Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Bit on the Side

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Recently I was subjected to a horrible misfortune, with which I am only now coming to terms. It happened at a house party (these things always do) and left me with a deep feeling of unease and the undeniable urge to shower. For those of you who have not already guessed, the incident was this: I heard Brandon Flowers solo record in it's entirety.

The thing about this album that made my brain do cartwheels is the plain and simple fact that it is a Killers record. To all intents and purposes it sounds exactly the same as any of the records the guy has made with his band of glorified Las Vegas session musicians. The audacity of this forced the breath from my body and the rest of my whiskey down my throat. How dare he do this, I wondered. What is the point, I further mused, of having a side project if it's just going to sound almost exactly the same as the band to which it is an aside? The next day, when the hangover cleared and I had wiped the last vestiges of half-eaten kebab from my face and pillow, it was time to investigate further.

The "side project" or "solo record" is a term that often fills those who obsess about music with dread. It's usually a chance for a musician with an over-inflated view of themselves to apply their "creativity" without the confines of their already established band. This frequently ends badly, though often humorously. Nowhere is the self-regard of these people better presented than when members of laughable bands attempt something "credible" or more real. Fightstar are a case in point here. Pop Muppets Busted were never likely to contribute in any meaningful way to the canon of popular music, preferring instead to pogo aimlessly with guitars that (if you have a careful look at some of their live performances on TV) were not actually plugged in. Eventually becoming disillusioned with all this and realising belatedly that he had a valid contribution to make, Charlie Simpson walked out, gathered some cronies who knew a few more chords and signed himself up to indie label Search and Destroy (best known for launching The Darkness to a nation hitherto starved of irony). It was a brave and ultimately lucrative move. Charlie seemed oblivious to half the world giggling behind their hands as he cheerfully provided quotes seemingly devoid of the aforementioned irony: "It was the first time I'd recorded anything that I loved," he bleated.

I guess you could call Charlie's new band a "post-project", given that it didn't happen on the side any more than was necessary for contractual obligation. Other examples of this are pretty common: when 90s indie legends Suede finally tired of excreting all over their considerable legacy, they did the decent thing and split up. Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler wondered off in opposite directions. Then came The Tears, who were fronted by... Anderson and Butler. And they were rubbish. Even one album was too many. It just begs the question: why?

Elsewhere in the catalogue of joyously misguided side projects, one bumps into Corey Taylor. And apologises quickly, because he's a big guy. For those of you who to whom this name does not immediately ring a bell, Taylor is the lead singer of panto-metal combo Slipknot. Your author is deeply fascinated by this band (I studied Artaud as part of my Theatre Studies A Level and I know the Theatre of Cruelty when I see it), but the brilliant sense of wild terror afforded for them by their grotesque masks was somehow shattered when their lead singer decided to strike out with new band Stone Sour, ditch the mask and reveal himself to be a slightly chubby, middle-aged skater.

It doesn't always go wrong of course, sometimes it can go right. Consider the odd folk mix of genres found on Out of Season by Beth Gibbons and Rustin' Man. It's a beautiful record and, with exception of Gibbons's amazingly distinctive vocals, a departure from the gloomy trip-hop of Portishead. Erland Oye also deserves an honourable mention for simultaneously conducting an excellent solo career, contributing vocals to Royksopp records and working as part of Whitest Boy Alive, all whilst keeping his main band (the peerless Kings of Convenience) ticking over.

No, the good side projects are the ones where the artist does something completely different from their previous output, with different people and with a honed appreciation of the possible rubbishness of their actions. Ryan Adams is a master at this, although whether he gets the last point is probably up for debate. In 2006, he released no less than 18 albums via a live stream on his website. Almost every corner of music was probed (hip-hop, death metal, scratchy covers of folk standards) and a variety of pseudonyms (a hardcore punk band called The Shit, the death metal group Werewolph and the MC extraordinaire DJ Reggie) were used. It was the Spinal Tap of side projects: a musical career's worth of songs from a man who appeared so bored with his own prolificness that he'd decided to take his creative filters off for a while.

So, what have we learned from our quick whip through the world of side projects? We've learnt they've got to offer a change of pace or a tongue firmly lodged in a cheek. You can't take yourself too seriously, you can't involve your previous bandmates too extensively and you can't be too upset if it's roundly panned. It's just got to offer something slightly different, which is why it's a risky business. If Brandon Flowers had spent six months in his bedroom listening to Rick Wakeman and emerged wearing nothing but a cape and a codpiece and indulging in ten hour Moog sessions, then I would happily give him the time of day. Probably wouldn't listen, mind.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

All We Grow - Sean Carey / Steeple - Wolf People

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

All We Grow released 04/10/10, through Jagjaguwar

Steeple released 11/10/10, through Jagjaguwar

Having thought long and hard about whether to write two reviews for this here website, I eventually decided that one double-header would better do the job of singing the praises of not only two very different but equally wonderful albums, but also of the record company that had the decency to release them into the wild.

Jagjaguwar Records are probably not yet a household name, unless you live in one of those households in Hoxton with art on the walls made out of your friend’s blood. After the success of debut albums from Ladyhawk and Bon Iver, the label is probably best known in recent months for releasing Black Mountain’s Wilderness Heart, a very excellent record if you haven’t heard it yet. But a quick trawl of the website reveals that the future for this label is likely to be bright, and the two albums reviewed here look like a pretty good clutch to be getting along with.

Firstly, the album All We Grow by Sean Carey. Yes, him what hits the skins in Bon Iver. This is Sean’s debut solo recording outside the band, and it’s very much what you’d expect to hear from one quarter of America’s alt-folk saviours. It’s relentlessly melodic throughout, with a stripped bare sound that’s almost spooky in its sparsity. It’s clearly a well-rehearsed piece, which is refreshing for a genre that prides itself on naturalness, often to a fault. Not for Carey is the finger-in-the-ear-and-hope-for-the-best approach. Goodness no. Here, the melody lines are precisely trimmed and the occasional whiff of strings that drift in and out like clouds crossing a particularly tuneful sun, are beautifully timed and laid out. It’s an intimate, stripped back sound that demands close attention rather than casual listening.

My personal highlights include the stunningly beautiful and ethereal Rothko Fields, and the immaculate piano riffing on We Fell, where Carey demonstrates the full range of the talents of the musicians he has assembled as support. The sheer force of melody is occasionally preposterous, but this has never been a problem for yours truly, and nor should it be for you. This record does for melody what Fleet Foxes did so dramatically for harmony: reminding us that even slight over-use is no bad thing if you get it right.

Critics would have a point to say that this record sounds a lot like… well… something by Bon Iver.This would not be unfair to say, but would beg the age-old ultimatum: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Also on offer from the 11th is the debut-album-proper Steeple, from Wolf People. This is quite a different animal from the melodic lilting of the above. From the doom-laden opening chord, it is clear that this is not album that is going to let you ignore it. It is, in summary, not the sound that immediately springs to mind when one thinks of North Yorkshire, where the band originated. Nor is it particularly reminiscent of Wales, where the band followed in the footsteps of luminaries and clear influences Led Zeppelin and headed off into the middle of nowhere to cut this disc. This, my people, is a record to get excited about.

It is at points painfully cool – the sort of band that make you feel like you’re on drugs, even when you’re not. The first single, Tiny Circle (available to download for free here), is a stoner masterpiece that probably wouldn’t feel altogether out of place on a Cream LP or mixed in with the early work of The Yardbirds. Praise this high does not come easy to me, but this record is worth that praise. The best thing about this record is that it sounds like a band who are confident enough to, just occasionally, rock the fuck out. At one point I genuinely felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise as the lyrics “big black revolver tells me which way to turn” oozed out of my speakers.

The record oozes confidence and the musicians involved are not afraid to push the envelope. Jagjaguwar have, in this author’s opinion, signed themselves something of a gem in this band, and they’ve been good enough to share it with the rest of us. Take note people, ‘tis the season of the Wolf.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Libertine-age Kicks

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

It is now only a few short days until what many are framing as the musical event of the year. The return of The Libertines, almost five years after they dissolved in a haze of boredom (Pete(r), as has been well documented, was fired in mid-2004), is being met with mounting hysteria in some corners of the music press. I wondered whether I ought to put fingers to keys in honour of this, as I once held the distinction of being seemingly the only person on campus not to think they were the saviours of modern British music. Five years on, I thought I’d go back and have another think about this.

When Up The Bracket and the small number of 7”s that went before were released, I had only one thought in my mind. “This,” went the thought, “is a fairly poor Clash tribute band. This will all be over soon. Put Is This It back on and ride it out”. I wasn’t entirely right about this, of course, as Pete(r), Carl and the other two went on to dominate British music for four years or so. They somehow managed to paint the most irresistible rock ‘n’ roll story of the past ten years without ever really producing the music that ought to be the basis for such a narrative. The crazy parties, the drugs, thespats, arrests, violence, celebrity affairs and general debauchery were all there, but they seldom hit the musical highs.

Up the Bracket produced a few good singles that could fill any indie dance floor, even today. Their second, self-titled attempt though, was far weaker (with the notable exception of Music When The Lights Go Out: by far their best recorded work). Ruined by poor production and a complete lack of ideas brought on, in part but not exclusively, by Doherty’s much-reported downward spiral, the album failed to scratch many people’s itches, and we were headed for Stone Roses territory. Eventually, the soap opera that surrounded them eclipsed, rightly or wrongly, their actual output. “Style over substance” would be unfairly harsh criticism but they became, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, “a lifetime in their own legend”. This largely accounted for the drabness of Carl’s Dirty Pretty Things: they were musically not too different from The Libertines, but without the exciting backdrop, they were dull and unfulfilling. In the five years since the split, we’ve also suffered one of the worst albums ever created in the debut from the abysmal Babyshambles. It would be easy here to hold this situation up as proof that The Libertines were greater than the sum of their parts, or at least were perceived that way.

I never cared much for Doherty’s lyrics, for the man himself, or for the tortured poet image that he gave off, and there was one simple reason for this. In an interview at the height of his drug addiction, he made the throwaway remark that he wanted to rise again; to be, as he put it, like George Best in reverse. What he meant was that he wanted to do the dramatic fall from grace and then go on to have a sensational career that would cement his iconic status in the national consciousness. Unfortunately, I think he failed to realise that it just doesn’t work like that. Think of all the other rock stars whose lives have at one time or another been ravaged or ended by drugs, alcohol or the attentions of the tabloids. The key, unifying factor was that they were all producing work of incredible quality and ruined it all. It does not work backwards. This is all without even bothering to point out that Doherty hasn’t actually produced all that much work of incredible quality, even after his fall from grace had slowed slightly.

It would be churlish of me not to admit that when I saw them on the Evening Session Stage at Reading in 2002 they were electrifying, but I always found their recorded output completely failed to capture this. I would also acknowledge that Pete(r)’s track For Lovers is one of the most heart-rending things I’ve ever heard committed to record. But it seems to me that a band that’s been gone for a mere five years after producing only one decent record, and whose members have played together at a fair number of “emotional reunions” whenever their solo careers take a dip, doesn’t really merit the amount of attention they’re getting.

I think, in summary (and with maximum cynicism), they didn’t really change the face of British music. People always talk about a theoretical musical pendulum that swings from one side of the Atlantic to the other, and The Libertines never really pulled it back from The Strokes, Interpol et al. at any point. They always seemed to me to be no better than the many other “The” bands that characterised the music scene at the time.

So how will the musical community react to the comeback? I suspect that the hysteria will fade pretty quickly, unless they go on and produce more music. Led Zeppelin are the perfect example of this: one massive reunion, a bit of half-arsed speculation and now no one who wasn’t there can really remember it happening. If The Libertines make more music they might well be onto a loser anyway, since it is only ever likely to draw unfavourable comparison with their early work from fans and critics alike. Their place in the canon of popular music history and whether their legacy can be anything other than an extended buffet for the tabloids are still matters for debate, and this is therefore a reunion that might please fans, but might fail to convince those, like me, who are still wondering if it’s really worth all this hype.

Post Script
If anyone wants to write an article about why I really should be excited about this, I would be genuinely interested in reading it. Despite the overall cynical tone of this piece, I am relatively open-minded about the whole issue, and would happily read the counter-argument. Open goal here, ladies and gentlemen…

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Latitude Festival 2010

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

NB: Whilst writing this review, I note that it’s turned into a 2000 word blog post. Honestly didn’t mean for that to happen… As such, I have taken the liberty of highlighting all the band names in case anyone wants to flick forward past my noodling. On with the show…:

First things first. For the duration of this review, I am going to dispense with my usual trick of being obstructively cynical for cheap laughs. The reason for this is very simple: Latitude festival is not a place that readily lends itself to cynicism. While it may be brimming with middle class families and yummy mummies, it is a place where it is totally impossible to be cynical, or even snidely ironic.

This year, I sort of flung myself at the festival really. 48 hours before it all started, I wasn’t even going. But now I’m back I am so glad I did. Despite having been initially underwhelmed by the line-up (particularly the headliners), it turned into one of the best festival experiences I have had in a long time.

Unpacking on Thursday, I am immediately struck by the sense of space. Capacity has been increased by a third this year, but the campsites still have enough room to walk (rather than tip-toe) between tents, a real bonus on the other side of a few glasses of cider. The first night is spent wondering the site looking at some stuff that glows and other stuff that makes noise, before failing (along with most of the site) to see Tom Jones perform his new album (irony is demanded for a mission like this).

Friday brings the familiar joy of waking up to pore over the programme and running order, before heading off in all directions to try and absorb even a tenth of what you actually wanted to see. I’m going to focus on the music here, but honourable mentions should be given to Latitudes seemingly infinite array of theatre, comedy, circus and people dressed as zebras. It’s an easy start, with Welsh band Y Niwl demonstrating what surf rock might sound like had it originated in Cardiff as opposed to Southern California. Then The Unthanks perform lilting melodic folk which fails to hold my interest, before the real day kicks in. I Blame Coco are easy to dismiss. She is, after all, Sting’s daughter, and my musical hackles rise at this. But, in the spirit of dispensing with cynicism, I’m pleased to report that they turn in a great performance of hard-edged indie rock, with enough sex and sass to have the audience yelling for more as they leave the stage. The tunes are catchy, the hooks are still in my head even now, and I am completely powerless to resist the strange sensation of actually liking them.

There follow excellent performances from Laura Marling and Wild Beasts, before Richard Hawley brings a touch of Northern charm and soulful lyricism to The Word Arena. Despite, apparently, “Feeling like shite” due to bronchitis, his voice is powerful and silky in equal measure, and songs such as Tonight The Streets Are Ours are truly well deserving of their place in the British canon. If I could sing like that with bronchitis, I would spend my time hanging out around respiratory wards. To round off the night, I decide against Florence and the Machine (since I’m banned from cynicism, I can’t explain why, but you can guess), and stay to watch The National. If you haven’t seen this band, you should stop reading right now and find yourself a ticket to their upcoming tour. They’re gloriously loud and the sound is huge and complex, like an ever-so-slightly less anthemic Arcade Fire. Lead singer Matt Beringer cuts a commanding figure at the head of the band, and his voice is strong enough to carry through everything going on behind him. It’s an incredible performance, and all present can’t fail to be blown away by the force of this band in the ascendency. Catch them now before they go too high: this is not an idle warning. This done, there is a ridiculous array of entertainment happening that keeps me up until the sky is getting light.

Saturday starts slightly less well, musically. Josie Long’s incredible performance as a NASA-trained astronaut who happens to hail from Croydon is so perfectly observed that I have to sit down as my knees are weakened with laughter. Then, sadly, I move to accidentally see The Supernovas. This band are the musical equivalent of one of those films where Danny Dyer tries to make football hooliganism seem like an acceptable career choice. It’s blunt instrument rock for louts and anyone who wants it can keep it, as far as I’m concerned. The afternoon is swiftly redeemed by a set of classic songs from James, during which I close my eyes and pretend it’s 1994, which almost works. Tim Booth’s dance moves certainly don’t seem to have been blunted by the tedious process of aging, and the inevitable sing-along of Sit Down is up there with the best. As the familiar opening riff kicks in, a woman asks me to lift her young daughter up onto her shoulders. I elect not to tell her how much cider I’ve consumed these past few hours, and all goes smoothly.

In the evening, I decide that sunlight and happiness are over-rated and head for The Word Arena for a doom-indie (patenting that) double bill made up of The Horrors and The xx. The former are a band that appeal to my fourteen year-old self: eyeliner and black clothing are the order of the day. Having never seen them live before, I’m genuinely shocked how much I enjoy the gig, and also by how loud the sound that pours off the stage is; I feel as though the dirt and grime of three days in a field is being vibrated out of every pore. I don’t miss being a goth (it’s a bit tricky to maintain when you have blonde hair and a naturally sunny outlook on life) but this gig is perfect: laden with shouting, twisting and the self-important sense that the world basically exists to wind you up. The band are tight and well drilled, and the whole thing collapses in on itself at the end, leaving me with a heart rate that I normally associate with an hour in the gym. Awesome. The xx are very much the same as they were at Glastonbury, and as great as they are I begin to ponder if it’s not just a little bit one-trick. We’ll let the Mercury panel sort that one out.

After this, we don masks (which means I have to take off my glasses, giving me a legitimate excuse for blurred vision) and head off to the woods for a masked ball. There’s a band playing in the woods called Suitcase Royale, who play scuzzy blues on homemade instruments and have the audience screaming along with wild abandon. Then there’s a spaceman who makes a bewildering array of noise by using a load of guitar peddles and bits of electronic wizardry strapped to his spacesuit. It’s impossible to describe, so I’ll just point you here. Then I meet three of the loveliest people on the planet around a campfire, talk and laugh for ages and watch the sun come up.

Meeting new people is one of my favourite things to do at festivals. It’s made even more fun when these new people are on tour from NYC, and have a musical agenda for Sunday that matches mine almost identically. If these people (hi guys, if you’re reading this!) are great company and are genuinely wonderful, this makes for a perfect day.

It seems that half of Brooklyn has descended upon the site today, even though the day begins with a performance from an old bloke from a Welsh mining town. Tom Jones puts on (and you have no idea how hard it is for me to type this) a sensational performance. Despite containing far too much God for this author’s taste, the guy has got to 70 and decided to use his still faultless voice to record a load of old blues, country and early rock ‘n’ roll numbers. As if this weren’t enough, he’s chosen to enlist long-time Ryan Adams collaborator Ethan Johns to take care of production. The resulting tracks leave me blown away. Despite not allowing me to pretend I’m at a rugby match by playing Delilah, Tom delivers a genuinely crowd-pleasing set. It might not be constantly rotating in the CD player, but it’s a festival moment that’s right up there.

Then it’s Mumford and Sons, who bring the festival to its feet with their folk tunes, all of which start low and pensive, and then swell to a massive crescendo. The first album has established these guys as an act that spans the gap between casual and serious music listeners. The crowd go wild and then (amazingly) go home. I’m serious about this, the festival genuinely gets quieter once they’re finished as people start to head for home and work. Not us however, next begins The New York Marathon.

First up are Dirty Projectors who I’m told are massive in New York right now (you have no idea how cool I feel typing that). This is a band who release music as often as most people change their pants: they’ve released seven full-length albums this year alone. Live, they’re electric and despite seeming strangely small and marooned on stage, they produce a sound that has the audience bouncing and generally loving this eclectic and experimental pop music. A quick hop to the tent finds us in front of what is probably the musical highlight of my weekend: Yeasayer. This Brooklyn (no, really) three-piece are well drilled, exciting and pack one hell of a punch. It’s rock music you can dance to and, crammed in at the front, it’s impossible not to dance. Latest single O.N.E. is saved for the end of the set and the band are clearly getting into their stride, looking confident, assured and totally unfazed by the rapturous reception they are generating.

Then it’s the brilliant The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who pack out the tiny Sunrise Arena and produce a set of brilliant indie pop that completely shakes off that mid-afternoon wilting feeling that so often sets in on the last day of any festival. They don’t put a foot wrong and, despite having one album so far, they have enough brilliant tunes to pack a set and leave the audience begging for an encore which, sadly, never arrives. They’re back over soon (if you’re reading this in July 2010), you need a ticket.

The weekend closes with a quick dance to Vampire Weekend, followed by the complete contrast of Grizzly Bear. “GB” bring volume and a sound that is huge and rich and vast. It’s like being in a bath, and it is all I can do not to lie down and drift off. The set seems to go on forever (this is not a criticism) and forms the perfect end to this festival.

In short: for me, Latitude is like the comedown after Glastonbury. The distances between stages are short, the crowd is mellower and the festival (now in its fifth year) is just so easy to enjoy. My festival this year was enhanced by brilliant weather, new and LOVELY people and some truly awesome music. Cynicism should be checked at the gate: next year I will not have to rely on ticket touts and spontaneous decisions, as the investment will be worth it from the very start.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Ben Keith Obituary

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

On Tuesday the music world mourned the loss of one of the greatest hired guns we ever knew. Ben Keith, long time collaborator with (amongst others, but most famously) Neil Young passed away at the age of 73. Neil paid a touching tribute to him at last night’s tour show, with a version of Old Man. You may not all know Ben, but you all should know his work. Anyone who’s ever heard Harvest (and there can’t be that many left that haven’t) will have been entranced by his beautiful pedal steel playing the odd drop of backing vocal. The pedal steel, in my humble opinion, had two great exponents: “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow and Ben Keith. In his honour, I have compiled for you the five best bits of Ben that exist on Neil Young records, where he will be longest remembered. I therefore invite you to crack open a can, kick back and just enjoy that magical sound that only the pedal steel can bring to a record. In no particular order then:

See The Sky About to Rain from On The Beach – The ethereal drift of the steel throughout this song is one of the finest examples of the craft you’ll ever find. Just have a listen to the way it soars behind Neil’s voice and then provides the beautiful focal point of the 90-second coda.

Heart of Gold from Harvest – Neil’s only number one that you’ve heard a million times. But listen again, and listen for the steel on the chorus.

Mellow My Mind from Tonight’s The Night – The recording of this album was a mad, crazy mess and most of the record sounds as though it’s about to fall in on itself. But the slide guitar on this track is guaranteed to make you feel as though you’ve inhaled in that way politicians never do.

Four Strong Winds
 from Comes a Time – The closer of this record (produced largely by Ben) became something of a hippy anthem for a while, with its nature-centric lyrics and powerful imagery, and the slide guitar lends the track an air that perfectly frames Neil’s words. Emmylou Harris on backing vocals makes this something of a supergroup session.

Cowgirl in the Sand from Road Rock Vol. 1 – A slight change of tack for the last one, this live track sees Ben on rhythm guitar as Neil takes this already epic song to a mammoth 18-minutes. Ben keeps the song together, letting Neil do his thing.

So there you have it. I’ve not put this list together on Spotify, because I can’t bear the idea that your reverie might be interrupted by adverts, but you can do this yourself if you like. If not, you can always pop round mine. Bring beer, and we’ll get the hi-fi fired up. Rest in peace Ben.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Arcade Fire @ Hackney Empire - 7th July 2010

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

It is a generally accepted fact that Arcade Fire are the best band in the world. Last decade, Radiohead were the muso’s band of choice, but now Win Butler et al. are firmly in charge. The option to see them in this tiny venue (capacity 1,300) was one that should be seized. Tickets were available for the truly dedicated who pre-ordered the album and were lucky enough to be drawn out of the hat. And when I say lucky, I mean really fucking lucky.

Hackney Empire is an amazing venue, a turn of the century music hall with all the gilt edges and cherubs that go therewith. It seems to be the perfect venue for tonight’s comeback. Arcade Fire have been away for three years since their pair of gigs at Alexander Palace in 2007. Now, with a new album on the way, this is a warm-up gig for the round of festival appearances that lies ahead. The sense of anticipation is tangible.

When they take the stage, it is instantly as though they have never been away. This effect is enhanced by the fact that they launch in with two new songs, literally picking up where they left off. Ready to Start and Modern Man bode incredibly well for the new album. By the end of the second song, the previously presentable Butler is already drenched in sweat. This is a pattern that does not let up. How every member of the band don’t need medical re-hydration by the end of the gig remains a mystery to me.

From then on, the classic anthems and new songs blend seamlessly together, suggesting that the new album will be the equal of what came before. “This song is called Yes Boats Yes” says Win before launching into No Cars Go. A few songs later, during the end of Rococo, Win climbs into the audience and finishes the song lying on his back, carried aloft by the wave of adoration.

Although the public address system in the venue is not quite up to Arcade Fire’s complex yet loud sound, they manage to render all their anthems in their full glory. During Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out), the audience pogos as though lives are at stake, and when this segues into Rebellion (Lies) and on into the hefty new track Month of May, I begin to think that I might not make it out alive, so drained am I by the encore break. Before that though, we are treated to a rare outing for Crown of Love, one of Funeral’s greatest hidden gems.

The encore, comprising Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels), Keep The Car Running and Wake Up leaves the audience gasping for breath, and the band leave the stage grinning like maniacs. They deserve to. When you’re the best band in the world, it must be amazing to be up there on that stage.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Songs From The Canyons

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

In a change to the usual process (all articles reproduced as originally found) I would like to point out that I completely retract the first four lines of this article. I bloody love Spotify now.

I’ll expand on this in a further article sometime, but it’s worth flinging this in right at the start: I am fundamentally opposed to Spotify as a concept. I realise this makes me sound like old beyond my years, but I feel it makes the whole concept of discovering music too easy, takes all the dedication out of it. And also, who the fuck wants adverts in the middle of albums? This is a rant for another time though, children, so be seated and let us get to the meat of the matter.

For my playlist I have chosen to attempt to represent my all time favourite musical era: the Los Angeles Canyonscene of the late 60s and early 70s. To my mind, this time and place was a musical hotbed rivalled by nothing else, not even the London scene of the early sixties that spawned the “British Invasion” of the American music charts. Just why this is will hopefully become clear in this article.

The canyon scene is one that grew up a round a clutch of musicians and artists who emigrated from the then-vibrant and loud Los Angeles scene in search of more peaceful climes. What they found were the expanses of the Canyons that surround LA, principally Topanga Canyon and Laurel Canyon. Clubs on the Sunset Strip such as the Whiskey A Go-Go and The Trubadour played host to an unrivalled selection of the greatest music ever made: The Byrds, Love, Buffalo Springfield, Otis Redding, Joni Mitchell, The Mamas and the Papas… I could go on. Doused in sunshine and good quality marijuana (David Crosby always knew where the best smoke was to be found, according to a number of accounts), the musicians of the Canyons made some of the most diverse and evocative music ever set to record. Truly, this is not a time or a situation that could ever again be replicated.

My list begins with The Byrds, which is fitting as this band perhaps best came to embody the ethic of the scene. A much more “pop” offering here with a cut from their debut LP: I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better, which to my mind offers the best possible reason why they should be considered the US’s answer to The Beatles. This list having been thoroughly thought through, starting with The Byrds makes it easy to stroll down (in the manner of Pete Frame) through the various members of this band, linking the list together. The most obvious next step is Gram Parsons, who recorded the excellent album Sweetheart of the Rodeo with the band, before his record company threatened to sue and most of his vocal tracks were removed and re-recorded by Byrds leader Roger McGuinn. Following a tour of England, Parsons quit The Byrds in protest at plans to tour apartheid South Africa. Returning to the Canyons, Parsons formed The Flying Burrito Brothers, whose classic Dark End of the Street is my second selection. Gram’s solo work should also not be ignored in this list, as it was so tied to the Canyons where it was written and recorded. I’ve chosen Return of the Grievous Angel, as it is one of the best pieces of music ever made.

Other members of The Byrds were not idle either. Gene Clark recorded two records with Doug Dillard and Bernie Leadon (later of The Eagles), and my third choice is Out on the Side, the first track from the first of these albums, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark.

During one of their residences at The Whiskey, The Byrds’ Chris Hillman persuaded the manager to give a support slot to a little known band called Buffalo Springfield. This band, featuring a young Stephen Stills and an even-younger Neil Young, are one of music’s greatest should-have-been stories. The Stone Roses of their day, the Springfield lasted just 25 months, during which time they put out two records (a third was released after their split, but it was largely pieced together) and dissolved in ignominy, infighting and drugs. During their brief lifespan, they suffered from poor management and outrageously poor production. Their eponymous debut album should have been a serious contender for the best record ever made (seriously) but is so poorly produced it sounds flat. No release-quality live recordings of them exist, and those lucky enough to see them speak of the experience in hushed tones. It’s one of Young’s tunes I’ve chosen: Flying on the Ground is Wrong, a song that Neil later disclosed was written after having to explain to a young lady that they couldn’t be together because she didn’t understand what was so great about smoking pot.

Anyone who knows anything about this era knows what happened to Neil Young after Buffalo Springfield dissolved. His first Archives boxset contains no less than three full discs of material recorded after a disappointing reception for his self-titled debut caused him to move up to Topanga Canyon in search of a new perspective. Here he would meet Crazy Horse and, later, The Stray Gators. Choosing a single track from this period is utterly impossible, so I decided to put my iPod on shuffle and see what it chucked out. It chucked out a live version of Down by the River. This, as they say, will do nicely: especially as it shows Neil at his roaring best with three solos in twelve minutes.

Over in Laurel Canyon, the one place where all the hipsters hung out was in “Mama” Cass Elliot’s back yard. It was here that Graham Nash would meet David Crosby and Stephen Stills, with whom he would form Crosby, Stills and Nash and would embark on one of the craziest stories rock has to tell. The trio’s debut is debatably their only real masterwork, and I have chosen Long Time Gone, as possibly the ultimate stoner hippy anthem. Another regular in Mama Cass’s garden was a young singer-songwriter with an intriguing approach to tuning guitars. Joni Mitchell would go on to have relationships with both Graham Nash and David Crosby, and it is the song she wrote for the former that makes the list: Willy. Mama Cass was of course no slouch herself. In addition to acting as mother (hence the nickname) for most of Laurel Canyon, she was making music as a solo artist and with The Mamas and The Papas. My personal favourite, Make Your Own Kind of Music, also makes the list in tribute to the role Cass played in holding the whole scene together.

Finally on the list (I’ve tried to stop at ten, although I could go on), a cut from my all-time favourite record: Love’s Forever Changes. A mix of psychedelic madness and perfect pop music, this record represents all that was so great about the Canyon scene. I have chosen the insanely titled Maybe the People Would Be the Times Or Between Clark and Hilldale. The address in the later part of the title refers to the location of the Whiskey A Go-Go, which inspired the song (“And here, they always play my songs”). It is to my mind the best summary of the period in a single song.

So that’s the playlist, but there’s millions more artists on this fertile scene who didn’t make it onto the list: Jackson Browne, The Doors, James Taylor, Brian Wilson, Joe Cocker, Carole King… it goes on. Of course, the story does not end well, they never do. The Canyon scene was doomed to dissolve in excess as Gram Parsons and Mama Cass met untimely ends, David Crosby became addicted to heroin, Stephen Stills discovered cocaine and the Manson Family killings (Charles Manson was a resident of Topanga Canyon and sometime friend of Neil Young) and a succession of bad relationships generally took a sword to the whole bohemian vibe of the place. Before long, Don Henley noticed that there was a big pile of cash to be made out of the style and ethic bred in the canyon and formed The Eagles. They went on to have the biggest selling record ever and in the process destroyed so much of what had been great about the place and time. This is just your introduction. For those who want to know more, I can heartily recommend the book Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns. He’s also got a much more expansive playlist tucked away at the back…

1. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better – The Byrds

2. Dark End of the Street – The Flying Burrito Brothers

3. Return of the Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons

4. Out on the Side – Dillard and Clark

5. Flying on the Ground Is Wrong – Buffalo Springfield

6. Down by the River – Neil Young with Crazy Horse

7. Long Time Gone – Crosby, Stills and Nash

8. Willy – Joni Mitchell

9. Make Your Own Kind of Music – The Mamas and the Papas

10. Maybe the People Would be the Times Or Between Clark and Hilldale – Love

Go Play - Canyon Songs Spotify Playlist

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Glastonbury 2010 - Part Three

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

This is the fin
al part of the trilogy that was my weekend. If anyone has read all three parts, you are a saint and a martyr and you should probably give yourself a round of applause. Here's the first part, and the second part...


I was right, of course, to dread waking this morning. If Saturday’s hangover was a battle, this one might as well be represented visually by a rising mushroom cloud. It takes a full litre of water to assuage the feeling that I am dying of thirst. Why, I ask myself as the haze begins to lift, did I do that? What have I gained? What bonus have I brought to humanity, or what crime have I committed to deserve this? If nothing else it has made it much more difficult to drag my carcass clear across the site to The Park Stage for The Travelling Band. The Travelling Band are the best alternative country rock band ever to come out of Manchester. Their new single Sundial is out now and I strongly urge all of you to go and find it so you can say you were ahead of the game when they’re half-way up the bill on The Other Stage next year. As their set closes, they produce giant balloons from the wings and the general party atmosphere blows away the hangover.

Fuck it, I think, I’m going to have a smoothie.

I have a smoothie. It is terrible. It does contain fruit, and this can only really be a good thing, given the level of abuse I have inflicted upon the temple that is not my body. I watch The Villagers, followed by Avi Buffalo. Neither have survived long enough in my mind to get reviewed.

Slash!! The multiple exclamation marks are deliberate. You can’t see me now (I hope) but I’m making devil horns. My Companion wonders off to watch England’s glorious victory over the Germans. I bounce between the silly hat stalls (I do not buy one this year as my drug intake has been considerably lower than in previous) towards the main stage, where a curious new form of democracy is taking place right before my eyes. It goes like this: whenever Slash and his band play a song of their own making, the audience talks to their neighbours, lathers on another layer of suncream and generally looks a bit vacant. When a Guns ‘n’ Roses classic is dusted off, however, the audience sings along in unison and wild abandon. It is a curious thing to watch an act where the namesake stands at the back, silent throughout. But who cares, when the set closes with Sweet Child o’ Mine followed by Paradise City? Slash is awesome, and watching him play those solos live is another personal dream crossed off.

Next up is Ray Davis, who seems to have developed a split personality. When addressing the audience, he is charming and affable: the very picture of a musical elder statesmen. As he turns from the microphone however, the guitar technician or the soundman is invariably subjected to a torrent of invective. Stuart Maconie sites Ray Davis as the most unpleasant man he’s ever interviewed. I think he may have a point. The music though, is flawless, even if Davis’s voice has gone a bit flat as the years roll by. Kinks classics are rolled out to the joy of the assembled masses and sing-alongs have rarely been so sung-along. He pays touching tribute to recently departed Kinks bassist Pete Quaife, and dedicates a mesmeric See My Friends to his former bandmate. The Crouch End Festival Choir do an excellent job of backing him up, and add a new twist to some of the best known songs in the British musical canon. I have almost forgotten about the football by the time it’s over. My Companion has not. We agree not to discuss the beautiful game for the remainder of the weekend. On the way back we catch a few songs from Loudon Wainwright III, who is charming and brilliant and will be worth seeing in more detail at some point. My evening, however, is rushing towards a crescendo.

Back at the tent, I sip idly at a pint of cider and prepare myself for the final push. This moment, I have decided, will be my headline set, as Stevie Wonder holds no interest for me. This, however is a moment that I have been waiting for these ten years past. I have always wanted to see Faithless and I have always wanted to see them at Glastonbury. I gulp the cider as my heart rate quickens. We walk down. I am not afraid to admit that I may have skipped.

The set does not disappoint. As the sun sinks low over Glastonbury, I find myself raving like a possessed man. The girl standing next to me washes a pill down with cider, then hands me the rest of the pint. This evening, I decide, could not get any better. As Maxi moves through God is a DJ, straight into Mass Destruction, my legs start melting and my head goes funny. As the set finishes with Insomnia, I become convinced that I am leaving Earth, bound for Planet Dance. And I am never coming back. Ten years was worth the wait. As the sound fades away I collapse onto the surprised girl who gave me the cider. She clearly wonders about the wisdom of giving me the beverage in the first place.

On a high, I again do a sharp gear change and head over to the Acoustic Tent to catch the tail end of Richard Thompson’s set. This man is one of the world’s finest guitarists and, although my head is still pounding with beats and loops, it is fantastic to hear him and to see him, alone on stage with his acoustic guitar. He is briefly joined by his son Teddy, and the sound is beautiful and simple throughout. It is the perfect contrast to what has gone before.

Then there is wondering towards Arcadia, stopping briefly to enjoy a secret gig from comedian Ed Byrne. When we arrive, we find Gomez in full swing. It staggers me that in the ten years since last I saw them, they appear to have changed not even their shirts. They still, not to put too fine a point on it, look like students. But they still sound awesome. The crowd is small yet unbelievably dedicated, and the atmosphere is amazing to behold.

We rattle off into the night and explore Shangri-La for the remainder of the night / morning. It’s all a little hazy now. I remember there was a brilliant cider called Soap Dodger, and there were people dressed up funny. The rest is a blur of raving and guzzling. Just as the last night at Glastonbury should be. If your journey home is not accompanied by dry heaving and cautiously eyeing the toilets, you have not been trying hard enough.

Now it’s all over, it seems like a million years ago. I’ve never known a Glastonbury without rain, and although the line-up did not instantly grab me by the short and curlies, it has been one of my best ever. You have all been reading long enough now and I suspect you’re nearly as tired as I was on Monday, so I shall sign off with a cliché that I have long avoided: roll on next year.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Glastonbury 2010 - Part Two

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Welcome back to the Glastonbury review, which is starting to feel a little weighty. It was going to be two parts, but even I am not self-obsessed enough to subject you to 5000 words about what-I-did-on-my-holidays all at once. If you missed the first bit, it's here. Then read on...


There are no words to describe what it is like to wake up in a tent that is already being battered by unrelenting sunshine. If you take this feeling, stir in a pinch of hangover, sprinkle liberally with dry-mouth, add a huge lug of needing-a-piss and shake well, then you will end up somewhere close to how I felt on Saturday morning. One soon becomes uncomfortably aware that the sun is just as much an enemy as the rain at major festivals. My companion and I crawl from the tent, gasping and lolling, looking for all the world like something from a poor remake of Deliverance. A breeze passes across the site. There is a moment of relief before the blaze returns. Saturday has begun.

Saturday actually begins properly (after a rather tasty fruit salad) with another visit to the Two Door Cinema Club. This time they are playing The Other Stage, but their indie-pop is still as tight and catchy as it was on Thursday night in a tent not far from here. From this point, we take the short walk, pausing only for cider (it has been a full eight hours…), to the Pyramid Stage for what had promised to be a personal highlight: The Lightning Seeds. I happen to know that one of the chaps who runs this here website hates this band with a passion bordering on the insane. I, on the other hand, love them. Thinking back to my early days as an impressionable indie kid with no girlfriend (not directly related to liking The Lightning Seeds) and too much time on his hands (so to speak), they had everything. Crap hair, crap clothes, crap lyrics, but truly stupendous danceable tunes. Their appearance on this year’s bill made me whoop in public, as I would finally get to see them and appease my inner naïve self. Add to this the thrill of their playing Three Lions in the midst of England’s inevitable march to World Cup glory, and it was all shaping up nicely. It comes as a shock, therefore, when they’re not actually that great. They do play all their hits, but somehow the big bombastic sound is missing. At one point a trio of young ladies with violins is added to the ensemble, but even this cannot detract from the idea that the sound is a bit flat and doesn’t have enough power to render their pop gems in full magnificence. The lowest point is an ill-advised acoustic version of Marvellous, which proves to raise the apathy level amongst the small crowd. When Three Lions is eventually trotted out, it serves only as the backdrop to a sing-along. It could as easily be on tape. A shame for me and for my 14 year-old self. Tom Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again.

This disappointment laid aside, we toy briefly with the idea that watching Jackson Browne could be good. It is, however, far too hot to be outside for too long, and so we head for the cool shelter of the Acoustic tent to watch The Leisure Society. They put in a solid set of folky-goodness, which is unlikely to make me seek them out, but also unlikely to make me write anything bad about them in reviews. It happens in front of me. I snooze. We relocate to watch Wild Beasts. This is a band about whom I knew very little until about a week ago, when the album somehow found its way into my basket in a record shop. The lead singer wins the prize for worst dressed man of the weekend for his jacket, but this barely registers as the intriguing combination of deep, resonant voice and falsetto combine to produce a truly unique experience. It’s very easy to get transported elsewhere listening to this band, and the audience responds well with howls of respect at the end of each track. This band are already in the ascendency, and if this set is anything to go by, they’re not finished yet.

We cross the site, briefly avoiding a man dressed as a dog with fully functioning leg-cocking provided by a water pistol, and find ourselves at the West Holts stage. We find a spot as far away from the Brothers cider bar as possible and sit to watch counter-culture legend Devendra Banhart. He puts on a superb show, with the crowd rocking and swaying to every note. The backing band frames his vocals perfectly, and the general hippy ambiance is going strong, not least when he unexpectedly launches into a brilliant reworking of cheesy pop classic Tell It To My Heart. Sunshine and the eternally youthful sound of Mr Banhart. Perfect. From here we trot back over to the Acoustic stage for another of the weekend’s highlights, a performance from British folk legend (I do not use this word lightly) Al Stewart. For those of you who do not know Al Stewart’s music, I urge you to stop reading and go to your local music emporium and refuse to leave until they service you with a copy of Year of the Cat. There’s nothing more wonderful than Al Stewart’s silky voice on this record, singing songs infused with the childlike wonder we all secretly wish we still had. This is the second time I have watched Al, and I have never seen anyone more charming. Between songs Al waxes lyrical about the French civil war, the complex metaphors present in every song (he informs us that the next one is about lovers but that he has turned them into aeroplanes because it’s more interesting) and the reasons why he is so delighted to be back at Glastonbury. It is disarming and wonderful. When he finishes with the title track from the aforementioned album, he leaves the stage to cheering that does not die away until he returns for a well-deserved encore. You owe it to yourselves to find this man if you have not already.

As swift gear changes go, moving from Al Stewart to The xx is undoubtedly one of the swiftest of my festival career to date. This band are about as dark as you can get. Everything onstage is either black or, starkly, white. The band are sulky, they too are dressed in black. For a moment, a scene wonders through my head of a rehearsal where one of them has purchased a pink guitar. I will not bother writing this scene out for you. But I digress. The xx are pretty impressive, a synthesis of The Cure and Jean Michelle Jarre, and they move through their set with a languid ease. Islands produces an enormous cheer from this packed tent, and the moments keep coming as drum-machine-player (what is the proper name for one of those?) Jamie Smith hammers away as one possessed at the touch-sensitive pads in front of him. The set builds to what could well be a crescendo, but sadly is not.

It takes a few seconds to dawn that their closing number is a cover of Florence and the Machine’s ubiquitous You’ve Got The Love. This is not a wise choice of cover: the song’s selling point is its vocal range, and The xx are not a band built upon that. As the song continues, shrill warbling sounds from off-stage are rising in the mix. It becomes clear what is happening seconds before Florence (sans Machine) bounds onstage to help out. I am not a fan of Ms Welch particularly but, judging by the reaction from the crowd, I am in the minority. I have seen videos of Beatlemania, and this sound is the closest I have heard to it in real life. It is deafening. She trills her way through one final chorus with the band, there are hugs, and then silence as they leave the stage. Everyone is grinning and talking about what has just happened.

Myself and my companion are already hot-footing it to the nearest pie stall. Pies are great festival food: that’s another thing that I learnt this year. Then there’s a brief dalliance watching The Pet Shop Boys, who are awesome. It is my one regret that I did not hang around longer than Go West, New York City Boy and Always on my Mind. I will bite the bullet and see them next time they tour.

But our feet are now already carrying us towards Midlake on The Park Stage. Midlake are label mates of Fleet Foxes, which is instantly clear when you hear their albums or see them live. The set is brilliant for about three songs, but soon it becomes slightly repetitive. The set twinkles on occasion, but the stand-out moments are rare. We move on.

The night is spent raving in Arcadia. A giant metal spider as big as a building spits fire into the sky. Women dance on it, throwing various other flaming objects into the air. Later, we visit The Village Disco, a motley collection of young men who dress in brilliant costumes, have a disco on a trolley and play a rather disjointed array of music with entertaining quips in between. At one point even later, My Companion falls off a half-buried 4x4 and injures himself. Glow sticks are everywhere and the cider flows like… cider. We stagger home as the birds are singing. The tent is already heating up with the familiar funk and my last thought as I fall asleep is to dread the hangover.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Glastonbury 2010 - Part One

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Kierkegaard once very famously said that life could only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. The same is, broadly speaking, true of Glastonbury festival, with one important difference: it is impossible to actually understand it. It is similarly impossible to review the damn thing, since every single person on site will have had an utterly different experience. The only way to tackle this then is to go a bit Hunter S Thompson on y’all and tell you how it was for me.

This has been my seventh Glastonbury, and an initial look at the line-up did not instantly fill me with joy. It is of course well recognised that the line-up is significantly less than half the story with Glasto, and I should really have known better because the weekend is one of the best times I have ever had with my pants on. The loss of U2 was, for me, a bonus, as it gave me the chance to see a headliner this year, as I have little desire to see Muse or Stevie. But I get ahead of myself.


Myself and My Companion, a tall, languid man of no fixed abode and no fixed connection to reality, arrive just as Jermaine Defoe nods England in front against Slovenia. We waste no time in dropping all our gear and sitting down to watch England labour to a glorious 1-0 victory over a country ranked a titanic 17 places below them in the world rankings. Fortunately, picking a campsite is significantly less stressful than the preceding two hours: a friend is camped up in the caravan park, and so we high-tail it that way to find a whole new world. It may involve the sort of walk that normally needs sherpas, but camping up there is excellent: quiet, calm and handy for grabbing those too-few hours of sleep.

The rest of the evening is spent wandering and wondering around the site, looking at the weird and wonderful display of humanity that has assembled for the world’s greatest festival. A man on stilts dressed as a giraffe struts past, and the odd early festival casualty lies prostrate in the bushes. We find a place called The Front Room, where two men with a trumpet and a piano play covers of popular swing and early rock ‘n’ roll numbers to a small crowd sat on sofas. Part way through their set, a passing brass ensemble arrives and joins in the fun. This is the sort of thing that could only happen at Glastonbury.

We retreat to the comparative calm of the hill and overlook the site, surely one of the greatest views on earth. Then we down an unhealthy amount of cider, dance like morons and head to bed.


A brief detraction about cider: for the past few years at Glastonbury, the Brothers Bar has been setup next to the Jazzworld Stage (now re-christened the West Holts Stage). It acts like an idiot magnet, sometimes drawing a bigger crowd than some of the stages, and for the life of me I cannot understand why. Brothers cider tastes like piss, and there is a ridiculous array of novelty ciders on sale, including Toffee Apple Cider. It’s cider for children, people who want a cheap, high-alcohol content novelty. It’s the drinking equivalent of the Creme Egg: too sweet and essentially a once-a-year novelty. This year I frequent the Cider Bus by the main stage, which serves real cider. Yes, it costs a bit more, but you get what you pay for. On the last night, I also try the brilliantly named Soapdodger cider from Glastonbury Ales. This is real cider. To all of you at theBrothers Bar: fuck off back to nursery. Rant over.


Today begins with the predictable hangover, the predictable bacon sandwich and the less predictable blazing sunshine. I am not used to this. Not since 2003 can I remember it being this sunny. I glance at my wellies and mentally reassure myself that it was worth lugging them here, as it is bound to hammer down sooner or later. After lying around at our tent for a while (who knew you could make a decent cup of coffee in a caravan kitchen?!) we shift back onto the site and trawl blearily through the circus fields, watching people juggle, bend, balance and generally distort reality. We also watch some music played by people with instruments made of rubbish. It sounds rubbish.

Walking in the Greenfields is the usual experience: a heady mix of people making stuff out of wood and fabric, and a field full of people making insanely unsupported claims about the healing properties of crystals, divining and glasses of water. We stop to play draughts on a board made of wood and tiles, and My Companion beats me to win the coveted trophy (a stick with the words “I am the winner!” emblazoned on it in permanent marker by the girl at the stand) before we buy a plate of Moroccan food and stroll off.

The evening is an equally wonderful experience. We watch My Luminaries, who play to an increasingly large crowd at The Queen’s Head stage. They are good, solid indie rock: nothing that completely changes my world view, but a brilliant way to pass the time. The crowd swells throughout the set in anticipation of the upcoming performance from Two Door Cinema Club. By the time the band take to the stage, the tent could easily be filled twice over. The jangly indie pop described in my review of a few weeks ago is present here and this is a perfect setting, as festival-goers pogo with the wild abandon of the truly euphorically pissed. This band are arriving big time.

The evening is spent bouncing from party to party before getting what passes for an early night at Glastonbury (about 1am) in preparation for the following day of music, about which I am nearly too excited to sleep. The cider soon sorts that out.


Waking in a hot tent is up there in my top ten least favourite experiences. It is sweaty, it is smelly, it is disgusting. It makes you uncomfortably aware of the fact that you are at the mercy of the weather at Glastonbury, whether it is hot or wet. I already feel more disheveled than I have at the end of entire festivals in the past: the heat is debilitating and, although wet wipes are good, they’re not that good.

We make the executive decision to avoid Rolf Harris, as I am of the firm opinion that there is a finite amount of irony in the world, and it would be a shame to waste it. Instead we pop up to the Croissant Neuf, a stage entirely powered by the sun, and watch the brilliantly entertaining Biggles Wartime Band, who perform a set of West Country and Western music, interspersed with jokes that Carry On writers would be proud of. At one point they bring a giant papier maché sturgeon onto the stage for a guest slot. They then break the world record for most consecutive fish puns. This is a much better use of irony. Next up we drop into The Front Room again and find one of those magical moments that could only happen here: a semi-impromptu performance from Katie Maddocks and Raevennan Husbandes: two young ladies who play a set under their adopted moniker for the weekend: The Lovely Girls. without wishing this to sound patronising, it’s a well chosen name, as they do sound lovely. Sharing a guitar, the set comprises their own material and a few well chosen covers, including a magical acoustic rendering of the Sugababes About You Now. I had never realised what a great tune this was until this weekend. Check these two out, I promise it will be worth it.

A hasty breakfast of fruit later, we find ourselves at the Avalon stage to see Gabby Young and Other Animals. I first saw Gabby a few years back, supporting Al Stewart and she was excellent, so I’m full of anticipation. Unfortunately, it does not quite live up to this. Gabby has decided that a suitable use of her time is to paint herself up like a kabuki performer and the music seems to have lost a lot of the charm that initially attracted me to her. It’s still good, but I feel that comparisons to Bat for Lashes are going to come thick and fast if this is your chosen onstage persona. We leave and head for Willie Nelson. This is a man who needs no introduction. The word legend is used far too casually these days, and should be reclaimed for moments like this. As none of Willie’s songs are more than three minutes long, he seems to play about a million of them, and at one point I worry that the organisers will have no option but to cut him off mid-set; as he seems to move from one tune to another without hardly taking a breath. It is incredible stuff though, and Willie treats us to all his classics, including magical versions of Funny How Time Slips Away and Always on My Mind. This is a perfect afternoon set, pitched accurately at diehard fans and Radio 2 listeners clustered around at the Pyramid Stage awaiting the headliners.

Next up, French indie poppers Phoenix serve up a set on The Other Stage, which reminds me why indie is my first and truest love. Early evening sets in the sun at festivals ought to make you dance, even if your knowledge of the band’s material is patchy. Phoenix fulfill this brief perfectly. As does the evening’s next star: Snoop Dogg. Mr Dogg has had his troubles entering our fine nation in the past, but all this is clearly behind him now. He is masterful, the crowd are like crumbly hash in his hands. The set features enough of his classic hits to please the crowd, as well as some guests and some sage advice. We are left in no doubt about three things. Firstly, we know exactly what his name is. Secondly, we are more than aware that he enjoys the odd jazz cigarette. Thirdly, Noel Gallagher was wrong and arrogant to say that hip hop had no place at Glastonbury.

Next, our weary limbs carry us to the John Peel Stage for a performance by Mumford and Sons. These guys are a classic Peel Stage band: not that big when they were booked, they’ve since gone interstellar and the tent is packed. Who knew that Irish folk music could take over the world this way? Their set is immense, with the tunes so ingrained in the mind of every music fan in this land that half the time you can’t hear the band over the shouting of the audience. They bring out a couple of new tunes which suggest that their next album will be more of the same, and who could blame them? It’s a stupendous performance, brimming with confidence and tunes.

What follows Mumford is possibly one of the greatest moments of the weekend. We head to The Park for a Special Guest slot. Unless you have been living under a rock this weekend, you will remember that this guest was in fact Thom Yorke, from the little-known band Radiohead. Thom plays a few of his own tracks, including a fabulous rendering of Black Swan, to wild applause. Then he casually announces the arrival of Johnny Greenwood from that aforementioned little band. The place goes mental. At the 40th anniversary festival, it would be wrong if Radiohead weren’t represented, and they make their presence felt with pared down versions of Weird Fishes / Arpeggi, Pyramid SongIdioteque and a closing combination of Karma Police and, after the crowd nearly riots for one more, Street Spirit. These moments go down in history, and it is easy to see why. The crowd screams itself hoarse, retaining just enough vocal capacity to leave the stage singing the refrain from Karma Police.

If you had read only the reviews of Gorillaz from a popular broadsheet newspaper that I shall not name, you would be convinced we’d all left unsatisfied and depressed. You would be wrong. Their set is immense from start to finish. It’s groundbreaking to see that much talent assembled in one place, and each new guest star is greeted with rapturous cheering. The initial disappointment of thinking Snoop has replaced himself with a video (oh how we looked back on that moment two hours later...) is soon overwhelmed as Bobby Womack,Kano, Lou Reed, Shaun Rider, Little Dragon, De La Soul and more join Damon onstage to perform material from all three albums. Although the tracks from Demon Days are still by far and away the most accomplished, this set crams in classics from start to finish. The more mellow moments provide relief from the more frantic ones, and the visit from a Syrian instrumental troupe feels a tad cheesy, but is nevertheless just a short moment of inconsistency in a set that, although it perhaps lacks continuity, has a quality running though it that cannot be questioned. The main gripe about it from some seems to be that it wasn’t a “proper” Friday night headline slot. It was. It may have been slightly more for music geeks than casual fans of listening to a few tunes but, speaking as a music geek, this is no bad thing. Snoop Dogg returning in person at the end is the icing on a truly scrumptious cake. Congratulations Damon, you deserve your record as the first man to perform consecutive headline slots.

Part 2
and Part 3 are here...

Monday, 21 June 2010

David Karsten Daniels & Fight The Big Bull – I Mean to Live Here Still

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Released on 21st June, through Fat Cat Records

This is the sixth album to bear David Karsten Daniels’ name. And it’s a name that has become synonymous with lazy reviewing words like “underground” and “cult”. He has the air about him of a mysterious and enigmatic yet alluring singer songwriter, born straight from the same mould as Micah P Hinson. And this, of course, is no bad thing.

It would be very easy at this point to make a further lazy reviewing comment about this record sounding like Fleet Foxes as re-imagined by Mumford and Sons and then to go and have a beer. This would not, however, even begin to do justice to what is, at its core, an intriguing and multi-faceted record. It is no understatement to say that there is a bit of almost everything here: Cajun, Balkan, folk… if CSNY had decided to go inter-railing around Europe, it would have ended up sounding a bit like this.

Before getting to the serious discussion of individual tracks, it’s worth mentioning that Fight The Big Bull are a nine-piece ensemble from Virginia. From the sound of this record, they seem to play everything. A quick visit to the photos page on their website seems to add weight to this theory. The band are pictured playing almost every musical instrument known to man, and many of the photos are taken in the kind of club that we all wish we were cool enough to get into.

Listening to this record for the first time, there is one track that instantly leaps out and refuses to go by without mention: the utterly charming Through All the Fates. This song combines a superb rolling guitar track, with some glorious harmonising and some great brass accompaniment. It is by a long chalk, the most instantly hummable track here present.

Other honourable mentions should go to the eventually-bombastic Die and Be Buried. In a parallel universe, this track is the theme song of the 23rd Bond movie, in which James has decided to move to the country and keep some sheep. Starting with a brooding overture, the track seems to break down beyond repair, before crashing back in with a fabulous second act.

Elsewhere, The Funeral Bell is a great piece of folk music, and The Salmon Brook manages to recover from an interminably pointless drum intro to end with two and a half minutes of twinkling instrumental that manages to sound like… well… a salmon brook.

Throughout the ten tracks, this album has moments of brilliance and some generally lovely touches. Although occasionally it verges on getting a bit overly free-form and sometimes risks becoming “noodley”, it always stays on the right side of this very dangerous line, stepping across perhaps once on the eight-minute Each Summer Sound. This is a record that I am sure will find a place in the hearts of anyone who loved the aforementioned Fleet Foxes, but there’s a whole other layer here. The multiple instruments mix the talents of David’s backing band with his own talent for composition and the results are frequently awe-inspiring. Go forth and buy this record, one day you will find yourself with a music snob that you need to impress. And he (or she… probably he) will be impressed. I guarantee this to you.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Drums - The Drums

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Released 6th June on Moshi Moshi

I like to think of myself as a person who is completely immune to hype. I’m not. No one is. So, when The Angel Gabriel himself arrived at Gobshout Towers on a flaming chariot, bearing a copy of The Drums' debut long-player, it was only natural that my heart rate went up a little. And with good reason: The Drums have been tipped as this year’s hottest band by just about everyone from the BBC to the NME and every acronym in between. Respected contemporary music commentator Boy George said they were like The Smiths. And he should know.

The Drums are a four-piece from New York, and Wikipedia informs me that they formed from the smoking remnants of the superlatively named Goat Explosion. Their background is largely in making electronic music and, although the synthesisers have been largely cast aside for this new band, their influence is all over this record. The racing rhythm tracks on songs like recent single Forever and Ever, Amen sound as though they could have been created for a loop-obsessed Hot Chip tribute band. This impression is exacerbated by the fact that it very often sounds as though drummer Connor Hardwick is in fact a drum machine: so overly produced is the drum track. Ironic really, considering the band name.

There’s certainly a lot to love about this record, or at the very least there’s a lot on which to build a solid platonic relationship that occasionally goes a bit further after a couple of glasses of cheap wine. So many of the songs sound thoroughly jaunty, and there’s a summer swagger to proceedings that makes me think this record might just be the one that your friend who bothered to bring speakers for his iPod will play when you’re all in the park on a Saturday. This effect is nowhere stronger than on Skippin’ Town, a sparky pop number that manages to survive the indignity of having fairly naff lyrics. Other highlights of this record include the aforementioned Forever and Ever, Amen and the cheery-yet-dreary I’ll Never Drop My Sword.

A curious inclusion on the record that deserves a paragraph all to itself is the brooding Down by the Water. It almost seems a little out of place, as it plods and lumbers along with all the urgency of a lovesick cow. It also contains some fairly atrocious lyrics (“Everybody’s gotta love someone / But I just wanna love you dear”) and it seems to be strategically placed to provide a change of pace at the beginning of side two (for those of you who still think of records that way). A seemingly random inclusion, but one that shows a potential for some range nevertheless. More on that later. Special mention should also go to It Will All End in Tears, which sees the band plunder Peter Hook’s oeuvre and come up with perhaps the only Joy Division bassline that Joy Division didn’t write.

In all, this is a solid debut, but there are just a couple of things that spoil the party for me. The first is the mattress of reverb (I’m patenting that expression, hands off) that smothers the whole record. The effect is to make the band sound as though they’re playing at the other end of a particularly lengthy plastic drainpipe. There’s nothing “crisp” on this album, no bite or attack to be found anywhere, which is a shame really. Secondly, there’s the lyrics, which are frequently embarrassingly obvious and occasionally a bit trite. I feel that comparisons to The Smiths should be put straight to bed the minute that Jonathan Pierce croons “Would you like to go with me / Honey, take a run down to the beach”. Sorry Boy George, but I respectfully disagree. I’ll stick with “For there are brighter sides to life / And I should know because I’ve seen them / but not very often”.

But my main issue with this album can be summed up as follows: this is what it sounds like when electronic bands make guitar music. There’s not a great deal of variation; many of the tracks are indistinguishable from one another for the first few listens, and the vague familiarity of the singles is the only initial landmark on the journey from start to finish.

There’s certainly nothing desperately wrong with this record, it’s a solid debut, as I said. But somehow I’m left slightly unsatisfied by the whole experience. This is frustrating, as there could have been slightly more made of this. The uniformity of the record is a bit of a trial, and it ultimately ends up grating; but that’s not to say that at points, it’s not a worthy addition to the canon of 21st century summer soundtracks.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Suburbs / Month of May - Arcade Fire

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Make no mistake. This is not only the most important record of this year so far, but also the most important sound produced anywhere in the world so far this year. The build-up to this “release” has been fevered, with the band preferring to casually drop snippets of information on their parched fans, seemingly at random. The announcement that a new single would be available on 12” only whet the appetite nicely. Then at the end of last week, there was the bizarre play-it-yourself segment on their website; a nice little touch, if slightly infuriating.

Then, late last night, it started to filter through that some of the aforementioned vinyl had leaked into the world. Anyone listening to Zane Lowe will have heard him play both tracks. Twice. The tracks have also turned up online. I am not entirely sure how legal it is, but our American cousins can pre-order the album and receive instant downloads of both tracks.

The first track, Suburbs, has just a hint of Beach Boys about it, and it’s evident that the classic Arcade Firesound is somewhat stripped back to basics. The key ingredients are still here, with the dark lyrics about suburban unrest and the urge to break out all present and correct. “Grab your mother’s keys, we’re leaving” drawls Win Butler as early as the third line, and instantly the old familiar thrill of Tunnels and Power Out is back. The new and yet strangely familiar sound makes you feel instantly at home and excited to be back in the present of the world’s best band.

As a contrast, Month of May is much louder, much more bombastic. A louder, fuller band sound crashes over a churning guitar riff, with Win counting in and then proceeding to strain his voice in the way that we all came to love, whilst marvelling at how his vocal cords stood up to it. The brilliant repeated coda makes me wonder just how I will survive until August 2nd, when the full banquet will commence. Until then however, this is a bloody fine aperitif.

Two Door Cinema Club @ Heaven - 27th May 2010

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

I think if I were allowed to live my life over again, there's probably one job I'd take above all others. I'd want to be the guy who puts together the montages at the end of TV coverage of major football games. If I had this job, I'd be kicking back with a can of Red Stripe right about now and laughing, just because the music for this summer's crop of World Cup montages would already be sorted. Two Door Cinema Club have enough catchy, jangly indie licks to backdrop every game.

Last night was a bit of a risk, initially, as I had taken the ticket off a friend without ever having heard a note of this band's material. This is so often a sensible plan, and tonight proves no exception. Looking like Josh Homme’s preposterously well groomed younger brother, frontman Alex Trimble runs through the set with an easy swagger, but with none of the lads-n-lager air that seems to pervade so much jangly indie. Backed by a sharp pairing of rhythm guitar and a bassist who looks sort of like that guy you went to Uni with, they’re a tight ship. A ship that does not spring a leak, even when the keyboard and synthesizer arrangement takes an accidental battering midway through the set.

The hour-long set breezes by and the kids (I am now allowed to use this phrase without irony, having reached the grand old age of 27) go mental throughout. Every repeated line is sung back to the band with gusto, and it is clear from minute one that this band have a brilliantly enjoyable summer ahead of them, with a slew of festival appearances. I suspect that they will garner many new fans and friends on the way round.