Sunday, 23 December 2018

Best of 2018 #7

Here's three of my favourite songs of 2018 that don't feature on my fave albums of the year.


Echo And The Bunnymen - The Somnambulist
(The highlight of a rather strange album of remakes of old Bunnymen songs. The fact this was one of two new songs on it shows they don't need to retread the old days, they should just keep moving forward.)




Hatchie - Sure
(I featured this one earlier in the year, so here's an also-rather-excellent live version.)




Boy Azooga - Loner Boogie
(Another one I posted a while back so another live version for you. Apparently, Davey was shitting himself (his words) when they did this, but they didn't do a bad job considering...)




And finally... a couple more best ofs...

TheRobster's top 3 gigs of 2018:
1. The Breeders - Very close, but being in the presence of the genius that is Kim Deal edges it every time!
2. Idles - Absolutely immense.
3. Shame - Two or three others almost made the list, but Shame really were special.


MrsRobster's albums of the year:
I knew I was asking for trouble. For all her wonderful qualities, MrsRobster is not known for her decisiveness. So asking her to choose her top 3 albums of the year was like asking Theresa May to come up with a good Brexit deal. She narrowed it down to 10, but couldn't choose three from them. So in no particular order, she went for:

Idles - 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance'
Estrons - 'You Say I'm Too Much, I Say You're Not Enough'
The Wombats - Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life'
Shame - 'Songs Of Praise'
Spring King - 'A Better Life'
The Beths - 'Future Me Hates Me'
Teleman - 'Family Of Aliens'
James - 'Living In Extraordinary Times'
Muse - 'Simulation Theory'
Slaves - 'Acts Of Fear And Love'


MrsRobster's top 3 gigs of the year:
She did a bit better with the gigs but still couldn't get it down to three. She has her top 2, and the other three are tied in third:

1. Ride - Certainly in my own top 5 but just missed the top 3
2. Public Service Broadcasting - A bit predictable. She just LOOOOOOOOOOVES the PSB boys.
3=. Idles
3=. Shame
3=. Estrons - The other one from my top 5, a great way to end the year.


And that's it from me for 2018. And, in fact, for the foreseeable. I had planned to do another Bowie Week in January, and put the blog on an indefinite hiatus after its fifth birthday in February. But instead, I'm calling it a day now. I'm bored of the thing and need to stop.

So until I have something to say that I feel you may be everso slightly interested in, I declare Is This The Life? closed for business. Thanks for everything - the support, the contributions, the fun. Have a good holiday everyone. Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Best of 2018 #6

Final lot of my top album releases of the year, but there's still another post to come tomorrow.


Cabbage - 'Nihilistic Glamour Shots'




Half Man Half Biscuit - 'No One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut'




Slaves - 'Acts Of Fear And Love'

Friday, 21 December 2018

Best of 2018 #5




Yet another selection of my fave albums of 2018...


Amber Arcades - 'European Heartbreak'




Blackwater Holylight - 'Blackwater Holylight'




Spear Of Destiny 'Tontine'



Thursday, 20 December 2018

Best of 2018 #4

Bored of this yet? Hope not. Three more of my fave albums of the year...

The Coral - 'Move Through The Dawn'




Gwenno - 'Le Kov'




The Wombats - 'Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life'



Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Best of 2018 #3

Today's triptych of totally top tunes from 2018. Or something...

Emma Ruth Rundle - 'On Dark Horses'




Shame - 'Songs Of Praise'




Goat Girl - 'Goat Girl'



Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Best of 2018 #2

Here's the next triple billing in my Best of 2018 non-articles... Three more I bought on lovely coloured vinyl (see above).


The Beths - 'Future Me Hates Me'




Estrons - 'You Say I'm Too Much, I Say You're Not Enough'



(and here's a bonus one for MrsRobster, 'cause she really likes this song...)




Belly - 'Dove'



Monday, 17 December 2018

Best of 2018 #1

I was going to do my usual round-up of the year, but the malaise that bit me at the end of last year is getting worse and I really cannot be arsed to write anything. So instead, I'm just going to post three videos a day for a week that represent my albums of the year. No particular order (though for reference, Idles tops the list, closely followed by the Breeders) and no write ups. You'll notice the overwhelming prevalence of female and female-fronted acts, continuing the trend of recent years. Ladies, take a bow.

Today and tomorrow, I'm featuring the six new albums I purchased on limited edition coloured vinyl (as per the pic above). I bought a few nice reissues as well (Pixies, Super Furry Animals, etc) but obviously they don't count. Here's today's trio.

Idles - 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance'




The Breeders - 'All Nerve'




Courtney Barnett - 'Tell Me How You Really Feel'




Monday, 10 December 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #11

Estrons
The Globe, Cardiff - 6 December 2018
Support: Mellt, Y Sybs

What a difference a year makes. This same week in 2017, we caught Estrons at Clwb Ifor Bach as their steady rise to fame continued, buoyed by the release of more singles to add to their canon. They were excellent and the small but excitable crowd lapped up their energy with relish. Twelve months on and suddenly that steady rise is gathering quite a bit of pace. The release of Estrons' debut album 'You Say I'm Too Much, I Say You're Not Enough' and the more-than-favourable reviews it has garnered has resulted in a growing reputation that now sees them on the precipice of hugeness. This sold-out show at the Welsh' capital's Globe was their last of the year - and what a way to go.

It was an all-Welsh bill, but sadly we missed openers Y Sybs, partly because parking around the venue is difficult at the best of times, but on a cold, wet, stormy December night it's nigh-on impossible. We were, however, in plenty of time to catch Mellt, another band whose reputation is swelling with every passing year. Their debut album 'Mae’n Hawdd Pan ti’n Ifanc' beating Estrons' to the shelves by a good few months. It won the National Eisteddfod's Welsh Language Album of the Year in the summer against some pretty decent opposition. So it's fair to say this Aberystwyth trio are setting tongues a-wagging. And to be fair, they have some good songs, but for me they don't quite have enough about them to wow me. There was just a little bit of something lacking, some energy maybe, some variety in their sound perhaps. They did win over some people though so I'm glad about that. I'll continue to watch out for them with interest and give the album another couple of listens before I decide if they're for me or not.

Estrons are definitely for me though. They're for MrsRobster too. Their album brings together 10 songs bristling with tension and all were aired tonight, along with a couple of non-album singles Cold Wash and Strobe Light. Tali Källström is probably the most striking female band leader out there right now, a formidable redhead with one of the best voices on offer. She bounded onstage in a brand new red dress (which, much to her chagrin, broke mid-gig) and the biggest grin I've seen all year. A solid hour-plus of blistering noise followed, during which Tali spilled her beer and asked if someone in the sudience would get her another (unsurprisingly, someone obliged). We also got a first - a 5-piece Estrons. A week before the show, bassist Steffan was called away to a family emergency, putting not just his appearance, but the whole show in doubt. A friend offered his services and learned the entire set, only for Steffan to return to the fold and play the gig. Said mate was brought out for two songs anyway while Steffan switched to rhythm guitar.

As for highlights, well there were plenty, but Killing Your Love, Cameras (which Tali wrote about her son) and, of course, Make A Man were probably the ones that pummeled me most of all. And Drop, another of my faves, closed the set, concluding with Tali making a running jump off the stage and into the crowd.

So not only have Estrons finally released the album I've craved for the past couple years, but they've improved as a live act no end - and they were pretty darned good before. I see in them what I saw in Wolf Alice just before they cracked the big time, only I think Estrons actually have a little something extra. Yes, this was a homecoming show of sorts (although they formed in Aberystwyth, they are now based in Cardiff and Tali was born here) so it's always going to be a bit more special, but Estrons seem to be more dynamic and uncompromising, with a frontwoman who is almost impossible to ignore. If Estrons aren't absolutely massive in a few years' time, then we might as well all give up and go home.


Please accept my apologies for the quality of the Estrons live tracks. They're both audience recordings and are the best I can find. Here's another audience-sourced clip from the same Manchester show as Drop.


Monday, 3 December 2018

Monday's Long Song

Stunning, sensational and sexy as fuck. Two years before Donna Summer made the greatest disco song of all-time, she made this - the second best disco song of all-time. She co-wrote the song with Giorgio Moroder and the pair recorded a version that was sent to Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart. Bogart played the song at one of his extravagant industry parties, where it was so popular with the crowd, they insisted that it be played over and over each time it ended. Bogart requested that Moroder produce a longer version for discothèques. This 17-minute version was the result and became the definitive one.

If this is indeed the party season, what better way is there to get it started?


Saturday, 1 December 2018

A song for... December

Ending the year on a high or a last desperate attempt to pique some interest in the blog among my ever-dwindling readership? Maybe a bit of both, though the latter may be a lost cause. I know Teenage Fanclub have always been big favourites in our little corner of the net, and rather conveniently, on their 'Bandwagonesque' album from 1991, they had a song called December. So this was a bit of a no-brainer really. Having said that, you nearly got December by All About Eve which is lovely but you'll all have hated it, or December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush - ditto.

This is by far my least favourite time of year so I need the comfort of good music to get me through it. There aren't many better places to start than Teenage Fanclub, really.


Monday, 26 November 2018

Monday's Long Song

A full-blown, bonafide classic for you today. I know very little by the Temptations, but Papa Was A Rollin' Stone is simply an incredible piece of music. The story behind the song is fascinating as it led to the group and their producer (and the song's co-writer) Norman Whitfield falling out with the latter being fired as a result. As the Wikipedia entry puts it:
"Friction arose during the recording of Papa Was a Rollin' Stone for a number of reasons. The Temptations did not like the fact that Whitfield's instrumentation had been getting more emphasis than their vocals on their songs at the time, and that they had to press Whitfield to get him to produce ballads for the group. Norman Whitfield forced Dennis Edwards to re-record his parts dozens of times until he finally got the angered, bitter grumble he desired out of the usually fiery-toned Edwards. Whitfield's treatment of the group eventually led to his dismissal as their producer."
A single edit was made but that merely took the song down to seven minutes, still twice as long any radio station would play, yet it topped the US Billboard chart and won the band their final Grammy. Even at the full 12 minutes, it sounds too short to me. Imagine where it could have gone if it didn't fade out.


Saturday, 24 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #10

Slaves
Support: Lady Bird, Willie J. Healey
Tramshed, Cardiff - 22 November 2018

*AN OPEN LETTER TO SLAVES*

Dear Isaac and Laurie

I just want to start by being positive. I and MrsRobster have been Slaves fans for a few years now. MrsRobster in particular picked up on you quite early, your debut mini-album 'Sugar Coated Bitter Truth' being the soundtrack to her daily commute for a while. We first saw you almost exactly 3 years ago when you came to Cardiff, whereupon she made the comment that you "seem like nice lads you'd go for a drink with."

We've continued to enjoy your music ever since, even the second album ('Take Control') that a lot of people didn't like very much, and the new one that is a bit short. When we saw you were coming back to Cardiff we didn't think twice, even though it would mean three gigs in a week, which at our age (well, MY age) is quite hard work. A good night was a dead cert. Or so we thought.

The thing is, something's changed. It turned out not to be a good night at all. In fact, for us, it was possibly the least fun we've ever had at any gig we've attended together. It was the most intimidating show we've ever attended with the rudest, most obnoxious and aggressive audience we've ever had the misfortune to be a part of. Now, I'm no wimp. I've been to going to gigs for 30 years and taken in more shows than I could ever hope to remember. I'm guessing in the region of 200-250 over the years? Maybe more. I've been a part of some hefty crowds and some seriously rough mosh pits. Even during the lad and ladette culture of the Britpop years, where pissed-up wankers became part and parcel of the gig experience, I've never felt like walking out due to the menacing nature of an audience. Yet at your show in Cardiff last Thursday night, I so nearly gave up halfway through.

It was rather ominous from the beginning. We arrived shortly after your opening act, Willie J. Healey, had come on, and we immediately felt that this show was different. It didn't feel, well, kind of, normal. It's hard to explain, you know? But there just seemed to be a weird vibe there. It might have been the extremely loud chatter that pervaded the air throughout the entire night, the sort of incessant noise you get from people who have little to no interest in anything that was going on. Yes, you always get chatter during the support bands, but this was different; louder, like you get in a busy pub on a Saturday night. Like people were out for a piss up with their lairy mates. That kind of noise. It continued throughout Lady Bird's set to the point where I really couldn't make out what the guy was singing about. I couldn't hear a single word. My hearing? OK, not like it used to be, but I don't generally have any problems. So I'd like to say something positive about the support acts you're so keen for fans to hear as per your recent so-called "Twitter storm", but alas it would be unfair for me to comment until I actually can hear them for real.

Things took another strange turn in the changeover before you came on. It was during this time we were treated to your sound crew's awesome record collection. S Club 7, the Spice Girls, Whigfield, Robbie Williams - you name it, we endured it. It's Raining Men, Freed From Desire - blimey, it sounded like a drunken hen night and stag do in Ibiza all in one. And it felt like it too, as the effects of the beer and coke (not the type you could buy at the bar) began to take effect. The shirts came off, the fists pumped the air and the plastic glasses started flying - and you hadn't even come onstage yet. MrsRobster and I looked at each other, both wondering if we'd got the date wrong. "This is fucking weird," she said. Sorry, shouted!

Actually, didn't you play in Ibiza this year? Someone told me you did. I think you found a new audience out there and they all turned up to the Tramshed. Interestingly, your choice of intro music - Vengabus by Vengaboys - was the exact same song Shame came onstage to last week in Bristol. Now, there was an excellent, respectful and not intimidating in the slightest crowd. There were more of them, too. And Idles the month before. Like your audiences used to be. No lairish behaviour, no fighting. In fact, in three decades of gig-going I've only ever seen two fights at shows, and one of them was between band members on stage. As you noted yourselves, in the past two years you've had no fights at your gigs. Yet on this single occasion there were two. What you didn't notice (that we did) were the near-misses, the incidents that nearly escalated into violence. But for some good peacekeepers around them, there might well have been even more kicking off.

We stuck it out to the end, but only just. We didn't enjoy your set as we should have. You sounded good, played well and put a good mix of songs in the set. But there was too much shit going on around us and I felt myself getting more and more frustrated and more and more angry. The place was toxic, filled with belligerant, obnoxious wankers intent on throwing their weight around and fuck everybody else, and that gets to me. Sorry, but it does. If I want to be around people like that, I'd go watch Cardiff City, not go to a gig. MrsRobster kept me calm because she's a better person than me. A better person than pretty much everyone at the Tramshed by far, in fact. And you - well, you deserve better than these so-called "fans".

I'm sorry to say this, but while we'll continue to listen to your music, we probably won't be back to see you live. Not for a while, at least. I know it's not your fault, you can't really choose your fans, but if your gigs are going to be infested with morons like we suffered at the Tramshed, then I think we may have to think twice, or even three times, the next time you come around our way. A real shame, because we'd probably still go for that drink with you.

Love, respect and best wishes for the future,
TheRobster.





Thursday, 22 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #9

Courtney Barnett
Support: Laura Jean
Great Hall, Cardiff University - 18 November 2018

I don't like the Great Hall, and neither does MrsRobster. It's probably the second-worst venue in Cardiff after the Motorpoint Arena. I usually have to think twice before booking tickets to see someone there as it's often a disappointing and frustrating experience. But I couldn't resist the lure of Courtney Barnett, one of the finest young singer-songwriters in the world right now and my favourite Australian after a certain Mr Cave.

First on though was Laura Jean, a fellow Aussie whose debut album 'Devotion' has picked up a fair number of plaudits. It seems she usually plays with a band, but tonight she was completely solo, only a keyboard, an i-Pad and a sax for company. She played songs from aforementioned album but at no point did she make me want to investigate her further. It was all very one-dimensional, very melancholic and, sorry to say it, really rather dull.

Maybe a full band line-up would have made it more interesting, and maybe a smaller, better venue would also have helped, but as it is, Laura Jean's set prompted MrsRobster to quip: "At least that lot we saw the other night (she means the bloody awful HMLTD) entertained me. I've looked at my watch three times already."

Since her brilliant song Avant Gardener brought Courtney Barnett to prominence over here, she's gone from strtength-to-strength. She's now put out two superb albums, her latest 'Tell Me How You Really Feel' is one of my most listened to records of 2018. She's also polished up her live performances. The addition of a second guitarist/keyboard player fleshes out her sound somewhat, and her setlist has been refined. She can pile on the crowdpleasers (Nameless Faceless, Elevator Operator, and the wonderful Depreston) while also throwing in a few lesser-known early gems like History Eraser and Anonymous Club as well as a new song.

While my favourite track from her new album Need A Little Time was an undoubted personal highlight, two of the biggest standouts were cover versions. Firstly, Laura Jean and her sax joined Courtney onstage to duet on a lovely version of Streets Of Your Town by everyone's go-to Australian band The Go-Betweens. But topping that was the first song of the encore. Courtney appeared alone to play Gillian Welch's Everything Is Free, a comment on the raw deal musicians get from the online communities. Originally written about Napster, the song has recently been adopted by numerous artists to protest against the paltry returns they receive from streaming companies like Spotify and Tidal. Courtney's plaintive solo take was spine-tingling and served to prove that her rise is completely justified. One minute she's playing squally extended Neil Young-esque guitar jams, the next she can bring a rather noisy crowd to a complete hush.

The Great Hall is a rubbish place to see bands (if you can see at all - it has one of the worst views from the floor), but occasionally someone makes you pleased to be there. Courtney Barnett has something that sets her apart from her peers, that's for sure. Expect her rise to continue unabated.


Sunday, 18 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #8

Shame
Support: HMLTD, Fontaines D.C.
SWX, Bristol - 15 November 2018

Back so soon at SWX? Well Shame have made one of the albums of the year and one of the best debuts of the decade. They also have a reputation for being rather tasty in the live setting so I reckon it would've been foolish to pass up this opportunity to catch them so close to home. What I've noticed about Bristol in relation to Cardiff is the audiences there arrive early. Like the Idles show a few weeks back, the place was already heaving when we arrived halfway through the opening set.

Fontaines D.C. are from Northern Ireland and play a brand of punk that has great pedigree in those parts, though this lot are more Stiff Little Fingers than Undertones, angrier, grittier and more than a little agitated. There's certainly more than a little bit of The Fall in them too and they comfortably fit into the scene being carved by the likes of Shame, Idles and the like with the the songs to match. I'd look out for Fontaines D.C. if I were you.

For an entirely different reason, I'd also advise you look out for London's HMLTD. If the description 'electro-art-punk' doesn't scare the bejayzus out of you then it really should. I could write paragraphs about this lot, but they are not worthy of my time or effort. I'll just say how annoyed I am that the half hour I spent watching them cannot ever be reclaimed. A horrific experience I just want to forget about. Look out for them - and avoid like the plague, for your own sake.
("I found them entertaining, it was like musical theatre." - MrsRobster.)

So thank heavens for Shame. That reputation they have that I mentioned above? It's justified. My word, how good are Shame live?! Their brilliant debut album 'Songs Of Praise' has been quite rightly heralded as a highlight of 2018, and it has plenty to recommend it. But it's clearly the live setting where they belong, the energy exuded onstage was electrifying. A crowd-surfing singer, an acrobatic bass player, and some of the best lead guitar sounds you'll hear in a long time.

There may be some who will denounce bands like Shame as being derivative of the original punk era. Well, that may be true to some extent, and I don't think they'd totally deny it, but to this generation, bands like Shame are simply expressing what they feel. There is no attempt here to be the new Clash or anything quite so crass, but there are more than a few parallels with 1976 in 2018. The times may share similar tensions, but the bands of each era are certainly doing very different things. No one was writing songs like Concrete, Lampoon and The Lick in 1976, and you'll be hard pressed to find many who do it quite so well as Shame in 2018. Live, they are given a new lease of life, and the biggest, sweatiest and wildest mosh pit I've seen in years (even better than the Idles one) is testament to the pull this band has.

There were a couple of new songs in the set and only time will tell if they hold up as well as the songs we're now familiar with, but having witnessed the sensation that is Shame with my own eyes at last, I'm confident they're in it for the long haul, and that is an exciting prospect whether you're an old punk, a new punk or someone who hates electro-art-punk.

DIY magazine recently wrote of Shame: "This is not just hype, this is the real fucking deal!" I'll happily agree with that sentiment on this evidence.





Monday, 12 November 2018

Monday's Long Song


I never knew much about His Name Is Alive other than they were signed to 4AD. Their albums covers kind of gave that away. I came across Wish I Had A Wishing Ring on some compilation CD that came with a magazine. It was the standout track on the thing.

His Name Is Alive was essentially Warren Defever (great name) from Michigan plus an ever revolving line-up of singers and musicians. He pestered 4AD owner Ivo Watts-Russell for four years, bombarding him with tapes of music, before eventually being signed in 1989. They became one of the label's most popular acts. I Wish I Had A Wishing Ring, a brilliant blast of blues-fuelled squall, is sung by Louvetta Pippen (another great name) and appeared on their fifth album 'Ft. Lake' in 1998. Despite weighing in at more than 6 minutes, it was radically edited for the album, the original recording stretching to a whopping 17 minutes. And it is that version I present today.


Monday, 5 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #7

Public Service Broadcasting
Support: Perfect Body
Riverside Theatre, Newport - 28 October 2018

Can you believe it's been a whole year since we last caught Public Service Broadcasting? In that time, they've taken their tales of Welsh coal mining around the world and back agin, picking up even more plaudits than I reckon even they thought possible. Now back in the land where their wonderful album 'Every Valley' was originally recorded as a way of bidding it farewell, a show in our hometown was too good to resist. This time, MrsRobster and I introduced TheMadster and TheEmster to the live splendour of PSB for the first time.

This was our first visit to the Riverside Theatre, despite having passed it countless times. It sits on the bank of the river Usk slap bang in the city centre. It's a small space as far as theatres go, but ideal for a show like this one. Sadly, still a little too big for support band Perfect Body from Cardiff. It was clear what they were trying to do - despite probably none of them being born when Ride, Chapterhouse and Slowdive released their debut albums, they sounded like all three. There were three problems really: firstly, this really was the wrong venue for them, being much more suited to somewhere like Clwb Ifor Bach or The Globe. Secondly, their look. They didn't really have one, a real ragbag of styles. MrsRobster reckoned the drummer looked like Professor Brian Cox, one guitarist resembled Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the other guitarist like Paul Weller (circa early-Jam) and the keyboardist like a young Morticia Adams. Harsh maybe, but I take her point.

Thirdly, this wasn't their audience. Despite a number of middle-aged ex-shoegazers being in attendance, they couldn't really be appreciated by the majority, many of whom probably wouldn't know what shoegazing was, and no doubt tune into Jools Holland religiously every week. Add to all that the sound mix not quite working to their advantage and you have to concede that sadly, Perfect Body didn't win many over. A shame. I'd like to see them in a better place to make a sounder judgement, especially as they have been very hotly-tipped round these parts.

As for the PSB boys - well I can't really add anything I haven't already told you before. This was, after all, the third time we've seen them during the 'Every Valley' period (the sixth in total) and they were, as always, exceptional. They did do a couple of songs we've not seen them do before, including the new Titanic-themed single White Star Liner. The funky brass section and dancing spacemen were present and correct, and the films were breathtaking as always. My personal highlight was - not for the first time - All Out, with scenes of the miners' strike and the police brutality that accompanied it being soundtracked by loud, aggressive, angry guitars.

TheMadster enjoyed it as I thought she would (the pics here, by the way, are hers). TheEmster? Well he's more of an EDM fan, still in mourning over the passing of his hero Avicii. However, he genuinely enjoyed the experience, the allure of PSB's unique live shows taking hold of him. Maybe there's a proper music fan in there somewhere, but perhaps - for now at least - I'll hold back on asking if he wants to come and see Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs with me next spring...


Thursday, 1 November 2018

A song for... November

It's getting colder, darker and generally more depressing. November isn't my favourite month, although it can be lovely during the few hours of sunshine we might be lucky to get in the middle of the day. So here's something bright to take us into the penultimate month of 2018. I know nothing about The String Cheese Incident, but I'm guessing one or two regular readers may well be familiar with them. A cursory glance at Wiki tells me they hail from Colorado and have been releasing music for more than 20 years. Today's track is taken from their 2005 album 'One Step Closer'.


Monday, 29 October 2018

Monday's Long Song

When I chose today's long song, I realised I had only ever posted anything about Sigur Rós once before here. That's crazy as they have been one of my favourite bands for many years now. That single post told of my reverence for the band's second album 'Ágætis Byrjun', and today's track is taken from that wonderful record.

Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása weighs in at more than 10 minutes and yet it still doesn't seem long enough. An absolute masterpiece.

Pixeldrain went gaga when I tried to upload the file so I've temporarily switched to Nippyshare.

The video won the award for Best Video at the Icelandic Music Awards the following year. It remains one of the most moving film clips you'll ever see. Sadly, the song is some three minutes shorter in this version but that doesn't detract from what an incredible piece of work it is.


Saturday, 20 October 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #5 & #6

Here we go then - two gigs in two nights. Not unusual 20+ years ago, but now this old fogey creaks and aches far more than is pleasant and usually needs a good few days (sometimes weeks) to recover from each show. So, can we get through it? Well, you should know us well enough by now...



Idles
Support: Heavy Lungs
SWX, Bristol - 16 October 2018

Without a doubt, the album of 2018 is 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance' by Idles. Such an appropriate title because very little else has given me such unbridled happiness this year while reflecting on what a messed up world we're living in right now. Idles have taken all that is crappy and turned it into furious, energetic punk songs riddled with humour, positivity and, most importantly of all, hope. So a hometown show to kick off their UK tour should provide a right old riotous couple of hours right? Yep, damn right!

We've never set foot inside Bristol's SWX before, but on tonight's showing it seems to be a darn good venue. Support band Heavy Lungs were onstage as we arrived. Their billing was not entirely unexpected considering 1) they are also local lads; and 2) they are fronted by one Danny Nedelko, the subject of one of Idles' best-known songs. Personally, I wasn't all that taken by them, though I will say some of their music was rather offbeat and, perhaps for that reason, also a little bit interesting.

Idles, a band who have really come good in the last couple of years thanks to two storming albums, had nothing to prove to an audience who knew only too well what they were capable of. That same audience was blown into the middle of next month by set-opener Colossus. Its ominous, bass-heavy rumbles at the start were rendered even darker and heavier by being slowed right down, the pace being maintained throughout the first part of the song which got progressively louder and heavier, before the second (fast) part kicked in and the mosh pit really got going.

New single Never Fight A Man With A Perm was next, and Idles could have ended their set right there and half the crowd would have gone home happy. Probably. In the end we got all but one of the songs on the current album, and a sprinkling of those from last year's debut 'Brutalism'. Samaritans, Great and 1049 Gotho were my personal faves, but other notables were Danny Nedelko (during which the aforementioned singer of the support band was carried around the stage on the shoulders of a roadie), Well Done (which singer Joe claims has earned him a whole £7 on Spotify) and Television.

I have to give a lot of credit to the audience for the brilliance of this show. It has been a long time since I saw such exhuberance and energy from a crowd - the mosh pit was immense. Bristol audiences are generally excellent but this lot surpassed themselves, their love of their band plainly obvious by their reactions. They certainly played their part, but Idles know how to play to the crowd.

Idles were so good, I had to buy a t-shirt. Yep, that good. The bass player sold it to me. I signed off the transaction by telling him what a "fucking great show" I'd just witnessed. "Oh thanks very much," he replied with seemingly humble surprise. A nice touch for a band on the verge of hugeness, with nothing but the highest of acclaim following them wherever they go. Maybe I'd have forgiven him if he'd been a bit of a dick, but it's good to find they're still firmly grounded. For now anyway.




Gwenno
Support: Adwaith, Halo Maud
Tramshed, Cardiff - 17 October 2018

And now for something completely different... The sound of bellowing punk was still rattling around my head the following evening as MrsRobster, Our Mate Colin (OMC) and I entered the Tramshed in Cardiff. This was the opening night of the Sŵn festival, an annual five day extravaganza of music across numerous venues in the city. And what better way to get it started than one of Wales' most heralded artists singing in Cornish?! Gwenno's new album 'Le Kov' is certainly one of 2018's more intriguing releases, but the fact it's also very good means it's worth more than just a token listen.

To kick things off though, were Gwenno's French labelmates Halo Maud. I'd not come across this lot before but their debut album, also released this year, seems to be picking up plenty of plaudits. I wasn't entirely convinced by their opening number, but everything that followed got better and better. Think Cocteau Twins meets Stereolab and you're part way there though there's plenty more going on. Worth investigating further for sure.

Carmarthen's Adwaith have been touted as one of Wales' best new bands. The all-female three piece make a somewhat minimal post-punk noise in the mould of early Wire, The Slits and the Au Pairs, yet they failed to make an impression on the three of us. Maybe in a smaller venue it might have worked better, or even some better songs. Either way, they didn't connect with us on the night, which is a shame. Young Welsh talent is always welcome round here so I'd like to be more positive.

You could be forgiven for thinking that, based on her two solo albums to date, Gwenno's live shows would be dreamy, laid-back affairs. And compared to an Idles show they probably are. But while she almost whispers her lyrics on record, live she belts them out with gusto. Den Heb Tavas was delivered with a ferocity that was unexpected, and Hi A Skoellyas Liv A Dhagrow sounded far more earnest and intense than its recorded version.

And that was the overriding feeling of the set. Gwenno's decision to sing entirely in her first two languages - Welsh and Cornish - is fuelled by her passion and belief that her native cultures and identities should be kept alive through music and language instead of being forced into extinction. Whether you agree with this concept or not, you'd have a hard time arguing against Gwenno's conviction. The psychedelic moods of the new Cornish material sat comfortably alongside the more Krautpop tendencies of the Welsh-language stuff from her first record. There's certainly something in Gwenno's sound that brings to mind the much-missed Broadcast, though she's just as likely to name Aphex Twin and Maurice Chevalier as influences. It's that mix of retro and modernity that fits the whole spirit of Gwenno's words and music.

As the backdrop showed us live psychedelic images of Gwenno in full flow, and the strains of Tir Ha Mor, Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki and Chwyldro filled the Tramshed, it was evident that there was more in common between the two shows we saw this week than we might have otherwise expected. Both Idles and Gwenno have causes to fight for, passions to elicit. Both acts are animated onstage and have a convincing presence, connecting with their audiences. Closing her set with Eus Keus?, Gwenno's final song touched on another pressing issue close to her heart. Teaching us the chorus of the song which translates as "Is there cheese? / Is there, or isn't there? / If there is cheese, then bring cheese / If there is no cheese, bring what there is" she laments that "There just aren't enough songs about cheese." How true. Maybe if this Cornish language lark doesn't catch on, Gwenno can define a new genre. Dairy-pop, anyone?

Monday, 15 October 2018

Monday's Long Song

Not my idea of course, but as I can't be arsed to bring you any of my own, I thought why the hell not join Drew, Adam, Swede, et al and do a Monday Long Song thing? I was going to post this last week, but I had that Anniversary post lined up so I held it over. At the time of writing, I've been listening to the brilliant new album by Geordie boys Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. In case you don't know, this lot sound like a cross between Hawkwind, Motorhead and Black Sabbath and make a most terrifically heavy noise. I was in a bad mood last weekend so played 'King Of Cowards' loudly in the kitchen while I ironed a couple shirts (how rock 'n' roll, eh?) and it cheered me up no end. Which is more than I can say about the family house rabbit Eric who was none too impressed. He's more of a reggae kind of guy, so the sound of heavy, Sabbath-esque riffs booming forth kind of freaked him out a bit.

The track I've chosen is not from the new album as its longest offering is a mere 8 minutes 52 seconds in length. Instead, here's the opening track from Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs' debut album, 2017's 'Feed The Rats'. Psychopomp needs to be played loud and will annoy your neighbours, scare your pets and terrify your children - but by gum will it get your week started right!



Monday, 8 October 2018

It was 30 years ago today... Memories of my first gig



Gawd I feel old. Three decades ago on this very day, 8th of October 1988, I attended my very first concert. I didn't consider that 30 years later I'd be writing about it. To be honest, when you're 17, you don't consider anything in 30 years time. To mark the occasion, I've decided to republish one of the first articles to appear on this blog, the very first of my rather long-winded 'Memories of a thousand gigs' series - the tale of my very first gig. It's pretty much exactly the same as the original piece (footnotes and all!), though I've taken the opportunity to update one or two little factoids...

Originally published on 19 February 2014; updated October 2018

The Wedding Present
Support: The Heart Throbs
The Great Hall, Exeter University - 8 October 1988

You never forget your first. Your first gig, that is. Mine was a relatively obscure indie band from Yorkshire that a much cooler friend of mine at college introduced me to. The Wedding Present were ‘between albums’ when I lost my live band virginity to them. Their debut ‘George Best’ had made a reasonable dent in the consciousness of NME readers and Peel listeners alike and major labels were taking an interest. As it was, I had recently bought the non-album single Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm and was awaiting the follow-up Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? when they descended on Devon.

My best buddy Wayne and I decided to buy tickets, but not being able to drive yet, would have to work out a way to get there later. A minor detail! Wayne had beaten me to the first gig experience by a few months, when he went with his cousins to see Wet Wet Wet in Plymouth. I wonder if he’d admit to it nowadays; by the time of the Weddoes show, he was already showing signs of denial.

Somehow I managed to convince my mum to take us. Living, as we did, 30-odd miles away from the venue – an hour-long drive on largely rural B roads – it was a nice gesture from her to say yes without hesitation. Wayne’s mum Val was taken along for the ride; they would have a girl’s night out in Exeter as Wayne and I mixed it with students older, smarter and considerably cooler than us.

Mum and Val dropped us off outside and drove off into town. Wayne and I joined the queue and patiently waited in line with the cooler kids. The next hour or so is hazy, partly because it was so long ago, and partly because I couldn’t really take it all in. I do, however, remember sitting in the foyer with Wayne and noticing Weddoes frontman David Gedge standing just to my left.Wayne and I argued briefly over whether it really was him or not – he didn’t think so, but I was pretty sure.[1] I also remember where I stood as the support band came on. Facing the stage, I was pretty near the front by the speaker stack on the right. Perhaps not the best idea for a gig newbie like myself.

As I remember it, opening act The Heart Throbs were a decent band. Well, they must have been because I became an immediate fan, buying some of their early singles and all three of their subsequent albums. They were fronted by the bleach-blonde Carlotti sisters Rose and Rachel, sisters of Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas. Like a number of bands of the time – the Primitives, the Darling Buds, Transvision Vamp – the blonde girls out front were the focus of the group, the male members remained largely anonymous.

The Weddoes were a blast, of course. They tore through most of the songs from ‘George Best’, added a healthy splash of old faves, and even played one or two new ones including a song called Kennedy which, a year or so later, would become their debut major label single and their first ever Top 40 hit.

Throughout the show, I had been forced further back the crowd, from front right to halfway back to the left. That didn’t matter though. From there I could take more in without being blasted by the speakers or getting a wayward elbow smashing into my nose. Surveying the scene – a crowd of sweaty moshers, Mr Gedge bent over his furiously-strummed semi-acoustic in his trademark way, the reaction when the band finally launched into A Million Miles after the crowd had been shouting for it all night – a huge grin fixed itself to my face and stayed there for days. I was hooked, and over the coming years I would see hundreds – yes, hundreds – of bands at various places around the country. I would even see the Wedding Present on another six occasions (to date).[2]

So, technically, the Heart Throbs were the first band I saw live[3] Officially though, it was Gedge & co. that took my virginity. If you’re reading David – you were great. How was it for you?


Fast forward 30 years, and the gigging hasn't stopped. In fact, next week I'm taking in two - TWO! - shows on consecutive nights. You know where you can read all about it...


[1] I was right, as Wayne himself admitted following the show. To this day, Gedge mingles with his audience before and after each show.
[2] On the 'Bizarro' tour a year later in Bristol; on the 'Bizarro' 21st Anniversary tour in 2010 in Cardiff; on the 'Seamonsters' 21st Anniversary/'Valentina' tour in 2012 in Cardiff again; briefly, the tail-end of an in-store show at the Plymouth Virgin Megastore in 1996, after which David Gedge himself commented on my well-worn Bizarro t-shirt; and since this article first appeared, on the 2016 'Going, Going...' tour and last year's 'George Best 30th Anniversary' tour.
[3] Even this isn’t technically true if you include the resident holiday camp bands I saw as a kid, and those that always seemed to play at family parties and weddings etc. But, for obvious reasons, they don’t count!

Monday, 1 October 2018

A song for... October

Right now, I'm really struggling with the blog. It's not that I don't have any ideas of things to write - there's plenty of those - it's just that I really can't be arsed with it. It's been that way for a while now, and I think it's taking its toll as most of my readers seem to have jumped ship, probably because of it. October is a busy month for us though - three gigs I'm really looking forward to, so that'll provide some inspiration, hopefully.

October is also the month where Autumn properly kicks in. September was rough mind, lots of wind and rain, so not sure quite what to expect. So I reckon a song that has a bit of an autumn vibe to it, but doesn't sound stormy or miserable. October appears on Lucy Wainwright Roche's 2010 album 'Lucy' and features the somewhat legendary Indigo Girls.



Saturday, 22 September 2018

Road Trip

This is the debut single from 180dB. The band comprises Savages rhythm section Fay Milton (drums) and Ayse Hassan (bass) with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and Perfect Pussy vocalist Meredith Graves. Road Trip is a sort-of cover of Goldie & Skepta's track Upstart (Road Trip), only now it's a raging beast of punk petulance. Bloody brilliant it is too. An album is due in early 2019.



Monday, 10 September 2018

Move!

Here's the new song from young Welsh upstarts Pretty Vicious. Cracking stuff.



Monday, 3 September 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #4

Ride
Support: Flowers
Tramshed - 1 September 2018

It was some 28 years ago that I first saw Ride on the original 'Nowhere' tour. A couple years later I saw them again at the Reading Festival. Neither time did they blow me away, they were just 'alright'. In the intervening period, the band released two more albums, fell out spectacularly and broke up. Andy Bell was by far the busiest, forming Hurricane #1, before joining Oasis and Beady Eye, becoming indie-rock pedigree. A Ride reunion seemed extremely unlikely, yet it not only happened when 'Nowhere' turned 25, but they went on to make a very, very decent new album. Differences reconciled, Ride are not only back, but they really seem to be enjoying themselves again.

The Tramshed surprisingly wasn't sold out, and when we got there it was practically empty. The place began filling up slowly whilst support band Flowers played. The London trio (signed to Fortuna POP!) are what would no doubt be described as dreampop in a Cocteau Twins/Slowdive kind of way. Except I found Flowers to be, well, not as good as either. Maybe their minimal line-up is the reason they sounded quite one-dimensional, but I did get rather bored by track three. Perhaps their studio work holds more promise - I shall investigate - but their live sound perhaps doesn't give them the range their songs demand.

Ride have no such issues. Even though there is a clear variation in their sound through each era, Ride manage to perfectly integrate the new and the old with ease. Which is why new songs like Lannoy Point, Pulsar and All I Want sit comfortably alongside early classics like Chelsea Girl, Taste and Vapour Trail. Notably, there's nothing from the 'troubled period' of the third and fourth albums, but aside from one or two songs from 'Carnival of Light', that's no great loss. Most of the set, in fact, concentrated on songs from the first and last albums.

Vapour Trail was augmented by the crowd who hollered the strings part at the song's conclusion. Charm Assault pummeled the living daylights out of us. Seagull soared, Twistarella tantalised and Weather Diaries rained sunshine on Cardiff's middle-aged shoegazers. But the undoubted highlight for me, perhaps predictably, was Leave Them All Behind, a monster of a song made flesh.

A squalling, extended Drive Blind closed the main set, a song that I'd almost forgotten about but which was always my fave on the debut EP. MrsRobster observed that Ride played for 90 minutes yet it seemed much shorter. That's a good sign, of course, and it made me realise that Ride are an exceptional live act that I clearly didn't appreciate enough first time around. Here's hoping they stick at this reunion lark for a while longer.


Saturday, 1 September 2018

A song for... September

After the celebrations of the past two or three months, it's back to normality as Autumn dawns. But a rollicking start to it with a track from Buffalo Tom's 2007 comeback album 'Three Easy Pieces'. September Shirt was one of many songs on the record that showed they hadn't lost their touch in the nine years since their previous effort. It hurtles along at breakneck speed but never loses that essential Buffalo Tom ingredient - a great melody.

Their latest album 'Quiet & Peace' (their ninth) came out at the start of this year. It's well worth a few listens if you haven't got round to it already. And hopefully we'll be making it along to their show in Bristol in December.



Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Freedom at 21 (or The Coming Of Age part 2)

Today, our firstborn reaches the grand old age of 21.It's a funny age. In some parts of the world it's considered the legal age of adulthood, but in the UK she's been an adult for three years already. But for TheMadster, I suppose it really starts here. After finishing uni in the spring and graduating in the summer, she's started work and, along with her other half TheEmster, is building her own life, finding her own way. I honestly can't say I've ever thought about telling people that I have a 21-year-old daughter. A frightening thought but it's true. I have. Get used to it old man!

As is customary round these parts, music is the order of the day on such an occasion, so I've roped in a couple of The Madster's faves to help me out. First, a real hero of hers. I remember when she was a tiny little ankle-scratcher, being exposed to the White Stripes more often than was probably healthy, she'd sing along to I Think I Smell A Rat off 'White Blood Cells'. She's been an avid Jack White fan ever since.

Here's a track from his debut solo album from which the title of this post is taken. Good track this, but I can't help but think the video is somewhat influenced by the hip hop culture of objectifying women, not something I considered Jack would have approved of...



Green Day are one of those bands who I can really take or leave these days. I loved 'Dookie' when it came out, Basket Case being one of my fave singles of the time. Actually, it's still a great song. These days though, it's a different story. Sometimes they're OK, other times they make me cringe.

In May 2009, shortly before TheMadster turned 12, Green Day released their rock opera '21st Century Breakdown'. I thought it might be something TheMadster might enjoy so suggested she give it a go. Back then, she was going through a phase of wearing black a lot, and she certainly had something of an Avril Lavigne vibe about her look. So naturally she took to Green Day like a punk to cider. This video does absolutely nothing for me, though I do feel sorry for the fish...



To round off, here's one for us oldies. The Adverts' debut album 'Crossing The Red Sea' has long been hailed as one of the greatest albums of the punk era. And yes, it is an absolute corker. Singer TV Smith and his bassist wife Gaye Advert were both originally from Bideford, North Devon. The Madster's first year at school was spent there in the local reception class just off Clovelly Road. Smith and Advert moved to London and formed the Adverts in 1976. My old punk mates, who were a few years older than me, spoke fondly of Smith and would always go to see him when he played with his later band TV Smith's Cheap.

No Time To Be 21 was the band's fourth single and immediately preceded the album. That was forty years ago. FOUR-OH. 40!!! Jeez, another 2018 milestone. Here's footage of them 'performing' the song on Top Of The Pops in early 1978 (complete with Tony Blackburn in full corny DJ mode.) There's a couple of pogoing punks in the crowd, but everyone else probably can't wait for Leo Sayer to come on...



Happy 21st Madster. And remember, take heed from your mum and dad (but especially your mum): just because you've grown up, it doesn't mean to say you have to grow up...