Wednesday, May 28, 2008

We've Got Photographs Of Men On The Moon

A form of currency when I was young was the C90 cassette - either home-made compilations or with the John Peel show taped on them. This was the very early 80s when indie music meant 'independent'. Cherished amongst my tapes was the one with Red Guitars on. And in particular their first single Good Technology.

Red Guitars had many good songs but this was the stand-out. There's a good history of the first incarnation of the band here. If you want to finish the story best to read this too but the second album/second incarnation of the band just didn't measure up. I saw them (first incarnation) live in spring 84 at Liverpool Uni. They were meant to be supporting The Smiths but Morrissey's voice gave out so Red Guitars got the headline slot. My memory is pretty hazy but I remember how good they were and how powerful Good Technology was live. It's a great song that somehow manages to be prophetic and retro, optimistic and apocalyptic all at same time.

I kept that tape for an awful long time but managed to get hold of the 12" version of Good Technology in the early 90s in (of all places) Hull at Golden Oldies second gand shop on Princes Avenue. By this point I had the album Slow To Fade on CD but without that great first single. Good to see there is an re-issue (still self-released) that covers both - see below.

And for a hilarious thread about the crapness of record shops in Hull go here.

GOOD TECHNOLOGY (12" Vinyl rip)
Red Guitars
Self Drive Records SD008

Red Guitars
Slow To Fade

All re-released with the singles included on GOOD TECHNOLOGY [BUY] and, I quote, "Get a free natural cleaning solutions chart with every order"

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dissolve in Scottish Rain

Late to the party as ever, I just started listening to Frightened Rabbit's The Midnight Organ Fight. Hearing they were on FatCat records I found a bit intimidating - I was expecting two laptops and lots of bleeps, clicks and whirrs. But no. This is a proper rock band. From Selkirk. And they play proper rock songs. I was hooked from the first listen.

Now if you wanted to make a crass and lazy comparison you could say FR are a Caledonian The National (listen to Fast Blood especially the first 40 seconds before the vocals come in and tell me it wouldn't fit in on Boxer). But who would make such a crass and lazy comparison?

There are the three things that draw me to this record, other than the consistent quality of all the songs. They are proper rock songs: spare, slow-building but also anthemic (hey a bit like The National). They also draw on a great Scottish tradition of self-deprecation and vulgar humour (Arab Strap comes to mind) - listen to Keep Warm below. Then what helps them stand out is Grant Hutchinson's voice. His delivery veers from bitter growl to plaintive despair. The songs are great depictions of anguish, rejection, illness and suicide with Grant centre-stage but almost wishing he wasn't there. A bit like that Matt Berninger from that other band...

It's an intense listen but well worth the admission price. Annoyed to miss them playing Night and Day last month (The Indie Credential has a write-up here) but good to see them back in Manchester for this. Roll on August.

Frightened Rabbit
The Midnight Organ Fight[BUY] or [BUY]

Sunday, May 18, 2008


You know those free CDs you get with music magazines? Well as I am constantly reminded, they are not 'free' because you have had to pay for the magazine. There's no such thing as a free CD or a free lunch.

But somehow I ended up with free tickets for The Young Knives which was not a bad thing. I've missed them on previous visits to Manchester and was keen to see them live. Slightly worried that thus far I hadn't enjoyed the latest album as much as the previous one - they seemed to have abandoned the earlier wit and invention and concentrated on a catchy riff and a shouty chorus over and over again. Which wears after a bit.

But live? What more do you want - catchy riffs and shouty choruses?! So free of the polished but flat production of Superabundance, songs like Terra Firma, Up All Night and Light Switch had the 'mixed' (age/dress sense/sobriety) crowd shouting along enthusiastically.

In person they are a mix of self-deprecating but cocky, they have terrible dress sense (“he’s wearing slacks!” said Ms L with horror) but an air of confident coolness. And live the songs are excellent, played with conviction and punch. Not bad for a free ticket.

Set List:
Fit 4 U
Terra Firma
Light Switch
I Can Hardly See Them
Loughborough Suicide
Turn Tail
Up All Night
Weekends and Bleak Days
The Current of the River
The Decision
She's Attracted To

Support was not announced in advance. First up was Mon Ouisch (me neither) who were a four piece who played The Undertones song book with aggressive shouting over the top. Sounded pretty good if a little blunt until the song with the chorus “Hey you fucking fashionistas, you’re all fucking cunts” (honestly) when the bluntness outweighed anything else. Back to the drawing board…

And second support was Pete and the Pirates (see here and here). Much as I enjoy them live I still am looking forward to a set from them breaks 40 minutes (what would an hour be like?!). They played all the singles from the album (finishing with C’Mon Feet) plus some new songs: one about a cat, another a nautical tune. Excellent stuff – although playing to a small’ish crowd.

The Young Knives
Superabundance [BUY]

The Young Knives
Voices Of Animals And Men [BUY]

Friday, May 09, 2008

Sunshine on Pilgrim Road

Damn this fine, sunny weather we are enjoying in the UK at the moment. It doesn't really suit the sombre mood I was looking forward to listening to the new Willard Grant Conspiracy album in. Surely based on past performances, Pilgrim Road was going to be a long wallow in dark misery? Well....

I first heard WGC's The Work Song on a compliation (What Young Kids In London Are Listening To) from Mr N. I loved the song, bought the album but didn't fall in love with this straight away. It took several months, if not years, for the whole album to work its way into the brain. But I kept buying WGC, particularly their masterpiece Regard The End.

And so the new album released this Monday just gone. But it's something different; for starters the song-writing is a collaboration with Scottish composer Malcolm Lindsay, who also provides the arrangements - more chamber orchestra than rock band.

So after a couple of listens the thing that stands out is the small differences; rather than the usual deep-voiced growl, Robert Fisher's voice is almost a stately croon (and probably why a cover of American Music Club's Miracle on Eighth Street works so well. Wouldn't have thought it but ruminative Mark Eitzel rather than fire and brimtone preacher Nick Cave vocal style works here). Rather than brooding misery of the past what strikes me is the refined, delicate settings: the strings don't suggest loneliness or despair as previously but grace, even redemption. The whole thing is more graceful baroque than noir gothic. And certainly different from some of the last album Let It Roll where the guitars were definitely set to 'rock' on songs like Crush.

Two listens in it is early days and this not a review (I don't do reviews, just uninformed, biased, opinion) just some initial observations but so far I think it works. I suspect Pilgrim Road will be a slow burn but hopefully will be listening to it long after the warm weather has gone.

And will be interesting to see how this album but also older songs fare when played by The Pilgrim Chamber Orchestra. The UK dates are:
May 14 Manchester, Academy 2
15 Edinburgh, Queens Hall
16 Nottingham, Rescue Rooms
17 Bristol, Trinity
18 London, Bloomsbury Theatre

Willard Grant Conspiracy
Mojave [BUY]

Willard Grant Conspiracy
Pilgrim Road [BUY]

American Music Club
Everclear [BUY]

Saturday, May 03, 2008


You can't go wrong with four bands for six quid. Well you can if a) the band you are going to see only gets a 30 minute slot and b) one of the other bands is Wild Beasts.

Arrived to catch the last few minutes of the final song by Spokes. Does exactly what it says on the post-rock tin. Sounded great - shame to miss them. Next up was Eyes Wide - noisy, punky, guitar thrash. None too subtle but this is where a 30 minute set works: similar but unfamiliar songs knocked out one after the other. Their roadie Tony tried to act as cheerleader/pied piper of pogo at several points but no-one was joining in. Again, none too subtle....

And then The Wave Pictures: in an eight song set they only played three from the new album which is out on Monday. Jonny the drummer claimed afterwards this is because "we have so many good songs". And he's right.

The three piece come across as unassuming even timid at first glance. And the first two songs felt a bit tentative. But they then nailed that chugging Modern Lovers rhythm perfectly for the rest of the set, only slowing it down for a ballad.

A sixty minute slot would have felt too short I reckon. And though the songs I didn't know (from the first album, future B-sides, new songs? Please enlighten me) were good, where was "Friday Night in Loughborough" or "Now We Are Pregnant"? In the end though, sheer enjoyment outweighs any frustration. So please come back to Manchester soon and stay a little longer next time.

Very rough set-list:
I Love You Like A Madman
Leave The Scene Behind
Baby It's Alright
We Dress Up Like Snowmen
Strange Fruit For David

The Wave Pictures
Instant Coffee Baby [BUY]

Which leaves Wild Beasts. Had previously seen them here and hadn't enjoyed it but prepared to give them a second chance. After all, they are signed to Domino who don't many mistakes do they? However they were terrible - again. A horrid mix of music hall, math-rock and Freddie Mercury. With braces. Got an appreciative response from the small-ish crowd but they lost me after the second song.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Photo credit: Mark Mawston

Pere Ubu premiered its musical adaptation of the theater of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry's groundbreaking 1896 play and the theatrical precursor to the Absurdist, Dada and Surrealist art movements, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on April 24 and 25. The adaptation, written by David Thomas, features 10 new songs as well as various musical "interludes." Independent film-makers The Brothers Quay have devised a unique visual staging in the form of animated projections. Sarah-Jane Morris (ex-Communards, Happy End, etc) features as Mere Ubu, partnering David Thomas as Pere Ubu. Gagarin adds an atmospheric soundtrack by means of electronica. Band members perform various minor roles.

Last week's gig/event "Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi" by Pere Ubu attracted less than favourable reviews. See here and here.

With a show like this and with a band like Pere Ubu press reviews are rarely going to be kind. They are hardly media darlings. My first reaction of reading some of these reviews of a concert I really wanted to see but failed to was one of relief. But the press rarely tell the full story....

Reports on the Pere Ubu forum were kinder (naturally) and more informative:
It was absurd, grotesque ... wonderful ... ubuesque! It was not a representation of the Alfred Jarry's play, it was a Pere Ubu (the band) show playing a "strange set-list" based on the play !The ten new songs are great, familiar and innovative too

Good stuff, I enjoyed it - always difficult to tell how much of the slapdash-ness is staged and how much genuine :-) The new music was good, too.

Report from David Thomas posted on
Thursday night, opening night, was a bit of a shambles. For various reasons, it was the first time we were able to run thru the piece from beginning to end. And a number of structural and technical problems were exposed. The most disruptive problems were (1) on stage we were unable to identify fade to blacks at the end of scenes (the stage was dark to start with and a fade to black on an already dark stage, we discovered, is hard to determine. Confusion amongst on-stage cast and musicians ensued); and (2) since the play's narrative is driven by song lyrics the audience had a hard time making out what was supposed to be going on. (I have subsequently discovered that the narrative of a musical is not usually carried by song lyrics. Hey! Who's to know these things? I thought that was the deal.) In any case, I inserted brief narrative interludes between scenes for the Friday performance and this seemed to fix the principal issues. Friday went relatively smoothly though some noted that they missed the tension and chaos of Thursday's performance during which I tried to cover clunky bits by throwing "rages," which had always been the backup plan.

All of which makes me REALLY wish I had seen the concert. I'd rather see a brave experiment - with rages and slap-dashness - than miss it. And I'd much rather trust the opinion of a punter than a pundit.

Too Much Sleep [BUY]