', on the other hand, was something of a transitional record with slower songs and a tad more experimentation. That said, it was probably 'Radiator''s most unusual song that got the best crowd response of the evening - Hermann Loves Pauline was greeted with gusto by the hordes.

What was interesting was the age-range of the audience. There were a lot of kids there, having been brought by their parents. We were stood next to one family - which included three children aged, I would guess, between 8 and 13 - all of whom were wearing different SFA t-shirts and knew every word to every song. A heartwarming sight. My guess is none of these kids will be begging mum or dad to take them to see J****n B****r next year!

While you can't fault how SFA do things, I wish the sound could have done them justice. I wasn't the only one who remarked how terrible it sounded. Whoever was on the mixing desk should try a different profession. Not even the mandatory set-closer The Man Don't Give A Fuck sounded half decent, it was only the crowd reaction that gave it any real lift. They deserve so much better.


[1] They're not really chavs, it's just an act. One of them is actually an elected member of Newport City Council. Honestly! And if you're interested in seeing this fair city and its people, here's the video for Baneswell Express.

Friday 16 December 2016

Memories of 2016 gigs #12

#12: Placebo
Newport Centre, Newport - 12 December 2016
Support: Minor Victories

It’s 20 years since Placebo released their self-titled debut album. That’s quite impressive for a band like them, who seemed to find a bit of a niche audience - girls who wanted to be boys; boys who wanted to be girls. They’ve succeeded, I think, because of the quality of their material which, in spite of what some people say, has actually remained strong. They are also a band I’d never managed to catch live before so I reckoned a show in my adopted home town really ought to be the one I finally got to. Mind, coming just five days after Pixies blew my mind, body and soul into the middle of the next decade it would be a tough ask for them to live up to that.

My mood was lifted higher on arrival when a glance at the t-shirt stand revealed that the support band was Minor Victories who have released one of my top five records of 2016. Featuring Rachel Gosling of Slowdive, Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai and a fella from Editors, their soaring dreampop has raised my spirits numerous times during the morning commute this year. Live, they’re a little more organic, replicating some of their keyboard and strings sounds with guitars, but it was no less uplifting. Scattered Ashes was immense and is a strong contender for my Song of the Year.

So things got off to a decent start. But then weird stuff began to happen. The stage setup included a couple of large screens to either side displaying visuals. No sooner had Minor Victories left the stage than the screens started to play – get this – an ADVERT! For Placebo’s new greatest hits album. A FUCKING ADVERT! Now that is something I have never seen before at a gig. Then there was a lull. Now normally the gap between support band and headliner is when the tension mounts and the guy on the sound desk plays some tunes to help build the atmosphere. But it all felt strangely lacking – the music was so quiet you could barely make out what was playing. The audience was a little odd too, a decent proportion seemingly being women in their 30s who were likely rabid Molko-ites in college but probably haven’t been to a gig since they left and rarely get out these days. God, that sounds awfully snobby of me, but it just didn’t feel like a normal gig crowd, you know what I mean? The atmosphere felt flat and never really lifted that much throughout. When the lights went down, I didn’t feel ready. Hopefully Placebo would soon kickstart my appetite.

Except that they didn’t come straight on. Instead, the screens at the sides of the stage displayed images of Leonard Cohen as Who By Fire played over the PA. A nice touch to be fair, but still no sign of the band. Then, the massive screen at the back of the stage flickered into life and we were shown... an old Placebo video! Yes, someone had the bright idea of warming the audience up by screening the Every You Every Me promo. I have absolutely no idea why. Again, I’ve never seen that done before and, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to see it again.

Eventually Placebo emerged, and I finally thought this is where it all starts to click into place. But, for me anyway, it didn’t. The Newport Centre is not a big place – you can easily fit four of its auditoriums into Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena where I was last week. It’s a place where a band and its audience are close to each other, presenting an opportunity to engage on quite a personal, almost intimate level. Not a place, then, to completely overwhelm the entire experience by blasting continual gaudy visuals at us. There were cameras filming the band and beaming the images live onto the screens. The screens around the actual stage the band was playing on. A stage that we were all pretty close to. Now, you can get away with that in a large place where people further back can appreciate it, but here it was just an imposing blast of neon that completely detracted from what I wanted to see – the band.

And that was the biggest problem for me. No matter how good Placebo were – and they were very good – I kept being distracted by the visuals and special effects. A couple of times I found myself having to tune back in to the music as I realised I had been concentrating on the screens.

So what did they play? Well we were promised a career-spanning set that included lots of old songs that they had promised never to play again. So Pure Morning, Nancy Boy, Slave To The Wage, etc were all given a welcome airing. Sadly, my two favourite early Placebo tracks – 36 Degrees and Teenage Angst – were slowed right down, taking away much of the impact they’ve always had on me. Without You I’m Nothing, however, was superb and the one proper moment of full engagement I had with the show. Even the screen showing footage of the band hanging out with David Bowie didn’t diminish the effect. Also noteworthy were For What It's Worth, Space Monkey, I Know, and Too Many Friends, a song about people's obsession with social media and which contains the lyric "My computer things I'm gay / What's the difference anyway / When all people do all day / Is stare into a phone." Up to that point, there had been numerous phones held aloft filming sequences of the show (all with horrendous picture and sound quality, no doubt). During this song, however, the phones mysteriously disappeared from view...

There were two encores, the gaps between sets being abnormally lengthy. The second encore was essentially a run through their version of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. I’ve always quite liked Placebo’s reading of this song; it’s kind of spectral and haunting. A shame, then, that live they build it up into a noisy beast. Another disappointment.

I know it’s unfair to compare two bands with each other, but the previous week I saw Pixies in a large arena with no special effects bar some lights and a smoke machine. No pomp and ceremony, no visuals, no gimmicks – just a pure, kick-ass rock & roll show from start to finish. And they slayed every single one of us. Placebo should have been there to see how it’s done. There’s no reason why they can’t slay an audience just by playing their songs – they’re more than good enough. If they were to do that, I might be tempted to go and see them again. As it was, I was left yearning for Minor Victories to come back on and play Scattered Ashes again...


Wednesday 14 December 2016

World Tour

l-r: Sofi Lofi; Teksti-TV 666; Mirel Wagner
Week 15: The Nordic Countries (part two)

It takes about 3½ hours by bus to travel north out of Gothenburg to the capital of Norway - Oslo. Oslo is currently the fastest-growing city in Europe in terms of population. It is also regarded as one of the best cities in the world to live in, in terms of quality of life. It is, however, one of the world's most expensive cities to live in.

We're only visiting briefly as we've come to see a band who make a glorious racket. Sofi Lofi were conceived by Mette Sofie Breddam of indienoir-rockers Le Corbeau. Initially a solo-side-project emitting occasional releases, they are now a fully-fledged four-piece who released their debut album earlier this year. Bloody excellent it is too - you should grab it from their Bandcamp page. Kind of 60s rock 'n' roll psych glam sort of stuff. Killer On The Loose starts off sounding like a ballsy 20th Century Boy but becomes something even more wonderful.

From Norway, we fly east over Sweden and across the Gulf of Bothnia to Finland. While sometimes thought of as part of Scandinavia, Finland actually has closer ties to Russia and Estonia. We're landing in the capital Helsinki, the home of the bloke who invented Linux, the computer system we once thought would kill off Windows for good. Unfortunately that didn't quite happen, but it was a stroke of genius nonetheless. Also from Helsinki are Teksti-TV 666, a mysterious lot who make a great noise. Lots of soaring, swooping psychedelic guitars (they often play with five guitarists), but don't just think they're another shoegaze band. There's a lot more to this lot than that, with garage punk, indie rock and Krautrock all evident in the sound.

Their three EPs to date, entitled '1', '2' and this year's imaginatively-titled '3' have just been compiled on the album '1, 2, 3' (how's that for originality). It's been getting rave reviews beyond their home nation, including a 9/10 in Louder Than War magazine in which the reviewer states it is "easily one of the best things I've heard this year... To be honest, it defies categorization to a certain extent. Let's just call it brilliant." And that sort of sums it up.

Just a 20 minute drive away is the neighbouring city of Espoo. Formula One driver Kimi Räikkönen is from here, as is Mirel Wagner. I actually posted a piece about Mirel last year, but couldn't resist featuring her again as she is just magnificent. Read what I wrote last year to get a sense of what she's about (if you're not already familiar with her). I strongly urge you to buy her two albums. Here's a track from each.

And next week - the concluding leg of our journey. Baby, I'm coming home...!

Monday 12 December 2016

Memories of 2016 gigs #11

#11: Pixies
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff - 7 December 2016
Support: FEWS

I’ve pretty much already written everything I could ever say about Pixies on this site over the past three years. But still I did wonder if I would come away from a Pixies gig in 2016 as invigorated or enthused as I was when I first heard ‘Doolittle’in 1989, or when I first saw them live the following year.

Before I reveal all, I should mention the support band FEWS. I had intended to research this lot before the show, but for some reason never got around to it. They're Swedish, apparently. From where we were stood at the time, I thought they were OK – some good riffs with post-rock and psych influences – but the sound, to me at least, let them down. MrsRobster and Our Mate Colin on the other hand thought they were rather good. In fact, during the interval, OMC bought and downloaded the album to his phone!

I haven’t been near a most pit in nearly 20 years, but I vowed to get as close as I dared to Pixies, so during the pause in proceedings, I left MrsRobster and OMC and headed deep amongst the swarming masses. The place was filling up by now, and the Motorpoint Arena is huge. I never thought Pixies would be able to credibly play it, not in 2016 anyway.  Seems I was wrong though – they relish it. They came on, played Bone Machine and the place went mental. Before long, I found myself just two rows from the front, fighting against a crush but with a great view.

Just like the days of old, Pixies hurtled through their set at breakneck speed, barely pausing for breath as one song relentlessly followed another. There was a heavy dose of the latest album 'Head Carrier' as you’d expect – 10 of its 12 tracks were aired – but this still equated to only a quarter of the set. The whole of the back catalogue got a look in, from ‘Come On Pilgrim’ through to ‘Trompe Le Monde’, a couple of b-sides and the new post-reformation records. I made it in the region of 40 – FORTY – songs in all, spanning two hours, the longest gig I think I’ve ever attended.

Unlike Frank Turner, who I’d seen just a couple weeks before, Pixies don’t include gimmicks or crowd-participation novelties in their act, they just play. They don’t even interact with the audience – no “Hello”, no “Thank you,” and definitely no “HOW YOU DOIN’ CARDIFF?!” (thank god). It’s so straight-forward and effortless – yet still they can send an arena packed with thousands of people into a hysterical sweaty mass, screaming every word of every song back at them.

Black Francis was on fine form. Sure, he’s put on quite a few stone since I first saw Pixies, but his voice is in fine fettle. “He’s still got the best scream,” MrsRobster reckons, and she’s not wrong. Paz Lenchantin fits in so well it’s as if she was always in the band. You can argue all you like about how “she’s not Kim Deal”, but if you want to make fucking stupidly obvious remarks like that then why bother saying anything at all, quite frankly. I think she’s great. Dave Lovering still gives it his all, clearly enjoying every moment, especially his lead vocal turn on La La Love You. My only slight reservation was with Joey Santiago. It’s known he’s had a couple of problems recently, going into rehab before the tour. While he played a decent show overall, I got the impression he was going through the motions a bit. During Vamos, he seemed to decline the opportunity to do his usual extended solo bit and just made a few noises before signalling to Frank that he was done. Shame, as I always enjoy that part (last time I saw them he set his guitar on fire a la Hendrix...). To be honest though, that’s just a minor quibble.

Picking highlights is petty I suppose, the whole thing was just a blast. But I’m not above a bit of pettiness, so I’ll probably go for Rock Music, Velouria, Um Chagga Lagga, Caribou, I’ve Been Tired, Winterlong  and everything they played from ‘Doolittle’ (9 songs, but especially Debaser and Crackity Jones).

It passed so quickly, I had no idea they’d been playing so long, but alas it reached the end. The band assembled at the front of the stage and took their bows, accepting the adoration of us sweaty pit monsters. Someone turned the smoke machine on and they disappeared behind a thick white fog. Except they didn’t leave the stage. Instead, Paz fittingly led an airing of Into The White before Pixies finally bid farewell and departed. The finest example of a non-encore I’ve ever seen.

And there I was – hot, sweaty, stinking like a pig and utterly destroyed by the might of the finest band on the planet who, once again, successfully restored my faith in existence. While I still have a few nagging doubts about the new album and where it stands against their other work, I cannot deny that Pixies never fail to awaken every dormant cell in my aging body. Emerging from the sweltering crowd, I realised I hadn’t felt so alive in years! All the same, I don’t think I’ll enter another mosh pit in a hurry, at least not until the next Pixies tour comes around.


Friday 9 December 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #47-50

Tough. That's how this series has been. Many people would struggle to name 50 albums they've ever heard, but when you've been listening to music obsessively for nigh-on four decades, it's hard to set yourself a strict limit of records you'd take with you to your grave, particularly when you factor in other self-imposed rules (one LP per artist, mustn't overlap with songs in the other list, etc...)

My 50 songs series was the same, and if I revisit these lists in 5-10 years, I'm sure there would be a few changes. But they are what they are. This list has to end now, but I still struggled to decide what to include and what to leave out. You see, there are plenty of 'proper' albums I could include, but there are some acts whose music I really want to take with me but I just can't narrow down to one album over another. One reason is that with some artists, I'm most likely to play a compilation of singles over any particular album.

This might be seen as a bit of a cop out to some, but I'm going to conclude this series with four 'best of' compilations. I make no apologies for that. I kind of have a bit of a problem with it myself though, in that no 'best of' comp is ever going to be perfect. Truth be told, I generally compile my own so I get what I want. But the rule I'm setting myself here is they must all be commercially-available compilations. Box sets and special editions are not permitted either.

#47: 'The Singles' - Inspiral Carpets
Put simply, Inspiral Carpets were one of the best and most consistent singles bands of the 90s. Even their new stuff is decent, but there's not a bad track on this. Their albums got progressively better, but their singles remained top notch throughout, even if little ever topped This Is How It Feels for me (though there's probably a reason for that...)


#48: 'Best Of' - The House Of Love
This is a particularly good collection as it includes album tracks as well as singles. OK, so it's missing the really early singles (Real Animal and the original Shine On) as well as anything from the final pre-split album 'Audience Of The Mind', but it covers pretty much everything there is to love about the House Of Love, including Destroy The Heart. Especially Destroy The Heart!


#49: 'Great Expectations: The Singles Collection' - New Model Army
'Thunder And Consolation' so very nearly made it onto the list, but I decided it would mean leaving too many other great tunes behind (like No Rest and Here Comes The War), so I plumped for this US-only set instead which covers material from 1983-2000. OK, so the recent stuff is missing, but there hasn't been an update. A shame, as the most recent three NMA albums have been excellent.


#50: 'The Singles 86>98' - Depeche Mode
This was so nearly The Coral 'Singles Collection', but I opted for Depeche Mode in the end as there is a distinct lack of electronic music on this list and it would satisfy any craving I have. This period of 'The Mode' is easily my favourite. The early stuff is too 80s synthy for my liking, as good as the songs are. Some of their recent stuff is decent, but from 'Black Celebration' to 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion' they were pretty much flawless, certainly from a singles perspective, at least.


So that's it, another series complete. At last! Thanks for humouring me.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

World Tour

l-r: Yung; The Good, The Bad; Agnes Obel; Pale Honey
Week 14 - The Nordic Countries (part one)

No problems finding music from this part of the world. Yep, we're in northern Europe - Scandinavia to be precise. Well, I think so. You see, what exactly constitutes Scandinavia? Officially it's just Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Ah, but what of Finland, you ask? Or Iceland? That's what I used to think, but apparently... oh look, it's complicated. Wiki explains it quite well. Anyway, that's why I've termed this part of our trip 'The Nordic Countries' to ensure accuracy.

I should also point out that Iceland is not a destination this time around - I have something lined up for 2017 which will take us there regularly. Oh, and Greenland was featured a couple weeks back. Right, so where were we? Ah yes, leaving Germany. It takes 5½ hours to drive from Münster to our next destination, Denmark's second-biggest city Aarhus. Denmark is home to the Raveonettes, one of my very favourite bands. They're perhaps a little too well-known to feature in this series. I have found a couple lesser-known acts for you though. Yung  are very highly-rated by SWC, who called Nobody Cares from 2015's 'Alter' EP "probably the finest thing released last year." They released their third full-length album back in June called 'A Youthful Dream' which is also very good. A Stain is the closing track on 'Alter', and is superb, while Pills is a highlight from the current album.

Now, Denmark consists of the peninsula of Jutland (the bit attached to the European mainland at the border with Germany) and an archipelago of 443 islands. The largest of these islands, Zealand, is where we will find the Danish capital Copenhagen. We can actually take a train there as there are two bridges and a tunnel that cross the Storebælt Strait, and it'll take less than three hours.

The Good The Bad "hail from a nuclear bunker in Copenhagen", or so they claim. Their sound is best described as 60s garage-surf with a bit of, erm, adult titillation thrown in for good measure. The video for 030 is so saucy, you have to log in and verify your age on You Tube to see it! As this is a family blog (*ahem*) I'm not posting it here, but if you want to watch it, here's a link. Be warned, it's totally NSFW! In the meantime, here's an alternative from their second album, 2009's 'From 018-033'.

As you may have gathered, all their songs are numbered rather than titled. They are currently working on their fourth album which will probably begin with a song called 051. How do I know that? Well, their third album was called 'From 034-050' and featured songs numbered from 034 to 050. See what they did there? So here's a rather good song from that one.

While we're in Copenhagen, I want to introduce you to Agnes Obel, a quite wonderful artist who treads a wire between pop, folk and classical genres most delightfully. She released her third album just a few weeks ago. Here's a track from it, followed by an MP3 of one of her earlier tunes.

Another train, another bridge. This one is really famous, too. Linking Copenhagen in Denmark to the city of Malmö in Sweden is the Øresund Bridge. It is the longest combined rail and road bridge in Europe and was the setting for the hit drama series The Bridge. It is also the bridge inferred in the Manic Street Preachers track Take Me To The Bridge. Now, it doesn't get us all the way to Sweden on its own; the first third of the 12km journey is by under-sea tunnel to the Danish island of Amager where we pick up the bridge. Once we get to the other side, our journey continues north up Sweden's west coast.

Anyway - as you know Sweden is one of the world's most musically rich nations. In fact, it is the third biggest music exporter in the world (after the US and the UK). Some of my fave bands come from Sweden - First Aid Kit, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, The Wannadies to name but three. I'll probably feature the country in more detail at a later point, but for now, I thought I should at least pay a flying visit if only to catch Pale Honey.

Here are a couple of young ladies from Gothenburg who made one of the best debut albums of last year, and apparently they have some new stuff to hurl at us. I say hurl because they're not going to do it gently! The first track to emerge from the new record is called Real Thing, and the spooky video seems to be inspired by Stranger Things which I haven't got around to watching yet, but will do so once I've got through all six series of House... So here's that vid, plus a track from that brilliant self-titled debut.

More Nordic excursions next week.

Monday 5 December 2016

New Order Covered part 3

The final trio of New Order covers brings together two artists beloved of John Peel and one who I'm sure would be if he were still with us. The Boo Radleys were championed in their early days by Peel, and in their third Peel Session in 1991, they recorded a fuzzy, feedback-fuelled version of True Faith, almost as if the Jesus And Mary Chain were doing it.

Peel made no secret of his love for Laura Cantrell, even calling her debut album 'Not The Tremblin' Kind' "my favourite record of the last ten years and possibly my life." Here, she takes on the part of the ghost soldier in Love Vigilantes, one of my favourite New Order songs. There have been quite a few decent versions of this over the years, my favourite being the version put out by the Oyster Band as a single. But Laura's take on it is far from shabby.

Wussy were formed in Cincinnati in 2001 and put their first record out in 2005, a year after John Peel passed away. I think he would have approved of them. Earlier this year, they put out a cover of New Order's debut single Ceremony as a limited edition 7" for Record Store Day. It's fairly faithful to the original, but well worthy of a listen.


Friday 2 December 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #46: Station To Station

This piece is pretty much directly lifted from my series of critical reappraisals of Bowie's discography last year, when he was *sob* still with us...

(first published 24 April 2015)

On his tenth album, Bowie and his cohorts adopted an experimental approach to the recording process. There are a lot of sounds on 'Station To Station' and there is a clear pointer towards the motorik style of the Berlin trilogy. Elsewhere, the funk feel of 'Young Americans' is still evident - on Golden Years and Stay, in particular.

As a whole though, 'Station To Station' is sensational. There may only be six tracks, but each one is of as high a quality as Bowie had produced to date and would produce in the future. The title track, which opens the record, is a 10-minute epic that criss-crosses Bowie's recent history and his near-future. There's a bit of funk in there, some glam rock and a bit of the Krautrock experimentation that would serve him well to the end of the decade. It's a real headphones track, especially during the first half.

It's clear that Golden Years was the first track written for the album. It wouldn't have been out of place on 'Young Americans'; TVC 15 was a somewhat strange inclusion musically - the album's most obviously pop moment - but lyrically it was in keeping with the dark undertones of the other tracks, based on a hallucination that Iggy Pop had in which he saw his girlfriend being eaten by the TV set. The darkness and almost surreal nature of the songs can undoubtedly be aligned to Bowie's chronic cocaine use at the time, but like so many such situations in rock music history, the dark times often result in some of an artist's finest work.

Word On A Wing was written during the making of the movie 'The Man Who Fell To Earth', a time of "psychological terror", according to Bowie. It was his protection against some of the things happening to him at the time. It's a beautiful song, one of the best ballads of his career. But the very best is saved 'til last. Bowie's take on Wild Is The Wind still rates as one of his greatest moments of all. His vocal is phenomenal and the track as a whole is a thing of awe and wonder.

Bowie may have been going through a rather turbulent and disturbing period in his life, but by playing it out on record, he produced a masterpiece. 'Station To Station' is my fave Bowie album because of its depth and candidness. The Thin White Duke - Bowie's newest persona - may have been, in his own words, "a nasty character indeed", but as the muse through which this record was created, he was an extraordinary, and welcome, addition to the Bowie cast.

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!


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!


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.