Obsessive Compulsive…great new Manchester rock

June 5, 2010

Obsessive Compulsive

I don’t know if anyone saw that rant in the Guardian about Manchester living in the past by Fuc51 but day by day I’m hearing band after band that proves this rather elevated pub rant wrong.
The city is full of great new bands of all styles and if you actually bother to go out you get to see something quite special shaping up.
Obsessive Compulsive really break this perceived mould.
Manchester has an oddly lopsided history of rock.
When is say rock- I mean loud, feisty, high decibel, life affirming fierce music dressed in fuck you freak clothes- The high decibel, extrovertly dressed world of Kerrang and associated noisenik areas.
Everywhere you go in the city there are tribes of rock kids, emo kids, punk kids, noise freaks, long hairs and neo goths. There are countless bands and many rock nights across the city and the north off England. Rock is huge in Manchester, the arena will generally only sell out to rock bands whilst indie groups struggle to fill venues half the size. In the surrounding towns rock is the currency- the real folk music of these times.
So how come there is no big rock band from round here?
Arguably there has been a kinda rock core to the sea of indie that dominates the area. Joy Division are ostensibly a rock band, their influence is huge on major rock bands and key in the goth scene. Without Joy Division there would be a very different major league rock scene from the USA with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Marilyn Manson documenting an influence from the band. The Buzzcocks are one of the key punk bands and there have been a handful of other noisier groups breaking free from the jangling soundtrack.
And apart from that?
Maybe it's because the indie bands get the leg up from a indie friendly media and the rock bands get ignored, maybe its because the rock bands are generally fans trying to emulate their huge American cousins, maybe it's because no one is looking here for noisy action. Maybe the rock youth are in awe to the American band juggernauts…it could be a combination of these factors. There have been some really good rock/metal/punk bands from up here but they can only get so far when there ostracised by the media and left off the transatlantic gravy train.
Well that could be about to change.
Obsessive Compulsive have got everything that's required to buck this trend. Their tunes are tight, tough and anthemic. They are heavy but pack a punk rock energy to what they are doing. Their songs are catchy as fuck and connect directly with their fan base. You listen and you know that this sounds like a potentially massive band who easily transcend the local band syndrome. They have the emotional raw power and they have the songs and they have the smarts and the work ethic to make this work.
Oh and they also have a charismatic front woman in Keli who Mancunian gig hounds may know from working at the Academy venues in the city. Keli has an amazing voice, somewhere between a powerful guttural and yet soulfull shriek and a throat scraping scream that also caries the great tunes from the band. Her voice is the sound of exuberant lust for life and rainy day frustration and it cuts though the bullshit like a knife.
She is a star in the making, she looks great and she lives the high decibel life. Her band are rock solid noise droogs who spew out a thundering and perfect racket and they got the songs.


June 3, 2010

Fac 251
live in Manchester

There’s some bass instinct going on in the house.
Two of Manchester’s most iconic musicians are driving their new project to an atmospheric, powerful climax. The perpetually gruff yet good natured He-Viking of Lord Hook and the permo cheeky, loveable Mani are creating something quiet special here and on this their first mini tour are creating quite a stir with their latest project, Freebass.
The songs a mange to reference their pedigree whistle pushing forwards. There is that brooding northern dark psychedelia meshed in with the effortless guitar pop shakedowns.There is also that twist if the twin bass assault and a welcome celebration of the 4 string.

Anyone who grew up in punk will know that the bass guitar is the king of instruments. Infact nearly everyone I know who grew up in punk learned to play bass. Albeit a one string bass technique that Peter Hook has turned into an art form!
There was a surfeit of great bass players in the late seventies from the iconic Simonon and Sid vicious schools to the bass heavy rumble of Jah Wobble to the greatest bass player of all time JJ Burnell.
This is worth considering when you watch Freebass, the band formed by Peter Hook with Mani from the Stone Roses and Andy Rourke from the Smiths. That’s a lot of bass players to have in any band and you wonder how all that low frequency is going to fit.
We may never find out. Andy Rourke is not here tonight but there is more than enough bass action to make up for it. Hooky, of course, takes the lead with his distinctive bass sound copyrighted through years of New Order still sounding perfectly crisp- those laconic, melancholic lines still cut to the soul whilst Mani, as ever, the cool as fuck ragamuffin provides that sturdy funky bass end that he made his own since the prime days of the Stone Roses through Primal Scream.
The overall effect is kinda like early New Order dashed with a flavour of the moody better end of early Goth that Hooky has always, cooly, been so fond of. I can hear some of the magnificence of the very early Southern Death Cult in there and some pure Manc classic pop, the Haven boys who have been bolted onto the band, provide the youthful intent and glorious soaring ovals and the whole experiment is very successful.
It’s easy to rest on yer laurels in rock n roll and the prime participants are out playing their back catalogue at other shows so its cool to see them trying something new.
Both bass players have earned the reputation by re inventing the instrument, they both sound great in Freebass but there are also couched in great new songs.
That’s Freebass can still sound as invigorating, energetic and inventive as this is a testament to their hunger and imagination.

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.

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.


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…)

British Sea Power/’Man Of Aran’

April 30, 2010

British Sea Power play soundtrack to ‘Man Of Aran’

This is seriously powerful, emotive stuff.

I’m sat in the cavernous main cinema of Sheffield’s Showroom complex for the final event in the city’s fantastic music/film/arts Sensoria festival. Live on stage, in front of the screen, with their backs to the audience are one of the best and most inventive modern British bands- British Sea Power.

They are playing their live sound track to ‘Man Of Aran’ the 1934 semi fictional, semi documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty. The film is a stark black and white depiction of the tough lives of the Aran islanders whose stubborn self-sufficiency and toughness, set against the backdrop of the fierce Atlantic Ocean makes for powerful viewing.

It’s a perfect combination- a salty sea stained film about the tough life on a lump of rock in the Atlantic (most recently the setting for Craggy Island in Father Ted) and a band that have made their name in the past decade with three great, highly original albums that stand alone in the oceanic waves of indie banality. A series of albums that seem eccentric in the context of modern indie rock that is mostly not only not independent of distribution but also thought.

British Sea Power have carved their own idiosyncratic path with a music that is somehow harking back to a long lost age when people were interested in more than football and cars. There are references to non rock n roll topics like bird spotting and a love of nature- total genius in a rock world where conversation rarely rises above the ‘what goes on the road stays on the road’ grunting.

The band have a brilliant attention to detail that even sees their merch droog dressed in the same sort of hardy fifties Ealing tweeds as the rest of them who retain the Spartan whiff of the bohemia about them.

Their music has a powerful cinematic sweep that oozes with the power of nature- you can smell the salty air crashing on the rocks when you blast out a BSP album which makes this project perfect for them.

Originally from Kendal and now based in Brighton they have also played a series of highly original gigs in off the wall locations, like the Boste Social Club in Kendal and the Isles of Scilly or on a ferry- gigs that make tonight appearance in Sheffield playing the self composed soundtrack seem like a normal event for the band.

‘Man of Aran’ itself is a semi fictional account of the tough lives of the islanders on Aran- a clump of rocks off the west coast of Ireland battered, due to several geographical quirks, by some of the biggest waves in the Atlantic. The islanders live off the sea, which at any minute threatens to engulf them. They grow potatoes in the bone hard rock using seaweed as a soil substitute and wrestle with giant basking sharks to get the oil for their lamps whilst risking their lives catching fish for their meals- their tiny boats looking like match sticks against the might ocean and their faces rough hewn  like the bone hard granite of their islands. Even if the film is somewhat fictionalised it opens a window onto a long lost, tough, yet honourable life- a warrior existence on the edge of the world and one that has been long lost in a cosseted modern world where people get fish from a tin instead of risking life and limb in the sea.

British Sea Power were sent the film by a fan and film buff and when asked to write a soundtrack for an art project chose the perfect film for their powerful music that smells of sea salt and brine. The band, who have always intertwined the powerful, primal forces of nature and an almost pagan imagery into their music and stage sets, have created the perfect soundtrack that makes your emotions swell like the mighty Atlantic that is the fluid spine of the film. Their sense of theatrical- with branches of trees and stuffed animals as part of their normal touring stage set and a music that oozes with the power of mother nature are perfect for this sort of exercise.

What they have composed for the film is a genius match for the forces of nature in the film and the tug and flow of the wild Atlantic that pours over the island. The music and the visuals perfectly combine to affect you in a powerful emotional way. I leave the cinema with my legs shaking like an Aran islander getting out of one of the tiny boats, feeling drained by the thrilling, emotive music provided by one of the best current British bands at the height of their powers and a 70 year old film that is still powerfully affecting.

Adam Ant and the Glitterband

April 18, 2010

This a story of musical legends, glam rock genius, pop brilliance, a virtuoso pop star attempting a long awaited comeback and a disgraced singer who has tainted a great back catalogue and a curious and strange evening in Manchester.

We are watching the Glitterband onstage in at Satans Hollow.  It’s a strange and interesting night that twists and turns as we await the arrival of Adam Ant whose meant to be getting on stage for a couple of songs at the end of the evening.

Adam has been putting in sporadic appearances on London stages in the last few weeks. He jumped on stage with Gary Numan for a version of ‘Cars’, there was a swift appearance with Zodiac Mindwarp and then last week he appeared at the Glitterband gig in London where he played a bunch of classic old Ant songs like ‘Red Scab’ and ‘Physical’ with his own new band. At the gig Adam looked and sounded amazing and the fact that he was playing the freaky old stuff made it even better.

The clips on youtube wetted appetites and the Glitterband audience is pumped up with old bondage punks, super freaky Goths and Antfans waiting for the return of the dandy highwayman to unplug the jukebox with his sex music for one more time.

Adam Ant is the great-lost pop star. Mistakenly labelled a pantomime pop personae and dismissed by ‘serious’ critics but for those that know he is a pop genius. Those first two albums, ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ and ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ are amazing works. ‘Dirk’ was the ultimate in zigzagging art school rock- it was tough and weird but also fantastic pop- Adam was always one of the great singers and brought his weird songs to life with a deft melodic touch. The early Ants were the heaviest and weirdest punk band of them all and for a year or so were the carriers of the original sex, style, subversion spirit of the Sex shop punk rock revolution before turning into the unlikeliest of pop stars in the early eighties. Their fans were the antfans- the freakiest, heavy duty, looking crew in the country who were a blur of studs, feathers, warpaint and Mohicans before anyone else even knew what these were. They massed from all over the country or from the London punk squats and when the Ants broke through the disconsolate Antfans split to follow the Southern Death Cult and watched shocked as Adam suddenly attracted screaming teenyboppers- there is  a great description of this tour in the amazing Vague fanzine from back in the early eighties.

Adam Ant broke though with ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ which was an amazing work- an avant-garde pop kaleidoscope. The album resulted from when Adam asked the late Malcolm Mclaren in to help with the band after the release of ‘Dirk’ he watched aghast whilst Mclaren stole the Ant-band to form Bow Wow Wow.

A desolate Adam phoned Marco and put together the new Ants and adding Malcolm’s ideas created a 3D pop soundtrack that gatecrashed the charts making most people forget just amazingly off the wall this music was.

Pop music in the early eighties was not like this.

Pop music in any decade was not like this.

Arguably even more off the wall than their debut the album was huge in the early eighties. Adam was good looking and dressed up making sure that the serious critics would always brush over his innate genius because good looking fuckers are never taken seriously in the pop cannon- re-listen to ‘Kings’ now and you will be blown away but its vision and its attractive, cinematic strangeness.

It’s because of these fantastic records that we are here- half believing that Adam may turn up and dust the venue with pop magic. We also half believe that he probably won’t turn up atall and privately hope he knows what he’s doing after his well documented battles with his bipolar condition—no-one wants him to make himself unwell.

All night everyone keeps asking me the same question ‘Is Adam coming?’ and I can’t answer because I don’t know.

Adam is not here yet and the first band on- Bad Taste Barbies mash of glam disco, transvestite clobber and over the top camp is both hilarious and quite brilliant , they are followed by Kid Vooodoo’s thrilling swamp punk blues.

The Glitterband hit the stage and sound great- they are a hotch potch of good players and ex members including John Springate on bass/vocals, Pete Phipps on drums and Eddy Spence on keyboards.  There are currently and confusingly two Glitterbands out on the circuit- the other one is key Glitter member John Rossall’s Glitterband and this one- both camps of course are not happy with each other and there is dark talk of court orders. Both line-ups, though, sound great.

It’s not like they have got enough problems trying to survive with the shadow of Gary Glitter- who took the glitter to the gutter- hanging over both of them. The disgraced former pop buffoon’s sad descent into paedophilia has tainted a great back catalogue of some brilliant singles and also tainted the Glitterband whose separate career had it’s own signpost hits in the mid seventies.

Gary Glitter was not the whole story though and his depressing and dark behaviour should never be allowed to obscure producer Mike Leander’s genius in coming up with the Glitter sound.

Born in 1941 the late Leander (who died in 1996) has one of the great unheralded careers in British pop music working at Decca and Bell records. Bell itself is a label whose very name conjures up the great days of early seventies glam whilst Leander’s own fingerprints are all over some of the classic lineage of British sixties and seventies pop like  Marianne Faithfull, Billy Fury, Marc Bolan, Joe Cocker, The Small Faces, Van Morrison, Alan Price, Peter Frampton, Keith Richards, Shirley Bassey, Lulu, Jimmy Page, Roy Orbison, Brian Jones,and Gene Pitney.

Leander’s skills as a producer/arranger saw him called in to work with Ben E. King and The Drifters as well as being the only person to work on the Beatles orchestration apart from George Martin when he arranged the strings on ‘She’s Leaving Home’ from the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ‘album.

He was also executive producer of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar ‘and in the late 1960s wrote scores for several films.

It’s an incredible track record.

One night he was in the studio working on some David Essex sessions when the upcoming singer called in sick leaving ten hours of dead studio time. Leander got on the drum kit and started bashing out a Burundi style drumbeat getting the engineer to tape the twenty minutes of drumming. Building on the tracks with other instruments he had ‘Rock n Roll Part one and two’ in the bag. He drafted in Paul Raven who he had worked with back in the sixties recording a few singles, before Raven hooked up Jesus Christ Superstar,

re-christening him Gary Glitter who became the faintly bizarre glam superstar of the early seventies coasting to success on the back of Leander’s genius. The fact that the records now make uncomfortable listening due to Glitter’s pedophilia is sad.

Leander also later worked with the Glitter band and that distinctive drum sound is in full force tonight decorating all their best songs. The Glitterband still also have that great drone sound that the producer patented back in the early seventies and are a great fun night out romp disguising the great dark glam rock that is the beating heart of their muse.

Tonight they even have Angie Bowie singing three songs with them, her croaking Berlin cabaret voice spins the set off in an unexpected direction and as a curio from the days when pop was really mental she is fascinating to watch.

But the real special guest everyone is waiting for is still not here. Apparently he’s on a train and he’s running late. The Glitterband end their set and Adam is still not here and everyone waits on but twenty minutes after the end of the set it’s announced that he’s not coming.

No-one is angry. Most people hope that Adam is ok and understand the potential stress of playing these gigs could be having on him.

Adam is meant to be playing London at the end of April- hope he can do it- there is potential for a great romantic comeback here…

Malcolm Mclaren and punk rock

April 9, 2010

The death of Malcolm Mclaren is of course shocking. Its hard to believe anyone so vibrant so alive could have passed away. It also puts punk rock into sharp focus again and pushes it further and deeper into the history books- a strange feeling for something that was so of its moment.

Mclaren- arguably the last of old school showbiz managers whilst also inventing the new breed, was one, if not the prime architect of the punk movement, he was also an uncomfortable bedfellow in the punk rock lineage. Many people just didn’t seem to know where to place him in the history of the form not realising that without him all the fun and games would never have happened.

True, he often overstated his case but in a weird way understated his own genius. To understand this genius you only have to look at the clothes and the ideas that were pouring out of the Let It Rock/Sex Shop/Seditionaries clothes shop in the pre punk seventies to realise that what Malcolm and his then partner in crime Vivienne Westwood did was create provocative works of art more than clothes- provocative works of art that challenged everything from the way you thought to the way you walked. They were pushing the boundaries of taste to extremes. Wearing their stuff was asking for it and asking for it in the mid seventies was heavy.

Their clothes were a mixture of fetish wear, firebrand rock n roll originals, situationist pranking, quirky madness and pervy danger as well as a dash of sick and downright nasty- they also looked brilliant and attracted a small coterie of freaks who would coalesce as the original core of the punk movement.     The idea that clothes could be both sexy and unsettling was genius and when the Sex Pistols were added as a  soundtrack it changed people’s lives and eventually the whole of the UK. In 2010 punk is everywhere- what was once weird is now a mundane T shirt, what was once freakish is another celebrity headline, what was once underground is now, for better or worse, mainstream.

The situationist skree and the brilliant pervy imagination of Mclaren are right at the heart of punk rock. Mclaren’s whole life was a work of art and the best art creates trouble. It’s not comfortable. It’s not about sagging into the sofa feeling mildly satisfied- it challenges you to wake up! wake up! before you really are already dead!

The Sex Pistols were the eventual vehicle for his dangerous ideas of sex, style and subversion- luckily they also happened to be one of the greatest rock n roll bands the UK has ever produced- with a one off frontman who was far smarter than he needed to be and whose vulnerability and intelligence added a huge dimension to the battle plan.

In 1976/77 the Sex Pistols changed everything- don’t let the history re-writers tell you otherwise. Mclaren made Britain sexy and exciting when before it had had been wall to wall denim. His genius was that he realised that music was about so much more than just the music.

The power of rock n roll, of course, will forever stop you in your tracks but what Mclaren brought to the table was all the OTHER STUFF.

Recently I wrote a blog on the Guardian about stand up drummers and the anonymous weirds were out in full force on the comments section moaning about journalists only liking the image and not the music and insisting on drummers being sat down- believing that sitting down behind a drum kit is a sign of authenticity. The nameless commenteers, too, have their own idea of image and HOW THINGS SHOULD BE. That’s what fucked up the mid seventies- the idea that ‘real’ meant grimacing, long guitar solos and blokes playing blues with too much technique and no regard for the form. Middle aged men talk about music in terms of how people play with no regard for the soul power and the passion and the ideas- they missed the point entirely. They don’t get the thrill of the other stuff, they don’t even get the thrill of the music- being to busy getting autistic over the musicianship. Boring.

Mclaren instinctively knew this was wrong. He felt it first and he returned rock n roll to its firebrand, dangerous, sexed up roots. When you first saw a picture of the Sex Pistols as the sexy young assassins in 1976 you were hooked- their hair, clothes, shoes, facial expressions, even the way they stood told you what they sounded like before you could even hear them- how perfect is that?

And when you heard them…wow!

Of course Mclaren was a useless conventional manager, most of the Pistols ‘career’was haphazard and on the hoof but no-one else could have pulled that trick off, no other manager would have surfed the chaos like Mclaren did, all the time creating ideas- in thrall to the love of ideas. He was a machine gun of thrilling ideas- ideas that were more thrilling than a great chorus- ideas that have their own timeless melody. Ideas that fired up a small section of a generation who have gone on to change stuff.

His brilliant mind and his dangerous thinking woke the UK up and changed lives. You just need to look at the clothes from Sex shop, look at Jamie Reid’s (art school situationist chum of Mclaren)  artwork, listen to the primal power of the Pistols and understand his catalytic power- his pulling together of maverick minds to create revolutionary moments. That’s a skill in itself- a magnetic charisma that makes things happen.

And it just didn’t stop here- I love the story of Adam Ant paying Malcolm a grand to manage him- he was given a check list of records to listen to that were as insanely esoteric as you would expect- after one rehearsal Adam was sacked from his own band who were turned into Bow Wow Wow by  Mclaren who used the band for another catherine wheel of madcap and unsettling ideas and Adam? God knows what became of him!

Mclaren also introduced a generation of kids to hip hop when he went to New York and soaked up the street culture there for 1983’s ‘Duck Rock’, he nearly ran for mayor of London, turned himself into an entertainer  with his own hit records and was a brilliant raconteur with a fistful of deadly stories. Of course he could be rude, unpleasant and abrasive- thank fuck for that- the nice people are boring.

Mclaren made Britain sexy, he woke us up from our mid seventies slumbers, he brought situationism to the high street, created a pool of ideas that turned into one of the greatest youth movements of all time.

Vive le Rock.

The revolution is not over yet.

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