Hopefully, by now many of you will have again experienced the joyful occasion of attending a gig after a break of up to 18 months, as I have done recently. So, imagine what it must have been like living in a town where live music was effectively banned for twenty years. This was the case with Bury St Edmunds, a town close to where John Peel spent most of his later years and which he affectionately dubbed ‘Rock City’ after playing local legends (and regulars in his Festive Fifty), Miss Black America on his late-night show.
The reason for that twenty-year lapse of live music in the town was down to the aftermath of a Clash gig in 1978 which, allegedly, led to levels of drunkenness, vandalism and – look away if your squeamish – public urination that left the local council in such a state of shock that they banned live performances forthwith. In the meantime, the only way the youth of the town could achieve similar levels of anarchic behaviour was to pop down the local pub and drink themselves silly without the diversion of a band playing on stage. Make sense? No, not to me either. With no live music to entertain the young gig goer, it all reminded me of this Jackie Leven lyric:
Now I’m sitting in a bar alone
With the jukebox playing a terrible song
The bartender says I see it’s you again
I been drinking deep from a jar of pain
Fortunately, in the late 90’s, a local Youth and Community Development Officer by the name of Jackie Smith decided things needed to change and eventually persuaded the council to allow the setting up of the Bury Sound music competition. This in itself encouraged many a young, disaffected youth to start a band, including the young Seymour Quigley of Miss Black America. Fast forward to 2021 and Seymour is at the centre of the Bury Sound music competition, along with several like-minded individuals who have grown it into an annual, must-see event.
The 2021 final, which is really the 2020 final postponed due to Covid-19, took place at The Hunter Club on Friday night. And what an epic, life-affirming event it turned out to be. The five finalists all won heats in the early part of last year before the final was postponed due to the lockdown measures that were introduced at the time. That the final eventually took place 18 months later is a minor miracle on several fronts. Firstly, the venue managed to survive the pandemic and return stronger than ever. Just as impressively, none of the acts that took part last year had disbanded due to (or maybe because of?) lack of time together, musical differences, life style changes or the other myriad of reasons for artists to fall out. Conversely, the 18 month gap (as opposed to the usual two week gap) between heats and final probably allowed all the acts time to think about and develop their stage performance. The other factor was a willingness from organisers, sponsors and audience to ensure this was a celebratory return to live music.
The running order for the five finalists was decided on the day of the final, with 12 judges chosen in advance of the event who were all key players in the East Anglia music scene, be it radio presenters, promoters, bloggers, industry professionals or fellow musicians. First act on stage was young singer-songwriter Leon O’Leary. During the heat, Leon was supported by sister Isabelle on vocals, lending a tinge of country to his Suffolk take on Americana. The intervening 18 months have allowed Leon to expand the sound with Isabelle adding some chiming, atmospheric guitar lines to supplement his own with Steve Maclachlan providing the rhythmic backbone on drums. The whole, including Leon’s languid vocals, reminded me of The War on Drugs with its rolling, emotional flow. The writing is incredibly mature for someone still in his teens, taking on subject matter such as drinking and drugs, though sex and rock’n’roll may also have been mentioned.
The all-female trio Pink Lemonade followed. I’ve seen the band three or four times and their brand of infectious indie pop (with added bubblegum), full of bounce and enthusiasm never fails to cheer me. Imagine, if you remember them, the joy of hearing The Rezillos doing ‘Top of the Pops’, ‘Crash’ by The Primitives or any number of tracks by The Dolly Mixtures and you’ll get the picture. Live, they’re even more loveable- the encapsulation of what it must be to have a cracking time on stage with your mates while entertaining a bunch of strangers. And the drummer has pink drumsticks. Talking of which, if anyone can find a picture of the drummer where she isn’t enjoying herself, then I can only assume it’s been photo shopped. Since I last saw them, the sound has been beefed up, like a large gin has been added to the fizz, adding a bit of oomph to the ‘na na na na naas’ and tales of errant boyfriends.
Far From Refuge followed. They’re a seriously heavy band with an intense sound. It’s like being on a rollercoaster, though there’s little of the slow grind to the top and plenty of the thrill of the ride down a never ending, quickening slope. Twin guitars, heavy bass and relentless drums back two vocalists who sound and look like they’re from different bands. You have the primal growl of someone who looks like a caped, eccentric science teacher whipping up a storm interspersed with the relatively detached and calm metal croon of someone who sounds like he’s in the eye of that storm. Riffs barely get started before another riff muscles in while a deranged rhythm section continually changes tempo. It’s a loud, dense and thrilling ride. Oddly, it occurred to me, while we’re talking about drummers, the stick man here looks uncannily like the Aussie dancer from Strictly Come Dancing.
Fourth band up were Fleas, another group who have used the 18 months of enforced gigging inactivity to think about their image, hence the charismatic frontman wearing a rather fetching pink bow tie. Their brand of music is a heady mix of punk, metal, rap and what can only be described as edgy power ballads, the latter involving the singer persuading the audience to sit on the floor and wave their arms from side to side above their heads while the rest of the band have a thoroughly enjoyable wig out. At times it’s a writhing, shambolic mix of genres, but a glorious and hugely enjoyable one at that. The warm heart of the band was also on display, dedicating one song to the absent Sara Kathleen, a brilliant ambassador for and key part of the good things happening at The Hunter Club, who sadly missed the event as her son had come down with Covid.
Final band on stage were a bunch of teenagers who are still at school called The Daze. Bearing in mind their age, this band have so many things going for them. They mine the same seam of jagged post punk guitar riffs that were visited forty odd years ago by the likes of Wire and Swell Maps, topped off with the enthusiastic shared vocals of Flo (who at times sounds like Poly Styrene) and Albert. As you might expect, the band have improved hugely since I last saw them, without losing the youthful zest of that made them such a joy to watch in the first place. Flo in particular has an infectious energy and the drummer leaves everything on stage, looking at times like he might spontaneously combust due to the relentless power he generates. One can only guess at how they could develop should they choose to stay together or head off in separate directions.
Headlining the evening was the Bury Sound winner from 2019, Gabby Rivers, who I sadly missed as I was ferreted away with the rest of the judging panel to deliberate on the evening’s finalists with the unenviable task of picking the Bury Sound Winner and Rising Star awards. Gabby has already developed a sound of her own, both catchy and complex with her own distinctive vocal style and has graced the likes of 6 Music since winning the final.
I have to say, music competitions were never particularly appealing to me, and I never anticipated I would ever be invited to such a thing, but having experienced three Bury Sound competitions, I have re-evaluated my opinion. In relation to Bury Sound, there are two acts that take away prizes, but in reality, everyone wins. Generally, the grass roots acts that enter these competitions are playing to their biggest audiences to date and are having doors opened to them that might previously be unimaginable. The audience is never less than enthusiastic and the judges are knowledgeable (with the exception of myself of course), coming from a variety of positions within the music industry. I’m not about to reveal the deliberations of a panel of 12 just women and men, but suffice to say the range of opinions and arguments presented was constructive, persuasive and well presented, with every member’s passion for new music shining through. The standard of the acts was extremely high, each one receiving at least one vote. In the end, Fleas won through on the overall winners’ category while Pink Lemonade picked up the Rising Star gong.
Following the awards ceremony, MCed by the irrepressible Seymour (with big thanks to ‘silent’ Tim Willett, the other key organiser), the evening ended with a mass, on stage singalong and boogie to Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’, a spot of crowd surfing and the welcome sound of Seymour once again imploring the audience – ‘when the worlds going to shit, what do we do? We do something that’s not shit’. Amen to that and well done to all involved.
Following on from the previous blog covering lots of local releases, here’s part 2 of ‘It’s all about Cambridge’ with a couple of reviews from further afield, just to show there is a high standard of music outside the area as well as in.
Starting with Haverhill’s finest, and inventors of shed punk, the Umbrella Assassins are back with the second in a trilogy of EPs going out under the title of Kings of Fruit. I’ve watched this trio blossom over the last few years, honing their song writing and heading off into new, experimental territory without losing the vigour and energy that are key to their sound. The latest trio of tracks finds our loveable bandmates ‘in the waiting room of purgatory, trying to atone for their sins.’ I can only assume their sins involve not releasing enough records and not buying me a pint, but I’m sure I can forgive them for that. Opener ‘Trophic Cascade’ has a great fuzzy opening which stretches into an ominous riff and an angry, threatening vocal. ‘Missed the Bus’ is a blast of garage rock with a hint of The Ramones, featuring the joint lead vocals of Steve and Bunge with Garry banging away on the piano. ‘Up in the Early Morning’ is the surprise track, sounding to these ears like an edgier Creedence Clearwater Revival, perhaps more Fenland Rock than Swamp Rock, more River Colne than the Mississippi. It’s another great addition to their ever-growing canon of work.
One of my favourite interviews on The Smelly Flowerpot was one conducted over Zoom in the middle of last year’s pandemic with Martin, Chris and Barbara, collectively known as Tribes of Europe. I could honestly talk with them for hours about what they’ve done over the years and what they’re doing now. I don’t suppose there’s many bands that count members of anarcho-punk band The Poison Girls and 80’s soul band The Vernons among their number. The latest single is another slice of timeless, classic soul pop with a hint of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The song is powered along by a thrusting cello and a keyboard sound that seems to come from the 60s and early 80s simultaneously. Add in a great lead vocal (a la Dusty), heavenly backing vocals with nods to The Ronettes, some spacey vibes and a story relating to a schoolgirl crush on another girl and you have four minutes that pack in more than most bands can manage in a full album. It’s called ‘Rosalind’ and it’s an exuberant and joyful listen.
Another artist who soaks up his influences and re-imagines them is Chris Free of The Sound of Pop Art. Chris has worked under various band guises in the past, but I believe his new EP is his first solo outing. Where TSOPA’s music generally has a summery feel to it, this has more of an autumnal feel, though with the seasons currently as they are it could be late summer or early winter, who knows. There’s some great twangy guitar and cool crooning on the lazy swinging opener ‘Mad Affair’, while the instrumental ‘Reflections’ could be the soundtrack to an imagined 60s TV show about a down at heel private eye in Cambridge with a cover of running a punt hire shop by the river (if it hasn’t already been done). There’s a change of pace with ‘Rosemary Jane’, which sounds like one of those sing-a-long 60s pop song with lots of ‘ooohs’ and aaahs’ that never seem to age. That the guitar sounds like peak George Harrison adds to that notion. The pace is upped again with the new wavey ‘What’s it Like?’, which is something of a throwback to the kind of music Chris produced with previous band ‘The Users’. More urgent than the previous tracks, asking a series of questions to an unknown companion who obviously lives a different life to the questioner. It’s a wonderfully varied EP which allows Chris to stretch out and explore different sounds from TSOPA. In terms of scope and feel, it charts similar musical territory as the great Vic Godard.
Tony Jenkins must be one of the busiest musicians around Cambridge. Apart from his work with Lizard Brain and collaboration with Victorian Tin leader Christian Gustaffson, as Kammahav, he’s also the singer in his own band, The New Fools (the name taken from a line in a Bob Dylan song), who have been pretty prolific over the last few years. Introductions out of the way, I can now tell you The New Fools have a new single out called ‘Murry Wilson’. Bizarrely, due to various circumstances, this is actually half of the band with Christian helping out. It’s pure indie pop with bouncing bass, chiming guitars and Tony’s pleading vocal and lyrics, which often reference other artists and songs- indeed, Murry Wilson was the father of the Wilson brothers who gained worldwide fame as The Beach Boys. As it’s over a month since this was released, we must be due another release featuring Tony soon…
Naomi Randall’s ‘Trippin on my Tepid Heels’ was one of my favourite albums of last year and she has a new EP out called ‘Very Nearly Nocturnes and Gnomic Verse’. And yes, it’s another release of rare beauty. Five tracks loosely connected by themes relating to the process of going to sleep. As you might expect given the EPs title and theme, the songs have a similar dreamy, psych folk feel to last year’s album though the tracks are more focussed this time round. The acoustic guitar or piano led songs have gorgeous, hazy, woozy backing vocals with wind instruments floating in on the ether, sometimes drifting serenely by and other times gently threatening to overpower the song. Even the introduction of electric guitar is subtly done so as not to disturb the equilibrium. The lead vocals are often multi tracked with lines overlapping each other, the overall effect giving the impression of drifting in and out of consciousness. Or as if some nocturnal siren is gently beckoning you to into an inviting and warm but dark void where all is peaceful and calm, clearing your mind of all the days clutter in the process. You can resist for only so long before you become intoxicated and its musical charm wraps itself around you and pulls you in. The lyrics compliment the feeling, with lines inviting you to a ‘land unconscious’, eulogizing about the heart singing when dreaming of dawn or the notion of keeping sleep in a jar. And what’s wrong with that?
I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but Cambridge Calling Volume 5 is still available on all the usual platforms, as well as German Shepherd Records Bandcamp page, with all proceeds going to a local charity. By an amazing coincidence, all the above artists have appeared on one of the Cambridge Calling Volumes, showing the diversity and strength in depth of the music scene in the area. Coincidences come thick and fast on this blog as Collars, who appear on Volume 5, have a new EP out. It’s almost as if this has all been planned. ‘Everything Present 1’ features five glorious slices of idiosyncratic indie pop by a duo who have managed to forge a distinctive sound and image in the short time they’ve been together. Kane plays guitar and drums (simultaneously when playing live, on a specially adapted kit) while Danielle sings and plays keyboards. There are changes of tempo and tone aplenty, ‘Jeremiah’ being a prime example, shifting effortlessly from indie piano ballad to something that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Postcard Records compilation with its quirky, funky guitar. ‘Gemini’ does a similar thing with its shift from indie folk tinged opening to it’s fast paced, sing along outro. The final track features what sounds like a ukulele, toy keyboard sound and another catchy chorus. An excellent debut release.
And now, completely unrelated to Cambridge, there’s something wonderful and sad from Santa Sprees, a new album called ‘Fanfare for Tonsils’. Wonderful because any new music from this Anglo-Japanese husband and wife duo is a sheer delight, but sad because one half of the duo, Anthony Dolphin, was diagnosed with cancer late last year. Following a rather gloomy looking prognosis, Anthony accordingly took this as a sign to continue their singular musical quest anew, hence the latest (but hopefully not the last) opus, rolling out at 34 tracks. Far better writers than I have described at length what the Santa Sprees music is like so, rather than write a standard review, I’m going to throw a few phrases together that sprung to mind when listening to the album… Unfiltered but expertly channelled. Banishing banality from pop. Surreally real and really surreal, like Lewis Carroll wrestling with Tom Waits. Wobbly and warbly. Taking the worms eye view while everyone is taking the birds eye view. Precisely shambolic/shambolically precise. Four sides of a triangle. Post Avant Spectral Psych. Dark humour with a big wet sponge and a side order of cough candy. Tickles and tortures all the sweet spots. Sometimes jerky and disoriented, sometimes precise and thought provoking. Foot tapping and makes me smile. Life and death through a kaleidoscope. Poetic and poignant, heart breaking and liberating. Do yourselves a favour and dive into this, or any other, Santa Sprees album for a refreshingly different take on life and death.
More reviews in a couple of weeks, but first a rarity on these pages of late for a variety of reasons- a gig review. Yes, a real, live, sitting down watching people play on stage kind of review. Another rarity- a Sunday afternoon gig review. A new initiative from those wonderful people at The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds and new(ish) kids on the block, Delicate Management, this was their first (of many, I hope) Sunday afternoon events. I could have been forgiven for thinking I’d stumbled into the final of some alternative folk version of The Voice, such was the quality of singing on offer from the four acts who played. Opener Josie Edie May is a mere twenty years old, though her song writing has the maturity, confidence and intelligence of a seasoned writer. A set split into two, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar before switching to piano, was as impressive for the playing and lyrical content as it was for her singing, which at times has a breathy style, with little rises and falls, similar to Lisa Hanigan. Though there’s no music released to date, I hear there’s enough songs written to fill several albums once she gets in the studio. Well worth looking out for.
Second up at The Hunter Club was Elly Tree, someone I know to be a few years older than Josie (not that age is a consideration when it comes to making great music), largely because our pre and post gig chats covered the likes of John Peel’s Perfumed Garden, Dusty Springfield and The Fall. Now there’s a thought- Dusty fronting The Fall in a great gig in the sky. Or The Fall covering ‘Son of a Preacher Man’. Sadly, we’ll never know. I believe Elly Tree normally perform as a three piece, but for this performance it was just Elly and her baritone ukulele. Each track was performed with the glee and passion of an artist in their element after an enforced pause in performing. The playing was varied, everything from gentle picking to energetic, punky strum was drawn from her trusty uke while the voice had that same unbridled joy for singing that could be heard every time Mama Cass Elliot sang. The between song banter was humorous and interesting, covering such song subjects as neurological abnormalities and making a coat from the velvety petals of wallflowers. I now need to check out their studio releases.
Following Elly was Belinda Gillett, someone I first heard on a streamed performance last year to raise money for The Hunter Club. It’s fair to say, I was blown away by her voice, to the extent I thought she couldn’t be performing live as it was so perfectly pitched and effortless. I duly tracked down some recordings to listen to and further live performances on YouTube, which served to show just how special she is. Generally, she accompanies herself on acoustic guitar but, due to an incident involving a Doberman while out jogging, she has a broken elbow and was unable to play guitar. With minimal time to rehearse, up stepped Matt Carter aka Matt Reaction to support Belinda on acoustic. Fortunately, Matt being something of an uber fan, this didn’t present an unsurmountable challenge. As mentioned, it’s sometimes difficult to believe that wonderful voice comes from such a relaxed and effortless performance. The range is incredible- when she lowers to a near whisper, it’s the only sound you want to hear in the room but when she fully releases, there is no space in the room for any other sound, such is its emotive power as it reaches out and fills every corner. I can only liken it to a large church organ given full throttle in small room. Visually she’s quite enchanting too, losing herself in the performance while the hand that’s free and not strapped up, having no guitar to strum, weaves little shapes and patterns in the air or plays imaginary guitar in unison with the strum of Matt. Her EP from earlier this year highlights every aspect of that voice and word is there’s an album in the pipeline too. I’m not overstating things when I say, for this reviewer, her voice is up there with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny and Emmylou Harris.
Last on stage at a perfectly reasonable hour of 4.30pm (plenty of time to get home and make the kids tea- Sunday afternoon gigs are the way forward) were Elizabeth and Jameson, featuring the harmonies, violin, accordion and guitar of Hannah and Griff. Musically, they bring elements of country, folk and bluegrass to the mix, these backing the rich, Welsh tones of Griff and the sweater voiced Hannah, who compliment each other perfectly. The vocal interplay reminded me at times of another great husband/wife duo, My Darling Clementine. They played several tracks from their recent album, which I was delighted to hear had a theme running through it, being based on stories, characters and life in Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. They engaged with the audience well, recounting tales about the background to the songs, and sung and played beautifully, dotting the originals with a couple of unexpected covers (Bowie’s ‘As the World Falls Down’ from Labyrinth and The Beatle’s ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’), involving some willing audience participation. This was top quality song writing performed by artists at the top of their game.
All in all, not too shabby a way to spend a Sunday afternoon. For more info on what’s on at The Hunter Club, including The Bury Sound Final and their 10th Anniversary all day celebration, go to the link below. More reviews in a couple of weeks or so. X
Sometimes I just need a little nudge, a reminder of why I listen to, and occasionally write about, music. I received an almighty nudge recently in the shape of a very first (and well overdue) ‘Best of’ from the much-missed Jackie Leven, compiled and released by Night School Records.
To say he’s one of my favourite artists is an understatement. His music has had a profound effect on me over the years, some of which you’ll get a feel for in a previous blog titled ‘I took a train out of Leeds…’. His music, lyrics, playing and singing convey emotions, images and stories that not only touch, but dig deep into the human psyche like few other artists I’ve come across. It’s a brave man that sits down and tries to put together a ‘Best of’ that fits on one vinyl album, but Michael Kasparis has done a very good job of it. There are many obvious contenders for inclusion from Jackie’s vast canon of work, but the trick here has been to include some of the lesser-known tracks among the more well known, giving them a fresh perspective in a different setting. Every song on this release makes the grade and I’ll warrant you could take the same approach half a dozen times and come up with a number of ‘Best of’ releases that are all of the highest quality.
The time for re-discovering (or just discovering in most people’s cases) the music of Jackie Leven is well overdue. This year is the tenth anniversary of his passing and, apart from this release, there’s a tribute album imminent, featuring many great artists covering his songs (not an easy task according to some of those musicians), and also a special edition of one of his (many) classic albums, ‘The Mystery of Love is Greater than the Mystery of Death. I look forward to it all eagerly.
So, with thanks to Jackie for the nudge and while I have the laptop open, it’s about time I wrote a few words about some of the other wonderful releases that have come my way since the last blog. I make no excuses for including many releases from the Cambridge area, especially as they’ve been associated with the Cambridge Calling series of Charity compilations over the last few years (don’t forget Volume 5 is still available, link below).
Keltrix were on the first volume of Cambridge Calling and they have a new album out called ‘Herstory’, available on vinyl, cd and download. I’ve followed Keri and Sharon for a few years now, even writing a review of a previous release for the short-lived on-line relaunch of Sounds magazine. The new release is the culmination of years of combining elements of folk, electronic music, beats, dance music and Sharon’s soaring, swooping violin with the distinctive and impassioned singing of Keri. This release also throws in some majestic guitar work from Jay Williams. Lyrically it’s very personal and powerful, dealing with some pretty dark stuff, often defiantly as though it’s part of the healing process, showing a strength to overcome and be the better for it. Perhaps also to serve as a warning to others. The first few seconds of the opening track remind me of ‘Me and a Gun’ by Tori Amos, which deals with similarly dark subject matter. Even in the more tender sounding passages, such as the opening to ‘Trapped Behind Black Glass’, there’s a jolt to the senses when Keri sings ‘It’s the aftermath of aftermaths, but did you have the last laugh?’ before, shortly after, the song breaks into something akin to an Irish jig/darkwave mash up. It’s a heady, muscular and at times compassionate album. When people talk of Mercury Music Prizes nominations, this is the sort of inventive music that should be considered.
Inventive could be the middle, invisible name for Lizard Brain who have released a new album since my last blog. As with the previous release, it’s a mind bogglingly rich, cross genre melange which is aptly called ‘Confection’. Don’t be sucked in by the title though- it’s not all sweet and sticky. Some tracks are harder boiled, even a little disorienting and unsettling. Some of the sugar-coated confections cover what are probably their most politically direct lyrics, a statement on some of the more unsavoury happenings in the country and a dig at those involved as well as a reflection on the strange year that 20/21 has been. Similar to the likes of 10cc and Teenage Fan Club in that each member of the band is an excellent songwriter in their own right, they all bring different things to the mix, brought about by the music they are individually influenced by, be it ambient, electronic, dance, indie, prog, blues or just an eye and ear for classic pop. The addition of spoken word fragments adds to the quiet power of some songs while the playing and production is excellent throughout. I eagerly await whatever comes next out of their studio on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens.
Ember Rev are another local band I’ve enjoyed and supported during my stint on Cambridge 105 Radio. While they’ve been on a pandemic enforced hiatus, frontman Dan Ecclestone has released his debut solo effort. Initially recorded at the piano, Dan realised the songs would be difficult to tailor as Ember Rev songs so set about creating the album using Talk Talk’s ‘Spirit of Eden’ as a broad template. Similar to that album, the instrumentation is generally sparse. There are short periods of silence which allow notes and chords to drift away before returning. There are also short swells and bursts of additional instrumentation which punctuate the otherwise stately pace of the songs. Percussion is kept to a minimum and is complimentary of the music rather than driving it, while the strings are graceful and elegant without being overpowering. Dan uses his voice well, at times speaking the words in a poetic style, other times singing smoothly while occasionally there’s a cracked quality that adds an emotional edge, especially on the relatively strident ‘King of Land of Skies and Sea’. ‘This Uphill River’ is as near as he gets to an Ember Rev track, the piano bursting out at breakneck pace with the most densely instrumented passages coming during it’s near four minutes. To get a better feel for each track and its composition, it’s well worth reading Dan’s notes on the Bandcamp page for the release. He says it far better than I…
And now for something completely different. The latest album by a duo known as Jaymotts, called ‘Jamboree’. The band themselves describe it as ‘50mins+ of pure funk rock ditties crafted to bring about much fun and smiles’, which I personally feel is somewhat underselling themselves. Yep, there’s fifteen tracks and there’s funkiness aplenty, alongside their witty lyrics, but listening to it I’m struck by just how clever it all is and how they absorb so many influences while maintaining their own identity. Listening for the first time, I was hearing echoes of Frank Zappa, Ian Dury, Talking Heads, Squeeze, Flight of the Conchords and even Kid Creole and the Coconuts. The lyrics are shot through with humour, sometimes a little surreal and eccentric, other times more grounded and earthy. The funky groove is varied and never dull, but most certainly danceable. If this could be translated into a live show, I’d imagine they’d be a hot and sweaty hoot to watch.
‘Ghost Fruit’ is the latest EP (maybe more of a mini LP?) from Tape Runs Out, another band that have been a fixture on the Smelly Flowerpot show over the years. I hear they’ve been signed to a new label, with a new single imminent and album planned for release next year. If it’s anything near as good as this, it’ll be worth watching out for. They have a distinctive sound of their own, tracks often starting with a single instrument that instantly creates a groove or base over which other instruments are layered. Aside from guitar, bass and drums, an array of keyboards are utilised along with the likes of violin and hammered dulcimer, creating a sound that can sway effortlessly from quietly ethereal to dense and stirring. Often buried down in the mix is Liam’s hushed and dreamy vocal, providing a counterpoint to the beautifully constructed and insistent music. Each EP they’ve released has been a progression from its predecessor, which bodes well for the new album.
Last of the Cambridge Calling contributees, for now, is ‘World of Carp’ by Model Village. I’ve been a huge fan of indie pop since the early 80’s when hearing the C86 tape and this band take the best bits of indie pop, add a bit of folk, some delightful harmonies, nods to classic pop, infectious tunes and a poise that can only come from being passionate students of the genre. Among the stirring, upbeat ditties there’s the odd aching ballad, all sung with confidence and relish by Lily Rose, taking the vocal duties on the full album for the first time. Her voice reminds me a little of another doyen of the local music scene, Emma Kupa, in that she reaches the heart of the song and conveys it’s meaning expertly. There’s plenty to chew over lyrically as well, wrestling with daily issues encountered by a (guessing here) bunch of 30 somethings. OK, maybe 40 at a push, though it applies to people as old as me too. At times it’s done with an honesty and resignation that getting older means inevitable change, though there’s a droll wit present that indicates this band and its members won’t go down without a scrap or, indeed, the audacity to continue to do the things they loved when younger. More power to them, though I may pass at getting into a drinking session with the band, especially at my advanced age.
This links us nicely to one Cambridge area band in this blog that haven’t featured on a Cambridge Calling Volume, the magnificent Fuzzy Lights. The link to Model Village is, of course, Dan Carney, who plays on both. Fuzzy Lights were one of the first local bands I played on The Smelly Flowerpot, my interest being piqued by a review which described one of their tracks as ‘rolling in like the mist off the Fens’. Anyway, rolling on a few years, they have a new album out called ‘Burials’. Dan actually opens proceedings on the new album with a wandering bass line that counters the clear, refined vocal from Rachel Watkin. This being Fuzzy Lights, it’s not long before the slowly evolving track erupts in a fuzzy, frenzied guitar solo before the various instruments subside, leaving us back where we started with bass and vocal. Despite being a strong opener, it doesn’t quite prepare you for the epic 10 minute ‘Songbird’ with its relentless drive and heavy power chords framing the quieter moments featuring vocal and picked guitar working hand in hand. The potent instrumental outro with bursts of violin is invigorating to say the least. I’d imagine if Led Zeppelin and Sandy Denny were around to collaborate again, it might just sound a little like this. There are moments of relative mellowness, as with the more traditional ‘Haraldskaer Woman’ and the trippy folk of ‘The Graveyard Song’, though the latter also morphs into a psychedelic band jam. There’s plenty more variety throughout the album, the guitars moving from chiming and spectral to heavily distorted with several stops between. The power of the quiet passages is often enhanced by the louder ones. I’ve been listening to this for a couple of months and rate it the best Fuzzy Lights album to date, which is saying something.
The above has only scratched at the surface of what I wanted to write about so, life and finding the ability to fold space allowing, there’ll be another blog soon(ish) featuring new music from the likes of Naomi Randall, Umbrella Assassins, Santa Sprees, Chris Free and Tribes of Europe among others. In the meantime, be nice to each other and buy shed loads of music- it’s good for the heart and soul.
Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet of late, but there’s been good reason for this as most of my free time in December was spent listening to dozens of albums and putting together a ‘Best of 2020’ show for The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio. Readers of an earlier blog will know that I paused the show in September, mainly due to the challenges in trying to put together a radio show in a house occupied by four children and a dog that have little respect for the recording process. Hence the increased activity on the blog since then- you don’t hear their screaming over make-up, the arguments over the missing remote control or the dogs tail thudding against the door in my typing. Anyway, due to the enthusiasm shown by the good people at Cambridge 105 Radio and the power of chocolate to mute children, I have managed to put together a 2 hour show featuring 1 single, 1 retrospective, an EP and 22 albums that have particularly grabbed me this year. I’ll caveat those selections by saying they’ve all featured on the show or the blog over the last year and are therefore all by artists that, with the odd exception, don’t get regular playlisting on national radio. This isn’t because they’re not worthy- quite the opposite- but more due to the fact it’s such a crowded market that only a fraction of music released will ever get playlisted on national radio. This is often due to having the right backers or marketing and a huge slice of luck. The whole ethos of The Smelly Flowerpot is to support those artists wherever I can. Consequently, relatively more well known artists like Bill Callahan, Flaming Lips and Bob Dylan won’t be considered for the list despite releasing wonderful albums.
By the time I’ve finished writing this blog entry, the show will have been broadcast and repeated (Christmas night and December 28th), but I will post a link to the Mixcloud upload at the bottom of this entry so you can listen at your leisure. Below you’ll find a run down of the tracks and a hint of what to expect from each. I trust you’ll find something in there that tickles your fancy…
Single of the Year: The Broken Orchestra feat TinB- Someone Just Pressed Pause
I’ve followed this band for several years now and managed to catch them live at Humber St Sesh Festival a couple of years ago. Dusky beats with layered keyboards which skitter and swell as they gradually build. The lyric is a spoken one which eloquently and powerfully deals with the effects of the pandemic, recognising the negative aspects while encouraging people to take the opportunity to do something positive. The show features an edited version, but check out the bands Bandcamp page for the full version.
Also, rather brilliant: Black Country, North Road- Science Fair. Discordant, anxious, tense, thrilling, mind warping, unsettling and riveting don’t even come close to describing this. I can’t wait for the debut album in 2021.
Anthology of the Year: The Distractions- Nobody’s Perfect 2020
I first fell in love with The Distractions in 1979, catching them live in 1980 at The Welly Club in Hull, then again in 2012 at The Kings Arms in Salford. There aren’t many bands who leave it 32 years between first and second album releases. That first album, Nobody’s Perfect, was released in 1980 to critical acclaim and relatively few sales. Until now, it had never received a digital release but thankfully that’s been put right. The release features the album in its original form plus an updated mix (one of the few complaints about the original was the production) by latter day Distraction and head of Occultation Records, Nick Halliwell. Also gathered together are the singles and EPs from the original band plus a number of demo’s and unreleased tracks. It’s a collection of beautifully imagined sixties pop songs given a post punk pop makeover. The track played on the show, ‘Looking for a Ghost’ having echoes of The Beach Boys in its layered harmonies. Other excellent collections well worth a mention are Phil Rambow’s ‘Rebel Kind- Anthology 1972-2020’ which collects his original albums from the 70’s plus tracks recorded with the likes of Brian Eno, Mick Ronson and Kirsty MacColl as well as some more recent releases which show he hasn’t lost any of his abilities as a singer/songwriter. ‘The Colossal Youth- 40th Anniversary Edition’ by Young Marble Giants is another welcome anthology of singles and EPs as well as the titular album.
EP of the Year: McCookerybook and Rotifer- Equal Parts
This wasn’t quite long enough to class as an album but it would have been a tragedy to leave it out, hence it has a section all of its own. It’s been reviewed in an earlier blog, but suffice to say, this is a joy to listen to from start to finish. Full of enthusiasm, warmth and quality performing and writing, it exudes charm with the odd hidden barb under the surface. Imagine a collaboration between an anglicised Doris Day and an Austrian Lee Hazlewood and you won’t be far off the mark.
Albums of the Year
Before I crack on with the 22 albums that made the show, let me mention a few albums that made my short list, making the task of narrowing it down to 22 nigh on impossible. These are all worth checking out and I’m sure I’ll look at this list over the coming months and think ‘How did I manage to leave this off the show?’. In no particular order:
Global Charming- Mediocre, Brutal. Quirky post punk with Beefheartian guitars from Dutch band. Songs about the mundanity of life never sounded so good.
Anton Barbeau- Manbird. No-one does psych pop like Anton. This one comes across like a life’s travelogue with plenty of avian analogies.
Dislocation Dance- Discombobulation. Welcome return of 80’s soul/funk band to help raise funds to treat singer Ian Runacre’s son, who has a serious brain condition.
The Lounge Bar Orchestra- Pilot Episodes. Imaginary themes/soundtracks to shows on Ousewater TV, as written by the mysterious Reg Omeroyd in the 70’s.
Tensheds- Days of My Confinement. Dramatic piano led songs by classically trained artist, recorded at home during lockdown.
Pavey Ark- Close Your Eyes and Think of Nothing. Do exactly that and wallow in the yearning, acoustic driven songs backed with beautiful string arrangements.
Steve Cobby- СТИВИ. The latest in a run of impressive albums mixing a variety of genres from the mix master himself. Jazzy, proggy, post rocky, trip hoppy, entirely Cobby.
Tim Holehouse- Lost. Takes another left turn, introducing beats, rap, hip hop and electronica as he chronicles the struggles of coping without being on the road and gigging.
Jinder- The Silver Age. Beautifully sung ruminations of joy and pain with characteristically varied, stirring and lush backing.
The New Fools- Mershmellow. Too long to be an EP, too short to be an album, but still very impressive. Lots of nods to musical heroes.
Moff Skellington/The Bordellos. Not a duo, but two artists who have been ultra-prolific during 2020 (not to mention previous years). Difficult to pick an album each from the myriad to chose from, so when you get time, visit their respective Bandcamp pages and dive in randomly. I’m confident you won’t have heard anything like them.
The albums that made the show
22. Lexytron- Something Blue. Lexytron is Manchester born, part English, Greek and Persian and now living in New Zealand. This, her debut album, is full of vibrant and catchy pop/rock songs with one foot on the dance floor. Dealing with love, loss and lust, it’s an invigorating affair.
21. Tidal Rave- Heart Screams. Another debut from another NZ based band, this one a six-piece including three female songwriter/singer/guitarists. Densely interwoven guitars, an insistent rhythm section and organ battle constantly to produce a punchy garage rock sound which is lent variety by changes of pace and the use of four different vocalists.
20. Lewsberg- In This House. Another Dutch band with a debut album. Deceptive in that the strident guitars, which quickly settle into a groove on each song, and mainly spoken lyrics hide a quirky catchiness. Post punky in the main with hints of Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman.
19. Stuart Moxham and Louis Phillipe- The Devil Laughs. Two great musicians with excellent CVs team up to produce a delightful album of quality song writing and performing. The pair complement each other beautifully with Louis adding stylish flourishes to fill out the otherwise subtle beauty of Stuart’s songs. Louis adds a couple of gems of his own. Some lovely harmonies and sweeping strings help give this a timeless feel.
18. Santa Sprees- Sum Total of Insolent Blank. Here, the Anglo-Japanese duo present an album that is as epic in length as it is in scope. Full of lo fi gems with tracks that barely get started before cheerily waving goodbye to fully fledged folky pop songs which sweep you along with their infectiousness. And singer Anthony Dolphin sounds weirdly like a pre fame Tyrannosaurus Rex era Marc Bolan, which is clearly a good thing.
17. Rosie Abbott- Magnified. The Nottingham based singer/song-writer/multi-instrumentalist/producer and sock puppet maker takes another leap forward with her third solo album. Her love of 60’s bands such as The Beatles and The Kinks shines through on her melodic songs which often take little unexpected twists and turns on their sonic journey. Lyrics that are clearly personal make her all the more loveable.
16. Polypores- Azure. Released on the excellent Castles in Space label (possibly the best source of new electronic and ambient music around), Polypores is the work of one Stephen Buckley, who has been releasing his brand of synthesiser-based music for several years and umpteen releases. As the album and song titles suggest, this is a soundtrack to drifting through the world’s oceans evoking the awe and wonder of everything that inhabits it or has been consumed by it.
15. The Sound of Pop Art- To Dream the Most Fabulous Dream. Cambridge’s great pop dreamers return with an expanded palette of contagious and vibrant songs that add funk, acid jazz, soul and film soundtracks to their summery pop. Chris Free, Sara Onyett and friends have produced their best set of songs to date- irresistible and infectious, they’re a reminder of the days when charts were filled with such music.
14. Annie Dressner- Coffee at the Corner Bar. American born, Cambridge based, Annie’s latest album is another largely acoustic indie-folk-pop affair. Produced by hubby Paul Goodwin, Annie’s disarming, conversational style of singing draws the listener into her often nostalgic and personal songs. With additional instrumentation fleshing out and adding impetus to some songs, it’s a varied and warmly rewarding set of songs
13. Moonstrips- It Was a Different World When We Started. Though this is an album of live tracks and studio sessions (with embellishments!), it hangs together surprisingly well. There’s more variety than on the previous album, though Barney’s breathless sax and the mix of hallucinatory psychedelia and post punk guitars are never far away. The tracks recorded live support my belief that they’re one of the best live bands in Cambridge.
12. 2 Lost Souls- …the very last City. This is the second full length album from veterans of the music scene, Ian Moss and Paul Rosenfeld. With the frequently acerbic lyrics of Ian backed by the searing guitar playing of Paul, this is a thrilling ride. Perhaps less of an ‘outsider’ sound than other artists Ian has collaborated with, the music is a blend of effects laden blues and rock music which is faintly reminiscent of Peter Buck’s playing on REM’s Monster.
11. Harold Nono- We’re Nearly Home. Harold Nono is one of several mysterious enigmas who release intriguing and interesting music through Bearsuit Records, based in Edinburgh. Difficult to pigeonhole, this album is a dynamic and experimental mix of imagined soundtracks, industrial noise, electronic and ambient music that challenges as much as it satisfies. Never less than interesting and frequently magnificent through it’s 40 odd minute roller coaster ride.
10. John Howard- To the Left of the Moon’s Reflection. John Howard released the long-lost classic ‘Kid in a Big World’ back in the seventies and has been on a creative renaissance over the past decade. This album is possibly the best of his career. Beautifully flowing, largely piano based compositions with biographical lyrics by an artist who, decades into a stop/start career, appears to be completely at ease with his current life and situation. There’s a wealth of experience and stories to be told, something which comes across with humour and candour in his songs as well as in the interview he gave me earlier in the year.
9. Issac Navaro- Nijua. Issac, based in Dumfries, has been a fixture on German Shepherd Records since they first started, with six releases during that period. The latest album, who’s title was apparently suggested by a 7 year old, is a heady and potent mix of post rock, ambient and electronic music which reference the likes of sci-fi writers, Dutch footballers and moon landings. In among the lush layers of synths and insistent beats there are some delicious piano melodies and, on one track, a rare vocal. I read somewhere that this could be the last album from Issac, which would be a crying shame.
8. Danny Short- Pastimes. Danny has been quietly self-releasing music on CDRs and through his Bandcamp page for the last decade or so and it’s always a delight when one is popped through the letterbox. I first heard him through Stephen Doyle’s excellent show on Salford City Radio and probably have a dozen or so releases now. Though he majors on quality 60’s influenced songs full of energy, intensity, vitality and killer choruses, he often pops several tracks of a more experimental nature on each release. Though, as the title suggests, this is a collection of reworked tracks from his past, it’s brilliant from start to finish.
7. Becci Wallace- Present Tense. Scottish singer/songwriter Becci has produced her best work to date on ‘Present Tense’. Her intensely intimate lyrics deal with a variety of subjects from parenthood and love to grief and mental health, dealing with each subject with trademark candour and no little humour. That she matches each of these with a compelling and complimentary musical backing is mighty impressive. From minimalist piano backing to lush instrumentation and trip hoppy beats, there’s a beating heart to each track which grabs your attention, at times provoking a range of emotional responses.
6. Umbrella Assassins- Humanity. These guys have been gradually building an impressive repertoire of songs since they slimmed to a three piece and, roles in the band re-assigned, the creative juices not so much flowed as flooded out. ‘Humanity’ features many tracks in their chosen genre of ‘Shed-Punk’ though this only hints at what they do. There’s a primal energy and a vocal delivery which pummels you into submission on some songs and a fuzzy psychedelia on others, but there’s also an inventiveness on display which hint at possible future directions. Sing-alongs and a glorious Hendrix style whig out complete an impressive assault on the senses.
5. Tom Skelly- Slackhead. Listen to Tom’s excellent debut album of largely folk blues acoustic songs and then listen to this and you’ll see just how far his sound and song writing has developed in the intervening 7 years. The progression is impressive. Musically it can be a challenging but ultimately rewarding listen, sometimes within the same song. Acoustic strums can be interrupted by bursts of treated keyboards, stuttering beats, distorted guitars or an echoing glockenspiel. Equally, Tom’s vocals match the musical accompaniment, veering from a gentle folky croon to a howl of anguish with several stops in between. This being his third self-produced album in two years, you get the feeling his wanderlust of musical adventure has some way to go.
4. Naomi Randall- Tepid on My Trippin’ Heels. This release from Cambridge based Naomi comes seven years after her previous album, hence the album title, jokingly suggested by a friend. It mixes several strains of folk (traditional, freak, pastoral, psychedelic) to mesmerising and beguiling effect with some lovely instrumental flourishes. There’s an ethereal beauty to some songs, especially those with minimal backing, while others draw you in with their ability to relate tales and snippets of stories which capture the imagination. Naomi’s voice is captivating, an attractive mix of folkie with a dreamy hippy quality. On her Bandcamp page (and on the sleeve of the album), she suggests the success or failure of the album should be left to the listener’s judgement. This listener judges it a resounding success.
3. Aksak Maboul- Figures 1 & 2. This double album by a Belgian band who have been performing on and off for over 40 years is a revelation. An ever-changing line up (at one point featuring former members of Henry’s Cow) centred around founding member Marc Hollander has now settled with the addition of his wife, Veronique Vincent, on vocals. This magnificent, experimental double album requires multiple listens to even come close to revealing all its delights, despite the presence of some real ear worms. Compulsive rhythms from around the world are the back drop for a dizzying selection of jazzy, avant-garde and prog songs featuring the excellent guitar and keyboard playing of Marc. The lyrics, written and sung mainly in French by Veronique, deal with the dynamics between male and female and how things have perhaps not progressed as they should have over the years. Utterly wonderful.
2. Plantman- Days of the Rocks. By my reckoning, this is Plantman’s fourth album. It’s also my favourite, which is saying something as all the previous releases are excellent. Songwriter, singer and guitarist Matt Randall, along with some musician friends from the Southend area, has put together a set of songs that are so intimate and heart-warming in a squeeze-your-hand, tug-at-your-heart sense that they should come with a ‘Beware- Contains Human Emotions’ sticker. Listening to his vocals is like dipping in to a private conversation as he uses his present stage of life to reflect and better understand people and events from the past. He also has a real knack of setting his lyrics to a musical style that enriches and nourishes those words, adding further emotional heft as guitars are gently strummed with minimal adornments or as the sound is fleshed out with soaring lead guitar and heavenly harmonies. Maybe there’s something in the air around Southend way.
1. The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus- Songs of Yearning/Nocturnes. Not one, but two albums, released simultaneously by a band that have been ignoring fashions and occasionally delivering albums as and when the time is right. I was smitten by ‘Beauty Will Save the World’ their album from 2016 which set me on a trail to discover more of their music. Though I find these albums inseparable in terms of quality, it’s rare that I listen to them together, mood dictating which one I might want to listen to at any one time. Elements of folk, ambient music, Eastern European religious themes, chants, hymns and occasional bursts of (relatively speaking) turbulence weave together like very little else I’ve heard to produce music of rare transcendental beauty. Though they sound nothing like them, the feeling I get when listening to these albums is similar to when I first heard the likes of Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’, Nick Drake’s albums or Joni Mitchell’s ‘Hissing of Summer Lawns’- like hearing something unlike anything I’d heard before. For a much more eloquent and expansive review of the albums than my attempts, try the following piece by Dave Cantrell of Stereo Embers magazine:
Though it’s been an extremely difficult year for obvious reasons, the one thing that’s been a positive for me is music. Its healing power is undeniable and the way many musicians have used the down time to write and release music or be creative in playing live has been an inspiration. Especially when you bear in mind the vast majority don’t make a living from it. May 2021 bring an upturn in fortunes for all musicians and may it give music lovers everywhere the opportunity to show their appreciation. I hope you enjoy this selection of my favourites from 2020. Much love and best wishes, Dave x
I could listen to the lady known as Helen McCookerybook chat about music all day long. Having spent a lifetime singing, writing and lecturing music as well as producing books and films about the subject, she has a depth of knowledge and a wealth of stories to tell in a manner that just brims with bright eyed enthusiasm and unbridled joy. I’ve been witness to this on The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio as Helen has twice been my guest. In many ways, the same could be said about much of the music she’s produced, first with The Chefs then with Helen and the Horns and finally through her solo career. It’s great to see that carried through on the 6 track EP she’s released along with Robert Rotifer on the Gare du Nord label. A quick word on the label, which was started around 6 years ago by a small number of musicians wanting to find an outlet for their music. That group has grown over the years with collaborations and sharing of talents resulting in some high-quality music released under a range of different names. Robert Rotifer is one of those musicians. Originally from Austria, he’s worked with some great artists over the years and is also a journalist and radio presenter. A well as some dextrous guitar playing, he adds a cool, rich voice that dovetails nicely with Helen’s warm and joyful tones. Singing some lines in German, they come across delightfully like a teutonic Serge Gainsbourg and an anglicized Doris Day. I often hear the phrase ‘deceptively simple’ mentioned when it comes to music, but this is almost the opposite, whatever that might be called. On initial hearing they sound like beautifully uncomplicated, acoustic driven ditties, but repeated listening reveals those little intricacies, flourishes and moments of aural pleasure that ultimately leave you feeling great pleasure at having made their acquaintance. The EP is by McCookerybook and Rotifer and is, appropriately, called ‘Equal Parts’.
Chris Jack is the guitarist for a noisy, fuzzy, psych garage trio called The Routes that have been on the go for many years in Japan, though he still maintains plenty of links with musicians back in the UK. One such link is Bryan Styles, who plays percussion and glockenspiel on this debut solo album from Chris called ‘Miles to Go’. Just to complete the connection, I first met Bryan when he played those same instruments in the Smelly Flowerpot studio in what was the first session I ever hosted on the show, by the Plantman. You may be forgiven for thinking ‘glockenspiel’ and ‘psych garage’ don’t often go together in the same sentence. That’s partly because a) they’re actually in two different sentences and, b) the solo album is anything but psych garage. It’s an altogether more muted, personal and introspective affair. The guitars are quietly strummed with a de-fuzzed lead guitar gently pushing proceedings along. Light and shade are provided by Bryan’s percussion and the likes of vibraphone, melodeon and organ played by Chris. The restrained vocals are largely in the first person, giving the impression we’re listening in on the private, inner most thoughts of the writer. Minimalist, melodic and spontaneous sounding, it’s an intimate and revealing album.
When Rob Clarke sent over his latest release with the Wooltones, and as I was shamefully not familiar with his music, I did a quick google search and was impressed to come across a Bandcamp page with 25 releases on it. And that’s just the Wooltones stuff- it would appear there’s plenty more Rob related music out there. The new release, ‘Putting the L in Wootones’ is what I like to call a dirty, old fashioned record. It’s all about capturing the vibe with a batch of quality 60’s influenced garage, psych and Mersey beat infused songs. There’s a loose, carefree groove and the faint whiff of west coast hippiness about the songs which, dodgy knees allowing, makes me want to sit cross legged on the floor, nodding away and losing myself in the moment. Some authentic guitar playing (everything from a ‘screwdriver in the speaker’ fuzz to a Byrdsian jangle), effective interludes from a fired-up organ and (on ‘Love and Haight’) a bit of ‘Pearl and Dean’ ba-ba-baas add variety and there’s much fun to be had spotting the references to the era in the lyrics. It’s a heady, hazy delight from start to finish.
Eil Marchini was a resident of Cambridge when he contributed a song to the first Cambridge Calling charity compilation. Since then he’s spent plenty of time travelling before landing in the place of his birth, Italy, while managing to squeeze in a session on The Smelly Flowerpot along the way. ‘Just Looking for Waves’ is his new album, following on quickly from last years ‘Lost in the Universe’. While travelling, he would play his guitar and sing to anyone willing to listen but, as is apparent on this album, he also took the time to soak up all that his senses could take in. This all feeds in to the album, both musically and lyrically. Influences ranging from freak folk to pastoral psychedelia to blues abound, with a hint of mysticism. He handles a variety of playing styles with aplomb, whether it’s a folky strum, some electric blues or slide guitar. It’s generally a more stripped back affair than the previous album, which serves to highlight the quality of song writing whilst encouraging a little more invention, especially with his singing which ranges from warmly enveloping to coolly detached, all in a style of his own. There are some gently intrusive sound effects and backing vocals, the odd keyboard that laps at your toes like a welcoming wave, what may well be a didgeridoo, percussion that almost apologetically nudges its way into view and some whistling. I’m a sucker for whistling on a record. The album closes with a rather disarming version of ‘Castles Made of Sand’ by Jimi Hendrix, which may or may not feature some Cicadas.
Intermission: Talking of Cicadas got me thinking of other animals that make appearances on records. There has to be dozens of records featuring birds twittering away, but I’m not sure many have based the melody on the cooing of a Pigeon, as Rosie Abbott did on ‘Wood Pigeon Translation’ from her debut album. There’s a horse on ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ by The Avalanches which I love to impersonate, though I neigh about as well as I sing to be honest. Brian Wilson’s dogs were called Banana and Louie and apparently can be heard at the end of ‘Caroline No’ by The Beach Boys, though my hearing is probably damaged by too much Led Zep as a kid to pick this up. Maybe only other dogs can hear it? There’s plenty of sheep going baa on, surprisingly, ‘Sheep’ by Pink Floyd. It’s debatable whether there’s the sound of sheep yawning on the record as well. The only Fish I’ve heard on a record was that geezer out of Marillion, but I suppose it’s difficult recording the sound of an actual fish, unless you count whales, which would clearly be cheating. Let me know if you’re aware of any other unusual animal appearances in song. And no, Rat Scabies isn’t allowed
Back to the reviews…
Matthew Hopkins is not a bloke, but a band comprising of Anne, Max and Julia (I think- if I’m wrong, Bob will let me know). They’re only a few singles into their recording career, but are already making waves. Apparently, the two female members of the band have been friends since meeting at Catholic school, later being converted to the power of music by the cult known as The Fall. Various musical adventures ensued before completing the current trio with Max (Anne’s son) stepping up to the drum stool. Latest single ‘Girl’ opens with a classic drum/bass intro before post punk guitars crash in followed quickly by an impassioned vocal which poses questions around inequality by breaking down generally accepted stereotypes. There’s some striking lyrics which re-inforce this: ‘Oh I don’t know, Oh I suppose, a radish cut into a rose’ and ‘a battery of flattery and a hem beneath the skirt, will hurry up my buttercup, if you smile you are a flirt’. Hopefully there’ll be a full album from them soon.
Another act just a few singles in to their career are Tribes of Europe and Barbara Stretch- and yes, they’ve also contributed an excellent track to the Cambridge Calling series of charity compilations. Tribes of Europe are a vehicle for the talents of Martin Elsey, someone who is channelling years of soaking up music from a variety of genres into a writing a series of classic pop songs. Of course, it helps that he has the wonderful, soulful voice of Barbara Stretch (who was once a member of The Vernons) and the wizard production talents of Chris Taylor to call upon in these matters. On the new single, ‘Let the Big Beats Save Your Southern Soul’ there’s also the added bonus of the Ely Fallen Angels choir, headed by Max Taylor (son of Barbara and Chris), adding some inventive and authentic harmonies. The song itself is a barnstorming paean to the classic Northern Soul music of the 60s and 70s, though it’s clever and original enough to rise above being just a tribute. The fuzzy toned, Ernie Isley guitar, vibraphone, pinpoint accurate beat, driving bass, aforementioned harmonies and sheer enthusiasm on display, not to mention a fabulous lead vocal, all make this a modern take on a classic style. Thankfully, it’s a smidge under three minutes in length- my limbs wouldn’t last the pace if it was any longer.
The two members of The Auster Boys, Bob Auster North (music) and Bob Auster South (lyrics/vocals), first met in Northampton in 1982 and, inspired by a shared love of The Fall and American novelist Paul Auster started writing together. Though their paths diverged over the years, they have written many pieces, including the 11 minute ‘Direction Finder’ which is released on German Shepherd Records on December 4th. Musically the piece is an at times unsettling mix of various beats, ambient noise and electronica which skitters along under the spoken lyrics. It serves as a kind of musical travelogue and History lesson as the narrator takes us on a journey around the hidden and forgotten areas of Northampton, with a slight diversion that takes in bones sticking out of cliffs on the Suffolk coast. Lost villages, grumpy farmers, Radar and the refusal of the ancient kingdom of Mercia to take the Danegeld are all covered in what is a fascinating and original piece. Their willingness to come up with thought provoking and challenging music that tends to ignore normal song writing strictures should be admired. While we wait for the link to the new release, due on Friday December 4th, here’s their most recent album…
Final one for this blog, and something that cheers me every time it happens, is a new album by the musical gardener, Matt Randall aka Plantman. I heard about this one literally days after Bryan Styles had sent over the Chris Jacks album (see above), so there was a nice bit of serendipity there, especially as Bryan plays on many Plantman releases and also visited the studio with Matt on that very first Smelly Flowerpot session (still one of my favourites). ‘Days of the Rocks’ follows the template of many of Plantman’s releases in that there’s a misty eyed beauty to the music and singing that absolutely floors me every time. The difference here is that the songs are perhaps a little catchier, at times almost upbeat and, dare I say, poppy. OK, let me get this out of the way now, as Plantman and THIS word often go in the same sentence for me. Melancholia- much of the music elicits feelings of melancholia in me, but an oddly uplifting feeling at the same time. Victor Hugo was once quoted as saying melancholia was the happiness of being sad, and that best describes what I feel when listening to Plantman music- it makes me immensely happy to hear something that can squeeze the emotions so intensely. There are several local musicians who help out on the album, a kind of cooperative who help and contribute to each other’s music- in my head I call it the Sound of Southend. Apart from singing and playing guitar, Matt adds keyboards, drums, bass, piano and melodica while Leighton Jennings (Ghost Music) adds drums, former Beat Glider bandmate Adam Radmall flies over from Japan to add bass and drums and there’s some lovely backing vocals from Melodie Group’s Michelle Bappoo and Roy Thirlwall (who also vocalises the last track). While the melodies are gorgeous and naturally flowing, Matt’s voice has a gently persuasive, misty eyed quality that, allied with the music, makes the whole thing irresistible. The nearest comparison I can come up with is the more mellow moments of The Go Betweens. Many of the lyrics have a conversational feel, as though reminiscing with someone close, remembering the good and bad, which gives the whole album an intimate, personal feel. There should also be a mention for the art work which, as with previous Plantman releases, was done by Amy-Adele Seymour and perfectly complements the warmth of the music.
Just as an aside, I’ve just read Matt’s blurb on the release on Bandcamp and uncannily, much of it mirrors what I felt when writing this review. Rather than change anything out of fear of being called a fraud, I’ve left it as it is- my honest appraisal of a wonderfully honest album. Cheers, and enjoy. x
Umbrella Assassins, instigators of the local phenomenon known as Shed Punk, have a new EP due for release on November 20th called ‘King of Fruit Vol 1’. Since slimming down to a three piece and joining German Shepherd Records, Steve, Garry and Bunge have been pretty prolific, not that they were slouches prior to this. The slimming down and subsequent re-jigging of roles in the band seems to have worked to their advantage, pushing them into exploring new ideas and seeing a great leap forward in the quality of song writing. Describing their music as Shed Punk possibly does it a disservice as, though it has roots in punk and is largely recorded in a garden shed, there are elements of garage, heavy psychedelia and the occasional dollop of Eastern mysticism in the music. The three tracks on the EP are awash with raw fuzzy guitars, heavy bass lines and jet-propelled drums topped off with a growling and passionate in-your face vocal delivery. The first two songs have a primal Stooges attack allied with some Sabbath like changes of pace while ‘Strange Smoke’ starts off relatively sedately in comparison, though the insistent riff still gives the song a driving energy in a Doors like manner. I very much look forward to Vol 2 in the New Year, not to mention sharing a tin or two with them down the shed when the opportunity arises.
Also available now is the new single from Swiss based Andy Jossi and US based Krissy Vanderwoude, working as The Churchhill Garden. Whereas previous efforts have been firmly in the dream pop/shoe gaze arena, this time the guitars still shimmer and shine, but with an added urgency and drive. Similarly, Krissy’s vocals match this energy, giving an overall feel of classic mid to late 80’s indie pop. It’s the latest in an impressive run of singles produced by Andy over the last few years.
Vernons Future have a new single out- Waiting at the Station/B Movie. Apparently, the band have a history going back to Liverpool in the early 80’s and it’s probably fair to say that era and geographical location have left an imprint on what they’re producing now- which is certainly a good thing. Guitars and keyboards vie for centre stage while prominent bass lines circle to keep things pumping along. The first track is insistently catchy while the second has a laser guided sharpness and sci fi references that fit the song’s title perfectly.
There’s a certain irony in the new release from The Speed of Sound, another band that have been quietly releasing (as in ignored by mainstream radio?) for many years. The irony being that lead track ‘Radio Safe’, a jibe at the dull playlisted banality of commercial radio, is one of the most accessible and catchy records they’ve released. For a band based in the North West of England, there’s always been a touch of US Punk/New Wave about them, especially in the vocal delivery of John Armstrong, which falls somewhere between Joey Ramone and Lou Reed. Despite being acoustically driven, it bursts out the speakers and its barbs against not just radio, but the large media organisations that feed them, hit the spot. ‘No Kicks’ is equally vital, an energetic romp with the lyrics sung by Ann-Marie Crowley bemoaning a lack of action that leads to a night of boredom. Cracking stuff.
Where do you start with Tim Holehouse? Though he’s been involved in countless releases over the last 20 odd years, both solo and as a member of various bands, I have to admit I’m rather late in discovering his unique talents. I first heard his music when Ian Perry of Aaahh!!! Real Records sent over Tim’s ‘Come’ album from last year, a release that made my top five for 2019. On Tim’s Bandcamp page he states that his music has its roots in the delta blues. That may well be true, but it also takes in everything from punk to heavy metal to prog to folk, all done with his own individual stamp all over it. His latest album, entitled ‘Lost’ takes several other diversions, including electronic music and trip hop. His distinctive voice, what could be described as a melodic rumble sitting somewhere between Bill Callahan and Kurt Wagner of Lambchop, is well to the fore though he shares vocal duties with a range of male and female singers that compliment rather than detract from his own singing. Tim is someone who thrives on playing live, gigging around 300 times a year gives him a focus, a purpose and great joy. I can only imagine what the pause in being able to gig due to the current world situation has done for his health. A cursory glance at the list of song titles will probably give some clues to this – ‘Lost’, ‘Trapped’, ‘Insomnia’, ‘Twitch’, ‘Polar’- all have themes of mental health and dealing with these situations running through them. Recorded during lockdown, it is at times powerful, raw, claustrophobic, thought provoking and stirring. To give you an idea of the variety and invention in the music, just listen to the opening title track. It kind of circumnavigates the world musically, starting with something akin to tribal drumming of indigenous North American Indians and ending with some Far Eastern exotica. Track two is piano based with bluesy slide guitar, track three includes some rapping over ambient sounds and a solid beat that stealthily, unnervingly creeps up on you. And so it goes with the rest of the album. As with his gigging, presenting the idea of a restless soul never wanting to stay still for long, so it is with his music- always stretching out and looking to discover new ways of channelling the words and ideas in his head. Check it out via the link below.
Another artist I’ve only recently come across (as a solo performer), and coincidentally another one who has used the period of lockdown and the lack of gigs to record an album, is Tensheds. I have to say, there’s been some wonderful music released during the many months where gigs haven’t been possible and this is another. Maybe there’s something in the ‘tortured artist’ theory- take away their ability to gig and communicate directly with a live audience and it’ll feed an urge to produce some wonderful music. Perversely, it’s one of the few positives of the whole situation. Reading up on the artist that is Tensheds (love the name by the way), you realise here’s another musician with a varied and unique talent, taking in classical music training and a background that includes punk. I guess it’s a little surprising this album, called ‘The Days of My Confinement’ is almost entirely piano based. To carry off an album with such limited instrumentation (the odd guitar, other keyboards and the odd string embellishment make fleeting appearances) obviously relies on a number of things including great song writing, an engaging voice and a certain inventiveness. There’s plenty of drama and romanticism in the songs, partly down to the playing but also down to the singing. His voice has the breathless, raspy emotion of a Springsteen, Tom Waits or Bill Fay on many tracks, though there’s a tenderness that matches the delicate playing on others and a number of almost jolly sing-alongs that help the album rise and fall in tempo and feel. This all adds depth and an ebb and flow to the album that carries the listener on a rollercoaster ride. The piano playing contributes massively to this- sometimes the classical training bleeds through, other times a gentle, heart breaking tinkle while there’s also some stirring playing a la Roy Bittan of the E Street Band. Whether an album of piano based singer/song writing is your thing or not, you’d be missing out greatly if you didn’t check this album out.
Finally, the debut single from Cambridgeshire based duo, Collars, called Heart Beats. I was impressed when I first saw them perform in an on-line all-dayer in support of The Hunter Club, a rather wonderful venue in Bury St Edmunds. This first release confirms the promise of that performance and gives me the urge to see them live. Kane plays guitars and drums (at the same time) while Danielle sings and adds the odd keyboard flourish. The single, released on their own label, is a choppy guitar driven track that frequently changes pace and features a delicious organ solo and an unexpected stop/start barely half way through. Florence Welch and White Stripes are both mentioned on their Facebook page and though you could loosely say their sound is late 90s/early noughties indie, there’s plenty in the music and vocals to separate it from those comparisons and stamp its own identity.
I’m reliably informed that, if he’d ever written his autobiography, those would have been the opening words from what surely would have been one of the most fascinating accounts of life in the eye of the storm that is rock’n’roll. That man was known to most as Jackie Leven. He never wrote that memoir and, as far as I know, no-one has attempted a biography of one of the most complex yet openly human and honest musicians the British Isles have ever produced.
From those early days as a psych folk singer in the early 70’s, through the intimidatory and controversial period fronting Doll By Doll during the latter part of that decade, to the stop start nature of his 80’s era and the final flourishing of an extraordinary solo career, his life in music was one that certainly didn’t lack drama. It was some journey, one that I’ve been driven to follow in order to find out more about the musician, lyricist, philosopher and commentator and ultimately, the man himself.
I guess the seeds of this urge to discover more about the man born Allan Moffatt where literally sown eleven years before my birth on June 18th 1961, as a quirk of fate meant the day I entered the world was the very day the young Alan was celebrating his 11th birthday. There were several more serendipitous events along the next 50 odd years that led me to this very point now, where I’m writing about someone I never met but who had a profound effect on me, especially during a period of around six weeks in late 2011, more of which later.
Of course, I was completely unaware of the existence of Alan Moffat until reading about his band Doll By Doll in the late 70’s, probably in Sounds or The New Musical Express (I was never really a fan of Melody Maker). To someone who was keen to find out more about the new sounds emerging in those heady days of punk, new wave and post-punk, these were essential reading, as were the glut of fanzines that were prevalent at the time. By this time, Alan had already released music under the pseudonym of John St Field before changing again to Jackie Leven and becoming the singer, front man and songwriter in this new venture.
I had the opportunity to catch the band live on at least a couple of occasions, and was keen to do so having read and heard about the brutal power and transcendent beauty of the music and the almost threatening nature of their performances. Unfortunately, through illness, ill luck or the apathy of youth I missed out each time, something I regret to this day. Instead, the albums were bought as they released, then it was a case of…nothing. The band split, or at least fizzled out, with news being scarce as the music weeklies moved on to their next fashion or fad to build up before dropping as the fickle nature of the music business played itself out.
So that was it for many years. I became vaguely aware during the mid 80’s that Jackie Leven was releasing music but barely took note. Life had moved on for me- I was no longer that carefree, music chasing, gig going single man of my teens and twenties but was now a married man with children who counted himself lucky to attend a couple of gigs a year and buy a handful of albums that the family budget would allow. As a result, my thirst for music was quenched to the extent I became that person I despised as a youngster- the safe, play list led, fad of the day following consumer of music rather than the restless, adventurous, independently minded finder of new and interesting sounds.
Then, in the early noughties, I bought one of the many music monthlies that were cropping up, taking much of the circulation from the established weeklies. I no longer had the time or inclination to read the weeklies, who I felt quite detached from anyway- probably a sign of my maturing (stagnating?) while they continued to target an age group whose music and language I largely didn’t understand or care for. I’d say I was turning into my Step Dad, but as his musical taste didn’t stretch beyond Lieutenant Pigeon’s Mouldy Old Dough or the odd Daniel O’Donnell record, then that’s possibly a little extreme. Maybe I was turning into someone else’s Dad, but just didn’t know who’s. Anyway, this magazine (Uncut, sometime in 2001) had a cover mount cd of the month’s best new releases. I often bought these just to hang on to what was going on and listen to what new music I could but, as you’d expect from a compilation crossing many genres, they were patchy at best. But with this one, I kept returning to one particular track called The Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ.
I first listened to the track when driving to work one day. The in-car stereo only had a cassette player, but I’d found a way to play cds by purchasing a portable cd player which I could link a cassette to with an in-built cable and jack plug. The cassette was then inserted into the car stereo and would play the cd through the speakers. It all sounds quite quaint now, but needs must. Anyway, on listening to the track, I was immediately taken in by the Scottish voice seemingly talking about retaining dignity and remaining true to oneself over a lone keyboard which gradually swells before a voice echoes the word ‚desolation‘ twice, heralding the arrival of an insistent drum beat and an almost stuttering vocal delivery of these lines:
They say that god is in the detail
And I’m sure that’s true
I run my thumb across egyptian stone
And the images come through
It was one of those moments when you listen to music that catches you unawares. Not just the music, but the lyrics as well. Your mind might be drifting elsewhere- last night’s shenanigans, what sandwich to get for lunch, the plight of your football team (Hull City in case you wondered, plenty to think about there) etc- but as an opening to a song, it pulls your mind back into focus and has you asking ‘What the fuck was that?’, before you carry on to the end of the song, press the back button and listen again. No doubt the frequency of these happenings vary from person to person, but I’m guessing it’s probably happened to me maybe half a dozen times over the course of my life, it’s that rare an occurrence. The first time I heard Bowie’s Space Oddity or Complete Control by The Clash out as classic examples for me. These songs might not even end up being your favourites by a band, but for impact on listening to the first few seconds of each, they stand out. I’m sure you have your own, but at least read the rest of this blog before you dive down that particular rabbit hole.
Anyway, suffice to say, the impact of that song led me to buying the album from which it came, the equally intriguingly titled ‘Creatures of Light and Darkness‘. Which then led to a gradual re-discovery of his back catalogue and a renewed interest in whatever he was going to release next. Only it wasn’t quite as simple as that. He only occasionally graced the pages of the monthly music magazines review sections and sometimes released music under a different name. What I didn’t know at the time was his popularity in some European countries and the hardcore following he had in the UK. Again, as with the Doll By Doll days, I had the opportunities to see Jackie live, but to my regret to this day, never took them up.
So it came to the year 2011 and I’d heard Jackie was due to release a new album with regular collaborator Michael Cosgrave called, as enigmatically as ever, ‘Wayside Shrines and the Code of the Travelling Man‘. Although it was the year of my fiftieth Birthday (and Jackie’s 61st), it had been a difficult year with a recent period out of work and my Step Dad’s ongoing period of ill health with cancer, which wasn’t helped by my living the best part of 200 miles away. It was during the return leg of one of my trips to see him that I managed to write off my car (and two trees in the process) when sliding off what was an otherwise empty road, though I escaped with minor brusies to body and ego. What I was most upset about was the cds that were broken in the process.
Anyway, by this point I’d somehow managed to get involved with hosting a radio show on a small community radio station called Thetford Radio. When I say somehow, I mean it was a series of very unlikely events that got me, a lad from Hull, living in Suffolk, presenting a radio show in Norfolk having had no previous experience of doing anything in the music industry ever. Well, apart from a stint doing some unpaid stewarding at the old Wembley Arena in the early 1980s. It involved attending a work colleagues leaving do at a bangers and mash restaurant in Bury St Edmunds. Sitting next to a chatty and knowledgeable chap called Robbie Puricelli, we quickly struck up a conversation about music and realised we had some overlap in taste. Somehow or other, the increasingly tipsy chat turned to a band I was hugely fond of, The Distractions, who to that date had released only one album in 1980. Both in mild shock that the other had even heard of the band, Robbie told me about a recent tweet he’d seen by the TV writer and music critic David Quantick, mentioning the possibility of some band members reforming and recording again. Tickled with excitement at this possibility (and perhaps the increasing flow of wine) Robbie invited me on to his weekly show on Thetford Radio, which I drunkenly accepted.
I attended Robbie‘s show, chatted with the very amenable and professional host, took along a few tunes to play and immediately fell in love with being on the microphone end of this wonderful medium, even if I did feel pretty inadequate for the most part. Fortunately, the station manager liked what he heard and asked if I’d be interested in doing a show of my own. After dismissing my immediate thought that they must be really desperate, I accepted the offer and within a week or two was hosting The Smelly Flowerpot- a nod of gratitude to John Peel’s Perfumed Garden radio show in the 60’s.
Jackie released the ‘Wayside Shrines…‘ album in September 2011. Needless to say, I adored the album, its melancholic way of dealing with the heavyweight subjects of life and death, its nostalgia for happier as well as sadder times resonating with my mood at the time. At the time, I had no idea Jackie was ill himself. Around a month later, my Step Dad finally succumbed to cancer. A little more than two weeks later, Jackie was gone too. Then a month later my Mam also passed away, never recovering from the loss of her husband a mere six weeks earlier. I always remember Mam telling me around this time about life without her beloved after all those years. He used to snore something rotten, but every now and again the noise would stop, as if he was pausing for what seemed an age. Weirdly, she’d sleep through the noise but it was was those silent pauses that used to wake her up. Fearing that he’d stopped breathing for good, she’d reach out, give him a nudge and he would reassuringly start snoring again. After he’d passed away, she’d wake during the night to that same silence and reach out to nudge him only to find he wasn’t there. That’s when it really hit her and, frail as she was, she never really recovered from this loss. The music from ‘Wayside Shrines…’ was my soundtrack to that period, but also my support and comfort.
On the night Jackie died, I was broadcasting live on Thetford Radio. Part of the way in to my show, I saw a message on social media stating that Jackie had passed away. Stunned by the news and reeling somewhat, I mumbled something on air about the tragedy and quickly re-arranged the playlist to add some Jackie tunes as an impromptu tribute. On the drive home, I pondered the news. I clearly loved his music, it had affected me massively over the years- perhaps I hadn’t known quite how much. But I didn’t know anything about him, had never met him or seen him play live and now would never get the chance. I’d seen plenty of live clips on Youtube and listened to the live albums with the wonderful preamble and shaggy dog stories between songs. But that was it. Suddenly, tragically, there was a Jackie sized hole in the world of music. But, the more I thought about it the more I realised there was something else nagging at me- the gradual realisation that I needed to find out more about the person who wrote those songs that had touched me at various points during my life.
During the months after the loss of Jackie, I became more and more aware of the circle of people that had grown over the years that were linked to and had great affection for him. Many of these people became friends of my own, initially through social media as I was invited to join a Facebook page of his friends, peers and fans. Perhaps inspired by some of the shenanigans on that page and the obvious love shown by the members towards Jackie, as well as what I saw as the lack of appreciation in the media of who we all saw as one of the greatest songwriters these islands had produced, I was spurred on to do something in his memory. I gradually hatched an idea to produce a one off radio show featuring his music and the words of those that knew him. Over the next few months, I made contact with and interviewed many associates and, fuelled by cheap red wine, started to piece together a two hour tribute. At this time, through the Facebook group, I was also invited to an emotional evening of Jackie’s music as performed by his partner Deborah Greenwood and long time friend and occasional collaborator, Michael Weston King. A wonderful night of music was topped off with a great interview with Michael- it’s just a shame my incompetence with an unfamiliar, borrowed recorder meant I inadvertently pressed pause instead of record. Fortunately, Michael was good enough to indulge me and agreed to a repeat interview on the telephone a few days later. That radio show was eventually broadcast on Cambridge 105 Radio on September 17th 2013 and is still available to listen to on Mixcloud where it remains my most listened to show. You can hear the full show, plus some extra material, via the link below. Ignore the occasional continuity error and the bumbling, amateurish presenter and revel in the wonderful music and glowing testaments from those that knew and loved him. November 14th is the anniversary of his passing and, as I do with my Mam and step Dad’s anniversaries, I smile and remember all the good things about them.
As an addendum to the above, My Darling Clementine (Michael Weston King and partner Lou Dalgleish) have a new album out called ‘Country Darkness‘, which is an album full of wonderful Elvis Costello covers. Well worth checking out, as are their previous albums of original songs which you can check out via the link below. I admit I have a fairly limited number of Country albums in my collection, but these rank right up there with the best of Dolly, Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris. Great music transcends genres- one of the highlights of my time presenting The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio was the session they played a few years ago.
A bit like those ‘fingers on the buzzer, quickfire rounds’ on a 70s quiz show live from Norwich, this blog is going to be full of short and sharp reviews of a recent crop of new singles and EPs that you may or may not be aware of. Not that it matters, as it’s a mighty varied selection that has one thing in common- they’re all worthy of your attention.
Let’s start with Max Taylor who’s releasing music under the moniker of Creepy Neighbour. I first came across Max when he appeared in lots of home-made lockdown videos with his parents, Barbara Stretch and Chris Taylor, which were posted on social media. I’d heard about Barbara and Chris through Nick Tarbitt of Integrity Records, someone who has regularly sent over some quality music to be aired on The Smelly Flowerpot. Nick had introduced me to Tribes of Europe, a vehicle for the songs of Martin Elsey which just happened to feature the voice of Barbara and the production skills of Chris. Apparently, Max had an involvement somewhere along the line too. There, that’s enough links for one paragraph.
Creepy Neighbour have their first single out, Millionaire Spaceman, which prefaces the debut album due next year. Not without a sense of fun, it has a couple of what might be called false starts- a dreamy intro with a spoken word about hair dos and dry air, followed by a mass of spacey synths before solo piano starts the song proper, though it’s fully 2 minutes and fifty seconds before the band (which I’m guessing is all Max) kicks in. Somewhere along the line a bouncing bass appears, soaring vocals and a nicely building climax with extended ‘looking down, looking down on you’ outro. Classic pop music in a Sparks or Korgis style, which is obviously a good thing.
Black Country, New Road are a Cambridge/London band I’ve followed since their debut single was released last year. In fact, a previous incarnation of the band had a track on one of the Cambridge Calling charity releases (as did Tribes of Europe, come to think of it). They have one of the most intense and challenging sounds of any new bands around and the latest track they’ve released is from another album due out next year. Called ‘Science Fair’, it’s first minute consists of tribal drums and the kind of strident guitar that presents itself just long enough to not outstay its welcome. This is replaced by strummed bass and what sounds like the theme to a 60s sci fi series before the edgy and distinctive vocal intones ‘I met her accidentally, it was at the Cambridge Science Fair and she was so impressed that I could make so many things catch on fire’. What follows lyrically sounds vaguely disturbing and is matched by a gradually intensifying sound which mixes more discordant guitar, atonal sax, keyboards and the returning sci fi series soundtrack. The climax breaks into the kind of instrumental breakdown that prime King Crimson excelled at, with hints of prog, jazz and post punk fighting for space. It’s a breathless wonder which leaves me quivering in anticipation for the album which, all being well, the 7 piece band will tour next year. You Tube link below. Check out some of the live footage on You Tube as well- they’re just as intense and unhinged on stage.
Another artist I featured regularly on the Smelly Flowerpot is Andy Jossi, a Swiss based musician who works with various vocalists under the guise of The Churchhill Garden and Blue Herons. Where the former band concentrates more on the shoegaze end of the pop spectrum, the latter tends to lean more towards dream pop. Andy’s released a new single under the Blue Herons banner with guest vocalist Gretchen DeWault. It’s a glorious slice of euphoric jangly guitar pop with soaring vocal and harmonies plus added glockenspiel. Where the Black Country, New Road track was full of nervous tension, this is brimming with joyful exuberance, musically and vocally if not quite so lyrically. As with all Andy’s releases, it’s beautifully produced.
There’s a debut release from Suffolk based trio Pine Belt. Titled ‘Silver Reel’, it was recorded remotely from each other during lockdown and it’s an impressive first release. A four track EP, it opens with the title track, a brooding folk song with hushed vocals who’s gradually building intensity unexpectedly creeps up on you, a dense organ and guitar effects adding gravitas to proceedings. There’s a similar deceptive duskiness to ‘Electric Elixir’ with the male vocalist sounding not unlike Tyrannosaurus Rex era Marc Bolan at times. ‘The Ash’ sashays along at slightly more than a lazy pace which perfectly complements Caitlin’s beautifully pitched vocal. Possibly my favourite track on the EP. There’s a fitting haziness to the start of ‘Summer Sigh’ which again gradually evolves with haunting harmonies and strings before fading away. It’ll be fascinating to see what they can do when allowed into a room or studio together. In the meantime, this slice of Laurel Canyon infused folk music will do very nicely.
Another paragraph, another debut (nicked from from Barbara Dickson or The Only Ones, sort of), this time from Alabama residents, Harrison Scarecrow. How did I get to Alabama from Suffolk? Well, that’ll be down to the aforementioned Nick from Integrity. Described as indie noir, this first release has a similar bruised romanticism to some of Bruce Springsteen’s finest songs and also shares his knack for an appealing and memorable chorus. The sweeping strings that come in just over half way through are quite affecting- with the lyrics dealing with accepting the fate of a doomed relationship and trying to move on, they add another emotional layer to a song already aching with poignancy. Incidentally, it’s called ‘Everyone with Someone’. Another album (due late next year) that’s eagerly anticipated.
Intermission: In this time of no, or at least very few, gigs I’ve had cause to go all nostalgic and think about some of the concerts I’ve attended over the years. Some people I know have kept diaries and records of all the gigs they’ve been to, kept ticket stubs and programmes etc. I’m not that organised- ticket stubs usually stayed in my jeans pocket, ending up in the washing machine and being broken down into a thousand pieces and distributed over everyone else’s clothes as tiny white fluffy dots, much to their distress. Actually, washing machines and I have a chequered history. Ever since I washed my cricket whites with a red tea towel and produced some cricket pinks in fact. I also recall hoovering the inside of a washing machine out once, though I don’t recall why. Drink may have been involved. Currently, I get on quite well with the washing machine at home. I think that’s partly because it’s a bloody expensive one but also because Kate Bush once wrote a song about a washing machine. The power of music to bring people and, er, washing machines together, right?
Anyway, those gigs. A handful I could (and probably will) talk about in future blogs are those by Led Zep at Knebworth, several Clash gigs, The Bhundu Boys, The Distractions (both 1980 and 2012), numerous Martin Stephenson over thirty odd years, the ones I attended free at the old Wembley Arena as a steward (Springsteen, Talking Heads, Neil Young, The Jam etc), New Order at The Kilburn Ballroom (possibly the most disappointing gig I’ve ever been to) and a fair few Wreckless Eric ones. The one gig I would love to talk about but can’t, would be by Jackie Leven. Sadly, I never got to see him play. More recently, my favourite nights out have been at The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds, a town that was apparently robbed of live music for many years when the local council banned it following a gig by The Clash, which allegedly led to a riot. The place now has a thriving music scene which is centred around The Hunter Club. Long may it last. Ah, nostalgia- it ain’t what it used to be…
Back to the reviews…an EP released through Colliding Lines is an interesting project featuring poet Nikki Marrone and composer Laura McGarrigle aka Gaze is Ghost. Titled ‘Lifelines’, there are themes of motherhood (both recently became parents for the first time) and the trials and tribulations of family life, past, present and future in its six tracks. The latter theme is explored quite dramatically in Burning Through the Bloodlines, the author exploring and coming to terms with the inherited gene pool and its effects on those who follow. A sparse backing of strings, keyboard and what sounds like handclaps or finger clicks adding weight to the spoken word delivery. There’s an even sparser backing of piano and percussion to ‘Petition Me, I Dare You’ while the muffled sounding ‘Birth: A Psychedelic Odyssey’ could be an imagining of the sounds heard in the womb. At times there’s a sense of awe and wonder as well as a barely held-in cracked emotion in the delivery of the poetry (‘In Embryo’ is a wonderful example with it’s rolling piano heightening the feeling) while the tender and joyful ‘Revenge’ shows a disarming sense of humour. It’s a wholly engaging and refreshingly honest release. Check it out below.
Final review for now is a new single by Filed Fangs, released through German Shepherd Records, called ‘Chaff’. Filed Fangs are Boz Hayward (who released a lovely album called ‘Tennessee Ten’ a few years ago and is also a member of punk band Flea) and Paul Morley (formerly of the Slum Turkeys) and this is their third single. Being Manchester lads, it reflects many of the sounds they grew up with in the area, but brought bang up to date. It’s an energetic, hypnotic and sometimes dizzying mix of electronic music, distorted vocals and grungy guitars which can be heard through the German Shepherd Records Bandcamp page below.
While we’re on GS Records and Bandcamp- don’t forget the first Friday of the month is no fees day on Bandcamp. In other words, every penny you pay for a release goes to the artist/label. Also, tying in nicely, don’t forget the first release in many years from cult band Dislocation Dance (reviewed previously) is now available. Not only is it excellent, but it aims to raise money to help prolong the life of band member Ian Runacre’s son, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer. Here’s a message from Ian with various links which give more details.
In September 2019 my 19 year old son Joel, was diagnosed with Glioblastoma. This is the most aggressive and lethal of all brain cancers. To help prolong his life, the best option for Joel is to receive a pioneering new treatment, as quickly as possible. The treatment is in the form of a personalised vaccine manufactured from Joel’s own tumour tissue, but it is very expensive. All income from the sale of this EP will contribute towards crowdfunding for Joel’s treatment.
The aim is to help Joel live longer.
Information about Joel’s story and the fundraising campaign can be found at:
I love a link, which is surprising as I was so bad at them when presenting The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105. Maybe not bad, just oblivious to the more obvious ones but all over the more obscure connections between tracks and bands I’d played. Some of the more obvious ones were pointed out to me after the show ie ‘I really like the way you connected those three songs, what with the link between the bands names’ someone once said as I nodded in agreement, wondering what the hell they were on about. It took me an age, looking through show playlists, before I found tracks by Trick Bird, Trick Mammoth and Mammoth Penguins following each other. I had no idea.
Anyway, here’s a link back to the previous blog, where I mentioned a band called Adventure of Salvador, who I happened to see at The Blue Moon in Cambridge last year, or was it the year before- gigging activity seems such a blurry memory these days. Supporting AoS that night was a Cambridge based band called Moonstrips, an invigorating four piece featuring guitar, bass, drums and saxophone. They’ve just released an album which, allegedly, will be their last, which is a crying shame as it’s a cracking album. Unusual in that it’s a mix of live tracks (with embellishments!) and recordings during lockdown (presumably remote from each other), it hangs surprisingly well together and perfectly captures the energy of the band live. ‘Fugue State’ is a belting opener, quickly getting into its garage psych stride. ‘God Loves Everybody’s Band’ turns the dial down a touch with a funky opening before the guitar shakes things up leading into an extended instrumental break which wouldn’t look out of place on a King Crimson album. When I first heard the band, the slightly deranged psych/prog of Gong sprung to mind and though the next track isn’t the best example of that sonically, the songs title- ‘Unseen Hands Threw Eggs at Agnes’- could be a nod to that band. If anything, it sounds more like Psychedelic Furs than Gong. Title track ‘It Was a Different World When We Started’ was presumably recorded during lockdown given its title (though I’m probably wrong, as I frequently am), recounting how things have changed in the five years since the band got together. Starting off like Love and with a great chorus, to me it highlights further the three (or is it four?) P’s that influence the band- Psychedelia, Prog and Post Punk. Not that Love were remotely Post Punk, or Prog for that matter. ‘In My Place’ is a 90 second blast of energy while ‘Look Ma, I’m a Revolutionary’ is a seven minute epic that starts relatively sedately with fuzzy bass before unleashing a guitar’n’sax assault on the senses coupled with a manic rhythm section and frantic vocals. The Buzzcocks are covered on ‘ESP’ with a breathless, relentless sax riff- no wonder saxophonist Barney is asked if he’s ready at the start of the song. The band are given time to breathe on closing track ‘How Soon is No’, news bulletins over a lone piano giving it an atmospheric opening, with the subject matter of the bulletins adding weight to the track. A half whispered vocal and rather spectral guitar add to the effect, closing the album in a poignant and understated way given what has come before. Hopefully, it won’t be the last we hear from the band. The album is out now, available through their Bandcamp page.
Singing backing vocals on the above album’s title track was one Naomi Randall, another Cambridgeshire based artist. For the last seven years, she’s been working on her new album, which was actually released in the period between me pausing The Smelly Flowerpot and starting this series of blogs. It only seems fair I should write a review, seeing as I didn’t get chance to play any tracks on the show. ‘Tepid On My Trippin Heels’ is the name of the album, the title apparently inspired by a friends suggestion to write a follow up hot on the heels of her previous album in 2013, the tepid referring to the seven year gap. Clawing back my memories of school, if I were to draw a Venn Diagram featuring a set of musicians including Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny and Vashti Bunyan, sitting in the middle and sharing some commonality with all of those artists would be Naomi Randall. Which isn’t to say she hasn’t got her own voice and sound. Throughout the album, her soothing and beguiling vocals illicit many emotions- the joy of ‘Fond and Fancy’, suffering on the rather hymnal ‘Devil’s Fountain’, sadness on the incredibly moving ‘For a While’ etc. Though many of the tracks are based around an acoustic strum and that voice, this is so much more than just a folk album. There are many facets to the songs which only reveal themselves on repeated listens. The faint, distant harmonies that lend an other-wordly feel are a feature, as are the guitar effects that gently swoop in and out of songs- imagine a super chilled Robert Fripp bleeding through from the room next door. There are other ambient sounds at play and some delightfully flighty keyboards which add a pastoral psychedelia to proceedings. It’s the kind of album that floats deliciously by, time standing still during its 37 minutes or so. If finishing the album on the beautiful but sad ‘For a While’ isn’t your thing, then heed the smart advice of Naomi on her website and go straight back to the more joyful and uplifting first track, ‘Fond and Fancy’. Of course, it means you’re then trapped in a perfect circle of her music, but if time has stood still, what’s the problem? Buy the album now through the link below.
Another Cambridge area band that has contributed to the Cambridge Calling series of charity compilations (as have Moonstrips- I must sort a fifth volume so we can include Naomi, assuming she’d be happy to contribute) are The Sound of Pop Art, a band based around the uber stylish Chris Free and Sara Onyett. Both have been on the local music scene for some time, Chris previously with The Users and Sara with The Cherry Orchard. The Sound of Pop Art have just released their fifth album, ‘To Dream the Most Fabulous Dream’- for future reference and because I’m a slow typist, let’s call it TDTMFD by TSOPA. Previous albums have often featured guest vocalists, including Tony Jenkins, who must hold the current record for the number of mentions in my blogs. On this album, Chris and Sara share vocal duties, and a confident and effective job they do too. Musically, the album expands on their template of upbeat sunshine pop by adding more soul, a hint of jazz and funk and the odd dash of cinematic soundscape. The songs are certainly their best to date and keeping the vocals in house adds more coherence to the album- it’s more their sound than it’s ever been.
‘New Wave NRG’ is a great upbeat opener with a slice of Ernie Isley style guitar that gives the song its momentum and some lovely harmonies, a feature of the album. It’s a song I first heard when Chris and Sara played it live on air in the Smelly Flowerpot studio a couple of years ago. ‘Buddah Rocks’ has a harder, funkier edge with added trumpet solo while Velvet Nights is a smooth charmer of a song which sways its hips at you, enticing you into the midnight air. There’s a hint of hazy jazz at the start of the ‘The Day Never Happened’ which, combined with the ‘Get Carter’ style backing, is grittily exotic in a New Orleans via Newcastle upon Tyne kind of way. Though there are no guest vocalists, there are some notable appearances by guest musicians adding splashes of colour to proceedings, including some lovely slide guitar on ‘Kingfisher’, the aforementioned trumpet plus flute and theremin. Chris has developed a singing style that is both joyfully enthusiastic and effortlessly laidback at the same time, a perfect fit for the music. There’s much to enjoy on this album, apart from what’s been mentioned above, there’s the odd unexpected sojourn into folk territory and acid jazz. The album is available to download now via their Bandcamp page.
And last but not least, the latest opus from Anton Barbeau, a double cd called ‘Manbird’. Shortly before I paused The Smelly Flowerpot, I’d had some communication with Anton with a view to interviewing him for the show. Sadly that didn’t happen, though I’d like to think it may still happen in the future. Anton has been releasing his own brand of psychedelic pop for the best part of thirty years without showing any signs of his talent or song writing abilities diminishing. If anything, after a half dozen listens, I’d say it’s as good if not better than anything he’s previously released. If not exactly a concept album, it certainly has strong themes running through it, looking back at the places he’s lived and the memories he has, though often using ornithological analogies. This is one of the reasons he is a songwriter apart from many of his contemporaries- things are not always quite as they seem, his world view a little skew-whiff compared to many, making his lyrics and musical settings that more interesting. He’s often been likened to other singular talents such as Syd Barrett, David Bowie, Robyn Hitchcock, XTC etc, though I’d also throw in ‘Something/Anything’ era Todd Rundgren into the fray as well. Perhaps, unfairly, his uniqueness is also part of the reason he isn’t recognised as widely as some- he’s just a little bit too different for mass acceptance. Still, that’s their loss.
Anyway, on to the album itself. Title track ‘Manbird’ throws you off track immediately, opening with a pitter patter drum and some spiritual humming before the song proper starts. It’s catchy as hell and appears to focus on how, despite the urge to travel the world over, theirs always something that ties us to home, or is it the nest? There are more flights back and forth on ‘Across the Drama Pond’ with memories of ‘tight black jeans’, growing a ‘hip hot Billy Gibbons beard’ and declaring ‘I’m finally Brian Wilson weird’ all driven along by a choppy rhythm guitar. Airports feature again in ‘Memory Tone’ and ‘Fear of Flying’, the former has what reminds me of a Genesis synth solo (unexpected even by Anton’s standards) while the latter has an effective rising chorus and fuzzy bass. ‘Savage Beak’ is a fuzzy guitar, synth and manic vocal delight with what is described as ‘Invisible Krishna’, and look out for the soaring lead and ‘twang guitars’ on ‘Chicken’. ‘Featherweight’ is quite the opposite- a frantic blast of drums, guitars and vocals while ‘Cowboy John Meets Greensleeves’ is precisely that and couldn’t possibly be described any better than by its title. The feathery titles continue on the rest of CD1 as does the musical invention- ‘Beak’ for example is a lush instrumental featuring the mass vocals of ‘The Beak Singers’ while ‘Dainty Beak’ could be a paean to Mama Bird. Or maybe not.
One thing worth noting about the album is that, despite it being engineered in several cities over two continents (including Anton’s original hometown and current city of residence), while musical contributions have been recorded at various musicians homes and ‘sent…through the air’, this kind of fits in with a lot of the albums themes- where is home, where do I belong, where am I going.
I don’t suppose its coincidence that the first track on CD 2 is called ‘Coming Home’ while track two ‘Don’t Knock the Mockingbird’, with it’s George Harrison like lead guitar could be about trying to hold on to the innocence of youth. Sticking with The Beatles link, there’s more than a hint of their playful inventiveness on ‘Flying on the Ground is Alright’. Throughout the album there are nods and references to other musicians and literary figures- some obvious, some not so- but I’ll let you go down that particular rabbit hole yourself. I’ll just say that ‘My Other Life’ has one possible lyrical reference to Steve Hillage, though I may be reading too much into this. Anton has that effect on you. As with ‘Auslanderbeak’, another instrumental with an Eastern European (Turkish?) influence. Auslander is German (Anton currently lives in Berlin) for foreigner. This section of the album is the most inventive, taking in Krautrock and the epic ‘Birds of North America’, which deals with the, erm, pecking order of nations. ‘Space Force’ closes the album in true Anton fashion. Oblique lyrics that intrigue and a classic pop song (at least in a parallel universe) which has a stop-start-stop-start-stop finish, almost like it doesn’t want to go home. Perhaps because it doesn’t know where home is. You can buy the album at the link below. I’m off now, I need to listen to this again.
Being a Hull lad, I’m always keen to hear what’s going on musically in the place of my birth. It’s a funny old place- one of its most famous residents, Philip Larkin, apparently had a great affinity with Hull because of its ‘end of the line’ feel, while Wreckless Eric, another one-time resident, sang as only he can about the place in ‘Gateway to Europe’. I’m immensely proud to be from Hull and it’s wonderful to see the music scene in the City take off over the last few years. Part of the reason for that is the work done at the Warren Youth Centre and the associated Warren Records label, which has encouraged and released music by young, local musicians for around ten years or so. A highlight of their release schedule was Three Minute Heroes, a compilation album featuring many local artists who wrote songs around lyrics provided by school children in the area. Those lyrics dealt with issues around mental health, the pains of growing up, abuse, family break ups etc and formed a powerful and emotional statement. A second volume has just been released, expanding on those themes while concentrating on the words of the children from one particular school. On the first few listens, it’s just as impressive as its predecessor. Opening track ‘Where to Begin’ is a folk stomper which addresses the difficulties of making an impression when self confidence is low while the urgent drive of ‘Brexit’s a Swimming Pool’ appears to be about the growing awareness of and trying to making sense of the wider political issues of the day. The music is wonderfully varied- check the funk/soul of Young Jack, the fuzzy guitar assault of Finno, the chiming guitar pop of Peccary, the edgy, warped blues of Tom Skelly and Jodie Langford’s spoken word over brooding electronica. Meanwhile the lyrics cover the whole gamut of emotions from sadness, heartbreak, anger and despair to helplessness and bafflement. It all might seem doom and gloom, but there are moments of happiness and dark humour and the fact that young people have been given a platform to express themselves so freely should be seen as a massive positive. Songs to provoke discussion, encourage understanding and make a difference.
At the other end of the M62 motorway from Hull, Loop Aznavour has been releasing music for many years under various guises, often working with other musicians in the Manchester area as well as releasing a slew of solo albums. His work with Ian Moss and Adventures of Salvador have been particularly impressive, the latter featuring his theremin as well as his brilliant vocal delivery over an impressive post punk guitar and keyboard assault. His latest release, ‘In the Fireplace’ highlights another side of his music, being a decidedly less confrontational and, dare I say, more daytime radio friendly affair, though not without the odd poke in the eye lyrically speaking. The trademark delivery is still there, the rolling of the Rs and the growling of some syllables, but this time backed by upbeat 60s psychedelic pop, a hint of Northern Soul and a touch of Vegas glitz. It’s a right rollicking, toe tapping delight.
Nowhere near the M62, Christian Gustafsson has been plying his trade for a good number of years. I first came across him when he collaborated with Tony Jenkins of Cambridge based The New Fools, working under the name of Kammahav. It came as some surprise to find out his original band, Victorian Tin, were actually formed around 30 years ago in Sweden. Well, they have a new EP out and it’s really very good. Opening track Chagall starts off like some chamber pop instrumental before bursting into life as a driving slice of Americana, which wasn’t what I expected having heard Kammahav and knowing what I do about Tony Jenkins. Neither did I expect ‘Above Our Heads’ to be what it is. A delicately picked guitar, followed by another delicately picked guitar, gently tinkled piano, exquisitely bowed strings and the fading in and out of ambient noise and what sounds like a snippet of chat from a radio station as the dial sweeps across an old analogue receiver. It all adds up to a rather sweet and melancholy sound which drifts nonchalantly away once it’s reached its elegant peak. ‘Silver and Perfume’ is another left turn, gliding along on shoegazey guitar, a relentless bass line and a couple of excellent instrumental breaks. The radio dial twiddling appears again towards the end of this track. Final track ‘Borders’ has a more folky sound with some striking lyrical imagery at play. With some rather lovely viola, this track is probably the emotional highpoint of the EP, which can be listened to and purchased via the link below.
Another band Tony Jenkins has worked with is Lizard Brain. More of a studio band than a live concern, they’ve really developed their songcraft and studio wizardry over the last few years, each member of the trio bringing something different to the overall sound. I’ve previously likened them to 10cc, which I think is a good comparison on several levels: for Strawberry Studios (where 10cc recorded their albums), read Richard Howells Jones home studio in a remote location just outside Cambridge; both bands have/had several songwriters/songwriting teams; there’s a breadth of music and willingness to explore with both acts. Lizard Brains last album, ‘Stray’, was one of my favourite releases of the last few years and their latest two tracks continue a great run of releases, pushing their song writing to come up with two tracks that don’t sound like anything they’ve done before. ‘Othering’ has a dirty great riff with piledriving drums and a horn like section (I’ve given up trying to guess how they get some sounds in the studio) providing the backing to a set of lyrics which appear to be decrying the attitude of those in power, whose mantra is to divide through blame and alienation. The second track, ‘Round and Round’ packs so much into its three and a half minutes, it should be in the Guinness Book of Records. There’s a manic drum and bass type rhythm throughout, Prodigy style keyboards, a breathless vocal (Tony Jenkins?), what sounds like a glockenspiel solo (another guess- I can’t help myself), an increasingly manic rap and more weird keyboards building to a delirious finish that leaves you hitting the skip back button so you can have another listen. The boys have done good- again. Release date is the end of the month, check out more about the band here.
Staying in Cambridge, there’s a new single from Keltrix, the band formed around the not insignificant talents of Keri Kel and Sharon Sullivan. It’s the title track from an album due to be released next year called ‘Herstory’, which, as the succinct blurb that comes with the release says ‘is a concept album…which targets the harm patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and capitalism has done… from the perspective of survivors of rape, domestic/child abuse and multiple sexual assaults. Herstory is for survivors and encourages those who have not, to be brave, seek help and speak out. Silence protects abusers, the more we say the less power they have.’ Keltrix perform a rare but highly effective blend of celtic folk and electronica with the distinctive and powerful vocals of Keri and the violin of Sharon well to the fore. The club beats that they both love are also well to the fore along with some stirring keyboards and inventive, invigorating and invasive guitar from former Broken Family Band man, Jay Williams. They have a knack for writing songs that can switch effortlessly between brooding and physical to soaring and cerebral. It’s a heady mix musically, powerful lyrically and bodes extremely well for the album. No link to the release yet, but lots of band info here and links to previous releases here.
Last up for now, a mention for the wonderful Terry Edwards, a man who can play two saxophones at once (not to mention trumpet, flugelhorn, guitar and keyboards- no, not at the same time, though I wouldn’t put it past him with a bit of practise) and has played on some of the most iconic tunes of the last 40 years. I first saw Terry circa 1982 when he was a member of The Higsons, who also featured Fast Show member and ‘Young Bond’ author Charlie Higson. I was lucky enough to interview Terry a couple of years ago following the release of the debut album by one of his many vehicles, The Near Jazz Experience, and he had some wonderful stories to tell, which is what you might expect from one who has worked across so many genres with so many different musicians. Well, to celebrate his sixtieth Birthday, a triple cd of 60 tracks featuring Terry has been released. It’s a tremendous mix of bands he’s played in (the aforementioned The Higsons, Near Jazz Experience, Terry Edwards and the Scapegoats etc) featuring original material and an eccentric selection of covers (Tom Waits, The Cure, Jimi Hendrix etc) plus a number of collaborations (Paul Cuddeford, David Coulter, The Nightingales etc) and some quality bands who have enlisted his services (The Blockheads, Franz Ferdinand, Lush etc). The real delights for me were the tracks I’d not heard before, such as ‘Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me’ with Erika Stucky and ‘The Suckers Bug’ with Big Joan. With everything from pop, funk, soul and jazz to punk, indie, avant-garde and orchestral, it’s like hitting shuffle on a history of music from the last 40 years.
That’s enough for now, I need to lay down and listen to some of this music again before I move on to the next batch of cds/downloads in the pile, which include new releases by The Sound of Pop Art and Anton Barbeau among others. It’s a tough life, re-training as a music blogger after years in a proper job. Keep listening folks, it’ll help keep a grip on reality, despite what some people might think, and may just help a musician sustain his/her passion for a while.
It’s funny how the passage of time can play tricks with the mind…
Back in September 1980, between finishing a 3 year course in Marine Telecommunications and stepping out into the world of paid employment, I took a trip up the East coast to Scarborough to visit my old College buddy Paul Russell, who was a DJ at The Taboo Club in the town. Being a tight arsed Yorkshireman with Scottish ancestors, I decided the best mode of travel from my home near Hull was to stick my thumb out and hope for the best (a means of travel I used regularly over the next few years and which resulted in several unexpected adventures). At worst it meant I’d be late getting to Scarborough, at best it meant I had more drinking money.
Anyway, I arrived in Scarborough in good time after being given a lift pretty much all the way by some flash looking geezer in a rather expensive looking car. A bit different to the back of a trailer being towed by a tractor which was the usual result of my hitching a lift. We had a good chin wag en route, mainly about music. It turned out he’d made a fair bit of money in entertainment and one of his little side lines was selling merchandise such as T-shirts and button badges. On finding out I was going to a gig, he offered me a t-shirt and a bag full of badges in return for me dropping off a few flyers and business cards around town. Deal done, he dropped me off near the station with my carrier bag of goodies. Or so I thought. The t-shirt was at least a couple of sizes too small and the badges were all of artists the hip young me wouldn’t be seen dead supporting. Oh well, the young lad waiting at the station to meet his girlfriend seemed quite happy to take them off my hands.
It was late afternoon by the time I met up with Paul and after a couple of beers he suggested I get some fish and chips for tea while he did some sorting out in the club in preparation for some Irish band that were coming over to play that night. This is where it gets hazy- was it Wackers where I got a whopper (a rather large battered cod, should you wonder) and chips or not? Anyway, I returned to Paul’s flat above the club and proceeded to tuck in while watching World of Sport on the TV. Part way through a bout between two overweight blokes, and three quarters of the way through my whopper, four young spotty chaps were shown into the room by Paul, who explained they were one of the bands playing that night and would be hanging around until the gig started.
They proceeded to mill around the room, dropping their gear here and there, muttering away in garbled tones to each other and generally making a nuisance of themselves as the wrestling bout continued towards its phony but tense conclusion. At a key moment in the bout, two of the band stood in front of the TV and blocked my view, just as I was about to swallow the last mouthful of whopper. I nearly choked in desperation as I tried to manoeuvre myself in a position to see the denouement of the contest. I flipped. Not outrageously so, but some expletives were used, which was out of character for me. Things calmed down a little after that, though news of another Hull City loss did nothing to lighten my mood. I headed down to the bar to catch up with Paul and have a few more jars.
A local band were first up that night, though for the life of me I can’t remember what they were like. The ‘headline’ band were the oiks who were responsible for spoiling my viewing earlier, but I wasn’t going to let that affect my enjoyment of the evening. To be fair, they were pretty decent, though I did think the lead singer was a bit of a twit, especially when he started clambering over the floor mounted speakers and waving his arms around. It might have looked good if the gap between the top of the speaker and the ceiling was more than four feet, or if he’d been less than four feet tall, but as it was neither it just looked a bit, well, cramped and wobbly. Still they got a decent reception and I bought one of their singles after the gig just to show there were no hard feelings. It was the only release of theirs I ever bought. To top that, I was annoyed to find out many years later that one of my favourite bands, The Distractions, were dropped by Island Records in the early 80s when possibly on the cusp of bigger things, while the band I saw in Scarborough were kept on the books. They became one of the biggest rock bands ever while The Distractions faded from view before releasing a second album a mere 32 years after their glorious debut (which has recently been re-released along with a host of other tracks from that era). That band in Scarborough were called U2 and I swore at Bono, probably not the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
Anyway, as I say, the finer details of events can evolve over the years and that seems to be the case with the tale above. I recently found a recording of that gig in Scarborough on line and, after checking the dates, was dismayed to find the gig was on a Friday night, not a Saturday when the wrestling was on. Either I’ve been peddling fake news all these years or Bono is still mucking me about. Just to show there’s no hard feelings, here’s a link to that gig, followed by a link to several Distractions releases, a band who I also saw live in 1980. I still prefer the latter.
A packed blog this time around, so I’ll cut the waffly bits (well, most of them) and get straight down to reviewing some great new releases. Singles, albums and EPs- all essential listening…
I remember enthusing about ‘Fragmentality’, an album by Glasgow based Becci Wallace, a few years ago to a work colleague. When he asked me what the music was like, after a pause I replied ‘I dunno. But it’s really good’. Not exactly an in-depth assessment from a wanna be music blogger. Anyway, Becci has a new album due out at the beginning of November- here’s my efforts to describe it in a little more detail. The album is called ‘Present Tense’ and it’s bloody good. There, that should do it…
In the years since Becci released Fragmentality, she’s had two children, set up song writing retreats for other locally based artists, produced a series of podcasts featuring females involved in the music industry and worked as a lecturer at the University of West Scotland. Somehow, she’s also managed to find time to write and record her new album. Musically more varied than its predecessor, it still features some of the trip hop beats and spacey arrangements that were prominent on the debut while adding in a variety of settings to her heart-on-sleeve, at times emotionally raw lyrics. Some songs are more stripped back featuring haunting piano and voice or layered harmonies, as with the opening two tracks, while the hypnotic beats make a first appearance on ‘The Things They Say About Love’. A feature throughout the album is Becci’s singing which can veer between gently persuasive and passionately pleading, often in the same song, and isn’t afraid to step outside these confines, as with the vocal whoop on this track that startles on first listen before bedding in as an essential part of the song a few listens on.
‘Swan Song’ is acoustically driven, a stuttering beat entering the fray along with a spoken word piece that takes the song to its conclusion. There’s a duet on ‘Coloured In’ with Bryan McFarland which also stands out, not least because of the interweaving lead vocals and harmonies. The album title perhaps gives us some idea of the lyrical content, with many songs appearing to examine the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs of balancing life as a mother, partner and creative artist. This is highlighted perfectly by the singing and spoken word pieces that wrap around each other on ‘Conditional’, as if two voices are sounding at the same time, attempting to make sense of the situation. There is anguish and anxiety at times, but there’s also tenderness and positivity.
‘Petal’ has a lovely keyboard underpinning more intertwining, multi-tracked voices that are gently uplifting, while ‘Focus’ features a rap that’s an outpouring of feelings, emotions and explanations juxtaposed with a gorgeous, swelling instrumental that hits the emotional hot spot.
After starting the album with three largely piano led tracks, the last three tracks are mainly acoustic driven and continue the themes of juggling the emotional with the practical and coming to some sort of understanding on how to achieve equilibrium. They bring this honest, emotional roller coaster of an album to a very satisfying close. A link to pre-order is on Becci’s Bandcamp page, here’s a track from the album.
The whole ethos of The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio was to feature artists that were producing new and interesting music, especially if they were doing so without the backing of the bigger record labels, large PR companies and playlist patronage. As such, the way I came across some artists was often through a circuitous route and/or through a series of unlikely coincidences. One such artist is Rosie Abbott. Let me explain…
A favourite band of mine from Manchester, The Distractions, signed up to a label based in Exeter to release their first album in 40 years. Further investigation of releases on the label brought Nottingham based Jonathan Beckett to my attention, as he had just released his first EP on the label. Having got in touch with Jon, he recommended I contact uber music fan Red Head (aka Diana McGinniss) from Pennsylvania, thinking we would have a lot in common when it came to music. Red Head in turn told me about another Nottingham based artist, Rosie Abbott, who was about to release her first album. That’s a fair few virtual air miles . Fast forward 8 years and Rosie is about to release her 3rd album.
As with the previous three, she has written, produced, sung and played all the instruments on the album. Apart from developing her songwriting, she has spent the last few years evolving her studio set up and flourishing within its confines, all of which show on ‘Magnified’. Rosie has always had a winning way with a tune, her sense of melody and willingness to play around and tinker with song formats making her standout in a crowded field. Previously she’s used a recording of a wood pigeon to inspire a song and used hiccups to illustrate progressing inebriation in one of the best drinking songs I can recall. She even followed it up with one about hangovers on the next album.
Anyway, back to this album. The title track, like many of her songs, shows her love for The Beatles and their subsequent solo careers. Piano led with multi tracked vocals, it conveys a sense of awe at the world around us. ‘I Confess’ is, well, a confessional- the narrator perhaps regretting the end of a relationship and wondering if there’s any mileage left in getting back together. There’s a fuzzy guitar playout which serves to remind us that Rosie played every note on the album, and wonderfully so. There’s another excellent solo in ‘Alice Died’, whose breezy strum and catchy melody weirdly bring to mind The Carpenters, while ‘Distant Memory’ is a mid-paced growler with lyrics to match. ‘Malestroit Smile’ is a more experimental, playful instrumental with bass drum battling with dizzying organ for attention while there’s strident piano and a relentless beat coupled with more harmonies on ‘Robin Hood’s Stride’. Throughout the album, Rosie is in fine voice, adapting to the variety of musical backings confidently, whether it be on the playful and busy ‘I Forget to Breathe’ or on ‘Yes’ which veers from gently lilting to sing along in delightful manner.
‘The Look in Our Eyes’ is a wonderful example of how Rosie can pick out all the great bits of 60s and 70s pop music and roll them up into something that is unmistakeably hers, while initially I thought ‘I Was a Mess’ may have been the third in a trilogy of songs that started with the drinking song ‘One More Glass’ and was followed up by ‘I Feel Like Hell’ on the second album. But now I’m not so sure. The 60s influences are again there in ‘I Miss You’ with some Ringo style drumming and a ‘Je t’aime’ type bass line adding to the psychedelic keyboards and dreamy vocal, and also in the fluid guitar of ‘Erased’ which closes the album with a belter of song. This album certainly warrants the exposure which, undeservedly, bypassed its predecessors. Release date is October 2nd on Bandcamp, link below to a track from the album.
An act that’s been around a wee bit longer than any of the above are Dislocation Dance, who have new release due on German Shepherd Records on October 30th. I first saw the bands play on an all-day bill at the Lyceum in London circa 1982 and have followed their intermittent recordings since. ‘Discombobulation’ is a seven track EP that’s being released to raise funds for founding member Ian Runacres son, Joel, who has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The aim is to try and extend Joel’s life for as long as possible with some pioneering but very expensive treatment. The album, due for release on October 30th, can be pre-ordered via the link below where you can hear two tracks immediately. Top quality, rubber limbed funk inflected with jazz and soul is the order of the day on these two tracks. Perhaps not as quirky as the early 80’s version, they ooze quality and class with elastic bass, soulful strings, choppy guitar and smooth vocals. How this band never became much bigger than they did is a mystery to me.
And finally, a couple of new singles from locally based (to me at least) artists…
Cambridge based rapper Jay-D first came to my attention a couple of years ago with a track called ‘Penny’ which sampled a Smokie track to great effect. Latest single ‘Lost My Way’ is a more rhythm-based track dealing with the loss of direction and sense of purpose brought about by anxiety and self-doubt. It’s refreshing to have an artist being so open about personal struggles and putting it to positive use so eloquently. This continues a very promising run of releases from the young rapper.
One of the great things about doing the radio show is the number of people I’ve come across over the years who have bowled me over with their sheer enthusiasm for music, whether it’s creating their own or shouting out about others. One such character is Matt Reaction, a Bury St Edmunds based artist who I first met earlier this year at the Bury Sound competition. It seems an awful long time ago now. His passion is matched by his sense of humour and a winning personality that spills over into his own songs, many of which are paeans to the local musicians and scene he’s part of. His latest single, Anchors (written, sung and performed by himself) rattles along at breakneck speed and features some lovely wordplay and his signature self-deprecating wit. Concerning itself with how we all need anchors, those reliable supports in our lives, he proclaims ‘I don’t write loves songs but if I did, they’d probably sound a lot like this’. That it has some rock’n’roll whistling, a Stranglers style keyboard break and mentions Felixstowe endears it to me even more. You can hear it via the Soundcloud link below and it should be available on all the usual platforms this week- check Matt’s Facebook page for further details.
I know this statement wasn’t true last week and probably won’t be next week, but this week my favourite era for music is the period spanning the late 70s and early 80s when post-punk and all its close relations were at their most rampant, exciting and adventurous. So many great bands and albums, though I can’t think of any from Holland. I’m sure there must have been some- I’d be interested to know if any readers can from that era? Anyway, hot on the heels of Rotterdam based Lewsberg and their recently released Velvet Undergound/Modern Lovers influenced album ‘In This House’, come a second Dutch band with a winning combination of influences. Global Charming’s debut album, charmingly called ‘Mediocre, brutal’ is neither of the first half of the title but quite a bit of the latter half. On the first couple of listens, all sorts of bands from my current favourite era spring to mind. The angular guitar of Gang of Four, the wayward discord of Pere Ubu, the odd charm of Talking Heads, the intense duelling guitars of Television and some off-kilter keyboards. Lyrically, they proudly claim to exorcise the banality of everyday life by ‘exploring the monotony of daily routines, survival of the dullest kind; because boring is intense’. Songs about being in the office and fruit have never sounded so, well, interesting. The album is out in October on Sub Routine records, but here’s a link to the first single from that album.
If you leave Holland on a ferry to England, there’s a fair chance you’ll embark in Hull, oddly enough just before you get to New Holland on the opposite bank of the Humber. As you get off the ferry, hang a right, drive past Hedon and the monstrosity that is the Salt End chemical refinery and run almost parallel with the way you came in on the ferry, you’ll end up in the coastal town of Hornsea. No reason for mentioning this other than to say it’s were Tom Skelly hails from. Tom recently released his fourth full length album and it’s another cracker. His first album, largely produced at the Warren Youth Centre in Hull, was effectively a set of demos mixing acoustic tracks with grungey type tracks in a way Neil Young often does. Here’s a lovely story- Tom’s Dad, Dave, is an old mate of mine and he told me about how Tom, after leaving school, used to help out at the Warren. When Tom was at home, he’d always be pottering around in his bedroom with his guitar. Dave never thought any more of this until Tom came home one night and passed a cd to his Dad, asking him to give it a listen. Nothing unusual there as both father and son were avid listeners to music. Dave gave it a spin, really liked it and asked Tom who it was. You can imagine his surprise when Tom told him he was responsible for the singing, playing and writing. He had no idea Tom was writing and recording music until that point.
Anyway, that album was described by Tom as being ‘beachcomber folk blues’. Since then, his musical journey has taken several twists and turns. As a solo performer, he’s quietly intense in a way I would imagine Nick Drake might have been. In his band, The Salty Beards, the intensity is ratcheted up with a mix of dense psychedelia and experimental noise. Similarly, his subsequent albums (and occasional singles) have been varied in sound and texture. His latest album, Slackhead, follows suit. Opening track ‘Sea Will Pass’ is a gently strummed number with echoing, floaty effects that recall Beck’s Sea Change album. ‘Care’ is a little more unsettling with distorted guitar and vocals at odds with the piano motif. The guitar on ‘Neon Flamingo’ is harsher in texture and fits well with a vocal that at times sounds anguished as it does on ‘Soft Decay’ which is full of disorientating keyboards. The instrumental ‘Dub Light’ gives Tom chance to vent on his guitars while ‘Frighday’ and ‘Six Tepals’ are much gentler affairs which frame Tom’s excellent voice in an acoustic setting free of effects, almost a pause to catch breath before the final part of the album kicks in. ‘Sparkle Jar’ is a song in sections, alternating between a mid-paced acoustic strum and an up-tempo assault while ‘Conga School’ has a distorted rhythm and overlayed guitars which build throughout, Tom’s quivering and at times unintelligible vocal adding disquiet to a frantic finish. The final track is an instrumental called ‘2020’ and builds around several keyboards which create a dizzying effect, never quite knowing if they’re competing with or complimenting each other. This is an excellent follow up to the two albums Tom created in a log cabin in Scotland last year. It’s available now through his Bandcamp page:
Just on Tom Skelly and Warren Records, the label affiliated to the Youth Centre, they have a second volume of ‘Three Minute Heroes’ out now which I shall review in my next post. It’s bloody good.
One of the many great things about my time presenting the Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio was the number of local bands and artists I came across. So many in fact that almost 80 of them have contributed tracks to the four volumes of charity records I put together under the name of Cambridge Calling (links to all at the bottom of this page). One such band is Influx of Insanity who are due to release their new single in October. They’re a duo of tender years (mid to late teens I’m guessing) who I first saw win the Bury Sound Competition a couple of years ago. Well worth catching live (apart from making a great noise, they are eminently watchable), their studio craft and song writing is maturing very quickly. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear an advance link to ‘Made a Fool’. It’s full of the sort of riffery and trickery that Josh Homme is so accomplished at, being aggressive, clever, crunching and subtle in turns- nice work Dom Howard. Drummer/singer Oli Brown has a similar vocal quaver to Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, though the musical backing couldn’t be further from that much missed band. Very promising.
Another single with local connections is the collaboration between DYSFÜRIK and JK-47. A two track release running at more than 22 minutes, it’s more accessible than Gutsa’s (JK-47 in another guise) recent releases but is nevertheless a challenging but rewarding listen. With relatively simple but threatening beats, pulsing keyboards, gradually imposing ambient noise and heavily distorted vocals buried deep in the mix, it comes across like an imagined soundtrack to a dying planet where life forms are gradually being extinguished. Perhaps a Eurovision entry for 2070 then. It’s called ‘A Remote Collaboration’ and you can hear/purchase at the following link.
A third local release from the very talented Sam Eagle is due in November on Cooking Vinyl. You can hear a track and pre-order from the link below, though there’s another track floating around on Youtube from the EP. This is quality music that is clever enough to satisfy serious music lovers while its catchiness and danceability should ensure day time radio friendliness. There’s a satisfying spindly funkiness with plenty of charming musical twists and quirks to ensure you’re kept on your toes when it comes to tapping your toes.
I’m still trying to work it out, but there is definitely something about Annie Dressner that appeals to this veteran imbiber of music. It’s not often I play music that gains the approval of my kids. My tastes tend to be a little, shall we say, non-mainstream for their liking, though they are showing pleasing signs of adventure of late. Maybe it’s the ability to engage cross generational listeners that will be her forte. Or that people who generally listen to music from the margins can enjoy her music as much as those who rarely venture away from daytime radio.
I first heard Annie through her second album ‘Broken Into Pieces’ and a wonderfully warm session and appealing interview on The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio. That she also introduced me to two fellow artists during that session in Luke James Williams and Anna Hester for a rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ endeared me to her even more.
Her third album, ‘Coffee at the Corner Bar’, has just been released and it continues the upward trajectory in exposure that her song writing and singing deserve. Her mellifluous voice, an instrument that draws you into her lyrics with its conversational, story telling style is the focal point. It belies a kind of contradictory matter of fact but emotional heft that’s at the core of the songs. Musically, most tracks are acoustically driven, beautifully embellished with the likes of understated piano, tambourine and vocal harmonies. Lyrically, the personal is never far away, whether it’s dealing with the yearning nostalgia of youth and places fondly remembered or the mysteries of dealing with the here and now and the conundrums of relationships. This album is a beguiling, heart-warming addition to an increasingly impressive canon of work. There is definitely something about Annie. Check the album out below.
Just a few million miles away from the sound of Annie Dressner is the sledgehammer assault of Bury St Edmunds based duo, Kulk. If Annie gently stirs the inner emotions, then Kulk have a habit of re-arranging your internal organs with a heavy, fuzzy psychedelia mined from a seam that may have previously been visited by the likes of early Black Sabbath or even Hawkwind. There’s also a hint of the sky-scraping blues riffs of ‘Bridge of Sighs’ era Robin Trower. Next time I see them play, I’ll be checking if guitarist Thom Longdin can gurn as well as Mr Trower. For a duo (Jade Ashleigh Squires plays drums and synth) they make a glorious noise that can be heard to pretty good effect on their new long player, Here Lies Kulk, available to listen and purchase below. If you get the chance, the live act is pretty fearsome too.
Recently released on German Shepherd Records is the new album from the prolific Moff Skellington, his 45th in total. Moff’s music doesn’t inhabit the same space as most musicians, in fact he’s the sole purveyor of what is known as Edoddi, described as a species of folk with its very own philosophy: nothing is arbitrary. Make it up as you go along, it’s bound to be authentic!
His songs may or may not be about the inhabitants of the fictional village of Abstercot, they often eschew the use of standard instruments such as guitar and drums in favour of made up instruments, sounds and percussion, though the trusty accordion makes regular appearances. A hint of his unique, skewed world view can be seen in some of the song titles on this release- Fragile Comfort Seeker or Dog Defied the Poisoned Riddle for example- but the lyrics are what capture the essence of this unique songwriter and they are as surreal and entertaining as ever on ‘A Slapstick Life’. While the press release describes this album as being rooted in jazz, ragtime and slapstick, to get a general feel for the sound of Moff, imagine what a mix of Tom Waits, Viv Stanshall and the Bonzos, Captain Beefheart and Spike Milligan would sound like if brought up on Ilkley Moor with nothing but a few sticks, elastic bands and the contents of the kitchen drawer to make music on. Go on, have a listen and make up your own description.
The rumours are true- I’ve taken the decision to ‘pause’ The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio for the time being. No, it’s not because of the shame I feel in leaving it four years between blogs on here, or because I was running out of guests and new music to play. Quite the opposite. If anything, the timing of the decision comes as The Smelly Flowerpot was gaining traction, garnering a bigger audience and was being inundated with requests for interviews and enough music to fill a weekly three hour show rather than the two hour fortnightly broadcast. So why take that decision now, when arguably things couldn’t be any better?
Neil Young once sang it was better to burn out than fade away, but I’m not planning on doing either. To be honest, I can’t give a definitive answer as to why I’m pausing, other than the time just feels right. It’s been a weird few months, the lock down causing my fellow volunteers and I at Cambridge 105 Radio to find new ways of continuing to broadcast, some presenters setting up live studios at home, others (such as myself) pre-recording at home and uploading the show to the station server for airing at the designated time. A special mention here to the team of volunteer engineers who have made this possible and have supported the less technically gifted of us through this mine field of techno babble and strange acronyms. I’ve grown accustomed to using words like cleanfeed and all the criteria for uploading a pre-record, though I still think of Fat Larry’s Band whenever a Zoom call is set up. I still prefer the live show, though I’ve grown into pre-recording largely by doing more interviews and editing them into the show to make it feel more happening. But it all takes so much longer. The other strange thing is, after years of asking for an additional hour, I was offered additional shows by the scheduling committee at the station. Am I shooting myself in the foot by pausing now? Probably, but there again, I often take the approach that is opposite to the one the majority might take.
But it will be a pause, not a stop. So let’s just pause from this post to listen to a track about, well, pausing. One of my favourite releases from this year by The Broken Orchestra, featuring TinB. Thought provoking too, not just in terms of what’s happened across the world this year, but also serves as a general reminder we should just stop and think about where we are, what we have done, what we should do every now and again. Pause to reset if necessary.
What comes after the pause, or indeed during it? Writing at least one blog is on the agenda during the pause (and if you’re reading this, I’ve apparently succeeded) and I’ll certainly still be listening to and occasionally sharing new music via social media. I might even write about some of it on here. In fact, sod it- I will, right now. Two of my favourite artists are Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby, as solo musicians and as a duo (they’re also husband and wife, check out their track ‘I Remember That’ which tells of how my home city of Hull played it’s part in them getting together). The couple now reside in the US of A and, apart from writing quality music, they can often be found chugging up and down a creek off the Hudson River in a little motor boat they recently purchased. Their love for the boat is such that when Eric isn’t writing music or chugging up and down the creek, he’s writing about writing music and chugging up and down the creek in his very entertaining blog. Thinking about it, Amy has also been writing her own equally entertaining blog, not to mention a recently released autobiography. And let’s not forget Eric’s autobiography, which is a brilliant read. I’m starting to think these two can do anything, even win the Eurovision Song contest (something I half heartedly propose every year after we come last). Somehow, in between all this, they’ve found the time to write a rabble rousing, noisy garage pop record that should be played at every political convention in the States until polling day. Then the words should be modified slightly and played at every TV debate and into every fridge in the land in the lead up to our own election. Here’s that glorious rallying call.
Where was I? Ah yes, the pause. I will be back at some point, doing Smelly Flowerpot type things in promoting new music, both locally and from afar. It might not be in the same format, it may involve more in depth interviews and may result in some one off type documentary style shows showcasing something I, if no-one else, think is worthwhile showcasing. When that will be, I’m not sure, but I’ll keep you posted as and when the time feels right. In the meantime, whenever I get the chance, I’ll be listening to lots of new music, reading and attempting to put into action just a fraction of the ideas that are buzzing around in my head. I’ll leave you with a couple of tracks from two albums that I’ve featured heavily on the show in the last few months. One for the mind, one for the body. This one, by The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, takes me to a state of serene calm. It’s from one of the best albums I’ve heard in my time presenting The Smelly Flowerpot.
This one, by Belgian legends Aksak Maboul, is from their latest release, another album of the year contender. It makes me want to move. That’s some achievement on both counts.
I’m off to spend some time with the other great entertainers in my life- my family. One of the kids has just told me Jesus was a carpet layers son. We’ll see how that conversation goes. Hopefully, you’ll hear from me before the next Olympics.
It all started with a sausage. Pheasant and pear as I recall…
It was someone’s leaving do, who I can’t remember. Sign of the times I guess- so many redundancies, so many leaving do’s. And the do was held in a bangers and mash restaurant (a venue that was much better than the sum of its parts) in Bury St Edmunds, the home of the country’s first internally illuminated road sign. Something I do remember quite fondly was the company we worked for, a software house that started as a recording studio in a cow shed with quite an impressive history, producing the likes of Barrett era Floyd, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny and many others- perhaps the subject for a future show. The company now developed ‘criminal justice software’ and I often wondered what some of the carefree, drug taking musicians who used the studio would think of that.
Anyway, I found myself sat next to a knowledgeable, charming and eloquent chap called Roberto Puricelli who, despite his name, was more East Anglian than East Umbrian at the time. He was a serial phone fiddler and seemed to be able to communicate with several people in different locations at the same time without making me feel excluded. I put that down to his day job as a Trainer of some repute which left him well versed in the art of keeping people’s attention.
While fiddling on his phone, I noticed he had a facebook page up, so I struck up a conversation with him about this well known gaming platform masquerading as a social networking site (surely an oxymoron as half the people on it don’t talk to each other as they’re too busy looking for sheep on their badly run farm). I mentioned how I found the site useful for keeping tabs with some of my favourite musicians, who were typically off the radar with little or no coverage in the music press. I recalled how I’d become good friends with someone who had started a page dedicated to one of my musical heroes, Wreckless Eric, and how that in turn had prompted me to start a page for one of my favourite bands, purveyors of perfect post punk pop with a classic sixties influence and Manchester’s finest, The Distractions. At the mention of this band Rob perked up. He stopped chewing on his wild boar sausage and proceeded with feverish activity to fiddle with his phone again. He then presented me with his phone, beaming like a muso who’s just come across a lost Beatles tape. I looked and noticed he was showing me a tweet from the presenter and writer David Quantick which mentioned The Distractions and how they were considering a comeback. Well, I was astonished on several fronts. Firstly that I’d come across someone who had heard of the band, secondly that he seemed pally with Mr Quantick, and thirdly that there was a chance one of my favourite bands could be recording again. Blimey, for the next couple of hours the sausages tasted better and the drink flowed more freely as Rob and I swapped stories about our favourite bands.
Though Rob was a few years younger than me, there was a definite overlap on musical tastes. He leaned more towards keyboard led music while I was more a guitar man. Ultimately all this chat led to Rob inviting me onto a little Radio Show he presented every Thursday night on a local community Radio Station in Thetford. I duly attended the show the following Thursday and sat for a couple of hours with Rob, playing tunes, chatting and interacting with people listening in to the show via a chat room on the stations homepage. Despite the studio being very modest and the broadcast equipment looking like something Noah might have used to entertain the animals, I was taken in by the enthusiasm of Rob and the rest of the team involved in the station. These were people volunteering their own time and money to build, maintain and fund the station so they could spend a couple of hours a week playing tunes to a limited audience. The strange thing was that, despite this being a local community Radio station, Rob didn’t have many listeners in Thetford but did have people listening in from all over the UK and several overseas places. This was largely down to the station broadcasting on line only as they were still trying to prove themselves worthy of an FM licence. Anyway, I can’t have done too much wrong on that first visit as Rob invited me back again. I was starting to really enjoy this.
A couple of weeks later, the station manager, who surely can’t have heard the two shows I did with Rob, asked if I would like to do my own show. I thought about it for about as long as it takes Led Zep to sell out the O2 and agreed.
This was around five years or so ago and I’ve been presenting shows on and off ever since. The show is called The Smelly Flowerpot, named in recognition of the late, great John Peel (I must tell you my Peel story someday…) who presented a show in the 60’s on pirate station Radio London called The Perfumed Garden. The show holds a similar ethos to that of Mr Peel’s show in that I play a wide range of music, including long forgotten classics and new and unsigned bands. Commercial, daytime, play listed Radio this most definitely is not. The show has a new home too, Cambridge 105, which broadcasts on FM and on line and has a far greater reach than the previous home.
The show is going from strength to strength, with many guests appearing, sessions played and the odd ‘special’ show recorded. There’s plenty of opportunity for regular listeners to get involved in the show too, but you’ll have to listen in if you want to know how.
What was it Ian Hunter sang so memorably in Mott the Hoople? – ‘Now it’s a mighty long way down rock’n’roll, through the Bradford Cities and the Oreoles’?
I guess it’s just as far from the sausage restaurant to the radio station…