Friday, December 31, 2010


The week between Christmas and New Year is a curious limbo, a piece of dead time between two great blow-outs - or two great anti-climaxes depending on your viewpoint. It is also a week barren of any gigs or live music. So hats off to ATP for flying Sonic Youth over to play two sold-out shows, tonight’s in Manchester and then New Year’s Eve in London.

Opening tonight and playing tomorrow in London were The Pop Group re-formed earlier this year thirty years after breaking up. Four-fifths of the band appear to be original members – with a young buck (second generation?) on second guitar. The appearance of the band may be cosy middle-age (crisp white shirts fully buttoned up, distinguished greying hair and the drummer looks to be wearing reading glasses) but their explosive dub-leaning post-punk remains angry – very angry – and surprisingly vital. So much so there are many young pretenders and latter-day copyists who need to be shown this is how it is done. I wonder if The Pop Group ever played to 2000 people in their heyday?

It’s over a decade since I last saw Sonic Youth. This and seeing over 20 guitars racked up on either side of the stage during The Pop Group’s set only increased anticipation for tonight’s gig. First on stage is Thurston Moore who still looks in his early twenties. Beanpole thin, checked shirt, messy fringe flopped over his eyes, he playfully punches the mic as he strides across the stage. Kim Gordon is equally arresting: figure-hugging off-one-shoulder gold dress and black leggings which has the crowd – literally - gasping. It is difficult to credit these two are in their fifties.

The set is largely made up of last year’s album “The Eternal” plus a few trips down memory lane – specifically from 1987’s ‘Sister’ and 1988’s “Daydream Nation” with a storming final ‘Death Valley ‘69’. ‘Antenna’, dedicated to Ari Up, was a highlight with a middle section in which Lee Renaldo and Thurston Moore indulged – but not excessively – in trading improvised bending of guitar notes. Despite the two pauses (cock-ups by drummer Steve Shelley?), the cartoon-punk-shriek of “(I Gotta) Catholic Block” leaves me grinning from ear to ear. But the biggest roars of the evening were reserved for the first of four encores ‘The Sprawl’ and ‘Cross The Breeze’.

As long as you knew “The Eternal” this was a well-balanced set, avoiding any excessive navel-gazing experimentation, and with the band equally at ease playing twenty year old songs as well as newer material. Sonic Youth may have become an institution but they are still achingly cool, remain frighteningly ageless and are down-to-earth and savvy enough tonight to suggest tonight’s crowd should head to Islington Mill for its New Year’s Eve Party. An evening to remind me of all the right reasons why Sonic Youth are such an significant and loved band. Dear ATP, can we do this every year between Christmas and New Year’s Eve please?

The Set List:

No Way
Sacred Trickster
Calming The Snake
Tom Violence
Walkin Blue
Leaky Lifeboat
Poison Arrow
(I Gotta A) Catholic Block
Stereo Sanctity
What We Know
Massage The History
The Sprawl
Cross The Breeze
White Cross
Death Valley ‘69

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Inspired by Hey Manchester’s Top 20 Gigs of 2010 I decided for the first time here to attempt my own list. I’ve never done this as I knew I could not isolate the single gig in a year that was better than any other – each have their own moments or certain songs that make them special in their own right. So, despite reading that best of year lists bear all the hallmarks of the coping strategies of a nine year old, and not in any ranking, here are my most memorable gigs or performances of the year.

Belle & Sebastian @ Manchester Apollo in December

The Besnard Lakes + Alcoholic Faith Mission @ Dulcimer in March

British Sea Power @ Sing Ye From The Hillsides (Saturday) in May

Jens Lekman @ Deaf Institute + then after-show performance@ Sand Bar in August

The Low Anthem @ End of the Road Festival in September

Megafaun @ Green Man Festival in August

Sweet Baboo @ Green Man Festival (Saturday and Sunday) in August

The Tallest Man On Earth @ St Philips Church in November

Tune-Yards @ Ruby Lounge in February

Y Niwl, Young British Artists, Maladies of Bellafontaine etc @ Cloud Sounds + Red Deer Club in December

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Withered Hand is Dan Willson, an Edinburgh-based anti-folk musician and visual artist. All this year I had brief encounters with some of Withered Hand’s music (a compilation including the track ‘Providence’, Woodpigeon covering ‘No Cigarettes’ at End Of The Road festival) but it took this Christmas to finally unite me with debut album “Good News”, 14 months after it was first released on SL Records.

Good News” is made up of ten poignant and pained confessionals all delivered through Willson’s plaintive little-boy-lost vocals. However there are very adult themes and emotions on display here: conflicted feelings about religion and sex and a constant sense of failure run through the entire record. When Willson sings "So I broke another of the Ten Commandments" as the opening line of ‘Cornflake’ it is more with a heavy sense of disappointment and rejection rather than rebellion. In ‘Religious Songs’ some choir-boy naivety creeps in - "I don’t really know what the wine was for / Cos if it was Jesus blood wouldn’t there be more?" - but this is a rare example. For mostly, this choir boy has seen and experienced too much of the blemished lives and flawed intentions of the grown-up world. How many other ‘choir boys’ would then go on to sing in the same ‘religious’ song "I beat myself off when I sleep on your futon / I walk in the rain with my second hand suit on"?

Willson performs as part of a four-piece band: cello by Hannah Shepherd; banjo, ukulele, harmonium by Neil Pennycook; drums by Alun Thomas; and on this album backing vocals from Jo Foster and Bart Eagleowl (a line-up which is a mini-Rock Family Tree of several branches of the Edinburgh music scene). The delicate orchestration they bring to these quiet anthems is lovingly played - and the whole beautifully mixed by Kramer of Galaxie 500 and Low fame, a master of making quiet music sound immediate and full of contained energy. It is as ravishing to listen to as it is heart-wrenching to follow the heart-on-sleeve lyrics.

For all the sense of sitting on fences, failing and fucking up, there is also an undercurrent of elation. It might not be as explicit as hope but there are expressions of love mixed in with darker sentiments in ‘Providence’, ‘New Dawn’ and ‘I Am Nothing’. And there is a clarion call of community and celebration in the final song ‘For The Maudlin’: “This song is for the strugglers, for the cynics and the maudlin / This song is for the poor boy, I won’t be there in the morning”. As with the rest of the album, nothing is ever black or white; Willson manages to undercut this rallying cry in the final line “I won’t be there in the morning / No, I’ll be asleep on the overnight bus”.

Each year I spend an inordinate amount of time working out my top albums of the year. This month might have been all about everyone’s 2010 lists but upon hearing “Good News” I need to go back and revise my 2009 Top Ten.

At the end of January, Withered Hand is touring Scotland and North East England supporting Woodpigeon, visiting Aberdeen, Aviemore, Stornoway, Inverness, Glasgow, Durham, Middlesbrough, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Stirling. Sounds like an unmissable double-bill. “Good News” indeed.

Friday, December 24, 2010


It’s Christmas week and there’s still plenty of good new music being released. In fact Manchester’s Piccadilly Records said this week that they couldn’t recall a December in which so much quality, non-Christmas, music had been issued. I’ve talked about some Christmas music that doesn’t sound seasonal already this week so before I succumb to 48 hours of ditties about snow and tinsel and sleigh-rides here is a record released this week that is most definitely not Christmas music and if anything belongs to the summer.

Shimmering Stars are a late twenty-something four-piece based in Vancouver. They started out playing – of course - in the singer’s parents’ garage. Their debut four-song single is out this week in the UK (last month in North America). It’s not quite a record of two halves but there are two distinct groupings of tunes. The titles alone of three of the songs - ‘Let It Be Me’, ‘Believe’ and ‘I’m Gonna Try’ - tap into that late 50s pop sound where youthful dreams and innocent desires were first given a voice in popular culture. And the songs themselves match this – short bursts of yearning romance and reverbed guitar and sugar-spun harmonies with crackling, fuzzy edges. If ‘I’m Gonna Try’ didn’t possess that echoing reverb that signals a contemporary band taking on a decades earlier sound, you’d put money on it being The Everly Brothers.

Shimmering Stars - I'm Gonna Try from Salazar on Vimeo.

Then in the other camp is lead song ‘East Van Girls’ which shrugs off some of the innocence and replaces it with darker, edgy guitars and a heavier sixties garage vibe. Even at a slender 1 minutes and 47 seconds it’s a joyous slice of garage-pop and a great foil to its companion songs. The 7” vinyl is limited to 300 copies worldwide and in a neat piece of serendipity, Piccadilly Records is one of the places where you can get your hands on a copy. Shimmering Stars are completing their debut album due for release in March 2011.

Shimmering Stars - A1 East Van Girls by AlmostMusique

Thursday, December 23, 2010


With a name conjuring up US Depression-era mutual banks, this Scottish duo actually trade in a different kind of depression and austerity. “Today I Need Light”, the debut album from The Savings and Loan, is nine tracks of sparse but richly gothic chamber-folk that calls to mind the dark ruminations of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher. The set- up of singer-songwriter Martin Donnelly and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bush supported by a changing cast of players on brass, strings and pedal steel mimics the loose nature and sound of the Boston-born collective . However The Savings and Loan describe their songs as “resolutely Glaswegian, touched as they are by that city's twin obsessions of drink and religion”.

Donnelly’s voice is less doom-laden and gruff than Fisher’s but many lyrical motifs are familiar: storms and trials, sundowns and sunrises, bibles and angels. It’s elemental and foreboding and it-ain’t going-to-work-out-fine stuff imbued with a powerful sense of the travails of simply getting through life – sample lyric “A career in concealment awaits me / if I make it back through this drudgery and trouble / I’m broken with love and splintered within” (‘Lit Out’).

And to continue the parallels the chorused refrain of “I know we’ve both got work to do” over mournful violin and solitary sad trumpet on ‘Her Window’ is not only hair-raisingly spooky but spookily akin to Willard Grant Conspiracy’s ‘The Work Song’. Fortuntately there are also plenty of departures and points of differences. ‘Pale Water’ is a quietly intense Cohen-esque croon. Following a spoken word intro from poet Tom Leonard, ‘Catholic Boys in the Rain’ has the moody down-at-heel introspection and self-doubt of The National. And ‘The Star of the County Down’ is Irish folk narrative slowed down to funeral march pace, like a Dubliners single played at a morose 16rpm.

“Today I Need Light” traverses similar territories to the “ecclesiastical Dunfermline music” of The Scottish Enlightenment (and compare the two album cover images – tortured saints are so in) but has an assured identity and aesthetic of its own, despite my continued WGC references. Did I say austerity? Six careful years of writing and making has delivered a richly poetic and darkly engaging album which also has something very luxurious and very generous about it too.

The Savings and Loan
Today I Need Light [BUY]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CHRISTMAS CARDS with Colorama, Screaming Maldini, Rob St John + Malcolm Middleton

In previous years I’ve gorged myself silly on Christmas songs. Weird exotica found at Falalalala or its ilk. Or the indie brigade going all festive – the Fortuna Pop compilations or the five hours of tunes put together over at Sweeping The Nation for instance. Then there are treasure troves of classy soul and blues takes on the festive season too.

But this year I have steadfastedly avoided all such festive fare. Perhaps I over-indulged in previous years? Or perhaps there’s just too much - and too easily available – Christmas music about this year? Everyone from Los Campesinos to 6 Day Riot and all points in between seem to be offering Christmas songs and most of it free. And I’m sure also the various campaigns to challenge X-Factor to Christmas Number One haven’t helped (I bought Cage Against The Machine - four and a half minutes of silence at Christmas was highly appealing in my current state of mind).

So here instead are some seasonal songs sounding as little like standard Christmas fare as possible – and refreshingly you need to pay, or donate to charity, for each one.

ColoramaCerdyn Nadolig [BUY]
The title may translate as “Christmas Card” but singing in a language I can’t understand ensures any other ‘seasonal’ message is obscured. Instead just gorgeous acoustic Welsh psyche-pop from Carwyn Ellis - beautiful.

Cerdyn Nadolig / Christmas Card by See Monkey Do Monkey

Screaming MaldiniRestless Hearts and Silent Pioneers EP [BUY]
Never the shy-retiring types, Sheffield’s six-piece Screaming Maldini have recorded four songs of off-kilter, melodramatic prog-orchestral-pop with erratic time signatures with possibly a bit of archaic Olde English too. Joyous and celebratory but definitely not deep and crisp and even.

Screaming Maldini
Restless Hearts and Silent Pioneers [BUY]

Rob St John & The Braindead CollectiveThe Whites Of Our Eyes [BUY]
Available on a pay-what-you-can basis, with all proceeds going to the homeless charity Shelter this seven minute improvised track is the “result of the first collaboration between Oxford / London kraut-jazz-drone experimentalists Braindead Collective (featuring members of Guillemots, The Epstein, Keyboard Choir and others), and the Scotland-via-Lancashire purveyor of lo-fi creaks and drones, Rob St.John”. Chilly and chilling.

Malcolm MiddletonLong, Dark Night / Live in Zurich! [BUY]
This live album “from Scotland’s second favourite arch-miserablist” may appear at first glance to have a tenuous link to Christmas. However a December release meant if you ordered earlier this month, Malcolm Middleton sent you a personally signed Christmas Card. The double album – one disc acoustic, the other full band performance – also includes ‘We’re All Going To Die’, the ‘near-miss’ challenger for Christmas Number One in 2007, and ‘Burst Noel’ to boot. As the cover for “Long, Dark Night” says “a collection of wintry acoustic songs about love, hate, death and other stuff”. Says everything you need to know about Christmas in my book. Joyeux Noel one and all.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


When Patterns traded under their previous moniker of Elmo Logic they claimed to be a band who “like to play loud music in dimly lit rooms”. And as their name has had a make-over so have those dimly lit rooms. For on the New Noise EP, Patterns are now inhabiting a light and spacious loft apartment with colour-drenched canvases adoring the walls. On these four songs they are catching at the tailcoats of this year’s Deer Hunter or Toro Y Moi albums. This is immediately evident from the blissful textures of ‘Broken Train’, delicately floating vocals over sleigh bells and pulsing guitars. The soothing waft of ‘Wrong Two Words’ and then ambient drift of ‘New Noise’ progressively slow things down before sombre steady throb ‘Fly to NY’ completes the record. There’s plenty of this stuff about in 2010 but it’s good to hear a new young Manchester band taking on the Yanks at their own game and coming up trumps.

In fact if this released on Captured Tracks, Car Park or Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label it would probably be guaranteed some hipster endorsement on both sides of the Atlantic. As it is, it is released on Pull Yourself Together Records a new venture from Dan Feeney and Hannah Bayfield who also produce the PYT fanzine, promote gigs and run a weekly club night. Clearly they need something to fill those few remaining waking hours. New music writer par excellence The Pigeon Post also set up a DIY label Duck Tapes recently, claiming it was an inevitable, even clichéd, step from music reviewing and blogging. In both cases nothing there is nothing inevitable about it. It takes great effort and thoughtful planning with little reward to set up a label no matter how micro. But it couldn’t been more affordable to support both initiatives. The Patterns EP is free to download or you can grab a limited edition CD version for £2.50; and the three Duck Tapes EPs are all £1 for digital download (posted only for a limited time though).

And looking ahead to the New Year, Patterns play the first of a new club night from Manchester Scenewipe at Fuel Cafe Bar, Withington Manchester on 7 January alongside With That Knife and Beat The Radar. And more too-good-to-be-true value for money, it’s free entry.

Patterns - Broken trains by pullyourselftogether

Thursday, December 16, 2010


This year I've enjoyed albums from Alcoholic Faith Mission, The Acorn, Arcade Fire, Avi Buffalo, Yusaf Azak, Beach Fossils, The Besnard Lakes, Clinic, Clogs, Edwyn Collins, Deer Tick, Deerhunter, Dreamend, Erland and the Carnival, Forest Swords, Harlem, Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern, Kristin Hersh, Micah P Hinson, Richard James, The Loungs, Laura Marling, My First Tooth, The National, The Phantom Band, Shearwater, Smoke Fairies, The Scottish Enlightenment and probably plenty of others I’ve forgotten.

Huge thanks to Race Horses, Sweet Baboo, Tim and Sam’s Tim and the Sam Band with Tim and Sam and Brown Brogues for sharing their views of 2010 earlier this month and for helping wrap up 2010.

Honourable mentions to three albums that at various points this year were in my Top Ten but got edged out in the final furlong : “The Wild Hunt” by The Tallest Man On Earth, “Die Stadt Muzikanten” by Woodpigeon and “The Noyelle Beat” by Standard Fare.

Which means my Top Ten for 2010 looks like this:

10. TITUS ANDRONICUS The Monitor [BUY] [Spotify] []
Epic ragged-glory anthems built around loud, fiery guitars and punkish despair. Oh and with an American Civil War concept. Ambitious and angry.

9. Y NIWL Y Niwl [BUY] [Spotify] []
Records released at the end of the year tend to do badly in end-of-year charts but this instantly infectious surf-rock from chilly Snowdonia easily bucks the trend and makes a big splash. Catch a wave.

8. TIM AND SAM'S TIM & THE SAM BAND WITH TIM & SAM Life Stream [BUY] [Spotify] []
Fine purveyors of instrumental post-folk since 2006, the generously monikered four-piece decide to add vocals for their debut album and then self-release it. Achingly gorgeous hymns to domestic simplicity and the wonders of the natural world.

7. NINA NASTASIA Outlaster [BUY] [Spotify] []
Nastasia’s trademark sparse spectral-folk sound, again with the pin-drop precision recording of Steve Albini, but here with subtle orchestral accompaniment from string and wind quartets. Sombre, intimate, tender.

6. SWEET BABOO I'm A Dancer/Songs About Sleepin' [BUY] [Spotify] []
Third album from Mr Stephen Black - unassuming charmer and national treasure-in-waiting. A witty, wise and surreal collection of anti-folk tall-tales. About moles, lungs, drinking and growing extra thumbs in compost.

5. PERFUME GENIUS Learning [BUY] [Spotify] []
Barely into his twenties, Mike Hadreas lays bare his pained life in a series of short poignant, fragile piano pieces. Devastatingly sad, hauntingly beautiful.

4. RACE HORSES Goodbye Falkenburg [BUY] [Spotify] []
Ace Welsh psyche-pop debut. A giddy sweet-shop raid, in which scoops of glam, psychedelia, indie-pop, folk-rock, even sea shanty are shoved into a bulging pick-and-mix bag. And then given a good shake.

3. ALLO DARLIN' Allo Darlin' [BUY] [Spotify] []
Australian-Anglo quartet deliver feisty, funny and infectious indie-pop classic that manages to reference Weezer, Ingrid Bergman and The Just-Joans. With a few moments of heartbreak thrown in too.

2. JOHN GRANT Queen of Denmark [BUY] [Spotify] []
A powerful and searing examination of guilt, identity and escape in the style of sombre 70s soft-rock. Melody, pain and pomp - with some laughs along the way too.

1. GIL SCOTT-HERON I'm New Here [BUY] [Spotify] []
This record is only 29 minutes long. It has two cover versions and five spoken word interludes amongst its fifteen tracks. But the dark beats and poetic ruminations and riffs on mortality, family, survival and redemption make for an unforgettable listening experience. When Gil Scott-Heron played Manchester in April he didn’t play a single song from this record live. Maybe it didn’t suit his live band? Or maybe the record ‘belongs’ more to producer Richard Russell? Either way doesn’t matter. “I’m New Here” is undeniably a tour-de-force Gil Scott-Heron performance that improves with each listen.

FoY Top Ten Albums of 2010 by FollyOfYouth

Here’s to celebrating more good music in 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Is Steve Black aka Sweet Baboo the hardest working member of the Musicians Union of Wales (assuming such a branch exists)? As well as releasing his excellent third album “I’m A Dancer / Songs About Sleepin’” and touring his pants off, he has also played live or on record with Cate Le Bon, H Hawkline, Spencer McGarry Season and El Goodo this year. And released an EP as Wickes his band with Rob Jones of The Voluntary Butler Scheme. And earlier this year the Welsh Tourist Board used ‘How I’d Live My Life (aka The Bumblebee Song)’ from 2009’s “Hello Wave” to promote visits to Wales.

“An astonishing musician well worth investing time to listen to. His lyrical prowess, his beautifully dark songs, and overall wonderfulness will make you want to clutch him to your bosom for a long while. One of Wales’ finest” Huw Stephens (BBC Radio 1)

The phrase ‘National Treasure’ springs to mind...Here’s how Sweet Baboo remembers (just) his year.

What I will remember most about 2010 is...
Having to stay in New York for an extra two weeks due to the dust problems, nearly getting killed by Bill and Patrick, going on my first non music-based holiday since 2004, the formation of Wickes, The Apprentice Kids, normal and Celebrity USA, discovering fish curry, you know the normal stuff!

What should be forgotten about 2010…
I have an awful memory so will no doubt have forgotten 2010 by 2012.

The best gig I played was...
There's a few, the last minute slot at Green Man main stage was fantastic [watch '12 Carrots of Love'], as was the cinema tent gig the next day, the Fence Collective's Away Game on the Scottish Isle of Eigg, there's too many to mention. It's been a fun year for gigs, it was over a hundred last time I counted. (as of the 23rd of November) There's still a few more to come.

The best gig I saw was...
Hmm. Easy: Y Niwl are always the best band, everytime. But I also renewed my love of Belle and Sebastian at Latitude and I managed to see Acid Mother's Temple three times which is pretty cool!

A record from 2010 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Woods 'At Echo Lake' - That's my favourite album of 2010
Devendra Banhart 'Foolin' - that's the single

Overlooked in 2010?
Although I am biased as I played bass on the album but 'Episode 2' by Spencer McGarry Season.

And what can we look forward to in 2011 from Sweet Baboo?
I'm gonna record an EP before christmas and hopefully release it early next year, then we have something planned as a band for release sometime before the summer, then a big relax maybe!

And ahead of that here's a song from the "I'm A Dancer/Songs About Sleepin'" sessions that didn't make the album.

Monday, December 13, 2010

SOPHIE'S PIGEONS "Names and Pictures"

Following on from debut EP “Say Play Sway” in May 2008, here this December is the debut mini-album from Sophie’s Pigeons, both released on “Manchester’s finest imprint” Red Deer Club . At six tracks in length “Names and Pictures” only adds one more song to the number on that earlier EP. And EPS released earlier this year from Sufjan Stevens and British Sea Power had more than double the running time of this mini-album. But rest assured there is nothing meagre about “Names and Pictures”.

These six shiny gems are a plentiful showcase of the sophisticated maturing of the quartet’s piano-pop sounds, to the extent where first song (and single) ‘Monkeys Trunkle’ opens with wheezy harmonium/melodica and pit-a-pat drums. OK the the ivory-pounding does come in later but it is a neatly fitting component rather than the grandstanding lead instrument.

A more settled line for the band - Beckie Davies on saxophone, Charlotte Holroyd on bass, Philip Sykes on percussion in addition to Sophie Nelson on vocals and piano – has clearly helped deliver this rounded group sound. Given its title ‘Impatient’ could have been shrill piano-hammering belter. Instead is a model of restraint, sassy and sexy. ‘Elevating’ is a frenetic sax-beeping ska-hop which barely pauses for breathe in its fleet-footed three minutes. ‘Boys and Girls’ is all elegant syncopation and poise before giving way to the tribal pounding tension of the furious ‘It’s Gonna Bite’. This final song pushes the pop envelope the most but despite Sophie Nelson sounding like she is promising physical violence when singing “it’s going get better” it is still fits the record label description of this album “as a collection of six hit singles”.

Indeed the pop-sheen sparkle – and breathy sexiness – of Sophie’s Pigeons on show here could easily pass muster on a Radio 1 playlist - taking pot-shots at Marina and the Diamonds et al. but “Names and Pictures” possesses a depth and edgy sophistication that should appeal to a broader audience. If you care about intelligent pop or have previously pigeon-holed (ouch) the band as shrill or kooky you should really make time to listen to this record. And congratulations to Sophie's Pigeons for concentrating on producing quality over quantity.

Impatient - Sophie's Pigeons by FollyOfYouth

Sophie's Pigeons Names and Pictures [BUY]

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I hadn’t been to a Cloud Sounds gig night before let alone an Xmas special, but I am fairly certain they haven’t been on this scale before. Tonight was a co-promotion with Red Deer Club featuring eight bands across both floors of Fuel Cafe Bar in Withington. And when I say ‘scale’ I’m not talking about the size of the venue: Fuel is a bijou cafe space, all stripped wooden floors and lit by fairy-lights, with barely enough room to swing a santa-hat let alone ambitiously stage this mini-festival. And with one band finishing on one level as another started it did feel like a festival – just with a walk up some narrow stairs rather than across a muddy field.

Sadly missing opener Alun Tan Lan, I arrived to see Stealing Sheep set up in the corner of the downstairs room. Hemmed in between towering speaker stands, the trio opened with an intricate clapping round and acapella harmonies before onto their short, sweet folk-pop songs played on keyboards, stand-up drums and tremeloed guitar. Mid-set they went up a gear as ‘The Mountain Dogs’ (renamed from ‘Telephone’ to avoid going head to head with Lady Gaga) introduced a new level of jauntiness and even more intricate rhythms. It was lovingly played, mixing melody and poise with nervous giggles – I look forward to hearing more.

Upstairs the The Louche FC performed as a three piece with drum machine. For the first song the drum machine dominated too much – or rather I was paying it too much attention. From thereon though either the sound levels balanced out or I stopped noticing - and it meant you could focus on the dreamy-drone pop of the guitars. On this second live viewing, it was the pulsing, shoegaze-leaning numbers that stood out for me over the girl-group pop sounds –but The Louche FC are equally adept at delivering both. Very assured, very impressive.

Jane Weaver told us she normally performs with a table-top of toys and gadgets. Tonight she just had a single box creating drones and acoustic guitar. Down-to-earth in appearance and accent, when singing her songs take on an eerie, other-worldly quality. Spook-folk? Quite entrancing if the police sirens and the icy blasts from the front door didn’t distract too much. On this showing it didn’t feel as though the box of toys was needed?

If Stealing Sheep had difficulty fitting into a small corner downstairs, there was more fighting for space as the seven piece The Maladies of Bellafontaine, mixing seated and standing members amongst their number, set up upstairs. Their double A-side single (both songs played here) has a cheerful skipping-to-school psych-folk feel which makes it easy to forget they also do fast and shouty (‘The Witch’), Broadcast-like motorik rhythms and just plain weird. I was left wanting more (and an album please).

Onions was the one band on the bill I knew nothing about and had no idea what to expect. Tonight their lyrics included references to muscles, vitamins and the Seven Wonders of the World. They are in fact three skinny and bookish indie-lads, two bespectacled for good measure, playing a good-natured Fountains of Wayne-meets-The Everly Brothers pop. Clearly playing to a partisan crowd and not taking it too seriously, I was nevertheless won over by their catchy melodies and playfulness.

And so to the Welsh surf-rock of Y Niwl in the upstairs room. Their self-titled album of ten instrumentals out earlier this week is a joy - but live they are something even more special. There is a ratcheting up of volume, intensity and energy, all anchored around the powerful drumming (those arms!) that is nothing short of enthralling. The band not only treat the genre with respect they treat their playing of these songs very seriously with a tightly-focussed precision and concentration. You could feel the tension lift as they finished each song. Just brilliant. Go and see.

The whole evening had the feel of a cosy lock-in: friendly, homely but still with a sense of occasion, something special without ever being self-important or full of itself. And despite the season and the title of the evening there were no mince pies and only one person was wearing a Santa hat. But what really made this night was the shrewd and cohesive selection of bands. All bands so far tonight had mixed to differing degrees the innocence of earlier decades of pop music, folky or droney melodies and quirkiness. Final band of the night Young British Artists therefore felt a bit out of step with the rest of the evening: a loud, brutal buffeting from industrial guitar squalls. Still a good, pulverising head cleanser for the journey home.

All this for only £6. Now this is how Christmas should be celebrated. Twelve months feels too long to wait to another one.

Friday, December 10, 2010


In November 2007 I bought ‘Stepping Stones’ EP after a Tim and Sam's Tim and the Sam Band with Tim and Sam gig at Cafe Saki. It was the last one, a handwritten CDR version with a colour-photocopy sleeve. That wasn’t important (and they sold it to me at a discount) as it was the music I was interested in. Two and a half years later, the band’s debut album ‘Lifestream’ is released. The presentation has definitely improved - a handsome illustrated cover on vinyl, CD and digital versions plus a lavish limited edition box-set (now sold out). However the music has also upped its game: achingly gorgeous post-folk (now with vocals on five of the eleven tracks!) that hymns the natural world (‘The Yellowhammer’, ‘Out In The Ocean’, ‘Summer Solstice’) or domestic comforts (‘Coming Home’, ‘All Tucked Up’ , ‘Up The Stairs’).

"Tim and Sam have produced an album that may have been two years in the making, but will remain in the memory for a lifetime. They have created a brilliantly progressive and rich musical tapestry that will leave many people in awe of the talent on show." Clash Music

Highly recommended at full price but this December if you are quick you can get the CD or vinyl half-price to help fund future recordings.

And here’s what the band’s Tim McIver thought of the last twelve months.

What I will remember most about 2010 is...
2010 has been a year of milestones for us, so there will be lots of great things to look back on. One highlight was releasing "Life Stream". It took us two years to make and during the process we went through a whole host of difficulties; line-up changes, money issues, label problems, the decision to put vocals on it, to self-release it etc. In some ways it's a small miracle it even got finished at all, so we're very proud that we managed it and that it's been so well received.

Another big thing for us was our recent tour with Cherry Ghost. We've never done a tour support before, and it came just at the right time. We were fully up to speed with playing the material from the album and had an amazing time playing to such great, receptive crowds each night. An amazing experience that we'll never forget.

What should be forgotten about 2010?
I don't think there's anything we'd rather forget. There have been some inevitable lows but it's all something to learn from and has helped us really appreciate the good bits.

The best gig we played was...
Difficult one. I'd say either the Milton Keynes or the Manchester date of the Cherry Ghost tour. Milton Keynes was at a seated venue called The Stables, which really suited our sound, and Manchester was at a sold out Academy 2 and was our biggest crowd to date. Both were amazing for different reasons.

The best gig I saw was...
It may well have been John Williams at the Bridgewater Hall this week. It may not show in Tim and Sam, but I'm a very keen classical guitarist and John Williams is a real hero of mine so it was great to see him play. He's a true master of his instrument and a real inspiration.

A record from 2010 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Lots of my favourites have released records this year, so hopefully a lot of them will stand the test of time. At the moment I'm addicted to "The Age of Adz" by Sufjan Stevens, and because it's so big sounding it takes a few listens to really get in to it, which is always good for longevity I feel. Other highlights of this year have been The National, Villagers and Broken Social Scene.

Overlooked in 2010?
The recent Shady Bard record is definitely worth checking out. I think this line from a DiS review sums them up nicely: "Their complex arrangements, usually borne out of a fusion of unconventional instrumentation and oddball subject matter have made them one of the most original bands to emerge from the UK's underground scene this past decade."

And what can we look forward to in 2011 from Tim and Sam?
We've got a lot of exciting things in the pipeline! Lots of new material is taking shape in the studio at the moment, and we're really looking forward to showing everyone what we've been doing. We're making some big changes behind the scenes, which should be announced early next year. Here's to another fun filled year!

Tim and Sam's Tim and the Sam Band with Tim and Sam Lifestream [BUY]

Thursday, December 09, 2010


If you haven’t seen Belle and Sebastian play live in their fifteen year career then maybe the first time should be with a full orchestra? That’s what I thought too when this went on sale and I grabbed some front stalls tickets. Come the first week in December though, I’m feeling rough. I’ve got those can’t-wait-for-the-end-of-the-year blues and suddenly seeing Belle and Sebastian with or without the London Contemporary Orchestra feels like a chore. The fact it was seated was what got me there on the night. That and a lift from ever-dependable Ms L. And how thankful am I now?

I’m not a great fan of the Apollo – it’s a bit of a soulless, sterile experience without surprise or warmth. First surprise then on taking our seats – front, centre, just a few rows back – was suddenly how the cavernous Apollo started to feel a bit more intimate.

When the eight-piece Belle and Sebastian took to the stage they were all polite waves and nods but generally shy and workman-like into the first song. Third song ‘Like Dylan In The Movies’ was played just by the band, moving gracefully from gentle acoustic opening into beautiful cello, violin and trumpet accompaniment – what need for a full orchestra? Soon we were shown what the orchestra could add. The London Contemporary Orchestra didn’t play on all songs, and for some they were quite discreet, unshowy, but for others the orchestra players brought dramatic intros, swells, dips and grandeur - particularly making an early impression on ‘I Waking Up To Us’ and ‘Lord Anthony’.

However this for me was not what made the evening. It was that Belle and Sebastian were having fun. Most of the band remained fairly unexpressive whilst playing but from the moment Stuart Murdoch removed his red jacket (underneath tight white T-shirt with ‘Ealing Studios’ crest since you asked) the whole event warmed up. And kept getting warmer. Murdoch was relaxed whether sitting singing on the forestage or dancing on the spot and wiggling his hips, whether choosing audience members (“you need to have rhythm”) to come on stage and dances or even running up and down the aisles. I know – all a bit rock ‘n’ roll. Or at least rock ‘n’ roll on Belle and Sebastian terms. There was never any danger or edginess but instead just a great, fun, uplifting experience. And when the orchestra abandoned their instruments and filled the forestage to dance along to final encore ‘Me And The Major’ you could sense they were genuinely caught up in the joy of the moment too. The problem is now I am spoiled. I think I can only see Belle and Sebastian again at close proximity and with an orchestra.

The Set List:

If You’re Feeling Sinister
Write about Love
Like Dylan In The Movies
I’m Not Living In The Real World
I’m Waking Up To Us
Lord Anthony
I Want The World To Stop
Sukie In The Graveyard
Fox In The Snow
I Fought In A War
(I Believe In) Travellin’ Light
I Can See Your Future
Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Dirty Dream #2
The Boy With The Arab Strap
If You Find Yourself Caught In Love
Judy and the Dream of Horses
Sleep The Clock Around
I’m A Cuckoo
Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying
Me And The Major

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


For all its myriad faults I am thankful to MySpace for one thing: it was where I first heard Brown Brogues after a recommendation by the ever-reliable Pigeon Post back in March or April of this year. And from the Spring onwards the primitive, pounding “Wigan garage” of Brown Brogues was quickly and warmly embraced by promoters and gig nights in Manchester – they became the go-to band for a whole host of support slots for visiting Americans including The Strange Boys, Harlem, Avi Buffalo, Wavves, and Titus Andronicus. Three gigs on each day of In The City in October and a now sold-out cassette-only release on Suffering Jukebox were also packed into a busy year for the guitar and drums duo of Mark Vernon and Ben Mather. So how did the pair see their year? And will 2011 bring some recorded music in a more user-friendly format?

What I will remember most about 2010 is...
Mark The sad theme music to This is England '86. I wish I could remember something better.
Ben The route from Wigan to Manchester.

What should be forgotten about 2010…
Ben 'Don't Stop Believing' - anyone’s version of it.
Mark The Libertines reforming at Leeds and my latest haircut (It's just not 'edgy' enough!).

The best gig we played was...
Mark We've had a lot of good gigs this year but the best were either the Suffering Jukebox launch night at Deaf Institute or playing at Fuel with a good friend of ours on Bass before he moved to Berlin. Sad face.
Ben Probably Saki Bar, I think that was the first gig Mark asked people to move closer and they actually did.

The best gig I saw was...
Ben Thee Oh Sees at Deaf Institute.
Mark Hyacinth Girl at a dodgy Ket party in Fallowfield a few weeks back.

A record from 2010 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Mark Tough one, probably "Kollaps Tradixionales".
Ben The LCD Soundsystem one probably, I'm still listening to stuff from 2009 like a loser.

Overlooked in 2010?
Ben 'Bury pts 2 + 4' by The Fall and the death of Gary Coleman because of the death of Dennis Hopper.
Mark Musically: Hyacinth Girl, our rap side project (White Hoes) and Star Slinger (although he's only just started playing live, he's going to own 2011) Visually : Keith Richards fingers on his Culture Show special - I can’t believe more people didn’t notice that his fingers look like little trumpets.

And what can we look forward to in 2011 from Brown Brogues?
Ben A 7" maybe, more shows around more places, and I might look at getting another drum. No of course not, Mark won't let me.
Mark Growing my own chubby trumpet fingers and a really self indulgent LP.

Before that Brown Brogues play their last gig of 2010 at the Shake It Xmas Party at The Star and Garter on Friday 10 December alongside The ABC Club and Letters To Fiesta; and then The Silver Bullet in Finsbury Park, London on 13 January with Milk Maid.

Monday, December 06, 2010

In MCR this month: Q&A with Dan Haywood's New Hawks

Five years in the making, launched in Lancaster in August and finally officially released today on Timbreland Recordings, “Dan Haywood’s New Hawks” is impressive not just in terms of lengthy gestation. At over two hours in length, this thirty-two track, triple vinyl album is a hefty and absorbing listen, billed as “both debut record and final release”.

The songs are all based on Haywood’s personal ruminations charting his experience as a lone songwriter, poet and ornithologist travelling around rural Scotland. The finished record is uncompromising in its dramatic, personal and raw interpretation - marrying country rock, folk and psychedelic influences, alongside Dan Haywood’s ardent vocals. The instrumentation and arrangements are sometimes sparse, sometimes exquisite and sometimes cacophonous, with the band utilising guitars, fiddles, cellos, drums, pedal steel, piano and percussion along with some minimal use of bass, bongos and harmonium”.

Ahead of gigs this Tuesday at The Yorkshire House in Lancaster with Trembling Bells and on Thursday 16 December at Sacred Trinity Church in Salford with Stealing Sheep, head hawk Dan Haywood answered a few questions about the record and the live shows.

You’ve described this record as “The first and last album by Dan Haywood’s New Hawks” – how come?
There are only so many products that could be termed 'Dan Haywood's New Hawks' because it refers exclusively to the group of songs. The songs themselves are the New Hawks, all dreamt up some years ago. It's not a band name. So there can't be any more-- there were only ever thirty-two of them and now they're all done and stored in one convenient product.

The CD version and the booklet accompanying the vinyl release refer both refer to “ Parts 1 – 6”. Did you originally conceive this as a triple vinyl release or is this grouping of songs accidental? When I was writing it I wasn't worried about the word-count, the running-time, the format, or anything...just the mania.... Didn't even know it was an album or whether it would be made 'public'.. But it soon became clear that it was very much an album, that the songs belonged together. More so than any group of songs I've come up with before or since. But art was first and foremost, staying true to the flashes.

And a couple of years passed before triple or quadruple vinyl was mentioned. The way the recordings were going it was looking to be two to three hours long which suggested the format. The story splits into six or eight parts very nicely, so vinyl worked for me. More toilet breaks. Eat a banana between sides four and five or you can get suicidal.

Two sides is less pleasant, which is why the 2CD version isn't ideal. Probably best to program it into the six chunks.

The record followed from 18 months working in far North of Scotland and is dedicated to the people of Caithness and Sutherland. What is special about that part of the country?
Those people and those places were far more inspiring to me than any band or album or film have ever been. But that area's hidden, subtle, undervalued, overlooked, hard to define. A vast challenge to write about. If you visit it for a few days or a week it can't impress you fully. You have to slow down and live there for awhile otherwise you might not absorb anything specific. So living there taught me patience, and eventually surpassed all expectations and blew me away.

A tourist might race North through Caithness to get to John O Groats. The name rings a bell but everyone is underwhelmed by it when they arrive. Boring. What next? They tick and run-- they go back down to spot Nessie or head on to the Northern Isles and miss out on great beauty and subtlety.

If you had to release a single from the record what would the A and B sides be?
'Smiley Patch' is one of the rockier, hookier moments from the album and might work as a single. The some great fiddle from Mikey Kenney and some beautiful pedal steel from GT Thwaite. You need fiddle and steel for a single, right? And 'Fear of Lightning' is a sweet, compact song that could be the flip. Nice and lonely, sitting to one side.

But 'Spate River' I'm particularly proud of as a standalone because among things it captures the rude essence of Anglo-Highland Scot relations. And that's an important thread of the album. A taster for the whole thing.

If this record was a film, which one would it be?
Oh! This record is a film. And a novel. And a meal in a drink!

Although this is an intensely personal record, it is populated by other people and places- and I’m not sure we see and hear the real Dan Haywood. Who is the real Dan Haywood?
I'm not bothered about that anymore. All of my earlier, unreleased records are more about that. The folly of youth. Other people and places are much more interesting. The other characters and settings on the album might ring more true for having some personal/anecdotal input from me though. So my ego may have some function.

Which other musicians and song-writers inspire you?
David Berman always worked hard to give you the full experience with his songwriting. Pulled out all the stops, played with the rules. It's a shame that he retired the Silver Jews, but also a measure of his great integrity that he did. I'm lucky to have met him and corresponded with him and he was kind and encouraging about my stuff. One of the things he advised was to 'stay weird'!. Consider it done!

Also, my fellow band members are brilliant without exception. Four or five years of recording this and gigging this couldn't have passed so sweetly if they weren't so inventive.

You launched this record with audio-visual displays and an illustrated talk alongside the full band – what should we expect from your December shows?
Back to basics this month. But with added review-rage. A few album reviews have been trickling in and they're driving me mad. The Salford show will be either be our 9-piece or our 10-piece. However - don't expect matching outfits.

Dan Haywood's New Hawks
Dan Haywood's New Hawks [BUY]

Friday, December 03, 2010


As we wind down the year, I've asked some of the bands who made an impression on me in 2010 to share their thoughts on this year as part of the countdown to me posting my Top Ten Albums of 2010. Kicking us off is Race Horses who I saw live at the Brudenell in February supporting Fanfarlo and then at Green Man in August. They are a thrilling live band (watch their recent full concert from Amsterdam here) but even more impressive is the album they released this year.

Even a previous band life as Radio Luxembourg doesn’t explain how Race Horses managed to deliver a debut album as impressively fully-formed and joyously ambitious as “Goodbye Falkenburg”. Arriving in February this year on Fantastic Plastic, the album is a superior off-kilter psyche-pop gallop from the Cardiff-by-way-of- Aberystwyth four-piece of Meilyr Jones (vocals and bass), Dylan Hughes (keyboards, synths, guitar and vocal) Alun Gaffey (guitar and vocals) and Gwion Llewelyn (drums and vocals).

Race Horses take the Gorky’s influence and run miles with it, showboating through psychedelia, sea shanties, folk, post-rock, electronica and pop to create a captivating debut full of songs that have been repeatedly bent out of shape. Singer Meilyr Jones has a Beatles haircut and that band’s way with melody... and it’s the melodies that hold the album’s fragmented segments together, the melodies that stick in the mind, and the melodies that make Race Horses a real pleasure to listen to”. BBC Review

Here the band's singer and bass-player Meilyr Jones looks back on 2010.

What I will remember most about 2010 is...
Playing our debut festivals with Race Horses especially Latitude, Green Man [watch 'Pony' + 'Grangetown 02920'] and Bestival. Also playing shows in Europe for the first time. Good times! And of course the release of our debut album "Goodbye Falkenburg"

What should be forgotten about 2010?
Coventry - I hope we never have to play there again.

The best gig we played was...
9.11.10 La fleché D'or, Paris ... We played great and had an amazing
response, and we were all quite excited to be in Paris also!

The best gig I saw was...
Massive Attack at the Big Chill Festival and Flaming Lips at Bestival

A record from 2010 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Ours hopefully! And Villagers "Becoming a Jackal", "The Suburbs" by Arcade Fire and Girls "Broken Dreams Club EP"

Overlooked in 2010?
I don't know but the stuff I'm digging at the moment are - Twin Sister 'All Around and Away We Go', the new Foals single, Jim Jones Revue 'Shoot First', Grinderman - 'Worm Tamer', Gruff Rhys 'Shark Ridden Water'. None of these are overlooked I just wanted to get it out there that I like them. I don't know what it is about this November but there are some GREAT tunes out there! A month ago I thought all modern music was shite!

And what can we look forward to in 2011 from Race Horses?
Angular, stripped-down, futuristic white-boy-funk, with space-age production and hints of Quincy Jones.

Race Horses Goodbye Falkenburg [BUY]

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Now I normally hate anything billed as 'Christmassy'. And this is grandly titled 'The Christmas Bash'. But name aside the Cloud Sounds and Red Deer Club joint party is indeed a tasty seasonal treat. Eight bands for £6 in the cosy setting of Withington's Fuel Cafe Bar: Y Niwl, Young British Artists, Jane Weaver, The Maladies of Bellafontaine, Onions, The Louche FC, Stealing Sheep and Alun Tan Lan. So enticingly good I might make an exception to my aversion of Christmas-themed events. Just don't expect me to wear a Santa hat.

Elsewhere there is an astonishing range of other good gigs on offer so there should be no excuse this December for opting for Eighties nostalgia in draughty arenas. In fact there's no excuse for that at any time of the year.

And to help you make your choices, a mixtape of some of the bands playing Manchester this December. Link for the mixtape [51 mins / 58 MB] is in the post following this one.

Manchester Gigs in Music Mixtape: December 2010

The Rural Alberta Advantage The Dead Roads [2.38] (8 Dec Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Walton Hesse Only Son [6.31] (8 Dec Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Dan Haywood’s New Hawks Superquarry [10.09] (16 Dec Sacred Trinity Church BUY TICKETS)
The Maladies of Bellafontaine Black Biro [15.41] (10 Dec Fuel Cafe Bar BUY TICKETS)
Sophie’s Pigeons Impatient [19.04] (4 Dec Antwerp Mansion BUY TICKETS)
Basia Bulat Go On [22.29] (5 Dec Academy BUY TICKETS)
Tamaryn Love Fade [26.03] (3 Dec Kraak Gallery BUY TICKETS)
Jo Rose Another Name For Mercy [29.36] (18 Dec Green Room BUY TICKETS)
Y Niwl Undegpump [32.27] (10 Dec Fuel Cafe Bar BUY TICKETS)
Wooden Shjips Motorbike [37.16] (10 Dec Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
Truman’s Water We Fish [39.32] (12 December Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
Sonic Youth Sacred Trickster [41.41] (30 Dec Academy 1 BUY TICKETS)
Frankie Rose & The Outs Little Brown Haired Girls [44.24] (10 Dec Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor The Dead Flag Blues [50.53] (7 Dec Academy 1 BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
1 Dec Menomena Deaf Institute / 1 Dec Jenny & Johnny Ruby Lounge / 1 Dec The Thing Islington Mill / 2 Dec Paul Smith Deaf Institute / 2 Dec The Young Gods Academy / 3 Dec The Concretes Deaf Institute / 3 Dec I Am Kloot Manchester Cathedral / 3 Dec Tanlines Islington Mill / 3 Dec Frankie & The Heartstrings Salford Lads Club / 3 Dec Boy or Bear Night & Day / 4 Dec Jesse Malin & The St Mark’s Social Sound Control / 6 Dec Tim Hecker Islington Mill / 6 Dec Shit Browne Night & Day / 7 Dec Delorean Ruby Lounge / 7 Dec Belle & Sebastian Apollo / 7 Dec Damo Suzuki Dulcimer / 7 Dec Gabe Minnikin Night & Day / 8 Dec Marner Brown Dry Bar / 8 Dec MJ Hibbett 'Dinosaur Planet' Kings Arms / 9 Dec Ty Segall Deaf Institute / 9 Dec The Boy Least Likely To Ruby Lounge / 9 Dec Rangda + Howlin’ Rain Islington Mill / 9 Dec Chapel Club St Phillips Church / 10 Dec Moon Duo Islington Mill / 10 Dec The Wedding Present Academy / 10 Dec The Moulettes Ruby Lounge / 11 Dec Arcade Fire Manchester Central / 11 Dec Orphan Boy Night & Day / 13 Dec Everything Everything RNCM / 15 Dec Orange Goblin Sound Control / 15 Dec The Heartbreaks Sacred Trinity Church / 17 Dec St Etienne The Ritz / 17 Dec Acoustic Ladyland Band on the Wall / 18 Dec Fredo Viola Deaf Institute / 21 Dec Kirsty Almeida Matt & Phred’s