The thing about writing a blog is that after a while you get a helluva lot of submissions. Some fairly brief, some who get irate that you haven’t replied immediately to them, some providing godawful music and some that make bold claims.
This evening I found one in my inbox that said ‘the new Morrissey?’ Such a bold claim from any PR that I hurriedly opened it ready to go ‘hah!’ Well, maybe not the new Morrissey…but definitely a star in the making is one Matthew Kites.
Kites are Matthew Kites (Vocals/Guitar), Richard Kites (Mechanics), Jack Kites (Percussion), and Jasper Kites (Guitar)*. Rooted in synthpop, with debts to both Morrissey and New Order. There’s also a fair bit of The Killers circa Hot Fuss (which I still think was them at their best. Then again I prefer KoL around Youth and Young Manhood, so draw what conclusions you will).
Their first official single is called ‘Brother’ and it’s awesome. I can’t provide it here (when a Souncloud link says Private it’s probably best to obey). But the b-side is called ‘Art Tastes Better Blind’ and it’s one of a number of tracks you can stream below.
Have a listen. Let me know what you think. The interest is clearly building and on this evidence it’s entirely deserved.
Twenty-five years since the release of the first, self-titled release from Throwing Muses, the band release a career-spanning best-of, their first. The band were formed in 1983 by Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly – either step-sisters or half-sisters; even twenty-five years later concurrent press releases seem to contradict each other. The first American band to sign to 4AD (before The Pixies -and QED The Breeders), the band emerged in the second half of the eighties as one of the most original bands that America had ever produced. Very much part of what was dubbed ‘College Rock’ in the States, the band produced an impressive body of work over the course of ten years, calling it a day in 1996 after the release of Limbo, and reactivated in 2003. Donelly joined The Breeders for their first album, Pod in 1990, left Throwing Muses after The Real Ramona in 1991, formed Belly and went solo after two albums.
Being as this is on 4AD and not a major, this album is not a straightforward greatest hits or straightforward compilation of all the best known tracks of the band. The first CD is a selection of album cuts and EP tracks while the second CD is a selection of b-sides. So whilst ‘Bright Yellow Gun’ from University and ‘Cry Baby Cry’ from the Chains Changed EP do make the cut, tracks like ‘Counting Backwards,’ ‘Dizzy’ and ‘Shark’ aren’t here. Thing is: it doesn’t matter. I’ve got most of the Muses back catalogue on vinyl and this compilation certainly opens me up to tracks that I hadn’t thought about in a while like ‘Colder’ and ‘No Way In Hell.’
The second disc has some excellent songs too -‘Cottonmouth’, ‘Snailhead’ and ‘Red Eyes’ to say nothing of covers of ‘Amazing Grace’ (which gets a full workout), Hendrix’s ‘Manic Depression’ and The Beatles’ Cry Baby Cry’ – it’s certainly been made much of that there are two different songs on the same compilation with the same name. (If you’re a geek about these things, you may be interested to note that in terms of White album related covers that the Donelly version of The Breeders covered ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ while Hersh solo covered ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey.’)
43 songs in one go from many bands can seem like hard work for many bands’ listeners. Thing is – this compilation is a delight from start to finish. Hopefully it will reawaken interest in a hugely deserving band.
Yesterday saw the release of a special one off digital release from Ariel Pink (Areil Rosenberg to his parents), to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Entitled ‘Witchhunt Suite for WWIII’ the sixteen minute track comes with accompanying video that demonstrates his flair for pop and experimentation, this time in a video he has directed with Ariel Charm.
According to the press release, he originally began working on this as this events of 9/11 began to unfold, and a two part version was released as a tour only CD-R in 2007, as Yas Dudette. This version was recorded especially as a tribute.
And should you wish…those lyrics in full:
Sky sky cam what’s seen before you
Contrived tracking systems live
Last name laden is soaked in sodom
We tried our best now test these organs
Lonesome kittens walk in circles
Milky substance rains from eyes
Hocus pocus not precocious
We’re lightly tapping heavens forehead
Bomb the building bang bin laden
Building the bombs bam bomb building
Oh little reindeer soaked in semen
Caca’s burning under thunder
Slightly sopping sucking whirlwind
Yer family’s tightly flapping curtain
Sky sky cam what’s seen before u contrived tracking system lies
Last name laden is soaked in sodom
We tried our best now testis organ..building big bomb building the bombs building bombs
The human race is an invention of the west foreign every other land
The swine walk around as man and the sheep can’t know that they sleep…
My evil the man before u is not a man but a dog I’ve extinguished the flames with hot piss so I ask
Is that all there is to a fire
Gonna get em, we got em, we gotta
No time for your burning bras or talk of mass deception
Pull your guns let terrorism stir up your aggression
Gonna get em we got em, we gonna..x 4, x10
Stand up for your right to talk about US domination
Crawl into the trenches and join the real worlds form of conversation
Gonna get em we got em we gotta x8
No time for your burning bras or talk of mass deception
Pull your guns let terrorism stir up your aggressions yeah….
We’re gonna be wiped out!
Wind me up with evil so I can fight fire with fire
Cancel the Astronauts -‘Seven Vices.’ (self-released)
Following on from their brilliant debut EP in 2009 – I Am The President Of Your Fanclub (And Last Night I Followed You Home) – and last year’s equally brilliant Funny For A Girl – here comes the third release from Edinburgh’s Cancel the Astronauts.
I know I’m not the only one who wishes that their material was a little more frequent, but when it arrives it feels like it’s been worth the wait. Over the course of the three tracks ‘Seven Vices’ ‘Something Approaching’ and ‘Playing Hard to Get’ the band continue to perfect their gorgeous anthemic indie-pop. What they continue to demonstrate is that if you are doing a release then every track should be worthwhile.
Another strong release from this band. No matter how long the wait for their next release, I’m sure it will be worth it. Surely the world should be theirs for the taking?
September 12 – Glasgow University Central Debating Chamber (Yes -TONIGHT!!)
September 14 – Notting Hill Arts Club, London
September 16 – Wilmington Arms, London
September 17 – Mello Mello, Liverpool
September 18 – The Tyne Bar, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
At the start of 2008, I interviewed James Allan of Glasvegas. This interview disappeared for a while, but since it was done the band have been signed and dropped from Sony. I always intended to repost it – thanks to Ryan of the Cactus Mouth Informer blog for making it possible to do so.
Every so often, along comes a band who drive all who hear them into a frenzy. The movement gathers pace, and tries to get knocked off by the cynics who sneer ‘hype!’, out of nothing else than sheer jealousy. And yet sometimes, even the cynics are silenced, as they heard something that goes against what they have heard before, and the band themselves are pleasantly taken aback by what’s happening.
At the moment, it’s the latter position that Glasvegas find themselves in. They are soon to release their third single ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ which will be out in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s the follow-up to ‘Daddy’s Gone’ which was runner-up in the NME writers’ tracks of the year list for 2007. ‘Cheating Heart’ has already gathered the track of the week in NME, and it looks like commercial success is soon to follow for the Glasgow band, who haven’t even been signed yet. Although they hail from Glasgow, their sound is unquestionably different from the likes of Franz Ferdinand or The Fratellis, owing far more to influences from the 1950s and 1960s.
A few weeks ago, I rang up singer James Allan for a chat. He’s a very accommodating, friendly young man, who is extremely modest.
I begin by asking how the band came together. It transpires that James and guitarist Robert are cousins, while bassist Paul was in Robert’s class at school. The lineup is completed by Caroline on drums and the band are managed by Denise, James’ sister.(They don’t seem to do surnames).
It’s easy to assume that once you’ve been featured in NME that you’re already halfway there to having made it. Has the coverage for ‘Daddy’s Gone’ changed anything for them?
James considers this, and says that whilst he doesn’t think they’ve had more coverage from it [in the NME] they do seem to be reading about themselves a bit more.
‘Daddy’s Gone’ tells the story of a boy whose Father left home, and his defiance that he won’t ‘be the lonely one…forget your dad he’s gone.’ With it’s anguished ‘All I wanted was a kick about in the park, for you to race me home when it was nearly getting dark.’ Treading very carefully, I ask if the song is autobiographical. James replies that ‘some things are [written] from personal experience, other things are common knowledge.’ He adds ‘I’m not telling anyone anything that they don’t know already.’
Glasgow has always had a vibrant music scene, far more in-your-face than Edinburgh. Franz Ferdinand’s success has prompted a number of English A&R men to head north of the border with their cheque books. Here on 17 Seconds, when I first wrote about the band a month ago, not only was the feedback very positive, but also a lot of people commented that they didn’t have the ‘Glasgow art-school sound.’ So was this intentional? Who does James consider to be Glasvegas’ influences?
‘ Fifties doo-wop and rock’n’ roll, sixties girl groups and Jerry Lee Lewis.’This is a pretty accurate reflection of their sound. Over a month since I first heard them, and I don’t think I can sum it up any more than this. And I love the fact that James sings in his own accent, which is what makes it so distinctive.
So does he consider them to have any contemporaries in Glasgow? ‘Not really! I don’t know a lot of the bands, I’ve not seen them.’ He confesses to having only heard Teenage Fanclub a few months previously. Whilst people writing about them might see Glasvegas as being the latest band in a line of Glasgow bands that stretches back to Franz Ferdinand, Teenage Fanclub, the Pastels and before, James doesn’t consider himself or his band to part of anything like this.
One of the things I have to ask him about is the band’s gig in a Prison. On their website, it features pictures of them playing at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow. Some people might think there’s no point in playing in a prison -inmates are hardly likely to be able to get passes to go and follow these bands round the country -but there is a tradition of this, perhaps most typified by Johnny Cash and the live albums he recorded in prisons in the late sixties at Fulsom Prison and at San Quentin. ‘[The prison gigs] were one of the things we’d wanted to do since we started the band. It’s quite hard getting the disclosure form, he chuckles [as a teacher, I can identify with this. The disclosure form allows you to be able to work in places like schools and prisons]. It transpires they’ve actually played four or five prisons in Scotland. So what was it like?
‘It was pretty real! A lot of things…there were certain things I expected, and other things I didn’t [imagine] happening. I’m sure we’ll do more [gigs in prisons].’ He adds thoughtfully: ‘It’s heartbreaking in some ways…not that you feel sorry for them, that they shouldn’t be there, but sorry that that’s their way of life.’ One experience in particular that stood out for him was Polmont prison.
‘They were all wearing the same uniform. At first I was probably like an alien to them. You’re going into their zone and expressing yourselves. But people seemed to be really moved.’ Even weirder, after the gig, back in Glasgow he met Carl Barat from the Dirty Pretty Things who’d just played a gig himself, in very different surroundings.
The band will be on tour by the time you read this. Their homecoming slot at the Barrowlands Ballroom, the legendary Glasgow ballroom, which has hosted pretty much anyone whose mattered over the years, has sold out. Is this a big deal for them? ‘Glasgow’s always a special place to play, no matter what capacity you’re in. We’re playing with The Wombats.’
The aforementioned ’It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ will be out soon as well, and like ‘Daddy’s Gone’ and debut ‘Go Square Go!’ will be self-released. These two 7” singles have become collectable extremely quickly, there are a couple of mint copies of the ‘Daddy’s Gone’ 7” going for £50 on eBay. ’Even trying to get copies of the singles for our mums is difficult!’ says James.
And speaking of singles, what about their debut? And what a record deal? How many record companies are chasing and jostling for Glasvegas’ signatures on a contract just now?
Chuckling, James calls through to Denise to ask her. The answer comes back: ‘Too many!’ Not in the tone of arrogance, but someone who seems genuinely surprised that this is happening. As for the album, they haven’t even recorded it, and James reckons it will be at least three months before they can get in the studio. ’We’ll squeeze it in, it’s just getting the time.’
Perhaps their most high profile admirer is Alan McGee, the man responsible for signing Oasis, the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. Anyone who is one of McGee’s friends on MySpace will have received one of his regular bulletins about the band. To this extent, some people are actually convinced Alan McGee is Glasvegas’ manager.‘If I was them, I’d have the same assumption,’ says James. He is clearly grateful to McGee for his enthusiasm and the fact that he’s a friend and a fan.
So finally, given the excitement about Glasvegas, would they move to London to further their career? James seems genuinely taken aback and surprised by this question. ‘I’ve never thought that far ahead!’ he says modestly. ‘It’s really unpredictable. Just take it as it comes. It’s crazy moving somewhere for your career.’
As you’re no doubt aware by now, Bjork is shortly to release her first studio album in four years, Biophilia.
Never someone to to do things by halves, this is not simply another Bjork record, but comes complete with a whole host of remixes, applications and ideas. This will be released on October 10. And features a collaboration with David Attenborough. She has described the great man as ‘the pop star of my childhood.’
The first single is ‘Crystalline’ which has an awesome Michel Gondry video
Worth owning in their own right are the frankly astounding Omar Souleyman remixes. Not that it’s not worth hearing the Matthew Herbert and Serban Ghenea remixes, but if you’re only going to buy one, make it the Omar Souleyman. (there’s a wee bit here over at the Guardian)
17 Seconds talks to Roy Harper about Cricket, the genius of William Blake and getting ‘bloody freezing’ in Kate Bush videos
When I call Roy Harper at home for this interview, it’s the great man himself who answers the ‘phone. Having grown up in Manchester, and lived in London and the US, he now calls Ireland home. ‘I feel incredibly at home here,’ he says, affably. They [the Irish] are great people. But,’ he adds, ‘I miss England a lot, I miss London, particularly.’
Not that he doesn’t go back occasionally. In fact, this year on November 5, Roy Harper will play his seventieth birthday concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall. His profile has been helped along of late by endorsements from a younger generation of musicians, including Joanna Newsom and Fleet Foxes, amongst others. I ask him if he can hear his influence in the new generation of acts.
‘You can [hear yourself] in there,’ he says, clearly touched by the tributes that have been paid to his work. ‘The way Joanna arranges things symphonically; she sets things out in a way that’s very familiar to me. If someone [covers] a song of mine, I nearly always enjoy it.’ He adds: ‘I’ve got a lot of kudos from these guys. All they’ve ever had to go on is the music, not the jaded British music press or tabloid version of ‘Harper’s Life’. A new group of people en masse taking my work on its own merit. It’s so refreshing!’
As well as his seventieth Birthday concert, he is re-issuing his back catalogue and is also set to release a new compilation, entitled Songs of Love and Loss, Volumes 1 & 2. Given the back catalogue that he has amassed, over the course of over forty years of recording, how did he go about selecting which songs made the cut?
‘It started off as an idea in the mid to late nineties,’ he explains. ‘I could have made any number of records, the Political Roy, the Social Commentary Roy – but thought it would be good to do love songs and laments.’ The laments record never got off the ground, he says, but ‘with the advent of digital download, a decade later, we decided it was time for this kind of a record. We got in touch with three or four different companies, rather than just go straight to iTunes. That way, if you get piracy problems [when you’re with a distribution company] you’ve got their company lawyers to sort it.’
Over the years, he has worked with a number of different record labels, and it’s clear that he isn’t entirely enamoured of the process in the digital download age either. ‘iTunes is a dump,’ he says firmly. He wonderfully evokes iTunes as being a place where ‘you can imagine ten thousand trolls in a satanic mill!’ dumping tracks into the massive iTunes machine. The new compilation has ‘gone up on iTunes and one or two others with no identity! They didn’t – until recently – split it the way it’s meant to be.’ However help was at hand: ‘When some guys who release physical product [Union Square] got in touch. The physical release is a good piece of product, exactly the way I intended it to be!’
I tell him I’m sympathetic to this, and say that I feel that the digital age hasn’t really come to grips with some of the peripheries of albums, particularly with regards to sleeve notes; that googling the information really isn’t the same thing as reading the artists’ notes. ‘Digital releases are a product of the modern age,’ he says. ‘All that’s wanted right now is sound bites -and even then that’s too much! Whereas, we’ve tried to make records that are thematic, where the songs are related to each other, and you have a multi-faceted record. Sleeve notes are a genuine thing from the artist or record company, straight from the source. Not a possibly jaundiced view from some unconnected critic that’s been dragged from another location in the ether. That’s as lamentable as criticism was in the eighties, when I couldn’t move without someone saying ‘Isn’t he dead, yet?’
‘Ouch,’ I say, somewhat involuntarily. I ask him about some of the musical collaborations he’s been involved in over the years. Famously, Led Zeppelin III closes with the track ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.’ Although he wasn’t involved with the track, he did collaborate with the band members, and clearly has a lot of time for both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page on not just musical, but personal levels as well.
‘Jimmy secretly, and Robert as well are both acoustic music fans,’ he reveals. Anyone who seems taken aback by this should listen to Harper’s astonishing 1971 album Stormcock which sounds like it set the basis for much of what Led Zeppelin would do. ‘What they’ve built their [heavy rock] sound on is a love of acoustic music. Robert Plant is a great man,’ he states, firmly. ‘I don’t give out accolades like that easily. First and last he’s a music man. He gets a great deal of satisfaction from music.’ I say that I admire Plant because of the way that he continues to explore many different types of music, thinking of his collaboration with Alison Krauss and the way he has investigated what might -for want of a better description – be termed world music. ‘Exactly!’ says Roy down the ‘phone. ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head.’
As well as collaborating with the Zeppelin boys, he also worked with Pink Floyd. I ask him about his contribution to Floyd’s 1975 album, Wish You Were Here. Harper sang lead vocals on the track ‘Have A Cigar.’ He is, politely, rather guarded, about his work on this album, the only time during our conversation I sense some reluctance on his part.
‘Roger [Waters, Floyd singer, songwriter and bassist] wrote a song he couldn’t sing, basically,’ he states. ‘It was two semitones too high for either of them [Waters and Floyd guitarist David Gilmour] to sing. They were going to shelve it.’ Harper however contributed his vocals to the track about the record exec who’s purely out to make money, and it’s gone on to be performed by Floyd’s members since then. ‘Roger’s been singing it ever since -or trying to!’ he chuckles. Of course, the reason why he was asked to perform on Wish You Were Here was that he was recording his own album, HQ, in the next door studio at Abbey Road. Known in the US and Canada under the title of the final, closing track ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease’ which is probably the best known song in a very impressive catalogue. I ask him if he’s comfortable with this being seen as his epitaph.
‘There’s plenty of songs that rival it, but it happens to ring a bell for people -and it’s a bell I purposely rang.’ It’s a hugely affecting song, from its’ deceptively simple melody, beautiful David Bedford arrangement and brass from the Grimethorpe Colliery band. ‘Its’ message is of someone looking back at these Islands, at this peculiar little corner of England. He adds: ‘You say that there was some sort of perception that cricket was played by a certain class, but in your perfect Eleven [the number of players on a side in cricket] it’s the blacksmith who traditionally gets the job as the fast bowler! He’s the player who has to come in!’ He is still a cricket fan -as well as being a lifelong supporter of Manchester City.
Earlier in the conversation he had spoken about his shared earlier influences in common with the Floyd and Zeppelin boys being Skiffle. But -and if you’ve heard his music you should know this – it’s revealing that his early influences were the romantic poets, particularly Keats and Shelley. I tell him that his comment about ‘iTunes and the dark satanic mills’ reminded me of another poet who blew me away as a teenager: William Blake.
Not surprisingly, the man who wrote Songs of Innocence and Experience and ‘Jerusalem’ was a huge influence on Roy Harper. Partly, this is to do with Harper’s well-documented distrust of organised religion. ‘Blake’s sensibilities told him other things, in an age when it was impossible not to be a Christian,’ he states firmly. ‘This was the age of reason, things were being discussed on a broader scale than ever before. I think of Blake as a hugely important figure. There’s some kind of alternative ghost in the background – I love him because of that. You could see him struggling with that, and knowing that it was going to be discussed by people like me. He was a man worthy of being lauded in any age,’ he says, decisively.
Back to the present day, and we discuss his upcoming gig at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. The concert’s going to be ‘Roy singing his favourite songs” with ‘half of Stormcock, perhaps.’ He says that there are going to be ‘one or two favourite guests, but no names to say,’ though he does hint that there’s ‘a lot to do with the American contingent.’
The interview’s drawing to a close. As a final question, knowing that he and Kate Bush collaborated together several times in the 1980s, I ask if he was one of the people in the ‘Breathing’ video – he sung backing vocals on the track. Yes, it turns out: ‘It was bloody freezing in that water -and some of those people went under!’
Songs of Love and Loss Volumes 1 & 2 is out now on Science Friction. The next twelve months will see the re-issue of twenty Roy Harper albums, starting with Stormcock, Flat Baroque And Berserk, Bullinamingvase and Sophisticated Beggar on October 3.
(Yup, I’m still here, just went away for a couple of days with Mrs. 17 Seconds and baby 17. Seconds.)
Maker of one of my favourite albums of the year, Smoke Ring For My Halo, Kurt Vile will issue a new six track EP in November entitled So Outta Reach. This will either be available as part of a re-issued version of the album or a standalone EP. It features five Vile compositions and a cover version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Downbound Train’ (originally on Springsteen’s Born In The USA LP).
The tracklisting is as follows:
1. The Creature
2. It’s Alright
3. Life’s A Beach
4. Laughing Stock
5. Downbound Train
6. (so outta reach)
Matador have made the first track available as a free download, so enjoy!