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.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Never Ending Mixtape 27

Smudge have 4-songs added to the playlist

As my mixtape (spotify playlist) heads towards 700 songs I find myself listening to it more and more. I travel quite regularly with work, so this is a perfect companion, whether I stick it on shuffle or scroll to the end for latest additions or to a certain section. I hope those of you that check it out enjoy it as well.

This month's update to the playlist has loads of indie guitar gems; The Pastels make another appearance (and it won't be the last), Frank Black is in with a solo number, Sonic Youth show us how it is done, Smudge have 4 numbers that highlight what a brilliant and unique songwriter Tom Morgan is and the fuzzy guitar pop of The Amps is a noisy delight.

R.E.M have a couple of gorgeous songs, James feature with the classic Sit Down recorded live at the G-Mex and early effort Johnny Yen. I remember the G-Mex concert came out on VHS in the summer I broke my leg as a teenager and I sat and watched it endlessly, marvelling at the way the band and audience seemed as one and the incredible response to Sit Down which is brilliantly capture on the film and also on the 12-inch vinyl I own.

If you check out one song, then check out Oh Happy Day by The Edwin Hawkins Singers, a live gospel recording that just oozes with feeling and soul.

Arcade Fire, Kathryn Joseph, The Clean, Felt and Velvet Crush are also included. Dig in.

Search for Everything Flows Never Ending Mixtape on Spotify and play from the start, click shuffle or scroll to the end to find the latest additions. Or CLICK HERE

Yellow Grass (Hamburg 1967 recording) - The Monks
Teen Age Riot - Sonic Youth
Sir Rockaby - Frank Black
Tipp City - The Amps
Everything Now - Arcade Fire
Wake Up - Arcade Fire
Comin' Through - The Pastels
Johnny Yen - James
Sit Down (Live at G-Mex) - James
Near Wild Heaven - R.E.M
Me In Honey - R.E.M
Down About It - Smudge
Scary Cassettes - Smudge
Tenderfoot - Smudge
It's Over - Smudge
Circles - Les Fleur De Lys
In The Summer Time - The Idle Race
All Or Nothing - Small Faces
Tin Soldier - Small Faces
Oh Happy Day - The Edwin Hawkins Singers
Middle America - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight - Richard and Linda Thompson
From When I Wake The Want Is - Katryn Joseph
Stars - The Clean
Primitive Painters - Felt
Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow - Felt
Magellan - Felt
Star Trip - Velvet Crush

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 in George Square

Nice new profile picture for the Colonel!

On Sunday night, performing under the shadow of the famous People Make Glasgow sign in George Square in the very heart of the city, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 put on a party to emphasise just how true and how important that phrase/mantra is.

The band turned the city centre yellow and the famous square reverberated to the sounds of people chanting PEACE, LOVE AND MUSTARD, alongside a dance off and people crossing the road. People do indeed make Glasgow and the passion, energy, creative and co-operative spirit that Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 have displayed over the years has brought smiles, joy and friendship for many people. On Sunday night they deservedly brought their colourful and euphoric show to the city centre.

Glasgow has been showing off this week. The European Championships have come to town and they have given the city the opportunity and excuse to use its wonderful space, facilities and atmosphere to full effect. Glasgow wouldn't be Glasgow if it didn't extend a warm welcome to those visiting, whilst also giving the locals a chance to party as well.

George Square has become a festival village, with the BBC parking their studio directly across from The Counting House pub, overlooking a stage and a big screen broadcasting all kinds of sports from the Championships.

A wide range of acts, including Orbital, have been booked to perform on the stage and on Sunday at 7pm it was the turn of Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 (CMD5) to bring the yellow movement to the party.

And my oh my do CMD5 know how to get a party started! 2,500 people packed into the festival area and there were plenty of yellow CMD5 t-shirts and hoodies in the crowd. On the surface CMD5 may be a pure fun party band, but dig into their songs and you'll find that they are packed with social and political commentary.

David Blair from the band wasn't afraid to display his political leaning by jumping down from the stage as the band were setting up to tie a Palestine keffiyeh around the Israeli flag that was lined up alongside the other nations performing in the Championships. Security wisely decided to just remove all of the flags.

After an exciting swimming race finished on the big screen, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 took to the stage and blasted out snippets of Limmy's techno kid mash of 1-2 buckle my shoe and ring-o-roses.

The Colonel then joined his band and got things moving. Before long the Square was bouncing to euphoric catchy pop in the shape of International Sex Hero before being led to Cross the Road - or George Square. The way the whole crowd joined in was testament to how good the band are, how accessible their music is and how quickly people fell under their spell and charm.

Zoe knocking it out the park during the dance off

Fresh from playing to 11,000 people at Belladrum and another summer of regular festivals, Colonel John McMustard and his sensational band hooked the crowd, reeled them in and then released them for more fun. They played superbly, encouraging their audience to sing, dance and get involved.

Ginger Girl was bonkers yet it tugged on the heart strings, the Dance Off was great fun with everyone copying the moves of driving in the car, knocking it out the park, disco-ing, jumping and fist pumping and These Are Not The Drugs You Are Looking For was an utter joy - a mix of the Beta Band crossed with Primal Scream being mixed by Andy Weatherall, the guest MC's took the song higher and the closing mantra felt so good, so right and so important.

Everyone's happy, everyone is smiling, no-one here is sad anymore

For a brief moment in time the above was true for everyone in George Square, it was mission accomplished. You looked around and everyone was happy and smiling, forgetting about all the craziness going on across the world at present.

The closing anthem of Peace, Love and Mustard was utterly euphoric, the verses talk of meditation, pacification, loneliness, hurting - then the chorus screams for peace, love and mustard.

On the train home my eldest daughter asked what it was all about, I asked if she was happy, she was, and I said it just all makes sense.

Do yourself a favour and go and see this band live. You will not be disappointed.

Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 play Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom on 22nd December. TICKETS HERE  Make it a yellow Christmas! Over 14's. Check Dance Off from their last Christmas show at the Barrowland a couple of years ago.

Friday 3 August 2018

The Immaculate Collection

Is Madonna's The Immaculate Collection the most appropriately named 'best of' collection of all-time? 17-songs of immaculate pop are collected in one place; taking in Holiday and Lucky Star, early singles from 1983 through to 1989's Cherish and Express Yourself with 2 new songs coming in the shape of the lush, seductive and sexual Justify My Love and Rescue Me.

Madonna was exceptionally prolific through the 1980's, the quality and quantity of her modern pop mixed with her looks, personality and media manipulation propelled her to become one of the most famous people in the world.

The Immaculate Collection is an album I own on vinyl and it is one of the few records never to have strayed from my DJ bag - an essential album with songs guaranteed to bring smiles to faces and feet to the dancefloor.

Like A Prayer is my all-time favourite Madonna song and one that I regularly played near the end of nights that I used to put on, I'd turn down the mix at times to listen to people singing a-long to the euphoric chorus.

I rarely DJ these days, but it is still there. My friend Craig's 40th a couple of years ago just highlighted the power of this song and the power of pop. Someone else had been on the decks and had played a wildly eclectic mix of techno, dub and reggae before I took over. They had also virtually cleared the living room.

My own sets can be quite eclectic too but I like to try and keep people dancing and there is a pop element in virtually everything I play - hooks matter. Don't bore us, get to the chorus.

The girl DJ-ing raised an eyebrow and even said really? when she saw me queueing Like A Prayer up on the turntable. I smiled and dropped the needle but even I was taken aback by the crowd of people that came racing through from the kitchen to dance and sing. The girl joined in too.

Like A Prayer is a glorious melting pot of gospel, pop and electronic music coming together to create something really special. It came out in March 1989, just after I had turned 13, and my teenage hormones went into overdrive as I watched Madonna dance and groove in the video, with the dress straps falling down her shoulders. She smouldered; looking incredible and oozing confidence as she danced in front of burning crosses.

Listening back to The Immaculate Collection is like a lesson in pop music. The groove, hooks and choruses all get hammered home, repeated again and again. All the songs have an energy about them, like a forcefield. There used be an advert for Fruit Pastilles with the challenge 'I bet you can't put a Rowantrees fruit pastille in your mouth without chewing it'. Well I bet you can't listen to The Immaculate Collection without singing or dancing to it.

Holiday is sensational good time pop music celebrating the joy of having a holiday to look forward to - we need a holiday -aayy It was Madonna's breakthrough single, her first hit (third single) and no wonder - she uses every trick in the book to get it. Something everyone can relate to, hooks and choruses galore.

Lucky Star is over 7-minutes of pop electro brilliance, written by Madonna with the intention that it would be played at New York City's famed Danceteria club and that comes across, especially in the 7-minute mix that is rightly included on The Immaculate Collection rather than the radio edit.

Then we have Borderline, probably my second favourite Madonna song. It was the fifth single to be released from her eponymous debut album and noted by the likes of Seymour Stein as the song that made her a star. More complex and lyrical than the likes of Holiday and Lucky Star, Borderline is a pure pop rush of a song from start to finish. Madonna's voice sounds better than ever, listen to the way she pushes herself at times.

Something in the way you love me won't let me be
I don't want to be your prisoner so baby won't you set me free

Did I mention a pure pop rush - then jeez, times that by 10 for Like A Virgin! This was the lead single and the title of her second album. It is almost bubblegum pop, but then bubblegum pop could also be clever and enjoy a little innuendo.

Innuendo, that doesn't describe half of it. Like A Virgin was cheeky, suggestive, implicit and completely perfect for Madonna. Written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, originally conceived as a ballad, Madonna knew she could make it a hit as soon as she heard it.

The fact that Nile Rodgers came on board as a producer helped - but he didn't like it at first and thought Madonna was taking things too far. It was only afterwards, when he realised that he couldn't get the song out of his head, that he fell for the song. I would highly recommend Nile's Le Freak autobiography for his full take on working with Madonna and other legendary artists. It was Madonna's first number one single.

Material Girl was also lifted from the Like A Virgin album and it captured the 80's perfectly and Madonna lived out her Marilyn Monroe fantasies in the video. More perfect pop - play this to someone who has never heard it before and they will be singing a-long before the song finishes.

Even the slower songs have a sense of euphoria thanks to Madonna's powerful and soulful voice, just listen to Crazy For You.

You want a statement of intent -  you can dance for inspiration - is the opening line of Into The Groove and that is exactly what Madonna does as the beat kicks in. It is a real groove, the song is like one big long chorus but it lifts even higher when Madonna reaches the choruses. The flow from start to finish is ....well....immaculate.

I'm tired of dancing here all by mself
Tonight I wanna dance with someone else
Get into the groove where you've got to prove
Your love to me

We do get a breather in the shape of Live To Tell which is a real 80's ballad from Madonna's True Blue album. Things pick up with Papa Don't Preach which begins with a glorious string section, Madonna's voice is rich and soulful, full of emotion. The bridge to the chorus is sensational, really lifting things to the inevitable brilliance of the chorus.

The one you warned me all about, the one you said I could do without
We're in an awful mess and I don't mean maybe, please

Papa don't preach, I'm in trouble deep
Papa don't preach, I've been losing sleep
But I made up my mind, I'm keeping my baby

La Isla Bonita was another huge hit, I vividly remember being entranced by Madonna in the video, the aforementioned Like A Prayer is divine pop, Express Yourself takes you on a trip to the dancefloor, whilst Vogue IS the dancefloor - a slice of club pop electro heaven all about getting lost to music on the dancefloor. The closing section riffing names and ending with the following lines is pop perfection, so cheeky, so cool, so Madonna.

Don't just stand there, let's get to it
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it

If Madonna flirted and tease with sex from the off, she goes for a homerun with Justify My Love which even now makes me flustered and in need of a cold shower! Madonna is literally breathless as she teases her audience about traveling, running naked in a rainstorm, making love on a train, wanting, needing and waiting ... you know the saying 'couldn't take my eyes off it'? I can't take my ears away from this, it is a big slice of sex on vinyl.

The Immaculate Collection is an immaculate conception of pop through the 80's by arguably the decades biggest star - only Michael Jackson could really run her close.

I hope this blog causes you to play the album or at least some of your favourites from it. Go on, have a dance and sing-a-long :-)

Wednesday 1 August 2018

How Does It Feel To Feel

Ride formed in 1988 when four teenagers met through two different art colleges in Oxford. Andy Bell, Mark Gardner, Loz Colbert and Steve Queralt kind of knew each other but came together to form Ride and they quickly made their mark by self-recording and producing a demo tape with the songs Chelsea Girl and Drive Blind.

Ride looked, sounded and acted like a real band. Bell was a huge fan of independent guitar music and their demos quickly got into the hands of people like Jim Reid from the Marychain and word got out that they wanted to sign to Creation Records. The full story behind this and their subsequent rise to indie fame is brilliantly documented in the Creation book My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize.

Their early EP's thrilled music fans across the country, Ride then delivered a brilliant debut LP in the shape of Nowhere in 1990, following it swiftly with Going Blank Again in 1992. Both contained seminal tracks like Vapour Trail and Leave Them All Behind. Their sound was psychedelic with vocals lost in the mix of guitars at times, their performances led to NME and Melody Maker labelling them (and other bands) shoegazing.

Ride's Carnival Of Light album then came out in 1994. I loved it and remember watching their Glastonbury set live on the BBC and marveling at the way they looked and sounded. They sounded fresh, the guitars had been stripped back a little, the vocals were clearer and they seemed to be developing as songwriters. Little did I know that there was quite a bit of internal conflict between the band with Mark Gardner having all his songs on side 1 and Andy Bell taking side 2.

Side 2 also contained a cover - How Does It Feel To Feel? by the band The Creation (who the label was named after). The opening of guitars feeding back over a beat captivated me as an 18-year old and I still feel the sense of energy and urgency now.

It is a glorious noisy and psychedelic mess for 3-minutes and 45 seconds. Gardner and Bell's voices combine brilliantly to ask a series of questions through the verses before most important question becomes a the chorus.

How does it feel when you slide down a sunbeam
How does it feel bursting clouds on your way
How does it feel that the night is over
How does it feel never to sleep again
How does it feel to feel
How does it feel to feel

Ride's version is very true to the original. The feedback that 60's beat bands were discovering and exploring (notaby through the commercial success of The Who and The Kinks) is key to the energy of the song. It is garage psychedelic pop brilliance and Ride cover it beautifully.