Saturday, September 27, 2008

FROM THE VINYL RACK ... "I Can't Escape From You" by ACT

I bought this without hearing it. I knew Claudia Brucken from Propaganda, whose arty German take on electro-pop I always had a soft spot for, plus it was in the discount bin, plus there's that great sleeve (more of that later).

I Can't Escape From You is very 1988, especially in this 12" version. It's a epic, grandiose slice of synth-pop, complete with long piano intro ('an overture' no less), string section and drama provided by synths, synths and more synths, all topped off with Claudia in full diva mode (operatic rather than Maria Carey). It's camp, arty and great fun. For several months I played the A-side morning, noon and night but failed to win over further friends to its charms. As did Act as they split after only one album.

Curiously despite falling head over heels for the song, I never went on to buy the album it came from (now re-issued in triple CD format!?). This may be to do with the B-sides. I'm sure another reason for buying this was the idea of Claudia covering The Smiths. But it doesn't really work. It's a car-crash of piano balladry, swing and torch song with Claudia veering from deadpan to anguished squeal - often in the same breath. And the scat backing vocals from "Casbah" are just plain annoying. But you may think differently ...

When I dug this out of the vinyl rack, it struck me how perfect this sleeve would be for Sleeveface - I couldn't believe it hadn't been used before. So I approached Mrs A with this unbeatable idea that she should pose, I would take the photo and we would be the toast of the Sleeveface community. Mrs A did not think it such a great idea.

"What that wretched, depressed HAG? She looks as though she sells her body in sordid back streets in order to feed her drug habit. And you want me to be her??"
"But that's Claudia Brucken - she's a great chanteuse in the German tradition that stretches back to Marlene Dietrich and - ... "
"She looks like a desperate whore"
"She's a cult figure, a proper diva, loads of people will - ..."
"She's just a sad crack whore"
"But when you hear the song it will all make sense ..."

That'll be "no" then.

Laughter, Tears and Rage [BUY]

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Robert Forster is an unlikely rock 'n' roller. He was the angsty, bookish half of The Go-Betweens, the Brisbane band formed with Grant McLellan who were more known for heartbreak and jangle than hell-raising. Robert's songs then and now in his solo work are passionate, direct, evoking intense moments and emotions, richly peppered with autobiographical detail.

But in person, striding across the bare stage with arms swinging or telling a lengthy anecdote (without punch-line) about nearly meeting Patti Smith, he comes across as oblique and other-worldly: a flamboyant art critic played at his hammiest by Bill Nighy. (Saying 'hello' to him after the gig he was different again: relaxed, warm, funny. Which is the 'real' Robert Forster?)

Ah but the music. I heard at the last moment that this would be a show with two sets, the first acoustic, the second electric, and with no support and therefore an early start. But despite best intentions (and zippy driving from Ms L), we managed to miss the first couple of songs and came in to hear the end of a solo version of Spirit. Robert was then joined on stage by bass player Adele for If It Rains (where the set list below starts). Then a few songs later he was joined by Glenn on guitar (and later keyboards), and then a fresh-faced Matthew on drums.

The auditorium is one of the two concert halls within this music school: a high-ceiled room with the band performing on the wooden floor in front of raked seating (and with - empty - choir seating behind them). The acoustic was good, particularly suiting the acoustic set, but the setting did lean towards sterile at times. The set was mainly from the more recent solo records (especially this year's The Evangelist) and later-period Go-Betweens with a few oldies thrown in.

He Lives My Life
Heart Out To Tender
I Can Do
People Say

Robert's back catalogue is so rich you could have created another two sets out of songs he didn't play but this was such a hugely entertaining evening it would be mean-spirited to carp. For my money a scuzzy rock venue would have given the songs just a bit more edge, but wherever he plays, it is worth travelling to. The short tour continues to Oxford, Lancaster and London before Europe - see here. And the band are keeping a tour diary here.

Robert Forster
Danger In The Past [BUY]

Robert Forster
The Evangelist [BUY]

The Go-Betweens
Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express [BUY]

The Go-Betweens
16 Lovers Lane [BUY]

Monday, September 15, 2008


Tonight's gig was a consolation prize for missing End of the Road Festival - both bands having appeared there last year and just this weekend gone. It was also a 'dream team' double bill - an inspired pairing of The Waves Pictures supporting Jeffrey Lewis (here with The Jackals) which at one point looked to be a game of two halves but it definitely finished a score draw with honours shared.
It also strikes me that this gig shows what would happen if you did took some Jonathan Richman DNA and experimented with it. Both bands can - in different ways - be seen as branches of the Richman family tree.

So about 8.20pm The Wave Pictures wander on stage, tip leads out of plastic bags, plug in, turn and face the audience and start playing. If you've heard their lo-fi, keep-the-mistakes-in recordings, it's not a surprise to see this casual approach. But it doesn't prepare you for just how tight the three piece are live.

They play a set that almost deliberately avoids the current album for the most part. They throw in some new songs, old songs, B-sides, a Jonathan Richman cover and also have drummer Jonny sing Now We Are Pregnant. Again it's misleading to think this is self-indulgent or a challenge to the (largely youthful) audience: utter joy to hear songs this good, played so well. I could listen to a whole evening of this.

The Wave Pictures Set-List:

Blue Harbour
Too Many Questions
Kiss Me
If You Leave It Alone
Hotels and Motels
Someone I Care About (J Richman cover)
Now We Are Pregnant
Instant Coffee Baby
Strange Fruit For David

Another casual start for Jeffrey Lewis and The Jackals (brother Jack on bass and barefoot Dave on drums): what I thought was some improvised sound-check jam turns into first song, a cover of Pink Floyd's Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun as a tribute to Rick Wright who died today.
There were some false starts, duff sound and general untidiness over the next few songs but this was just 'settling in'. Over nearly 90 minutes we got the full range of Jeffrey's output: acoustic humourous songs of rejection and failure, full-band rockin' songs of rejection and failure, Modern Lovers-style wig-outs, Crass covers (great to hear the 20-something crowd singing anarchist chants) and the comic-book interludes. Especially the second one of these: "my World History of Communism Volume 5: Korea". In four minutes of hand-drawn cartoons and rhyming couplet narrative I learnt more about Korea than all my years of reading and listening to the news have amassed: particularly how the two Superpowers divided the country along the 38th Parallel in the late 1940s and installed their own puppet regimes. Inspired.

So a great night of music, humour and charm. All for a tenner. Thank you Pineapple Folk for bringing the tour to Manchester.

The Wave Pictures
Just Like A Drummer EP [BUY]

The Wave Pictures
Instant Coffee Baby [BUY]

Jeffrey Lewis
12 Crass Songs [BUY]

Jeffrey Lewis
It's The One's Who've Cracked That The Light Shines Through [BUY]

PS Trying a new hosting service for mp3s. Please let me know of any problems via Comments or email.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rewards, Rewards, Rewards

Tonight is the first night of the (sold out) End of the Road Festival at Larmer Tree Gardens near Salisbury. After the exceptional time I had last year (see here, here and here), it's a real shame not be there again this year. But it was not to be and I'm not going to whinge about it. Well not here anyway.

Instead let's just play some music. I'm sure for those at EOTR and others elsewhere tonight there will be fireworks and explosions in the sky ...

Fireworks Night
As Fools We Are [BUY]

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lose Big?

So everyone tells me “that hip hop bloke” is a shoe-on. Certainly Ladbrokes think so. With Burial (‘that hip-hop bloke’) at 4/7 odd last time I looked.

Anyway out of loyalty to British Sea Power (but the money goes to Ladbrokes?) I’ve put a bet on BSP. I think it is so unlikely given the recent voting history of the award that BSP even stand a chance as an outside bet but here goes (remember here I suggested Last Shadow Puppets were the likely winner).

So not a betting person but these odds (and my sense of allegiance) demand a shout for Do You Like Rock Music? Let’s see what happens tonight …

The Mercury Music Prize BBC2 10pm

Eef Barzelay
Lose Big [BUY]

Friday, September 05, 2008


I missed Frightened Rabbit at Night & Day in April. They pulled out of A Day At The Races in August (and I wasn't there anyway). So I was determined to see them this time in September. Even though on this Friday I had several other commitments; plus seeing them would be at the expense of Camera Obscura at Club Academy. Life is not fair sometimes.

It was worth the effort getting there though. I missed the support bands except for the last three songs by We Were Promised Jetpacks. They are a youthful four-piece from Glasgow, tonight apparently their first gig in England. A perfect support band: similar - but not too similar - to the headliners, playing a fast, furious, sweaty and energetic set - but not going to eclipse the main act. They belong more to the post-punk/garage-rock lineage of Glasgow bands rather than the West Coast harmonies and jangle school. Definitely worth seeing live again - interesting to hear how these breakneck-paced songs come out on record?

A three piece on record, FR are bolstered to a four piece on tour with Scott on guitars/vocals; Billy on guitar/bass/keyboards; Grant on drums and (Billy 2?) on guitar/keyboards. So this meant on the opening couple of songs you had three guitars and drums. Great stuff.

I saw lead singer Scott standing at the side of stage just before their set, with stern expression and intense, staring eyes. Was this existential angst? Nerves? Or just taking a breather? Possibly the latter because on stage, in between songs, he was genial and good-humoured, thanking everyone several times for turning up, apologising for "being so shit" when they appeared in April. However live they lose the warm-natured approach to add a bit of ferocity to the rancour and self-loathing of songs like Fast Blood and The Modern Leper.

A relatively brief set (just under an hour) that took in most of second album The Midnight Organ Fight, they kept up an absorbing level of intensity even in slower songs like Floating On The Forth (claiming tonight they had never played it live before?). The set finished with a (failed) segue into an acoustic performance of Poke from Scott standing alone on the cabinets in front of the stage. It might not have been 'electric' but it was as gripping as the other performances, with the sing-a-long from the crowd seeming to add rather than take away from its power. The band then returned to the stage to finish with Keep Yourself Warm - the bleakest anthem to sexual desperation I think I have ever heard but one of their finest moments.

The Set List:
I Feel Better
Fast Blood
Good Arms Vs Bad Arms
Old Old Fashioned
The Modern Leper
Heads Roll Off
Floating In The Forth
[something here?]
Keep Yourself Warm

The UK tour continues this month (see here) before Europe and North America in October and then back to the UK to support Death Cab For Cutie.

Frightened Rabbit
The Midnight Organ Fight [BUY]

Thursday, September 04, 2008


One of the many delightful aspects of Sing Ye From The Hillsides! was the idea of a Mix CD Bran Tub. Everyone attending was invited to bring a mix CD (no other criteria) to swap on the Sunday (see here for other items suggested to bring).

As I said two posts again, I couldn't stay for the Sunday so don't think there was any formal 'ceremony'; but on Saturday morning a cardboard box was left in the entranceway to the pub and by the evening it was close to full with a variety of CDs.

So I put my CD in. And then I didn't quite do the-properly-random-lucky-dip approach. Instead I grabbed in one go four different CDs and quickly looked them over.

Nico's Mix CD won on two counts. The first was the cover: a simple line drawing on a white background in a slimline jewel case. It was appealing, personalised and clearly put together with a degree of care (others simply had marker pen scrawled over a silver CDR) without being showy. The second was the track-listing.

Apart from Friska Viljor I hadn't heard of ANY of the bands on this sixteen track CD. And look: it has The New Violators from Norway! Cartridge from Denmark! And Velojet from Austria!

To me this is precisely the purpose of a compilation to hear new and unfamiliar music. I suspect Nico hails from continental Europe rather than these island shores; but wherever you are from and whoever you are Nico, my thanks. I don't know what songs on the CD I will continue to listen to; or what I will go on to buy; or what pales over time. But for now I'm just enjoying something new and different and refreshing. Salut! Danke!

Chris and the Other Girls

The New Violators

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

THE MONTH AHEAD: Manchester Gigs for September 2008

Photo by John the Monkey on Flickr

Well with 'summer' out of the way, there's a packed month ahead of gigs in Manchester. And I've decided to post a round-up of sorts ... and a compilation of music from artists appearing in September at the end. This may or may not be a regular occurence ...

This is not a definitive list; just gigs I am going to, I would like to go to, or just sound interesting if I had cash/time/inclination to take a chance on etc.

Now as soon as I finished the list I have seen the omissions (from Emmylou Harris to Cats In Paris), possible inaccuracies (is the Bowerbirds actually happening anywhere?) and irregularities (Magic Arm's Myspace lists the Beep Seals at Dulcimer gig but nowhere else does. Myth? Invited guests only?). So please check by standard empirical means before planning a night out around what you see below.

And watch out: there are plenty of gigs clashing throughout the month.

Thurs 4 Sept
Silver Apples at The Roadhouse [
American Music Club at Academy 3 [

Friday 5 Sept
Frightened Rabbit at Night and Day [
Camera Obscura at Club Academy [

Sun 7 Sept
The Dodos with Euros Childs at The Roadhouse [

Tues 9 Sept
The Autumn Defense with Plush at Night and Day [
Bowerbirds at Sacred Trinity Church [BUY TICKETS?]
Seabear and Kelley Stoltz at The Deaf Institute [

Thurs 11 Sept
Sun Kil Moon/Mark Kozelek at The Dancehouse [
The Beep Seals with Magic Arm at Dulcimer, Chorlton [BUY TICKETS?] [

Mon 15 Sept
Bon Iver at Academy 3 [
Jeffrey Lewis with The Wave Pictures at Club Academy [

Tues 16 Sept
Shearwater at The Roadhouse [

Sun 21 Sept
Robert Forster at Royal Northern College of Music [

Tues 23 Sept
Liz Green at Matt & Phreds [BUY TICKETS?]

Thurs 25 Sept
Fujiya & Miyagi at The Deaf Institute [

Tues 30 Sept
Bob Log III with The Vipers, Jackie O at The Ruby Lounge [

Well that should keep everyone busy? And to accompany the list here is a 50 minute selection of music:

NB: 56MB (not zipped - because I forgot)
Track-listing in comments.

Monday, September 01, 2008


The next morning we decided not to take part in the Tan Hill Olympics (ten events for teams of six) to ensure we saw the acoustic acts advertised as a 1pm start. Whilst potato rolling has it appeal, the music was the main attraction.

Instead of following the programme however the afternoon consisted of The Sounds of Science film screened in the barn, birds of prey handing and flying displays from the Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre (inspired!), more British Ale Power, veg curry and even a game of Scrabble. Plus the rumour was the story of the Arctic Monkeys secret gig had hit the press (actually The Northern Echo - see here) so it was expected Britain's highest pub was about to besieged by fans and journalists.

The acoustic sets eventually started at 5pm. This was Matt Eaton performing solo in the Snug Bar; and then joined by Hamilton on bass and Noble on drums to form three quarters of the Modern Ovens a "which are we? A covers act or a tribute band?" to Jonathan Richman.

Matt performs fairly straightforward folk revival-style songs (a great one about what would happen to all the parts of his body when he died prematurely) but with real heart and charm. The Modern Ovens then gave us four Richman songs including Buzz Buzz Buzz and a lovely Ice Cream Man to finish. So more innocence and charm in an intimate and very cosy room - great stuff.

Then into the barn for Rose Dougall, an ex-Pipette here performing solo with just keyboard accompaniment.

She has a fantastic voice, a set of love (and lost-love) songs that reference the 60s with more depth than the Pipettes, and although very agreeable to spend 30 minutes in the company of, it all left me a bit unmoved.

Sparrow and The Workshop are (I find out afterwards) based in Glasgow even though at first hearing their accents this doesn't seem likely. They are a three piece country-blues outfit with Cat Power'ish lead vocals, although not as languid, and songs that swing from bluegrass-y ballads to alt-country power trio rock. Split of opinions on this one but I thought they were excellent and well worth further listening.

Then Dirty Cakes a six- possibly seven-piece from Brighton, including for this performance Thomas White of Electric Soft Parade and Brakes. However this gave no indication of what we were about to hear. Dirty Cakes perform mutant electro-cabaret with lead singer Stuart Flynn playing at being Eartha Kitt. This didn't split any opinions: Mr P and I were unanimous in our instant dislike to it ("quite possibly the worst support band I have ever seen"). We gave them a chance to the second song - but it was more of the same featuring a chorus (a chant?) of "Flap the Flap" that sent us scurrying to the bar.

We returned for iLIKETRAiNS who had in their words "been laying low" for some time but got the invitation to play on Tuesday (there's nothing like advance playing for putting together a festival ...).

Now I have tried to like iLIKETRAiNS songs before. And I have tried to tell iLIKETRAiNS songs apart before. But I have been unable to do either. They start slowly with steady martial drumming, chiming guitars and doom-laden vocals before building up in tempo and volume and then ... well by this point I've stopped paying attention. Went down well here tonight though.

So the "double nuts" British Sea Power set. It started with a triple opening savlo: Apologies to Insect Life, Remember Me and The Scottish Wildlife Experience. As requested/predicted the crowd went double nuts. It was good-humoured, sweaty but heaving in the small barn so don't expect any good photos from me, there was little chance of standing still for even a second (but plenty of other people with proper cameras were there plus someone videoing the whole event).

The manic pace of the set did get interrupted when guitarist Noble's effects pedals seemed to pack in. So after a version of How Will I Ever Find My Home without him, there was a five minute break to plug everything back together. Noble obviously took the opportunity to crowd surf.

The set restarted with Blackout then into A Trip Out (so a change to list posted below) and soon got that manic tempo back. This was a great BSP performance - despite the technical interruptions the whole band seemed in good humour and to be really enjoying themselves. The problem with seeing them in a venue this small (200 capacity) and then having two sets to include so much from their back catalogue is that seeing them again in a normal venue for a regular set will just not match this.

Strangely Carrion was a bit underwhelming tonight but the final two songs (Lights Out For Darker Skies and No Lucifer) topped a great set. See later for Pelican ...

Following the set there was a chance to cool down and dry out in front of the bonfire whilst waiting for the fireworks to be set off. Now why can't every gig finish this way?

And then back into the barn at 1am for those surprise guests. And other surprises?

Well eventually BSP re-appeared and tore into Pelican. This then stretched into a 50 minute jam with various members of Dirty Cakes, James Ford, possibly some Klaxons (not that I'd know) and the audience joining them on stage to play and swap instruments, dance, drink and indulge in some people-flattening diving and crowd-surfing.

Still all good-humoured, it was amazing that in the chaos no-one got injured. And though enjoyable it wasn't exactly musically vital. If anyone tells you it was an outstanding musical high-point of the weekend - well it's probably the altitude sickness speaking.

Due to other commitments (Happy Birthday Miss C!), we had to miss the Sunday. The advertised programme was much quieter (Sunday roasts, a pub quiz at 3pm and BSP performing Man of Aran early evening) so although a shame not to be there, if you had to miss one day ...

So will Sing Ye From The Hillsides become a regular event? Let's hope so. Not everything that was advertised happened (no drunken catwalk competition on Saturday evening), the weather was as rubbish as the rest of August and many things did not happen on time, mainly because there was an air of we'll-see-how-it-works-on-the-day about the whole event. But this and the setting and warm feeling it generated in everyone was part of the real charm. Roll on next year ...

Elegies to Lessons Learnt [BUY]

Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
Rock 'n' Roll with The Modern Lovers [BUY]

British Sea Power