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Gig review – Cigarettes After Sex

Cigarettes After Sex

Glasgow Queen Margaret’s Union, November 14 2017

‘So what’s the deal with this band, then?’ asks my +1 for the evening.

What’s the deal, indeed? Cigarettes After Sex’s eponymous debut has never been far from the turntable or streaming device since its release in June of this year. Greg Gonzalez and co. have produced an album that shows the meeting of Slowdive shoegaze with the slowcore of Low and the fragile beauty of Trembling Blue Stars. Driving along the Scottish Central Belt from Edinburgh to Glasgow alone in the dark on the motorway it was the perfect soundtrack.

So, for the gig itself?

Oh dear. Well, Gonzalez’s beautiful, androgynous voice sounds as good as it does on record, and the songs are faithfully replicated…but there’s something missing. Anyone coming to a Cigarettes After Sex show expecting AC/DC pyrotechnics would have been deluded and it wouldn’t have worked. The thing is that there is little or no stage presence from the band. ‘K’ and ‘Each Time You Fall In Love’ and other songs just seem to be as they are on record and a feeling that it might as well be the album playing on a stereo.

Sure there are moody black and white films projected on a screen behind with images of buildings, snow falling, girls crying. It might be appropriate, but somehow it feels as cliched in the situation as pyrotechnics at a RAWK gig.

Depressingly, I am forced to conclude that at this point Cigarettes After Sex are nothing to get excited about as a live act. There’s little or no interaction with the crowd, and I’m just left feeling flat.

…And I drove home, and listened to the album yet again. It’s still a brilliant album, but the live execution was a damp squib.

Pity.

 

Interview – My Vitriol

As My Vitriol head out on tour across the UK, 17 Seconds catches up with lead singer Som Wardner to find out what the band have been up to, and learns about being moved to tears by George Martin, dealing with stress and how you’d have to be mad to want to be as famous as Michael Jackson…

17 Seconds: Hi Som – how are you, where are you and what’s the weather like?

Som Wardner: We just got back from a festival Barcelona which was lovely and sunny, even though it was almost November!
The political climate was pretty hot too… But I managed to pick up a chest infection (maybe from people smoking indoors), which hopefully I’ll get over in time for the next shows!

17 Seconds: What have you been up to since we heard from you last?

Som Wardner: Depends when you heard from us last! The band has been very active for the last year or so. We self-produced a limited release album at the end of last year [Secret Sessions, available from their website], which had amazing responses from the fanbase, so we have played quite a few shows this year.

17 Seconds : Is it the same line-up of My Vitriol?

Som Wardner: Yes, but Tatia Starkey is away on maternity leave currently. Russell from Bloc Party is filling in on bass in London for her. All the band, expect me, have had kids over the last few years! I’m quite behind on all that. I guess the songs are my kids for now.
17 Seconds: How do you feel the music industry has changed over the last fifteen years? How has it impacted on you and the band?

Som Wardner: Since the Finelines release [in 2001], the landscape of the music industry kept changing dramatically every few years. Labels, distributers and magazines kept folding. There wasn’t even a Myspace, let alone a Facebook or Twitter when we first released anything. Minidiscs didn’t last long and CDs have disappeared. I guess downloading hit alternative rock pretty hard. But technology has allowed a lot of advantages too. Even though I miss the music store experience, it’s great to be able to directly get to the people who like your music. I also used to have to take 12 or so guitars on the road – as most of the songs are in different tunings, but now I only take one and a spare, as my guitar can change tunings itself. We don’t use amplifiers anymore either, just direct to the PA.

17 Seconds: Tell us what we can expect from the forthcoming live shows.

Som Wardner: London has a ‘Finelines /Between the Lines’ special playing all the tracks from those albums. We’d been asked to do that for years, and we finally got round to it. We will play some rarities and covers we have never played before too, and some of the tracks from the double album will be played for the last time ever.

17 Seconds: Are you working on new music, perhaps a new album?

Som Wardner: We have around 6 tracks recorded which we haven’t released yet. And I can’t wait to record the new ones I’ve written, especially one with the working title “Alone” which is one of my favourites.

17 Seconds: What are your best and worse memories of being in My Vitriol?

We have definitely had our fair share of both good and bad luck. Recent good memories were the tour with Muse last year across Eastern Europe which was really fun. Playing the main stage of Reading & Leeds, when the year before I was just camping out and giving people the demo which changed everything for us. Hearing it on the radio when Steve Lamacq played it for the first time, was pretty exciting too. Playing Top of the Pops those couple of times was pretty cool as I grew up seeing a lot my favourite rock bands do the same in the 90s, but we chose to play live and Ravi managed to break his kick drum skin somehow. It’s never happened before, or since! The worst memories would be ending up in hospital; both times I’ve made a record with stress related issues. I need to stop that.

Inset: My Vitriol appear on Top Of The Pops for the first time with their Top 40 debut ‘Always: Your Way.’ Note: despite Som’s self-deprecating t-shirt which reads ‘One Hit Wonder’ the band would achieve another two top forty hits.

17 Seconds: Was there a particular moment when you realised you were famous?

Som Wardner: Fame is a rather subjective concept, I guess. ‘Famous’ would be a term I’d apply for Jesus or Michael Jackson. Most people who don’t really like rock music won’t have a clue who we are… and I quite like that. Anyone would like to be appreciated for their hard work, but it would be awful to be hounded as much as Michael Jackson was, you’d have to be crazy to want that. A household name was never the plan with a name like My Vitriol. My what?

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

Som Wardner: The power fuse of the whole venue blew on the very last note of the show. That was great timing.

17 Seconds: What music are you currently listening to?

Som Wardner: Everything from the Beatles to Lana to some electronic stuff. But I do listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts / talk radio too. The politics of the world today is crazy but fascinating.

17 Seconds: Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Som Wardner: If George Martin was still around I would have loved to have worked with him. He was an incredible arranger. The string section on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ moved me to tears when I was around 8 years old… and I’ll never forget that moment.

17 Seconds:  What are your plans for the next year?

Som Wardner: We have devoted most of next year to recording new material. Quite excited to experiment with the new ideas! I’m considering a hip-hop / House direction. That was a joke. Maybe.

My Vitriol play Edinburgh Summerhall on November 8, and then on tour. The band’s latest album Secret Sessions is available online.

Track of the day #50: Steven Wesley Guiles

It’s a privilege writing a blog and getting so many submissions, but there are occasions when I get irritated about the sense of entitlement from some who seem to think they have a God-given right to have their entire roster reviewed in detail before you so much as pick up your child from school or feed the cat.

So it was quite touching to have an email from California from one Steven Wesley Guiles, who promised not to send any follow-ups and acknowledged he felt he was sending an email into the void.

Because ‘Misunderstanding’ is absolutely lovely. It has echoes of Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver, and also reminds me a bit of Death Cab For Cutie and The Decemberists. Also the lyric video reminds me of that Great American Roadtrip I have yet to take (money being perhaps the biggest factor).

His third album Hallelujah Heartbreak came out last month and you can check it out via his bandcamp here. Seriously, you should, it’s lovely stuff.

 

Track of the day #49: Go! Team

This might seem an odd thing to admit, but I think I’m probably a bit guilty of taking the Go! Team for granted. They’ve been around for well over a decade now, and every so often they release a new track that makes me (and probably others too) go ‘I must listen to these guys more often.’

On January 19 they’ll release their new album Semi-Circle (you can find the tracklisting further down this post) and the first track to do the rounds is the title track ‘Semicircle Song.’

According to NPR, in making Semi-Circle, bandleader Ian Parton gathered samples across the Midwest, with an emphasis on capturing the voices of young musicians. He also reassembled the lineup of The Go! Team responsible for their breakthrough, Thunder, Lightning, Strike. ‘Semicircle song’ is manages to combine the group’s usual everything including the kitchen sink approach to produce a song that is a three-minute pop marvel. Utterly gorgeous. Like sunshine on your stereo. As the winter nights draw in, that’s something we need more than ever…

  1. “Mayday”
  2. “Chain Link Fence”
  3. “Semicircle Song”
  4. “Hey!”
  5. “The Answer’s No — Now What’s the Question?”
  6. “Chico’s Radical Decade
  7. “All the Way Live”
  8. “If There’s One Thing You Should Know”
  9. “Tangerine / Satsuma / Clementine”
  10. “She’s Got Guns”
  11. “Plans Are Like a Dream U Organise”
  12. “Getting Back Up”

Album Review – Sex Pistols (re-issue)

Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’ (USM/UMC)
It seems slightly odd that for a band who snarled ‘No Future’ that forty years after their one and only studio album they should be still be constantly examined and written about. Or maybe it was deeply prophetic: that pop is so obsessed with its past that it repackages it constantly and there is a lot less of a future because it can’t shake off its’ past.
The reality is that Never Mind The Bollocks remains one hell of a thrilling ride. This issue is itself a re-issue of what has become regarded as the definitive issue which was first issued as a limited edition in 2012.
It opens – rather provocatively, being the Pistols – with what sounds like jackboots marching, and straight into ‘Holidays In The Sun.’ While it and the three other singles ‘Anarchy In The UK’ ‘God Save The Queen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’ may well be the strongest things here, it is worth noting that they are classics, and essential entries in the rock canon.
Some songs may seem rather slight on their own – ‘Seventeen’ with its chorus of ‘I’m a lazy sod’ could be a lesser band, but all tracks together combine the yobbishness and art school, the very filth and fury (as a newspaper heading about the band had it) to make up a package that was repellant to some and irresistible to others.
‘Bodies’ – supposedly the only song Sid Vicious actually played on on the album – still terrifies, all the more so, given that it was reportedly written about a real Sex Pistols fan. ‘EMI’ which closes the album was the riposte to the label which had dumped the band after they’d sworn on live TV (oooh! Controversial for 1976) gives the album a fabulous close.
The b-sides (as they do at their best) stand-up for themselves. Their version of The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’ matches the Pistols musical snarl, yet opens with hints of the dub reggae that John Lydon loved and would explore with his next (and arguably more interesting and adventurous) Public Image Ltd. ‘Satellite’ and ‘Did You No Wrong’ are strong songs in themselves.
I probably am not the only one who still cringes at ‘Belsen Was A Gas.’ The Wikipedia entry acknowledges that it’s a highly controversial song. It’s a demo version that appears here – while it may have been written more to shock the older generation than to offend, Lydon is amongst those who have acknowledged that it crosses into bad taste. I could live without it reappearing.
For a band who supposedly couldn’t play, the demos and live material may show some sign that they were in need of polishing, but that they were probably more competent than they may have wanted some to believe. It’s perhaps telling that on the Norwegian gig on the third disc after ‘New York’ Lydon can be heard telling the crowd ‘Alright? Just stop the fucking spitting, I don’t like being spat at.’ It may have been perceived as part of the ritual – yet (totally understandably) something he didn’t wish to be part of.
Whether there will be more re-issues of the album remains to be seen. But Never Mind stands as a fantastic blast of anger and fun that has not withered over four decades.
****1/2

Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is re-issued and out now on

Album Review – The Jam (re-issue)

Jam – ‘1977’ (UMC Polydor)
This five-disc box set brings together a pretty comprehensive, nay exhaustive overview of the band’s first year on record and visually. It includes the band’s first two studio albums In The City and This Is The Modern World, demos, live tracks and Peel sessions, as well as the five disc which brings the visual work together. A pretty busy year – and all the more astonishing considering that five years between albums is not unheard of for some acts.
‘In The City’ still stands as one of the great debut singles. Like all great debuts should do, it sounds like a manifesto and a call to arms. Paul Weller was just eighteen and exhorting listeners to come to London and hear what was going on.
‘In the city there’s a thousand things I want to say to you
But when I approach you, you make me look a fool
I wanna say, I wanna tell you
About the young ideas but you turn them into fears.’
It still sounds astonishingly fresh. The descending chord structure that opens the song was blatantly cribbed by the Sex Pistols for their ‘Holidays In The Sun’ (frankly, it would need a musicologist to show the latter wasn’t a crib.) As for the parent album, it fair crackles along. Weller drew on the likes of The Kinks and The Who (it could be said that his voice has echoes of Roger Daltrey and his guitar-playing is certainly shaped by Pete Townshend). If the throwaway cover of the Batman theme seems like filler, then songs like ‘Art School’ and ‘Away From The Numbers’ means that the title track was no fluke.
Inbetween the release of their debut album and their second This Is The Modern World The Jam released a second single ‘All Around The World’ coupled with ‘Carnaby Street.’ The b-side is probably better – but it’s a sign of how The Jam would do things. The band would make a number of strong non-album singles in the years to come – ‘When You’re Young’ ‘Going Underground’ and perhaps their finest single of all ‘Strange Town.’
This Is The Modern World followed a mere seven months after the debut. Perhaps anticipating the difficulties that affect the reception of a second album, Weller snarls:
‘Don’t have to explain myself to you
I don’t give two fucks about your review’
Did he need to worry? If he had seen how beloved the band would be forty years on, maybe he wouldn’t have been so defensive. There’s evidence of Weller’s growing maturity as a songwriter – ‘Here Comes The Weekend’ and ‘Tonight At Noon’ while Bruce Foxton contributes one of the most underrated songs in The Jam’s catalogue ‘Don’t Tell Them You’re Sane.’ Even in terms of covers the band had stepped up a gear and given the first indication of how soul would shape the band; the album finishes with an energetic, if a little rough and ready version of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In The Midnight Hour.’
The Jam have often been re-packaged over the years since they split in late 1982 – and it’s impressive how much extra material has been brought together here. The John Peel session version of ‘In The City’ is sufficiently different to the album version and an energetic live version of ‘Carnaby Street’ are amongst the highlights.
In terms of what the band would achieve over the next few years, it may be said that their first year was the band just getting into their stride. The band’s third album All Mod Cons, released in 1978, was the start of them becoming a truly great band. But the box set gives a compelling insight into just what helped them lay the groundwork for the coming years.
****
1977 is out now on UMC Polydor

Gig review – Richard Thompson/ Joseinne Clark & Ben Walker

Richard Thompson/Joseinne Clark & Ben Walker

Edinburgh Usher Hall, October 17, 2017

I’ve seen a number of gigs at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall before. However, tonight there is a mobile phone ban in place, which whilst fair enough from stopping people posting ropey video online or – God forbid, having phone conversations, makes trying to remember details for a review rather hard if you phone is the medium for making notes.

That irritant aside, Richard Thompson’s latest visit to the Scottish capital showed just why his reputation continues to grow fifty years into his career. The support act of Joseinne Clarke and Ben Walker are aptly chosen to warm up the crowd. Clarke’s self-deprecating brand of humour is lovely – and should she ever decide to give up singing, comedy would be an excellent alternative. Their set is bookended with Thompson connections – starting with a cover of Fairport Convention’s ‘Reynardine’ and finishing with their take on Nick Drake’s ‘Time Has Told Me’; on which Thompson played (along with no less than three Fairport Convention albums that year). They have recently released a new EP The Birds on Rough Trade – and the title track also gets an airing. It’s a fantastic place to start with their music.

With Richard Thompson, I must confess to finding it harder and harder to write reviews. Not because he isn’t good, he’s bloody fantastic. It’s more about trying to avoid cliché and repetition, and to avoid simply fawning. This year has seen him release two new acoustic albums (Acoustic Classics Volume II and Rarities), as well as playing with Fairport at their annual Cropredy Festival. He sets the bar extremely high by opening with ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘The Ghost Of You Walks.’

Trying to examine exactly why it is that he is such a compelling performer, whether solo or not, it’s a mixture of certain things. Guitar playing that is intense – but is inclusive and draws you in, rather than feeling that it is a virtuoso trying to keep you at bay. Equally it’s matched with that baritone – oh, and a wonderful sense of humour.

As is the case, the set is a mixture of well-known songs from across his career, and well as a few unknown gems. So we get an acknowledgement of his half-century with his respectful interpretation of Fairport’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ paying tribute to Sandy Denny, the song’s writer. From the Rarities album we get ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down’ which deserves to be elevated from rarity to the Thompson Classic songbook.

He acknowledges that he’s not always had a lot of chart success – but when he plays the should have been a chart hit ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’ you can’t help thinking that it’s the public’s loss, not his fault. He’s understandably still smirking about an event a few years later when his then latest album debuted above that of his seventies contemporaries Yes’ latest album. When the set includes classics like ‘I Feel So Good,’ ‘Beeswing’ and ‘From Galway To Graceland’ who could fail to be wowed? That’s before you consider the masterclass in songwriting that is ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952,’ his contribution to making sure that Britain had songs about the road to rival America.

There’s so much musicality seeping form his every pore that it seems not to matter whether he plays with a band or not. He manages to play the guitar in such a way that it seems that a rhythm section is present within it. There may be countless imitators – but there’s no-one who can touch him.

Album Review – Pale Honey

Pale Honey – ‘Devotion.’ (Bolero Recordings)

Looking back at previous pieces I have done on Pale Honey it is clear that somehow I always end up referring to what their previous steps have been. Their early releases were rightly critically acclaimed, and it’s great to watch an act grow.

No musical act grows in a vacuum – and it’s so cliched to compare them to other duos, so I won’t here -but with the release of a handful of tracks over the last twelve months, it’s clear that they have *cough* broadened their musical palate.

Sometimes a band’s determination to grow beyond their first album can end up giving listeners that seems to have no connection with what preceded it. Pale Honey have managed to draw links with their self-titled debut, but managed not to repeat the tricks of it (aside from writing great songs, that is). The atmosphere of ‘The Heaviest Of Storms’ is a particular highlight. It shows off their Nordic-noir take on Scandi-pop at its best.

Do they sound like a different band? No -‘ Real Thing’ provides the strongest link with their debut -but Devotion is a huge leap forward, and gets even better on repeated listens.

****

 

Gig Review – Tori Amos

 

Tori Amos

Glasgow 02 Academy, October 6 2017

How good was Tori Amos live? Even three days later, I’ve still got a glorious glow just thinking about the gig…

The gig was the final night of the European tour supporting her new album Native Invader. A quarter of a century since she appeared with her debut Little Earthquakes, she still seems like very few before or after her. Sure, comparisons may be made with (insert name here) or (insert name here) if you must. But as she walked out onto a stage – just her, her faithful Bosendorfer concert grand piano and a couple of keyboards – she gets a standing ovation just walking on stage. It probably is easier if you’re playing to an adoring crowd, rather than struggling to be heard amongst people who aren’t there to see you, but what is clear is that she has won fans over, and they aren’t about to let her go.

She’s clearly had a great tour – and the warmth of Glasgow audiences is rightly legendary. With a pretty damn impressive back catalogue, she’s never going to be able to play every one of the favourites and promote the new album. But the gig felt like a great crowd supporting a great artist.

I first heard her in 1991, a few months before the album came out when ‘Silent All These Years’ came out (it would later make the top 40; she’s had a number of bona fide hits here in Britain over the years). It sounded like nothing else at the time. So to finally hear it live is a dream come true and the sense that it’s just as magical and bewitching as it always was.

Many of the crowd are delirious to hear ‘Baker Baker’ – but me, I’m delighted to hear favourites like ‘Sparkle’ -‘she’s addicted to nicotine patches’ indeed, and I realise that ‘Winter’ may indeed be my favourite song of hers after all (for a long time I might have plumped for ‘Sister Janet’, b-side to ‘Cornflake Girl,’ her forst top ten hit). Her cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ is as heartbreaking as the original, and she also weaves in the Eurythmics’ ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ into the set.

Perhaps most revelatory is hearing ‘Blood Roses’ live. On record I’d found the track from Boys For Pele unsettling and alienating. Yet hearing it live, it all makes sense. I’d been privilged to be able to review the gig for free – but within a very short time, I felt that I would have been delighted if I had paid for both mine and my fiancees tickets.