Sunday 27 November 2022

The 2022 round-up - a prologue

Yep, it's that time of year again. Starting next week, I'll be posting weekly installments of my favourite albums of 2022. It's not been a bad year for music, to be fair. Some really good stuff has come out.  Before all that though, I thought I'd round up a few non-album things that tickled my fancy over the past 12 months...

It's been a while since we had new stuff from our beloved David Gedge and his merry band of troubadors. Six-years, in fact, since the epic 'Going, Going...' LP. They've been busy though. A glut of songs collected over the previous few years were finally recorded and released as their ambitious '24 Songs' project. Emulating their 'Hit Parade' venture waaaaay back in 1992, '24 Songs' saw the release of a brand new 7" vinyl-only single each month. The ever-fluctuating Wedding Present line-up means there is a real range of songwriting styles on there as Gedge shared the duties with his various bandmates. I suspect some of the songs will be compiled and released in album form at some point. I have plenty of favourites among the two-dozen tracks, but one of them is September's We All Came From The Sea.

The hardest-working band in rock 'n' roll (probably) released not one, not two, no not even three, but FOUR new records in 2022. Collectively entitled 'SZNS', the project consisted of a quartet of 7-song EPs each released to mark a season - one for Spring, one for Summer, etc. Each record contained a song that incorporated a 'riff' from the relevant piece from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'. Saying all that, the Winter EP isn't actually out yet (it's due around Christmastime) but that's just mere pedantry. When it does come out, they will have topped the Weddoes' output by 4 songs, so it's a very noteworthy achievement. This track - from the Summer EP - pretty much sums up my life.

And after those seasoned veterans, it's time for some brilliant youngsters...

DIVORCE - 'Get Mean' EP
Now here's a new band I'm getting rather excited about. Divorce hail from Nottingham and have so far only put out three tracks. But each one is bleddy excellent, especially the most recent, an off-beat alternative country murder ballad called Checking Out which is definitely one of my songs of the year. They don't just make great tunes though, they also make wonderful videos that show off not just a theatrical side, but a very humourous one too. All three songs have just been released together as a digital EP called 'Get Mean'. A 4-track vinyl version is due in May 2023 which suggests another song isn't far away. I have high hopes for Divorce.

And if you loved that (and let's face it - you did!), here are the awesome clips for debut single Services and its follow-up Pretty. And here's where you can buy/pre-order the EP.

PANIC SHACK - 'Baby Shack' EP
This lot also look like they're going to rip up the place pretty damn soon. Cardiff's very own Panic Shack compiled their first six songs to form the 'Baby Shack' EP which disappeared off the record store racks in less time than it takes to play it. Copies are already changing hands for more than £60 a shot! MrsRobster (who is also a big fan of Panic Shack) and I will be seeing them in their hometown supporting Yard Act TONIGHT! Should be raucous and we're both really looking forward to it. Raw and loud like good punk should be, but a lot of fun too.

SPRINTS - 'A Modern Job' EP
Dublin has become a proper hub of great music of late. Sprints are the latest ones to have emerged from the Irish capital seemingly fully formed and taking on the world without a care. 'A Modern Job' was released back in March and is their second EP, following on from last year's debut 'Manifesto' and a series of searing singles, including the brilliant Little Fix.

I also strongly recommend Sprints' latest single Literary Mind which just might be their best track yet.

Next week, the first batch of my 22 favourite albums of 2022.

Sunday 13 November 2022

Something And Nothing - a gig (of sorts)

I haven't really bothered with gig reviews this year (though I have still been keeping track of them), but on Thursday night, MrsRobster and I attended a special show by one of our all-time heroes, Mr David Lewis Gedge. The great man has just published the second volume of his autobiography 'Tales From The Wedding Present'. This one is subtitled 'Something And Nothing' and picks up where volume 1 ('Go Out And Get 'Em Boy') left off, covering the period around the release of the band's first album, the evergreen classic 'George Best'.

I've not had chance to read it yet, but in case you didn't know, it's not your normal autobiography. Gedge has always loved comics, and he has overseen the publication of a few Wedding Present comics over time, featuring different stories from the group's history. The books essentially tell Gedge's story in comic book form. Aided by the wonderful illustrator Lee Thacker, former Cinerama/Wedding Present (and Goya Dress) bassist Terry de Castro, and David's girlfriend Jessica McMillan, Gedge compiled some of the previously published tales along with brand new ones that he and family, friends, acquaintances and exes have recalled.

So a few nights ago, Gedge, Thacker and de Castro (along with current Weddoes bassist Melanie Howard) came to Cardiff on the second date of the book launch tour. The three - led by de Castro - fed us anecdotes covering not just some of the new book's content, but also some insight into how the project came together. There were some fascinating revelations.

(WARNING: If you're planning on going to one of the remaining dates, you might want to skip the next paragraph so as not to spoil things...)

Firstly, we learned that the Kevin in Give My Love To Kevin is not a real person. Like many of Gedge's songs, it was inspired by overhearing a conversation between strangers. When departing one stranger said to the other "Give my love to Kevin", and Gedge thought that would make a good song title! My favourite anecdote was related to the fact that Gedge is absolutely meticulous (read: geeky) in his record keeping to the point where he keeps spreadsheets on everything. Even back as far as the 80s, before he could enter anything onto a computer, he kept a record of which of his loud shirts he wore at which gig. This would ensure he never wore the same shirt twice in the same place on subsequent tours. "In fact, if I wore one shirt in Cardiff, I'd make sure the following year I wore that shirt as far away from Cardiff as I could!"

Following the interviews, the audience was invited to ask questions. I contemplated whether I should ask one. My initial idea was to ask Gedge about all the band members of the past and how some of the numerous sackings had taken place. Someone beat me to it however. So I managed to come up with the final question of the night:

"October 1988, Exeter University. My first ever gig - The Wedding Present. My mate and I were in the lobby just prior to the show and this guy walks right past us. 'That's David Gedge,' I said. 'Nah,' said my mate, 'he wouldn't be here mingling with the likes of us.' But it was you, mingling with the likes of us, and you've done it ever since. Do you think that's an important part of who you are and what you do?"

His response? "Not really no! It's just to stop the boredom of hanging around backstage waiting to go on." He did elaborate a bit though, and confirmed that he actually enjoys it.

After a short break, David, Terry and Melanie convened for a short semi-acoustic set of songs. It's interesting how well some of the material works in this stripped-back form, even those songs that are usually so fast and frantic. Something And Nothing sounded great, as did both Dare and Crushed. Along with some old crowd-pleasers (Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft, You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends, My Favourite Dress and Brassneck), there was also room for some proper deep cuts, such as Big Rat from the 'Watusi' album, Close Up, from the Cinerama album 'Torino', as well as Science Fiction, the new single due next week - the 11th monthly single of 2022.

All this in the wonderful setting of the Acapela Studios, a beautiful converted chapel in the village of Pentyrch, just a few miles outside Cardiff. MrsRobster and I booked a table so we could indulge in the venue's famous pizzas prior to showtime. It's this that helps raise the money for the venue to book its acts. It's a place you really should visit if you're in this neck of the woods.

So, food, drink, autographed books and David Gedge. Could it really get any better? I highly doubt it. If you get the chance to go along to one of these shows, I very much recommend it. Failing that, buy the book (or books, if you haven't got volume one already).

Here's a couple of tunes from the night someone I know managed to capture.