Album Review – Sex Pistols (re-issue)

Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’ (USM/UMC)
It seems slightly odd that for a band who snarled ‘No Future’ that forty years after their one and only studio album they should be still be constantly examined and written about. Or maybe it was deeply prophetic: that pop is so obsessed with its past that it repackages it constantly and there is a lot less of a future because it can’t shake off its’ past.
The reality is that Never Mind The Bollocks remains one hell of a thrilling ride. This issue is itself a re-issue of what has become regarded as the definitive issue which was first issued as a limited edition in 2012.
It opens – rather provocatively, being the Pistols – with what sounds like jackboots marching, and straight into ‘Holidays In The Sun.’ While it and the three other singles ‘Anarchy In The UK’ ‘God Save The Queen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’ may well be the strongest things here, it is worth noting that they are classics, and essential entries in the rock canon.
Some songs may seem rather slight on their own – ‘Seventeen’ with its chorus of ‘I’m a lazy sod’ could be a lesser band, but all tracks together combine the yobbishness and art school, the very filth and fury (as a newspaper heading about the band had it) to make up a package that was repellant to some and irresistible to others.
‘Bodies’ – supposedly the only song Sid Vicious actually played on on the album – still terrifies, all the more so, given that it was reportedly written about a real Sex Pistols fan. ‘EMI’ which closes the album was the riposte to the label which had dumped the band after they’d sworn on live TV (oooh! Controversial for 1976) gives the album a fabulous close.
The b-sides (as they do at their best) stand-up for themselves. Their version of The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’ matches the Pistols musical snarl, yet opens with hints of the dub reggae that John Lydon loved and would explore with his next (and arguably more interesting and adventurous) Public Image Ltd. ‘Satellite’ and ‘Did You No Wrong’ are strong songs in themselves.
I probably am not the only one who still cringes at ‘Belsen Was A Gas.’ The Wikipedia entry acknowledges that it’s a highly controversial song. It’s a demo version that appears here – while it may have been written more to shock the older generation than to offend, Lydon is amongst those who have acknowledged that it crosses into bad taste. I could live without it reappearing.
For a band who supposedly couldn’t play, the demos and live material may show some sign that they were in need of polishing, but that they were probably more competent than they may have wanted some to believe. It’s perhaps telling that on the Norwegian gig on the third disc after ‘New York’ Lydon can be heard telling the crowd ‘Alright? Just stop the fucking spitting, I don’t like being spat at.’ It may have been perceived as part of the ritual – yet (totally understandably) something he didn’t wish to be part of.
Whether there will be more re-issues of the album remains to be seen. But Never Mind stands as a fantastic blast of anger and fun that has not withered over four decades.

Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is re-issued and out now on

Album Review – The Jam (re-issue)

Jam – ‘1977’ (UMC Polydor)
This five-disc box set brings together a pretty comprehensive, nay exhaustive overview of the band’s first year on record and visually. It includes the band’s first two studio albums In The City and This Is The Modern World, demos, live tracks and Peel sessions, as well as the five disc which brings the visual work together. A pretty busy year – and all the more astonishing considering that five years between albums is not unheard of for some acts.
‘In The City’ still stands as one of the great debut singles. Like all great debuts should do, it sounds like a manifesto and a call to arms. Paul Weller was just eighteen and exhorting listeners to come to London and hear what was going on.
‘In the city there’s a thousand things I want to say to you
But when I approach you, you make me look a fool
I wanna say, I wanna tell you
About the young ideas but you turn them into fears.’
It still sounds astonishingly fresh. The descending chord structure that opens the song was blatantly cribbed by the Sex Pistols for their ‘Holidays In The Sun’ (frankly, it would need a musicologist to show the latter wasn’t a crib.) As for the parent album, it fair crackles along. Weller drew on the likes of The Kinks and The Who (it could be said that his voice has echoes of Roger Daltrey and his guitar-playing is certainly shaped by Pete Townshend). If the throwaway cover of the Batman theme seems like filler, then songs like ‘Art School’ and ‘Away From The Numbers’ means that the title track was no fluke.
Inbetween the release of their debut album and their second This Is The Modern World The Jam released a second single ‘All Around The World’ coupled with ‘Carnaby Street.’ The b-side is probably better – but it’s a sign of how The Jam would do things. The band would make a number of strong non-album singles in the years to come – ‘When You’re Young’ ‘Going Underground’ and perhaps their finest single of all ‘Strange Town.’
This Is The Modern World followed a mere seven months after the debut. Perhaps anticipating the difficulties that affect the reception of a second album, Weller snarls:
‘Don’t have to explain myself to you
I don’t give two fucks about your review’
Did he need to worry? If he had seen how beloved the band would be forty years on, maybe he wouldn’t have been so defensive. There’s evidence of Weller’s growing maturity as a songwriter – ‘Here Comes The Weekend’ and ‘Tonight At Noon’ while Bruce Foxton contributes one of the most underrated songs in The Jam’s catalogue ‘Don’t Tell Them You’re Sane.’ Even in terms of covers the band had stepped up a gear and given the first indication of how soul would shape the band; the album finishes with an energetic, if a little rough and ready version of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In The Midnight Hour.’
The Jam have often been re-packaged over the years since they split in late 1982 – and it’s impressive how much extra material has been brought together here. The John Peel session version of ‘In The City’ is sufficiently different to the album version and an energetic live version of ‘Carnaby Street’ are amongst the highlights.
In terms of what the band would achieve over the next few years, it may be said that their first year was the band just getting into their stride. The band’s third album All Mod Cons, released in 1978, was the start of them becoming a truly great band. But the box set gives a compelling insight into just what helped them lay the groundwork for the coming years.
1977 is out now on UMC Polydor

Gig review – Richard Thompson/ Joseinne Clark & Ben Walker

Richard Thompson/Joseinne Clark & Ben Walker

Edinburgh Usher Hall, October 17, 2017

I’ve seen a number of gigs at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall before. However, tonight there is a mobile phone ban in place, which whilst fair enough from stopping people posting ropey video online or – God forbid, having phone conversations, makes trying to remember details for a review rather hard if you phone is the medium for making notes.

That irritant aside, Richard Thompson’s latest visit to the Scottish capital showed just why his reputation continues to grow fifty years into his career. The support act of Joseinne Clarke and Ben Walker are aptly chosen to warm up the crowd. Clarke’s self-deprecating brand of humour is lovely – and should she ever decide to give up singing, comedy would be an excellent alternative. Their set is bookended with Thompson connections – starting with a cover of Fairport Convention’s ‘Reynardine’ and finishing with their take on Nick Drake’s ‘Time Has Told Me’; on which Thompson played (along with no less than three Fairport Convention albums that year). They have recently released a new EP The Birds on Rough Trade – and the title track also gets an airing. It’s a fantastic place to start with their music.

With Richard Thompson, I must confess to finding it harder and harder to write reviews. Not because he isn’t good, he’s bloody fantastic. It’s more about trying to avoid cliché and repetition, and to avoid simply fawning. This year has seen him release two new acoustic albums (Acoustic Classics Volume II and Rarities), as well as playing with Fairport at their annual Cropredy Festival. He sets the bar extremely high by opening with ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘The Ghost Of You Walks.’

Trying to examine exactly why it is that he is such a compelling performer, whether solo or not, it’s a mixture of certain things. Guitar playing that is intense – but is inclusive and draws you in, rather than feeling that it is a virtuoso trying to keep you at bay. Equally it’s matched with that baritone – oh, and a wonderful sense of humour.

As is the case, the set is a mixture of well-known songs from across his career, and well as a few unknown gems. So we get an acknowledgement of his half-century with his respectful interpretation of Fairport’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ paying tribute to Sandy Denny, the song’s writer. From the Rarities album we get ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down’ which deserves to be elevated from rarity to the Thompson Classic songbook.

He acknowledges that he’s not always had a lot of chart success – but when he plays the should have been a chart hit ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’ you can’t help thinking that it’s the public’s loss, not his fault. He’s understandably still smirking about an event a few years later when his then latest album debuted above that of his seventies contemporaries Yes’ latest album. When the set includes classics like ‘I Feel So Good,’ ‘Beeswing’ and ‘From Galway To Graceland’ who could fail to be wowed? That’s before you consider the masterclass in songwriting that is ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952,’ his contribution to making sure that Britain had songs about the road to rival America.

There’s so much musicality seeping form his every pore that it seems not to matter whether he plays with a band or not. He manages to play the guitar in such a way that it seems that a rhythm section is present within it. There may be countless imitators – but there’s no-one who can touch him.

Album Review – Pale Honey

Pale Honey – ‘Devotion.’ (Bolero Recordings)

Looking back at previous pieces I have done on Pale Honey it is clear that somehow I always end up referring to what their previous steps have been. Their early releases were rightly critically acclaimed, and it’s great to watch an act grow.

No musical act grows in a vacuum – and it’s so cliched to compare them to other duos, so I won’t here -but with the release of a handful of tracks over the last twelve months, it’s clear that they have *cough* broadened their musical palate.

Sometimes a band’s determination to grow beyond their first album can end up giving listeners that seems to have no connection with what preceded it. Pale Honey have managed to draw links with their self-titled debut, but managed not to repeat the tricks of it (aside from writing great songs, that is). The atmosphere of ‘The Heaviest Of Storms’ is a particular highlight. It shows off their Nordic-noir take on Scandi-pop at its best.

Do they sound like a different band? No -‘ Real Thing’ provides the strongest link with their debut -but Devotion is a huge leap forward, and gets even better on repeated listens.



Gig Review – Tori Amos


Tori Amos

Glasgow 02 Academy, October 6 2017

How good was Tori Amos live? Even three days later, I’ve still got a glorious glow just thinking about the gig…

The gig was the final night of the European tour supporting her new album Native Invader. A quarter of a century since she appeared with her debut Little Earthquakes, she still seems like very few before or after her. Sure, comparisons may be made with (insert name here) or (insert name here) if you must. But as she walked out onto a stage – just her, her faithful Bosendorfer concert grand piano and a couple of keyboards – she gets a standing ovation just walking on stage. It probably is easier if you’re playing to an adoring crowd, rather than struggling to be heard amongst people who aren’t there to see you, but what is clear is that she has won fans over, and they aren’t about to let her go.

She’s clearly had a great tour – and the warmth of Glasgow audiences is rightly legendary. With a pretty damn impressive back catalogue, she’s never going to be able to play every one of the favourites and promote the new album. But the gig felt like a great crowd supporting a great artist.

I first heard her in 1991, a few months before the album came out when ‘Silent All These Years’ came out (it would later make the top 40; she’s had a number of bona fide hits here in Britain over the years). It sounded like nothing else at the time. So to finally hear it live is a dream come true and the sense that it’s just as magical and bewitching as it always was.

Many of the crowd are delirious to hear ‘Baker Baker’ – but me, I’m delighted to hear favourites like ‘Sparkle’ -‘she’s addicted to nicotine patches’ indeed, and I realise that ‘Winter’ may indeed be my favourite song of hers after all (for a long time I might have plumped for ‘Sister Janet’, b-side to ‘Cornflake Girl,’ her forst top ten hit). Her cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ is as heartbreaking as the original, and she also weaves in the Eurythmics’ ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ into the set.

Perhaps most revelatory is hearing ‘Blood Roses’ live. On record I’d found the track from Boys For Pele unsettling and alienating. Yet hearing it live, it all makes sense. I’d been privilged to be able to review the gig for free – but within a very short time, I felt that I would have been delighted if I had paid for both mine and my fiancees tickets.

Album Review – Richard Thompson

A mere two months after the release of Acoustic Classics II, Richard Thompson has given us a third collection of acoustic workings of music from his back catalogue. It’s quite a fitting way to continue to mark the fifty years since he co-formed the seminal British folk-rock band Fairport Convention.
A word about the title: Rarities often implies that it’s music that hasn’t really circulated because it’s offcuts, music that has been tucked away on b-sides, soundtrack albums or -God forbid – simply that it wasn’t really very good. In this case, put any such concerns to one side: he has amassed a number of great songs over time, and these songs are deserving of being heard, stripped down to voice and guitar.
If Bob Dylan can be considered the songwriter’s songwriter in America, then Thompson must surely be the frontline contender for the British title. A number of these titles have been covered by other artists previously -‘Seven Brothers’ by Blair Dunlop, and ‘Rainbow Over The Hill’ by the Albion Band. Six of the fourteen have been unreleased – and while all high in quality, they’re very different in approach. The album gets of to a rather dark and angry start with ‘What If’ and the reflective ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down.’ The latter feels like a cousin to one of Muswell Hill’s other famous songwriter’s – Ray Davies of The Kinks, and their 1983 single ‘Come Dancing.’ There’s the humour of the ode to one of the most important inventors ever ‘Alexander Graham Bell’ and the very European sounding ‘I Must Have A March’ which sounds like it really should have been sung by Marlene Dietrich (except that she’s namechecked in the song) or by Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
Some of the tracks have been around for a while – there’s two tracks from the final Fairport album that Thompson appeared on, Fullhouse, ‘Sloth’ and ‘Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman.’ From the years with his then-wife Linda we get ”Never Again’ and ‘End Of The Rainbow.’ It’s not a hotch-potch; the reality is that an album that is almost entirely voice and acoustic guitar is powerful and commands your attention. If it had been written as an entire album it would still have worked.
Are there other Thompson titles I’d like to hear if he continues his acoustic series? To pick three out of the air:  ‘Dry My Tears And Move On’ from Mock Tudor, ‘Roll Over Vaughan Williams’ from Henry The Human Fly and a version of Fairport’s Sandy Denny’s still astonishing ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ to name a handful – I’m sure every Thompson fan has their own ideas on what should be covered. Suffice to say, yet again, Thompson has produced an album that draws on his back catalogue and stands on its own merits.
Acoustic Rarities is out now
Check out ‘They tore the hippodrome down’ here (for some reason this will not post!

Track of the day #48: U.S. Girls

4AD continue to be one of the most consistently brilliant independent labels, nearly forty years after they were founded. A mere couple of days after new music from The Breeders (see below), Meg Remy (AKA U.S. Girls) has released her new subversively pop tune ‘Mad As Hell’ – and it’s absolutely fabulous.

The press release – accurately – describes it as a ‘candy-coated Trojan horse for her powerful call to action for pacifism and impassioned critique of military spending.’ Protest music takes many forms – not least with the video. Directed by Remy with Emily Pelstring, it brings together historic, patriotic and military imagery. Remy performs throughout the video duplicated in synchronized dance moves flipping off her subjects recalling backup dancers of ‘60s pop girl groups. Indeed the song sounds like an alt-pop take on an 80s take on 60s girl bands.

Struggling to make sense of that? Watch the video below. The track is taken from the follow-up to 2015’s Half Free, about which more details are set to follow…


The return of The Breeders

It’s a double cause for celebration as The Breeders return, not only with new music – but with the line-up that recorded 1993’s seminal Last Splash. Twin front-women Kim and Kelley Deal (vocals, guitar) are joined by Josephine Wiggs (bass) and Jim MacPherson (drums).

The first track to be released is ‘Wait In The Car’ which from the very first listen is prime Breeders. It’s available to download now (yup, I already have) and stream, and it’s part of three singles due to be released on 7″ vinyl: Single One will be available at the band’s upcoming tour dates, starting October 15 (pressed on orange vinyl, featuring a cover of Amon Düül II’s 1970 track ‘Archangel’s Thunderbird’, recorded with Steve Albini in Chicago).  Single Two will be available exclusively at select independent record stores from October 27 (pressed on red vinyl, featuring Kim’s dreamy reimagining of Mike Nesmith’s ‘Joanne’).  Details of Single Three (featuring a cover of Devo’s ‘Gates of Steel’ and pressed on yellow vinyl) are to announced later in the year.  Each version is limited to 1,500 copies worldwide.

The video for ‘Wait In The Car’ can be seen below. ‘Wait in the Car’ was directed by Chris Bigg (formerly of the v23 team who worked on the band’s previous 4AD releases) and Martin Andersen, with the video piecing together 800 still images.

“It all started with a brick,” the pair say.  “We both liked the idea of using something iconic yet quite banal. An old brick has a story and it’s a beautiful raw object.  We started collecting more and more (some intact, some broken) and realised how different they all appear, each one having its own identity.”

The band are on tour this month and next:

10 – NEWPORT, KY, The Southgate House Revival
16 – DUBLIN, Vicar Street
17 – MANCHESTER, Academy 2 **SOLD OUT**
18 – LONDON, Electric Ballroom **SOLD OUT**
22 – AMSTERDAM, Melkweg Max
23 – ANTWERP, Trix
24 – BERLIN, Heimathafen
27 – PARIS, Le Gaite Lyrique **SOLD OUT**
29 – ST. PAUL, MN, XCEL Energy Centre (w/ Arcade Fire)
30 – CHICAGO, IL, United Center (w/ Arcade Fire)

1 – DETROIT, MI, Magic Stick
3 – BOSTON, MA, The Sinclair **SOLD OUT**
4 – WASHINGTON, DC, Lincoln Theatre
5 – NEW YORK, NY, Bowery Ballroom **SOLD OUT**
6 – PHILADELPHIA, PA, Union Transfer
8 – PORTLAND, OR, Wonder Ballroom **SOLD OUT**
9 – SEATTLE, WA, Showbox at Market **SOLD OUT**
11 – SAN FRANCISCO, CA, The Rickshaw Stop **SOLD OUT**
12 – SAN FRANCISCO, CA, The Rickshaw Stop **SOLD OUT**
13 – LOS ANGELES, CA, El Rey Theatre **SOLD OUT**


It’s still great, even in my forties, to have a submission drop into my inbox (in amongst the excessive amouint of stuff in there and the people who keep sending follow-up emails, despite the fact I ask people so nicely not to do so) and think ‘Yes! This is my new favourite band.’

Austrian band DIVES are a surf-pop trio consisting of Dora de Goederen (drums), Viktoria Kirner (bass), and Tamara Leichtfried (vocals, guitar) and they come from Vienna.

The trio draw from the 60s – girl-bands like the Shangri-La’s, as well as both the post-punk c-81 sound and the c-86 indie-pop attitude. Amongst their influences are 17 Seconds’ faves The Shop Assistants. They will release their debut EP on November 3. The first track to be made available is ‘Shrimp’ and you can see the video below.

The EP will be available digitally and on vinyl and CD on Siluh Records. It’s only available for p[rivate stream at the moment, but you will have to take my word for it that it’s very good indeed.

The tracklisting is as follows:
1. Shrimp
2. Concrete
3. Roof
4. Tomorrow
5. Drum
6. Squeeze

There’s only dates in Austria and Germany announced at the moment, but they are as follows:

October 20  – Linz, Willyfried
November 18 – Vienna, Fluc (EP launch)
November 29  – Munich, Milla
December 1 – Leipzig, Tiff
December 2 – Berlin, Schokoladen