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Music fan by instinct

New from Courtney Barnett

Having topped the 17 Seconds Festive Fifty in 2015 with ‘Pedestrian At Best‘, Courtney Barnett is due to release her second solo album Tell Me How You Really Feel on May 18.

The most recent track ‘City Looks Pretty’ will be available as a 12″ single on Record Store Day this Saturday.

The two tracks already unveiled are the reflective ‘Need A Little Time’ and the rather uncompromising ‘Nameless, Faceless.’

You can order the album from your local independent record store or her Bandcamp page, and she will also be touring for much of the year. She plays a Scottish date at Glasgow Barrowlands on June 2.

Gig review – Alexander O’Neal

Alexander O’Neal, Glasgow SSE Armadillo, April 6 2018

‘How ya doin’ tonight?’ asks the soul legend as he bounds on stage. Well, apart from having endured the worst support act I have ever seen, I’m pretty excited to be here to see someone whose music I first fell for as a child, and who I even got to interview a few days previously. So, pretty good, thanks.

‘We’re gonna have a party tonight!’ he tells us, and with that he’s into a pretty amazing four strong set of ‘Love Makes No Sense,’ ‘All True Man,’ ‘The Lovers’ and ‘Hearsay.’ While some artists feel the need to push less well known works on their audiences, Mr. O’Neal recognises that his second album, 1987’s Hearsay album, is what he’s best known for. Indeed, this album (re-booted last year as Hearsay30) provides the bulk of his set tonight.

He’s backed by a nine-piece band, including the vocalist Ravena, who takes the place of Cherelle on two of the hits they had as a duo ‘Saturday Love’ and ‘Never Knew Love Like This.’ The crowd are ecstatic, and even when our hero disappears for a couple of songs, they keep the momentum going, not least with a cover of Prince’s ‘I Feel For You.’ ‘If You Were Here Tonight’ his first solo hit keeps him going, but within a couple of a capella notes of ‘Criticize’ (still his biggest UK hit, and nothing wrong with that, by the way) they go mental. It’s a fantastic way to finish the first set. The encore is, of course, ‘Fake’ – an extended version that brings almost everyone to their feet.

Much has been written over the years about O’Neal, but the reality is, he would never have been as big a star as he became without the music. There’s no need to rehash those who he has been (endlessly) compared to along the way: he’s a survivor, a legend and still putting on a show.

Respect is due.


Album Review – Broken Records

Broken Records – ‘What We Might Know’ (J Sharp Records)

I first encountered Edinburgh’s Broken Records over a decade ago. They were supporting Emma Pollock at the city’s Cabaret Voltaire venue, and there seemed almost too many of them for the stage – seven at the time. They were absolutely fantastic and I saw them numerous times supporting and headlining. They issued several singles and then signed to 4AD, who issued their first two albums, 2009’s Until The Earth Begins To Part and 2010’s Let Me Come Home. Their third album, Weights & Pulleys was released on their own J Sharp Records in 2014, and now, are after a hiatus they have given What We Might Know, again on their own label.

The album opens with the stirring ‘They Won’t Ever Leave Us Alone’ and ‘Let The Right One In’ which feel like a call to arms. It must be observed that they’ve never sounded so consistently upbeat on record. That’s not to say they’ve sounded miserable for their career, but the euphoria and energy within is infectious, as typified by a track like ‘The Inbetween’ which explodes like a firework display. A slower, more reflective track like ‘Anytime’ still exudes warmth.

Broken Records have sensibly avoided repeating themselves over the years, and there’s new influences that aren’t discernible on earlier recordings, or if so, much more discreetly. ‘Perfect Hollow Love’ and ‘Someday You’ll Remember Me’ sound like New Order meeting Out Of Time-era R.E.M. with a hint of soul, and while still recognisably Broken Records, it is great to hear them investigating new avenues and incorporating them into their music.

While they’ve always had an ‘epic’ sound to proceedings, if you compare this album to their debut, the sweeping strings have moved away. They still sound like a band who should be filling huge venues on a regular basis, but the early description of them sounding like if ‘Nirvana came from Belaruse’ is not accurate of Broken Records 2018.

That night I saw them in 2007, there was a sense that this was a band who were special. Despite lineup changes, the core essence of this wonderful band remains. Come gather round people, wherever you roam, and admit that Broken Records are as good as they’ve ever been, and still deserving of a big(ger) audience. Despite the time between albums, it has been put to good use, and the final effect is of a band who still have a good deal to offer listeners, as well as explorations of their own…

What We Might Know is out now on J Sharp Records


Interview – Alexander O’Neal

Alexander O’Neal photographed by Vincent Cole, 2017

For someone who’s been doing press all day, Alexander O’Neal sounds remarkably upbeat and chipper when I call him. He’s getting ready for an eight date UK tour. ‘I’m good, my brother, how are you?’

Wow. Very well thanks. O’Neal has the ability – shown throughout our conversation – of making you feel that he’s 100% giving you his attention, that he is interested in talking to you and that he’s genuinely passionate about what he’s doing. He never comes across as arrogant, and into his sixties, he certainly isn’t running out of energy. Fey peely wally indie bands, I hope you are taking note.

He’s promoting the tour, so I start off by asking him about what we can expect. ‘If it’s your first time coming [to an Alexander O’Neal show], you’re gonna get a lot of soul!’ he says, excitedly. Having played a lot in Britain over the deacdes (his first hit here was the ballad ‘If You Were Here Tonight,’ from his first, self-titled album, in 1986).  It should be understood that he does not see his shows as purely demonstrating himself. ‘Fans grow up with – my relationship my fans is very dear to me! It’s an opportunity to give something back to my fans,’ he adds.

At this point, I blow my cool, and gabble something excitedly about how I’ve been a fan since I saw him do ‘If You Were Here Tonight’ as a nine year old on Top Of The Pops. He seems genuinely touched by this, thanking me.

He’s never stopped working, of course. After the debut, came his second album Hearsay, which was absolutely huge. Building upon his debut, it added the then emerging New Jack Swing sound, and produced six hits (seven if you include the fact that ‘Fake’ was remixed as ‘Fake ’88’ and became an even bigger hit the following year). It went triple platinum in the UK, and he still holds the record for an African-American performer for selling out six nights straight at Wembley Arena in the eighties. Last year he reworked Hearsay for its thirtieth anniversary with Manchester funk band Mamma Freedom. Of the new versions he says, cheerfully ‘It’s a lot more raw!’

The was produced by Jimmy Jammy and Terry Lewis, who as producers created what came to be known as the Minneapolis Sound (though born in Mississippi, O’Neal relocated to Minneapolis in his early twenties), and amongst a long list of credits, produced Janet Jackson’s breakthrough (and groundbreaking) Control. ‘We had a great time around Minneapolis in the 1980s,’ reflects O’Neal.  I ask who came up with the concept for Hearsay – nine songs set around a party and his observations on the people there, complete with dialogue. ‘We gave the concept to each other,’ he says generously. They would work together on two more albums -1988’s criminally underrated Christmas album My Gift To You and 1991’s All True Man. ‘We keep in constant contact,’ he says of the duo, as well as being contact with labelmate Cherelle, with whom he had several hit duets, including ‘Saturday Love’ and ‘Never Knew Love Like This,’ the latter taken from the Hearsay album.

There was a stream of albums across the 1990s and 2000s, and still a few more entries on the UK singles and album charts. His last album, Five Questions: The Journey was released in 2010. He’s now working on his eleventh studio album. A new album Resurrected will be out before the end of the year, which he’s been working on with Mamma Freedom again. ‘Once I finish the tour, I’m looking to see what’s next.’ He’s clearly pretty excited about the forthcoming album -‘I try to keep reinventing my career’ – and he’s understandably proud that he’s still singing his old songs in the same key, at an age when many singers are having to adjust.

Though slightly cagey about where he lives now, an article in the Manchester Evening News towards the end of last year said that he had moved to Manchester and was loving it, finding that Manchester and Minneapolis have the same pace of life. He’s loving wortking with the musicians there. Questioned as to who he would like to work with in the future, there’s clearly a long list, but amongst those names he gives me are Patti Labelle and Rick Astley. The latter is from the north-west of England after all…

As I wrap up my interview with the soul legend, I ask him what, if push comes to shove is his favourite album of all time. He doesn’t miss a beat. ‘Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On!’ he says. ‘He turned out his most memorable album – after what everyone at Motown thought! [As an album] it transcends colour.’

Telling him that I’ll be seeing him on the tour, he quietly says’ well, come and say hello.’ And reading around a little more, it turns out we even share the same birthday.


Track of the day #54: Adam Stafford

Photo credit: David P. Scott

Edinburgh’s Song, By Toad Records continue to be frustratingly brilliant. Their next release will be Adam Stafford’s neoclassical album Fire Behind The Curtain.

The album, which was made over eight years, is born out of the experiences of living with severe depression, and is dedicated by its creator to ‘anyone who has ever been hungover, down-and out, running from themselves, running for their life, trapped in prisons internal and external.’ Amongst the inspirations for the album is American minimalist composer Steve Reich (who I urge you to check out, alongside his fellow national Philip Glass).

Of this track, Adam Stafford says: ” ‘Zero Disruption’ is my attempt at putting the influence of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint to bed. It was devised as an exercise in playing between the notes and layering jerky guitar figures in a staccato style. The voices are meant to sound like alarms going off, and the track as a whole is based on panic and auditory hallucinations.” 

Thankfully the track does not induce panic attacks or anxiety in this listener (who has wrestled with these conditions for many years). The video, directed by Adam Shrimpton and Rose Cleary has been described as being Wacaday meeting early [David] Lynch.

Fire Behind The Curtain is released on May 4 by Song, By Toad.





Track of the day #53: Jamie Bacon

This arrived in the inbox a few days ago. Released today, I held back on publishing until it was actually released.

Jamie Bacon originally hails from Wick in the north of Scotland. Now based in the Central Belt (he doesn’t specify), this is a song which draws on rock and folk, with that strand of Scots melancholy that is found in the likes of Frightened Rabbit, early Biffy Clyro, Idlewild and R.M. Hubbert.  The song talks of the issue of feeling isolated living so far north, and the feeling of being a prisoner in your hometown. A mighty fine song, in fact.

This is a live version of the track, released through Meraki records. You can stream it on all usual services, including bandcamp and buy it. (For the record, and to support the cause, I did.)


The return of Belly!

The last time Belly released an album was their second and final album, King. That was 1995, when I was in my final year of school. Tanya Donnelly and co. called time the following year – and she started a solo career with the brilliant (and criminally underrated) Lovesongs For Underdogs album. I’d fallen for the band with the release of the brilliant ‘Feed The Tree’ single, which was actually a Top 40 hit in Britain, and led their debut album, Star, to be pretty damn successful in the UK.

Anyhow…May 4 will see the release of Dove, the band’s third album. The first track from the album is entitled ‘Shiny One’ which you can watch below.  As well as Tanya Donnelly (guitar, vocals) Belly is Tom Gorman (guitar), Chris Gorman (drums), and Gail Greenwood (bass). They will be playing live in the UK and North America over the next few months – click here for live dates.

Chris Gorman had this to say about the video is a press release:

” I purchased a crow mask from Archie McFee a few years ago for a Halloween party that had an “enchanted forest” theme. I’m a lazy and dull human being [sic] so I just wore the mask and street clothes. In the party photos everyone looked magical and “enchanted” but I looked disturbing and wrong. I always wanted to do something with that.

After moving to a house surrounded by woods I started capitalizing on the space for Belly stuff, like the woodshed photo shoot, or the Hushabye Mountain photo series. When it became clear that we were calling the album DOVE and the suggestion that we produce our own video the masks were my first and only idea. I sent a brief pitch to the band saying “hey guys, what if we shoot a video and we all have bird heads?” The response was overwhelmingly affirmative. I purchased 3 more heads.

Due to scheduling I had to shoot each band member on their own – we used my garage as a studio space and the woods around my home for the ‘critter in the woods’ stuff and tree related b-roll.

I worked very closely with my good friend Jack McKenna as we processed the clips and together we arrived at an Andy Warhol layered silkscreen look that really seemed to match the hallucinogenic vibe and retro groove of the song. I have to give a ton of credit to Jack for pulling it all together.”

Album Review – Joan Baez

Joan Baez -‘Whistle Down The Wind.’

This album, from the legendary Joan Baez, is her first in a decade. She’s 77 now, for what it’s worth, but this album confirms that her legend status, is well-earned. She didn’t write any of the songs here – but it shouldn’t be dismissed as simply being a covers record. She’s gone to songwriters and songs who mean something to her. Through her interpretation she decisively takes ownership.

Two of those songwriters are Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. The album’s title track, and indeed, opening track, originally appeared on Waits’ 1992 album Bone Machine. Baez doesn’t have Waits’ gruffness – but that shouldn’t be seen as the songs being watered down. Her voice may have moved from Soprano to alto over the years, though it’s less of the shift that occurred to Joni Mitchell or Marianne Faithful. She takes a line like ‘been here since Eisenhower/and I’ve outlived even he’ and makes it apply to her; next year will mark sixty years since she turned professional with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival. That comes from a second Waits and Brennan song, the survivors anthem ‘Last Leaf,’ originally on Waits’ Bad As Me.

Perhaps the most poignant song on the record is her cover of Zoe Mulford’s ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace.’ The song references the horrific event in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, when a man opened fire on a prayer meeting at a church meeting, killing nine. With Trump in the White House, and American gun laws proving stubborn to change, it resonates deeply, after yet more school shootings. This connects so well with what Baez has done throughout her entire career – she has used her voice to campaign for the oppressed, marching with Martin Luther King for the Civil Rights movement, campaigning against the Vietnam War, and supporting the Dixie Chicks when they faced a hideous backlash against their stance during the second world war.

This is not an album that lambasts listeners, nor is it resigned resignation. Despite it all, Baez still seems to have hope.  With songs written by artists as seemingly diverse as Anohni (‘Another World’) and Mary Chapin Carpenter (‘The Things That We Are Made Of), Baez still weaves together the different strands and influences to make her own way.

Baez has said that this is her final album and tour. If so, it’s a shame – but she will retire on a high, with grace and integrity, and remaining important. Respect is due.


Whistle Down The Wind is out now on Proper Recordings.

Amazing new video from Josh T. Pearson!

Photo credit Eliot Lee Hazel

The last time I encountered Josh T. Pearson, he was setting me ears ringing in Edinburgh last August, fronting a reformed Lift To Experience (it was brilliant, and you can read about it here).

He has recently announced his second solo album, entitled The Straight Hits, which will be released on April 13 on Mute. Having unveiled ‘Straight To The Top!’ a couple of weeks ago, he now unveils a fantastic video. Pedro Carvalho, a 21-year-old Brazilian graphic designer, who graduated from design school last year, called three friends: João Santos Ponciano, Laura Athayde and Marcos Vinícius, The animation took around four weeks to complete and is utterly worth it!



Album Review – The Breeders

Breeders -‘All Nerve.’ (4AD).

When the ‘Good morning!’ on the album’s first single ‘Wait In The Car’ reaches your ears, it feels like a re-awakening. The Breeders are back with their first album in ten years, and it’s something to celebrate. Given that it’s only the fifth Breeders album in 28 years, it feels like An. Event.

Back in the late 1980s, Pixies bassist Kim Deal set up The Breeders as a side-project with Tanya Donnelly (then of fellow Boston band Throwing Muses) and with the release of 1990’s Pod it was seen as the indie supergroup. By 1993, Donnelly was fronting Belly and the Pixies had split up. The Breeders’ second album Last Splash led by the hit single ‘Cannonball’ saw The Breeders become a big success on their own terms and in their own right. Crucially, it was when Kim’s twin sister Kelley joined the band – and All Nerve sees the twins re-united with the Last Splash rhythm section of bassist Josephine Whiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson for the first time on record since the mid 1990s.

We all know the world has changed in the ten years since The Breeders released their fourth album Mountain Battles (their third album, Title TK was released in 2002), But it’s so damn reassuring to have them back. Sure the links with other bands (and there are a heap to go and enjoy) contributed to coverage – but there remains a distinctive Breeders sound and feel. The undercurrent of menace that never engulfs, the subtlety of sound that makes Steve Albini the perfect person to work with (he first helmed Pod in 1990 and he’s back here on several tracks) and the way that they understand an album needs quality, not quantity – it’s barely more than half an hour long.

Ahead of the album’s release, the tracks released indicated that we were in for a treat. In addition, other highlights are ‘Metagoth,’ ‘Space Woman’ and ‘Dawn: Making An Effort.’ Signed to 4AD – one of the coolest independent labels ever – The Breeders have had deserved commercial success in addition to critical acclaim over the decades. They aren’t necessarily going to appeal to everyone- but that’s the non-listeners’ loss.

Sure, it may have been ten years, but it’s another success. It’s a reminder of why The Breeders are so highly rated, and holds its own against their previous albums and EPs. It’s an album you want to play again before it’s even finished, before revisiting their other albums.

In short: a triumph.


All Nerve is out now on 4AD