Album Review – Grinderman


Grinderman -‘Grinderman 2 RMX’ (Mute)

In early 2006, me and the now Mrs. 17 Seconds went to see Nick Cave at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Although it was billed as being a Nick Cave solo show -and technically, it was not a full Bad Seeds line-up, Old Nick (sorry) was accompanied by erstwhile Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos. It was this line-up that would deliver Cave’s next project, which was far more gnarly, grotty and garagey than his work under the Bad Seeds banner had been in a long time. They gave us two excellent albums in Grinderman and er, Grinderman 2.

At the end of last year at a festival in Australia, Cave told the crowd ‘”It’s over …See you all in another 10 years when we’ll be even older and uglier.” Now the band are on ‘indefinite hiatus’ although it is is said that there is a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album pencilled in for 2012 (although the three soundtrack albums that Cave has done with Ellis were great, and I’m surely not the only one who’d welcome one of these). In the meantime, though, there is this remix album.

Remix albums can be hit and miss affairs, often seemingly marking time until the next album, issued because the act in question is flailing for ideas, can’t issue another greatest hits just yet, or they haven’t acquired enough of a back catalogue to turn into a west end musical. However, Grinderman 2 RMX is pretty damn impressive.

Now, not just because most of what Nick Cave has turned his hand to over the last thirty years plus has been awesome (with the exception of his second novel, The Death Of Bunny Munro. That was crap.) – but because it actually works in its’ own right. It does, of course help that there are an impressive list of characters involved in contributing to the remixes here, including Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, former Bad Seed Barry Adamson and the much-heralded remix of ‘Bellringer Blues’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner. But what is even more staggering is how it actually seems to work in its own right as an album, which is a pretty rare beast for remix albums, and of course, essential in the iPod age.

Sure, some tracks are better than others – but then the same could be said about albums since time immemorial. This is not a stop-gap album, even if the likelihood of another album involving Cave is as wonderfully inevitable (barring death) as another Fall album.

Pretty impressive – for its source material, its collaborations and its end result as a whole.

Grinderman 2 RMX is out on Mute on March 26.

Interview: Mark Stewart


In which 17 Seconds has a hugely enjoyable time interviewing The Pop Group frontman about his new album The Politics of Envy, The glory days of The Pop Group and even ends up making him laugh with gag about CND rallies

It’s a Friday afternoon when I call Mark Stewart at a number in the Greater London area for what turns out to be one of the most pleasurable interviews I have ever done.

Before I start, I ask him, as I do with most interviewees, if there’s any areas that are off limits.
‘That’s what I said to her last night,’ he deadpans from four hundred miles away.
Who said post-punkers were po-faced?

Mark Stewart released his last album, the rather fine Edit back in 2008. Since then he’s been living all over the place, including spells in Vienna, Berlin, on top of a Volcano in in the Atlantic, before coming back to the UK. His forthcoming album, The Politics Of Envy, features collaborations with the likes of (deep breath!): Kenneth Anger, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Richard Hell, The Raincoats’ Gina Birch, Primal Scream, Clash/PiL guitarist Keith Levene, The Slits’ Tessa Pollitt, Factory Floor, Richard Hell, Massive Attack’s Daddy G, Jesus & Mary Chain’s Douglas Hart and Bristol producer Kahn. He has also worked with Judy Nylon, Richard Kirk from Cabaret Voltaire and Viv Albertine on recordings. Impressed? You should be.

And it’s clear that many people were happy to work with him. ‘Anybody I phoned, those people came,’ he states. He’s not boasting, but there’s a sense of pride when he tells me that people weren’t asking for expenses, they were happy just to be there. But there’s more to it, than just that. Talking to him, several times he states ‘I’m a fanboy,’ that he is a huge fan of the music of those people he is working with. After our interview I find myself wondering what a conversation between him and Bobby Gillespie of the Primals about music would be like.

It is clear that this album is something that he is particularly proud of and involved with. Now, you might argue – not unreasonably – that this is what any artist, trying to promote their latest album is going to say. But given the stellar supporting cast he’s worked with, and the process of making it, it’s clear that there’s more to it than that.
‘This album is like a travelogue,’ he explains. ‘I’m still really involved in it. I’ve only had the artwork for a couple of days.’ This seems quite incredible, this close to its’ release, but he seems genuine.

I ask him how long he’s been working on the album. His response throws me, somewhat.

‘Since I was fourteen,’ he says, matter-of-factly. ‘I wrote ‘Codex’ when I was thirteen and a half.’

Now, this might sound unlikely, but the teenage Stewart was already taking note on the world around him, soaking up not just what his native Bristol had to offer, but also going up to London to see bands, and reading up on what was happening across the Atlantic in New York at the (in)famous Max’s Kansas City.

Back home people like Subway Sect were ‘seminal’ while he also tells me that The Cortinas were friends of theirs. ‘I believed in punk,’ he states firmly. ‘We thought it was about questioning things. I’m still excited [by it].’ It was the spirit of the time that gave him and others like him ‘the arrogance of power to stand up as part of the era.’ Punk certainly knocked down the doors, he acknowledges.

Not just punk, but all sorts of music was entering his world, including that of Jazz folk like Ornette Coleman, whose impact on the sound of The Pop Group really cannot be underestimated. In terms of spirit as much as sound. As he puts it, ‘with punk having wiped the slate clean, we were free to discover people like Ornette Coleman.’

And people were discovering The Pop Group, too. ‘We were on the cover of the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds in the same week in 1979.’ No mean feat for a band on their debut album, Y whose members were still in their teens. Supporting Elvis Costello the band were described as ‘mental monkeys of the future.’

Y still astonishes all these years later, with its’ heady mix of punk attitude, free jazz, funk and dub reggae, amongst much more besides. Produced by Dennis Bovell, who also worked with The Slits and the cream of the reggae scene, it’s one of the key records of the era. And this in a year that also featured such forward-thinking albums as Fear Of Music, Entertainment, Cut and Unknown Pleasures. The band have recently acquired all their rights back, as well as footage of them with both William Burroughs and Joy Division.

This should also hopefully mean the long-awaited re-issue of the band’s second album, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? Originally released on Rough Trade in 1980, this has long been out of print. I ask how come it’s taken so long. ‘Radar [the band’s original label, also home to Elvis Costello] got reactivated, so Y came out again. I put together a compilation called We are All Prostitutes rather than re-issue the album. I thought it flowed better,’ he explains. Alas, Radar went under again.

‘We Are All Prostitutes’ is perhaps The Pop Group’s most famous song. It was part of an episode of the 80s-set Ashes To Ashes TV Series, and the phrase is one character’s final words, before blowing himself up. I ask Mark if he saw it. He says he was aware of it but didn’t see it. He retains a considerable degree of modesty when focusing on his own work. He was followed around for three years by film-maker Tøni Schifer for his documentary on him called On Off, but remarks that he can’t comment on work that relates to him.

‘I can’t see myself as some arch-Godfather!’ he tells me. This is despite the fact that his work with The Pop Group, and subsequently as part of the On-U Sound System’s New Age Steppers, and then solo with Maffia have clearly reached out and influenced a lot of people.

Not only that, but he’s certainly met an impressive amount of people. He’s still impressed that he got to meet Sun Ra, and also recalls touring as part of a package as frontman of The Pop Group which also included The Slits and Don Cherry. On this tour Don Cherry also bought along his step-daughter Neneh. Mark recalls how later Neneh Cherry would give Massive Attack a leg-up, and help them get big, too. He sees this as part of the cycle of artists helping each other out.

Things are, of course, cyclical, and if any world is more cyclical than any other it’s probably the music world. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening asked him to reform the Pop Group for an All Tomorrow’s Parties he was curating, getting Iggy Pop to reform The Stooges at the same time. There will be a new Pop Group album. ‘It’s like Damon Albarn does with Blur and Gorillaz,’ he says. Whilst reformations can be fraught with problems, he decied that a simple but effective approach was needed. ‘I thought: why can’t I treat working with them as a new thing, outside of the box. It’s getting a life of its’ own.’
And don’t underestimate his ability to pull a crowd. In 1981, The Pop Group performed their then final gig to the crowd at a CND Rally in 1981. I suggest, somewhat tentatively, that that’s going out with a bang, ‘even if I shouldn’t say that about a CND rally,’ I say apologetically.

He cracks up. ‘Finally,’ he says, much amused, ‘someone in the music business with a sense of humour!’

Meanwhile, according to his website: Mark will be playing Glasgow King Tut’s on March 26th and supporting him will be the legendary JD Twitch on the decks, Manchester Ruby Lounge on March 27th, joined by another tru legend, former ‘A Certain Ratio’ man Jez Kerr and the Family Bizarre, and London Scala on March 28th, with supports Russell Haswell. Bobby Gillespie will be doing a DJ set and him and fellow Scream member Andrew Innes will also be joining Mark on stage for their new single Autonomia.

Presenting…Since Monroe


Yup, their name may sound like a bunch of blonde American indie-pop lasses but, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Since Monroe are actually a four piece from Birmingham (England’s West Midlands, not Alabama) with a knack for blending grunge hooks with choruses and making music that takes their love of 90s alternative rock into the 2010s. Hell, if I was younger man I’d wanna mosh to this (those of us in the 35-44 age bracket should not mosh. It’s just wrong).

Andy Clifford and James Bradley got together with Rich and Matt Tregortha merely a year ago, so I can only deduce that they have eat, slept and breathed music between the four of them in that time, cheerfully forgetting about family, friends, jobs and partners and just got on with the business in hand of creating music, they seem that together. Either that, or they are telling a few porkies on the press release sheet, and they have actually been honing their act for far, far longer.

Whatever. This is their debut EP, entitled Lost Generation, which is released on their own Younitee label, next week.

They are touring England (but not Scotland, boo!) over the next few weeks:

23/03 Flapper and Firkin, Birmingham
24/03 The South Sea, Sheffield
08/04 Blue Rooms, Blackpool
20/04 Club Uniquity, Somerleyton
23/04 Phoenix, Coventry (acoustic show)
28/04 Wharf Bar, Walsall
01/05 O2 Academy 3, Birmingham
02/06 Waterfront Festival, Gosport
03/06 Hydrant, Brighton

In Edinburgh this week


I was sernt an email by Bart Owl of the rather fine eagleowl about this gig two days ago. He’s helping organise this fundraiser show for Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity.

Apologies for not writing about this sooner, this does look pretty bloomin’ excellent. I will make no excuses, just advise you to get along if you can.

Should you need more encouragement…

The return of Spiritualized…and how


Spiritualized will release their first new studio album for four years on April 16.

Entitled Sweet Heart Sweet Light, the artwork is at the top of the page. The first track to be released as a single from the album is entitled ‘Hey Jane’ which you can stream here. It’s a great track, which, as you will find out when you listen to it, is two tracks for the price of one.

The tracklisting is as follows:

1. Huh? (intro)
2. Hey Jane
3. Little Girl
4. Get what you deserve
5. Too late
6. Headin’ for the top now
7. Freedom
8. I am what I am
9. Mary
10. Life is a problem
11. So long you pretty thing

The ten minute vide for ‘Hey Jane’ is, er, eye-opening to say the least. NSFW is an understatement (Not Safe For Work. Do keep up). You may want to be careful showing it to anyone under eighteen, given its themes of violence, sex, death, and cross-dressing. If you are easily offended, or don’t like having your bourgeois sensibilities challenged (what are you doing here?), then do not watch.

If you are over eighteen and can make decisions for yourselves, then it’s up to you.

Album Review – Soap&Skin


Soap&Skin -‘Narrow’ (PIAS)

Soap&Skin is the work of one Anja Plaschg, an Austrian lass barely out of her teens. This eight track album is barely half an hour long, and fantastic as it is, when you hear it, you will feel that that is all it needs to be. Plaschg once played the legendary Nico on the Berlin stage, and like Nico’s classic albums The Marble Index and Desertshore, it’s a work of art that demands your attention and will leave you feeling wowed but drained by the end of it.

It’s not to say that there isn’t beauty here, because there most certainly is. Desireless’ 1988 hit ‘Voyage Voyage’ is transformed from a dark french disco number into something else; echoing the Norweigian singer Susanna’s way of transforming songs into something darker by stripping it to the shell of the song and the bleak experience within. ‘Wonder’ has picked up some radio play, and seems like a lullaby. But there are also moments like the violent ‘Deathmental’ and the songs that bookend the album ‘Vater’ and ‘Big Hand Nails Down’ that are compellling as they are frightening.

Not an easy listen, but one you won’t forget.


Narrow is out now on PIAS

The continuing rise of Letters


Edinburgh five piece Letters release their new single ‘The Halfway House’ today. The self-described (but very accurately) dark cello pop noiseniks have made it available to download from their bandcamp page for just a pound. Go without a coffee tomorrow and help them plough all the money that they’re going to make on the single on their debut EP which is called Older Motion Pictures and is scheduled for release on May 19. I’m looking forward to hearing it.

Stream ‘The Halfway House’ here. They were tipped by many as a band to watch last year, and on the strength of this track I’d argue that ‘they’ are most definitely right.

If you missed out on earlier recordings (tut tut, I did feature the band here over a year ago) try these for size:

and here

They are playing the following dates in March in Scotland, so pop along if you haven’t been to see them already (or even if you have!):

21st – Glasgow – Captain’s Rest

22nd – Inverness – Hootanannys

23rd – Thurso – Newmarket Bar

24th – Skye – Saucy Mary’s

25th – Edinburgh – Wee Red Bar



First of all, nothing to do with 80s goth band, The Screaming Marionettes (who I did indeed feature here once). The Marionettes hail from Aberdeen, and have been plying their wares since 2007.

They have just signed to Bedford Records, and seem reluctant to let us know who they are, but this is a free track they have released ahead of their debut single, a three track EP called The Rightness Of Blindness, released on April 9. It’s called ‘De Ja When?’ and it’s fab – I have played this four times this evening.

The following gig listings are lifted staright from Bedford Records’ site, but I hope will prove useful…

Thursday 12th April, The Doghouse Dundee. Doors at 8pm. £5/£3 for students. 14+, Under 18?s must be accompanied by an adult.

Friday 13th April, The Lemon Tree Aberdeen, support from Velvet Audio, Kobi and Joy Riot. Tickets are £6 + booking fee. Doors at 8pm. Under 16?s must be accompanied by an adult.

Saturday 14th April, Pivo Pivo, Glasgow. Doors at 7.30pm 18+ only.

Sunday 15th April, Sneaky Petes, Edinburgh, support from Suburban Saints and The Battle Adds, Tickets are £4. Doors at 7pm. 18+ only

Monday 16th April, Madhatters Inverness.

The arrival of Jack White: solo artist


The White Stripes have, of course, called it a day. A shame, but the opportunity for Jack White to continue to produce more awesome stuff. I think I prefered The Raconteurs to The Dead Weather (odd, because I love Alison Mosshart’s work as half of The Kills), and I’m really enjoying the first two tracks to emerge to the hoi polloi of his forthcoming solo album Blunderbuss, out on April 23.

This is called ‘Sixteen Saltines’ -and it sounds great.

This, meanwhile, is the video for ‘Love Interruption’ which also sounds great to these ears, and very different indeed.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen the tracklisting for the album, it is as follows:

‘Missing Pieces’
‘Sixteen Saltines’
‘Freedom At 21’
‘Love Interruption’
‘Hypocritical Kiss’
‘Weep Themselves To Sleep’
‘I’m Shakin”
‘Trash Tongue Talker’
‘Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy’
‘I Guess I Should Go To Sleep’
‘On And On And On’
‘Take Me With You When You Go’

The return of Orbital


Orbital are due to return with their first album in eight years, Wonky, on April 1.

Phil and Paul Hartnoll have joined up with Zola Jesus who adds her vocals to the first single taken from the album, entitled ‘New France.’ As you would expect, from a legendary dance act, yes it comes with a remixes – but what you might not expect (if you are cynical about remixes, rather than if you know how bloody great Orbital are and have always been, obviously!) is that those remixes would be so blinking awesome. All worth checking out, IMHO.

The video for the song is rather cool, too…

The album tracklisting is as follows:

1. One Big Moment
2. Straight Sun
3. Never
4. New France (feat. Zola Jesus)
5. Distractions
6. Stringy Acid
7. Beelzedub
8. Wonky (feat. Lady Leshurr)
9. Where Is It Going?

The band are touring the UK in April:

5 Manchester Academy
6 Leeds O2 Academy
7 Glasgow O2 Academy
8 Liverpool O2 Academy
9 Cambridge Corn Exchange
10 London Royal Albert Hall