Monday, 17 September 2018

Technique by New Order

Technique recorded in Ibiza and released early in January 1989 in perfect time for the Second Summer Of Love, is probably my favourite New Order album.

The band had experimented with synths and beats from the off, leading to some impeccable electro pop like Bizarre Love Triangle, Thieves Like Us, The Perfect Kiss and of course the more experimental side of things with Blue Monday. And if you explore their albums you'll find gems like Your Silent Face and Face-Up.

The band take things to another level with Technique - although the band started recording in Ibiza (in a sh*t hole of a studio - but with a swimming pool according to Peter Hook) they finished it in Peter Gabriels Real World Studios. The discovery of Ecstasy while in Ibiza may have influenced with the sound, style and lyrics on the album, but it didn't help with the work ethic and actually finishing anything.

Still, the 4-months in Ibiza laid a path not only for New Order but for the Hacienda, Manchester and Madchester as Factory Records label mate Bez came out to sample Ibiza and proceeded to import ecstasy to the Hacienda, transforming it overnight. Bez's autobiography and Peter Hook's books on New Order and the Hacienda are all extremely entertaining reads and really highlight how quickly ecstasy transformed a club, sounds, style and a generation.

Opener Fine Time sets the tone; high-hat action leads to synths, beats and squelchy bass. There are all kind of riffs floating about and all coming together to sound incredible. Sumner's vocals are whispery and then a Barry White style vocal kicks in (Sumner with effects) which is typical New Order humour.

At 2 minutes 28 seconds everything cuts out to a thumping beat over a high-hat before everything comes colliding into place after a Hooky bass riff.

New Order being New Order had to perform live on Top of the Pops rather than mime and Peter Hook describes the issues this caused with much hilarity in his book. Bernard Sumner looks he was enjoying himself!

Technique isn't all beats and synths though. All The Way is stunning guitar pop with Sumner singing about taking years to find the truth within himself and not caring what others say. The guitars shimmer, Hooky's bass grooves and it sounds like pure summer.

Love Less is built on a Hooky bass groove and Sumner sings as good as he ever has about a love broken down.

But you know
I watch every step that you make
To find some other fool you can take

Round and Round was another single from the album and it starts with real urgency in the synths before finding a groove. It's two verses and two choruses and then it takes off on a little instrumental journey, the synths programmed for stun, eventually leading back to the chorus.

The picture you see is no portrait of me
It's too real to be shown to someone I don't know
And it's driving me wild
It makes me act like a child

The darkest song on the album is probably Guilty Partner. Sumner's lyrics and song titles throughout the album perhaps indicate where he was at around this time. He injects extra urgency into the chorus and Hook's bass just jams and leads along throughout.

Then we come to Run, my favourite song on the album. This is just guitar pop perfection, Sumner plays a 12-string acoustic at times, then fires off a huge electric guitar riff after the first verse. Sumner is one of my favourite singers and guitar players. His ability to find a melody and let it flow is incredible, as is his knack of simple guitar solos. What a glorious uplifting outro.

Run was remixed and released as a single as Run 2.

Sumner's vocal melodies flow with ease on Mr Disco. The song almost comes as two, going off down a more electro path after 2 minutes 36 seconds before bring the chorus

I can't find my piece of mind
Because I need you with me all of the time
I used to think about you night and day
I used to feel what language cannot say
Oh I can't find you
I can't find my piece of mind without you

Then we progress to the astonishing Vanishing Point, this is New Order at their very, very best in my book. There is a euphoric 90-second intro before Sumner comes in. Musically, this is insanely good the way everything comes together, Hooky's bass before a hands in the air breakdown that then leads to the beats and chorus kicking back in - incredible.

My life ain't no holiday
I've been through the point of no return
I've seen what a man can do
I've seen all the hate of a woman too

Ibiza may have influenced the lyrics on Dream Attack. There is another beautiful intro and Sumner sings about waking up in the sunshine with the sound of music in his head.

There is a classic Sumner contradiction in the chorus; I don't belong to no-one, but I want to be with you before we are led to another piece of Peter Hook genius bass playing. Check how low he goes in the live video from 1989 below.

New Order were untouchable in the 1980's. To go from Ceremony and Movement in 1981 to Technique and Vanishing Point in 1989 is remarkable. Their resilience in the way they came together out of the tragic death of Ian Curtis, the way they experimented, created, pioneered and the sensational run of singles and albums they released is almost unbelievable to look back on.

The band went on to peak commercially in 1990 with the release of the England World Cup song - World In Motion. A lengthy break after the subsequent Republic album was brought to an end with the brilliant comeback single of Crystal and the Get Ready album.

Peter Hook and his band The Light continue their remarkable journey through the back catalogues of Joy Division and New Order in chronological order by playing Technique and Republic at SWG3 in Glasgow on Sunday 30th September.

I'll be there!

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Love Buzz

Cover of the month #38 - Nirvana cover Shocking Blue

I recently watched the Nirvana documentary Montage of Heck accompanied by a few bottles of beer. I was transported back to my teenage years and the wonder of falling in love with the power, punk soul and melody of Nirvana and the charisma and attitude of Kurt Cobain.

The sheer energy that Nirvana generated live as they were breaking was incredible. One of the live performances shown in Montage of Heck was their cover version of Love Buzz by The Shocking Blue. I was captivated.

Krist Novoselic was seemingly lost and fixated on the bass groove, Dave Grohl looked young and ferocious on the drums, hair everywhere. And Kurt ... well Kurt is being Kurt; driving his band on by attacking his guitar, spinning around the stage and simultaneously inspiring and antagonising the crowd.

I have included 3 films of Nirvana playing Love Buzz in this blog to highlight the power and intensity of Nirvana's live performances around this time and the brilliant way they transform the original.

1. Live at the Paramount, Seattle, 31/10/91
Kurt is almost throwing his guitar around as he plays, looking to inject extra energy, urgency and sound. Meanwhile Novoselic and Grohl highlight how tight they were with Krist just grooving on the bass riff and Grohl matching both Kurt's energy and the groove of the bass.

Kurt looks and sounds like he is trying to dismantle his guitar at one point, scratching and pulling at the strings as the rhythm section groove on, they bring it all back together with his guitar miraculously still relatively in tune for one final blitz on the riff.

This is top class live footage with someone on stage really capturing the movement and ferocity of the performance. Breathtaking.

2. Dallas, Texas, 19/10/91
With the stage set dangerously close to the audience, with no real height to offer protection, Kurt plays with added intensity. A couple of bouncers try to deal with stage invaders and crowd surfers as Kurt rips into the riff and screams into the mic. At 2 minutes and 8 seconds something snaps and Kurt launches himself over the heads of the front row, he is hoisted aloft and somehow still generating sounds from his guitar as a bouncer tries to pull him back to the stage. For reasons we'll never know, Kurt strikes out at the bouncer with his guitar before being dragged back to the stage and receiving a hefty blow to the head by the bouncer.

Krist and Dave jump in and Kurt is back on his feet almost immediately as his mates try to defuse the situation.

 The full show is available on the second video. Kurt has issues with the sound and after Polly he smashes the sound desk with his guitar at around 34 minutes 50 seconds in. By the time of Love Buzz Cobain's frustrations boil over and he launches himself into the crowd- as above.

Cobain pics his guitar up and plays what sounds like the riff of Something In The Way before tossing his guitar high and into the drums. There is a lot of noise and confusion before Nirvana play again with Kurt's guitar way out of tune for Penny Royal Tea.

Then in a remarkable show of resilience and character after the fight, Kurt and co tear in Negative Creep and On A Plain as bouncers/stewards gamefully try to keep people from invading the stage. The band end by ripping through Territorial Pissings. It is remarkable footage!

3. Live At Reading 1992
The above footage is incredible, both from October 1991, just a month after the release of Nevermind. Fast forward to the summer of 1992 and Kurt takes the stage at Reading in a wheelchair and hospital gown to take the piss out of rumours about his health.

The energy, passion and punk attitude from the above shows is still there as Kurt throws, smashes and detunes his guitar and then somehow manages to play it again. His unpredictability means that you just cannot take your eyes off him.

So Love Buzz is a favourite of mine, the energy leaps out of the song and the rhythm of Krist and Dave is sensational.

The original was released by Shocking Blue in 1969. The riff is there, but Nirvana electrify and magnify it, recognising its power and transforming it to their advantage. The original also has a bit of a crazy section before bringing the riff back in, but again, Nirvana take that to another level and Kurt's rasping vocal is just incredible.

Previous covers of the month

Friday, 7 September 2018

And Nothing Hurt

I like to sit around and dream you up a perfect miracle
Part the clouds and have the sun proudly shining on you
Take the stars and line them up to spell, darling I love you
And little by little, watch it all come true

The broken, world and life weary, dreamy, psychedelic lullaby voice of Jason Pierce, AKA J Spaceman, ushers And Nothing Hurt, the new Spiritualized album in. And we're off to get lost. In classic Spaceman form, opener A Perfect Miracle builds with multiple vocal layers, strings and horns. It's a beautiful and soulful love song, classically dreamy and with Spaceman lost in love.

every time I close my eyes, I'm just dreaming of you

I'm Your Man was the single to launch the album and it built up expectations. Thankfully they have been exceeded. Pierce plays up to his image and lays his heart on the line, his guitar soars over horns.

I could be faithful honest and true, holding my heart for you
Dependable all down the line, devoted all the time

But if you want wasted, loaded, permanently folded, doing the best he can
I'm your man, I'm your man

Pierce's fragile voice can seem shattered at times, full of joy and wonder at others. Here It Comes (The Road) is the latter, it's full of love and the simplicity of driving with the radio on, eventually leading to his house and the brilliant lyric;

And you can see my house from here
And the way my heart is beating
You'll hear the sound
It'll wake the sleeping

Pierce conjures such emotion through his lyrics, voice and music. Let's Dance is a gorgeous ballad that tips a nod to Big Star in the lyrics. It builds beautifully, the music sounds like it could be from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds sessions. Pierce allows plenty of space and time for the music to play and flow at the end. 

On The Sunshine is more of a psychedelic rocker but it's the fragile, tender ballads that are capable of building, soaring and swooping, that dominate and stand out on And Nothing Hurt.  One of them is Damaged and after a few songs where Pierce is in love, this is one where he's had his heart broken. No-one can write a song about losing in love quite like Pierce, Broken Heart from the seminal Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space album is the closest I have heard to the sound of a broken heart on record.

Having talked up the ballads, The Morning After is brilliant psych garage rock that sounds like The Velvet Underground jamming with Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew. The psych jam adds in Miles Davis and the MC5.

We dive back into the serene calm of The Prize and Pierce is contemplating leaving (dying? - see below re his illnesses) and debating if love is the prize from life. It's lush, it's dreamy, it's hypnotic

Some reports indicate that And Nothing Hurt may be the final Spiritualized album. If it is, then Sail On Through is a fitting finale. Pierce has been through a tough time in the 6-years since the last Spiritualized album, suffering from double pneumonia and also from liver disease.

Pierce is at his dreamy psychedelic lullaby best as he creates a rich sonic wonderland to get lost in.

If I could hold it down
I would sail on through for you
If I weren't loaded down
I would sail on through for you

And Nothing Hurt is a rich, deep, soulful and lush album with lots to discover and plenty of scope to get lost in. Expect it to feature high in my end of year list of favourite albums from 2018.

Spiritualized are playing live shows, with only one UK gig (London) confirmed at present. They have shows in America and on the continent. Fingers crossed J Spaceman comes to Glasgow - potentially for the last time.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The The at the Barrowland Ballroom

Last night I witnessed the highly anticipated and exceptionally executed return of Matt Johnson's The The at the Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom, a venue that Matt described online as their favourite in the UK.

The gig sold out almost immediately and I took to Twitter in the weeks leading up to the event to alert fellow music fans that I was on the hunt for a ticket. Some weeks previously I had sold 2 Jimmy Cliff tickets for his Bandstand show at under face value as I couldn't go. Karma helped me out as I got lucky with a ticket for The The, so lucky that I picked it up at my daughters school gates! Thanks Fiona.

My good friend Phil had bagged a ticket from the off and two of his best friends from down south made the journey up to join him. One, Stephen, is known amongst The The circles for his remarkable collection of The The records, both had already been to see the band on their comeback and were hyped to see them at the Barrowland.

The band were due on at 8.45pm but strolled on to the stage at 8.35pm, dressed immaculately in black and proceeded to treat the packed venue to 2-hours of expertly crafted leftfield pop. 23 songs.

The set flowed superbly, Johnson had assembled a crack band to back him, including Little Barrie (Primal Scream) on guitar. Johnson patrolled the stage when he wasn't playing his guitar, draped his arm around his band mates and generally looked like he was having the time of his life.

He took plenty of time to speak to his devoted audience and his voice was top notch all night. Many will be going to see the band do it all over again at the Royal Concert Hall tonight. One thing that struck me throughout was how immersed in the music everyone was and the bands plea for no filming or photos definitely helped with that - hence I have no pics from last night.

There were many highlights; early on the run of The Beat(en) Generation, Armageddon Days Are Here (Again) and We Can't Stop What's Coming was pretty mind blowing. The band were super tight and Johnson's voice was soulful and true, the audience hung on every word, many knew them all.

We can't hate the river for flowing
Can't blame the wild wind blowing
Can't slow time from running
We can't stop what's coming

The beautiful flowing This Is The Day got an extra loud ovation, the crowd singing heartily;

This is the day, your life will surely change
This is the day, when things fall into place

The band were in their element as the set reached its climax, a cover of Hank Williams I Saw The Light was loud, raw and soulful and the subsequent run of songs through to I've Been Waiting For Tomorrow (All My Life) was spine tinglingly good.

Johnson returned to the stage alone after the encore, delivering a beautiful True Happiness This Way Lies, it is safe to say that this show brought true happiness to a lot of people. The band returned and Johnson introduced Uncertain Smile as the song you've all been waiting for.

What followed was a real Barrowland moment for me. I didn't time it, but this was the full 12-inch version of the song and the extended instrumental section was truly sublime, the piano solo as the band grooved was utterly magical. I won't forget this performance for a long time.

There was enough time for Matt and his band to reach into their catalogue for one more and the lyrics of Lonely Planet made perfect sense;

If you can't change the world, change yourself
And if you can't change yourself, change the world

This was an astonishing performance, as good as I have seen at the Barrowland. Johnson's lyrics, voice and craft were captivating. I hope they return to their favourite venue again next year.

Global Eyes
Sweet Bird of Truth
Flesh and Bones
The Beat(en) Generation
Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)
We Can't Stop What's Coming
Beyond Love
Love Is Stronger Than Death
Dogs of Lust
Helpline Operator
This Is the Night
This Is the Day
Soul Catcher
Bugle Boy
I Saw The Light
Slow Emotion Replay
Like a Sun Risin' Thru My Garden
I've Been Waitin' for Tomorrow (All of My Life)

True Happiness This Way Lies
Uncertain Smile
Lonely Planet

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Last Of The Gracious Losers

In this blog I've tried to combine 3 fantastic things I have experienced over the last week courtesy of Jonathan Liley and his band, The Gracious Losers.

- Firstly I had the pleasure of getting my hands on his bands debut LP. It comes in a stunning gatefold sleeve with artwork courtesy of Sean Phillips, the Elsner Award winning comic book artist. More about the music later.

- Secondly, I caught Jonathan playing an intimate acoustic show backed by his friend and band mate Heather on violin as part of a pop up record shop in The Doublet. I was struck by watching Jonathan in such an intimate setting at just how good he is on guitar. Sometimes with only 3 or 4 simple chords (that even I can play) - but he makes them sound a hell of a lot better than I can! He doesn't just play his guitar - he feels it.

The afternoon of music and beers in (and outside) The Doublet was fantastic and I was once again struck by the sense of community created by the Last Night From Glasgow label who organised the day. I don't know why it still surprises me as it has been evident since the label launch night, but it strengthens and develops with every release and event.

- And then on Friday night Jonathan's incredible band launched the album with a headline show at Glasgow's newest live music venue - The Great Eastern. I think The Gracious Losers had 13 people on stage at times and what a sound they created. The Great Eastern on Carrington Street, just off Great Western Road, is a care centre for the elderly during the day. The team from Synergy Concerts have signed a lease for a string of shows at the venue and it was easy to see why. The main room has high beamed ceilings and natural light floods in from windows on either side. A pop up bar was ceased upon by the thirsty crowd and it felt like a real event.

Picture courtesy of Richard Brown

Back to the album.....and more on the show.

The Last Of The Gracious Losers LP has a warm  natural glow from start to finish. The 9-piece (sometimes more) group formed by Jonathan Liley are all top notch musicians (including Johnny Smilie and Monica Queen from Thrum) and capable of jamming, improvising and creating wonderful moments.

Although captured well on vinyl, to see this wonderful group play live on Friday night was a joy. They took flight and the finale of Hey, I'm Riding Low and I Can Never Read the Signs was mind blowingly good. The former is a little over 7-minutes long and the band lock in like Crazy Horse with Johnny Smilie coaxing incredible sounds from his guitar. The latter has a false ending before Liley leads his band to even higher levels, helped by 3 backing singers and a brass section.

Liley is a warm host, bubbling with enthusiasm and a smile is never far from his face. It was easy to see and feel just how much the night meant to him.

The band opened by huddling close around Liley centre stage to sing acapella and harmonise on a new song Till I Go Home which immediately captivated the audience.

Picture courtesy of Richard Brown

The second song in was sensational and I later found that it was a cover of the Daniel Johnston song To Go Home, arranged in the style of the M Ward cover of the song. I was blown away by it. Power, passion and soul. You can check the M Ward version HERE, I hope that The Gracious Losers go on to record their own.

Back to the record Where The River Meets The Sea is counted in gently and for a brief moment it sounds like the guitar, piano and beats are finding each other .... and then they do ... and then we're off into the world of The Gracious Losers. Heartfelt vocals, instruments colliding then breaking, then coming back together and bringing in a friend for good measure. Horns, backing vocals and strings are all there but the song still has so much space to breath.

The harmonies on Moonlight Parade are spine tinglingly good and the band are given time to play, the slide guitar touches the soul. Liley's romantic soul is all over the album I wanna dance with you babe, in the moonlight parade.

Picture by Gary Sloan

Last weekend I got to see Jonathan play an intimate acoustic set, backed only by Heather Philips on violin. Give Your Pain A Name was (for me) a highlight of their set. It's so fragile, so tender, sometimes it feels like it is hardly there. It is a special talent to be able to write and play like this, to get so much feeling down on record. On the album it's Jonathan, his acoustic and mouth organ. Get your headphones on and close your eyes for this beauty.

Give your pain a name and you'll feel much better
It won't hurt so bad when it lets you down, down, down
Next time around

Hey I'm Riding Low is 7-minutes of joy on record. This is widescreen, this is classical, this is absolutely beautiful. We have 90-seconds where guitar and strings play and soar before the beat comes in and Jonathan sings with Amanda. Then the lead electric guitar just takes off like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the rhythm is simple and kind of funky, and the guitar swoops and soars - wow! Honestly, if you do one thing from reading this blog then check this song and I bet you buy the record.

Johnny Smilie
Picture courtesy of Richard Brown

I Can Never Read The Signs is another epic, the song tails off at 5 minutes 30 before easing itself back in and coming in at a different level - the energy leaps from the record. What a performance!

This was the finale of the bands launch show and oh wow! It was special - Jonathan along with Gary Johnston, Rory McGregor, Johnny Smillier, Erik Igelstrom, Heather Philips, Amanda McKeown, Monica Queen and Celia Garcia (and others!) just soared where few can dream of flying.

The band were one as Amanda, Monica and Celia let rip with their vocals over horns my spine tingled and goosebumps miraculously appeared on my arms. Liley turned to play and groove with his super tight rhythm section and at the end brought everyone to the stage to take in the applause and he fell to his knees, probably wondering it it was all a dream.

I bet he had dreamt of this moment - well it came real.

You can order the gatefold vinyl (with download code) of The Last Of The Gracious Losers HERE

Photo courtesy of Richard Brown

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Hope Downs

I can't remember where I first read about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, but whatever I read struck a nerve and I thought I had to check them out. I'm glad I did. The 5-piece from Australia have created a gem of a debut album in the shape of Hope Downs.

The rhythm section is exceptionally tight throughout, allowing two electric guitars to chime and scream, all underpinned by an acoustic.

There is an urgent energy and natural flow to the songs and the album. Air Conditioned Man blitzes by and Talking Straight has a similar drive to it before exploding gloriously into the chorus.

Unless my well worn ears are mistaken, Hope Downs is the sound of a band on the up. They have captured something in a brilliant way and the whole album has a great vibrant feel to it. It is one of my favourite of 2018 and I find myself returning to it regularly.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are touring extensively and come to Europe in October. No Glasgow (or indeed Scotland) date has been announced yet. Here's hoping!

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Teenage Fanclub at The Trades Club

A few years ago Teenage Fanclub played a show at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge as a warm up show before supporting The Foo Fighters in Manchester. Online reports were pretty euphoric, a teeny tiny venue with a cracking sound system in a gorgeous town.

So two months ago, when the band announced they would be returning to warm up before playing the Green Man Festival, I was determined to go and was fortunate to get a ticket - and the go ahead from my wife for a one-night holiday! 

I wasn't disappointed. Hebden Bridge is beautiful, it's like going back in time. The village is set in a lush green valley with a canal running through it. There are cobbled streets, stunning old bridges, cool independent shops, cafes and bars and there is a very relaxed vibe to the place. I enjoyed a lovely walk around and a coffee and cake in The Bicycle Den by the canal before a pint in the White Lion.

The Trades Club beckoned though and I took a walk along to check it out. I could hear the band soundchecking as I walked along the street and wandered up the stairs. Reports of brilliant asian street food being served at the venue were true and I had a stunning vegetable coconut curry and a beer as the band finished soundchecking in the next room.

Posters lined the walls of the bar and it is no wonder bands and artists choose to come to this cracking little venue - Patti Smith is one of the biggest names to have played, but the town, venue and friendly welcome ensure they come back again. It was top marks all round from me, I'd love to go back down the next time the Fanclub play. Some friends I met through the Teenage Fanclub Fanclub forum and Facebook page arrived and we swapped stories about Fanclub gigs from years gone by, records, the Creation reissues and forthcoming shows. There were two lovely girls who had traveled all the way from America for this small show! 

The Teenage Fanclub Fanclub - Po and Hannah

There was no support and Teenage Fanclub bounded on to the small stage and began with Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything immediately gelling with Francis MacDonald in great form on drums. The bands legendary guitar tech - Guitar George - ensured there were some quick guitar changes as the band tore into Start Again followed by Don't Look Back. Norman thanked us all for coming and joked about the band overdosing on Haribo backstage! 

It really was a joy to see the band at such close quarters in such a brilliant wee venue.  It was hot, sweaty and everyone was having fun. Raymond's guitar fizzed at times, Thin Air was exceptional, and Verisimilitude sounded sublime. 

I Don't Want Control Of You always causes me to think of my kids, while Star Sign makes me feel like 15 and I might even have attempted some pogo-ing! 

Ain't That Enough has a skyscraping chorus and it felt like there was an extra surge in the last one as the entire crowd joined in, Gerry and Norman's voices combined beautifully. The set closed with a ferocious double header - the pure pop perfection that is Sparky's Dream followed by the bands debut single, the stunning Everything Flows. Dave McGowan came from behind the keys to create a glorious noise with the three electric guitars sounding like heaven.

The encore was a blast through Grant McLennan's brilliant Easy Come, Easy Go before Raymond's stunning Can't Feel My Soul which features some of my favourite guitar playing from him before the band closed with the spine tingling rush of The Concept.

Teenage Fanclub are a truly special band and they were in sparkling form last night, see the full setlist below if you can make it out from my dodgy picture. Post show I had the added bonus of being invited backstage for a beer by Dave afterwards and it was fantastic to chat to (and quiz)  the band about the forthcoming Creation shows and songs. To be able to watch my favourite band in my favourite venue playing some of my favourite albums 3-nights running is going to be incredible.