Album Review – Underworld

Underworld

Underworld -‘Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future.’ (Caroline International)

This year marks twenty years since Underworld’s most famous moment ‘Born Slippy’ was a massive hit, helped in no small part, if we’re honest, by its appearance in Trainspotting. The reality is, of course, that there was always more to Underworld than just that song, and that they were a dance act who had more vision and ideas than simply just producing a few bangers for nights out. With this album, Underworld underline that once more.

This is their first album in six years, and the reality is that this is an act who just sound totally invigorated. It opens with the first single ‘I Exhale’ and over the course of seven tracks and three quarters of an hour deliver music that is both for the head and feet, and indeed, ultimately the heart
The strong opening continues throughout the album. ‘If Rah’ is a hypnotic electro-workout, while the closing ‘Nylon Strung’ is a sublime finish to an excellent record.

The urge in the digital age may be to cherry-pick tracks or simply just move onto the next track. Not only does this album hold your attention, but when it’s over the urge is to play it once more. I was sent this album to review, but the fact of the matter is that if I had bought a copy, I would be thrilled. There’s scarcely a foot put wrong here. This is no 90s revival, but a modern record that should delight old fans and win new ones.

****

Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future is out now on Caroline International.

Presenting…Throws

I’ve been meaning to post this track and video from Throws ever since it arrived in my inbox last week.

The Icelandic duo have just unveiled their debut single ‘The Harbour’, and the video features someone skiing on their head.

You did read that right.

Recorded, at their studio in Reykjavik’s old fishing harbour, it was an experience the pair say left them feeling “refreshed and powerful”. Through the studio’s big windows over-looking the sea, synths and a trove of old guitars came to make up a track that somehow manages to be ghostly and galloping in equal measure. As for the video, the band explains:

“The Harbour is an Ode to being true to yourself and if people can’t deal with the true you, then they’re not the people for you. Hold on to the strange and wondrous wonky parts of your personality, and treasure those parts of your loved ones…… Head Stand Skiing man is doing exactly that and we treasure those strong arms, balancing legs… tough neck and badass Jumpsuit … we want you just as you are, the one and only innovative, stylish head stand Skier!!”

Their album is due out on June 10, the single is out now. It’s utterly sublime and one of the best tracks I have heard this year.

Interview – Terry Christian

Terry Christian

In which 17 Seconds gets to speak with a truly cool music geek, and finds out about going to school with the Buzzcocks, being friends with the late (but great) Tony Wilson and a little bit about an infamous 1990s TV show called The Word.

‘I’ve never had a career, just a series of jobs.’ So says Terry Christian when he rings me at home. Now aged 55, but with a youthful outlook that would shame many decades younger, he’s had the sort of life and career that most music geeks can only dream of. And that definitely includes yours truly.

Much of this stems right from his childhood. Originally from Old Trafford in Manchester -‘a fantastic area to grow up in’ – and no doubt a major contributing factor to his being a diehard Manchester United fan, and says that at school there was a divide between soul fans and rock fans. Yet it seems that he bridged the divide of finding out about music himself – and throughout our conversation, I find myself constantly trying to write down more stuff to check out later on. To his eternal credit, he takes down my address and offers to send me stuff.

He fell into music long before punk. ‘I used to go out for a whole day round Manchester on my own on a Saturday and come back with six albums.’ His first job was not, in fact, in a record shop or on the radio, but in fact stewarding at the Old Trafford cricket ground. ‘I went to a Catholic Grammar School and they thought we were honest! he recalls, chuckling at the memory.

While he never knew Morrissey – though he grew up not far away from him in Hulme – one of the first people he knew growing up was John Maher, drummer with the Buzzcocks. ‘It was seen as unbelievable that he left school at sixteen,’ he recalls. Although he shamefaced (well, as shamefaced as you can be over a phoneline from a few hundred miles away) about the fact he no longer has his copy of the Buzzcocks’ seminal EP Spiral Scratch – he pinned it to his wall at university – he’s still immensely proud of the contribution that the Buzzcocks made to Manchester’s music scene. I ask him if he went to the Sex Pistols’ famed gig in Manchester in 1976, as documented in 24 Hour Party People.

‘A lot of the stuff about Manchester is absolute bullshit!’ he tells me matter of factly. He recalls punk in Manchester has being a fairly small scene, and that it was the Pistols later gig that year at the Electric Circus, not the earlier Free Trade Hall gig. This tallies with a conversation I have a day or so later with Billy Duffy of The Cult who tells me that if everyone who claims to have been there at the Free Trade Hall gig, there would have been about 14,000 people there.

Of course one of the people who attended the gig was one Tony Wilson, who was working at Granada TV, and would host one of the first music TV shows of the era So It Goes. Terry recalls it as being ‘fucking brilliant.’ Wilson was a maverick, still fondly remembered by many, including Terry, Even if Wilson’s approach wasn’t always the most straightforward, it was often the groundbreaking one. Terry recalls Wilson telling him ‘when you’re the one who kicks the door in, you get crushed in the rush through.’ Of course, before the end of the 70s, Wilson would have signed Joy Division, featuring them on Granada Reports as early as 1978, and signing them to his label, Factory Records.

Unknown Pleasures‘ was a [Martin] Hannett album,’ Terry reflects, referring to the maverick producer who produced Joy Division’s debut. ‘Live they were like Zep!’

Given the mythologising that has continued to grow around Factory, Wilson and Joy Division, it’s not saurprising that Terry’s somewhat suspicious about the films. He did witness this all at first hand. ‘The true story of 24 Hour Party People no-one would believe!’ he roars. He reckons that Factory partner and Joy Division/New Order manager Rob Gretton ‘was much smarter than Tony. There would never have been 24 Hour Party People or Control [if Gretton had been alive]. The way Tony allowed himself to be presented…he was nothing like that,’ he reflects. ‘The Hacienda was never an indie club, it was never empty,’ he remembers – though he admits that it really was a former yacht showroom.

It’s perhaps telling that Terry – like all of us over 35 – grew up in a pre-internet age. ‘In my day, because we were so hungry for it, we would go out of our way to find the good stuff. Now, it can be found, but no-one knows what they want.’ In his case, of course, he kept digging, exposed to a lot of the music coming out in the UK, and certainly far beyond just what may have been happening in London clubs. He recalls Steel Pulse as being the best British reggae band, and we discuss just how great the Birmingham band’s debut album Handsworth Revolution is. ‘I saw them hold their own against Marley,’ he recalls. ‘They had a definite sound of their own,’ singling out their song ‘Prodigal Son’ as a particular highlight -‘all about the fact that liberation – Africa – is all in their head.’ He also fondly remembers X-O-Dus, a Manchester reggae band, who were signed to Factory.

As a walking music encyclopedia (and I mean that as a compliment), he is often aware of those whose achievements are perhaps under-represented in history, musically speaking. ‘No Smith and Mighty…no Soul II Soul,’ he says of the Bristol based team, who came out of the Dancehall scene, and laid much of the groundwork for two of the 1990s defining sounds, drum’n’bass and trip-hop.

He’s DJed on most radio stations across the north of England, and worked in TV, most famously on Channel 4’s late night music show The Word. He presented the show right the way through. It’s hard to imagine – in what were not only pre-internet but pre-social media and pre-reality TV times too, just how radical The Word was. It might seem daft to talk of a late night music show aimed at ‘Yoof’ as being post-modern – but that’s exactly what it was. There were numerous first appearances from many bands on the show, many of which would cause the chattering classes to choke on their vol-au-vents – though presumably, they must have been watching for the opportunity to do just that, because unless they had set the VHS they wouldn’t have been able to watch highlights on YouTube for a good decade to come.

The Word started at the height of Madchester, the coming together of rave and indie culture as spearheaded by the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays. ‘It was the biggest organisc scene in the UK. Punk had a thousand involved, Madchester had tens of thousands – it was a more openly pop scene. I used to get down on my knees and say I wish I was eighteen again.’

Fortunately, if in the name of curation rather than nostalgia, it is possible to see events like L7 getting naked, and probably the infamous moment when Kurt Cobain described Courtney Love live on TV as ‘the best fuck in the world.’ ‘Nirvana was a no-brainer!’ he says of the band’s first UK appearance. Whereas five lads from Manchester ‘I had to argue for six to eight weeks to get Oasis on.’ Jo Whiley, now DJing on Radio 2 – was involved for a spell in booking bands for a while. But by 1995, the programme had run its course. While there was a rumour that the Kamikaze Freak Show had cuased the show to be taken off air, Terry says that the commissioning editor’s departure was far more to blame. But he’s clearly glad to have been involved – and at no point does he criticise any of his fellow presenters.

Into the present, he DJs, writes and still has a contagious enthusiasm for new music. Two weeks after we speak – over the time in which Tony Wilson would have been 66 – we exchange numerous texts about music. Our conversation lasted an hour and a half – if our respective others hadn’t needed to eat, we might well have continued a very geeky conversation. But it’s worth remembering that while people like Tony Wilson may have battered the doors down, it’s people like Terry Christian who keep a passion for music alive in a world of constant saturation.

Terry Christian’s website and blog can be found here.

Forthcoming from Slow Riot

Slow Riot

I featured Slow Riot on the blog last year, when their debut single ‘City Of Culture’ came out – and you can read the interview I did with them here. I very much enjoyed that song – which went on to be placed at no.19 in last year’s Festive 50 on this blog, coming from their EP Cathedral.

Anyway, a new year – and a second mighty fine single from the Limerick-based band, entitled ‘Trophy Wife.’

Slow Riot support Girls Names on February 27th at Limerick Dolans and have confirmed a London headline show at The Waiting Room on Monday 25th April. ‘Trophy Wife’ is released on April 15and the 7″ can be pre-ordered here

…and if you still haven’t heard ‘City Of Culture’ yet (come on, keep up!) you can stream that below:

A song for today #27: High Violet

high-violet

This was another song that arrived in my inbox that I just happened to give a spin to one morning, and found myself singing for the rest of the day.

There’s not much I can say about High Violet – whilst their name is also that of an album by The National, the four members – Smem, Ricky, Dan and Emily seem to pick up where Haim left off, a glorious take on 1980s Fleetwood Mac. This is a debut single – and while I can’t find out much more about the Australian four-piece, other than that they seem to come from Sydney and Adelaide, just take this song on its own merits. It’s bloody fabulous!

A song for today #26: Swells

Originally from Missouri, and now based Oklahoma City Sophia Wells performs under the name Swells. With a soul-infused take on pop, she takes influences such as Allen Stone and Ella Eyre, as well as earlier R&B artists like The Supremes and Otis Redding, and today releases her debut single ‘White Noise.’ Nothing to do with the AlunaGeorge track of a few years back, the artist who I hear most is Amy Winehouse.

I’ve played this quite a lot since it dropped into my inbox a few days ago – and it’s out today (and yes, I bought it to set everyone a good example). It’s short but sweet, and I look forward to hearing more from her.

Presenting…Playing House

Playing House

Photo credit Veronica Aguilar photography

It’s probably not fair to judge a band on the basis of one track alone, but before my first play of ‘New Haircut’ by Playing House had even finished, I knew I had to feature them on the blog.

Formed just ten months ago in East London, Playing House are Mel Patman (vocals & guitar), Izzy Cox (vocals & bass) and Killian McCorley (guitar). Shortly to release their debut EP New Haircut, the first track to be released from that is the title track. To describe it as youthful is not to infer it is naive or unpolished; rather it is to say that there is an optimism and freshness in the sound, an excitement that is infectious, and like all decent pop songs, before you’ve even finished playing it, you know you want to play it again and again.

Playing House say that their name ‘comes from the idea that we are all learning how to be a grown up and the pressure to keep it all together” and their songs are full of honest observations on life, love and a fear of everything.’ On the evidence so far, they’re going to be just fine.

This is a live video of another song from the forthcoming EP ‘Grapefruit.’

This is another song from YouTube ‘Lion and the Lamb.’

Album Review – De Rosa

de rosa

De Rosa -‘Weem.’

For a town of roughly 20,000, Bellshill has more than punched above its weight musically: not only were Sharleen Spiteri and Sheena Easton born in the town, so too were Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits and the Soup Dragons formed here, and also De Rosa.

This is the band’s third album, and their first album in 7 years. Having released Mend and Prevention on the Delgados’ Chemikal Underground label, the band have moved to another Glasgow independent label, run by another of Scotland’s most acclaimed bands, in this case Mogwai’s Rock Action.

The album starts off very strongly indeed. The opening ‘Spectres’ moves from understated to anthemic and back again. It would have been easy to fill the album with tracks like this – fortunately the band and consequently the album (up to a point) are stronger for them not doing so. Second track ‘Lanes’ sees them in more frail musical territory, as if forging a link between Alasdair Roberts and Frightened Rabbit. Then ‘Chip On My Shoulder’ takes the album to someplace else, whilst continuing the theme of the album
– and it’s deservedly been another one of the tracks to do the rounds from the record.

The thing is that while there’s a beautiful Scottish melancholy running through the album, it does let go slightly of your attention from the fourth track ‘Scorr Fank Juniper’ (no, that’s not a spelling mistake) onwards until the penultimate track ‘Devils.’ The reality is that losing attention with the middle part of this album is something that happened several times with the album, not just after one play.

So, it’s good to have De Rosa back, and on the evidence if this album, they certainly have it in them to make a really strong album, and I think their style is far better served on an independent label than a major that would have most likely insisted on several facsimiles of a couple of tracks. Let’s hope that however long their fourth album takes, that they make sure it plays to all their strengths.

***

Weem is out now on Rock Action.