Gig review – Robyn Hitchcock/Kat Healy

Robyn Hitchcock/Kat Healy

Edinburgh Electric Circus, October 19

By her own admission, Kat Healy does a lot of songs about boys and the wather. ‘Also revenge songs,’ she tells us. Though singer-songwriters can often struggle as a support act, Ms. Healy benefits from the fact that a) the crowd are actually polite and receptive and b) she is very good at what she does. Songs like ‘Hey Mr. Weatherman,’ ‘No Heroes’ and ‘Sweet November’ show her to be more than just another singer-songwriter.

I’ve long admired Robyn Hitchcock on record, both solo and as a member of the Soft Boys, but tonight was the first time I’ve been privileged to see him live. In the environs of the Electric Circus, it feels intimate and yet even with just him and an acoustic guitar, he absolutely fills the place, and I don’t mean the fact it’s a very busy night.

He tears straight into ‘In The Abyss’ and ‘Wreck Of The Arthur Lee’ before telling us that ‘it’s great to be back here…in the crucible of the Incredible String Band.’

Not only is he a fantastic musician and songwriter, but he also knows how to make the audience laugh with him. Even if I pity the long-suffering soundman tonight with all of Mr. Hitchcock’s stage directions. ‘Joe,’ he announced. ‘For this one I’m going to count down from 5 – I’ll presumably stop at 1 – and at that point it’s just my guitar. . . do you have stereo? Brilliant… I want to fill their minds with geeeetarrr, so pan it around, back and forth, so it…’ [gesturing to the audience] ‘…FLOSSES THEIR BRAINS…’ (with thanks to my quick thinking friend Jared who managed to get all that down. That was just one example of many.)

With a career now taking in four decades, he has not only a large back catalogue to choose from, but also a very unique style. ‘So we get songs like the excellent ‘My Wife and my Dead Wife:’

” My wife lies down in a chair
And peels a pear
I know she’s there
I’m making coffee for two
Just me and you
But I come back in with coffee for three
Coffee for three?
My dead wife sits in a chair
Combing her hair
I know she’s there
She wanders off to the bed
Shaking her head
“Robyn,” she said
“You know I don’t take sugar!”

(I had to share that with you in case you’ve never heard the song.)

So no, we don’t get ‘I Wanna Destroy You’ or ‘So You Think You’re In Love’ but when we get ‘Museum of Sex,’ The Soft Boys’ ‘Queen of Eyes and a first set that closes with ‘Tarantula,’ who’s complaining?

He also pulls of the feat of playing entirely cover versions of The Doors’ The Crystal Ship,’ Nick Drake’s ‘The Riverman,’ Syd Barrett’s ‘Dominoes’ and Bowie’s ‘Soul Love.’ In the hands of many, you could feel short-changed. In the presence of Robyn Hitchcock, you feel privileged.

****

Presenting…Prides

Prides

The rather fabulous synth-pop band Prides are Stewart Brock (piano, lead vocals), Callum Wiseman (guitar, piano, vocals) and Lewis Gardner (drums). |Formed last year, if the name sounds familiar to you, it may well be because they played the closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in the summer.

Comparisons might well be made with Future Islands and Chvrches – but on the evidence of the two tracks below, you should see (and hear) that Prides are most definitely following their own path.

‘Out Of The Blue’ is their latest single, just released this week:

The video for ‘Messiah’ (the song performed at the closing ceremony in Glasgow) from The Seeds You Sow EP, released earlier this year:

They’re out on tour in February 2015 and the tour dates in England and Scotland are as follows:

Thursday, 5 February – Ironworks, Inverness
Friday 6 February – Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
Saturday 7 February – Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh
Wednesday, 11 February– The Haunt, Brighton
Thursday, 12 February – Heaven, London
Friday, 13 February – Bodega, Nottingham
Saturday, 14 February – The Leadmill, Sheffield

Tickets go on sale TODAY from their website: do act quickly, though, as many shows on their present tour are sold out.

Album Review – Twilight Sad

Twilight Sad -’Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave.’ (Fat Cat)

Why oh why have the Twilight Sad still not yet broken through to the mainstream success that they so clearly deserve? You wonder if it galls them that former labelmates and tourmates Frightened Rabbit have signed to a major and have enjoyed a top ten album this year or that former bandmate Martin Docherty is now one-third of the hugely popular Chvrches.

Let us be clear about two things: this is not due in any way to their music or, indeed, reviews. There are many people out there who love the Twilight Sad just the way they are – and I am one of them.

The album opens with the impressive double-whammy of ‘There’s A Girl In The Corner’ and ‘Last January’; the two tracks that have been doing the rounds ahead of the album’s release for a few weeks now. And then, as the anthemic, bass-driven ‘I Could Give You All that You Don’t Want’ kicks in, it all becomes clear: this is an album that doesn’t let up, and holds it’s own to the final notes of the heartbreaking album closer ‘Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep.’

The band have talked of this album combining elements of their three previous studio albums, and I would agree. It may well be the most Twilight Sad any of their records have sounded without ever feeling that it’s going over old ground. Hopefully this will be the record that catapults them into the big time. And if it isn’t, that’s the fault of the listening public and not the band.

****

Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave is released by Fat Cat on October 27.

The return of Snide Rhythms

When I reviewed Snide Rhythms’ debut album a couple of years ago, I described them as ‘A joy to the ears, a delight for the feet and a treat you can gorge yourself on.’ Now I still stand by that comment, and I’m utterly delighted to announce their return!

The three track ‘Acid Alliteration’ (does that make it an EP or is it not an EP if the other two tracks are versions? Still not sure after a quarter of a century of buying music) is a welcome return, drenched in the acid sound of the 303 and I wish I could dance. Hell. No one’s watching. I will. It’s the sound of post-punk meets acid house and it’s as funky as hell. Bring it on.

****1/2

Snide Rhythms play the Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh on November 8. Stream the single above and click to buy via bandcamp.

Interview – We Were Promised Jetpacks

Jetpacks 2014

Having just released their third album, Unravelling, We Were promised Jetpacks are heading out on tour across America. Before they went, 17 Seconds caught up with guitarist Michael ‘Mike’ Palmer, to hear about being mates with the Twilight Sad, people getting married at their gigs, and how their dream collaboration is Dr. Dre…

17 Seconds: First things first, how the devil are you?

Mike: Pretty good! I have a few days off between tours and have decided to spend this time moving flats, so I lied just there about being pretty good for the sake of politeness.

17 Seconds: You’ve got a new member for this album, Stuart McGachan. How did you meet, and what prompted you to change the line-up after ten years?

Mike: He’s been our pal for years. Me and Adam [Thompson, singer and guitarist] were in primary school together and Stuart was in a different class in the same school year. Adam and Stuart’s parents live on the same street pretty much, so he’s been a pal since always. We decided we need to shake things up a little, so we got Stuart in because he’s good at playing keys. We’d been playing the same live show for years and were just starting to write the songs that are on Unravelling. So we felt that we needed someone who could play the keyboard parts from the first two records live. We also felt we could use another voice in the room when we’re writing to make sure we weren’t treading the same ground as before. Bringing in Stuart ended up solving both of those issues.

17 Seconds: You recorded Unravelling with Paul Savage at Chem 19, having used Sigur Ros’ studio for In The Pit Of The Stomach. What prompted you to work with him and how did it affect how you approached this album?

Mike: We knew we wanted to record in Scotland, at home, with regular hours. We didn’t want to lock ourselves somewhere far away and work 20 hour days like we have done in the past. We wanted to go in to the studio in the mornings, and work until a specific time, then go home to our girlfriends in our own homes. So, once we figured out we wanted to work in Scotland, it just made sense to work with Paul. He’s fantastic. We did a lot of pre-production work with our guy Andy Bush (our live engineer who we recorded In The Pit Of The Stomach with) so we had his input for a lot of the songs, so once we took on Paul’s input as well we felt really confident that the songs would work.

17 Seconds: The sleeve for Unravelling…are we meant to see something if we stare at it long enough – or is the joke on those of us trying to read too much into it?

Mike: You mean aside from the face? There’s a face in there that you’re supposed to see! Other than that there’s nothing extra. Other than the big face. [NB For the record, 17 Seconds can see the face. Just about.]

17 Seconds: In your early days you toured with Frightened Rabbit and Twilight Sad. Do you still see them -and what do you think of their recent albums?

Mike: We do! In fact, we’re taking the Twilight Sad on tour with us in America in a few days! We can’t wait. We love those guys. We’re a little nervous about playing after them to be honest, but it’ll be great fun. I love everything those bands have done. I’ve still not heard the newest twilight sad album actually [Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave]. You’d think that being on the same label would mean you get to hear it early, but I’ve still not. I’m thinking now I might wait and see the new songs fresh on the tour, or I might send James [Graham, the Twilight Sad's vocalist] an email and get him to send it to me. I haven’t decided yet. I bet it’s amazing though. [For the record, 17 Seconds has - and it is amazing.)

17 Seconds: What new acts have you heard recently that you would recommend people check out?

Mike: Pronto Mama and Man Of Moon. Both scottish bands. Man Of Moon haven't recorded anything yet so keep your ears peeled, but Pronto Mama have two bangin' eps out that you should definitely seek out. [for the record, these are Lickety Split and Niche Market, which you can check out via bandcamp.]

17 Seconds: What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you at a gig?

Mike: Hmmm. A couple got married during our LA show once, but we weren’t really aware of what was going on until afterwards. We had a run of shows where people kept coming onto the stage. It was seriously like five in a row or something. Why would you do that? They got kicked off right away, but it was still a little scary. What if they stand on a pedal or knock my drink over? That would be a nightmare!

17 Seconds: It’s now ten years since We Were Promised Jetpacks formed. What are you most proud of as a band in that time?

Mike: The old answer used to be playing Coachella. That was incredible. Then recently we headlined Webster Hall in New York which was our biggest ever headline show. Playing to that many people who had actually paid money to buy a ticket was special, but the new answer is Unravelling. Our new album is the thing we’re most proud of. I know that’s a shitty answer but you’re all just going to have to live with it.

17 Seconds: Who would be your dream collaboration, either to work with as individual members or as a whole band?

Mike: Dre. we’d like to have been on 2001, but it’s too late for that. Maybe he’ll do a guest verse on our next album. We’d have to ask him nicely enough and have a song about running away from the police or something, but that’s not out of the question, I suppose.

17 Seconds: Finally, what ambitions do you still have to fulfill as a band?

Mike: We’d like to keep doing this. We don’t have a bucket list of things to achieve, really. We just want to keep writing and playing with this band. It’s not polite to talk about money, but we’d like to have enough that we can keep doing this when we’re in our thirties and not be embarrassed to tell normal people that we get drunk on tour for a living. That’s it, really!

Unravelling is out now on Fat Cat.

Album Review – Andrew Montgomery

Andrew Montgomery -’Ruled By Dreams.’ (self-released via Bandcamp)

For whatever reason, although it’s Scotland’s third largest city, Aberdeen’s music scene has long suffered in terms of a lack of coverage compared to Glasgow or Edinburgh. One of the city’s most fondly remembered acts, however, are Geneva, and the number one reason Geneva are remembered is the voice of Andrew Montgomery.

It become a rather cliched observation, but the voice of that fine debut album, Further (which still retains a place on my vinyl shelves) and singles like ‘No One Speaks,’ ‘Into The Blue’ and their best song ‘Tranquilizer’ was a voice that reached to the heavens and was truly angelic. Then as now, compaisons could be made to Billy MacKenzie, and Antony Hegarty is not much of a stretch either.

Earlier this year, haviong been missing in action for a long time, he revealed his first solo track ‘After The Storm’ and it was a fantastic return to form. It opens the album here and is followed by two more excellent songs ‘Sorry Someday’ and ‘I Sing The Body Electric.’

So far, so good. The thing is that after this good start, the album then -after several listens – seems to just become rather average. On ‘Making Up For Lost Time’ the voice even becomes rather shrill.

It’s great to have him back and to hear that voice. I hope their will be further albums – but I also hope that the material is worthy of his voice on the next release.

***

Ruled By Dreams is out now.

Gig Review – Twilight Sad/Hidden Orchestra

Twilight Sad/Hidden Orchestra

Edinburgh Pleasance, October 9

On paper (or screen, for that matter) the pairing of these two acts might seem utterly bizarre and misguided. Yet the two sets we got this evening actually complemeneted each other extremely well.

Hidden Orchestra are a five-piece, instrumental act. Their atmospheric smokey grooves at times evoke Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack to Taxi Driver. Through in a mix of samples, jazzy trumpet and bass, and it feels like a soundtrack to a film that has yet to be made. Described by wiki as an electronic jazz collective, the muso, beardstroking nightmare that that throws up shouldn’t put you off checking out these guys (and gal).

Tonight’s gig is sold out (thank God for free tickets for humble reviewers!), and there’s an understandable sense of anticipation in the air. Twilight Sad are shortly to release their fourth album Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave and those in the know are getting extremely excited. The set is a more stripped-back set as a three-piece (not an acoustic set), and even for those of us more used to seeing them at ear-melting level, the set they turn in is pretty special.

Because the album is yet to hit the shops, we get a mixture of new songs and what might be turned a greatest hits set from the boys. So as well as the likes of the title track of their latest and ‘It Was Never The Same’ we also get the likes of ‘I Became A Prostitute,’ ‘That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy’ (the first song they ever wrote for the band), and now classics like ‘Sick’ and ‘the Wrong Car.’

Self-effacing banter included, the intimacy of this show is something to savour. Having been privileged to hear the new album, it combines all the best bits of their previous three albums, much like tonight’s show and points us, excitingly, to what promises to be an even brighter future.

The return of David Bowie

At the start of 2013, David Bowie announced on his 66th Birthday that he would be releasing his first album in ten years, The Next Day, shortly. And he did. It was a terrific ‘comeback’ not least because it was assumed that he had, finally, retired, albeit quietly. There have been rumours ever since that there would be another studio album. Whether this materialises or not, he has announced another greatest hits style compilation, Nothing Has Changed, which runs in reverse chronological order and goes back beyond ‘Space Oddity’ to 1964′s ‘Liza Jane.’

The tracklisting can be found here. THe irony in the title is implicit: so much has changed in the last fifty years and Bowie has reinvented himself, mostly successfully, in that time more than even Madonna.

There’s one new track ‘Sue (or In A Season Of Crime).’ It’s a collaboration with New York’s Maria Schneider Orchestra, and it sees Bowie go jazz. Not, thankfully, in a hideous Michael Buble/Jamie Callum style way, but instead, this is Jazz that evokes the music at it’s most unsettling, late night, film-nor. Think Bernard Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver and you’re getting close.

In a funny way, it’s as unsettling and dramatic as the second side of Low. Like much of that album, it’s unlikely ever (I hope) to be sung at karaoke. But it is one of the most startling pieces of music you will hear this year. And it’s not out until November 17, so you will have to make do with radio rips for now. It shouldn’t stop you being able to marvel at it.

Album Review – Siouxsie and the Banshees (re-issues)

cale_siouxsie

Above, Siouxsie Sioux with producer John Cale, circa 1994.

Siouxsie and the Banshees -’Through The Looking Glass’/'Peepshow’/'Superstition’/'The Rapture’ (Polydor)

These four re-issues mark the final four Siouxsie and the Banshees albums (eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh studio albums, if you’re counting). Released between 1987 and 1995, they came more than a decade after what was intended to be a one-off performance at the 100 Club in 1976. (Their line-up that night included Sid Vicious on drums and future Ant Marco Pirroni on guitar.) Bassist Steve Severin and Siouxsie Sioux would be the only constant members during the band’s lifetime, though drummer Budgie joined the group permanently in late 1979. They would become one of the most vital groups of the next few decades.

Through The Looking Glass was an album of cover versions released in 1987, with the band paying tribute to but also arranging the songs within in a striking way, that means that this album (coincidentally, one of the first records I ever owned, aged ten) has dated extremely well. Sioux and Severin had met at a Roxy Music concert in the mid-seventies, and so it’s fitting that Roxy’s ‘Sea Breezes’ appears here. The big hit was their cover of Dylan’s ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ which had been popularised by Julie Driscoll. Perhaps most striking, even now, are the arrangements of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, with its New Orleans’ Jazz feel, and the brass added to their interpretation of Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’ which took the song to some place entirely different. Amongst the bonus tracks included here are a version of The Modern Lovers’ ‘She Cracked (Which makes you wonder what other songs may have been recorded for the project) and the longtime missing in action single ‘From The Edge Of The World’ which was released before the band started work on their next album. I do have fond memories of my Parents banging on the wall early one morning when I first put the version of ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ rather too loudly. (****)

The following year saw the release of Peepshow. The line-up had changed again, with John Valentine Carruthers being replaced by guitarist Jon Klein and the addition of multi-instrumentalist Martin McCarrick, who had played on Through The Looking Glass, and would later join Therapy?. For my money, this is actually the finest album that the Banshees ever released. Kicking off with the top twenty single ‘Peek-A-Boo’ the album gives free reign to utterly brilliant songs and arrangements which show that ten years after their first single and album, the band were firing on all cylinders. If the aim of Through The Looking Glass had been to rejuvenate them, then it more than succeeded. As well as the two other singles taken from the album ‘The Killing Jar’ and ‘The Last Beat Of My Heart’ the album featured album tracks amongst the finest of their career, including ‘Scarecrow’ ‘Ornaments Of Gold’ and ‘Scarecrow.’ Amongst the b-sides here is a beautiful version of ‘Last Beat Of My Heart’ recorded at the inaugural Lollapalooza tour in 1991. If you only own one Siouxsie and the Banshees studio album (Which is a pretty odd decision to make in my book), it really should be this one. (*****)

1991′s Superstition again opens with one of the band’s best known singles ‘Kiss Them For Me.’ It was a proper chart hit in both the US and UK, and featured a then unknown Tabla player named Talvin Singh. It was a great start to the album, but what dates this album – one of the lesser-rated albums in the Banshees canon, is the production work of Stephen Hague. Hague had worked with the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and New Order and so whilst able to bring leftfield acts to daytime radio, it really doesn’t seem to work well over the course of an entire album. That said, Sioux’s voice still sounded as good as ever, the line-up had held strong for another album, and the songs remain strong. It just feels a little more muted than a Siouxsie and the Banshees album really should. This re-issue features ‘Face To Face’ as one of the bonus tracks, yet another UK Top 40 single, which featured on the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns at Burton’s personal request. (***1/2).

The band’s final album, The Rapture was released in 1995. Mostly produced by the band, with production by John Cale on a handful of tracks it showed the band, nearly twenty years since their inception were still able to combine the ability to experiment with writing excellent songs. Though ‘O Baby’ sounds most unlike a Banshees song as anyone knew them, they’d proved by this time that they were still capable of surprising and challenging people with whatever it was they thought the Banshees were supposed to sound like. It’s not typical of the album as a whole, which features sublime title track clocking in at over eleven minutes long. Whilst it seems unlikely that the band conceived it as their swansong, it was not a bad place to finish a career that had begun almost by accident nearly twenty years previously. (****)

Within a few months, the band called it a day. They were dropped by Polydor who they’d been signed to the entirety of their career, and ex-Psychedelic Furs guitarist Knox Chandler replaced Jon Klein for the tour. Their split in 1996 coincided with the Sex Pistols announcing they were reforming. Whether this was chance or design, the Banshees gave the impression that they’d done it all on their own term from start to finish. Even their brief reformation tour in 2002 was not a rehash of the greatest hits but rather, the opportunity to revisit what they chose. Sioux remains one of the most strikingly individual performers ever, influencing artists as diverse as Morrissey, Tricky, PJ Harvey and Ana Matronic. There are those who would tell you that the period covered by these re-issues was a time when the band had long ceased to be relevant.

Ignore them. One listen to each of these re-issues (though I sincerely hope you’ll take many more) shows just how compelling Siouxsie and the Banshees remained from start to finish.

Through The Looking Glass, Peepshow, Superstition and The Rapture are re-issued by Polydor/UMC on October 27.

The performance that truly got me into the band as a ten year old – Top Of The Pops, January 1987.

18 months later, the band (with revised line-up) are back on Top Of The Pops, for a performance of ‘Peek-A-Boo’ that also mixes in the video (this wasn’t actually uncommon).

Mid 1991, the band appear on Top Of The Pops with a young Talvin Singh for yet another hit with ‘Kiss Them For Me.’

Their final top 40 hit ‘O Baby.’ This video is quite typical of what ‘Alternative’ music videos looked like circa 1995…

Album Review – Madness (re-issue)

Madness One Step Beyond

Madness -’One Step Beyond.’ (Salvo)

‘Hey You! Don’t Watch That Watch This!’

1979 is a serious contender for the greatest year in pop music EVER.

Frankly, it had to be. The world was going to hell in a handbasket. What with Russian invasions, hijackings, bombings, the winter of discontent and then the election of the Thatcher government in Britain, the rise of the far right… it was not a good time to be alive (thankfully, much of this bypassed me as a three year old. Others were not so lucky).

The soundtrack however was utterly fantastic. And Madness’ debut was part of the brilliance of that year (the list of great records for that year really is too long, but to single out three others, let’s say Talking Heads, Marianne Faithfull and PIL). Formed in London in 1976, the band’s debut kicks off with the fantastic sound of the call to arms that is the title track, with that quote, and a number of singles that hyave truly stood the test of time, such as their debut ‘The Prince’ (re-recorded here, it had originally appeared on The Specials’ 2-Tone label, and the band saw themselves in competition with Coventry’s finest), ‘Night Boat To Cairo’ and ‘My Girl.’ The latter truly ranks only behind Squeeze’s ‘Up the Junction’ as contender for ultimate British Bittersweet Lovesong.

It’s not just the singles that make the album such an essential piece of British pop. Those who saw them as being heirs to The Kinks were right on the money – with the creepy protagonist of ‘Mummy’s Boy’ with seriously impure thoughts or the newspaper with a penchant for stealing lingerie ‘In The Middle Of the Night.’

The reality is that this is a classic debut album, which holds its own among the list of the best ever debuts, and was a fantastic introduction to the band. Interestingly, it was the first time that producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley worked together (they would later work with Morrissey, Elvis Costello and the great lost Scottish band Digs Die In Hot Cars). The second part of the first disc also features a rehearsal tape from 1979 before the band were signed. Not surprisingly, sound quality is uh, ‘variable’ but it’s a fascinating document of how the band evolved. Added to the package is a DVD with music videos, live performances from The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top Of The Pops, and the 2000 BBC documentary Young Guns.

All in all, a great debt album and a re-issue package that should serve as a reminder for how these projects should be approached.

****1/2

One Step Beyond is re-released by Salvo on October 13.