The Best of 2016 #3 – Singles and EPs

This one is going to be a little different due to the nature of releases this year. All will become apparent as I meander through things. The nature of what I do on an almost daily basis i.e. putting together radio shows/podcasts and running a record label means that a serious amount of individual tracks come in for potential airplay or indeed for release on the label. So trying to do a definitive list of the “best” is nigh on impossible – if they made it onto the podcast or got released by the record label they are, because they got through that gateway, “better than the rest” so i’ll generalise…..and this is in no sort of order of importance as I love them all with equal fervour……with the stuff at the bottom of the page being the “top of the pops” as it were

The Moss Brothers – various releases by Ian and Neil under various aliases – the work rate of Ian Moss is legendary, add his sibling into the mix and you have a an even faster production line of fascinating music – whether it be Ian & Neil, Sebastien the Tortoise, A Magpie and a Goldfish, or 2 Big Brothers it’s all great.

Taser Puppets : Fossil – their latest EP and first with German Shepherd proved to be their best yet. A health scare for front man Shaun put things on hold for a while but a barn storming set at the Salford Music Festival but them back on the North West musical map.

Alana Bondi : Alana Bondi EP – another artist who battled through health problems in 2015/6 to deliver a remarkable debut EP and stunning video to the opener “Four Walls” plus a run of shows including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The Sideshow : How It Goes – a remarkable single, pure pop for now people as Nick Lowe once said. Should have broken through this one and still a mystery as to why it didn’t.

The Screaming Love Collective : Three Singles – proof that repetition in music is still potent as a way of delivering ideas that are fresh.

The Mind Sweepers : The Mating Game – Vicky Middles asked if we could help out with this one and we were pleased to get involved. They call themselves genre defying and they certainly deliver on that score.

Bouquet of Dead Crows : Epicentre – a great collection of alternative versions, live cuts and a remix crowned a great year for the “Crows”  – a new album is in the pipeline and an album of radio sessions is promised for the new year.

The Madding Crowd – a good year, a great EP, an epic EP launch and a sense of renewed promise and hope for this north Manchester band.

Stalagmites : Between City and Cellar Door – back with a bang with a great EP, Brad Lynch is one of the best songwriters Salford has delivered with fantastic lyrics and epic tunes.

The Parish Church Fire : Locamente – another one where I sit here with a puzzled expression wondering why it wasn’t huge.

Staggs : Adult Loonies and A Rum Do – when I am fed up I turn to Staggs to cheer myself up – the diversity across these two releases is a testament to the skill and inventiveness of Ridley and Scott – punk, electronica and krautrock,  there’s something for everyone.

The Get : The Private Men EP – The Get are remarkable, their lo-fi approach to what they do, their relentless charm and enthusiasm is infectious. A great collection of songs.

Moff and Moss – aside from a remarkable debut album an epic single which dwelt on Mr Crowley and other strangeness. Expect new stuff in the New Year which is development at the moment – it will all become clear at the gig at the Castle in March!

Rose and the Diamond Hand : Universe Is Woman – should be huge, a remarkable voice, an amazing band, and a great live show, add a fantastic debut EP and you have a great year for Rose and co.

and the top three

3. KIT B – Weird Water – impressive song-writing from a great live band who broke into the festival circuit this year and garnered some impressive live reviews

2. m.t. scott – The Broken EP and 13 Queer Street – Michael left the wonderful world of Staggs for a while  to create two collections of aural wonderment. Cinematic in their scope and impressive in their musical depth he is clearly a creative force that requires/demands/deserves  a wider audience. I’ve been lucky enough to listen to these collections develop from ideas into fully formed pieces of aural magic.

1. The Graney and Moore Singles Releases – throughout the year Dave and Clare have released a digital single a month (more or less there will be one in January) in an effort, I believe, to escape the usual routines in the music industry. I can’t decide which is the best amongst any of them, so I’m bringing all ten into a collective number one, but if you were to push me the latest one “I Ain’t Hi Vis” is probably my favourite. The variety across this set of releases is impressive, the trademark Graney wit is in full effect, and musically, as is always the case, they are top notch. Notably there is more than a bit of a jazz tinge than is usual which of course ticks a lot of boxes for me. You can grab them all at the DG bandcamp page.  For the record the releases were:

I’m a Good Hater
This Is the Deadest Place I’ve Ever Died In
I Been Trendy
Drifting Donna Reed
Are You Out Of Your Mind? (Get Back In)
You Need a Kleek, Klook
Rupert’s Pet’s Grave
Matey, From On High
Let’s Kick this Mob Out
I Ain’t Hi Vis

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The Best of 2016 # 2 – Gigs

Having spent quite a lot of the year in and out of medical facilities for one reason or another the number of gigs attended has been somewhat constrained but having said that much improved on 2015 when I spent a good deal of the time in a plaster cast. In the most part the gigs I did attend were all great. There were a couple of bad evenings caused in the first case by an idiotic club owner and in the second case by a less than perfect sound engineering job, it is not my habit to name names, so I won’t, all I would say is that bands deserve more.

Ones I sadly missed due to ill health and diary clashes

  • Robert Forster
  • The Triffids
  • Kim Salmon

Here are the highlights in no particular order, apart from the top four gigs.

  • Manchester Jazz Festival – just a general message to say it was much improved this year with some fascinating bands seen especially in the performance space in Manchester Central Library – the price of the beer in the Festival Village is obscene though!
  • Soft Machine at The Band on the Wall – OK so we sat in the bar for most of the second set drinking and chewing the fat about music but the first set was pretty memorable and I realised a long held ambition to see this band.
  • The Junta at Night and Day – kabuki, mime and beats with El Generallisimo cooking up a techno storm.
  • Aidan Cross & Johann Kloos, Poppycock, Taser Puppets and West Coast Sick Line at Dulcimer, Chorlton. A fun packed night with a storming set from the Westies and a slight hiatus while Mr Maxwell found his guitar.
  • Moff Skellington, Mr Mouse, Loop-aznavour at The Fenton Leeds – a remarkable evening with a sparse audience but excellent performances from all three protagonists only somewhat ruined by the inability to get out of Leeds via the motorway necessitating a circuitous journey home via Harrogate
  • The Eagle, again, for the debut of the much anticipated new band lead by Ian Moss Four Candles , Cambridge rockers, stripped down to acoustic duo  for the night, Bouquet of Dead Crows, all the way from Modena Italy Saint Lawrence Verge, and to close the night the ever excellent Poppycock. A rather special evening.
  • Sam SmithGenevieve L Walsh and The Madding Crowd at The Moston Miners Club – a great set from Sam, memorable poetry from Genevieve,  and an epic set from The Madding Crowd.
  • The Junta, Bouquet of Dead Crows, The Scissors and Kit B at the Eagle as part of Salford Music Festival. Barnstorming sets from all four bands – we need to do this again.
  • Taser Puppets, Poppycock, JD Meatyard and West Coast Sick Line as part of Salford Musical Festival also at The Eagle – one of our most successful nights with a good crowd, fine performances, and a stellar set from Mr Meatyard.
  • Blaney album launch at Pacifica Cantonese. A great album and a memorable album launch with the added bonus of it being five minutes from where I live. It’s been a good year for Ed and he deserves the support he is getting at the moment

and the top four, who all happen to be Australian for some strange reason……

4.

The Necks live at the Band on the Wall – a special performance from an amazing trio of musicians. Unique and breath-taking music bereft of ego and full of invention.

3.

Harry Howard and the NDE with Poppycock at The Eagle – exploding keyboards and horrendous traffic conspired against us but Poppycock were the best I have seen them all year and Harry and co were exceptional given they had a stand in rhythm section with only a couple of days rehearsal.

2.

Dave Graney and Poppycock & Franco Bandini at the Eagle – a long held desire to catch Dave and Clare live was at long last realised. Most of the band were full of germs but still managed to deliver a set packed with classic tunes from across the Graney songbook. The added bonus of seeing Malcolm Ross play the guitar as well.

and my gig of the year….

1.

Dave Graney at the Betsey Trotwood, London – a memorable journey to the capital despite a dodgy knee. A pleasant afternoon drinking with Bob and Jeff in some fine ale houses. A fantastic set from Dave, Clare, Stu and Malcolm covering even more of the Graney songbook topped off by a great tribute to Prince.

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The Best of 2016 # 1 – Albums

It has been a busy year, and a bit of task to try and get down the 100s of albums that have come my way down to a top 25. This years list reflects, very much, the local music scene and our record label, a little display of nepotism perhaps, but I’d argue that if I didn’t like them then we would not put them out into the world.

So here we go with a handful of notables that did not make the list to kick off.

EPs of the year, singles of the year. and gigs of the year will follow over the holiday period……

Notable ones that didn’t make the list

  • Cavern of Anti-Matter – Void Beats/Invocation Trex
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Dälek – Ashphalt for Eden
  • Van Der Graaf Generator – Do Not Disturb
  • Ten East – Skyline Pressure

25.

24.

23.

22.

21.

20.

19.

18.

 

17.

16.

15.

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14.

13.

12.

 

11.

10.

cover

9.

8.

7.

6.

5.

4.

3.

2.

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1.

Manchester – so much more to be proud of…

Local music, you would be forgiven for thinking it was all about a band from Stockport at the moment, or Oasis/Stone Roses revivalism,  nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a fundamental inter-connectedness at such a local level of course, and there’s so much going on it’s hard to keep up. I’m talking about Greater Salford of course, or Manchester, as it known by the inky press or the BBC.

So let’s start with Salford, as I take you on a short musical tour of the conurbation. Back when I was doing the local radio stuff one of the first bands I chanced upon was called The Souls, indeed we facilitated the release of a collection of early  songs. They became Stalagmites of course and have a new EP out called “Between City & Cellar Door”. Brad Lynch has been a great hidden Salford treasure of a Salford songwriter for too long and hopefully this new four tune collection will get some of the much needed attention they deserve.  There’s a growing strength to the bands’ work and the songwriting is just as strong. I guess you could call it epic indie but Lynch’s tunes are always something a little more than that. You can grab it at:

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/48sz58nJKAO63hyNynRaj6
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/…/between-city-cellar…/id1167317627

Here’s featured track Binary…..

And while I’m at it check out Brad’s excellent solo project “Bedroom Abyss” which comprises two tunes at the moment but promises a great deal more in the future.

North to Moston, and I reviewed the launch of the new EP from The Madding Crowd a couple of weeks back. It would be remiss of me not to mention the actual EP itself, the locally referenced “The 78th Bridge on the Rochdale Canal”. The connected thingy here of course is that the four song selected has been expertly produced and engineered by Sam Smith who appears on German Shepherd Records as Franco Bandini and The Parish Church Fire. The Madding Crowd have always had an epic sound, which bursts out of the North Manchester suburbs with a swagger and bravado, however Sam has moved it up to eleven with this set. The potty mouthed opener, which  will struggle to get day time radio play due to the Ofcom rules, sets the scene, but it’s the massive “January Begins” that hits you like a Roman Reigns spear and slaps you around a bit until you sink into it the sound. Impressive. Sav Patels drumming on “Sinking Low”is an impressive bedrock to a bluesy chunk of pop music with a field hollar chorus, meaty guitar, and silky bass from Claud Corry. Closer “Where’s The Glamour” offers another side of the band and gets props for mentioning Failsworth (an area in north Manchester), there’s an interesting structure which is a more defined “Madding Crowd” sound, which indicates an impressive development and future direction.

Down to south Manchester now and The Speed of Sound who have their debut album “Everything Changes” out now. The connection here is one of the two vocalists is Anne-Marie Crowley, who is also a member of Poppycock, who just happen to be on German Shepherd Records as well. A mammoth one hour sixteen minutes 20 song endeavour it took some time to absorb what is a fascinating collection. It is hard to find a neat little genre box to put this band into, which is always a good thing. They’ve been described as “atmospheric alternative rock” which is partially true but there’s a great deal more going on. The songs are lead by hooky guitar sounds which are both 60s and post-punk in their sound. John Armstrongs’ vocals have a an early Zimmerman edge to them, the lyrics are both rich and complex, and Anne Marie’s vocals add a haunting cinematic feel to the songs. Kevin Roache, bass, and Paul Worthington, drums, provide a sympathetic and driving rhythm section. Lucy Power, also of Poppycock, amongst other things, provides flute on “Little Miss Restless”. You’ll find a lot of good things here, and it’s great to hear Anne-Marie taking the lead role especially on the excellent “The Moment Is Now” which has a great pop feel and sounds like something Dusty Springfield would have sung in her pomp. The variety on this album is impressive, with nods to a Californian sound at times, especially the occasional snippets of Stills/Young guitar breaks,  This album has all of the elements of great Manchester pop as well, you will have to invest time in it, as it deserves to be listened to as a whole, but that time will be well spent. Quality stuff!

One that slipped through the net earlier in the year is the delightful collection from Parent who are essentially Jason Brown, who has of course been plying his trade with Brix and Extricated more recently, and Rachel Kern, who has a superb voice. Comparisons have to be made with Nick Drake in that it’s all about guitar and voice but there’s the superior use of cello, viola and violin which harks back to “Five Leaves Left” especially on the exceptional “You’re Not Broken”. A marvellous collection of acoustic treasures, and looking up their Facebook page it appears that a pile of my chums are already aware of them, I wonder why they didn’t share the information?

And finally east to the rural idyll of Glossop where my erstwhile colleague Mr Moss has been busy with his new band Four Candles and a debut album is in the can. I’ve heard it and it is rather special, but I can’t say any more at this stage or I’d have to ostracise myself. Keep your ears peeled for 2017 especially a gig at Fred’s Ale House in Levenshulme in January with Poppycock (them again) and Patchwork Rattlebag. To dangle a large carrot here’s a fine video from Rick Sarko which includes a number of German Shepherd alumni and features the heady delights of Oldham Street in the city centre.

Until the next time….

Are you sitting comfortably?

Michael, known for the purposes of this exercise, as m.t.scott, has been sending me the developing elements of this release for many months. Therefore I am well versed in the process that has led to a simply marvellous 22 minutes of thought-provoking and enjoyable music. Those who know and love Staggs will recognise the voice, the acerbic tone, the sardonic wit, the world weary observations of the minutiae of day to day existence. “13 Queer Street” moves inexorably on from “The Broken EP” taking hints and directions from that also excellent piece of work, and building to a modern masterpiece.

There are six songs, all different, but conversely all couched in an overarching atmospheric patina which suggests a post-war living room with a bakelite wireless, or black & white TV,  and the smell of steak & kidney pie and jam sponge & custard a mere breath away. Things are constrained, almost claustrophobic at times, and at the same time stretch to places only promised in the previous release. Whether it be gangsters, a girl in gabardine mac and a head-scarf, distorted crooners, snippets of found sound, a distant saxophone, guitars with lengthy sustain, or brittle string parts, there are so many different and interesting things to listen to here that you find yourself playing the EP on a constant loop.

Scott builds layers of sound to create cinematic experiences, each song a vignette, a short story, but  suggesting a much wider, deeper and more complex tale. The tour de force is the impressive “Touched By A Leper” which comes close to previous subject matter, and  is blessed by restrained saxophone, and understated guitar, together with a memorable set of words. Equally as good is the plaintive “Six Feet Deep” a closing track that begs a follow up release as soon as possible.

Some of the themes and concepts hinted at in Staggs releases come to the fore here, demonstrating Scott’s genius at creating musical constructs. They are more than songs, they are stories, a glimpse of an alternative world, a treasured paperback book which brings back childhood memories, a look through a fractured piece of glass into a different place.

Comparisons are impossible, this is unique. But there is a sense of the shock of the new when hearing Tuxedomoon’s early albums, a taste of Brechtian opera, the word play of Robert Ashley, sunday afternoon kitchen sink dramas on BBC Radio in the early 60s, and post-punk experimentation.

Released on German Shepherd Records on Friday 2nd December, this is one of my highlights of the year.

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Far to The Madding Crowd

It’s cold.

It’s the second gig in a week, a bit of a rarity for me.

It’s Saturday night. There’s three choices, The Speed of Sound album launch in Levenshulme, The Things EP launch in Manchester centre, or The Madding Crowd EP launch in Moston. We opt for the latter.

A Siberian chill has settled on Eccles, whenever I go out to gigs these days the weather conspires against me. A quick pint in the Albert Edward and then a long cab ride up to Moston. A place I haven’t ventured to in a good while. In a former life I spent hours wandering these streets, it seems a dim and distant memory. Things have changed with a new football stadium opposite the Miners Estate. The Estate looks the same as it did thirty five years ago and the Arts and Social Club is also something out of the last century, the faded decadence of a W.M.C. with punk posters on the wall, very old Manchester. There’s a good mixture of people here, old and young. They have Joseph Holts bitter at £2.50 a pint, a good price, but double the price of the pint in the Albert Edward. Not sure how that works.

The Sam Smith story has been told elsewhere on these pages. It’s been a convoluted last 12 months or so with the Franco Bandini persona being put away for a while. There was mention of The Parish Church Fire coming back but that didn’t quite emerge for this gig, so it’s Sam with piano, and acoustic guitar, playing stripped back and emotional songs. There’s a couple of Bandini songs, a few “& Company” numbers, and some new material. He reflects on Fidel’s passing by suggesting  possible Clash cover before the gig but demurs, instead he plays a brain flipping version of Islands in the Stream. He pours his heart and soul into the music, as he always does. This music deserves a wider audience, I’ve said that before, but it does. There’s a new found maturity and confidence about Sam tonight, but he needs to get more gigs, more exposure, perhaps he needs a band to really get the message across, but tonight he does it all on his own and he does it well. He ends with Born to Run. All in all most satisfying.

I’m not normally a big fan of live poetry but Genevieve L Walsh captures my attention with rapid delivery, a tumble of interesting words, maybe too many ideas and concepts for my beer addled brain to take in. But there are sections which really grab the attention, you smile and nod in encouragement with the message that is delivered. She’s funny, intelligent, biting and sometimes angry. It’s great stuff and provides the right sort of balance between Sam’s set and what is to follow.

I’ve not seen The Madding Crowd before. I am told before they start that they are great live. They are.  Ben Corry is an electric front man, he is a hyperactive mix of Iggy Stooge, Bowie and John Lydon. But I can’t hear the vocals. It’s either my dodgy ears or the sound engineer can’t cope with the dynamics of the band. It does eventually settle down but the first fifteen minutes or so is lost to me. Dominic Corry is as hyperactive as Ben, leaping on and off the stage, whirling like a dervish and ripping all sorts of sounds from his guitar. Claud Corry is a motionless figure for most of the night, sat on the floor, laying down a solid bass to the set. The revelation is Sav Patel who is one of the best drummers i’ve seen in a while with a whole selection of interesting tricks up his sleeve, one to watch out for in future I would suggest. The new EP forms the key parts of the set with the excellent “Sinking Low” being the stand out on the evening, Patel’s impressive stick work,  muscular guitar and Ben’s football chant vocal acrobatics morphing the basic blues of the song into something special. With a lengthy set of nigh on two hours the band give the crowd a comprehensive show including some of the more memorable moments from their back catalogue. A band to watch out for in the future.

I get a copy of the EP which will be featured on this weeks Aural Delights podcast.

It’s even colder outside but the heat generated by the gig keeps me warm until I get home.

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No Lampshades Sold Here

A new album from the utterly fabulous Monkeys in Love.

Joy abounds.

It’s called “Live In New Stoke Newington” and to quote the band “It’s a non-linear concept LP about gentrification and that sort of thing”. It comprises nine tracks in total, all of them corkers. It’s not a live album, to make things clear.

The twin vocal line up of Laura and Steve, as usual, are the focus of matters. It’s relentless, enjoyable “alternative pop”, crammed with hooks and ear-worms, no doubt influenced, in part, by the bands’ love of library music. The easy narrative style is backed by  rolling and tumbling rhythms and jangling guitars topped off by cheeky little synths. It feels like all those great tunes that came with pre-millennial TV adverts mixed with superior song craft.

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This is the Monkeys in Love sound growing into something new and reaching a maturity that was promised by their previous releases. The attention to detail and the honing of their music into quality product makes this their best work to date.

We kick off with the excellent “Infantalised Man” which puts a strong marker down for what is to follow, Laura pulls you in a with lovely melody, and Steve grabs you by the ears and shakes you around with his trademark  biting rap/rant vocalising.  “In Stoke Newington” is all 70s rhythms, think Norman Greenbaum backing Adam the Ants, fronted by The Carpenters, but fed through a blender to take it to a different time continuum

“Validate Me” is pure Monkeys, with Laura cracking up over the lyrics half way through, and sexy little synth arpeggiating in the background, with some beautifully placed drum drops. Pure pop heaven. “At New Vortex” is a tale of experiences in music/art venues which should be recognisable to those who have experienced the worst excesses of some performance spaces, a close neighbour, sonically, to Curved Airs seminal”Back Street Luv” the track is rich with lots of little musical tricks. Indifference and lack of wages is the bane of some of the best bands out there, this tune captures that sense of despair admirably.

The exceptional “Cocaine Radius” is the high point for me and feels like something from the 60s, dreamed up by Bert Bacharach, that would fit in with a hip road movie. Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, or someone of that ilk, driving around L.A. in fancy car, with the Mamas and Papas singing in the back seat, in a glorious sunset, came to mind as I was listening. The perfect placement of Danielle’s flute and Steve and Laura’s  vocals is simply glorious. At their best Monkeys in Love make me smile, and their very best they bring tears of joy to my eyes. This is one of the latter. Steely Dan were nearly as good as this once.

“Bar Furniture Solutions” allows Eamonn’s full guitar sound to take the lead, lyrically clearly the influence of listening to hours of corporate advertising music have had some influence, with the rolling narrative taking you on a journey around eponymous subject matter, and yes you can make a tale about bar furniture interesting. They don’t sell lampshades in this particular emporium apparently. Only this band can do this and make it something special.

Things get more serious with the heavier sound of “How The Scene Was Blown” which is insistent and the one track on the album which takes a little longer to get into, but once you are there it works. The sumptuous “Stasi Broke The Hive Mind” is back to Bacharach country, easy on the ear, and gentle on the mind.

Matters conclude with “New Stoke Newington Has Been Transformed” clocking in at just under six minutes it’s a memorable epic piece which requires a lot of attention to absorb the detailed narrative. The thing that captivates me about this album is the use of the vocals as instrumentation. Yes the lyrics, and there are plenty of them, are important, but just as vital is the placement of the vocals as part of the overall musical palette.  With no overall discernible lead instrument they take on a unique, non-traditional role in a rock ‘n’ roll context, which could be compared with the use of voices in classical operatic works as both vehicles of the narrative but also part of the complex interplay of instruments.

2016 has proved to be a year of excellent music and this is one of the high points. There was one front runner for album of the year before this arrived. There are now two.

If you get it before the release date on 25th November you can get it at a reduced price with some goodies thrown in – go here

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Previous writing on this band can be found here and here and here