Reverend Sound System

May 31, 2010

Reverend Sound System

With massive beats and a booming bass, the Reverend Sound System are shaking the room, soundtracking the 21st century. The collective are on stage making music that is a cut up of all the great underground sounds that are everywhere in the modern, fractured British music scene.
Blowing the myth that music is not going forwards the Reverend Sound System are not only re-writing the script, they are re-wiring just what music is in the 21st century.
It’s a tough job but thank fuck someone is doing it and doing it brilliantly.
There is the shuddering bass end of bassline and dubstep, the fractured beats of cutting edge dance, a nod to the rap and MCing of hip hop and also a love of the song from the indie and guitar worlds.
This is a powerful and potent brew and whole new way of making music.
Frontman and the Reverend himself, Jon McClure, is one of the last great rock n roll renegades. Not in the sense of pretending to be a Rolling Stone from the late sixties but in the sense of standing up for all that is good about the remaining possibilities of the counter culture sieved through a Sheffield working class nous and being prepared to say it.
He is impassioned, smart and a rogue, loose canon who speaks it as he sees it. He talks his truth in a music scene where keeping schtum has become the career saving option of the cowardly and the banal.
Mclure is the key figure in the Sheffield scene that sparked the Artic Monkeys where he also fronted his own band, Reverend And The Makers, who had a top five album and took on the whole music biz single-handedly and are still winning.
Reverend And The Makers cut some great pop music- a mixture of styles that never settled into the simple formulae of indie pop and they remain hungry for new ways to communicate on the music frontline.
Revered Sound System is one further, big step into the unknown- into world where indie pop is just one fragment of modern culture along with bass driven dance music.
Of course this is not a discourse on the death of the guitar! I’m still in love with the fierce electric of the six string and with that visceral excitement of the instrument that still dominates the frontline.
But every now and then I personally need something else and the thunderous pulse and endless soundscapes provided by dark technology have always been attractive. Click into Mary Anne Hobbs brilliant show on Radio One or check out the cutting edge clubs and there is a whole new riot going on out there.
The digital that interests Mclure is pushing forwards- stalking the furthermost points of possibility and it’s no mistake that in 2010 some of the most groundbreaking music is coming from the sheer possibilities provided by the technological.
Along with MIA, Mclure represents the radical mainstream fringe getting to grips with the endless rush of new sound out there. The Reverend Sound System make a heavy, heavy sound but they are not pure noise, this is a party. The beats, which are crushed, are superbly kinetic and the gig is quickly pumped into dance action. The Basslines are huge and really pumping whilst the two techie droogs- the legendary Jagz Kooner (worked with Andrew Weatherall on Jah Wobble, New Order, Flowered Up, Future Sound Of London, Psychic TV and Bjork and then put together, with Weatherall, the genius Sabres Of Paradise and loads of other great stuff) and Laura Mclure build up a massive wall of sound that is like a sic fi James Brown in its dancefloor intent allied with a smoking, sound system bass beat rumbling the floor- pure kinetic.
There is something quite beautiful about two tiny bits of keyboard kit providing something as fleshy as this.
On top McClure and his charismatic rap partner, Maticmouth, deal out the lines in tough northern brogue, MCing the whole show and driving the audience to a frenzy.
Reverend Sound System is the sound of the real UK- the mash up of cultures and noise that makes up the Saturday nights just beyond the chain bar hell of the city centres. This is the result of the melting pot mixture of music on the streets that is a million miles away from the jangling indie world of the mainstream media.

Anyone who has ever been to a dubstep night will have been enthralled by the brilliant music and the killer MCS whose constant tough babble is the 21st century equivalent of a punk rock hardcore singer. They have the same clear-headed vision and euphoric relationship with the audience and the same inspirational off the cuff raw power.
The Reverend Sound System capture this but take it somewhere else.
Their journey is the real sound of the suburbs, the real soundtrack to modern UK the sound of a million car stereos, crackling iPods and mobiles, the heavy bass colliding with the trad indie love of the song is a powerful potion and this makes them a very powerful beast indeed.


Blackpool…punk rock and the premiership…

May 23, 2010

‘…With big Maloney boots on their hassling me,
Seaside’s lonely banter- a frightening scene
The sheer thrill of violence on a warm August night
Much rather run than get stuck with this fight,

Hey! When the sun goes down! I’m in a seaside town!

With a bunch of single tickets the trains pulling out,
Goodbye pier, tower and autumn lights,
The pungent smell of adrenalin,
Seaside mafia met in town tonight…’

(the Membranes ‘Tatty Seaside Town..’ 1988)

It’s a glorious sight.
Everywhere I look I see tangerine wizards, elves, tango men; Tangerine wigs and tangerine shirts, it’s an endless sea of tangerine going through the emotional ups and downs of a crazy afternoon in the sun as Blackpool are 3-2 up in the play off final against Cardiff City. Emotions are running high and there is an air of surrealism about this very Blackpool moment.
It’s about 40 degrees, stupid hot on one of those rare British days when the heat goes off.
I’ve never seen so many Blackpool fans in one place at one time. There’s four minutes of injury time left and the tension is unbearable. Everyone is looking at their watches and praying for the unbelievable.
It’s been an amazing game. Only the most confident, crazed, the blind faithful or genius manager Sir Ian Holloway had believed we could get anything out of this. Favourites to go down and the smallest club in the division Blackpool just shouldn’t be here. Instead they are winning. they won’t give up and they play expansive attacking football- is this for real!
The club comes to Wembley armed with a proud history and little else. The ghosts of Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen flicker like the great black and white footage of the legendary 1953 cup final. There was the 30 odd years at the top flight from the thirties to the sixties- the glory days back in the days of black and white TV. There was a time when Blackpool was the team to watch- the best players, the flashest style.
Most of my adult life, though, has seen the club in the doldrums. By the time I started support the seasiders in 1971 we were on the last pinnacle- promotion to division one and winning the Anglo Italian cup. In the seventies we used to go to every match- our knuckles frozen white at Bloomfield Road, often outnumbered by the away fans who came in their thousands for the weekend out up the Pool.
In those days we were regular promotion contenders, often missing out by the closest of calls, a thousand of a goal on goal difference or a bad run at the end of the season. We had Mickey Walsh’s famous goal of the season against Sunderland in 1975- I was there and it was my first TV appearance running onto the pitch at the end of the match.
We had a good solid team and some great personality managers like Bob Stokoe and Alan Brown. Brown was sacked in the late seventies by the chairman for calling him a back stabbing rat and the club, who had been second at Christmas, managed to get relegated by a freak set of results at the end of the season- the next thirty odd years would be about decline and desperation.
Growing up in Blackpool was the same. It had been the golden town of the first half the century- a fantasy escape for millions of workers and the second showbiz town after London in the UK.
Frank Sinatra sang there several times, George Formby- the biggest star in the UK was based there and The Beatles played Blackpool 14 times. Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar on stage in Blackpool, Jethro Tull, Roy Harper and an endless list of great showbiz and pop figures came from the town until we arrived on the scene.
The town, like the football club, in the mid seventies was beginning its long decline, the package resorts stuffed Blackpool and the decay was slowly and almost unnoticeably taking hold. There was a brief revival in music with punk and post punk scene in the town, Section 25 were making waves and we followed on with the Membranes and there were punk legends the Fits and One Way System. A brief flurry of activity before the inevitable decay.
I grew up in seaside suburbia – dawn chorus, local shops, shuffling grannies, cafes with milky tea and too many sugars, strange gift shops with pointless plastic souvenirs, stray holiday makers, rusting trams, a beach full of sewage and lots of rain and a small resilient community of chemically fixated youth.
As the never ending salty wind whistled down the Lane, and the shops shut early- punk rock and John Peel were our lifelines- giving us a glimpse into another exotic world of like minded teenagers with high octane creative impulses dotted around the rest of small town England.
This was our backdrop- Blackpool in the early eighties was a town dedicated to everyone else apart from those who lived there who wanted to do something different. Despite all this we loved the town and its chintzy lights and amazing garish ballrooms. We understood the exotic beauty and the faded grandeur. It was our backdrop and part of our DNA- didn’t every town have a pleasure beach?
This faded grandeur was fading fast and the football club was following suit to disrepair and slumped to near bottom of the 4th division, the famous tangerines of Mathews final 1953 were sliding out of the league.
Many of us moved out of the town. I went to Manchester but I never gave up on Blackpool, people would often say your from Manchester but I always corrected them, I loved coming from the tatty seaside town and even if it was imposable to conduct this kind of life from their my veins would still bleed tangerine.
There were many of us ex pats there on Saturday afternoon at Wembley willing the Pool on. We had been brought up to be losers, the civil service for the best of us, the town offered us nothing but ghosts of a recent past. Somehow we were still in love with its very English weirdness and we loved the stark beauty of the Victoriana, the quaint eccentricity of the tower (they should have built it taller than the Eiffel tower though) I loved the confusion in peoples faces when I told them were I was from- ‘no one is from Blackpool’ they would say. People would run the town down all the time, the media would endlessly review it sneering at the place whist bigging up Brighton which somehow won city status whilst Blackpool was laughed at for daring to get city status at the same time, despite being a bigger place and a far more poplar resort. Blackpool was in danger of becoming a ghost town there was the casino farce, the endless recessions, the crumbling town centre…and then…
And then oddly the football team started to stir, there was the irregular and unlikely promotions- the grafting character managers came back- Billy Ayre became a Blackpool legend when with virtually nothing in the bank he started to turn the corner, Steve McMahon was solid and steady, Simon Grayson pointed us in the right direction before offing to Leeds a year ago. It looked like we had peaked and the Oystens made them inspired choice of bringing in Ian Holloway- the extrovert, hilarious man of the people with a madcap sense of humour a fistful of great quotes and an inspirational manner and fierce football brain. In one year he had turned the relegation favourites into a club that was here and now four minutes from the Premiership.
Holloway was the type of extrovert, colourful manager that suited the club and the town. This was the real Blackpool. The Blackpool of showmen and big ideas, the Blackpool whose motto was progress, the Blackpool of the world’s first electric street light and tramway, the Blackpool that invented itself in the 19th century as Europe’s number one resort, the Blackpool of free flowing, attacking football and the Blackpool of Matthews and Mortensen and seven English internationals in one match of the fifties. This was the Blackpool of the years before we had been born- the one that we lived in the shadow of.
Holloway embodied that spirit and infused the club with it. The team were suddenly non-stop attacking marauders who never gave up- this was the true spirit of the town…
The town was already looking better. Money had been spent on the prom- it now winds its way along like an art deco, concrete snake, there was loads of grass on the prom breaking up the concrete, there was talk of the council buying the Winter Gardens. Lots of great ideas and passion- a great comeback from the town that is still embedded deep in the northern psyche.
And here we were at Wembley. Minutes to go the premiership just there…as the minutes ticked away the sweat, the adrenalin and nerves were shredded till that glorious final whistle…
No-one really believed it- something had to go wrong. We had spent a long time growing up as losers and suddenly we were winners. The tangerine army went berserk. The town turned a corner and Blackpool were in the premiership.
The elation is hard to describe. Grown men were in tears.
Suddenly Blackpool was a town of winners.
Progress!


Gnawa Nijoum Experience – Moroccan rebel trance music!

May 11, 2010

Morocco is a mixture of the magical, the mystical and modern so it’s no surprise that Gnawa Nijoum Experience reflect this perfectly.
In a country where a huge city like Casablanca reverberates to the sound of deeply traditional and the constant blare of the modern- Gnawa Nijoum Experience ’s meltdown of Gnawa, dub, dubstep and hip hop with a mid period Clash style edge is mesmerizing.

The three piece band formed when young Gnawa musicians started jamming with DJ’s.
The three Moroccan musicians shut themselves up in the studio where the DJ operated and recorded a music mixing multi modern styles with Gnawa- the mesmerizing music of North Africa.
Gnawa, driven by the camel skinned bass the Guimbri that sounds like a warped double bass is the transcendental music of the nation. You can listen to this stuff for hours hooked on those Guimbri bass lines that lapse in and out of conventional time like a tripping double bass, aided by the hand cymbals called Karkabas: -a metal kind of castanet’s. It’s a stunning mix of sound that is both hypnotic and danceable.
Everywhere I went in Morocco I heard Gnawa and in the late night bars of Fes found cafes that had musicians playing it all night while we all sat around and drank mint tea- you don’t need to be stoned with this music- its fluidity and primal power does its own talking.
Boum Ba Clash take their own roots music and bang it up to date. Recognizing its versatility, they add the space of dub and the hypnotic pulse of trance- both of which slot into Gnawa perfectly adding to the musics ethereal power. Somehow there is also that sense of adventure that arrived in my own generation’s post punk meltdown and that defiant rebel spirit that defined the Clash in their Sandinista period.
You can feel the pulse of a 21st century Morocco in Gnawa Nijoum Experience ’s music that reinvents a timeless ancient sound with the modern.


Death- the great lost punk band

May 10, 2010

Punk rock was started by a black band.

Ok, maybe not but Detroit’s amazing Death, formed in 1971, were right in there inbetween the Stooges and MC5 and the New York explosion. They recorded about seven amazing songs that you can hear on youtube and then fucked off.

Along with Bad Brains and Pure Hell they are part of a clutch of bands who thankfully retell the story of punk rock from a different perspective.

Because the story of punk is somehow, sadly, white.

It wasn’t meant to be like that. When punk started there were black punks- Don Letts for one- and a clutch of black faces in London and Manchester.

There was the punk reggae party- the great crossover, opening possibilities. Reggae was part of the soundtrack, Bob Marley acknowledged the punks in song and dub was everywhere in punk opening up the compressed sound giving it a sense of space. Tracks from Gen X’s ace ‘Wild Dub’ to the Clash’s fusing of the styles to the Ruts perfect dub punk synthesis to Public Image’s dub fused soundscapes and even the Stranglers ‘Peaches’ acknowledged the form. And that was before  we tip a pork pie hat to Two Tone.

But as the years went by punk slowly became the whitest of musics which is not necessarily a problem but a little crossover party flavouring is always healthy!

Somehow, though, just beyond the narrative that we know and love there is a great clutch of black punk bands.

Everyone should know about Bad Brains- four rastas playing fast as fuck hardcore split with reggae. They have become one of the most influential bands in America. Without them- no Minor Threat. No DC hardcore. No New York Hardcore. Maybe no Chili Peppers and by extension no funk metal. The list is endless. They don’t always get the credit but those that know. Know.

There was also Pure Hell- a fantastic rush of sound produced by Sex Pistols Steve Jones in the early eighties, who have recently reformed.

And there was also Death who have been lost in the sands of time.

Death were three brothers – Bobby (bass, vocals), David (guitar), and Dannis (drums) Hackney who formed the band in Detroit, Michigan, in 1971.

They started out playing R’n’B in the amazing music city of Detroit. The motor city is arguably the best music city in the USA (can you argue against Stooges/MC5/Motown/George Clinton/acid house and even Eminem?).

Seeing an Alice Cooper gig in 1971 they switched to rock. But they went way beyond the comedy schlock of Cooper and played a fast, speed thrills, precursor to punk rock by about five years and hardcore by about ten.

It made success almost impossible in the cozy USA of the seventies. Playing music like this in perhaps the richest mainstream society in history and a music scene where soporific soft rock was the radio staple was never going to work.  The white mainstream also wasn’t in a rush to embrace three black kids playing a fierce rock music but in 1975 they got their one break.

Columbia boss Clive Davis funded a demo for the band but asked them to change their name from Death- the band, again presaging punk rock, refused to be pushed around by the corporates and refused.

Since this was 1975 there was no safety net of the underground to fall back into and Death were basically fucked.

The backing was pulled from them and they recorded seven songs instead of the intended twelve which, the following year they self-released on 500 copies of the 7″ single “Politicians in My Eyes” b/w “Keep on Knocking,” on their Tryangle label, which eventually became a collectors’ item before being re-released by Drag City in 2009.

A busted flush the brothers moved to Virginia in the eighties and released two albums of gospel rock, David died in 2000 of lung cancer whilst the remaining two brothers formed the reggae band Lambsbread. Their sons recently formed a tribute band called Rough Francis playing Death songs whilst last year a reformed Death played three shows with original members Bobby and Dannis Hackney, and guitarist Bobbie Duncan.

Their music was amazing. They are not here because they are a curio. They stand the test of time and their music is tight, fast and thrilling and the songs are incredible. All connoisseurs of punk rock should check the band out.

Please go and check the youtube clips now!


Election blog

May 7, 2010

We are living in strange and ugly times.

Whilst we played out the drama of the tightest UK election for years Greece is sliding into meltdown and the international money markets are gripped with a fear and paranoia as the banker’s greed and shaky 21st century economics threaten to engulf us yet again.

Meanwhile we have had a general election in the UK where every single party seems to have lost!

Politics is a dark and ugly place where power means everything and idealism is considered a weakness. In the TV age a live debate can be won or lost on a look to the camera (interestingly the inert Brown won all three debates in polls conducted with people listening to them on the radio).

What you look like in 2010 counts for far more than the dread word, policy. A puppy dog smile is worth a million votes, a scripted put down of a rival grabs headlines in a way that a great idea never will- especially with your right wing backers in the printed press.

Despite this up and down the country a very pissed of electorate- still reeling from moats and duck houses made sure that there were few winners on this fascinating and fearful night.

What we are left with today is an undignified and rancid scramble for the crumbs of power. Clandestine deals sorted out on melting Blackberries and steely stares in interviews not giving the game away are the order of the day.

A well hung Parliament

There is no clear winner- the Tories have the most seats but not enough to grab power. Surely this election should have been a shoo-in for them. They were up against a deeply unpopular government who were on a no-win-three terms-and-we-are-bored-of-you sticky wicket.

All the Tories had to do was beat a party led by a man with the charisma of a sack of potatoes, who despite his intelligence, was an awful choice of leader. Brown spent the campaign looking uncomfortable in his own skin and recoiling from meeting the public and that was before the Rochdale and ‘Bigotgate’ (I still wonder what the other leaders muttered under their breaths after these meet and greets?).

Labour had everything against them- not just a leader who was like Bill Wyman taking over the Stones if Mick Jagger had left in the seventies. They also managed to get blamed for the world recession, lost a whole generation of voters over the Iraq war whilst managing to being held responsible for the expenses scandal that engulfed all the parties and then ran a lacklustre campaign.

Somehow, though, they didn’t go into the predicted meltdown, the much talked about longest suicide note, because, instead of crushing Labour and romping home by a landslide the Tories have limped into a shaky looking lead.

It was the Sun wot lost it!

The Tories fought the most negative campaign in British political history where for long stretches of time their main policy seemed to be ‘look at Brown he’s useless’. Spearheaded by Murdoch’s drooling Sun droogs their multi million-dollar blitz has been a failure. All that Ashcroft money, all that brazen manipulation by the right wing press and that desperate attempt to make ‘Cam the Man’ (he takes his tie off! he likes indie rock! he drinks a pint in a pub! he once met a black man!) look like Obama have failed miserably.  The Sun may have mocked up  that ill-advised Obama artwork cover and ‘Cam the Spam’ may have rolled his sleeves up on those speeches on the stump but he severely lacked the charisma and the intelligence of Obama.

His love of the Smiths and the Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’ (not the lyrics! They don’t count!). Those aforementioned tie-less, sleeves rolled up speeches on the stump in front of party lackeys. The fiercely negative campaigning. That innate Eton confidence that the reigns of power were rightly his have not worked for ‘Cam the Hollow Man’.

He may have the most seats but today it’s an empty victory- just a weary resignation from the electorate and a downright ‘No!’ from Scotland where Labour increased their vote- the Auld Union is looking decidedly dodgy now.

Gooseberry

Nick Clegg, who for a brief few days was going to break the mould, has done worse than last time. The limelight initially was his friend. He shone on camera. He smiled. Girls swooned, the youth were energised and there was talk of the Lib Dems or the ‘Liberals’ as the other two parties took to calling them, being the new opposition.

Clegg looked like a far more convincing leader than ‘Cam the Adman’. He had a natural assurance and polished empty charisma of a modern politician that his stiffer Tory rival could never quite manage. But the limelight is a cruel and fitful place and when the full glare of the spotlight turned onto his party it was found wanting in many areas.

He may still be the kingmaker in this most curious of Parliaments but he too is another big loser in the only election I can remember where everyone lost.

(…apart from the Green Party who won their first ever Parliamentary seat in Brighton…)


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