Monday, June 29, 2009


Malcolm Middleton hinted earlier this month that he might take a break from his solo recording career. He was quick to explain what he meant: not that he was giving up playing live and stopping recording but that he might turn his hand to other musical projects. Phew. Although this wasn't a perfect gig, there was enough moments of magic to remind/confirm to the crowd what a talent this man is.
Malcolm took to the stage around about 9.30 with a four-piece backing band (five if you count occasional backing vocals from The Pictish Trail). Normally this is a good thing. But memories of Malcolm's last gig at Night and Day were still strong - that was a stripped-down, acoustic band: just violin, stand-up bass and acoustic guitar. And it was mesmerising. The full – electric - band live experience echoes some of the faults (picky, picky) I find with selected moments on some of his albums: that songs that would benefit from subtlety are buried in a heavily layered sound. So it was with the first part of the set here: loud, dense and barely able to hear the lyrics (and not helped by the distraction of the sound guy running around with cables). It's as though Malcolm is shy of (constantly) exposing himself through song so heaps on the instrumentation to hide behind and amongst it.

So that’s my major gripe out of the way - and don’t let it put you off seeing him live – it’s just a personal thing. By the sixth song in the set (the “best B-side I have ever written” ‘Whistle’) some more of the balance to the sound was restored: the quieter moments shone through. For the rest of the set the band were supporting Malcolm’s songs rather than dominating them. And this seemed complete when guitarist Jenny switched to violin – the poignancy of ‘Choir’ and ‘Speed on the M9’ and the humour of ‘Blue Plastic Bags’ came out and the full band sound worked brilliantly on ‘A Brighter Beat’ and ‘We’re All Going To Die’.

Highlights for me were the trio of encores all from the new album starting with 'The Ballad of Fuck All' performed just by Malcolm and Jenny. Truly beautiful. So by the end on a hot Monday night, it had all come together (to my ears) but too late in the day to rate this overall as a excellent night. Good in parts then. But when it was good….ah.

Earlier on support had been from the consistently excellent The Pictish Trail. Ms L wasn’t too enamoured with the songs that opened and closed his short set: programmed beats and sampled synths. But the rest of his set between those songs we all agreed were worth paying attention to: angelic voice, picked guitar and gorgeous melodies and a Lone Pigeon cover to boot. For a record label boss, Johnny Flynn is a fine musician.

Malcolm supported by the Pictish Trail continue their UK tour until Saturday – forget the heat and make the effort to see them. Remember he may or may not be taking a break from all this.

The Set List:

Red Travelling Socks
Subset of the World
Box & Knife
Loneliness Shines
Kiss At The Station
Speed On The M9
A Brighter Beat
We're All Going To Die
Blue Plastic Bags
Ballad of Fuck All
Carry Me
Don't Want To Sleep Tonight

Malcolm Middleton
Waxing Gibbous [BUY]

Malcolm Middleton
Into The Woods [BUY]

Friday, June 26, 2009


Mr M of South London who secured me that advance copy of Pere Ubu's Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi radio play has managed many things I never have. One is getting his name in the list of credits on records, mainly for his photography as well as his enthusiastic championing of certain artists. Matthew of Song By Toad (blog/record label - I encourage you to visit both) recently and deservedly got a name-check on Broken Records' debut " Until The Earth Begins To Part".

Deeply envious of both of them and not being a musician (or photographer), I realise I will have to work very hard to get such a credit. Or will I? Here are two tantalising alternative routes from James Yorkston and Kristin Hersh.

Later this summer James is releasing "Folk Songs" a new album in collaboration with The Big Eyes Family Players:

The album comes out on August 10th, but it can be pre-ordered now, as a limited edition 3 disc set, all for £20 from HERE. What’s included? Limited to 1000 copies CD album; CD album of live session with alternate takes and different tracks; full length DVD of live session; Poster. Not good enough? Well how about….

If you order your Special Edition before 6th July, you can have your name included on the Special Edition artwork! That’s pretty exciting. Now, at the Homegame Festival a fortnight ago, a guy came up to me and told me he was going to order it and have his daughter’s name put on the artwork. That’s true paternal love for you. I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that those of you who don’t do that are bad parents, of course. Nice idea though. Alternatively, you could have your partners name on. Or your dog. Or cat, even.

Sod the pets and children, if I'm paying for it, it's MY name that's going on it.

The other alternative is from Kristin Hersh who opted out of all her recording contracts in 2007 and has been entirely financed by her fans since then including the Strange Angels scheme:

Strange Angels are people who financially support Kristin’s work in return for things like free music downloads, free tickets to gigs, free CDs and access to special content. This financial support can take the form of a simple quarterly subscription - or even fancier things like studio visits and executive producer credits.

Strange Angel Level: $30 per quarter - Buy
In addition to the free music and media files, all subscribers in good standing will also receive:
• 2 spots on the guest list to any Kristin, Throwing Muses or 50FOOTWAVE performances • all new Kristin CDs ahead of the release date• access to a media-rich Subscriber’s Page featuring live bootlegs, video links, and more.

We also offer Special Opportunities to listeners who want to support Kristin’s work at a higher financial level including:

Executive Producer Level Support: $5000 -
• In addition to all the above, Executive Producers receive an Executive Producer credit on Kristin’s next CD

Now I might struggle for $30 a quarter let alone $5000 so despite how tempting this is, it simply isn't realistic. And I have no supply-chain skills (photography, design, band mangement etc) to offer. Song by Toad got his credit through relentless championing of Broken Records, reviewing live gigs, plugging their early singles, recording sessions and offering to put them out on his label (before they went to 4AD). Now I don't have a record label or record sessions or have the audience reach Song By Toad does but I'm open to approaches. I am willing to put in some effort. I have both desperation and enthusiasm on my side. And I am prepared to whore this humble blog if that's what it takes:

Bands: I am available to EARN your respect and all I want in return is a little CREDIT.

Laurie Anderson
Home of the Brave [BUY]

James Yorkston
When The Haar Rolls In [BUY]

Kristin Hersh
Strange Angels [BUY]

Until The Earth Begins To Part [BUY]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


My Sad Captains are named after a Thom Gunn poem. This might be enough to scare you off this five-piece London band but it's worth getting over your phobias. They play a drowsy, summery pop that sits somewhere between jangle and Wilco-esque americana. And yes it is 'literate' but as in intelligent rather than pretentiously smart-arse.

I've been waiting for their debut album (released last week on Stolen Recordings) for a couple of years since falling for the gorgeous jangle-pop of single "Bad Decisions" and seeing them at End of the Road Festival. In fact "All Hat and No Plans" made my Best of 2007 compilation - given it's featured on this album I might be able to squeeze it into this year's compilation? The new album is a really strong record with gorgeous boy-girl harmonies, big singalong choruses and little orchestral-pop flourishes a-plenty (but "Bad Decisions" is a slowed down version minus all the jangle. You NEED the single as well as the album version). It's not flashy, it's not hurried but over several listens now I'm gently won over to its charms. And I find singer Ed Wallis's voice at times an eerie blend of Grant McLennan AND Robert Forster at the same time. (The Go-Betweens is a much better reference for My Sad Captains than some others - Stereolab and Pavement?!)

Also on the bill at the Roadhouse tonight is Absent Elk and from a quick listen the two bands should complement each other beautifully. Advance tickets here.

My Sad Captains
Here and Elsewhere [BUY]

Friday, June 19, 2009


It's only a few months since they were in Manchester last but the prospect of The Wave Pictures at the Deaf Institute still got me giddy with excitement. Shame then it turned out to be a night of disappointments (none of them actually to do with the band's performance).

The first disappointment was seeing the band had been bumped off headlining slot. WTF?! Could see we were going to get a condensed set because of this. Then as the band took to the stage, the second disappointment was realising they were without drummer Jonny Helm. He was replaced tonight by Dave Beauchamp who actually filled in remarkably well; he has a more gentle skiffle-like style which suited the quieter numbers. And this was the main and REAL disappointment of the evening: by the time The Wave Pictures came on the crowd seemed to consist of mates of the earlier bands and those hanging about for the club night followed. The band and the sparse group of folk who were there to listen to those quiet songs had to battle against a wave of chatter and laughter that was frankly out of order. If you are not there to listen to the band, sod off somewhere else so everyone else can.

So being put in such a foul mood by struggling to listen to gentle songs like "If You Leave It Alone" against the rising background noise was not the best way to enjoy this gig. The band seemed to take it in their stride with lead singer David laughing it off. They also responded by switching to faster, noisier songs. Whilst it was great to hear some of these ("I Love You Like A Madman" was excellent: powerful and passionate) it was not the gig I'd signed up. And the predictions about a short set were realised: we only got nine songs. But from those in the crowd who were there to see the band there was some top sining along to the chorus for "Strange Fruit For David".

So a promoter and an audience who appeared to treat the band with disdain = a major disappointment. Apologies on their behalf to The Wave Pictures, they deserve better. Manchester owes you.

The Set List
My Kiss
I Shall Be A Ditchdigger
If You Leave It Alone
Canary Wharf
We Sugared Our Apples
We Dress Up Like Snowmen
Leave The Scene Behind
I Love You Like A Madman
Strange Fruit For David

One of the other bands on tonight's bill is worth mentioning. Blind Atlas started off with a gentle piece of Americana with steel guitar but then moved up a gear into Crazy Horse-meets-Southern-Rock territory. Some of it was a bit too samey but when it worked it was good; the last song featuring the bass played with a violin bow, tribal drum rhythms and spooky guitar effects was a highlight. The Circus Electric made we want to take up smoking to avoid listening to them. On their Myspace page they describe their music as 'Indie/Rap/Pop Punk' - the reality is far, far worse. And I couldn't give an opinion about Orphan Boy as I was still fuming over the short shrift The Wave Pictures had received. Now next time...

The Wave Pictures
If You Leave It Alone [BUY]

The Wave Pictures
Instant Coffee Baby [BUY]
Jonny 'Huddersfield' Helm [BUY]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Long Live Père Ubu!" and belching galore

Never meet your heroes. Or email them. David Thomas of Pere Ubu is one of my musical heroes and I have done both, the latter more recently, but neither was well advised as you will see.

Pere Ubu are releasing their new album "Long Live Père Ubu!" this September. This is an album of songs taken from the theatrical production Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi," which premiered over two days at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, April 25 and 26, 2008. Between the stage show and the album is 'the Radio Play':
An on-going effort to turn the theatrical production into a film, directed by The Brothers Quay, prompted Thomas to assemble an audio storyboard. At the same time the script was revised and improved into Version 2 of "Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi" and was incorporated into a recording known as the Radio Play, which includes all dialog, songs, and ambient sound, and achieves the original plan for the project.

Through the good auspices/interventions of Mr M of London Town I was sent a CDR of the radio play by David Thomas plus copied in on an email exchange which sugggested he would be 'interested to know what I think'. Oh lord. I sat on this 'chore' for several months as I tried to work out what to write, what to say, and how not to appear stupid. Here's what I wrote:

Well firstly it’s difficult to write anything as a long time Pere Ubu fan without sounding idiotic or sycophantic or both. But in brief: I like it. It makes perfect sense and another worthy satellite in orbit around Ubu like DT&2PB, the Mirror Man album/tour, and the live film underscores. There’s enough that is familiar and unfamiliar to both reassure and to engage. The instrumentation and overall sound is familiar but the thing that really struck me was the voices – the range and variety is novel but captivating - Sarah Jane Morris excels. The whole blends humour and malevolence in equal measure and – not being familiar with the Jarry play – the overall narrative was clearly intelligible. It requires close listening and is not going to woo the uninitiated I suspect; but is something I will definitely keep in rotation with other Ubu and related albums.

And as you see I managed to be sycophantic AND idiotic. Nice one. Unsurprisingly I received no reply (not that I was expecting one). You can make up your own mind about the radio play because it is now available to download for free in installments.

The podcast series of 8 episodes from Pere Ubu's ground-breaking project "Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi" is up and running at, the band's own audio download web site. It can be subscribed to thru iTunes. A direct link to the podcast can be reached thru here. Embedded in the podcasts are songs from "Long Live Père Ubu!, as well as dialog and electronic ambience. Sarah Jane Morris (ex-Communards, Happy End) performs the role of Mère Ubu, partnering Thomas who performs as Père Ubu. Other members of the band supply the voices of other characters.

And as you see from the band credits not only "voices of other characters" but "belching galore": The Band: David Thomas - "Père Ubu," xiosynth, organ, bass; Sarah Jane Morris - "Mère Ubu"; Keith Moliné - guitar, vocals; Robert Wheeler - EML synthesizer, theremin, vocals; Gagarin - electronica; Michele Temple - bass, vocals, other instruments; Steve Mehlman - drums, vocals, belching galore, percussion

The first tour date in support of "Long Live Père Ubu!" is at London's ICA on Friday, Sept 25 (dates in Europe here). Tickets are on sale now. If I get to this gig, I won't make the mistake of trying to meeting David Thomas as I did in his dressing room in 1997. But that's a story of more idiocy and sycophancy for another time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TONIGHT IN MANCHESTER: We Were Promised Jetpacks

I would be tempted to recommend this gig for the band name alone. But there's more to the Edinburgh four-piece than a clever name.

When I first saw We Were Promised Jetpacks last year supporting Frightened Rabbit, they won the whole crowd over: loud, melodic pop-punk tunes with heart and a head behind them. The first few listens to the debut album "These Four Walls" haven't matched the excitement I felt last year yet - the production feels a bit safe and mainstream - but that's probably me and it's still early days. Live - and back in the same venue (Night and Day) of their first ever English gig venue - I suspect they will deliver in spades. A great, wild and sweaty way to spend a summer's evening. Advance tickets here.

We Were Promised Jetpacks
These Four Walls [BUY]