Favourite Releases of 2020

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:

http://stereoembersmagazine.com/the-unspoken-imperishably-spoken-songs-of-yearning-nocturnes-from-the-revolutionary-army-of-the-infant-jesus/

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

More Music Reviews for November 2020

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’.

https://mccookerybookandrotifer.bandcamp.com/album/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.

https://actionweekend.bandcamp.com/album/miles-to-go

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.

https://robclarkeandthewooltones.bandcamp.com/album/putting-the-l-in-wootones

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.

https://eilmarchini.bandcamp.com/album/just-looking-for-waves

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.

https://matthewhopkins.bandcamp.com/album/girl

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.

https://tribesofeurope.bandcamp.com/track/let-the-big-beat-save-your-southern-soul

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…

https://austerboys.bandcamp.com/album/lost-in-the-former-east

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

https://plantman1.bandcamp.com/album/days-of-the-rocks

New Music Reviews November 2020

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.

https://umbrellaassassins.bandcamp.com/album/king-of-fruit-vol-1?from=embed

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.

https://thechurchhillgarden.bandcamp.com/track/reality?from=embed

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.

https://vernonsfuture.bandcamp.com/track/waiting-at-the-station?from=embed

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.

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/radio-safe-big-stir-single-no-104?from=embed

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.

https://realrecords.bandcamp.com/album/lost?from=embed

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.

https://tensheds.bandcamp.com/album/the-days-of-my-confinement?from=embed

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 took a train out of Leeds…

She was a big ham sandwich of a woman, and …

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.

https://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/music/

Singles and EPs, October 2020

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.

https://theblueherons1.bandcamp.com/track/in-the-skies?fbclid=IwAR1V9ogd3KdhfFiyRwYvW7klmUMoSTER1zG4cAztFyTYfAjKOPtjMZbcy3w

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.

https://pinebelt.bandcamp.com/album/silver-reel

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.

https://collidinglines.bandcamp.com/album/lifelines

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.

https://filedfangs.bandcamp.com/album/chaff

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:

GO FUND ME https://uk.gofundme.com/f/helpjoellivelonger

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Nonprofit-Organization/Help-Joel-Live-Longer-103173274841678/

https://dislocationdance.bandcamp.com/album/discombobulation?from=embed

Take care folks- life is precious. x

Cambridgeshire 3, Berlin & Sacramento 1

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.

https://moonstrips.bandcamp.com/album/it-was-a-different-world-when-we-started?from=embed

Another link…

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.

https://naomi-randall.bandcamp.com/album/tepid-on-my-trippin-heels?from=embed

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.

https://thesoundofpopart.bandcamp.com/album/to-dream-the-most-fabulous-dream?from=embed

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.

https://antonbarbeau.bandcamp.com/album/manbird?from=embed

I’ll be back again soon- there’s a stack of singles and EPs crying out for my attention…

1695 words on new music (not including this title)

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.

https://warrenrecordsuk.bandcamp.com/album/three-minute-heroes-vol-2?from=embed

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.

https://loop-aznavour.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-fireplace-with?from=embed

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.

https://victoriantin.bandcamp.com/album/victorian-tin?from=embed

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.

https://keltrix.uk/

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.

https://terryedwards.bandcamp.com/album/the-very-best-of-very-terry-edwards?from=embed

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.

I swear, it’s the truth.

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.

https://thedistractionsmcr.bandcamp.com/album/nobodys-perfect-2020-40th-anniversary-expanded-reissue?from=embed

https://thedistractionsmcr.bandcamp.com/album/kindly-leave-the-stage?from=embed

https://thedistractionsmcr.bandcamp.com/album/the-end-of-the-pier?from=embed

Reviews, reviews, reviews…

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.

Holland, Hull, Hornsea and other aitches

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:

https://tomskellymusic.bandcamp.com/album/slackhead

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.

https://trenchartnoise.bandcamp.com/album/a-remote-collaboration

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.

https://sameagle.bandcamp.com/

Hopefully I’ll be back in the not too distant with reviews of a new Becci Wallace album, the aforementioned Three Minute Heroes Vol 2, the latest from Loop Aznavour and an odd tale or two.   

https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cambridge-calling-vol-1

https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cambridge-calling-vol-2

https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cambridge-calling-vol-3

https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cambridge-calling-volume-4