Clutching for definitions

It’s odd to think I’d barely heard much John Martyn at the start of this year. Sure, I knew the name and had heard one or two tracks, but having borrowed a ‘best-of’ from the library (My local library has some excellent stuff that has enabled me to educate myself about all sorts of stuff I’d barely heard for about 60p, roughly $1.20 in US Dollars per CD for three weeks) I had to investigate further. I loved One World and Grace and Danger too, but of the studio albums I have heard so far, I think 1973’s Solid Air is my favourite of what I have heard.

Why did I call this post clutching for definitions? Because the more I investigate John Martyn’s music, the more I realise that just as ‘pop’ and ‘indie’ are ever increasingly vague, so too are folk and jazz. There are a lot of folk and jazz influences on Solid Air, and as well as Martyn’s voice and guitar playing which are pretty damn gorgeous, Danny Thompson’s double bass playing is stunning too. The title track was about Martyn’s friend Nick Drake, who Thompson had played with, with another of 17 Seconds’ favourites, Richard Thompson.

I would urge you to go and buy this album-which you can almost certainly pick up very reasonably (it can be downloaded for £5.49 from iTunes UK, for example, though I’d rather you supported your local record store).

I hope these whet your appetite:

John Martyn – ‘Solid Air.’ mp3

John Martyn – ‘I’d Rather Be the Devil.’ mp3

John Martyn -‘May You Never.’ mp3

Music and pain never sounded so good, so beautiful, so lovely.

And some more covers…with reflection

(The Vaselines, looking rather like The Velvets here, I think)

As Andrew said, Beatles covers are always welcome.

What function, if any do covers serve?

For some acts, it’s the chance to revive a flagging career. For others, the chance to show versatility or to raise funds for anyone whose career they are indebted to.

And what about the listeners? Do they have anything to gain?

Well, I don’t know how many Nirvana fans were led to investigate Shocking Blue, whose track ‘Love Buzz’ was covered for Nirvana’s first ever release. I do know that Nirvana covering ‘Molly’s Lips’ ‘Jesus Wants Me for A Sunbeam’ (though Nirvana changed it to ‘doesn’t’) and ‘Son Of a Gun’ led to me checking out The Vaselines and the Raincoats, who definitely made more of an impression on me than The Meat Puppets.

As for the other tracks, well, I already knew the Beatles and Bowie, but hey…they kinda fitted with the post. And Siouxsie and the Banshees led me to Iggy Pop, The Sparks, Roxy Music, even Billie Holliday…

Nirvana -‘Molly’s Lips (Vaselines cover).’ mp3

Nirvana -‘Son Of A Gun (Vaselines cover).’ mp3

Nirvana -‘The Man Who Sold The World (David Bowie cover).’ mp3

Nirvana -‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (leadbelly cover).’ mp3

Siouxsie and the Banshees -‘Helter Skelter (The Beatles cover).’ mp3

Siouxsie and the Bandshees -‘Dear Prudence.’ mp3

As always, if you like what you hear, SUPPORT THE ARTISTS!

Some Covers For Monday II

Hell, now that maybe one or two more people are reading this blog, a few more covers I thought I’d repost:

Foo Fighters -‘Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty cover).’ mp3

Placebo -‘Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush cover).’ mp3

Futureheads -‘Let’s Dance (David Bowie cover).’ mp3

The Raincoats -‘Lola (The Kinks cover).’ mp3

Sonic Youth -‘ Superstar (The Carpenters cover).’ mp3

Idlewild -‘I Found That Essence Rare (Gang Of Four cover).’ mp3

Ian Brown -‘Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover).’ mp3

And one I haven’t posted before…

The Fall -‘A Day In The Life (The Beatles cover).’ mp3

Enjoy. And as always, if you like what you hear, support the artists through your local independent record shop.

Hooray! It’s a holi, holi-day (well, it feels like one)

Much excitement at 17 Seconds towers: 17 Seconds really did make it into the blog roll at The Guardian on Saturday, as did regular comments leavers Song, By Toad and the Vinyl Villain.

So, some songs to celebrate:

U2-‘A Celebration.’ mp3

Happy Mondays -‘Hallelujah (Club Mix).’ mp3

Kelis -‘Good Stuff.’ mp3

James Brown -‘Sex Machine.’ mp3

And of course, the song that gave this blog its name:

The Cure -‘Seventeen Seconds.’ mp3

As always, if you like the song, support the artists involved.


Album Review: Swimmer One

Album Review: Swimmer One -‘The Regional Variations.’ (Biphonic)

And it’s here at last! The debut album from Swimmer One has been four years in the making, but I hope when you hear it you will feel it has been worth the wait. They’ve been fed up with people comparing them to New Order, and listening to this album, it’s clear that all they have in common is sounding a bit electronic (as opposed to Electronic, obviously). These eleven songs build on the promise of their two early singles to show how beautiful sadness can be, and how wonderful Swimmer One are. This is the aural equivalent of a walk that enables you to see how wonderful the world is. Gorgeous, gentle electronic pop music that is heartfelt without being sappy, and yields more with every listen. Please make ‘Largs Hum’ a single, guys!


Hear Swimmer One here

Read my Interview with Swimmer One here

Some mellow stuff for Sunday

So, it’s Sunday, so time for two very different artists to be foistered upon you.

First up, legendary member of the Incredible String Band, Robin Williamson.

I had been aware of the Incredible String Band for a long time, but hadn’t really closely listened to any of their albums, until I read a feature in The Wire a few months ago on Robin Williamson. There were six tracks of his solo stuff on their site, so I devoured these and set about sampling all the albums through my local library. See what you think of the bard:

From Skirting the River Road

Robin Williamson -‘The Four Points Are Thus Beheld.’ mp3

Robin Williamson -‘The Journey.’ mp3

From The Iron Stone

Robin Williamson -‘Bacchus.’ mp3

Robin Williamson -‘The Climber.’ mp3

From The Seed At Zero

Robin Williamson -‘The Seed At Zero.’ mp3

Robin Williamson -‘The Barley.’ mp3

And now for something completely different…

I don’t know if you would call Maps shoegazing or Electronica or both, even, but i think they would appeal to fans of both genres. I love these three tracks, and think you should give these a spin (from the album We Can Create:

Maps-‘You Don’t Know Her Name.’ mp3

Maps-‘Eloise.’ mp3

Maps-‘It Will Find You.’ mp3

As always, if you like what you hear, check out you local independent record shop.

Have a good week!


Some Covers For Saturday Part III

Some cover versions, seeing as it’s a Saturday, then?

First up, riffling through some CD singles reminded me of how much I loved Gene when I was twenty and how many cover versions they did at the time…

Gene -‘The Ship Song (Nick Cave cover).’ mp3

Gene -‘Nightswimming (REM cover).’ mp3

Gene -‘Wastleland (The Jam cover).’ mp3

A Scots indie classic:

Paul Quinn and Edwyn Collins -‘Pale Blue Eyes (Velvet Underground cover).’ mp3

I wonder if sticking anything U2-related will send my Bandwith mental yet again…

Johnny Cash -‘One (U2 cover).’ mp3

One day i will have a big Alex Chilton fest here. Till then…

This Mortal Coil -‘I Am The Cosmos (Chris Bell cover).’ mp3

Former Pixies frontman launches solo career with cover:

Frank Black -‘Hang Onto Your Ego (Beach Boys cover).’ mp3

And more Jam related stuff:

Buffalo Tom -‘Going Underground (The Jam cover).’ mp3

I’ve posted this before, but it does rock…

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club -‘The Hardest Button To Button (Live )(White Stripes cover).’ mp3

This one can turn two very different perceptions on their heads…

Arab Strap -‘You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC cover).’ mp3

This will be up for one week only, enjoy!


Album Review: Hard-Fi

Album Review: Hard-Fi ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ (Necessary/Atlantic)

For anyone who thinks I only ever write positive reviews, this is definitely not one of them. And I write this with a real sense of disappointment.

In 2005, when Hard-Fi released their debut album, Stars of CCTV, it rightly attracted positive reviews and commercial success, dragging along increasing numbers to shows. When a colleague in the music department at the school where I was teaching at the time was teaching them how to play ‘Cash Machine’ I knew Hard-Fi seemed to have made it.

Yet somehow, the follow-up just does not do it. It should be stated that it’s not an awful album, but it’s not a satisfying album. The songs are not bad, but feel like an album of offcuts from …CCTV. They may work better live, but the production here removes any sense of edge. Tellingly, first single ‘Suburban Knights’ is the best thing here.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that history has produced many bands whose second albums have been disappointing. Two that spring to mind are the Jam’s This Is The Modern World and The Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope. These are two bands you can safely bet have influenced Hard-Fi and whose third albums pretty much confirmed their place in the canyons of the greats.

I’ll still go and see you live, guys, but please, for your next album, remember what made you great. This is a disappointment. And it hurts to write that.


Hard-Fi -‘Suburban Knights.’ mp3

Album Review: M.I.A.

Album Review -M.I.A ‘Kala.’ (XL Recordings)

In 2005, M.I.A released her debut album Arular. It was an album that demanded attention, uncompromising yet catchy, hard as nails, yet utterly irresisitible. Hell, even the skits on the record were worth it. Named after her Dad, too.

And two years later, she delivers a second album Kala, named after her Mum, that shows she hans’t stood still at all. She continues to draw on her Sri Lankan heritage to deliver cooler than thou raps, yet this album is truely world music, recorded across three continents and mixing in some fantastic samples that include didgeridoos, indian pop, and Jonathan Richman and the Clash.

‘Jimmy’ could get any disco moving, and ‘Mango Pickle Down River’ reminds us that there’s indigenous music being produced in Australia that deserves a bigger hearing. From the opener ‘Bamboo banga’ to the closing ‘Come Around’ featuring producer du jour Timbaland, this is one of the most essential albums you will hear this year.


M.I.A. -‘Bamboo Banga.’ mp3

M.I.A. -‘Mango Pickle Down River (withthe Wilcannia Mob).’ mp3

Interview: Emma Pollock

Emma Pollock, photographed by Jenny Lewis, 2007

They say ‘You should never meet your idols.’ What if they don’t live up to your expectations? What if someone you have admired for donkey’s years turns out not to be so admirable? What if you’ve put your trust in, erm, false idols?

Well, 17 seconds got to meet the high priestess of the Scottish indie scene, Emma Pollock. And it turns out that she’s utterly down to earth, prepared to meet for not one but two chats with this humble Scottish blog to chat about her solo debut, Watch The Fireworks, the break-up of the Delgados, and much more besides…

We first meet in Edinburgh one hot late afternoon, where she’s driven (herself) over to appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She picks me up from my flat and we head to a café with her young son in tow (sensibly named).

Once coffee has been ordered, I begin by asking her about the Ballads Of the Book album, the collaboration of Scottish acts who have set music to new poems by Scottish writers, curated by Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. It’s not the first time that she has collaborated with Poets, last year she toured as part of an English Arts Council group called Phrased and Confused. ‘That was a very interesting thing to do. I’m not sure how well it worked,’ she says, a little uncertainly, ‘but one of the things that came out of it for me was the song ‘A Glorious Day.’ ‘ This song, bizarrely relegated to the b-side of her first debut single ‘Adrenaline’ had been one of the highlights of her solo show at Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire a few days previously. ‘ When you’ve got the lyrics already there…you’ve got the parameters already fixed. The melody can come across a lot more conversationally if there’s a lot of words to try and get in. Whereas normally I would try and write the music first.’

This leads me onto what is already apparent from the few tracks that have been heard before the album comes out: the tracks are a lot more piano driven than the work she did with The Delgados. Was this a conscious decision? Amazingly, it seems she barely played the piano before this album.
‘If you don’t know how to play an instrument, you end up playing chords that you don’t know what they’re called, and you tend to keep them.’ There’s now a different approach generally as a solo artist. ‘With The Delgados, there were songs I tended to take a back seat on, and songs that I didn’t.’ Now although she’s assembled a live band, there’s a definite feeling that she’s a solo artist, which she says she finds both terrifying and liberating.

The Delgados started up their own label, Chemikal Underground, in 1994, to release their debut single ’Monica Webster.’ The roster over the years has included some of the best music from Scotland, but most definitely further afield as well, from then on. She’s still continues to run the label but admits that she hasn’t been into the office for a while. Yet as a solo artist, she’s signed to the legendary indie 4AD. ’ She’d been a big fan of the label since her school days. ‘I was a really big fan of The Breeders and The Pixies. They were hugely influential of my decision to start playing. I was also really influenced by Pavement, the American scene. Ironically, although 4AD is a label which originated in Britain, it soon became synonymous with the American scene.’ Though doubly ironically, many of the acts, most notably The Pixies, made a bigger impact more quickly in the UK than their homeland.

I ask her if she’s prepared to discuss The Delgados, mindful of the fact that songs like ‘Acid Test’ and ‘Fortune’ deal with her frustration and unsettlement after the split of the band. She’s quite comfortable to talk about this. I ask her if there’s likely to be a farewell tour, as she has said that she doesn’t think they really said goodbye. ‘No,’ she‘s quietly. ‘It took me a long time to get over the idea that so much of life is chance. You can work hard and get a reward, and then realise it’s all gone. I do believe there’s a fair element of chance involved as well as the necessity to work hard.’

Her solo debut, when I hear it, is a stunning piece of work that deserves to be up there with the likes of Malcolm Middleton and Penny Century. It’s sufficiently still a showcase for her work that should keep Delgados fans happy and also win her fans in her own right. There’s sufficiently enough of both quiet and load moments, as with her old band. ‘For all our loud moments, we [The Delgados] certainly knew when to keep quiet.’

Having chatted for twenty minutes, we have to break off, as she has to appear at the Book Festival to promote Ballads Of The Book and then head off to appear at both legs of the V festival in Staffordshire. Over the next two weeks, we try to arrange a time to catch up. To her eternal credit, it is she who rings me to try and confirm times, rescheduling once when she is offered a last minute slot at Connect. When I’d told her that I hadn’t been sent a promo copy of the album, she’d actually taken my address and got her PR company to send it out to me.

We catch up again at the beginning of September in Glasgow, near to where she and her family live on the south side of the city. By this time I’ve heard the album, and been enjoying digesting it.

‘[Connect] was very last minute.’ She was actually the first act on, on the second stage. It’s the first year that Connect has run, and she says she found it a lovely site. It sounds like the set went down well. ‘There was a crowd for the soundtrack, which was funny. Then I played to people, it went down well, it was good fun.’ Much better than V07, which she found a very mainstream festival. Appearing on a small stage, she only got a small crowd. ‘You get generous audiences earlier on, but it kind of thins out towards the evening. Amy MacDonald] apparently had a small audience -and you can buy her CD in the supermarket!’ she says, amused at the thought. At least it wasn’t violent like The Delgados’ experience of the first T in the Park, when it was held in Strathclyde Park. ‘That’s a park you don’t want to be in after dark.’ It transpires that her bandmate Alun Woodward got punched after providing the wrong answer to someone who asked him which football team he supported. ‘How do you answer that on the west coast of Scotland?’ she asks, incredulous at the narrow mindedness and ugliness that can spoil life in Scotland.

Although she was born in Perth, she was raised in Castle Douglas, before coming to study at University in Glasgow. Chemikal Underground was run from her and Paul Savage’s kitchen table, including when Bis famously got on Top of the Pops with ‘Kandy pop.’ They’ve subsequently relocated, and she’s proud that they’ve been there the longest of any company in the block they are now based in. They’ve certainly had a major impact on the landscape of the independent scene, being responsible for signing Mogwai and Arab Strap, amongst many others. She agrees that there is perhaps a perception of them as being a Scottish label – but is quick to point out that bands like Magoo and the Radar Brothers weren’t Scottish. The Delgados reached the hallowed portals of the number one spot in John Peel’s Festive Fifty in 1998, with ‘Pull The Wires From The Wall.’ The memory of this is still special to her, if a little bizarre: she was in the supermarket when she got the call.
I ask her about what the rest of the year involves, and it sounds pretty busy. She’s going to be supporting King Creosote in the UK and then the New Pornographers in the US, and ‘Paper and Glue’ will likely be the third single off the album.

We head off from the café together, and she’s good enough to accompany me back to me car to sign my copy of The Great Eastern, the album for which The Delgados were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2000. Ultimately they were beaten to it by Badly Drawn Boy’s debut The Hour Of Bewilderbeast. For the last thirteen years, this friendly and important singer and musician has made staggeringly great music. It would be nice to think that the commercial recognition will follow with this album.

Emma Pollock’s official website is here and her MySpace is here

Emma Pollock -‘Adrenaline.’ mp3

Emma Pollock -‘Limbs.’ mp3

Watch The Fireworks will be released by 4AD on September 17.