Christmas Posts 2017 – part 6: Cocteau Twins

Not for the first time, life got in the way.

But it’s still a delight to share this double A-side from 1993, the Cocteau Twins’ Snow, which contains two covers’: ‘Walking In A Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Frosty The Snowman.’

Now, I have long bemoaned the fact that it’s hard to get hold of these tracks. However, at the moment, you can buy ‘Frosty’ in the UK on iTunes (on a compilation called 90’s Rarities Vol.1), though not ‘Walking.’ However, this year saw long-awaited vinyl re-issues of their final two albums, Four Calendar Café and Milk and Kisses, the era which Snow comes from, so I am hopeful, that one day…

 

Christmas Posts 2017 part 5 – John Cale

So, a couple of weeks ago, on my birthday (41, since you ask), the soon to be Mrs. 17 Seconds and I popped into town for a nose round the charity shops. She picked up a CD for 50p that had been free with Mojo magazine which had a number of Christmas cuts on it I had not heard before. One of which was Superchunk’s take on ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales.’

‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ is inspired by Dylan Thomas rather than actually being an adaptation of his work A Child’s Christmas In Wales. Cale has, in fact, recorded a number of Thomas’s poems (see his excellent 1992 live album Fragments Of A Rainy Season for versions of ‘On A Wedding Anniversary,’ ‘ Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed’ and ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’). Cale’s song ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ first appeared on his 1973 album Paris 1919. It’s the opening to a glorious and rather underrated album.

Whilst searching for clips for this piece, I found that erstwhile Cale collaborator Nico had also covered the song; according to the essential read James Young’s Nico: Songs They Never Play On The Radio, Cale and Nico covered this together.

Finally, that Superchunk cover. As far as I can tell it was recorded for the Mojo CD – and doesn’t look like it’s been made commercially available. Enjoy!

Christmas Posts 2017 part 4 – 2 Live Crew

So, there’s lots of warmth and cuddliness at Christmas, hopefully.

But along with It’s A Wonderful Life, it’s also fun to watch Bad Santa. And while few would list better Christmas records than those by Low and Phil Spector – a little naughtiness has got to be ok, some of the time, right?

I haven’t yet seen Bad Santa 2, but 2 Live Crew’s ‘One Horse Sleigh’ gets in some rather amusing double entrendres, and, it must be said, is rather tamer than some of the tunes that ver crew became ever so slightly quite a lot notorious for in the late ’80s.

So this one maybe isn’t for the sensitive amongst you, but for a bit of fun, here you go!

Album Review – Flesh For Lulu (re-issue)

Flesh For Lulu – Flesh For Lulu (Caroline)

When people give you the whole ‘it’s all online anyway’ argument about buying music, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is the first CD issue of Flesh For Lulu’s album – which was originally released in 1984. Subtitled The Polydor Years, it brings together the tracks from the first three singles, as well as three BBC sessions recorded between 1982 and 1984. SInger and guitarist Nick Marsh sadly died of cancer in 2015, but guitarist Rocco and drummer James Mitchell spoke to me about the album’s re-issue.

Google Flesh For Lulu, and you will usually find them described as ‘goth.’ Yet this is particularly surprising when you listen to the four tracks they recorded for the John Peel show in the summer of 1982. This version of the band has far more in common with the likes of Human League and Thompson Twins, the ‘new pop’ of the time, than the sound the band would pursue when they signed to Polydor. Guitarist Rocco, who joined subsequent to the session was more blunt when I interviewed him ahead of this re-issue.

‘I thought it was fucking awful!’ he told me, quite cheerfully. ‘They were closet rock’n’rollers! i let them out of the closet’ Mitchell concurs that Rocco joining the band – then including bassist Glen Bishop -bought the thing together. ‘There was Simple Minds, Depeche Mode…we had no idea what we were doing, we were finding our way. Funnily enough, that was what Polydor liked!’

With Rocco on board, the band left behind any connection to synth-pop and set about becoming a great rock band.The following year saw a session for David ‘Kid’ Jensen and a lot of gigging, and finally signing to Polydor. Their first single ‘Roman Candle’ wasn’t included on the original album, but it is now, in both 7″ and 12″ remix versions. It’s a worthy addition, to what is an excellent album.

Flesh For Lulu understood that rock had directions still to go. Building upon the likes of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, ‘Restless’ kicks off an album bursting with songs that brood and energise at the same time. While it’s possible to date the album as being made in the eighties, at the same time it still feels fresh, and considerably more vital than music a fraction of its age. The cover of the Stones ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ (originally on Beggars Banquet, quite probably Mick and co’s finest hour) updates the song another fifteen years or so, adding another layer of menace. ‘Hyena’ and ‘Dog Dog Dog’ had debuted on the ‘Kid’ Jensen session a year earlier, showing that the second session (included here) was a band that had found its sound.

The centrepiece is probably the second single ‘Subterraneans’ – a suitably Bowie-esque title that sums up what is still so great about this period in eighties music. Dark music that you could lose yourself into (though just as possibly find yourself), and was celebratory at the same time, driven by tribal rhythms. This is music that begs to be played loud – whilst zooming down roads at the dead of night. Don’t, however call them goths. Rocco again: ‘We just looked liked that. It had only just had a label applied to it.’ He recalls talking with Siouxsie and the Banshees’ bassist Steve Severin about how both their bands had got lumped in with that. ‘I just found the whole goth thing a little bit Rocky Horror Picture Show.’

The Banshees were labelmates on Polydor, as were The Cure. But the dark rock was not what the label were expecting. ‘Polydor were horrified!’ recalls Mitchell. ‘We were signed as a Depeche Mode-type band. The guy who signed us [Alan Sizer] wasn’t happy.’

Polydor dropped them – but the band went onto great success State-side where ‘I Go Crazy’ featured in the John Hughes Film Some Kind Of Wonderful. That is, of course, another story, but be grateful that the first chapter of the story has -been-reinstated.

 

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Flesh For Lulu is out now on Caroline

Christmas Posts 2017 part 2 – Sleeping With Sirens

I must confess that Sleeping With Sirens are a new name to me. The US band have, however, released five albums so far, with Feel and Madness making the UK Top Forty. The band are Kellin Quinn (vocals), Jack Fowler (lead guitar), Nick Martin (rhythm guitar), Justin Hills (bass) and Gabe Barham (drums).

The band have released a Christmas song, entitled ‘Christmas On The Road’ which is all about being reunited with loved ones after being away for a long period of time. If ‘acoustic rock’ is a concept you’re not sold on, give them the benefit of the doubt for three minutes. This is rather lovely…

Christmas Posts 2017 part 1 – Girl Ray

It is a truth universally acknowledged – to paraphrase Jane Austen – that Christmas gets earlier every year. So in the world of the blogger, that means that end of year lists get earlier (and there’s still albums I’ve been trying to get around to hear) and Christmas submissions get earlier.

I’ve always enjoyed Christmas music, and have featured a lot over the years the blog has been running. It’s great to get new pieces – so I will start off this year’s post with one that dropped into my inbox this week : Girl Ray’s ‘(I Wish I Were Giving You A Gift) This Christmas.’

 

…and just for fun, their version of The Waitresses’ ‘Chrisrmas Wrapping’ as well, which dates from last year.

 

The band will be on tour again in 2018:

10 April – Bristol, Thekla
11 April – Nottingham, Bodega
12 April – Hebden Bridge, Trades Club
13 April – Glasgow, Art School, Glasgow
15 April – Middlesbrough, Wegarth Social Club
16 April – Sheffield, The Leadmill
17 April – Manchester, Deaf Institute
18 April – London, Heaven
19 April – Brighton, The Haunt

Finally, it goes without saying that Girl Ray’s debut album is out now and is really rather good.

 

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.