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.

Also available now is the new single from Swiss based Andy Jossi and US based Krissy Vanderwoude, working as The Churchhill Garden. Whereas previous efforts have been firmly in the dream pop/shoe gaze arena, this time the guitars still shimmer and shine, but with an added urgency and drive. Similarly, Krissy’s vocals match this energy, giving an overall feel of classic mid to late 80’s indie pop. It’s the latest in an impressive run of singles produced by Andy over the last few years.

Vernons Future have a new single out- Waiting at the Station/B Movie. Apparently, the band have a history going back to Liverpool in the early 80’s and it’s probably fair to say that era and geographical location have left an imprint on what they’re producing now- which is certainly a good thing. Guitars and keyboards vie for centre stage while prominent bass lines circle to keep things pumping along. The first track is insistently catchy while the second has a laser guided sharpness and sci fi references that fit the song’s title perfectly.

There’s a certain irony in the new release from The Speed of Sound, another band that have been quietly releasing (as in ignored by mainstream radio?) for many years. The irony being that lead track ‘Radio Safe’, a jibe at the dull playlisted banality of commercial radio, is one of the most accessible and catchy records they’ve released. For a band based in the North West of England, there’s always been a touch of US Punk/New Wave about them, especially in the vocal delivery of John Armstrong, which falls somewhere between Joey Ramone and Lou Reed. Despite being acoustically driven, it bursts out the speakers and its barbs against not just radio, but the large media organisations that feed them, hit the spot. ‘No Kicks’ is equally vital, an energetic romp with the lyrics sung by Ann-Marie Crowley bemoaning a lack of action that leads to a night of boredom. Cracking stuff.

Where do you start with Tim Holehouse? Though he’s been involved in countless releases over the last 20 odd years, both solo and as a member of various bands, I have to admit I’m rather late in discovering his unique talents. I first heard his music when Ian Perry of Aaahh!!! Real Records sent over Tim’s ‘Come’ album from last year, a release that made my top five for 2019. On Tim’s Bandcamp page he states that his music has its roots in the delta blues. That may well be true, but it also takes in everything from punk to heavy metal to prog to folk, all done with his own individual stamp all over it. His latest album, entitled ‘Lost’ takes several other diversions, including electronic music and trip hop. His distinctive voice, what could be described as a melodic rumble sitting somewhere between Bill Callahan and Kurt Wagner of Lambchop, is well to the fore though he shares vocal duties with a range of male and female singers that compliment rather than detract from his own singing. Tim is someone who thrives on playing live, gigging around 300 times a year gives him a focus, a purpose and great joy. I can only imagine what the pause in being able to gig due to the current world situation has done for his health. A cursory glance at the list of song titles will probably give some clues to this – ‘Lost’, ‘Trapped’, ‘Insomnia’, ‘Twitch’, ‘Polar’- all have themes of mental health and dealing with these situations running through them. Recorded during lockdown, it is at times powerful, raw, claustrophobic, thought provoking and stirring. To give you an idea of the variety and invention in the music, just listen to the opening title track. It kind of circumnavigates the world musically, starting with something akin to tribal drumming of indigenous North American Indians and ending with some Far Eastern exotica. Track two is piano based with bluesy slide guitar, track three includes some rapping over ambient sounds and a solid beat that stealthily, unnervingly creeps up on you. And so it goes with the rest of the album. As with his gigging, presenting the idea of a restless soul never wanting to stay still for long, so it is with his music- always stretching out and looking to discover new ways of channelling the words and ideas in his head. Check it out via the link below.

Another artist I’ve only recently come across (as a solo performer), and coincidentally another one who has used the period of lockdown and the lack of gigs to record an album, is Tensheds. I have to say, there’s been some wonderful music released during the many months where gigs haven’t been possible and this is another. Maybe there’s something in the ‘tortured artist’ theory- take away their ability to gig and communicate directly with a live audience and it’ll feed an urge to produce some wonderful music. Perversely, it’s one of the few positives of the whole situation.  Reading up on the artist that is Tensheds (love the name by the way), you realise here’s another musician with a varied and unique talent, taking in classical music training and a background that includes punk. I guess it’s a little surprising this album, called ‘The Days of My Confinement’ is almost entirely piano based. To carry off an album with such limited instrumentation (the odd guitar, other keyboards and the odd string embellishment make fleeting appearances) obviously relies on a number of things including great song writing, an engaging voice and a certain inventiveness. There’s plenty of drama and romanticism in the songs, partly down to the playing but also down to the singing. His voice has the breathless, raspy emotion of a Springsteen, Tom Waits or Bill Fay on many tracks, though there’s a tenderness that matches the delicate playing on others and a number of almost jolly sing-alongs that help the album rise and fall in tempo and feel. This all adds depth and an ebb and flow to the album that carries the listener on a rollercoaster ride. The piano playing contributes massively to this- sometimes the classical training bleeds through, other times a gentle, heart breaking tinkle while there’s also some stirring playing a la Roy Bittan of the E Street Band. Whether an album of piano based singer/song writing is your thing or not, you’d be missing out greatly if you didn’t check this album out.

Finally, the debut single from Cambridgeshire based duo, Collars, called Heart Beats. I was impressed when I first saw them perform in an on-line all-dayer in support of The Hunter Club, a rather wonderful venue in Bury St Edmunds. This first release confirms the promise of that performance and gives me the urge to see them live. Kane plays guitars and drums (at the same time) while Danielle sings and adds the odd keyboard flourish. The single, released on their own label, is a choppy guitar driven track that frequently changes pace and features a delicious organ solo and an unexpected stop/start barely half way through. Florence Welch and White Stripes are both mentioned on their Facebook page and though you could loosely say their sound is late 90s/early noughties indie, there’s plenty in the music and vocals to separate it from those comparisons and stamp its own identity.

I 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.

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.

There’s a debut release from Suffolk based trio Pine Belt. Titled ‘Silver Reel’, it was recorded remotely from each other during lockdown and it’s an impressive first release. A four track EP, it opens with the title track, a brooding folk song with hushed vocals who’s gradually building intensity unexpectedly creeps up on you, a dense organ and guitar effects adding gravitas to proceedings. There’s a similar deceptive duskiness to ‘Electric Elixir’ with the male vocalist sounding not unlike Tyrannosaurus Rex era Marc Bolan at times. ‘The Ash’ sashays along at slightly more than a lazy pace which perfectly complements Caitlin’s beautifully pitched vocal. Possibly my favourite track on the EP. There’s a fitting haziness to the start of ‘Summer Sigh’ which again gradually evolves with haunting harmonies and strings before fading away. It’ll be fascinating to see what they can do when allowed into a room or studio together. In the meantime, this slice of Laurel Canyon infused folk music will do very nicely.

Another paragraph, another debut (nicked from from Barbara Dickson or The Only Ones, sort of), this time from Alabama residents, Harrison Scarecrow. How did I get to Alabama from Suffolk? Well, that’ll be down to the aforementioned Nick from Integrity. Described as indie noir, this first release has a similar bruised romanticism to some of Bruce Springsteen’s finest songs and also shares his knack for an appealing and memorable chorus. The sweeping strings that come in just over half way through are quite affecting- with the lyrics dealing with accepting the fate of a doomed relationship and trying to move on, they add another emotional layer to a song already aching with poignancy. Incidentally, it’s called ‘Everyone with Someone’.  Another album (due late next year) that’s eagerly anticipated.

Intermission:  In this time of no, or at least very few, gigs I’ve had cause to go all nostalgic and think about some of the concerts I’ve attended over the years. Some people I know have kept diaries and records of all the gigs they’ve been to, kept ticket stubs and programmes etc. I’m not that organised- ticket stubs usually stayed in my jeans pocket, ending up in the washing machine and being broken down into a thousand pieces and distributed over everyone else’s clothes as tiny white fluffy dots, much to their distress. Actually, washing machines and I have a chequered history. Ever since I washed my cricket whites with a red tea towel and produced some cricket pinks in fact. I also recall hoovering the inside of a washing machine out once, though I don’t recall why. Drink may have been involved. Currently, I get on quite well with the washing machine at home. I think that’s partly because it’s a bloody expensive one but also because Kate Bush once wrote a song about a washing machine. The power of music to bring people and, er, washing machines together, right?

Anyway, those gigs. A handful I could (and probably will) talk about in future blogs are those by Led Zep at Knebworth, several Clash gigs, The Bhundu Boys, The Distractions (both 1980 and 2012), numerous Martin Stephenson over thirty odd years, the ones I attended free at the old Wembley Arena as a steward (Springsteen, Talking Heads, Neil Young, The Jam etc), New Order at The Kilburn Ballroom (possibly the most disappointing gig I’ve ever been to) and a fair few Wreckless Eric ones. The one gig I would love to talk about but can’t, would be by Jackie Leven. Sadly, I never got to see him play. More recently, my favourite nights out have been at The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds, a town that was apparently robbed of live music for many years when the local council banned it following a gig by The Clash, which allegedly led to a riot. The place now has a thriving music scene which is centred around The Hunter Club. Long may it last. Ah, nostalgia- it ain’t what it used to be…

Back to the reviews…an EP released through Colliding Lines is an interesting project featuring poet Nikki Marrone and composer Laura McGarrigle aka Gaze is Ghost. Titled ‘Lifelines’, there are themes of motherhood (both recently became parents for the first time) and the trials and tribulations of family life, past, present and future in its six tracks. The latter theme is explored quite dramatically in Burning Through the Bloodlines, the author exploring and coming to terms with the inherited gene pool and its effects on those who follow. A sparse backing of strings, keyboard and what sounds like handclaps or finger clicks adding weight to the spoken word delivery. There’s an even sparser backing of piano and percussion to ‘Petition Me, I Dare You’ while the muffled sounding ‘Birth: A Psychedelic Odyssey’ could be an imagining of the sounds heard in the womb. At times there’s a sense of awe and wonder as well as a barely held-in cracked emotion in the delivery of the poetry (‘In Embryo’ is a wonderful example with it’s rolling piano heightening the feeling) while the tender and joyful ‘Revenge’ shows a disarming sense of humour. It’s a wholly engaging and refreshingly honest release. Check it out below.

Final review for now is a new single by Filed Fangs, released through German Shepherd Records, called ‘Chaff’. Filed Fangs are Boz Hayward (who released a lovely album called ‘Tennessee Ten’ a few years ago and is also a member of punk band Flea) and Paul Morley (formerly of the Slum Turkeys) and this is their third single. Being Manchester lads, it reflects many of the sounds they grew up with in the area, but brought bang up to date. It’s an energetic, hypnotic and sometimes dizzying mix of electronic music, distorted vocals and grungy guitars which can be heard through the German Shepherd Records Bandcamp page below.

While we’re on GS Records and Bandcamp- don’t forget the first Friday of the month is no fees day on Bandcamp. In other words, every penny you pay for a release goes to the artist/label. Also, tying in nicely, don’t forget the first release in many years from cult band Dislocation Dance (reviewed previously) is now available. Not only is it excellent, but it aims to raise money to help prolong the life of band member Ian Runacre’s son, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer. Here’s a message from Ian with various links which give more details.

In September 2019 my 19 year old son Joel, was diagnosed with Glioblastoma. This is the most aggressive and lethal of all brain cancers. To help prolong his life, the best option for Joel is to receive a pioneering new treatment, as quickly as possible. The treatment is in the form of a personalised vaccine manufactured from Joel’s own tumour tissue, but it is very expensive. All income from the sale of this EP will contribute towards crowdfunding for Joel’s treatment.

The aim is to help Joel live longer.

Information about Joel’s story and the fundraising campaign can be found at:



Take care folks- life is precious. x

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:

Just on Tom Skelly and Warren Records, the label affiliated to the Youth Centre, they have a second volume of ‘Three Minute Heroes’ out now which I shall review in my next post. It’s bloody good.

One of the many great things about my time presenting the Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio was the number of local bands and artists I came across. So many in fact that almost 80 of them have contributed tracks to the four volumes of charity records I put together under the name of Cambridge Calling (links to all at the bottom of this page). One such band is Influx of Insanity who are due to release their new single in October. They’re a duo of tender years (mid to late teens I’m guessing) who I first saw win the Bury Sound Competition a couple of years ago. Well worth catching live (apart from making a great noise, they are eminently watchable), their studio craft and song writing is maturing very quickly. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear an advance link to ‘Made a Fool’. It’s full of the sort of riffery and trickery that Josh Homme is so accomplished at, being aggressive, clever, crunching and subtle in turns- nice work Dom Howard. Drummer/singer Oli Brown has a similar vocal quaver to Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, though the musical backing couldn’t be further from that much missed band. Very promising.

Another single with local connections is the collaboration between DYSFÜRIK and JK-47. A two track release running at more than 22 minutes, it’s more accessible than Gutsa’s (JK-47 in another guise) recent releases but is nevertheless a challenging but rewarding listen. With relatively simple but threatening beats, pulsing keyboards, gradually imposing ambient noise and heavily distorted vocals buried deep in the mix, it comes across like an imagined soundtrack to a dying planet where life forms are gradually being extinguished. Perhaps a Eurovision entry for 2070 then. It’s called ‘A Remote Collaboration’ and you can hear/purchase at the following link.

A third local release from the very talented Sam Eagle is due in November on Cooking Vinyl. You can hear a track and pre-order from the link below, though there’s another track floating around on Youtube from the EP. This is quality music that is clever enough to satisfy serious music lovers while its catchiness and danceability should ensure day time radio friendliness. There’s a satisfying spindly funkiness with plenty of charming musical twists and quirks to ensure you’re kept on your toes when it comes to tapping your toes.

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.

There’s something about Annie…

I’m still trying to work it out, but there is definitely something about Annie Dressner that appeals to this veteran imbiber of music. It’s not often I play music that gains the approval of my kids. My tastes tend to be a little, shall we say, non-mainstream for their liking, though they are showing pleasing signs of adventure of late. Maybe it’s the ability to engage cross generational listeners that will be her forte. Or that people who generally listen to music from the margins can enjoy her music as much as those who rarely venture away from daytime radio.

I first heard Annie through her second album ‘Broken Into Pieces’ and a wonderfully warm session and appealing interview on The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio. That she also introduced me to two fellow artists during that session in Luke James Williams and Anna Hester for a rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ endeared me to her even more.

Her third album, ‘Coffee at the Corner Bar’, has just been released and it continues the upward trajectory in exposure that her song writing and singing deserve. Her mellifluous voice, an instrument that draws you into her lyrics with its conversational, story telling style is the focal point. It belies a kind of contradictory matter of fact but emotional heft that’s at the core of the songs. Musically, most tracks are acoustically driven, beautifully embellished with the likes of understated piano, tambourine and vocal harmonies. Lyrically, the personal is never far away, whether it’s dealing with the yearning nostalgia of youth and places fondly remembered or the mysteries of dealing with the here and now and the conundrums of relationships. This album is a beguiling, heart-warming addition to an increasingly impressive canon of work. There is definitely something about Annie. Check the album out below.

Just a few million miles away from the sound of Annie Dressner is the sledgehammer assault of Bury St Edmunds based duo, Kulk. If Annie gently stirs the inner emotions, then Kulk have a habit of re-arranging your internal organs with a heavy, fuzzy psychedelia mined from a seam that may have previously been visited by the likes of early Black Sabbath or even Hawkwind. There’s also a hint of the sky-scraping blues riffs of ‘Bridge of Sighs’ era Robin Trower. Next time I see them play, I’ll be checking if guitarist Thom Longdin can gurn as well as Mr Trower. For a duo (Jade Ashleigh Squires plays drums and synth) they make a glorious noise that can be heard to pretty good effect on their new long player, Here Lies Kulk, available to listen and purchase below. If you get the chance, the live act is pretty fearsome too.

Recently released on German Shepherd Records is the new album from the prolific Moff Skellington, his 45th in total. Moff’s music doesn’t inhabit the same space as most musicians, in fact he’s the sole purveyor of what is known as Edoddi, described as a species of folk with its very own philosophy: nothing is arbitrary. Make it up as you go along, it’s bound to be authentic!

His songs may or may not be about the inhabitants of the fictional village of Abstercot, they often eschew the use of standard instruments such as guitar and drums in favour of made up instruments, sounds and percussion, though the trusty accordion makes regular appearances. A hint of his unique,  skewed world view can be seen in some of the song titles on this release- Fragile Comfort Seeker or Dog Defied the Poisoned Riddle for example- but the lyrics are what capture the essence of this unique songwriter and they are as surreal and entertaining as ever on ‘A Slapstick Life’. While the press release describes this album as being rooted in jazz, ragtime and slapstick, to get a general feel for the sound of Moff, imagine what a mix of Tom Waits, Viv Stanshall and the Bonzos, Captain Beefheart and Spike Milligan would sound like if brought up on Ilkley Moor with nothing but a few sticks, elastic bands and the contents of the kitchen drawer to make music on. Go on, have a listen and make up your own description.

Don’t forget folks, it’s Bandcamp’s fee waiving day on Friday…

An explanation, of sorts…

The rumours are true- I’ve taken the decision to ‘pause’ The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio for the time being. No, it’s not because of the shame I feel in leaving it four years between blogs on here, or because I was running out of guests and new music to play. Quite the opposite. If anything, the timing of the decision comes as The Smelly Flowerpot was gaining traction, garnering a bigger audience and was being inundated with requests for interviews and enough music to fill a weekly three hour show rather than the two hour fortnightly broadcast. So why take that decision now, when arguably things couldn’t be any better?

Neil Young once sang it was better to burn out than fade away, but I’m not planning on doing either. To be honest, I can’t give a definitive answer as to why I’m pausing, other than the time just feels right. It’s been a weird few months, the lock down causing my fellow volunteers and I at Cambridge 105 Radio to find new ways of continuing to broadcast, some presenters setting up live studios at home, others (such as myself) pre-recording at home and uploading the show to the station server for airing at the designated time. A special mention here to the team of volunteer engineers who have made this possible and have supported the less technically gifted of us through this mine field of techno babble and strange acronyms. I’ve grown accustomed to using words like cleanfeed and all the criteria for uploading a pre-record, though I still think of Fat Larry’s Band whenever a Zoom call is set up. I still prefer the live show, though I’ve grown into pre-recording largely by doing more interviews and editing them into the show to make it feel more happening. But it all takes so much longer. The other strange thing is, after years of asking for an additional hour, I was offered additional shows by the scheduling committee at the station. Am I shooting myself in the foot by pausing now? Probably, but there again, I often take the approach that is opposite to the one the majority might take.

But it will be a pause, not a stop. So let’s just pause from this post to listen to a track about, well, pausing. One of my favourite releases from this year by The Broken Orchestra, featuring TinB. Thought provoking too, not just in terms of what’s happened across the world this year, but also serves as a general reminder we should just stop and think about where we are, what we have done, what we should do every now and again. Pause to reset if necessary.

What comes after the pause, or indeed during it? Writing at least one blog is on the agenda during the pause (and if you’re reading this, I’ve apparently succeeded) and I’ll certainly still be listening to and occasionally sharing new music via social media. I might even write about some of it on here. In fact, sod it- I will, right now. Two of my favourite artists are Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby, as solo musicians and as a duo (they’re also husband and wife, check out their track ‘I Remember That’ which tells of how my home city of Hull played it’s part in them getting together). The couple now reside in the US of A and, apart from writing quality music, they can often be found chugging up and down a creek off the Hudson River in a little motor boat they recently purchased. Their love for the boat is such that when Eric isn’t writing music or chugging up and down the creek, he’s writing about writing music and chugging up and down the creek in his very entertaining blog. Thinking about it, Amy has also been writing her own equally entertaining blog, not to mention a recently released autobiography. And let’s not forget Eric’s autobiography, which is a brilliant read. I’m starting to think these two can do anything, even win the Eurovision Song contest (something I half heartedly propose every year after we come last). Somehow, in between all this, they’ve found the time to write a rabble rousing, noisy garage pop record that should be played at every political convention in the States until polling day. Then the words should be modified slightly and played at every TV debate and into every fridge in the land in the lead up to our own election. Here’s that glorious rallying call.

Where was I? Ah yes, the pause. I will be back at some point, doing Smelly Flowerpot type things in promoting new music, both locally and from afar. It might not be in the same format, it may involve more in depth interviews and may result in some one off type documentary style shows showcasing something I, if no-one else, think is worthwhile showcasing. When that will be, I’m not sure, but I’ll keep you posted as and when the time feels right. In the meantime, whenever I get the chance, I’ll be listening to lots of new music, reading and attempting to put into action just a fraction of the ideas that are buzzing around in my head. I’ll leave you with a couple of tracks from two albums that I’ve featured heavily on the show in the last few months. One for the mind, one for the body. This one, by The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus,  takes me to a state of serene calm. It’s from one of the best albums I’ve heard in my time presenting The Smelly Flowerpot.

This one, by Belgian legends Aksak Maboul, is from their latest release, another album of the year contender. It makes me want to move. That’s some achievement on both counts.

I’m off to spend some time with the other great entertainers in my life- my family. One of the kids has just told me Jesus was a carpet layers son. We’ll see how that conversation goes. Hopefully, you’ll hear from me before the next Olympics.