These drums and these guitars…..

A warm Wednesday evening in Manchester.

The Wetherspoons at Piccadilly is full of interesting people. Standing at the bar with a pint of Abbot Ale, waiting for SD to arrive on the bus from Stockport, you can watch the hustle and bustle of the city commuters. We are off to see Oh Sees at Manchester Academy.

We had planned to go to Bundobast for one their excellent meals but there is a 35 minute waiting time so we hop a cab to Portland Street and indulge in some tasty Caribbean food instead, a bottle of Shiraz helps the mushroom and goats cheese burger go down. Another cab down to the Academy ,which is busy with gig goers, we score a couple of tickets from an affable tout who advises us it’s £4 cheaper than on the door. The band aren’t on until 9:30 and we don’t like the sound of the support so we wander over to a busy Kro-Bar for some Erdingers and chat about all things music as we sit on the stone wall outside. It’s years since i’ve been down to this end of town but it has not changed much, busy with students and somehow detached from the rest of the city, an academic bubble perhaps.

Start time approaches and we amble over to the Academy. Security searches are de rigeur these days, better to be safe than sorry. The place is packed and our timing is perfect as the band are just starting. We make our way to the bar as Dwyer and co launch into their trademark garage rock riffing. I am at stage right and the sound is weighted towards bass and the twin drums. Dwyers vocals and guitar are a little indistinct in the mix but it doesn’t matter that much in the overall scheme of things.

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Photograph by Stephen Doyle

The latest line-up of (Thee) Oh Sees is probably their most potent to date. The two drum attack adds a massive boost to the bands sound, and with Tim Hellman’s sturdy bass playing Dwyer has the space to deliver a stellar performance. I’d familiarized myself with the bands sound that afternoon by listening to the recent  live album. From the first song onwards the band transform the music heard on that album into another place entirely.  What follows is close to an hour of dense riffage and percussive garage punk of the highest order.  Dwyer wears his guitar at chest level which looks odd in the context of the usual rock and roll tropes but which allows him to deliver some interesting moves and axe acrobatics. Towards the end of the gig the band are joined by a third drummer creating an immense wall of sound which has the crowd enthralled.

I’m not normally a fan of big room gigs, and the Academy is usually just that little too large for my tastes, however in this instance the band manage to deliver a club like atmosphere. A highly enjoyable evening and a very rewarding musical experience.

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Photograph by Stephen Doyle

New York Stories

I’ve been reacquainting myself with the prose of Paul Auster recently.  Always an obsession, I even named one of my musical projects after him, he is one of a handful of authors I can definitively say has had a major influence on me. His initial work centered around New York City, and his rich and complex prose always conjured up detailed images of that metropolis in my head. I’ve still not managed to pluck up the courage to read his latest 700+ page opus “4321” mind you.

Coincidentally, other Brooklyn connections also emerged recently, firstly with Jesse “Cannonball” Statman.  When over here for a gig in Salford he revealed he had shared the same apartment complex as Auster. Jesse’s performance at the Eagle, Salford, on April 8th,  had broadly smiling  punters using the word genius as they left the gig room. He wasn’t to everyone’s taste but for the majority of the audience the admiration for his performance was huge, with some of the best praise I have heard for gigs we have promoted. I’m also pleased he is allowing us to release more of his material soon on German Shepherd records. His set was a whirling dervish of words and a completely unique guitar style,  unconventional and mesmerising. Some people have compared him Daniel Johnston, and I can see that, but Jesse works at a much faster pace and his use of language is more complex, and conjures up literary comparisons like Auster, Thomas Pynchon and Bill Burroughs.

Check out his sizeable catalogue of work at http://www.cannonballstatman.bandcamp.com/

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Cannonball Statman (Photograph courtesy of John Montague)

The other Brookyln connection is a duo called Lusterlit. And they have literary association also. With their songs created for Bushwick Book Club,  whose founder, Susan Hwang and contributor and producer, Charlie Nieland, have joined forces to perform as a new, literature-inspired duo. Both vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, Charlie and Susan alternate lead vocals and harmonies while supporting each other on guitar, bass, synth, traditional Korean drum and accordion.  Charlie sent me their most recent release “List of Equipment” a couple of days back and I was  utterly blown away by the quality and richness of their songs. Inspired by authors  Cormac McCarthy, Julia Child, John Wyndham, and Johnathon Lethem, the five songs on the EP are mature musical explorations which immediately stand out as superior quality material in the context of the other music that gets sent my way on daily basis. Both artists are clearly hugely talented  and their song-craft and production is exceptional, offering atmospheric, cinematic, aural journeys. Both soulful and sexy, this is an EP you can listen to on repeat and uncover multiple levels of delight from. The duo says there is a hint of Polly Jean and Melbourne Nick in what they do, I’d venture that this music is as exciting to me as the first time I heard “Countdown To Ecstasy” – it’s that damn good. I commend it to you without reservation.

 

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Charlie and Susan – Photo by Lisa Barnstone

 

The duo also released two previous albums last year as “solo” offerings but Charlie advises that material is also part of the current  Lusterlit live experience. Both are also excellent song collections and, as a whole, the three releases combined are a fantastic introduction to some great music.

LINKS

https://www.facebook.com/lusterlit/
https://twitter.com/lusterlitnyc
https://www.instagram.com/lusterlit/
https://lusterlit.bandcamp.com/
https://soundcloud.com/lusterlit

New Delights – Video Mix 01

Oxbow – Cold & Well Lit Place – Thin Black Duke (Hydra Head)

Divisionists – Say Can You – Daybreak (Mount Watatic)

Analogue Wave – Mezkal -Hope (Bandcamp)

Inhalt – Walking On Glass – Part Time Punks Sessions (Cleopatra Records )

Okkultokrati – Ocular Violence – Raspberry Dawn (Southern Lord)

A Higher Demise – Entropy – To Death or Victory (Self Released)

Of words and music……..

Six weeks since the last post on here. Not good!

To be fair to myself we have been rather busy with a number of gigs and three albums released in one day last Friday. Plus I’ve been catching up on my reading, which is a discipline that has been neglected, what with one thing and another. It is important, I think, to keep the mind stimulated with both the written word, as well as listening to music.

The content this time around includes a rainy night in Bury and covers in the main the latest release from Dave Graney and Clare Moore, in between several books, a lot of music and the first glimmers of Spring amongst biblical rain events.

This is in no particular order in terms of time, more a series of thoughts which may, or may not, be related.

So i’ll be hopping around the time line.

The latest offering from Dave Graney and Clare Moore struck a chord, a mental note if you would. This time last year when I was stood in the corridor outside the gig room at the Eagle trying to convince a passing punter to watch the visiting aforementioned Antipodeans, I was struggling to codify what the “Graney” sound was all about within the narrow strictures of genre. “Err sort of blues, rock, country and jazz all rolled into one” was my miserable attempt to describe what Dave & Co are about. The revelation on listening to Dave and Clare’s latest “single” release ‘How Long Does The Raunch?” was more of a literary than a musical one. But you need to listen to it first to appreciate what I am about to expand upon.

Dave calls is “jazz pop” or more mysteriously “Bolan Jazz” in the Cockaigne Records blog. On the surface it’s an amalgamation of jazzy chords and circular Reich leaning marimba and vibes, with an off kilter bass line, the trademark Graney unconventional song structure and words that hang between street jive and the complex text of say Samuel Beckett, or Thomas Pynchon, or perhaps more closely John Cowper Powys, or Paul Auster. And there was the revelation, and synchronicity, and serendipity for me, that listening to Graney/Moore is the aural equivalent of reading any of those aforementioned writers.

Mark E.Smith once used the phrase “Scientists and their bloody childish reading habits”  (ten points to the reader who can get the song that line comes from) and to some extent that sums me up, at least for half the time. I’m Just as happy these days reading Auster or Pynchon as I am reading Martin Scott’s Thraxas books, or Malcolm Pryce’s Louis Knight books.  Being trained as a scientist, before I realised it wasn’t for me, I recall that there was above average chance that the sort of books, or more often than not the comics (Marvel, DC etc) , that myself and my  contemporaries were reading back then, would be pulp crime or SF or fantasy works, rather than deeper and more complex prose. So for a good chunk of my adolescence I was reading “easy” stuff of a non-literary nature, there was not  the academic discipline in the school/university curriculum  to train a growing mind in both the scientific world and its  literary equivalent, unless you count the very odd “German for Scientists” course I was shoe horned into t Uni!  No wonder this fledging scientist reverted to the latest Michael Moorcock for some light relief after ploughing through some dense prose on the Tricarboxylic Acid cycle or the structure of DNA.  A change in career was the damascene journey from the pulp of my youth to later years when the artistic side of my brain was allowed to flourish

As an aside, one of the key way stops on the way to the literary  Road to Damascus thing for me  was a book from the Bloomsbury press called “M.H. Zools Good Reading Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy” (1989) and specifically within that tome a series of very good and informative  reading recommendations, most notably the entry on Phillip K. Dick who I had been focusing on around the time it was released. The structure of the guide is quite helpful in that it gives a brief biography of an author, lists their key works and then extrapolates further reading from other authors that has some congruity with the subjects work. In the PKD list was a book by Paul Auster called ‘The New York Trilogy’,  alongside ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ by Hunter S. Thompson, and ‘The Naked Lunch” by William Burroughs. All three of those authors would be key actors in the developing shift from the simple to the complex in my home library. A short listing on page 56 of Zool entitled “The Edge of SF”  included ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ by Thomas Pynchon, alongside Borges, Marquez, and Wolfe. Pynchon also appears in a list entitled “Theatre of the Absurd”, and also in the Kurt Vonnegut list of alternative reading. In one respect the Zool could be seen as a clever marketing ploy to get the reader to go out and spend all their money on books. It worked on me, and there was a sustained period in my mid to late 20s when the book collection grew exponentially, Picador press being one of the main benefactors from my hard earned wages.

But I digress. So, the revelation after listening to  “How Long Does The Raunch?” was that Graney & Moore were the musical avatar that took me on the same journey as Beckett, Pynchon, Powys and Auster et al. did from a literary perspective. It started to some degree with ‘Dandies Are Never Unbuttoned’  from “The Soft ‘n’ Sexy Sound” by The Coral Snakes, continued in “Heroic Blues”, and “The Brother Who Lived”, and reached a critical peak with “Fearful Wiggings”. It also emerges amongst the thirteen songs that have been  released over the last year and will be brought together in a CD collection called “Let’s Get Tight” soon. Graney & Moore as a whole requires concentration, attention and commitment because they step outside of  the conventions of structure and language of “rock and roll” in the same way that Auster, at his best, defies the structural norm, and that Beckett uses language in a completely different way. As an aside and a coincidence I am currently reading Auster’s novella “Travels In The Scriptorium” which has a bit of good Old Sam about it.

Speaking of “rock and roll” leads me to a trip to Bury several weeks back to catch Adventures of Salvador. Some months back an over zealous sound man ruined my first live exposure to this band so I was pleased to accept SDs offer to see the four piece again, this time in their home town. As is usual at this time of the year the level of precipitation, coupled with an “incident” on the Metrolink network , mitigated against a stress free journey into Manchester. We met in an overcrowded Moon Under Water, grabbed a quick meal, and then hopped on the Bury tram at Victoria station. A quick pint on arrival amongst the distracting gaggle of some sort of hen do and then into the compact basement venue of the Blind Tiger  to catch AOS. The revelation is Ollie Nicholson’s drumming which is exceptional and which adds to a musically very competent band with great songs and a style that teeters between power pop, post-punk and mutant country blues. They are highly recommended and very entertaining.

I may have mentioned before I try to stay away from rock biographies as they tend to end up depressing me, and more importantly, breaking the fourth wall between the rock and roll world and reality, bringing all that glorious hope and vision back to the mundanity of day to day existence. I could not, however with all conscience, duck out of reading Robert Forster’s semi-autobiographical book “Grant and I”, given the importance of that band in my own personal musical history. It arrived via the Book Depository from the other side of the planet at the end of last week and I devoured it within three days. The speed of reading is in no small part down to the Forster writing style which is measured and clear. He takes you back to his youth, the formation of the band, the relationship with Grant and Lindy and through the trials and tribulations of one the key Australian bands of the late 20th Century. In comparison with the scattered fanzine like structure of David Nicholls book on the band there is a more coherent narrative, although there are giant leaps in the  time frame in some parts. What is missing for me is perhaps a better understanding of how songs were crafted. What is clear is the propensity of the wider music business to completely miss out on the opportunity to promote good quality material, and the importance of the more grass roots elements of the business in helping bands like The Go-Betweens to survive. It struck a chord with our work with German Shepherd records. The sad part of the tale comes towards the end where the impact of a rock and roll life style way heavily on the two main protagonists and their health, and like David McComb, how alcohol eventually snuffs out the genius of Grant McLennan far too early.  It made me want to go back and listen to the music again, which is perhaps the more important legacy, especially the suite of solo albums that the two produced between the two main phases of the band.

The three aforementioned releases from last Friday are worth a mention, if only as part of a heavy handed form of marketing. The first thing to mention is the compilation called Cambridge Calling Volume One. A more detailed piece on the background of the album and the bands involved can be found here. Suffice to say it is an eclectic mix of the bands that make up the music scene in the city and more volumes will follow in due course. All proceeds for the this first release will go towards the Arthur Rank Hospice in Cambridge. Many thanks go towards Dave Hammond for his hard work in pulling this together and allowing us to participate in the project.

Out of the above and again with thanks to Dave Hammond for providing an introduction we also had the pleasure of releasing the latest album by Keltrix, who appear on the album above. Dave provides an excellent review of the album in Sounds On-Line so I won’t event try and emulate that. What I will say is that this album fits perfectly within the German Shepherd ethos. The ability of Sharon and Keri to take a traditional musical form and merge it with modern electronica, dance and techno, and their capacity to bring in guest producers to transform their sound is notable and remarkable. Keri’s voice is unique and Sharon’s lead instrument, the violin, fits well with an entirely modern musical framework. There are some exceptional songs here and it is an early candidate for album of the year for me. This band deserves to be heard by more people.

So, and to conclude, last Friday. It’s raining again. I meet SD in a Waterhouse pub again, we go for  a bite to eat again, some excellent Asian Street Food on this occasion, and then wander around the back streets of Piccadilly to the bohemian darkness of The Castle. I was wondering for future gigs if we should use The Castle rather than the Eagle but I am more comfortable with the layout of the latter, and it’s general sound and friendliness of the staff. However it is just about right for the musical endeavours of the evening which include Ian Moss, Moff Skellington, and Loop-Aznavour. We get a reasonable sized crowd, better than the last collaboration in Leeds in 2016 in any event. The one person responsible for my introduction to the world of Moff is also in attendance, the smiling Julia Adamson. Ian does a new piece about dogs, Moff performs his new album, and then collaborates with Ian on a new piece called “Predator Fascinates Imbecile”,  Loop does his usual excellent set, and then Loop and Ian perform a couple of pieces including a new version of the excellent “The Wilsons”. It is both challenging and funny, fascinating and thought provoking, and above all entertaining. There will be another in June sometime. Takings on the door allow a small stipend to paid to each of the three performers a rarity for our little cottage industry.

The Moodists – Two Fisted Art

I recently got hold of a double album of rare early Australian garage rock and punk called “Tales from the Australian Underground 1976-1989” which starts with Radio Birdman and The Saints, who I know, and then works its way through a whole bunch of bands I’d never heard of, that is until I started reading David Nicholls’ detailed history of Aussie music “Dig”, occasionally touches on others I am acquainted with, The Scientists and The Birthday Party of course, and, which fills in a huge gap in my musical knowledge. Aside from The Birthday Party, who were what they were, the music is for the most part, fairly similar in that there are familiar elements from 60s and early 70s pop and rock and earlier blues roots in play. However nestled on track 2 of the second disc is “The Disciples Know” by The Moodists. It stands aside and apart from everything else in the collection in its completely unique approach.

I cannot remember when I first heard The Moodists. It would have been around the time that Hex Enduction Hour was occupying most of my listening time. I recall purchasing a selection of 12″ singles and the sole album and jealously reading of Bob and Jeff’s trips to London to see them, supporting The Fall of all people. On constant rotation at one point was the magnificent “Chevrolet Rise” which is up there in my 100 tunes of all time. Bob reported around 1985/6 seeing a new version of the band with Dave in a glittery show biz suit and moving in a different direction, and then they sort of wandered off my radar until Graney and Moore returned as Coral Snakes, White Buffaloes, and Coral Snakes again, but that’s a different story to be told elsewhere.

In 2003 it was pleasing to find out about “Two Fisted Art” a collection which covered the vast bulk of the bands recorded material. A Creation box set in 2016 would collect some rarities but that can be covered in a separate review. The history of the band is covered well in Nicholls’ aforementioned book, they get their own chapter, and rightly so. The Wikipedia entry is informative but I often feel there is more of a tale to tell about this important band.

What we have is music which fits well within the post-punk period, in that it moves on from the spirit and intent of punk, but doesn’t sit in the same camp, in the same way that The Fall, The Birthday Party, and Blue Orchids didn’t. It is completely unique and, sitting here thirty odd years later, it still retains the power to shock, and insists that you listen to it. What you have throughout is Moores’ insistent and busy drumming, a particularly unique bass guitar style from Chris Walsh, which Nicholls cites as a key part of the bands’ success, and importantly, guitar from Steve Miller and Mick Turner which is drawn from the blues, pre-punk, Zoot Horn Rollo, and, whispers of Craig Scanlon. What takes it above and beyond its contemporaries and allows it to retain its freshness are Dave Graney’s stream of consciousness lyrics and abstract vocal stylings, one part declamatory , one part Old Testament preacher in a carnival side show, and two parts rock ‘n’ roll icon.

“Two Fisted Art” is a good collection juxtaposing a disc of studio material with 19 tracks from various releases and the second disc of live versions recorded at the Sedition Festival and the Trade Union Club, Sydney April 1983., The Seaview Ballroom,St. Kilda on 21/12/84. and Dingwalls, London 16/7/85.

It is the songs that are perhaps the most important factor here. There are tunes in the collection which have stuck in my head for thirty years – the aforementioned “Chevrolet Rise”, “Frankies Negative” and the glorious “Runaway” and “Double Life”. All of these and many others in this collection shaped the way I listened to music for a long time afterwards. It was possible to use the bass as a lead instrument, Graney’s almost Kerouac like outpourings a manifesto for how to treat lyrics differently, the twin guitar attack which informed the way I approached  the instrument. A truly influential band.

Of great annoyance is the unfortunate revelation that I missed their gig at the Hacienda, which is fortunately captured  on video.   There are also some songs missing from this collection, the perhaps more accessible “Kept Spectre” and the other two tracks from the A side of “Engine Shudder” in particular. Also only “Someone’s Got To Give” is featured from the final EP from 1987.   There’s also video from London in 1984   which can be streamed on Amazon or purchased as a DVD if you search hard enough. Perhaps it will be time one day to collect the whole lot in a box set of some kind?

An important band, unfavourably compared with The Birthday Party at the time, they were as alike as chalk and cheese musically, the only thing that required comparison was the Melbourne connection. As I say, still as fresh today, and still as stimulating as when I first heard them.

Some sort of Discography for the band

  1. “Where the Trees Walk Down Hill” (October 1981) – Au Go Go Records
  2. “Gone Dead” (June 1982) – Au Go Go Records
  3. “The Disciples Know” (1983) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  4. Engine Shudder (1983) – Au Go Go Records
  5. Thirsty’s Calling (April 1984) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  6. “Runaway” (1984) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  7. “Enough Legs to Live On” (1985) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  8. Double Life (1985) – Red Flame/Virgin Records
  9. Justice and Money Too (August 1985) – Creation Records
  10. Take the Red Carpet out of Town (October 1985) – TIM Records, Time/Abstract
  11. The Moodists (February 1986) – TIM Records, Time/Abstract
  12. Two Fisted Art (2003) – W. Minc
  13. The Moodists – Live in London 1984 (2004) – Peacock Records
  14. Creation Artifact Box Set (2016) – Cherry Red (Creation Singles plus a Peel Session from 10th July 1985)

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The Necks – Unfold

Heavens above, a Necks album with more than one track. What is the world coming to?

I wrote several months back about seeing them at the Band on the Wall, and indeed there are echoes of that gig here. The arco bass, the busy, chittering, percussion, the romantic melodies spilling out from the piano. The difference here is the use of other keyboards to fill out the sound, Abrahams tends to use them as an ambient wash, or a measured  background feature, or on one track, replacing the piano completely.

Opener “Rise” does reflect the recent BOTW gig more than the rest of selections. The disparate, yet inclusive, three elements of the sound develop organically over fifteen minutes. Abrahams almost seems to be searching for the melody on this keyboard, and it is a restless exploration. Buck fills in the corners with a combination of what sounds like mutant castanets, and probing snare/tom statements. Swanton creates unworldly noises that weave in between the melody and the percussion. I imagine a Samuel Beckett play transformed into a musical form would sound like this. It builds to a frenetic, approaching manic, high with Buck dominating and taking the lead role as the piano falls away.

Track 2 “Overhear” retains the percussive motif of the opener, Abrahams leads on what sounds like a Hammond, and Swanton provides a bowed pulse in the background. It has that eerie sound Bo Hansson captured on his “Lord of the Rings” album. There’s an unrelenting hypnotic churning rhythm, as Abrahams delivers flurries of notes, that almost moves into a rock rhythm towards the latter end of the piece. Again it builds to a crescendo.

“Blue Mountain” is next, a little less abstract than the usual Necks construction. There is sense of some sort of preconceived shape for a while at least, but this does eventually develop into something more ethereal. Bucks brush and cymbal work is exceptional, piano dominates but there is an underlying Hammond element. Swanton is not so evident until a few minutes in when the bowed bass creates a restless counterpoint to the piano melody. After that it us pure Necks improvisation with sections of intense sound as the bass becomes a percussion instrument and the twin keyboards fight for space against a cinematic backdrop from the array of the other percussion devices.

The album concludes with the longest track, at 21 minutes, “Timepiece”. We are into more familiar free improv territory at the outset. Buck makes his kit sound like running water, or an alarm clock (hence the title I assume), Abrahams drops shimmering notes, Swanton plucks an occasional note, or a harmonic. It gently feels it’s way through an abstract jungle of sounds, with Buck perhaps the most dominant. Completely unique in that entrances this listener in a way that other improv does not in that it is reflective of what has gone before. There is no precedent or template for this music, other than prior Necks releases.

No doubt that people who cannot abide this sort of thing will come out with the usual “when does the tune start” comment, and therein lies the philosophy of this band, there is melody, percussion, and rhythm but it is completely unique, expect the unexpected.

The bonus of this, if one were needed, is that here is a Necks release I can feature in the podcasts without any editing.

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The time has come the Walrus said

So I set this blog up, a few years back now, to capture what I was doing when I was at the local radio station mostly, and since then it has grown to encompass a wider variety of things. In that time it has become a little disparate and unfocused. So for 2017 I have decided to tidy things up a little.

News of new podcasts, plus associated reviews of new releases, gigs , and general music news will now be captured at the separate Bob’s Podcasts 2017 site. For this blog the intention is to concentrate on more detailed overviews of bands and artists, both old and new, and perhaps to reflect in a more measured way the music that shapes my listening, and act as a historical archive of what makes up a ridiculously large music collection.

Watch this space.

moff-moet