Frazer King…brilliant new band from Manchester

October 30, 2009

Yeah, I know. It’s another best new band in Manchester rant but there is no way round it. Frazer King are pure genius. Pure musical genius.

I’m judging a battle of the bands in Manchester. They are always weird affairs. Stilted, awkward audiences and bands not sure how to play in the non-gig atmosphere. Then this kid walks in, crazy drunk, wild mop of hair- he goes up to the bloke from XFM whose one of my fellow judges and tells him he hates his radio station. He staggers around the room shouting his head off. Two minutes later he’s onstage.

This is the singer from Frazer King- a charismatic, deranged ruffian whose also sharply intelligent behind his bluff and full on attitude but with enough charm to get away with his combatative attitude. He’s also got the sort of wild-eyed charisma that fires a generation and is as out of control as a ruffian poet should be.

Then the band start playing and it’s wonderful.

There is no way you can define them. No way. It’s definitely not indie. It’s a mental cross between Doo wop, polka, yiddish folk songs played by the Pogues with sort of the Happy Mondays zig zagging attitude (they don’t sound like the Happy Mondays though- it’s just that there is this sense of chaos but also a supreme musical eclecticism that both bands share in very different ways)- it’s also non of these things. It teeters on collapse but somehow holds together and the utter originality of their music is underlined by the great impassioned song writing.

There’s three singers, the unruly bloke yells at the audience and then sings in a tarmac rough voice that has a powerful magnetism to it, he’s one of those kids that oozes music and his vocals blend with the neo doo wop harmonies of his fellow vocalists.

The drummer plays really cool rhythms and uses a woodblock. That rules- a woodblock- who plays one of them these days! The music could be show tunes or it could be Tom Waits if he was from Wythenshawe- Europe’s biggest housing estate near Manchester but again it sounds like something else. Indefinable and original- how many bands can you say that about these days? They zig zag wander through their set of trout mask replicas dressed in scruffy street wear apart from the singers  beer stained Acid Mothers Temple T shirt…

But what makes it work is the songs. They have loads of great songs- catchy as fuck top tunes just like their best buddies and fellow Wythenshawe wave band Dirty North.

Please check their myspace (http://www.myspace.com/frazerking)  -it gives you a rough idea of their utter genius.

I love them.

If you are a music biz person, investigate them now- they are going to be massive. My instinct feels it and that’s never wrong.

After the show I speak to the unruly kid, he rants and raves about music being terrible, he tells me the noughties are  the worst decade for music ever. He’s angry and very funny and in a way right. He tells me that band will split up in two weeks and he will work in a call centre. He’s fibbing. He loves Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart and soul music. I’ve never been arsed about Zappa but Beefheart is a god in my world.

The band’s drummer used to wrote for Wire magazine- Frazer King are a mixture of street kids and suburban music freaks- the best line up for any British band…the drummer’s dad was in a band called the Kenneth Turner Set who shared an EP with the Membranes in 1980- it was our first release- I also know his mother from when I grew up back in Blackpool. He tells me all this whilst the unruly singer is arguing with someone else- it’s total anarchy. It’s like that legendary Sex Pistols moment when Steve Jones tells reviewers that ‘we’re not into music we’re into chaos’

Frazer King have updated this they are into the music and the chaos.

They will be massive

http://www.myspace.com/frazerking

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Joy Division

October 29, 2009

This is a feature I did for the Sunday Times in 2007

 

 

 

Joy Division

 

 

When Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis hung himself on the night of May 18th 1980 few would have thought that nearly 30 years later his life would be getting made into a major feature film.

Released next month, ‘Control’ arrives with a whole host of critical plaudits. Directed by legendary rock photographer Anton Corbijn It was the most raved about film at Cannes film festival and looks set to be one of the classic rock n roll films. All the more remarkable because of the cult nature of its subject matter. Brilliantly filmed in black and white it is highly evocative of a very different era and captures the times perfectly and also  documents the short and tragic life of Curtis with some brilliant acting.

His band had released a critically acclaimed debut album ‘Unknown Pleasures’ on the late Tony Wilson’s Factory label and were on the verge of a breakthrough. The press and the band’s fiercely committed fanbase were enthralled by the group’s intense music and Ian Curtis’s deep, baritone voice and darkly romantic lyrics.

The Manchester based band came out of the ruins of punk and created a sound that was a key influence on post punk and Goth as well as setting the foundations for the whole Manchester scene before influencing every band from U2 to Radiohead from Emo to modern day indie. Its an influence that has echoed throughout the decades making them one of the most important bands of all time and a byword for any darkly mysterious music that dares to go deep into the heart of darkness.

After Ian Curtis died the band finally got their first hit single with ‘Love Will tear Us Apart’ and the second album, ‘Closer’ went top ten. They regrouped as New Order becoming one of the biggest UK bands of the next couple of decades whilst a legend that has been built up around their sensitive late front man.

Band mate and formidable bass player Peter Hook remembers the first time he and childhood buddy and guitarist Bernard Sumner first saw Ian Curtis.

‘It was at the Sex Pistols concert in Manchester in 1976. You couldn’t miss him. He had ‘Hate’ written on his back in big white letters.  You’d go over and say ‘hello’ to anyone because you had something in common with them- like having spiked hair and pants all ripped up. It was quite easy to strike up friendships at the time.‘

Peter Hook remembers a pleasant if intensely charismatic young man.

‘He was much more educated and middle class than we were, we were more rough and ready, more working class. Ian was more shy and quiet but he could be as wild as anybody especially when he had had a drink.

He was quiet and he was shy but when he would go on stage and go like the bleeding clappers! Which was shocking and inspiring at the same time.’

The band they formed, initially called Warsaw, were a rudimentary punk band but with a more somber twist. By the time they had changed their name to Joy Division people on the scene had started to take notice like the late Tony Wilson.

‘The first time I ever saw him he came up to me at Rafters and said ‘fuck you. You’re the bastard off the TV, you cunt.’ I asked him why he said that and he said it because I had never put them on the telly. He was really nasty, really confrontational. And this was when they were a completely unknown band. It worked. I put them on pretty soon afterwards.  I never saw him like that again in the 3/4 years that I knew him, he was this thoughtful schoolboy, an emotionally deep thoughtful schoolboy.’

Signed to Tony’s Manchester based label Factory in 1978 the band got critical acclaim as their music quickly developed. They started playing nationally and Ian Curtis began to show signs of a deeper illness with epileptic fits.

Peter Hook details the band’s confusion.

‘He was ill quite quickly from when we started and ill a lot. He was his own worst enemy, how can you tell the lead singer of a shit hot band to go to bed early and not to drink? As soon as the doctors told him to take it easy he rebelled against it – the more we told him the more he went for it and the more he turned into Iggy Pop on stage! His idol was Iggy Pop but Iggy was not epileptic! If we knew then what we knew know it would be so different but unfortunately we didn’t. ‘

There was one incident that Hooky remembers vividly.

“On the first national tour that we did supporting the Buzzcocks Ian had the longest fit. He was fitting for an hour and half- eventually we had to take him to hospital. We had to sit on him first. It was unbelievable, I was thinking, ‘Christ! He’s not coming out of this one’. Our roadie went and hid in the cupboard, he said ‘I’m not coming out he’s possessed by the devil that bastard.’ (laughs).

Ian was really shaking. It was frightening you’d think ‘shit, is it worth it’. But he wouldn’t let you stop. I think he thought what we had achieved was so huge to us at our time in life that if he stopped or let it go that it might never come back. He didn’t want to let everyone else down’

Bernard Sumner wistfully remembers his band mates descent into a very dark place.

‘The first time we realised that there was something a bit up was when he turned up at rehearsals covered in knife marks where he had slashed himself.  He had woken up and didn’t know what had happened. He showed us his chest with horizontal knife marks. We were going what the fucking hell have you done.’

There were some moments of intensity on stage as well.

‘He used to get pretty carried away onstage, pretty kinetic. At Rafters he started ripping the stage apart, ripping the floorboards and throwing them at the audience. I did think that was pretty unusual! People threw bottles back, which smashed onstage, and he dived in rolling around- kinda like Iggy Pop. ‘

Ian’s bouts of intensity contrasted sharply with his normal demeanour, as Bernard remembers.

‘He was the most polite person. Very, very interesting to talk to.  Very opinionated but not in a negative way. Not judgemental.

He was quite intellectual. He read William Burroughs and Nietzsche. Me and Hooky didn’t know what the fuck he was going on about half the time!

Just going by his lyrics Ian obviously had issues but to be honest with you we never really listened to his lyrics till he died.’

The band were recognised by the music press and growing fan base as the most important band of their era. Their serious music matched the mood of the post punk times. They were quickly seen as the escape route for punk and the future of rock.

At the same time the troubled singer’s life was fast getting complicated. The fits were getting worse, his was unsure of where to go with his music and his affair with Belgian journalist Annik Honore was causing the already married singer all sorts of guilt.

Time was quickly running out for the singer. His life was in crisis.

On the last night of his life ian Curtis was in turmoil. Before he hung himself there was a long phone call to the avante garde frontman of Throbbing Gritsle, Genesis P. Orridge. The pair of them had struck up a friendship in the past couple of years and there was talk of doing a project together.

‘I spoke to Ian on the phone that last night. He was singing ‘a song of mine about suicide called ‘Weeping’ over the phone. The tone of his voice was haunting. It was awful. He talked. He sounded anguished, frustrated and very depressed, a feeling that events were slipping out of control, I could just feel it straight away having been there myself. He didn’t say ‘I’m going to kill myself’ but it felt wrong. I tried to get in touch with people but technology was much more primitive then. I was calling everyone in Manchester desperately to go round and try and stop Ian but the people I was calling were not there, I was always angry that I could not get through.’

A couple of hours later Ian Curtis hung himself.

The underground music scene was shattered. The band was on the cusp of a breakthrough but Ian Curtis’ life had become too complicated.

Nearly three decades later this dark tale of a brilliant talent is about to be played out in cinemas across the country in one of the best rock n roll films ever made.

It’s a fitting epitaph to a brilliant and short career.

 

 

 

 


Steve Albini interview 1988

October 26, 2009

Steve Albini interviewed in Sounds 1988…this was just as he was getting Rapeman together. I had met Steve when Big Black had played Manchester in 1986/87 and had heard he had liked what I was doing with the Membranes. We got him to record our third album, ‘Kiss Ass Godhead’ just as he was starting out as a sound recordist. This interview was done just as he was about to take off in the studio with the Pixies album about to come out and the Slint record recorded but still unknown and putting his new band, the controversially titled Rapeman together after Big Black had imploded……

WHEN NOISE terror gods Big Black finally imploded last year, it was the inevitable culmination of several years of a blistering, snowballing intense noise assault. The unbelievable hype generated by the band and their gradual rise to flavour of the month left a bad taste in the operatives’ mouths. Big Black were one of the key bands in America in the post hardcore period. They took music to a logical extreme and created a small visceral catalogue of powerful music that was on the verge of breaking big but in punk rock style they backed away from the success.

With perfect timing the three-piece split. Leaving guitar-abuser and “singer” Steve Albini free to roam the planet producing a ragbag collection of combos while simultaneously welding together a new upgraded model together- a new upgraded model of his fearsome machine with ex-Scratch Acid rhythm section David Sims on bass and Rey Washem on drums. The group then carelessly saddled themselves with the monicker Rapeman.

Albini is a hyperactive cranefly from hell, spit-buzzin’ with an internal energy that keeps him locked in the studios for days on end without sleep. At the time of interview he was putting together parts of the upcoming Rapeman LP in his cellar studio and at other locations in Chicago. Two tracks culled from these sessions have already been released into America’s Midwest heartland as an almost anonymous 7-inch single. I had just been to the studios in the cellar recording the membranes ‘Kiss Ass Godhead’ album. It was set in the suburbs in one of those typical American wooden bungelows ina sleepy street. Quite how he managed to record such a  fearsome racket down there and not get lynched was amazing. Sharing the house was Nate from Urge Overkill who was away on tour giving us more space to sleep. Steve showed me copies of my fanzine, ‘Rox’ which he had picked up in Rough Trade and we started working on the album using the Big Black drum machine because Coofy Sid, the membranes drummer, had been refused a visa.

the band kicked up a storm in the cellar whilst Albini mixed on the 8 track in his back room- it sounded amazing.

He also talked about his new band, Rapeman and how to to get back into being in a band with punk rock dignity.

“We wanted to sneak out a low key single and try to deflate this pompous idea of being in a supergroup. I wanted people to buy the record on its own merits – the only problem is that collector scum have got hold of it and are charging ridiculous prices.”

The single, a two-track advert for band, grinds away in a Big Black style but there is a greater emphasis on the rhythmic melodic undercurrents than ever before.

This is no surprise as Rey Washem is using the biggest sticks since Zep’s Bonzo took his hammer to the gods, pumping the snare with a pair of regular oak trees that rip the skins apart every few songs. Yet this brute force does not impede the man’s skill and dexterity. He’s reaching out for a new distinctive style of rock drumming and he’s bang on course for smashing his way in there.

His partner in Scratch Acid and Rapeman, David Sims, is a musically fluent and gifted bass player, and the pair are well versed in musicology, as Albini proudly points out.

“Rey can watch a cartoon on TV, write down the backing music and score it for a string section. Rey and David got into the punk rock thing first and then started learning about musical theory afterwards, whereas I was excited about the about thing, but don’t really give a shit about music.”
THE TWO-track single is a fine introduction to the band, one of the two oddly-named songs being ‘Hated Chinese’

‘It’s is an abstraction on the life of a Chinese immigrant worker pre-1940 slaving on railway construction. They were not treated like human beings. The immigrant laws prevented their women from joining them, so all they had to do was to get stoned and masturbate a lot. At the time the idea was that you could kill a Chinaman but not a human being,” Albini chillingly adds, a stark reminder of how close the US moved towards an embarrassing South African-style apartheid situation.

‘Marmoset’ concerns a certain member of the band’s failed attempt at oral sex in the Nocturnal Animals section of Chicago Zoo, a cavernous place, dimly-lit with deserted winding corridors and tiny cages where the animals shuffle around. Needless to say the escapade was an alcohol-induced failure.

Does this band member know what you have been writing about him?

“Yes, I know,” chuckles Albini, adding, “and I certainly have not been back in that capacity since.”

Albini enjoys employing his dark sense of humour, combined with his acid and opinionated tongue it’s got him into a lot of trouble over the years, it’s the kind of trouble that he enjoys. ruffling feathers, grossing out and bad taste are part of the assault. This jolt to the system sense of humour was very much part and parcel of punk rock and it’s one that Steve attempts to try and keep in control.

Noticing that this human stick insect rarely imbibes alcohol, I ask if this is because the demon drink dries up the creative juices that race through his bloodstream.

“I found that when I got drunk I was being totally obnoxious and going up to people and telling them exactly what I thought of them. This caused problems – most people drink so that they become less self-conscious, but as I am not self-conscious to start with then the alcohol tends to have a different and more exaggerated effect.”

Listening to tracks from the forthcoming Rapeman Budd EP you can’t help but notice that whereas Big Black’s brutal treatment of guitar, bass and drum machine took rock to a new violent frontier, Rapeman tend to stand back a little, utilising the sound for whatever they want to say. Only Albini’s guitar sound links the formidable trios.

“That’s because I am a bit of a guitar cripple. I’m limited to making noises, I get no joy from playing a lot of little notes. It’s more satisfying to all of us to have the guitar jumping off in all directions, sounding like a blender, making cool little exploding sounds. It certainly keeps my interest up more.”

This new found overall subtlety is best explored in the lead track, ‘Budd’, a slow, live eight-minute crawl that reeks of sadness and compassion: a brilliant staccato snare drum punctuates the pain-ridden guitar riff which perfectly complements Albini’s tense, hoarse, half-spoken, half-whispered vocal.

“‘Budd’ is a song about two people, one of whom was Budd Dwyer, the treasurer in Philadelphia who blew his brains out on live TV after he had been caught embezzling state funds.” explains Steve showing the video of the precise moment when the gun went off which was live on the local news., where the soon-to-be retired Dwyer calmly reads out a press statement absolving himself from all responsibility.

The tension mounts as he reaches inside a brown paper bag as if rooting for his sandwiches or groping around for cold metal. Producing a gun, he places it into his mouth and, despite horrified screams from the onlooking press, he blows his brains out, slumping to the floor with a torrent of blood running from his nose. A disgusting and depressing piece of video to watch over and over.

“By blowing his brains out he still got a state funeral and pension as well as several other benefits that he would have lost had he been busted. He also got to be shown on nationwide TV reading out a little defence that he had written for himself.”

Beats getting a lawyer, cheaper too!

“I tied this together in a song with another Budd, a Budd that used to live in this house before I bought it. When I first moved in here there was a period when I felt very bad about living here, I felt like some sort of intruder and it was this that I tried to document.

“Budd had lived here for years. It was kinda sad the way he had lived out his life, his home was his own little piece of America. He had his own collection of personalized can-openers and comedy coffee cups. He brought his children up here, they left him and then his wife died, leaving him alone.

“The first time I moved in here I felt like a complete squirt, a 25-year-old kid with poop in his diapers who turned the place into a gross punk rock dungeon, which is how my neighbours envisage it.”

You can imagine the neighbours’ drop jawed expressions as they survey the front room, littered with sleeping musician bodies, as likely as not belonging to the freaked-out muthas in the Butthole Surfers or some tawdry English punk rock outfit. They all snooze away beneath the “Elvis In Vegas” tea towels that adorn the walls, oblivious to the huge stuffed cat that snarls from the top of the TV set, the gynecologist’s kit that spills out from beneath the settee, maybe its the half read book of botched operations or sexual diseases lying open on the table or the porn movies which include the classic Santa Claus indulging in fellatio with his favourite dwarf assistant. Steve, though, still feels bad about the previous tennent.

“Specific things made me feel really awful, like just after we moved in a bunch of friends came round and we were rummaging through Budd’s stuff laughing at it, a bunch of little squirts poking away through this man’s life and laughing at it…”
WHILE ALBINI’s sentimental raw nerve is exposed in this grinding avalanche of sound, the other tracks on the EP are in a more traditional Big Black mould. The remaining up tempo spurts of violence muscling their way around the grooves include the demon seed of ‘Super Pussy’, again a live cut, where the band’s fascination with comic book personae takes on a three dimensional role.

“If superheroes really existed smashing their way through windows and zapping things up with laser beams, then there would have to be pretty broad spectrum of characters to balance things out, so we thought this drug addict, cannibal, lesbian character with a lustful kick ass attitude would be interesting.

“I have a really good friend who is a hell-raising, beer-drinking lesbian. We go out and get lustful at the same type of women, she has the same sort of character as ‘Super Pussy’.”

Another live track is ‘Log Bass’, which definitely benefits from the crackle of performance being one of the live tracks on the EP.

“There’s no balls to the stuff in the studio. I like the live material better. It’s played faster when the band’s jumping up and down getting off on the song. ‘Log Bass’ is about a small town mayor in Indiana who was interviewed onThe David Letterman Show. Apparently, the mayor was also an Elvis Presley impersonator who would drive to gigs in his pick up truck dressed in a cheapo homemade Elvis costume.

“One night, on the way to a gig, he was called out (on one of his civic duties!) to unblock drains. This he did dressed in his Elvis get up, pulling out from the drains what he termed a log bass, ‘Bass’ as in the fish and ‘Log’ as in poop. From this stupid story we added a few of our own, like the Aztec birth ritual where the father takes his newly arrived offspring and holds it up to the sun, just like the Elvis mayor holding up his log bass.”

The only studio track is ‘Dutch Courage’, which seems to be about Albini’s roommate’s alcohol-induced trouble making lust for life more than anything else.
*

THE MOST contentious thing about Rapeman is obviously the clumsy moniker. The name was picked up from an obscure sicko Japanese comics mag, where the hero rapes women who have misbehaved. This seems to be one of those lurid Japanese comics that mix rock’n’roll, porn and gory violence in a perverse quest for visual kicks.

Although Rapeman’s nom de plume remains acceptable to the USA, the more politically-charged UK atmosphere is already buzzing with a static anger. people are not happy with the name. Out of context you can see why.

“I was asked by Paul Smith (the band’s UK label manager) to prepare a statement explaining the motives behind the naming of the group. It was for record pressures and people at the company who felt uncomfortable handling the name of the band, and although I was loathe to do it, I sent one off anyway, and of course it made no difference. In the UK we seem to be having some difficulties with getting the records pressed and distributed.

“It’s only the people in the company that seem to be annoyed. Her Majesty’s Government have had no difficulties in issuing work permits to a group of this name. Anyone who does not want to be involved with the record, I have no gripe with, and anyone who wants to object, then go ahead, make a stink.”

Is the group name not in some sense trivialising rape by reducing it to a crass showbiz level?

“That’s obviously stupid. I mean, were Joy Division glorifying Nazism with their name, or are Napalm Death, who by the way are excellent, an endorsement of the use of Napalm upon people? Rape is a feminist issue, it’s an offensive crime, and no one except for a total dork is pro-rape.”

Now that the Rapeman machine is finally out and running. Albini’s production work is going to have to rest for a few months, and in some cases this is a great relief to the man. the pixies album has made him better known as a recorder of sound.

“I liked working with Pixies and I admit that the record is OK. But the problem is that there are now bands who try to imitate them and want me to produce them, total morons, gushing on about how good Pixies are. I get no satisfaction from ‘pussy’ bands.”

Albini’s recent production work includes some devilish stuff with New York art garage renegades Pussy Galore and the grooves kicked together in these sessions already sound like some of the Galore’s best spuzz yet.

Another band that has seen the Albini touch is an oddball act called Slint, who sound like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon put through a liquidizer. Marvellous stuff, almost as entertaining as shoving the Floyd’s fat butts through the self same liquidizer. Steve plays back the Slint album and they sound amazing, hopefully they will get heard.

Rapeman are to tour Europe in October and will also, by then, be ready to unleash their debut LP.

“The LP will either be called ZZ Top’s First Album or Tres Motherf***ers“, avers Albini. “It’s an obscure Texan joke hatched by David and Rey and I very much doubt whether anyone else could understand it. It relates to ZZ Top’s best album, Tres Hombres, which features a gatefold sleeve showing a spread of Mexican food.

“We may go for the gatefold as well with a photo of a barbecue in my back garden,” he explains, being a battle-hardened veteran of this cooking feat that aroused the wrath of his neighbours and sent bemused policeman round to scold the dressing-gowned gourmet.

So the spirit of Big Black is back, agitating, irritating and thankfully kicking some ass.

And beneath the wire-rimmed frames that cling to Albini’s scalpel thin face beats a punk rock brain.

“I hope people react to my music in the way that I reacted to my favourite records, getting excited and jumping up and down. It’s all very big-eyed and punk-rock-inspired. I like playing a guitar, I like being in a band and like exploring specific types of sound.

“The other guys in the band have a different approach, though, in that they are trying to create something totally powerful and new within the punk rock framework.”

Rapeman have already shown that they’re twitching with potential, and when their UK tour and LP explode into action this Autumn, go grab yerself a slice of the action.


Bow Wow Wow

October 23, 2009

Bow Wow Wow were the amazing creation of a reeling post Pistols Malcolm Maclaren at his most Machiavellian and manipulative. But if it took these kind of shenanigans to create pop music this good then maybe it was worth the effort.

Asked in by Adam Ant to try and take the Ants from cult level to the mainstream Maclaren stole Adam’s band and recruited Annabella Lwin- a 14 year old Burmese girl from a laundrette to be the singer. The bruised Adam got his revenge though, by phoning up the genius Marco and making his own version of the tribal pop that Maclaren had already gifted him in a listening list that he gave the charismatic frontman. The Ants went on to record ‘Kings Of the Wild frontier’ one of THE great pop albums and cavorted their way to superstardom.

Meanwhile Maclaren moulded Bow Wow Wow from Adam’s band- utilising the stunning drumming skills of Dave Barbarossa- he created the Burundi backbeat by speeding up the Burundi drumming that they were nicking of Malcolm’s dusty old vinyl collection, add to this Leigh Gorman’s mentally good bass and Mathew Ashman’s stunning guitar playing and you have a pop music that is adrenalised, thrilling and sexy, and the sex angle was one that Maclaren was working to the hilt- riding roughshod over public morality he got his young singer to yelp and coo the sexbeat lyrics that would cause major problems today as well as causing controversy the following year by posing Annabella nude for the cover of the band’s debut album See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy.

The band’s first release was the cassette single ‘c30 c60 c90 go’ that celebrated the rise of home taping and was aimed at pissing off the music industry- if only they had understood this then they could have utilised the MP3 revolution  couple of decades later…

Maclaren was always looking for trouble and sometimes the trouble clouded the issue and muddied the waters, the debate raged about the young singer’s overt sexuality and like the Pistols made people overlook just how great the music was. A combination of the tribal drums, bossa nova, latino rhythms, punk rock attitude and rock n roll Bow Wow Wow could turn their hand to anything.

Swerving the morality Bow Wow Wow were an amazing band, their colourful adrenalised pop burst were stunningly original and dressed in Vivienne Westwood’s first post punk collection of glam pirate threads they had the look, complete with the Mohawks that look great decades later. Ashman had the swagger and rock star arrogance and had that beautiful white Gretsch Falcon guitar which I once played on years later- it was somehow hanging up on the wall of Southern Studios- a little bruised and battered but looking all the better for it- the guitar is the reason that John Frusciante in the Chili peppers uses one- he’s a major fan of Ashman.

I saw Bow Wow Wow at one of their first ever gigs at Keele University, it was a crazy all night student do, people in the crowd were walking round with live animals and I was holding a furry tarantula spider as the band came on stage. Ashman had already been punched down some stairs by a student minder which added to the edginess of the show. The band were amazing- tight as fuck and with a clear vision, they also had Boy George as a dancer- he was called Lieutenant Lush at the time and was a skinny rake. They had the arrogance and could back it up with their music, it was a perfect pop moment.

I guess Malcolm was hoping for a Pistols style blitz and he was still toying with many of the ideas that were around the Pistols but the band broke free from his grip and went on to have bigger hits in their career and were pretty big in the USA with their biggest smash ‘I Want Candy’ which even slightly stripped down of the tribal flux that made their music so interesting was  a great piece of rock n roll- Ashman’s slashing guitar on this sounds ace on this.

Constant touring tore them apart and they fell apart leaving Annabella for a stumbling solo career and her droogs to play in Chiefs of Relief with Paul Cook.

Ashman sadly died in the mid nineties and if anything I dedicate this blog to him- a fucking great guitar player.

Bow Wow Wow have occasionally reformed and play the occasional tour- there is a rumour that they may be playing a major punk festival in 2010 and I’m curious to see them again.


The Slits…live review

October 13, 2009

The Slits

Manchester Deaf Institute

Oct 12th 2009

In these strict times it’s great to see a band cutting gloriously loose and the Slits are loose. Not in an un-together way- their musicianship is amazing- bass goddess Tessa is awesome- big, loping, dub bass lines played with a fingered precision she has got to be one of the best bass players out there and the new members of the crew are equally fab. Guitarist Michelle Hill’s clipped scratching six string is so precise and the drumming has the classic Slits time changes nailed. Where the Slits rule over any other band, though, is their joyous, celebratory looseness- a deliberate capturing of the moment that most bands seem too dogmatic, too stiff and too scared to pull off.

This mostly comes from Ari Up, who is a dynamic force of nature. With her endless dreads and gold hot pants she cuts a powerful figure and her instinctive feel is fantastically opposite to the earnest plod of male bands with their whole dullard approach to music. Ari Up is so alive that the room brims with her glowing energy. The Slits make you feel super alive with their punk reagge party. If Ari Up feels like walking onstage and singing along with the music getting played over the PA she will. If she feels like inviting a drunk from the crowd  on stage to dance with her ‘pom pom; she will, if the Slits songs need a sudden time change from punk to dub to free jazz then they will have one. The band teeters on chaos but a deliberate chaos like the free jazz genius of the fifties. This is not a messy mess but a brilliantly instinctive sound tracking of he moment that pulls you in, a joyous celebration of life and sex that is always utterly compulsive.

Formed in the heart of punk in 1976 the Slits were friends of the Clash and the Pistols, they cut one classic album, ‘Cut’ that has the unique trick of never dating. They fused punk and reggae into one big party and made ‘femi rhythms’ naturally opposed to the plodding 4/4’s of bloke rock. Ari Up was a tangled haired, in your face teenage tearaway and the band were brilliantly going in ten directions at once. Their second album ‘Return Of the Giant Slits’ was esoteric freak jazz with dub undertones that confused nearly everybody but still sounds amazing to this day.

The reformation of the band was great news, it’s really cool to see Tessa up there playing the bass again and if her and Ari are the only original members it doesn’t really matter. The Slits were revolutionary they rewrote the rulebook then providing an extraordinary template for all the best woman to plunder in the last thirty years (and a big inspiration to a lot of bloke rockers who were felling it).

If in 1977 they were too free and wild for most people they almost sound like a pop band in 2009. With added keyboard player Hollie (daughter of Pistols drummer Paul Cook) there is a great dynamic onstage with her and Ari Up trading off vocals that are so imaginative and clever that it leaves you gasping.  Hollie has a natural charisma that is powerful enough not to be washed away by Ari’s tidal wave of presence and her vocals are perfect for the Slits experience.

The Slits stuff more melody and great ideas into their songs than most bands manage in a lifetime, their off kilter rhythms are dance detonators and the whole punky reaggae vibe has the hall bouncing. Fusing the best of both forms of rebel music the Slits have created a unique and brilliant hybrid that sets them apart from everyone else.

Of course they played ‘Heard It through The Grapevine’ and it it’s still an amazing version- for me better than the original with its time changes and hyper singing. ‘Typical Girls’ is devilish and the new songs from their upcoming third album are as original and brilliant as anything in their career

The Slits are a stunning live experience and the just released third album should hopefully see them breakthrough into a musical landscape that is potentially far more welcoming than when they were first running free around the circuit in the late seventies. That is if the cowards that run the radio dare to play something as thrilling and as alive as this.

In the meantime go and see the Slits live.


Mott The Hoople

October 9, 2009

Lets tear up the rulebook.

Now.

The idea that rock n roll is the preserve of the young and the hip has been dealt a mighty blow by the amazing Mott The Hoople. As much as anyone I’m always hooked on the thrill of the new and I’m always out there searching but I’m also not scared to embrace the past.

At one time reformations were a bad thing- remember the Velvet Underground’s rather disinterested performances a decade ago? Now bands seem to have worked out how to do this getting back together thing and Mott played out one of the best gigs I’ve ever been too…

It was a joyous affair- as sentimental, powerful, heartfelt, passionate and thrilling as the band were at their prime. Oddly I didn’t feel nostalgic- I tried to- feeling that was perhaps the right context for this- but Mott played with so much fire it felt like a band at the peak of their powers.

Mott came armed with two hours of great songs that underlined their credentials- they had everything- brilliant songs stuffed full of imagination and a down to earth charisma that saw the Hammersmith Apollo ooze with a genuine love for the band.

There is something magical about watching a band this great taking the stage again after 35 years and play a set this good.

Frontman Ian Hunter, now 70, looked amazing- infact better than in the band’s heyday and his powerful rasping voice cut through. His vocals were always one of the band’s key signatures and, for me, he has one of the great British voices as he sung with a passion that is missing from so much music.

Put together by legendary late producer Guy Stevens in the late sixties and armed with heartfelt lyrics and anthemic songs, Mott was the quintessential British street band that was looking at the stars. They were the ultimate proto punk band who influenced so many of the next generation bands and several of the generations after that as well- with both Oasis and Blur agreeing on something for once in their love of the band.

They also looked great, Hunter with his corkscrew hair and shades and bassman- the fantastically named Overend Watts with his silver hair and stack heeled boots- Watts invented that look- the New York Dolls supported Mott and copped the whole of his look- it’s a crime that he’s been semi- forgotten in the linear narrative of rock n roll because he came from Hereford and not New York City- I demand a recount! They also looked real- like they had thought of the look themselves and not been dressed by some record company stylist.

This week the pair of them owned the stage- Hunter the seasoned rock star and Watts whose not been on stage for 35 years throwing shapes with his pink thunderbird bass and assortment of nooses tied round his neck, they looked as brilliantly eccentric as in their prime.

Mott managed that balance between making sparkling, glamtastic anthems, stunning melancholic ballads that described their world and heavy droog street songs. They were our Springsteen, our Dylan, our Stones and when the Clash came along in punk former Mott follower Mick Jones took up their mantle. Mick was at the gig the other night and he was getting very misty eyed as he talked about the band that he used to follow round the country.

Glam rock is one of those needlessly maligned scenes and Mott, whether they were glam or not, were proof of the artfulness of the form. They stuffed their songs full of imagination and music hall twists, they had the power and precision of a great rock band and these five nights at the Apollo were a deserved curtain call for one of the GREAT British bands…

Hopefully they can be persuaded to play again…


Massive Attack

October 6, 2009

Massive Attack

‘Splitting The Atom EP’

Music you can get lost in, Massive Attack’s stop gap EP (whilst we wait for their new album, ‘LP5’ to come out- mooted for next spring) ‘Splitting The Atom’ is one of the best releases of the year. Dark, phantom funk that sounds like nothing else on the planet this is one of Massive Attack’s greatest moments.
The title track is one of the best things the Bristol based collective have ever done- a dark, melancholic workout that retains the funk but creates a space for you to get lost in. In the last couple of years many bands have been acclaimed as the true representatives of whatever spirit there was of post punk but this is the purest expression of whatever was going around in that period. Massive Attack are the true descendants of that musical deconstruction- in their music you can can still feel the reverberations of Pil’s mighty ‘Metal Box, fellow Bristolians love of funk the Pop Group, the sombre dark melancholia of Joy Division, the Specials and  the love of dub and reggae that came part and parcel of the punk rock experience.
They have melded these influences and carried on moving- mashing in funk, rap, underground rock with a punk spirit and made a music that is so utterly unique that you can’t place it. A very British experience- the sound of all those cool areas of cities were all the culture gets mixed up like nowhere else in the world Massive Attack are the perfect soundtrack.
They don’t even have their own definitive sound- they shape shift- utlilising whatever sounds good and create this massive rumbling atmosphere. ‘Splitting The Atom’ is a work of pure genius from the growling vocals on the verse to Horace Andy’s ever sweet crooning on the chorus. It deserves to be up there in the canyon of great pop records that switch your mood and take you to another place like ‘Strawberry Fields’ but will probably get nowhere near the cowardly playlists of mainstream grinning buffoon radio. I’ve played it five times in a row and I’m still finding parts of the song to get lost in.


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