There’s still some good new music out there….

I’m reconciled to the fact, that due to other commitments, there is probably only going to be one of these every month. Too many distractions prevent focused writing. However, a plethora of excellent new albums have inspired this peroration, and it’s good to share. In one way or another, the releases featured in this blog will find their way into the Aural Delights Radio Show. I offer this information in the hope you might find something interesting to listen to that you might otherwise not be aware of. It might also tempt you to listen to the show. A pleasant aural distraction while you are doing the ironing or whatever.

Such is the nature of music accessibility these days that I am swamped on a daily basis by new releases and keeping up is almost a full-time job.  But I should not complain, I recall the early days of Sounds and looking longingly at the Virgin Records advert in the rear of said august inky news-sheet and wondering how I could ever possibly afford to purchase the likes of Ars Longa Vita Brevis by The Nice,

I digress.

Let’s start with TFS or to give them their full name Tropical Fuck Storm, which is also the name of their record label. Their debut album “A Laughing Death in Meatspace” is remarkable. Emerging from the Drones (the Australian version thereof not the Manc Punkers) the line-up is  Gareth Liddiard guitar and vocals and Fiona Kitschin bass (The Drones), Lauren Hammel (High Tension) on drums and Erica Dunn (Mod Con, Harmony) on guitars, keys and other gadgets. How do you follow up from the excellent last album from The Drones? Well with this amalgam of modern rock music. Liddiard’s laconic vocal style dominates and he has great lyrics. The use of guitars is as always with Liddiard’s work a key feature but is the repetition and layering and song construction that marks this out as a ground-breaking release. The music moves through a variety of types of rock and blues but those conventions of genre don’t do justice to what emerges from this album There are strong elements of rap/urban delivery that seep into the murky corners of rock to create a singular sound. Highly recommended and a strong contender for album of the year.

I find a lot of new music by listening to community radio, there are some great DJs out there and Brad Cain and Dave Hammond are two of the best. Brad works out of Nevis FM once every couple of weeks and is also syndicated to Radio Kaos in Austin Texas. There is a lot of crossover between what Dave, Brad and I do and you’ll often find some similarities between show playlists. A recent show from Brad featured some fascinating music by a band called Ten Million Aliens. They have an album out called “Road Trip (Fall Of The Rebel Angels)”.

I may as well nick their bio from the webpage as it articulates more efficiently than I can about this album

Ten Million Aliens are the latest incarnation of the partnership of musical Übermensch John Senior with producer John Rowley, ex guitarist from John Peel favourite’s Red Guitars. While they are largely unknown outside of their local musical orbit, the pair have worked together for years on some fantastic studio projects including the legendary Lords of Zubos and recently the superb album “On The Beach” from the sadly missed Eddie Smith. Now with the addition of Rich Banks on bass and guitar they have taken it up to another level. Their collective musical credentials over the years include studio and support slots with hundreds of bands from The Smiths, Radiohead, The La’s, Cast, Pulp, Kingmaker, and the Bhundu Boys to The Voice runner up Sally Barker.

The album Road Trip (Fall of the Rebel Angels) has taken two years to complete from inception to master and all the years of studio and live experience of this trio have been pulled together and condensed into the super massive black hole that is their magnificent masterwork. Senior is a simply unstoppable tsunami of musical ideas and improvisational dexterity playing in a bewildering patchwork of styles to create a roller coaster ride into the rotten belly of a dystopian America that has just arrived with perfect timing.

They could never have imagined when they started laying down the tracks two years ago that today America would actually be re living the civil rights struggles and nuclear sabre rattling of the 60s headed up by an orange man/baby who informs his world through Fox News and Twitter.

So what you have in broad terms is the amalgamation of,   sometimes frightening, spoken word from Trumpists, with american musical styles to create an almost cinematic aural confection which both astounds and gives pause for thought. I was reminded of the work of producer Hal Wilner (especially his Mingus/Harry Partch album Weird Nightmare) in the construction and format. It is an astonishing album, both in terms of uncovering some of the dark elements of the American Dream but in its use of that countries music to deliver its message. Again another strong contender for album of the year.

Finding out about The Red Propellers has been difficult. They don’t appear to have penetrated the Google-sphere to any great extent as yet. They appear to be from Bristol or maybe Stroud in Gloucestershire.  They have an album out called “The Fragility of Love: Collected Works” which is stunning.  Vocalist James Dick appears to be channelling either Lennie Bruce or Jim Morrison in many ways but also takes it past the Lizard King ,to an evangelical preacher level indulging in MES style rants with some fervour. There’s also a bit of early VU about them. The band delivers a surging, bubbling, almost funky blues rock bed over which Dick delivers complex and impressive vocal tirades. Three of the tracks on the album come from an EP called “Images” which was released in 2016.

As can be seen from the below guitarist David McEvoy can also create some more off-kilter experimental sounds. I can’t find something from the album to embed but you can track it down on Spotify, Deezer and the like. The live track below is a good indication of what to expect. A remarkable band.

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Benign Astringency

The Junta is having technical problems. The truculent sound engineer can handle guitars, bass, drums etc but can’t seem to be able to cope with/entertain techno/electronica. Soundcards are not working and the AV laptop has developed deadly embrace. Notwithstanding that The Junta powers through 30+ minutes of old, new and cover material, the latter being a very interesting version of a Rammstein tune. Some of the crowd like it but this is perhaps this is not the ideal place for The Junta to ply his trade. The track “Ron Jeremy” stands out (obligatory Carry  On joke time), and gets a least one lady up off her seat to throw some shapes (she will reappear regularly throughout the evening). In addition, at least one new fan has been made as he comes up to congratulate Monty towards the end of the set. Some thoughts on current technical limitations of The Junta live setup are discussed in the car on the way home. Can’t help feeling he would better placed playing in a sweaty techno club in Manchester or Ibiza rather than in a pub in Oldham Town Centre?  Regardless of my musings, I admire his boundless enthusiasm in the face of uncooperative gremlins.

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Stepping back slightly. I seem to have spent most of my day on the tram network. It’s given me chance to listen to the new Lancashire Hustlers album (which is excellent) and to chill to Enrico Pieranunzi playing Fellini film scores. Eccles to Oldham takes longer than I anticipated due to the long wait at Cornbrook for the Rochdale Connection. For an early Saturday evening, the carriages seem extremely full. Late shopping commuters perhaps. By the time I get to Oldham (….. she’ll be rising etc) it’s dark. Ominously a gaggle of police officers join the tram at Freehold and there are one or two worried glances around me. The much-troubled network has suffered from an “unprovoked attack” violent incident recently. There is a claustrophobic feel to the King Street tram stop. Fortunately, there is only a short walk from the tram stop to the Bank Top Tavern where The Junta. Four Candles and Drink and Drive are playing.

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Four Candles have been somewhat busy recording the important second album, I’ve heard most of it. It will confound, impress and delight many. It’s certainly different from the first one. Tonight there is a subtle change from what was seen at The Peer Hat in January in that is delivered like a sledgehammer to the head. Phil has ditched his electric drum kit which seems to add a huge punch to the overall sound. Mr Moss appears intent on ridding himself of several demons this evening. His mojo has returned with vengeance. The crowd becomes enthralled, Mr Moss becomes more animated and manic. The reciprocal exchange of energy between band and audience builds to a huge climax. The impressive new tracks – Stranger Things,  You Can’t Be What You Pretend, Chastity Belt and a massive C33 dominate the old favourites. The hypnotic guitar figure of “You Can’t Be What….” is glorious, the impressive “Angels, Not Angels” will not be on the album but is a stand-out on the night. The crowd love it. People are dancing, Mr Moss becomes even more animated his shirt becoming soaked with sweat as he drives the band on. It feels like the edge of chaos, it is intriguing. These guys need to gig more and build the audience they deserve. “Stranger Things” with its consideration of dark political arts is a track which is both apposite and demands your attention.

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What can I say about Drink and Drive? A Hometown gig will clearly bring their already large fan base out. The pub fills, people dance. Starting off with “Itch-Scratch Cycle” they demonstrate their intent. Powering through 15 tunes they cover most of the latest album, they try out a new one, and they dig up some much older material. The Adult Pig Suit makes its semi-regular appearance conjuring up memories of Peter Gabriel with a foxes head at the Oval in 1972. Both humorous but also oddly worrying. The band leap between the jaunty Country and Northern of “Dakota Hotel” to the full-on punk rancour of “Recession Man” with ease. “Spring Time For Drink and Drive” and “Greg’s Fault” are most impressive. If you want to fill that huge “Fall-Shaped” hole in your gigging life you should see this band. Whilst the manifestos and content are significantly different from “das gruppe” the underlying intent is the same. Repetition plays a huge part, and the juxtaposition of that with complex and far-reaching lyrical content, a benign astrigency of complex metaphors and rhythm, creates a dark matter heavy mass of emotive music which draws the listener toward it with an irrepressible gravitational force. They remain German Shepherd Records biggest success to date and they ought to be getting national recognition for what they do.

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The night has been great. At one point during the D and D set Ben makes a remark about a lack of places to see live music in the Town Centre. Free entry tonight and a reasonably good turnout. No tribute bands. Seems like a winning formula to me. Two good gig weekends in a row for me.  One wonders why impressive new live music is suffering when the quality was as good as it was tonight. Landlords should be happy to fill a pub and sell lots of ale etc. It’s a conundrum.  The journey home is long and convoluted as for some reason the M60 is closed between junctions 6 and 12, I get home at 2pm, tired but pleased. The psychedelic carpet in the Bank Top Tavern seems to be imprinted on my retina.

BTT carpet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independents Day

When I find that the state of the music industry is causing me grief once again, I can look back to 8th April 2018 when my faith in grassroots music was yet again rekindled by John Donaldson and his band of travelling musicians.

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A short tour involving the aforementioned John (as JD Meatyard), Tamsin A (of Mr Heart, Ill and Liines), Kin, Mankes and my co-conspirator in all matters German Shepherd, Ian “Moet” Moss had already touched Blackburn, Darwen and Sheffield before descending on Manchester. The city is still buzzing from the previous days’ derby match. The train from Eccles to Piccadilly takes me through the Ordsall Chord for the first time. The number of very high tower blocks along the route gives me the strong impression that Manchester aspires to be Manhattan. I do wonder whether sufficient planning has been developed to ensure that the infrastructure can cope with so much humanity in such a small area.

The walk from Piccadilly involves a complex dance around scurrying commuters, the number of people “living” on the street feels like it is inexorably growing, and they are all so much younger. The contradiction/disconnect between the expansive high-value housing market seen from the train and destitution on the city streets is chastening. It seems ridiculous that in a country with an economy as strong as ours that such things have occurred and are not being dealt with. I raise these somewhat political points to set a context for JD Meatyards’ set later in the day which covers them more effectively than I can.

Step back several years to the first Independents Tour at the now-defunct Crescent Pub (another victim of an uncontrolled housing/commercial market) where performances from Hamsters, Tamsin, Cannonball Statman, and JD Meatyard led to the release of three albums worth of excellent live music and set in course a series of artistically perfect relationships. A year later at the Salford Music Festival, JD Meatyard plays to a packed room at The Eagle Inn and wins over a boisterous crowd.  Up to date and this time around we are at The Peer Hat for a late afternoon/early evening of memorable music.

Huge thanks need to go to Paul Forshaw for diligently capturing this for posterity.

Tamsin begins proceedings following a short introduction from Mr Moss in his spoken word persona.  Her music has moved on leaps and bounds since I saw her last. It’s a trend for the afternoon that she and former bandmate in Mr Heart, Kin, use looping devices to a stunning effect. At times she can mirror the fractured fragility of Kristin Hersh at her best, and other moments there is a full-on wall of sound with layered guitars and vocals which can keep pace with any full-on punk band you would care to mention. The songs are stronger, the arrangements more complex, and the delivery the best I have seen from her. When she isn’t fulfilling her Ill or Liines duties she should find time to get this material recorded. Words are not enough to describe it so fortunately, we have this capture.

A short break for another glass of alcohol-free lager and then it’s time for Kin. It’s seven years since I last saw her do an album launch at the Castle before jetting off to Holland for another life, and another band, which has now dissolved. Time and distance have not diluted her amazing talent. She and  Moet kick things off with an improvisation around “The Wilsons”, a song that was supposed be done by Kill Pretty, was rescued by myself and Ian (in our IM-SM period), and also memorably was also given the Loop-Azanvour treatment at the aforementioned Castle last year. It’s one of Ian’s finest lyrics and this spontaneous version is remarkable. What follows is a triumph of technology, musicianship, and vocalese which sees Kin expanding beyond her influences into her own musical territory. Her voice is stronger than ever. Her command of a battery of pedals allows her to create percussion, orchestral guitar layers, and a truly dynamic performance. Again words do not do enough justice for a memorable set of cutting-edge music,  see for yourself.

Third on the bill are the remarkable Mankes. They are from Holland and comprise Selma Peelen, Johan Visschers and Peter Kahmann. For a three-piece, they make a huge noise. Acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards are combined to create huge cinematic statements. Selma’s voice soars incandescently over droning hypnotic rhythms, the tunes are great and memorable. Sometimes it is stripped back to just acoustic guitar and percussion to offer an impressive variety of impressive content. I buy the album from the merch table, and you will be hearing it on future editions of Aural Delights. Pending that bask in the sumptuous and organic sounds of a remarkable band.

And finally the remarkable JD Meatyard, Moet kicks things off with a great reading of “The Elephant’s Graveyard” (one of my favourite pieces that we have done together) and an acerbic “Freemasons” before a rambunctious set from the trio. Tamsin joins on guitar for an excellent collection of John’s best tunes including a breathless “Ubu@Erics”, an acerbic “St Peter at The Gates”,and the call to arms of the marvellous “Jesse James”. John has the ability to mix rich polemic rants, with beautiful heartfelt ballads, he can make you joyful, angry and tearful, he tugs at your heart with his words. He plays new songs from a forthcoming album which promised for later in the year. The Teenage Propshaft makes his inevitable and customary appearance. Matters conclude with a massive reading of “Palestine Song” which is clearly current. Members of Mankes join for a huge wall of sound conclusion. An encore of “Lies, Lies and Government” is unfortunately not captured visually, but an aural version remains for posterity.

Lets do it again some time.

Bacon Degrees, Graney and Meta-fictional constructs

Blog neglect is a terrible crime, although, in my defence, this is one of my many blogs and other things of a musical nature which have captured my time of late. However, as Spring tries to break through from Winter this feels like a good time to shake the dust off the writing fingers.

Modern antipodean music continues to dominate my CD player, and as is usually the case, I am prompted to write by the arrival of new music by Dave Graney. Dave looks busy at the moment, whether it be the almost relentless gigging, or literary events around his excellent “Workshy” book, or being nominated for awards for soundtracks. However, he still finds time to produce new material, and a new single, purely solo this time, comes across all “Roy Orbison” in a blues-pop style, with slide guitar, fractured guitar string sounds, and enough atmosphere to shake you out of your tribute act fever dream.  There’s a video which links back to the Watts Towers mentioned on the track Apollo 69 which was on The Coral Snakes  The Sound ‘n’ Sexy Sound album but it’s on private setting at the moment so I cannot share it. The tune is called “You’re All Wrong” and opens next weeks Aural Delights Radio Show (Thursday at 10pm on Analogue Trash Radio). Here’s a nice picture of Dave instead:

181Dave Graney

In a “Kevin Bacon Six Degrees” way the bulk of following few subjects inevitably link back to Graney, such is the nature of synchronicity in the digital age.

On this next aural matter, the first thing to say is that there are several bands called Shifting Sands around but it’s the Brisbane based Aussie version which applies in this instance (the other two I can find are in Iowa and New Zealand, there may well be more). I chanced across the band in an article published in 2015 in The Music.com.au which intrigued me because of a Graney reference. Shifting Sands – the core of which is Geoff Corbett (of SixFtHick fame) and his long-term musical co-worker Dylan McCormack (also a member of Gentle Ben) –  which is added to by  Dan Baebler (also SixFtHick), Alex Dunlop (Keep On Dancin’s) and Anna Clifford (Family Jordan), have long been institutions on the Brisbane live scene,  but their 2015 debut long-player, Beach Coma, allows them access to a wider universe by the power of Bandcamp. It’s a remarkable recording with Corbett’s world-weary drawl dominating. My immediate thought he was a softer sounding version of Johnny Dowd, but the man himself cites Leonard Cohen, Lee Hazelwood, Neil Diamond, and early Dave Graney (there’s your Bacon 6 degrees thing) as influences. On the surface, the music evokes that “striped sunlight sound” but the dark subject matter of Corbett’s lyrics transports the music elsewhere. It’s a compelling and fascinating album which will get some serious airtime on my radio shows over the next few months. As it turns out, and proving the Cosmic Bacon Spheres are aligned Dave saw the band the other night and bought the album also. It’s a small world.

Still pursuing the Bacon like cosmic linkages Graney of course played with Loudhailer Electric Company last year in Hull. The effervescent bass player of said band is, of course, Lou Duffy Howard once of Red Guitars, which evolved into The Planet Wilson. I was listening to Dave Hammond on Cambridge 105 and he played tracks from the soon to be re-released Planet Wilson back catalogue which is available digitally from April 30th 2018. The band was formed in Hull in 1985 by two former Red Guitars, Hallam Lewis (guitar and vocals) and the aforementioned Duffy-Howard (bass), and was completed by drummer Grant Ardis. Described by Sounds’ David Cavanagh as ‘Crazy James Chance meets Holger Czukay’ they released two acclaimed albums in the late 1980s. Their 1988 album ‘In the Best of All Possible Worlds’ was produced by Steve Nye and released on Virgin Records. In 1989 their second album ‘Not Drowning but Waving’ was released on Records of Achievement. Singles White Lies, Fly by Night, Taken for a Ride and Mouth to Mouth featured both 7″ and 12″ vinyl extended mixes. Howards own DHM label,  distributed by Label Worx, will release the back catalogue which will be available from digital outlets including iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Deezer, Shazam and Amazon.  The two albums are a strong reminder to the music fan of what you missed when you were not paying attention in the latter half of the 1980s. To the apposite Cavanagh comparators above I’d add a sprinkling of ’77 Talking Heads, early 10,000 Maniacs, and a strong dose of Hi-Life. In any event, I am mightily pleased that Lou has brought them back to life as they afford me the chance to enjoy what was a unique band.

Mention of “Workshy” above leads me on to my current listening obsession, which is Peter Milton Walsh, who is mentioned in said Graney tome as the purveyor of exotic chords, well, major sevenths, that sparked some musical activity for Dave. As an aside Workshy is well worth reading for his succinct analysis of certain artists and movements, grunge gets short shrift and Jeff Buckley gets told off for “howling”. Talking of chords  I got told off by a musician for playing a “fancy chord” in a jam session once and was advised to buckle down and play majors, but I digress. Walsh is The Apartments, and The Apartments is Walsh. Bob Auster South reminded me of them in a recent e-mail, he had come across something on You-Tube, I recalled I’d been sent their most recent new album (No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal) by a promo company, played it on the steam wireless and then promptly lost it in the great hard disc meltdown of a few years back. Much is written of the band, and Walsh, on Wikipedia, and on the liner notes to the re-issue of the debut album “the evening visits….”.  Not to over-egg the plaudits Walsh has that undefinable sound which emerges out of a group of Australian bands – Chads Tree, The Triffids, Jackson Code, and yes The Go-Betweens, which Walsh dallied with briefly for a while in the eighties.

In a Steve Erickson moment, I construct a meta-fictional reality in my head where Walsh had stayed with Robert and Grant and The GBs become huge and bloated and “successful” , the new Beatles if you would with Grant and Robert as Paul and John, and Peter as George,  and their separate bodies of work, including Walsh’s time with Laughing Clowns, had been lost to history (this is mainly because I am reading Erickson’s excellent Shadowbahn at the moment). Such an alternative history is something not to dwell on………

In any event, a longer and separate piece on Walsh and the Apartments is gestating in the back of my head, pending that here is one of the You Tube’s that t’other Bob pointed me to. Also, I’ve been heavily featuring the bands’ output on the radio show recently. That’s Amanda Brown, also of The GBs in the middle. On Every Corner is from the remarkable “Drift” release.

I’ve held off on commenting on the passing of Mark E. Smith, for several reasons, but mostly because there is a serious amount of work going on behind the scenes  to reconstruct the site, which  Martin Peters and I have been working on for nigh on ten years now, and  which aims to catalogue every live performance by The Fall and also provide a complete track record. Working backwards we have completed the 2010s in terms of gig cataloguing. The aim is to be finished by October but it may take a little longer. There is a strange logic in carrying out the work in reverse order as it allows for a better understanding of how The Fall story was de-constructed over the years.

Completing the Bacon like synchronicity of this piece…… Dave Graney covered The Fall’s “New Face In Hell” in his 2009 narrative show “Live In Hell”. You know, there’s a whole book somewhere in this linkages thing, but I can’t be bothered, there’s too much good music to listen to.

I won’t leave it so long until the next one….

 

 

Consequences of Travel

Big Satan, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham – 8th February 2018

Tim Berne occupies a large section of my ever expanding collection of Compact Discs. He nestles comfortably behind The Fall, Miles Davis and Dave Douglas, just inching in front of Dave Graney in respect of shelf width. His music has been a main part of my listening since I first read of him in The Wire back when Richard Cook was the editor. Oddly though, through a combination of distance , broken ankles, kidney stones and work related distractions I had never seen him perform live until now.

His back catalogue is immense with probably the greatest variety of band names and combinations of musicians known to man. Whether it be Paraphrase, Hard Cell, Bloodcount, Buffalo Collision or the more recent Snakeoil, there has always been a mind tingling variety of music in his output. but all dominated by his unique approach to writing and playing.

This is not easy music. The “when does the tune start” mob should stop reading now as you will not be interested. The pieces are often lengthy, complex, tangential and challenging. But it is a aural journey you should take if you are interested in the capacity of music, especially jazz, to grow and influence all around it.

Tim only played two UK dates on this tour, and generally only plays London. Fortunate and pleasing therefore that his group with Marc Ducret and Tom Rainey , collectively known as Big Satan, are playing in Birmingham. Only 90 minutes on the train from Manchester Piccadilly to New Street and a short  bus ride to the Midlands Art Centre, and tickets a bargain at £10!

I meet the other Bob (travelling north from Northampton) on the main concourse at New Street and we decamp to a delightful pub called The Post Office Vaults for a couple of beers. Another pub and then a quick Italian (where the concept of El Dente was perhaps taken too far) precedes a bus journey to Edgbaston where nestles the sprawling Midlands Arts Centre, which appears to have been designed by someone on psychotropic drugs with a fondness for M.C.Escher, and where the majority of the toilets are out of commission. Another quick beer and then into the Hexagon Theatre.

A compact room in a semi-round formation the distance between the performers and the audience is small allowing for an intimate appreciation of the music.

Tim, Marc and Tom launch into a fascinating performance which contains the familiar elements of Big Satan music (from the three albums to date) but also new aspects. The three players have distinct personas within the collective sound, but the overall combination is seamless and there is a distinct lack of ego in the delivery.

Rainey is more than impressive, whether it is his effortless delivery, the use of hands, brushes, sticks, bags of sticks or even the music stand, to create a range of percussive treats, or indeed the poly-rhythmic interplay with the other two. There are few drummers I have had the pleasure of seeing who can use the kit as a genuine tonal instrument and Rainey is one of the best.

Ducret is similarly captivating, he has is back to us for most of the set due to the configuration of the room but he still manages to captivate. His body arches as he delivers either flurries of notes, impressive finger breaking chords, or slaps to the strings. I was fascinated with his continuous use of his volume knobs and pedals to create unique sounds. One of the most captivating guitarists in terms of “how the hell is he doing that?” is has been my pleasure to watch.

Berne is, of course, superb. His self-effacing air, his studied concentration, and his fluid delivery all added to the overall enjoyment of the music. There are so many notes it is no wonder that sheet music is needed to deliver this complex and impressive material. He moves between delightful melodic playing to reed bending sound creation with ease. The music is the jazz equivalent of say Trout Mask Replica or Lick My Decals Off, or Gentle Giant at their most inventive, if you want some sort of rock comparison. Not that you should need that sort of yardstick of course, this is music which stands very well on its own occupying a singular place in the world of jazz.

Much of the set is unfamiliar , but a Julius Hemphill tune, and one of Ducret’s I think I recognise from one of the earlier albums, are included.  It is mostly new material all of which is excellent and I hope gets recorded at some point. During the break Tim hawks the new 3CD set of Science Friction recordings (Big Satan + Craig Taborn = Science Friction) but I know have them all already so a purchase is not necessary.  The short interval however puts us up to the wire on getting back to New Street to catch the train back to Manchester and Northampton respectively so we have to leave half way through the final number of the second set much to my disappointment.

Fortunate that we left when we did though as the taxi driver struggles to find his way back to New Street due to road works and the monsoon like conditions do not help. However we make it in time to catch the penultimate train back to Manchester and Northampton respectively.

A long desired wish to see Tim Berne has been realised but as the train slowly makes it way back north I ponder on the need for me to make this journey and the paucity of free/avant garde jazz music in the Manchester conurbation, and, what steps need to be taken to get someone like Tim to play in the North West.  Surely there must be a big enough audience for this type of music in the so-called music capital of the North to make it all viable? With venues like The Peer Hat I suppose anything is possible but are there are enough like minded souls to venture out on a Thursday night to listen to music of this type? Can we have a Vortex or Cafe Oto in Manchester and make it work? It’s hard enough putting “rock” gigs on, times are hard and money is tight. I guess the consequence of this journey was that it has made me think about why excellent music of this nature isn’t afforded more access. Not to sound like a broken record but the domination of the majority of venues in Manchester (including sadly the Band on the Wall) by cloned tribute acts is a sad indictment of the way new music, whether it be jazz or rock, is treated these days.

Not from the gig I attended but from a few years back here is an example of what you missed

Never Tweet Your Heroes

2018 is only two days old and the new material is coming down the internet pipe at a rate of knots, i’ve a feeling this is going to be a busy year.

A good way to start is the Boxing Day release from The Strays which is indeed called “Never Tweet Your Heroes”. I waxed lyrical about the bands debut here and i’m going to do the same for this sophomore effort.

It is important that you note that this is the electro-punk duo from North West UK and not the garage rock band from Gloucestershire, or indeed a trio from Darlington. What a confusing world we live in!

This moves on from “Explicit Content” in that it reduces the level of cussing thus making it far more possible to achieve airplay on mainstream radio and hopefully this will get the band more exposure. In addition there is the application of found sounds/film clips during and in between tracks (including a memorable Nicholson snippet from Cuckoo’s Nest). The duo move from their straight ahead electro punk on the first four tracks and, as with the last release, conclude with a funky little disco thing called “Milk and Honey” which I reckon is their best to date.

In any event five songs in 14 minutes demonstrates the Ramones like efficiency of the bands output and their joyful application of their craft which marries clever and  often politically astute lyrics with crisp punk-electronica. They appear to be gigging rather extensively at the moment so check out their Facebook page for a chance to see them live.

Highly recommended for lovers of fine music.

Strays

Music Criticism – Objective or Subjective?

Some thoughts to close down 2017……….

Last week………As we do, over a pint, we started discussing music and, as usual, we agreed on the relative merits of quite a few things, but on many others, there was divergence. As we are friends we tend to agree that whilst one or more of us like one artists it may be one of us, for whatever reason, disagree on the relative merits of the local rocking teen combo. It’s not something to fall out over, there is some playful banter, especially when the beer has been flowing, one man’s LCD Soundsystem is another man’s New Order etc etc.

One of us made the point that “Music Criticism” had got safe, or perhaps too objective, and that you never seemed to see a bad review of anything these days. How can one retain any form of critical appraisal of the overall scene if the general output of reviewers was predominantly positive? Conversely the violent and sometimes nasty divergence of views on the relative merits of one artist over another on social media is decidedly more subjective.

Perhaps more worrying though is the propensity for music criticism to be restrained, and confined to what is popular. What is acutely clear to me is the difficulty of breaking bands into the wider world so that their efforts might be appreciated by a bigger audience. After 45+ years of serious, and sometimes obsessive, music listening I reckon I have a pretty good take on what is good and what is bad (notwithstanding the previous comment about relative viewpoints of things) and it galls me that the same old faces keep appearing on end of year lists, and local gig guides. This is further compounded by those same old faces being cloned by tribute bands so that despite them not being available for gigs there is always a xeroxed version somewhere being trotted out to feed the nostalgia gene of your average punter.

Criticism is difficult in a music context. A general criticism is easy, a wide snipe at tribute bands is perhaps a lazy assertion on my part, struggling musicians need to earn a crust to pay for strings, plectrums and amp repairs, rehearsal room hire etc, so why should I moan about it? Well, and again it’s a subjective view I suppose, I just get the feeling that the balance between “new and innovative” and “tribute” has leaned towards the latter. And OK, if you want to go and see a tribute band that’s your choice, However when it becomes more difficult for artists genuinely trying to break the mould to get any sort of oxygen in an increasingly crowded scene then I get frustrated.

A general moan about the scene around the Manchester conurbation is that it, at least from a public perspective, “rests on it’s laurels”, with perhaps an unbalanced proportion of reportage and criticism being focused on established artists – James, Oasis (and it’s sibling progeny), Elbow,  Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays etc etc. A Heritage Theme Park for 80s/90s music? Even the more recent “darlings” – Cabbage, Blossoms etc seem to get more than their fill, when equally valid bands tend to get little air time/column inches. It’s like the attention span of the industry can only cope with one or two bands at once.

Breaking bands into the national consciousness these days, post-Peel, is increasingly difficult, with commercial broadcasters constrained by the need for advertising revenue and safe playlists, and BBC an increasingly more complex glass ceiling to break with it’s Krypton Factor like maze of getting music through the first hurdle of the unpaid work experience intern, with a pile of e-mails/sack of CDs to wade through, before it gets anywhere near a DJ/Producer. There are few notable exceptions, Tom Robinson for example, who seems to put some effort into getting less well known people some attention.

We released 50+ albums, EPs and singles this year. We’ve not made enough money to cover the cost of our distribution deal. As a not for profit label this makes it difficult to countenance continuing as we are not even breaking even. With the exception of two gigs we have made a loss on each event we have put on. Punters seem to want free entry to gigs, and free or stream-able cheap music these days. The number of cheeky chappies who try to jib into gigs is quite astounding.

As an example one of our most popular releases this year Drink and Drives “This Is What Happens When A Fly Lands On Your Food” has received 1226 plays on Spotify since it’s release. To put that in context that’s around three times higher than our second biggest artist Issac Navaro. That many plays in a month for a small label might seem good in the overall scheme of things. However just feed that amount into the online Spotify Calculator you will see it raises a paltry £3.67.  For further context if we weren’t offering a collective approach via our label the band would have to pay around £20 (which recurs annually) to get the album onto digital distribution. We can reduce that cost to around £7 for an album with one of the deals we get with the distributor. So we need around 2500 plays to break even. If we sell an album on Bandcamp (which is outside the general distribution deal) then we get hit with admin fees of around 15% from Bandcamp and around 10% from Paypal just for selling something. So a £7 album will net around £5.25. Having said that Bandcamp is probably the most cost effective way of distributing our releases given the poor stream-revenue rates with the wider digital distributors.

I write the above paragraph as context to attempt to describe how difficult it is to continue to offer new/challenging music in an environment where there seems to be an increasing reliance on what people already know, what they feel comfortable with, and where their expectation of getting it for next to nothing. And musical criticism which fails to offer a proper context, and fails to balance both an objective fact based approach, with a more visceral subjective, emotional response is not helping.

An industry which maintains the familiar (and some might argue bland) to the exclusion of the genuinely new and exciting and different is heading into an evolutionary blind alley. Criticism need to describe where artists are treading water and repeating what they have done before. Criticism needs to be honest. As a case in point “Luciferian Towers” feels safe and predictable in the context of “F♯ A♯ ∞” – the shock of the new of the 1997 release being reduced to a pallid copy in the 2017 – a balanced critique demonstrates that point but it still gets into a chart of one of the best releases of the year.  Play it alongside the aforementioned Drink and Drive album and you can see the marked difference between what feels like cosy conformity with a model that works and sold units and the righteous anger of something like “Itch Scratch Cycle”.

So what does the subjective part of my brain scream at me while I am reviewing the best of the year lists for 2017? Here are a few thoughts……….

Current darlings Public Sector Broadcasting appear to be on a revolving carousel of producing the same thing album by album, yes they are good but where is the progression and doesn’t it all sound a bit like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds or Rick Wakemans Journey to the Centre of the Earth?  Hergist Ridge was no Tubular Bells. Why does the industry allow musicians to repeat/xerox themselves?  Do Sleaford Mods really need to be encouraged to continue to  produce the same formula each year? Can I really be bothered to wade through all this stuff when our record label is putting out stuff which I believe is more challenging and ground breaking – m.t. scott, Moff Skellington The Screaming Love Collective, Cannonball Statman, Issac Navaro and Four Candles to me seem more interesting than established bands that repeat themselves. But I would say that wouldn’t I?

Not to come over as too negative 2017 has been a genuinely great year for music, even beyond the boundaries of German Shepherd records, with new bands emerging, and material from the past being discovered from the first time. So I do move into 2018 with a degree of optimism. One goal. or resolution if you will, should be to ensure that any blogs or radio shows don’t slip into a tired recycling of bands that should be stretching themselves when they are treading water.

Ian Moss’s Manchester Meltdown at the Peer Hat in January will set a benchmark for the year — with a manifesto to expose genuine talent to audience that needs to be refreshed,  – Different Music For Your Ears – if you are willing to listen?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all……