Interview – Miles Hunt

In which 17 Seconds hears about why Miles Hunt is The Custodian…

When I catch up with Miles Hunt over the ‘phone at his home in Shropshire, he’s not long returned from London. ‘I have a rule about London,’ he tells me. It transpires that it’s not about bacchanalian excess, but a far more necessary concern for any musician in the second decade of the twenty-first century. ‘Coming back with more money in me pocket than I went away with!’ As someone who feels that trips to the Big Smoke end up with me haemorrhaging money, I can sympathise.

He and his partner, Erica Nockalls, are working towards a new Wonder Stuff album, which will be due out next year. But for now, he’s talking about his new album, The Custodian. Given that some people’s solo albums have so many co-writers and collaborators it makes a mockery of the concept, this is the real deal. It’s just Miles and his acoustic guitar. Though another person’s input that is central to the thirty song project is none other than the legendary Tom Robinson.

Miles describes Tom Robinson as a ‘sweet man,’ who’s been in his life since he was eleven or twelve (his tells me his Dad used to take him to Tom Robinson band gigs in the late seventies). In the late nineties, a conversation between Messrs Robinson and Hunt in New York City led to Tom Robinson asking Miles ‘Who do you think owns your songs now?’ The publishers…or me? suggested Miles. But Tom Robinson’s answer changed his approach. He reminded Miles that his songs now belonged to his audience. With the songs out there in the world, it was Miles’ job to see that the songs he had written were treated and performed with respect.

‘You’re in the very privileged position of performing part of the soundtrack of their lives,’ explains Miles, now. The album was recorded over the course six weeks. ‘It starts with the very first song I ever wrote, which amazingly I can still remember, ‘Speakeasy.’ ‘ It finishes with a brand new song called ‘Custodian’ which looks at the Tom Robinson idea. So few albums have ever ended so…neatly.

The Wonder Stuff were described as being part of the Stourbridge scene, which also included Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. All three bands came from the indie scene but in the late eighties and early nineties made enough of a splash that they made the journey to Top Of The Pops and Smash Hits (I should know, I was reading it. the latter magazine once said he was really nice, and he is!). Pre-stardom, he’d played in a band with members of the Poppies (as they were affectionately known), though he wasn’t actually from Stourbridge himself. ‘Pop Will Eat Itself were incredibly helpful to [The Wonder Stuff],’ he says, generously, citing examples of how the former passed on contacts of places they played beyond the Midlands and encouraging listeners to Janice Long’s show (then on Radio 1) to check out the new singles from the Stuffies.

The second half of the eighties saw the Wonder Stuff sign with Polydor, with whom they released four albums between 1988 and 1993: The Eight Legged Groove Machine; Hup; Never Loved Elvis and Construction For The Modern Idiot. While the first two albums did well, it was ...Elvis which saw the band move up a step or two with top ten hits and stadium gigs in the UK. How did he handle stardom?

‘I wouldn’t say I was handling stardom,’ he says, thoughtfully. ‘I had this idea that I should be on-duty and off-duty. As far as audiences are concerned there is no off duty.’ ‘Size Of A Cow’ became a top ten hit, and the band worked on their biggest record yet with producer Mick Glossop. Glossop had been bought in because Polydor wanted a different producer, and because of his work on The Waterboys’ This Is The Sea as well as a variety of punk albums. Around this time, the band also found themselves reaching no.1 in the singles chart, when they backed Vic Rooves on his cover of Tommy Roe’s 1969 single ‘Dizzy.’

‘What I got out of the [‘Dizzy] experience was making two really good friends,’ he says of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. ‘I’d never heard the song!’ Another person he met around the same time was the legendary Kirsty MacColl. He recalls meeting her at the Townhouse Studio one night when they were both drunk. MacColl was working with her husband Steve Lillywhite on the Electric Landlady album.While Hunt exclaimed ‘You’re Kirsty MacColl!’ she replied that yes, she was, and who the fuck was he? But Glossop played her a rough mix of the track ‘Welcome To The Cheap Seats’ and within a week MacColl had added her vocal. The single went on to be another top ten hit for the Stuffies.

The fourth album, Construction For The Modern Idiot was released in 1993. It wasn’t the best period for him. Some of the tracks on the album he views poorly, singly out ‘Cabin Fever’ and ‘I Wish Them All Dead.’ Of the latter he describes it as a ‘lazy re-working of ‘A Size Of A Cow.’ By his own admission, at the time he wasn’t in a place where he wanted to write. He’d just married Radio 1 DJ Mary Ann Hobbes and was ‘happier with home life than with band life.’ Looking back he tells me ‘I think we chose all the wrong tracks to put on the album.’ I mention how strong b-sides like ‘I Think I Must’ve Had Something Really Useful To Say’ and ‘Room 512, All The News That’s Fit To Print’ are. They’re both on The Custodian. ‘The suspicion that we’d chosen the wrong tracks [to put on the Construction For The Modern Idiot album] was confirmed.”

The version of ‘On The Ropes’ is possibly the finest performance on the album, and takes what was already an excellent song (and was yet another top ten hit for the band) and takes it some place else. If you were going to only listen to one track on the album, well, you’d be a fool, but it would be a good choice. I ask him how the song came about.

“It came about after listening to ‘Ghosts’ by The Jam,’ he reveals (the song is one of the finest things Paul Weller has ever recorded, and can be found on their final studio album, The Gift).

A friend of a friend asked me to ask him why it often appears second in the set list. He’s very happy to explain.

‘If we’ve opened with ‘Redberry Joy Town [the opening track on their debut album], it’s got lots of space in it. It allows our sound engineer to adjust to the audience being in. I like songs one, two, three to go bang! bang! bang! Instrumentationwise, it’s the same as Redberry Joy Town.’

Reflecting on his role as the custodian, he concludes: ‘These songs have been in people’s lives for so many years. Nowadays you’re like ‘I can hear the audience more than I can hear us!’

 

Gig review – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson

Perth Concert Hall, October 13

It had seemed touch and go whether we would make this gig. So often, desperate as I was to take Mrs. 17 Seconds to her first Richard Thompson gig, it seemed like something was conspiring to stop us. Finally, we took our seats and, as ever, he did not disappoint.

Although billed as Richard Thompson, it was actually the Richard Thompson trio (with  a lot of help from Bobby the roadie on guitar). Whilst Thompson on his own with an acoustic guitar is pretty amazing, tonight was a reminded why one of the characters in the book of High Fidelity offers the view that he is England’s finest electric guitarist.

The reviews for 13 Rivers, his latest album have been very complimentary, and it’s clear that it’s going down as his best album for a decade, and maybe even in the 21st century. Whilst he jokes about playing a couple of new songs before playing the classics that we’ll have driven hundreds of miles for (well, Edinburgh, but y’know, it’s his only Scottish date), the live renditions of tracks from the new record like ‘The Rattle Within,’ ‘Bones Of Gilead’ and the still jaw-dropping ‘The Storm Within’ are delivered with a passion that shows these new entries to the Thompson songbook hold their own with the older entries. Live it’s amazing to watch just how much he can still rock. When people talk about Hendrix and Clapton, they should be paying attention to Thompson on that level.

His humour remains intact, he’s wry about the fact that it’s half a century of performing and he’s a genuinely funny guy. As with any Richard Thompson gig, there’s a whole heap of songs it would be nice if he played, but when the setlist includes the likes of ‘Wall Of Death, ‘ Dry My Tears And Move On,’ and Fairport Convention’s ‘Meet On The Ledge’ it would be silly to moan much. It’s mostly delivered as part of the band, but the solo renditions of ‘Beeswing’ and ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952’ are still a masterclass in both songwriting and performance.

When I interviewed him recently, he expressed his wish to spend his 70th birthday in a cave. He’s still got plenty of energy, but if you haven’t seen him live yet, take the opportunity to do so.

And best of all, was the point where Mrs. 17 Seconds looked at me and went: ‘I get it…’

EP review – Grand Champ 1990

Grand Champ 1990 -‘Pressure Points EP’ (self-released)

There was sadness around Edinburgh and further afield when Scott Longmuir called time on The Last Battle a couple of years ago. They’d produced two brilliant albums of folk rock and it seemed a shame that they would be no more.

But a few months ago, news emerged of a track called ‘Sayonara’ which had only Scott Longmuir in common with the Last Battle. Working solo, he’d taken the name Grand Champ 1990 (he was a youth karate champion), and it prefaced this five track EP. The folk tag has been well and truly shed, and instead it has more of an electronica vibe.

So the first thing to say is that while ‘Sayonara’ starts off this release, it isn’t the best track on this EP. That might well be the brooding electronica-meets-shoegaze of ‘Look For Me’ although it’s a strong release as a whole. Indeed, that first track may possibly be the weakest track, the others feel rather more polished. Additionally, while it has an electronica vibe, it also evokes eighties (and beyond) giants like New Order and Depeche Mode, the dancier side of indie. Indeed, ‘Photocopies’ has a bass line that evokes Peter Hook and vocally he has never sounded so much like Bernard Sumner.

Sure, he may be finding his feet with this release, but it’s a strong debut. His debut live appearance, meanwhile, suggests that there are more tunes in the bag, and I look forward to both more live and studio exploration with interest.

****

The self-released Pressure Points EP is out now.

 

Album Review – Miles Hunt

Miles Hunt – The Custodian (Good Deeds Records)

Miles Hunt’s new solo album came into being as a result of performing with one of his heroes, Tom Robinson. During the course of a conversation, Robinson put across the viewpoint that all the songs that Hunt has now written belong to his audience; that his job (as with any other songwriter) is to see that the songs are treated and performed with respect. It’s an interesting idea, and one that it’s easy to be sympathetic to.

So The Custodian is a double album of thirty songs written over the past forty years. It begins with the very first song that he wrote, as a thirteen year old ‘Speakeasy’ and concludes, appropriately with a new song, ‘Custodian.’ Comparisons with this collection could be drawn with the three Acoustic Classics albums that Richard Thompson (another songwriter Hunt admires) has released this decade. It’s simply Hunt singing and accompanying himself with an acoustic guitar. In a similar way to the Thompson albums, one of the most impressive things is just how easy to listen to it as an entire album. It is testament to Hunt’s tremendous skill as both a songwriter and performer just how well it all flows together. In lesser hands, this might be an album just to dip in and out of, but not here.

Not surprisingly, much of the material comes from Hunt’s regular job as singer of the Wonder Stuff, although there are also songs from his solo albums, and Vent 414 (the band Hunt formed after the Wonder Stuff split for six years in 1994). Given that the instrumentation of these songs gave them a particular group sound, in less skilful hands this could have felt half-arsed. But, this approach shines a new light on them. Perhaps the shining light in the whole collection is ‘On The Ropes.’ A top 10 hit from 1993, and the first single from the Stuffies’ fourth album, Construction For The Modern Idiot, it still contains the emotion that the original recording (still) has, but this version shows just how well the song is put together. Not for the first time, the inclusion of songs like ‘Room 512, All The News That’s Fit To Print’ show just how good the b-sides often were, too.

Whilst the second disc may contain songs that aren’t as well known, there are still so many gems within. ‘The Custodian’ is an excellent addition to his songwriting catalogue, and as last year’s album with his partner Erica Nockells, We Came Here To Work, he’s still touched with a particular gift. That album is represented here with ‘The Sweetest Of Bitterest Ends.’

This album succeeds on so many levels, but in essence, it is an album that stands on its own terms, and highlights just how brilliant a songwriter Miles Hunt is. Respect is due.

****

The Custodian is released on October 5 on Good Deeds Records

 

Gig Review – Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi

St Luke’s, Glasgow, September 30

It had been a rather frantic dash along the Scottish Central Belt to be in time for this gig. When we arrived the nice people on the door told us there was about nine minutes until our heroine was due on stage. This turned out to be possibly the longest nine minutes ever, but when the warm-up DJ was giving the audience Janelle Monae, the Ohio Players and Kenrick Lamar, then who’s complaining?

Brilliant, if a little incongruous, unless we want to get into a discussion about the roots of r’n’b music. See, as Anna Calvi comes on solo and coaxes southern blues out of the swamps and bayou, it’s clear that her roots and inspirations show her to be so much more than just the vague notion of female-singer songwriters. Her live performance foils turn out to be just two, a drummer cum electronics expert and a multi-instrumentalist. Anna Calvi can pull guitar poses with the best of them, and when she seems to meet my eye (the venue is just small enough that it is possible for the whites of her eyes to be seen), it’s as if she manages to imply a wink without even blinking. Maybe it’s the headliner’s privilege, but she has all so completely in the palm of her hand that when she goes ‘shhh’ it really goes quiet. Never have the washing machines in the bars been so glared at.

Of course, the beguiling stage present wouldn’t mean a thing if she didn’t have the songs to go with it. As I’ve said before, there’s no question that Hunter, her most recent album, is the finest release of her career so far. The songs are fantastic, and whether it’s the menace of ‘Indies Or Paradise’ or the gentle title track or the urgency of ‘As A Man’, there is so much on offer here for folks.

For the encore she gives us a delightfully understated ‘Suzanne and I’ from her self-titled debut and finally, her take on Suicide’s ‘Ghostrider.’ She originally covered this on her 2014 EP Strange Weather, and in her hands it starts off in the wasteland of 1970s New York no-wave electronics and makes its way southwards to those bayou and swamps of time immemorial. That is how to tackle a cover version, folks.

At St. Luke’s customers are just around the corner from the legendary Barrowlands Ballroom. As Ms. Calvi notches up another hit album, and her best reviews yet, the thought occurs that selling out that venue the next time is completely within the bounds of possibility. She’s doing this all on her own terms, of course.

Here’s hoping that this is one hunter that never gets captured by the game.

Hunter is out now on Domino.

Interview – Richard Thompson

He’s a living legend, he’s in his sixth decade of music-making…and he’s answering 17 Seconds’ questions! Richard Thompson reflects on living in America, Fairport Convention and Nick Drake, and songwriting

17 Seconds: Hi Richard! How are you, where are you, and what’s the weather like?

Richard Thompson (RT): I am fine, I’m in New Jersey. The weather is changeable, to say the least.

17 Seconds: You’ve just released 13 Rivers, your new album. It’s the first one you’ve self-produced in a while, and the record burns with an intensity, lyrically and musically [i mean this as a compliment]. What can you tell us about the creative process of writing and recording the album?

RT: I wrote the songs in the space of about 4 months. I find it hard to describe the actual creative process, as it seems to be a semi-conscious thing. We recorded it analogue at Liberace’s old studio in Hollywood, in about 10 days.

17 Seconds:  You’re now based in the States. What prompted your move there, did it change how you made music and what do you miss about the U.K.?

RT: I’ve been based in the States for about 30 years. Basically I work here more than anywhere else, so it makes sense in terms of travel. Culturally I find it fairly neutral.

17 Seconds: In 1991, you released ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952,’ on the album Rumor And Sigh. Is it true you researched the song and how long did it take to write?

RT: When I was a kid, a neighbour had a Vincent Black Shadow, just a gorgeous bike, and I think that stayed with me. Before writing the song, I wanted to know everything about it, so I studied the history, got the workshop manual – then I could write with a bit of authenticity, and of course leave most of the stuff out. It took a couple of days to write, after a few false starts.

17 Seconds: You played on Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left. What are your memories of the sessions and the man himself?

RTI knew Nick because we had the same management and record label, so I’d see him around and about, but he didn’t say much – neither did I at the time. I always overdubbed on his records, when he wasn’t in the studio.

17 Seconds: 1969 must have been a busy and intense year for you and Fairport Convention. What are your recollections of the year?

RTThe album What We Did On Our Holidays came out in January, but we had finished it a few months earlier. We released Unhalfbricking in May, after a traumatic van crash that liked our drummer [Martin Lamble, who was only nineteen].  We spent the Summer working on changing our repertoire to embrace more British traditional music. We played our new songs at the Festival Hall in September, and released Liege And Lief in November. It was busy…

17 Seconds: What, if anything, does the term ‘folk music’ mean in 2018?

RTTo some, folk means traditional, to others, it just means acoustic – so I avoid using the word. I’m glad that more rootsy music is closer to the mainstream these days. It used to be tucked away in a very separate world, Now people are more aware of Eliza Carthy or Kate Rusby, for instance. 

17 Seconds: Who, if anyone, do you consider your musical contemporaries?

RT: The survivors of Fairport, Steeleye, the Albion Band…and singer-songwriters like Loudon Wainwright and John Prine.

17 Seconds: You celebrate a, um, significant birthday next year. How will you mark it?

RTI shall hide in a cave.

17 Seconds: Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment?

RTWildwood Kin, Offa Rex, The Rails, Lots of dead people.

13 Rivers is out now on Proper. Richard Thompson’s UK tour starts on October 11 (see here for details).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The return of Dead Can Dance

November 2 will see the release of Dionysus by Dead Can Dance. It’s their first album for six years, following on from 2012’s Anastasis – and their ninth studio album in total.

Dionysus was the Ancient Greek God of wine (also known as Bacchus by the Romans). Taking its lead from the myth of Dionysus, the new album consists of two acts across seven movements that represent the various parts of the legend. Conveyed by an array of folk instrumentation, field recordings and chants, in true Dead Can Dance style.

The first track to be unveiled from the album is ‘The Mountain,’ the first part of Act II. In the words of Brendan Perry, “the listener will find themselves visiting Mount Nysa.
This mountain was Dionysus’ place of birth, where he was raised by the centaur Chiron, from whom he learned chants and dances together with Bacchic rites and initiations.”

According to the press release: Driven by Perry’s exploration of religious rites and rituals, ‘Dionysus’ nevertheless sees ally-in-arms Lisa Gerrard convey the feminine aspect of Dionysus’s dual nature through song in both solo and mantric choral forms and ultimately to play the role of Psychopomp, signifying Dionysus’s role as an agrarian deity returning to winter’s underworld to reassume the role of guide to dead souls.

The tracklisting for Dionysus is as follows:

ACT I : Sea Borne – Liberator of Minds – Dance of the Bacchantes
ACT II : The Mountain – The Invocation – The Forest – Psychopomp
By following this link, you can stream ‘The Mountain’ and pre-order Dionysus. You can also get details of the group’s world tour in 2019, which includes two dates at London’s Hammersmith Apollo.

 

 

Album Review – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson- ‘13 Rivers.’ (Proper)

Round our house, a new album from Richard Thompson remains An. Event. This is his first album in over a decade that’s self-produced, and after three albums of his material that were re-recorded acoustically (and well-put together, rather than being stop gaps), this is a new collection of songs featuring him playing electric guitar again. There should be much rejoicing. Richard Thompson is one of the finest electric guitarists this country has ever produced, and as he continues into his sixth decade as a professional musician, he is still offering fresh ideas with the instrument.

There’s a dark and bluesy feel to the record, particularly to the first half of the album. Whilst it’s not as dark as the divorce album with his ex-wife, Linda, 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights, it seems to be a rather difficult time chez Thompson.

The album opens with the stunning ‘The Storm Won’t Come.’ A six-minutes long, cinematic song, the music reflects the anticipation of a storm that never seems to arrive. ‘I am longing for a storm to blow through town/Blow all these sad old buildings down.’ It’s one of the finest songs this year, and possibly the album’s highlight. It’s followed by ‘The Rattle Within’ is a percussive-lead song, which is reminiscent of Tom Waits. Interestingly, for someone whose heritage is very much English folk, this album sounds very much influenced by American blues and rock. The six songs that make up the first part of the record – two other notable highlights being ‘Her Love Was Meant For Me’ and ‘The Bones Of Gilead’ form a distinct whole.

The second half of the record, which starts round about the second half of the album with the seventh track ‘Do All These Tears Belong To You?’ also seems to be a distinct half.  While this half doesn’t sound as angry -it’s certainly less intense – but still finds our hero questioning the world he finds himself in. ‘You can’t reach me/I’m out in the cold’ he sings on ‘You Can’t Reach Me.’ There’s always been room for humour in Thompson’s work and on ‘O Cinderella’ as he ponders settling down he acknowledges ‘I’m not very housetrained it’s true/but I want to make cupcakes with you.’ Even on record, he can deliver a sly wink. The album draws to a close with the country-tinged ‘Shaking The Gates’ with its poignant line ‘If echoes and dreams are my world/all I’ve done is lead myself astray.’

Richard Thompson will be 70 years old next April. While some artists half his age trade on past glories, clutching at straws, he demonstrates here – yet again – that his voice strong, his guitar playing is phenomenal and his songwriting is blessed with genius.

****1/2

13 Rivers is out now on Proper

Album Review – Pale Waves

Pale Waves -‘My Mind Makes Noises.’ (Dirty Hit/Interscope)

It seems as though this album has been a long time coming. Over the course of the last two years, a number of tracks have been released by Pale Waves, indicating that something special might be afoot. Of course there are those who like to argue that the album as a concept is no longer relevant – but what a long-player from the quartet reveals is that they are capable of producing a comprehensive and cohesive work. Six tracks have been released from this album but in the age of streaming it feels like a gradual unveiling, rather than a whole lot of tracks you’ve already heard.

Formed by singer-guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran at university in Manchester, the quartet are completed by guitarist-keyboardist Hugh Silvani and bassist Charlie Wood. So where do Pale Waves fit in to the music scene of 2018? After all, guitar music is supposed to be in the doldrums. (Have we heard this before? Maybe it’s because I’m in my forties – but experience has shown these things to be cyclical rather than linear). Thing is, Pale Waves aren’t bothered about fitting in – and that’s one of their(many) strengths. They combine elements of alternative music (we’ll have to debate what that means another time, there’s only so many hundred words I’ll be writing for this review) going back several decades. Two months ago I saw them on a bill in London’s Hyde Park, headlined by The Cure, but also featuring Slowdive, Interpol, Goldfrapp And Editors. Pale Waves are younger than all those bands, but their appearance made – and makes – perfect sense, not only with their image but also with their sound.

The album opens with ‘Eighteen’ and ‘There’s A Honey.’ Whether you’ve heard these tracks before or not, these are perfect for kicking off proceedings, setting out the stall for what it is that Pale Waves are all about. That’s not to say that the rest of the album is simply carbon copies – for example, the wistful ‘Loveless Girl’ is followed by the rocky, and tempo-changing ‘Drive.’ 

The songs run the breadth of emotions- ‘She’ in particular is particularly charged and sees Baron-Gracie question whether her lover is cheating on her. It’s possibly a little clumsy lyrically, yet unquestionably heartfelt. Tracks like ‘Red’ and ‘Television Romance’ provide a counterpoint to this, yet the album finishes with ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)’ which is beautiful, and chilling in its acoustic simplicity.

So, file them under electropop, alternative, shoegaze…whatever. The half a dozen tracks we’ve been treated to were a true indication of how good this album is, and these are songs to be sung along to, moshed to, danced to. This is an album that could bring Britain’s divides musical tribes together. It’s not a leap of faith to imagine this band lighting up festivals themselves over the years to come. Sure, the lyrics might need a bit of polishing, but this is a strong debut from a band who understood the beauty of a POP song.

****

My Mind Makes Noises is out now on Dirty Hit/Interscope.

New from Lana Del Rey

At the age of forty-one, I guess I’m probably too old in many people’s eyes to care about the fact that Lana Del Rey’s brilliant song ‘LOVE’ which came out last year, wasn’t a proper hit. Sure there are other things to get worked up about – and I do – but it was brilliant. It was no.2 on the 17 Seconds Festive Fifty, which is what matters, right? 😉

This evening she has unveiled the first of two new tracks she will release this month; ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ (another track, ‘Venice Bitch’ will be released next Tuesday). She is due to release a new album, and a book of poetry, in early 2019.

This is another brilliant example of Del Rey’s beguiling songwriting and voice. Take the time to listen…