Landscapes of Insanity

Good music can always capture and reflect on moments in history.

It can deal with politically important issues without resorting to polemic. It can anthologise without being trite.

Mr Moss has been poorly over the last few years. He has battled two major health scares. His indomitable spirit has fought through these catabatic barriers and he has emerged phoenix-like with his mojo renewed and wholly intact.

I may have said elsewhere that Four Candles is the best band that Mr Moss has ever had, this is confirmed and exemplified by “Spiritual Rapture” their new release. Said band is Phil Peak – drums, Jon Rowlinson – bass and Mark Taylor – guitar.

Back in January, at the Peer Hat in Manchester, the six songs on this album were premiered and worked through. At the time I was struck by the huge change in the band from the sturm and drang of “Killing the Image” to a more measured and, dare I say it, progressive approach to the music.

Mr Moss writes internally for his solo stuff with various collaborators. For band projects he writes externally, he observes and comments, he anthologises, he is political, and also is a biographer.

The music here is mature and considered.  Mr Moss provides a balanced attack, both bucolic and bellicose. There is saxophone from David Wilkinson to add fire and fervour to the sound, especially on “Chastity Belt” the 657th song in the canon about the dissolution of a band which we don’t talk about anymore. The rhythmic interplay on said song between Taylor, Rowlinson and Peak is breathtaking.

“Dipping A Toe In The Water” is a song about a Muddy Waters’ tour in the UK and yet another swipe at the conservative idiots who are so-called music fans. Taylor plays one of many earworm guitar figures that appear across the album. Rowlinson and Peak swing effortlessly as Taylor arpeggiates and Moss testifies. Hypnotic music with a strong message.

“C33” has appeared, lyrically at least, elsewhere as a Moss Bros concoction. Here it most resembles the music that was on “Killing The Image”. Live it is a monster, big riffs and call and response vocals. Moss emotes his huge regard for Oscar Wilde, the rhythm section attacks with motorik menace, and the guitar assaults your senses.

The absolute triumph is “You Can’t Be What You Pretend” – rhythmically starting somewhere in Psycho Killer territory, all backbeat and attitude, but carried forward with one of the best guitar figures I have heard in a long while. If you are not moving sinuously in a slinky fashion across the dance floor on hearing this then you have no soul. Moss berates and bellows moving from declamatory to intense, this is head-shakingly, hip-movingly hypnotic stuff. It’s damn sexy. It transcends to a huge climax relentlessly drawing you in.

What to do after that?  Well, the answer is to dive into a delta blues with abandonment. A mutant blues which takes no prisoners. Moss tears his vocal chords apart as the band charge headlong into the heart of darkness that is Basket Weaving.

And back to the start…..the opening track is “Strange Things Are Happening” a masterpiece of restraint musically, with delightful guitar, Wilkinson’s sax, and the interesting interjection of a guiro as a rhythmic colour. Moss evokes the current political climate perfectly, he reflects the fear and concern that government is driving us to strange places where retaining a grip on reality is increasingly impossible. It is the other triumph in the set and a brilliant way to start an album.

The album was recorded at 6dB in Salford by Simon “Ding” Archer who has captured the band at their best.

There are around five albums vying for the best of the year at this point – this is one of them.

“Spiritual Rapture” will be available from Friday 22nd at the German Shepherd bandcamp page in CD format and will be released digitally as three double-A side singles in June, July and August

You can see Four Candles at Manchester Meltdown on June 23rd at The Peer Hat, Manchester.

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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.

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Sic Transit Gloria Hamsters

Sunday

Not a day for normally venturing out into the world of rock and roll but it’s Ian Keith Moss’s 60th birthday party and he has put a musical spectacular on in Ashton under Lyne  by way of celebration so we can’t really miss this one can we?

I meet SD in the Eccles Cross for a “loosener” and then we hop on the tram. Fortunately the Metrolink system takes us more or less door to door. It’s a 55 minute journey so it gives me and Mr Doyle time to catch up on things and do some forward planning for future gigs.  There’s also a chance to look out at the surrounding areas. I recommend people take the Ashton line as it’s a good psycho- political-geographical journey which emphasises the embourgeiosement of  Manchester city centre and juxtaposes it with the clear lack of investment in the doughnut around the heart of the metropolis. Once you have sailed past the chrome and glass of the core and the  glittering spires of the “emptyhad” complex you begin to see the stark reality of life in the suburban towns. It’s like stepping back 40 years to boarded up shops, tired streets and grim vistas. The only glimpse that we are in 2017 is the shiny metrolink stops/transport interchanges and the occasional Aldi (substitute cheap supermarket chain of your choice).

The tram stop is about 10 minutes away from the venue and we scout out potential eating areas on the way. The venue is The Witchwood, a concert room next to a pub, that has seen many a band over the years but at the moment, looking at the posters inside, seems to cater for any number of tribute bands, a microcosm for the state of the music scene perhaps?

There is an air of mild panic in the air when we arrive. Bands have not turned up for soundchecks and it eventually turns out that tAngerine cAt have broken down in Wales so will not be able to make the gig. I settle on small bottles of Budweiser for the afternoon as it’s going to be a long gig with many bands.

Matters commence with a rare appearance of 50% of the Prick Jaggers with Patriq accompanied on this occasion by the birthday boy in an exemplary performance of the legendary “Lou Reeds Supper Club”.

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The nearly Prick Jaggers -Picture by Victoria Egan

Quick phone calls have facilitated a substitute for the absent tAngerine cAt and Dylan Cosmic Blue arrives to provide a four song set of some covers and a couple of his own tunes. He gives an assured performance and warrants further investigation at some future point.

The end of the Hamsters as a live entity is built around four songs – the band is represented by Mr Moss, Mr Williams, and Mr Rowlinson with the redoutable Mr Peak filling in on drums.  They have had one rehearsal but they still manage to perform a brand new song (well a reworking of John Joanne) and conclude with the appropriate “Stupid Songs”. I feel a slight tinge of sadness that it is all over and head to the bar for some more Dr Budweisers patent laughing medicine. And so passes the glory that was the Hamsters! We will never see their like again.

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Mr Doyle photobombs the Hamsters – Photo by Victoria Egan

The ex-Fall band members spotting game is commenced and we reach a reasonable score of three with Ms Baines, Ms Adamson and Mr Archer in the house. Perhaps more notable is that three of the four horsemen of the radio apocalypse are in the building with the fourth member due shortly.  Poppycock cannot play for reasons far to complicated to go into so their slot is taken by poetry readings from Una Baines and Louise Woodcont. Next up we have the rather marvellous Factory Acts who coincidentally played a similar gig at the Bank Top Tavern on Ian’s Birthday a few years back. They have come on in leaps and bounds since then of course. Of particular importance is Susan’s growing stage confidence with her hand gestures and delivery adding something new and exciting to the mix. The stunning “AWG” is delivered with some venom and the closing “Leave The World To Us” has chart hit written all over it, if only the music industry had any common sense. One of the best, if not the best, Salford based band at the moment.

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Factory Acts – Photo by Victoria Egan

Back out to the beer garden for more “Bud” and a growing sense that I need to have something to eat before the blood alcohol levels get too excessive. So it’s an executive decision to miss part of the Four Candles set while I grab a rather delicious mushroom pizza from a local takeaway. I catch the opening “Horse”, I miss “Lenny Bruce”  and more, while I’m getting the pizza, but i’m back for the exceptional “I Hate Basket Weaving”.  I’ve seen them before, and I will definitely see them again, so it’s not a great wrench having missed a portion of the show. They are Ian’s best band to date and they get better and better. One punter opines “I don’t normally like prog rock but I like this….” which makes me chuckle , they certainly transcend genres and deliver something that the scene in Greater Mancunia needs which is something new and different.

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Four Candles – Photo by Victoria Egan

More beer – fortunately now being absorbed by the pizza, and I settle myself at the back of the room near the sound desk as my tired old legs are feeling their age. I haven’t seen Ill for some time and certainly not since they have brought Tamsin Middleton into their ranks. The perfect band to end the day, a few keyboard problems slightly disturb the flow, but a stellar performance was delivered with stunning rhythms from Whitney and Fiona being the stand out part of the Ill experience. Tamsin’s guitar adds a new edge to the sound as the power through an excellent set with singles “Space Dick” and “Kremlin” whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Another band that delivers a unique sound, Manchester should be rightly proud of what it has to offer at the moment in terms of musical diversity.

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Tamsin and Whitney of Ill – Photo by Matt Davies

And so it’s all over by 8pm. A wonderful days music and a more than perfect way to celebrate the milestone birthday of one of the key, but unsung, figures in the musical firmament of this metropolis.

Thanks to the fourth horseman for the lift home.

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……

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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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Fascinating Things : Issue 69

After a busy week curating our German Shepherd showcase at the The Eagle in Salford, more of that later,  I now have time to concentrate on reviewing new music that has come my way over the next few days.

First up, over to America for Troup, based in Los Angles, but with a UK connection as the lead singer is from Wales and the drummer is from near Liverpool. They recently released the title track from their forthcoming EP, “Mercury and Gold”, which, with it’s classic melodic rock vibe is well worth a listen. This is quality stuff and leader Alex Troup has a unique quality to his vocals which sets the band apart from others in the genre. One to watch I think.

There’s a lot of lo-fi dream pop coming out of Northern Ireland at the moment. Some of it good, some of it not so. This is one of the better examples from Beauty Sleep

The first year of House of Mythology label continues to be a busy one with the impending release of The Stargazer’s Assistant new four-track  full-length album, Remoteness of Light, set for release on 26th August. The latest album reveals an expanded line-up for the group, featuring David J. Knight (Shock Headed Peters, UnicaZürn) on treated guitars and FX, Michael J. York (Coil, Cyclobe) on pipes, FX and field recordings along with the originator of The Stargazer’s Assistant, David J. Smith (Guapo, Cyclobe) on percussion and sampled atmospheres. Sadly the tracks are far to long for podcast play but I may attempt a radio edit so I can share the music,  Here’s a trailer for the album

New Model Army have  unveiled their official video single for ‘Winter’ and deliver news of their forthcoming album release of the same name. Returning with their first full studio album since their acclaimed “Between Dog and Wolf” kick-started a creative renaissance in 2013. This album saw the band receive the best critical response of their career and top 30 chart positions in UK and Germany, their first in over 20 years, while Matt Reid’s 2014 documentary feature film “Between Dog and Wolf: The New Model Army Story” drew further interest to this most unique of groups. “Winter” will be released on August 26th on the band’s own Attack Attack label via Red Essential in the UK and via earMUSIC worldwide. Formats include special bookpack CD, double gatefold vinyl, download and streaming.

Last Friday saw the latest in a series of showcases for German Shepherd Records at The Eagle in Salford. 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. Fortunately Rick Sarko was on hand to capture some of the night so I can share the vibe with you. The general feedback on the night was excellent with the Italians blowing people away with their ultra tight playing and epic performance. The showcase returns as part of Salford Music Festival on 30th September and 1st October again at The Eagle.

 

Fascinating Things : Issue 66

July already, where is the year going?

There’s some exciting things coming up over the next few months including a brand new Van Der Graaf Generator album which I have naturally pre-ordered and a raft of gigs associated with our little record label including a show case event at the Eagle in Salford on 12th August which will feature, all the way from Modena Italy, the sensational Saint Lawrence Verge , the debut of Ian “Moet” Moss’s new band Four Candles (who look very promising from rehearsal recordings) , from Cambridge an acoustic set from the exceptional Bouquet of Dead Crows, and the remarkable Poppycock  as headliners. The Italian boys will be travelling down to Cambridge the following day for a gig at the Corner House with the Dead Crows and a visit from The Junta. We also have a presence at The Eagle on the Saturday with an EP launch from Rose and the Diamond Hand  and a guest appearance from the very talented Alana Bondi.

Anyway enough of this manic self-publication here some new things that might pique your interest……

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez  of At The Drive In/Mars Volta fame is to release a series of solo albums via Ipecac Recordings, with the first release, Sworn Virgins, available digitally on July 15. The previously unreleased albums were recorded from 2008 to 2013, while Rodriguez-Lopez lived in Zapopan, Mexico and  El Paso. The titles will be released on a bi-weekly basis with the first spate of albums running through the end of the year. Each album will see a digital release with a limited number of physical copies (CD) available on Rodriguez-Lopez’s various live outings. Following the initial run of releases, a limited edition CD/LP box set will become available.

Photo credit : Robin Laananen

Pixies have  announced a new album, “Head Carrier” which is available for pre-order at http://www.pixiesmusic.com. ‘Head Carrier’ is released on September 30th, 2016, on
Limited Edition Box Set, Heavyweight Vinyl in Gatefold Sleeve, and CD Digipack.  They have also announced a new continental European tour for November 2016 with UK dates to be announced very soon. Here’s the single ‘Um Chagga Lagga’.

It appears that Indie is making a comeback, did it ever go away I ask myself. with the new single from Blush. It has all the intensity of The Wedding Present with a transatlantic vocal shtick which sticks in the mind.

Hovering somewhere between Ray Davies, Dylan and The Byrds Glasgow’s The Echo Session have a new single. ‘But I’m Scared’ out. It is a live studio recording from the Echo Session vaults, mastered by Dave Cook. The single will be available from all the usual digital outlets, including the Flowers in the Dustbin bandcamp store. It’s seven years since their last single apparently.

Having burst wild-eyed from the stalls of a buzzing monthly club residency in deepest Hackney and with a lot of interest for debut single ‘Shakin’ Like the Leaves on the Trees’, blues-tinged tearaways Mollys Daggers are gearing up for the release of their debut album “Prima Materia” alongside 2nd single ‘Zin-uru’. It kicks off sounding like Rory Gallagher, which is fine by me, and a welcome respite from the Mumford clones that litter my in-box of late. Expect to hear cuts from the album on Aural Delights Podcast over the next few weeks.

If my Tardis was working (sadly the temporal synchro-mesh is off line) I’d be hopping over to the Corner Hotel in Melbourne round about now to catch Dave Graney ‘n’ The Coral Snakes. I’ll have to make do with the excellent PBS radio session from a couple of days back which was stuffed with classic Snakes tunes like Warren Oates. I’m pleased to be able to share this video from the session. What a band!