Sunday 20 December 2015

War Is Never Over (Even If You Want It)

Happy Xmas (War Is Over), a protest song against the Vietnam war, was released by John Lennon and Yoko Ono back in 1971. Ever the optimist,  Lennon was capable of getting the world to sing along to his songs of peace and love - All You Need Is Love was broadcast live to the world, Give Peace A Chance was recorded in a hotel bedroom in Amsterdam on his honeymoon with Yoko.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) got the world singing. Backed by a fantastic advertising campaign with Lennon and Ono taking billboards out in major cities and adverts in major newspapers, the message was still one of flower power talk - believe, we can make a change, lets be positive.

Fast forward to early December 2015 and the House of Commons votes to go to war; the government somehow find billions to invest in bombing Syria when food banks are on the rise and the NHS is on its knees. Despite an increase in public opinion leaning strongly towards no war, no bombs, the government seem hellbent on it and there is outrage as Labour MP's side with the Tories.

The decision to launch a bombing campaign left millions of people across the country feeling dejected. Waking up the morning after the vote, Stephen Farrell recorded his anger and frustration by writing a song - playing on Lennon's from all those years ago and adding a modern twist; War Is Never Over (Even If You Want It).

Released under the guise of Stephen Solo, the song begins a #notinmyname refrain that was used across Social Media in the days leading up to the vote and also in the aftermath. The references are clever, heartfelt and always with anger even through the gorgeous harmonies.

We can't find money to feed our hungry babies
Yet magical trillions appear to bomb more babies
Let the Big Ben bells ring out for bombs this Christmas
The only peace we'll get this year 
Is pieces of skulls and baby bones
War is never over if you want it

Stephen has recorded an album on his iPhone that will be released in 2016, this song was written and recorded on his iPhone and the video was also shot on his iPhone. Just goes to show how technology can allow artists to capture and release something as soon as they feel it, within minutes of writing it - to the world.

War Is Never Over has Lennon-esque echoes in the melody, vocals, (self) harmonies and the warm acoustic guitar sound.

All the people say, not in my name, not in my name
The psychos ain't listening

War Is Never Over (Even If You Want It) is out now on iTunes. You can watch the video below.

Friday 18 December 2015

Ette - Christmas Day With My Boy

Ette is the solo music project by my sister - Carla J Easton, who is also in TeenCanteen. Carla has worked with Joe Kane from Dr Cosmos Tape Lab to record an album of material that will come out on Olive Grove Records next year.

Before then there is the small matter of a debut single, that just so happens to be a Christmas song that is coming out on a limited edition heart shaped Ette Christmas bauble with a download code. They may well be sold out by the time you read this so check quickly if interested. Fear not, you can download Spending Every Christmas Day With My Boy and the AA-side Birthdays (single version).

Spending Every Christmas Day With My Boy is melodic, funny, sweet and definitely influenced by Phil Spector with bells, all kinds of percussion and lovely warm acoustic guitars.

The melody is catchy, the vocals are strong and true and as the cover may help to suggest, the boy in question was my sisters cat who she always looked forward to coming home to during the Christmas holidays.

We will light a fair, we will warm our toes
We've got Christmas presents and mistletoe
We've got family, we've got fairly lights
We've had Santa Claus visit in the night

And my heart is full of joy
Knowing that I'm spending Christmas Day with my boy

The AA-side Birthdays (single version) has a lovely playful ukulele rhythm backing it and the vocals are strong again, there is a real looseness to them. The lyrics and melody are as playful as the A-side.

I wear pink when I feel blue
Cause cherry bombs turn out not to
Mean anything at all to you no more

Carla and Joe have clearly hit it off and I can't wait for the album to come out.

Interview - Catholic Action

Catholic Action came to my attention earlier in the year after reading about them online a few times and seeing a load of posters around town advertising their shows. Around the same time I had discovered the band Poor Things thanks to their song No Way, Jose that was released on Gerry Loves Records.

I was checking them out when I discovered that the two bands paths crossed on a split cassette single on Fuzzkill Records, so I checked that out and was blown away by L.U.V by Catholic Action.

L.U.V came across as a mix of Franz Ferdinand and Teenage Fanclub - upbeat guitar pop with a sense of urgency and great feel to it. At under 2 minutes 30 seconds it was a great introduction to the band and it left me thirsty for more.

I caught them at the Wickerman Festival where they rammed the tent they were playing in at the end of the night; the two guitars sounded glorious and the band looked like they were having fun.

Catholic Action - Catching Up, live at Wide Days

I wish I could be better
I wish I could wish harder
Write another love song and fall in love again
Cause it makes you realise that you love her
Cause it makes you realise that you care

Catholic Action have definitely made a splash in 2015 through a series of releases on Fuzzkill Records; they have all sold out but you there is plenty to explore via their band camp page and via YouTube including a Tenement TV live session for L.U.V and this fantastic session (above) for Rage Music. The releases have led to brilliant support slots, tours, festivals, a growing fanbase and a real buzz.

I am a sucker for a love song and so, based on the evidence released to date, are Catholic Action.  So many of their songs are out and out love songs.....and they are brilliant. Totally heartfelt, played with real feeling, guitars, hooks and choruses to sing and lyrics to relate to.

Put your faith in a pop song
And grow your hair
Lets make a point of falling in love, again

Cause I wanna give myself to you
Wanna give myself to you

Catholic Action - The Shallows

Songs keep coming and I really look forward to an album, hopefully in 2016 but as long as Catholic Action keep playing, writing, recording and releasing I will be happy. With a home studio and bundles of energy, I think it is a safe bet that they will do just that - quite how long they stay on Fuzzkill Records is another question!

I was keen to find out more and singer and songwriter Chris was kind enough to answer some questions I emailed through to him.

Catholic Action are genuine, heartfelt, poppy, punky, soulful and true. Check them out and enjoy.

1. Tell us how you formed - where are you from, how do you know each other, how and why did you get together?

I'm from Erskine, it's a suburb just outside of Glasgow (in)famous for its rather large bridge. The other guys are from in and around Glasgow and Jamie is from Reading. I met Jamie and Ryan in high school and we played in a band together. I met Andrew when I was producing a record for his old band (that Jamie played in, coincidentally). 

The three of us were working on this really guitar heavy stuff at my home studio and we wanted to play it live. We're all good friends and very familiar musically, so it was a no brainer to get Andrew involved at that point. A very wise decision. He's a guitar wizard. 

2. You’ve achieved quite a lot in your first year as a band, what has been key to that? How much of it was planned?

Thank you. Our year has been a very pleasant surprise. We never expected anything like what has happened to us. As far as planning is concerned, we initially set out only to facilitate what we like doing most - making records in my home studio and playing them live. We definitely did not plan for the reaction it'd get, nor on how much it'd change things for the band.

The key to it all, I hope. Is that we make music people enjoy! 

3. What have you put out to date and do you have any releases in the pipeline?

Believe it or not, since last October we've released 10 tracks over 6 different cassettes on Fuzzkill Records: The Now 666 Compilation (Vol I & II), our November 2014 Tour Tape, our split tape with Poor Things, the Under The Covers Valentines Compilation and our single, The Real World. 

As for the pipeline, there'll be a lot of new music and firsts for you to wrap your ears/eyes around. 

4. What has been your best gig to date?

This year we've been lucky enough to have a few that might qualify for best gig.

Playing The Roundhouse in London with Swim Deep, or the 02 Academy with the Libertines. They were special gigs. There were also a few really memorable festival sets… Electric Fields and Wickerman really stand out. However, I think the winner by far has to be playing to a sold out Barrowlands supporting none other than Franz Ferdinand and Sparks (FFS). 

Not only is playing that venue a huge milestone for any Glasgow band, it was also supporting some true musical heroes of mine. Listen to everything Sparks made in the 1970s, seriously. It's incredible. 

I don't know if my favourite moment was actually playing on the stage, or watching Ron Mael play "This Town Ain't Big Enough…" from over his shoulder to a sea of beaming faces… However, I am certain I'll forget neither. 

Coming off the hallowed Barrowland stage

6. What are the bands influences? (musical or otherwise)

Life, maaaan. The thing we're dragged through it at an ever increasing pace. A slow erosion of friendships, values and beliefs in both yourself and everything (and everyone) around you. Guilt: Catholic and otherwise. One woman in particular. We're all a bit lonely now too, aren't we? The list goes on...

I think about these things (and other things) when I write. 

7. How do you write as a band?

It really depends on the mood of the day. I tend to write a lot at home and then take it to the band. Although sometimes, we'll work it up from scratch in the rehearsal room and other times, it'll just be a result of fooling around in a recording studio. I think it's very important to be flexible, it keeps things interesting. 

8. What other Scottish bands do you like?

The Bellybuttons, Spinning Coin and Psychic Soviets are the best bands in Scotland. 

9. What do you think of the Scottish music scene? What is good, what is challenging, what is missing?

My favourite thing about Glasgow in particular, is that the list I just gave you will probably be different if you ask me in a few weeks time. I don't know if it's the crossover with the art school, its rich musical history or just something in the air but there's always something interesting happening. The place is thronging with good bands and artists, all of whom create drastically different but equally valid music. Compare The Pooches and Antique Pony, or Golden Teacher and Elara Caluna and you'll know what I mean. It's a very healthy place creatively, if a little insular. There's a whole world out there, and a lot of this music deserves it. 


Tuesday 15 December 2015

The Charlatans at the Usher Hall

I have seen The Charlatans over 30 times since I first caught them live away back in 1994. They have been helping to provide the soundtrack to my life since 1991. I should no longer be surprised....but I am still amazed.

I'm amazed at the songs, albums and performances that the band continue to deliver all these years down the line. Tim Burgess was on fire last night, singing better than ever and seemingly getting younger rather than older. 

15/20-years ago if Tim said on stage 'I hope you're feeling as good as I am' it would probably have been because he was high on E or coke. In 2015 he is high on life, love, music and family and when he said he was feeling good to the Usher Hall crowd last night you could tell that he meant it.

He then displayed it by bounding effortlessly around the stage, conducting his impeccable band and the crowd and by delivering an exceptional performance - as a singer and a frontman. Tim couldn't keep the smile from his face.

Burgess was on fire and so were his band and Tim recognised this towards the end, introducing them one by one to give them their moment in the spotlight; the stalwarts Mark Collins on electric guitar, Martin Blunt on bass and Tony Rogers on hammond and keys. They were joined by Pete Salisbury on drums and together they created groove after groove.

Highlights? Well check the setlist below, it was pretty much all one big highlight that flowed superbly, but here are my standouts.

North Country Boy - the Edinburgh crowd are (lets be honest) a little reserved. North Country Boy was delivered 3-songs in and the place erupted.

Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over - the groove machine were in full flow, as was Burgess

Trouble Understanding - a surprise highlight for me, delivered with real class and it made me go back to listen to the studio version this morning.

Let The Good Times Be Never Ending - up with the best songs of their lengthy career, they still have it in abundance, the way the band coaxed and teased towards the climatic chorus was orgasmic and the crowd responded accordingly. The grins onstage said it all.

One To Another - powerful and soulful, euphoric

In The Tall Grass - playful and melodic, Tony Rogers was brilliant 

The Only One I Know - the ultimate indie disco anthem 

everyone has been burned before
everybody knows the pain

Come Home Baby - Tim introduced the band and then said 'We're The Charlatans and we're from Scotland' before launching into the song of the year, with a reach for the sky chorus that gets me every time - euphoric

Sproston Green - the intro was incredible, the delivery sublime, ending the show in style

The Charlatans have had a brilliant 2015, releasing an album that has made it on to many end of year best of lists that contains several gems and career highlights, touring the world and playing to tens of thousands of adoring fans.

I look forward to seeing what they do next.

Friday 11 December 2015

Albums of 2015

2015 has been a pretty good year for music; there were albums and shows from long time favourite bands of mine, discoveries of some great new artists, plenty of brilliant music from Scottish artists and plenty of surprises including the Belles going disco, Gaz Coombes stunning Matador album, the return of Idlewild and Blur showing how booking time to just jam and create, can sound wonderful.

Here are my favourite albums. I have selected my favourite song from each album to give you a flavour of what you can expect from each artist in case you haven't heard anything from the album. Just click on the link to stream.

I'll still be discovering albums from 2015 for a while to come and I have Trust Fund's 2 albums on order at Monorail as I type. But for now....

ALBUM OF THE YEAR - Dr Cosmos Tape Lab - Beyond The Silver Sea

Dr Cosmos released 2 albums in 2015. This was the first of 2015(their second album) released back in March - a cosmic trip full of McCartney and Wilson inspire melodies, hooks and harmonies. If you haven't discovered them yet then you are losing out.  The sounds that Joe Kane and Stuart Kidd are all the more impressive given their method of recording! The album was recorded in Joe's bedroom on to an old Tascam 424 mk3.

FAVE SONG - I have 5 real favourites! The Mirrors ReflectionThe Stars My Destination and the closing trilogy of The Long SleepSpace Dream and Beyond The Silver Sea - stream them and the rest of the album HERE  Read my review from back in April HERE

Gaz Coombes - Matador

I heard a couple of incredible songs on 6Music and wondered who it was - 'Gaz Coombes....really?' Well the answer was yes, it was, Gaz Coombes from Supergrass delivered an exceptional album - playing most of the instruments and producing as well. The musicianship is incredible, delivery sublime.

My fave song -DETROIT the way it develops is incredible. Read the guest review by Craig Douglas from Sonny Marvello HERE

The Charlatans - Modern Nature

Modern Nature contained some songs that are up with the bands best - the singles So Oh (check the Brian Jonestown Massacre remix), Come Home Baby and Let The Good Times Be Never Ending along with gems like In The Tall Grass and Emilie.

My fave song - COME HOME BABY that soaring chorus gets me every time, also my 4-year olds fave and we dance around the kitchen to it. My blog review is HERE

Happy Meals - Apero EP

This mini-album/EP was released at the end of 2014 but it only came to my attention (and pretty much everyone else's) when it was longlisted for the SAY Award. Their name stood out and then I checked out their song Altered Images and was just blown away. This was something different, completely different, sounding super cool and totally brilliant.

Fave song - Yeah it is still ALTERED IMAGES check this incredible BBC Radio Scotland session.

There will be a special guest blog on Happy Meals very soon.

New Order - Music Complete

How would they sound without Hooky? Well, I personally miss his unique bass playing but New Order still sound fantastic and full of energy. My good friend Tel who saw them away back in 1981 and he was blown away by Music Complete. The Academy show in Glasgow was one big party.

Fave song - PLASTIC edges it for me, Bernard Sumner in great form.

Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

A beautiful album released on Matthew E White's Spacebomb label. Word of mouth spread on this, leading to sold out shows and a performance on Later With Jools.  Check BIRD OF PREY from Jools - HERE

Fave song - IF the disney-esque album closer is one of my songs of the year, never mind song of the album.

Ultimate Painting - Green Lanes

I saw this bands name kicking around a little and then Bobby Gillespie posted about how much he was enjoying it and Holly Calder from Eyes Wide Open booked them to play the Old Hairdressers - two people with impeccable taste. I got tickets for the show (later upgraded to Mono) and the album and wasn't disappointed.

Fave song - (I'VE GOT THE) SANCTIONED BLUES is pure Velvets inspired brilliance with fantastic harmonies and a gorgeous guitar riff.

Norman Blake and Jad Fair - Yes

Norman and Jad also released How Many Glasgow with Tenniscoats, but this album that followed shortly afterwards, with a show at Mono to coincide edges it for one of my favourite albums of the year. Jad Fair is unique, a romantic dreamer, a poet. This is a beautiful album, full of love.

Fave song - ADD YOUR NAME is bursting with positivity and hope

Belle and Sebastian - Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance

The Belles delivered a few surprises with Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, going a little electro, a little disco, but still remaining distinctly Belle and Sebastian with Stuart Murdoch's clever, witty and at times autobiographical lyrics backed by an exceptional band. Their show at the Hydro was an absolute delight - a far cry from the first time I saw them at the QMU all those years ago when they had breaks on stage to go off for cigarette breaks.

Fave song - Loads to choose from as you will see if you read my blog review of the album HERE but my favourite is the epic disco of PLAY FOR TODAY

Hooton Tennis Club - Highest Point In Cliff Town

Ah the sound of raw and loud duelling guitars and a band having fun - it doesn't seem to happen quite so often these days with so many bands being over-produced and using synths. This is glorious.

Fave song - KATHLEEN SAT ON THE ARM OF HER FAVOURITE CHAIR just crashes and smashes into existence and then gets better as it goes on.

Idlewild - Everything Ever Written

Roddy Woomble and Rod Jones returned with a couple of new members and they released a brilliant album and performed some sensational shows. Both were on top form.

Fave song - UTOPIA closes the album in a devastatingly beautiful manner. This was truly special when they played it live at the ABC earlier in the year. Read my album review HERE

Miaoux Miaoux - School Of Velocity

I really thought Miaoux Miaoux might just break through a little bit further with this album. 6Music got behind It's The Quick and it sounded superb on the radio. Away from the studio Miaoux Miaoux delivered some brilliant live shows with the bands set at Wickerman being a real highlight.

Fave song - Lead single It's The Quick showed a funkier and meatier side to Miaoux Miaoux but I really fell for LUXURY DISCOVERY live when the band went into an extended jam at the end. And that chorus is just so uplifting, camp and disco.

Best Girl Athlete - Carve Every Word

A Facebook post alerted me to this artist, I like the name and checked out the album and it is one of my favourite albums of the year. Incredible songwriting from one so young. Check my blog review HERE

My fave song - HILLS reminded me of Beth Orton

Blur - The Magic Whip

Damon Albarn and co produce something quite special by using downtime in Japan to jam and record a quite raw but superb album. The rawness is what makes the album, nothing is over though or over produced. Lonesome Street was like stepping back into 1995, Thought I Was A Spaceman was blissfully dreamy and My Terracotta Heart just what you wanted from Blur in 2015.

Fave song - ONG ONG just has a great feeling to it 

Hotchpotch by KiDD

I first came across Stuart Kidd when he started playing drums with BMX Bandits at a very young age. Since then he has gone on to play with Euros Childs and Linden, whilst creating music with The Wellgreen, personal faves Dr Cosmos Tape Lab and solo under the name of KiDD.

The small label The Barne Society have thoughtfully collected the best of KiDD's solo work into an album entitled Hotchpotch that is available to stream or buy HERE

KiDD can melt hearts, Little Lucy is an ode to a friends baby girl and he sings about love being on her side. If Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub ever records a solo album then I expect it to contain something like this. Melodic, thoughtful and beautiful.

Most of the songs have a lovely laid back feeling and groove to them. The vocals are gorgeous - melodic, pure and true.

Listening to Waiting for Springtime on a cold, wet and miserable day in Glasgow was like escapism. A lofi drumbeat, gorgeous melodies and a hushed and dreamy vocal...

7am, another tired Tuesday
I'd much rather be, hiding beneath the duvet

If KiDD reminded me of Norman Blake earlier on in the album, Waiting for Springtime is the kind of song Gerry Love would....well, love!

We've been so long, waiting for springtime
It's been so long, I can't recall the last time
We felt the sun

Royal Jelly is a wibbly, wobbly, sugary instrumental that is great fun, Leave Me Here I'm Sleeping is one of the most beautiful songs I have heard this year, while Ring the Belle is more dreamy, acoustic, gorgeousness wrapped up in just over 3-minutes

The compilation closes with What Do You Think, melodica over a lazily strummed acoustic guitar and

Where do you think I'd be if something went wrong
You'd open your eyes to see I've been here all along

I'm a little late in posting the blog, so the limited yellow cassettes have sold out, but you can name your price for a download - make it a good one :-)

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Time for Livin'

Cover version of the month #7

Time for Livin' - The Charlatans and The Chemical Brothers

Time for changin', rearrangin'
No time for peace, just pass the buck
Rearrangin', leaders changin'
Pretty soon you might not give a f**k

At the height of Britpop, forward thinking charity War Child managed to bring the cream of British musical talent together to record an album,Help, to raise funds and awareness to help the charity in areas like Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Artwork by John Squire

The concept was to do a 'Lennon' - for artists to record, mix and release a song in one week as Lennon did with Instant Karma all those years ago. Only this time there would be an album.

McCartney, Weller and N.Gallagher came together under the guise of The Smokin' Mojo Filters to cover The Beatles Come Together, Radiohead delivered the magnificent Lucky, Suede did a superb job on Costello's Shipbuilding, The Manics displayed taste and talent with a cover of Raindrops Keep Fall, the Roses were typically lazy and re-recorded their own Love Spreads and Orbital, Massive Attack and Blur all did Salad, Terrorvision and The Levellers!

I jest about those bands - it was a magnificent idea and an incredible feat to pull it all off. I can only imagine the logistics management!

Never mind Blur v Oasis, was this pic the true peak of Britpop?

I could easily have featured the Suede and Manics covers in this blog, instead I have gone for The Charlatans and The Chemical Brothers take on Sly and the Family Stone's Time for Livin' as I think that is a message I want to look to during these troubled times.

Burgess and co are in sensational form, the song is perfect for The Charlatans groove machine to get their teeth into and they are superbly assisted by The Chemical Brothers on production duties.

That collaboration is evident from the funky intro and then the rhythm section are all over this from the off with Tim Burgess on top form backed by a superb harmony. Rob Collins is on fire on the hammond, coaxing superb sounds and riffs and driving the band on.

By the time Burgess is hollering time for changing', rearrangin' over the funky outro with beautiful time, time, time, time backing vocals chant you are well and truly hooked. A perfect choice from The Charlatans; funky, groovy, soulful and poppy and I chose this as my cover version of the month as it is a time for livin' and a time for given'

The Charlatans are on tour, I look forward to seeing them in Edinburgh later this month....and possibly Dundee.