Tuesday 27 August 2013

Fade Into You by J Mascis

My copy of Uncut arrived through the post this week and my heart skipped a beat when I read about Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis covering Mazzy Star's classic 'Fade Into You'.

The result is beautiful, pulling on heartstrings as Mascis sings in a fragile and fractured voice over warm   and earthly acoustic guitar. The solo towards the end is just stunning.

I could listen to this on a loop for hours.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Suede - the first 4 singles

I'm heading to the Barrowlands in October to see Suede, a band reborn through the release of the album 'Bloodsports' earlier this year.

I've recently taken some time to listen back through their catalogue that contains some incredible highlights, however I'm still fondest of their early singles that I bought on 7-inch over 20-years ago. A truly remarkable collection of songs that easily stand the test of time.

Suede burst on to the music scene in 1992 with confidence and style; their outspoken and good looking front man Brett Anderson helped to earn them a Melody Maker cover in April 1992, a full month ahead of their debut single 'The Drowners'.

'The Drowners' stood out a mile when it was released, it still stands out now. The drums and guitars that open the song are almost glam like, Anderson's vocal delivery grabs your attention and gets to the chorus within a minute.

We'll kiss in his room to a popular tune

The above lyric grabbed attention, as did Anderson's quote that he was 'a bisexual man who had never had a homosexual experience'. Morrissey and Bowie both became early fans and champions of the band, with Morrissey even covering the b-side of 'The Drowners', a song called 'My Insatiable One'.

Suede seemed to be throwing down a marker, a gauntlet if you will. Classic English guitar pop taking in influences from the 60's onwards but creating a sound and look that was original and certainly miles away from either grunge or house music that was dominating the charts at the time, even Madchester/Baggie.

With a b-side good enough to be an a-side and distinctive artwork for the single, this was a band gunning for glory.

Anderson's right hand man was Bernard Butler, a young livewire of a guitarist who was generating just as much of a buzz as the frontman due to his ability and looks. The Morrissey/Marr comparisons were inescapable.

'The Drowners' did everything a debut single should do for a band aiming for the stars - it laid down a marker; the look, the sound, it was a statement of intent. It didn't matter that the single never broke the top 40, all the right people were hearing it and falling in love with it.

The follow up single was released in September 1992. 'Metal Mickey' just followed on from 'The Drowners', proving the band had more than one song up their sleeves. In many ways it follows the 'formula' of their debut; guitars and drums dominate the intro before Anderson comes in with his distinctive vocals - again getting to the chorus in well under a minute. Butler's guitar is very Marr-like with it's circling riff and he gets to let rip on a solo that recalls The Kinks due to ferocity with which he delivers it.

Ed Buller was at the helm of the production duties for all 4 of the singles lifted from Suede's debut album and he just got things bang on, totally understanding the band, the songs, their ability and the sound they were capable of. The song reached number 17 on the charts, the only way was up.

'Animal Nitrate' was Suede's third release, a month ahead of the album. By this stage Suede were riding high, darlings of the musical press and bridging the gap between indie and mainstream with ease. 

If anyone had any doubts about how sexually charged Suede were (probably not many), then they were completely banished with this song. 

Oh in your council home, he jumped on your bones
Now you're taking it time after time

Oh it turns you on, on, on, now he has gone
oh what turns you on, on, on, now your animal's gone

Well he said he'd show you his bed
And the delights of his chemical smile
So in your broken home, he jumped on your bones
Now you're taking it time after time

This time the intro started with guitar before the drums came in, with Anderson not far behind.  The difference in performance from the band from the first video to this one is marked - the confidence is there for all to see (enhanced by cocaine according to Anderson). Anderson is pouting, displaying his midriff, slapping his bum (a favourite live trick of his at the time). 

Yet again Anderson hits the chorus before the 1-minute mark, this time at a mere 45-seconds before ripping straight into the second verse, hitting the second chorus at just after 1 minute 20 seconds. This is pure guitar pop and Butler lets rip with a searing solo that builds and builds before the chorus comes in again.  The song got to number 7, getting the band into the top ten for the first time.

After 3 sensational guitar pop singles and the release of their debut album 'Suede', perhaps it was time for the band to display their talents in a different way.

'So Young', released in May 1993 was the fourth and final single released from the album (that got to number one).  It is another corker of a single and gained controversy at the time for the lyric 'let's chase the dragon'.

The song is still pop but in a different way from the first 3 singles that were rammed down your throat with hooks. This is a beautiful song, the highlight for me being the verse;

...from our home high in the city where the skyline
Stained the snow I feel for a servant who kept me on the boil

Butler's guitar cuts out and some beautiful piano comes in before building to the chorus.

We're so young and so gone, let's chase the dragon oh

This is an impeccable collection of singles. The fact that they were the first four of the bands career makes them even more remarkable.

After burning so brightly, it was almost inevitable that the light would falter. Anderson seemed to want to take the band off in a new direction - determined not to be lumped in with the Britpop momentum that ironically Suede had helped to create.

A standalone single 'Stay Together' charted at number 3, but all was not well within the Suede camp with tensions running high between Anderson and Butler to the extent that they travelled separately to shows and Butler recorded his guitar parts in isolation.

Something had to give and Bernard Butler left to go on and produce some incredible songs with David McAlmont, notably the stupendous single 'Yes'.

Anderson locked himself away in a mansion with a load of drugs; coming back with 'Dog Man Star' an album completely out of sync with the media and Britain in 1994 that was being seduced by Blur and Oasis.

The album is now largely viewed as Anderson's masterpiece. I'll leave that for another blog.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Introducing Pete MacLeod

Sometimes the good guys win, sometimes the good guys come through. It doesn't always work out like that, certainly not as much as it should.

One good guy who is coming through is Pete MacLeod who has been working his music hard over the last few years, keeping an exceptionally positive attitude and building up an increasing fanbase. Pete has also been extremely supportive of charity with proceeds from some self releases going to good causes - a good guy.

One fan just happens to be the legendary Alan McGee who credits Pete 'more than anyone' for his return to music with his new label 359 music. It is a welcome return, injecting a much needed sense of energy, urgency and honesty into the music business.

With the release of debut single 'Rolling Stone' coming out in October (on download and ltd cd) it is easy to see why McGee has chosen Pete amongst his first batch of signings (I'll blog on more in the future but I am delighted to see The Grants/Chris Grant is one of them).

'Rolling Stone' starts with chiming Byrds-esque guitars and it remains upbeat from the off with the opening lyric 'what won't kill you only makes you stronger'.

I mentioned energy, urgency and honesty when talking about the return of Alan McGee to the music business. Those words can easily be applied to MacLeod's debut single. His vocals are crisp and clear, with lovely little rises at key moments.

The guitar solo and the strong vocal melody recall Bandwagonesque era Fanclub and there is a lovely undercurrent of hammond introduced during the instrumental and at choruses.

'Rolling Stone' is lovely guitar pop, easy on the ear with melodies that will get you humming along after just one listen. 

'Rolling Stone' is released on 359 Music as a download on 14th October and then as a 7-inch on 28th October. Visit Pete's website for details of live dates in Glasgow and London (and see poster above).

Jon Brookes R.I.P

The Charlatans, out of all of my favourite bands, have been the most consistent over the last 20 odd years. They've really always been there, through trying circumstances for me and also for the band.

The news of Jon Brookes passing hurts. A friendly 44-year old with a passion, energy and friendly approach to life. I'm really feeling for fellow Charlatans fans, for the band and their crew.

I met Jon briefly a couple of times and I have been fortunate enough to see the band play live on over 30 occasions. Jon (as is the case with drummers) was always at the back of the stage behind his kit and it isn't always possible to truly view his extraordinary skills.

However one time I went through to Edinburgh to catch The Charlatans playing an invite only show at the Liquid Rooms - I think it was for XFM/Radio Clyde. My brother managed to get me a pass.

It was mobbed and we managed to get up to the balcony stage left, actually behind Tim Burgess and level with Jon on the drums. It was a masterclass in drumming, making me appreciate how Jon was the backbone of the group, allowing others to flourish. His energetic style propelled his fellow band members on, turning their live performances on to new levels, gelling with Martin Blunt to form a tight-as-tight-can-be rhythm section and allowing Mark Collins and Rob Collins/Tony Rogers to play riffs on guitar and hammond.

The Charlatans have lived through tragic circumstances before after the death of Rob Collins. They came out fighting with an emotionally charged performance at Knebworth as they supported Oasis. They also released an inspirational statement that ended 'The Charlatans are rock.'

I hope the band 'keep on keepin' on'. One thing is sure - the memories of Jon will live long with fans of the band. He will never be forgotten.

There are many tremendous live performances of The Charlatans online. I'll share my favourite, a ferocous live version of 'Crashin' In' from the White Room, shortly after the passing of Rob.

I hope they come out fighting again.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Fake Major - Little Researcher

I felt a little guilty about leaving King Tuts on Monday night after the opening act - see previous blog on Kevin Harper. Hey, I'm getting into my late 30's and I had been at Wickerman for the weekend. I like and need my sleep and I knew I needed sleep. Anyway, enough excuses.

I was extremely tempted to stay and watch Fake Major as unfortunately I had missed them at Wickerman and I have enjoyed their first offering on burgeoning DIY/boutique label Comets & Cartwheels, so I though I'd do a wee review of the lead song from their debut EP 'Have Plenty Of Fun'.

Fake Major formed from the ashes of relatively popular Glasgow band Endor (who had a brilliant song titiled 'Fly Straight and Always Wear Sensible Shoes' and a few other too!).

The thing that struck me with 'Little Researcher' on first listen was how polished and assured it sounded. The production is superb, the guitar riff is beautifully playful and melodic, the lyrics are mature and well thought.

'....one day we ourselves will die, though we might not know why...'

The instrumental closing section of the song is pretty stunning. I'm kind of kicking myself for not staying last night as i listen to it again. It will be interesting to see what they do next - another EP or an album?

Pardon the pun, but there is nothing fake about Fake Major.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Primal Scream live at the Poetry Club

I was sworn to secrecy. I can't remember when and where I found out, but I was sworn to secrecy in case it never happened....It did; Primal Scream played under an old Railway Arch in Glasgow that has been taken over by the artist Jim Lambie and named the Poetry Club.

I had been to the Poetry Club, a disued Railway Arch in the West End of Glasgow that has been taken over (and named) by the artist Jim Lambie, on a few previous occasions thanks to my sisters band TeenCanteen playing a couple of times and the fact that Carla's boyfriend Michael runs a fantastic night there (and in Edinburgh) called Neu! Reekie. 

Michael strongly advised that I buy tickets for Friday 14th June as there may be some very special guests who might just be in town the night before the Roses. I knew it wasn't the Roses as they had another show, Primal Scream were the obvious choice given it was a hometown show and Lambie had designed their artwork for the Screamadelica tour and latest album.

The fact that Michael couldn't even guarantee me a guest pass was more than enough of a nod and a wink to send me scurrying off to Brown Paper Tickets to snap up 4 for the night.

Who would I take? I know loads of people who would love to see Primal Scream in such an intimate setting.

The fact that my wife, brother and best friend were all busy with babysitting, a 30th and Sonar meant that I asked 3 bass players and huge music fans that I knew would really appreciate the night; Gordon, Craig and Neal certainly did appreciate it!

We met for drinks in the Merchant City to go and see the Ian Tilton 'Set In Stone' exhibition of classic and rare Roses photographs. From there it was on to outside Tuts and then to the Poetry Club.

There was a real buzz about the place as we handed over out tickets and got our silver wristbands for the evening. 

John Giorno, a father figure to the New York City underground scene in the 60's, was flown over by Jim Lambie especially for the evening, a father figure to the New York underground scene. John's NYC accent sounded glorious as he used his extensive vocabulary to hold the room in his spell.

But anyway....on to Primal Scream.

The band entered the small stage via the fire escape to a somewhat surreal vibe - we couldn't actually believe this was happening. The band started with 'Out Of The Void', a song that really fitted in well with the vibe that the Poetry Club creates. It sounded fantastic.

They picked up the pace with '2013', the opening track from their latest album, sounding as vital and as fresh as anything from their lengthy career. 'Burning Wheel' was trippy and blissful, Simone Butler looking and sounding like she will have no problems fitting into the considerable sized shows left by one Gary 'Mani' Mountfield.

It was on the closing trio of 'It's Alright (It's OK)', 'Hit Void' and a ferocious 'Rocks' that the abnd and crowd really started to gel. Gillespie was the ultimate pro, commanding attention from the room and getting the crowd going. I got the sense that he was enjoying the underground vibe of the night. 'Rocks' was fast and furious and just as the crowd had been whipped up into a storm then the band exited via the fire escape - the same way they had come in.

I can only imagine what an encore of 'Loaded' and 'Come Together' would have been like!

Still, this was a bit of a dream gig. Primal Scream playing to about 70 people in a converted railway arch in Glasgow. Superb.

Monday 5 August 2013

Wickerman Festival 2013 - a review

Wickerman 2013 was ushered in by blazing sunshine and the first sold out event in the festivals history.

We arrived on site a little late at around 4pm on the Friday and had soon pitched our tent and sparked a beer before meeting friends Gordon and Alana.

We had a wander into the site and up to the Solus Tent to see Solar Eye but swiftly decided that Scottish hip-hop isn't our thing, so we caught the last of Dreadzone on the main stage; their dub, reggae house combination sounded pretty damn good in the glorious sunshine.

We helped (or at least Lynn did) Gordon and Alana pitch their tent (thankfully we have a pop up one) and then went back on site to catch some of Admiral Fallow who sounded majestic when they got into full flow.

The first highlight of the day was Machines In Heaven, surely one of the most improved outfits in Scotland right now. It has been a long road for Graeme and Greg, but their patience in finding their sound and line-up has paid off and their dreamy electro soundscapes sounded delicious in the Solus Tent.

KT Tunstall gathered a huge crowd at the main stage and we caught some of her set in between visits to the VIP bar that is conveniently situated right next door. She even dropped a wee bit of the White Stripes 'Seven Nation Army' into her set.

Friday was all about two acts for me though (no offence to the others). First up were Chic featuring Niles Rodgers and they did not disappoint. I got lost in the music, just dancing and singing along to hit after hit. 'Thinking Of You' by Sister Sledge became my song of the weekend, I still can't get it out of my head.

Niles Rodgers was coolness personified, striding around the stage in a resplendent white suit and shades, playing a unique mix of lead/rythm guitar. Their set was only 1-hour long, far too short. They ended with 'Le Freak' to huge cheers and a whole load of people on stage dancing with them.

Darkness fell and Primal Scream took to the stage, blitzing the audience with '2013' the opening track from their latest album. The song is full of energy that belies the Scream's years. The hits like; 'Country Girl', 'Jailbird', 'It's Alright, It's OK' (again off the new album) and 'Rocks' generated a brilliant response from the crowd. A welcome burst of 'Shoot Speed/Kill Light' was a real highlight.

There is a time and a place for new songs; '2013' and 'It's Alright, It's OK' are up with anything the Scream have recorded, however 3 or 4 other songs off the new album are not - certainly not when you are headlining a festival. So the mood in the crowd noticeably dipped during tracks like 'Tenement Kid'.

'Loaded' was a riot and the version of 'Come Together' was euphoric. I just wish that the Sceram had played a full set worthy of the title; festival headliners, as they certainly have enough material in their back catalogue.

The night ended with dancing in the silent disco and at an open stage DJ bar before we fell into the tent around 1.30am and kept the doors open chatting to the strains of the music in the distance. A top day.

Saturday morning was hazy and lazy. The sunshine warmed our tent to the extent that we had to get up even though we could have done with another couple of hours sleep. So we wandered on to the site with Gordon and Alana and grabbed some breakfast and newspapers from the shop and then headed back for a lazy couple of hours snoozing in the sun.

Acts we caught on the Saturday;

The Recovery - not through choice, the Recovery brought their heavy metal show to Wickerman as the guitarist and singer walked outside of the Solus Tent to play to the crowd at the food stalls. The Recovery may have cleared a few hangovers and not helped some others!

Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire -  Roddy's mix of ballads and up temp numbers went down well with the large crowd who were settling in front of the main stage and on the hill for the day. I personally preferred the more upbeat stuff that really showcased the sound his very talented 7-piece band could create. Roddy is a tremendous talent and well worth checking out.

Vasa - are managed by a lovely guy called Gerry Blythe who has put on some great nights in Glasgow (including booking Nevada Base and Vigo Thieves) and he has great taste in music. Vasa are from the Mogwai school of rock and their musical ability sounded way beyond their age (they look pretty young). They could build from a pin drop into a ferocious noise and their bassist impressed. Tight!

Lulu James - Looked and sounded brilliant - real festival act, capable of getting the crowd in the mood and generating a real groove at times.

Bellowhead - I was actually in the media village at the side of the stage when Bellowhead played to a huge crowd and they generated a massive conga - good festival fun!

Dexys - I love Dexys and was pleased to see Kevin Rowland and co pull a big crowd. Kevin looked great and the band ran through a mix of material from their comeback album and old classics. I only stayed for the first 4 songs as I was heading to see...

Vigo Thieves - Vigo Thieves smashed T in the Park and their good form improved even further at Wickerman at the Solus Tent, they really nailed it and impressed everyone there. The set is super tight;

'Steal Your Heart' set the tone, big guitars and choruses 'stay young in your heart and your in your mind' with the crowd singing along. 'Blood Red' kept the tempo up and Stevie Jukes was already down in amongst the crowd, vibing off their passion and energy.

'Believe' was epic, it is just a huge song that others can only dream of writing, it is another positive message - make no mistake, they believe and more and more people are starting to believe with them.

'Steal Your Heart Pt II' slowed things down and it sends a tingle down my spine every time I hear it. It contains my favourite lyric that Stevie has written (to date) and it gets me every time.

You're looking for the love to heal the pain from all the scars
So live for the moment and you'll shine like the stars

'Ghosts' was a riot with the band selecting a fan to play air saxaphone as their guest sax player was away on holiday, before 'Heartbeats' closed an epic set.

The band play the Arches on 7th September - get your tickets HERE