Monday 30 January 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #1

Here we go again - more late nights and assaulted eardrums...

Future Of The Left
Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff - 27th January 2017
Support: USA Nails, Frauds

Small independent venues are the lifeblood of our music scene. Independent Venue Week is a way of celebrating them, though to be fair the best way of supporting them is to actually visit them more than once a year. All the same, Future Of The Left like to do a homecoming show each year and so it was back to Clwb Ifor Bach for a heavy dose of loud, raucous behaviour.

Have to say, openers Frauds were well worth turning up for. A two-piece from Croydon, they take the drums/guitar format and make it sound like there's a full supporting cast on stage. Loud? You bet, but good tunes too and a lot of fun.

London punks USA Nails seemed to do a lengthy soundcheck when they took to the stage. Didn't they do one beforehand? Their singer seemed to have a degree of arrogance about him that seemed out of place for a support band. He came across like he didn't want to be there. That continued throughout their set which I have to say I struggled with. Sure, they sounded tight enough, but the songs didn't really go anywhere and failed to hook me. Our Mate Colin seemed to enjoy them, but I personally wasn't sorry when they finished.

Future Of The Left always draw a bit of a crowd, but this particular show was packed, a sell-out in fact. It also boasted the most enthusiastic, middle-aged mosh pit I think I've ever witnessed. Falco was on top form as ever, stopping the opening song Adeadmanalwayssmellsgood as an audience member was clapping out of time, before berating a Welsh-speaking heckler for not heckling in English.

Then there was the revelation that he and bassist Julia are parents-to-be. "Don't get up on the stage, because I don't want you to, Julia's pregnant and my drinks are here. The two most important things in my life." The audience paid heed to Falco's request, but they were by no means passive with plenty of rather impressive crowd-surfing and moshing going on from start to finish.

The set covered the whole decade of the band's existence including a healthy dose from last year's 'The Peace And Truce Of' album, though the long-time crowd-pleasers remain present. I did glance over at Our Mate Colin during Manchasm as the repeated refrain "Colin is a pussy / A very pretty pussy" was hollered. He seemed unphased... Other tracks of note (for me) were Arming Eritrea, In A Former Life, You Need Satan More The He Needs You, the splendidly-titled If AT&T Drank Tea What Would BP Do, and best of all How To Spot A Record Company

I kind of knew what to expect from this show having seen Future Of The Left before, but it certainly wasn't a let-down.

There is a real dearth of decent FotL live material, so I'm posting a couple of studio tracks instead. Sorry 'bout that...

Friday 27 January 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #2

OK, so it's time for a first here on Is This The Life? - our very first guest contributor! Yes, up to now I've penned every word you've read (or not!) on this site, but today, none other than Charity Chic offers his thoughts on his favourite Half Man Half Biscuit tune. It's a huge honour to have him here, and no doubt something of an honour for him too...

Nigel Blackwell National Treasure would be a great name for a Half Man Half Biscuit song. I’m sure that the Bard of Birkenhead could conjure up some trivia for a good few verses. For it’s the words as opposed to the music that make the Biscuits what they are and which leads to them being held in such high esteem. It’s not really the music or the voices that you visit them for but the lyrics.

"There’s a man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets."
"I heard a lovely rumour that Bette Midler had a tumour."

A lovely mix of celebrity and  observations about the minutiae of life often with a bit of football thrown in – indeed a band who never used to play on dates that clashed with the home games of their beloved Tranmere Rovers.

My choice for this series is an oldie - Architecture, Morality Ted and Alice. Any song which begins with the lines "The wonderful dexterity of Hanu Mikkola / Makes me want to shake hands with the whole of Finland" has got to be worth a listen.

Long may they reign – they are the kings of Hi -Vis.

Quality as always from CC. Thanks mate.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

My third tip for 2017

The final one of these presents a band with one of the best names of all time. They're from Newcastle and are rather brilliantly called Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Yes, really. They kind of tap into the current psyche-driven scene (they share a label with the likes of Goat and Gnoomes), though they crank up the riffs, the fuzz, the volume and the attitude to beyond 11.

Their debut album 'Feed The Rats' came out last Friday and features just three songs. It sounds like Black Sabbath jamming with Hawkwind (with Lemmy on vocals); a mammoth beast of a record. It's on Bandcamp and you ought to buy it 'cos it'll scare the shit out of people you don't like and put a huge grin on the faces of people you do. It's perfect for the kind of mood I'm in of late (which isn't pretty) - heavy, loud, angry, a bit trippy and quite way-out there.

The single Sweet Relief is the only track of 'normal length' on the record - there are a couple epics on there too. You get the video only today - it's way too new for MP3s. Turn it up as loud as you can and wallow.

Monday 23 January 2017

My second tip for 2017...

Now, if a band consisting of Buzz and Dale of The Melvins, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of At The Drive-In and Teri Gender-Bender of Le Butcherettes doesn't have you salivating and hollering "Fuck YEAH!", then stop reading now. For everyone else, here's a taste of what you can expect from the debut album by Crystal Fairy, released next month. Best put the children and pets away in a safe place first...

Friday 20 January 2017

The Genius Of Half Man Half Biscuit #1

A little while back, I contributed yet another Imaginary Compilation to The (New) Vinyl Villain's staggeringly good ongoing series. It was my attempt at stringing together a kind of career retrospective of Half Man Half Biscuit in just 10 tracks. I had been thinking about putting a HMHB series together here for a while and took advantage of my third-party post to appeal for guest contributors to submit a piece about their favourite Biscuits song.

The response was less than lukewarm, but I have a few excellent ones to be getting on with. I'm kicking things off, then my contributors will follow. BUT... I still want more. If you have a fave Half Man Half Biscuit song and want to prattle on about it here, send me a few words (well, no more than 500 if poss) and I'll run it.

For part one, I've chosen a track that wasn't on my ICA but is one of my favourite recent songs by the band. In fact it appears on their most recent album. Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride is the story of a woman who took no risks, who lived a simple life with simple pleasures and absolutely no excitement. She died aged 101. As usual Nigel Blackwell's wry lyrics steal the show:

  She didn’t care for adrenaline sports
  Never learned any difficult chords
  Did she ever have a scrap with a bear?
  If she did, I wasn’t there
  And yesterday at a hundred and one
  She had a shower, cup of tea and a scone
  And just as Cash In The Attic came on
  Such sweet delight upon her face
  No armed response team stood outside
  No torso washed up on the tide
  It could not be more cut and dried
  Old age killed my teenage bride

But aside from the words, it's also one of my favourite Biscuits songs for the music. It's probably one of the band's loudest tracks since The Trumpton Riots came out nearly 30 years ago! Clearly old/middle age isn't killing Half Man Half Biscuit's ability to pen a decent tune. On the contrary, if Nigel was grumpy and cynical back in the 80s, just imagine how he must feel as a fellow in his 50s. Prime grumpy-old-man-aged. If that's not a source for great HMHB lyrics, I'm at a loss to imagine what is.

Monday 16 January 2017

My first tip for 2017...

Not sure how I've missed this band up to now as I absolutely love their sound. Desperate Journalist hail from London and are tapping into the post-punk vibe that's very much 'in' at the moment. Their name is inspired by an unreleased diss track by The Cure towards Paul Morley, one of the most pretentious rock journalists ever to have put pen to paper. Desperate Journalist's second album 'Grow Up' comes out in March and this is the fabulous first single from it.

And here's one from their 2015 debut. Look out for this lot in 2017 if for no other reason than the guitarist plays a 12-string Ricky!

Saturday 14 January 2017

Bowie Week: Saturday

Drive-In Saturday [live on VH1 Telling Stories]
There's only one way to finish Bowie week, especially after yesterday's abomination (sorry, again). I never really got on with 'Aladdin Sane', it's rather patchy. But when it shines, it shines everso brightly, and none more so than track three. Drive-In Saturday was a terrific single and is perhaps only eclipsed on the album by Cracked Actor

This live version from 1999 is preceded by a lovely tale of how upset Bowie was when Mott the Hoople declined to record this track. Maybe the subject matter was just a little too left-field for them; it is still very probably the only top three song in history that tells how the inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic world in the future have forgotten how to have sex, and need to watch old porn films to see how it's done! Only Bowie, eh? Love him, still...

Hope you've enjoyed Bowie week. Normal service resumes next week...

Friday 13 January 2017

Bowie Week: Friday

Friday On My Mind
I owe you all an apology. Some of you already guessed this one was coming, but that's no excuse on my part. As amazing as David Bowe was, he wasn't without his flaws. His 1973 album of 60s covers - 'Pin Ups' - is a real hit and miss affair. Mainly miss, to be honest. This version of the Easybeats' worldwide smash exemplifies this. Not one of Dave's finest moments to put it mildly, but it's the only Friday song I could come up with. Plus it's Friday the 13th, so this horror is strangely appropriate. Sorry.

Thursday 12 January 2017

Bowie Week: Thursday

Thursday's Child ['Omikron: the Nomad Soul' slower version]
Ever the innovator, Bowie embraced digital formats before most of us had ever heard of MP3s and streaming. 'Hours...' was written alongside music for the video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul and is regarded as a sort-of soundtrack of the game. The album was the first ever release by a major artist to be officially available to download via the Internet. Its opening track was Thursday's Child, a perfect introduction to the record which was seen as a return to the classic song-based format after a fruitful period of experimentation. The version I'm posting today, however, is my preferred mix, one that appeared in the aforementioned video game.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Bowie Week: Wednesday

Leon Takes Us Outside
David Bowie was born on January 8th 1947. It was a Wednesday. Oddly, there are no Wednesday songs in the Bowie catalogue. The closest I could find was the introduction to his highly experimental concept album 'Outside'. Recorded with Brian Eno and released in 1995, it remains one of Bowie's most challenging works. This track mentions Wednesday several times. Honest it does. No other days are mentioned that I can make out, that makes it Wednesday's song, though admittedly I was scraping the barrel a bit. Still infinitely better than anything on 'Never Let Me Down' though...

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Bowie Week: Tuesday

Love You 'Til Tuesday
One year ago today, David Bowie died. Hard to believe, isn't it? To cheer us up, here's one of his earliest singles, back in his Anthony Newley soundalike days. Love You 'Til Tuesday is a silly ditty from his self-titled debut album from 1967. That's 50 - FIFTY! - years ago. Safe to say, he made better records, but there's such charm and warmth in this you can't help but smile, even on such a sad anniversary.

Monday 9 January 2017

Bowie Week: Monday

Girl Loves Me
'Blackstar' was a year old yesterday. Its significance hasn't diminished, people are still talking about it. There is, indeed, much to talk about. Girl Loves Me stood out very early on in my 'Blackstar' experience, especially the line where Bowie hollers "Where the fuck did Monday go?", which when you consider he died on a Sunday makes it eerily poignant.

As for what it's about? Well, good luck working that out. Much of the language used in the song seems to derive from Nadsat, the coded language in A Clockwork Orange. Apparently there's a bit of Polari in there too, and we know how fond Bowie was of the cut-up technique for his lyrics, so it's not exactly easy to grasp. Anyway, there don't seem to be any other Monday songs in the Bowie canon so this one gets in by default, but that's no bad thing.

Sunday 8 January 2017

Bowie Week: Sunday

Today would have been David Bowie's 70th birthday. To many of us, he's still here with us. So to celebrate, this week is Bowie Week on Is This The Life?. Each day, I'll post one of the great man's songs that relates to the day of the week. So today it's:

Sunday [Tony Visconti remix]
The opening track of 2001's 'Heathen' is a slow-burner. No, not Slow Burn, that's a different track. 'Heathen' is a really, really good album, one that has grown on me over time. There are a few versions of Sunday, but I really like the Tony Visconti remix that showed up on the b-side of Everyone Says 'Hi'. I like how Visconti beefed the backing track up, adding bass and beats. Nowt wrong with the original - far from it - but I think this version works really well and might even have made for a decent single.

Wednesday 4 January 2017

The Best (and Worst?) of 2016 (part 2)

I think the five records I listed on Monday were probably my top 5 of 2016, but a few others came close. Major credit must be given to the following records, all of which had more than their fair share of plays in these parts during the past 12 months:

SEPTEMBER GIRLS - 'Age Of Indignation'

Superb second album from Ireland's premier psych-femmes. Some great songs on this in addition to the psych vibe I've been wallowing in during 2016. One of my favourite in-car albums of the year.

JAMES - 'Girl At The End Of The World'
I feel I ought to mention our old mates James who put out their finest album in 20 years. It would have been number one too if it hadn't been for a certain "singer" who shall remain nameless. If you want some cheer in an otherwise repulsive year, you can't go far wrong with 'Girl At The End Of The World'.

YAK - 'Alas Salvation'
Yak were a band hotly-tipped at the start of the year. They definitely proved they have something and can knock you for six when you see them live. Some cracking tracks on their debut album.

THE WEDDING PRESENT - 'Going Going...'
David Gedge returned and went all post-rock on our asses. Without a doubt the most ambitious Weddoes album to date (as well as the series of live shows that accompanied it) but very probably one of their best.

I find it amazing how after thirty-odd years, a band like New Model Army are not only still going, but remain relevant and making bloody good records. 'Winter' is as good as anything they've done since the early 90s.

Lots of points for these as well: TELEMAN - 'Brilliant Sanity'; CATE LE BON - 'Crab Day'; WEEZER - 'Weezer (The White Album)'; EAGULLS - 'Ullages'; and, of course, LUSH's wonderful comeback - and sadly ultimate farewell - 'Blind Spot' EP.

Seeing as they've called it quits again so soon, I just want to put it out there that I'm more than happy to give Miki's gorgeous 12-string a good home in its retirement...

2016 was a busy year for gigs for us, even if it started off quite slowly. More than two-thirds of the 13 shows we attended in 2016 took place in the last four months. Strangely, there seemed to be more 'classic' acts than usual. I think, on reflection, my top 5 gigs of the year were:

1. Pixies
2. New Model Army (MrsRobster's #1 gig of the year...)
3. Le Butcherettes
4. Half Man Half Biscuit
5. Bob Mould

Worst gig of the year? Regrettably I have to say it was young Welsh newcomers Pretty Vicious who were the victims of appalling sound quality, one of the worst I've experienced in nearly 30 years of gig-going. I still think they're going to be massive, though.

As for 2017 - well, I don't want to think about it too much. Reckon I should just let it happen and see what comes of it. I'd like to think it can't be half as shitty as 2016 but I've never been much of an optimist. Blog-wise, I have ideas but little motivation to bring them to life, so don't expect too much.

On the upside, I do have a Grandaddy album and gig to look forward to in March, so that'll do nicely for starters. And believe it or not, it's THIRTY YEARS since the Wedding Present's debut album was released! I've heard Gedge is going to tour it one last time...

Enjoy the ride folks.

(The next post will be on Sunday - yes, that's right, SUNDAY - and it's the first of SEVEN DAILY POSTS. It's a very special week on Is This The Life? - Can you handle it?)

Monday 2 January 2017

The Best (and Worst?) of 2016 (part 1)

Wow. What a year that was. Very possibly the worst year in popular music history, and politically... Oh just don't get me started. Yep, 2016 was fucking shite. It was but a week old when we had a new Bowie album, and things, briefly, seemed great. Then, two days later, the great man took one last flight on the great spaceship to the sky. And from that moment on, it all went downhill.

Look, I'm not going to get all maudlin here, but let's face it, we're all pretty fucking miserable right now, yeah? And scared out of our minds too, I'm sure. I had hoped there would be plenty of silver linings to write about here, but sadly, it's been pretty hard finding them. For me, 2016 will not go down as a vintage year. 2015 was waaaay better. When I look at some of the records I was really excited about hearing - The Joy Formidable, Pixies, Primal Scream, The Kills, PJ Harvey - I feel a little let down. I mean that Primal Scream album was just fucking terrible, really really unforgivably bad. The Kills record seemed devoid of tunes, and the others weren't awful but below the standards I had hoped.

Every year, I compile songs from my favourite albums of the preceding 12 months. I originally made double-CDs and gave them to people (before I realised most of them never gave a shit and didn't listen to them). In recent years I've made it entirely digital which meant I could expand the number of tracks I use from 40 to 50, and in the case of last year, to 60. This year, however, I struggled to get beyond 40, my worst tally this decade. Despite this though, there were rays of sunshine...

SAVAGES - 'Adore Life'
The second album by Savages just blew everything else to pieces. It still does. Record of the year by a country mile. Record of the decade, even. Shit - one of the records of my life. And no, I'm not overdoing it! Simply sensational in every single respect.


Here's a band I had never heard of before Badger and SWC introduced them on JC's site, and for that I shall always be indebted to them. My best new band discovery of the year by far; a stupendous album, and this track in particular never fails to cheer me up and put a huge grin on my face.

THE CORAL - 'Distance Inbetween'
Also one of my favourite records of the year was the startlingly-good comeback album by The Coral. I've always loved The Coral, but 'Distance Inbetween' totally surpassed any expectations I had for it. Surprise of the year, undoubtedly.

DAVID BOWIE - 'Blackstar'
Of course, we have to give this one a mention. Not actually one of my top 3 Bowie albums to be honest, but there's no denying it is an extraordinary piece of work, especially the title track. And my god, what a concept. Who else but Bowie could ever write a record about death, release it on his birthday and then die within 48 hours? A prophecy if ever there was one.

When you consider how ill he was, it's nothing short of a miracle that video even exists. Bowie: making the people of Earth's jaws drop right to the end. Oh, and stay tuned for a special week of posts starting next Sunday. That's all I'm revealing for now...

MINOR VICTORIES - 'Minor Victories'
Supergroups can be rather hit and miss, but for me, Minor Victories are a definite hit. Featuring members of Slowdive, Editors and Mogwai, this lot made a sensational dreamy debut, and in Scattered Ashes, one of the songs of the year too. I hope it wasn't just a one-off.

(I posted Scattered Ashes a couple weeks ago, so here's another track from the album instead.)

A few more faves on Wednesday...