Thursday 28 February 2019

The Good Will Out

Next week Embrace celebrate the 21st anniversary of their debut album The Good Will Out with a show at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow.

I fell for Embrace when they released the Fireworks EP back in the Spring of 1997. Fireworks was an absolute gem of a song, real heart on the sleeve stuff and the EP contained enough over 4-songs to ensure I knew this was a band with a little something about them. This was mixed with excellent interviews in the music weeklies, here was a band led by two brothers speaking from the heart at a time where another band of brothers had disappeared up their own backsides.

My friend and I went to see them at King Tut's and they had the confidence and swagger to open with All You Good Good People. I distinctly remember turning to my mate and saying 'bloody hell, that could be a Beatles song'. It had ambition written all over it, but in a soulful way, it had a gorgeous surging string arrangement beautifully mixed with a chiming guitar riff. It blew me away.

The song had originally been released on the excellent Fierce Panda label as a ltd edition 7-inch in February of 1997, swiftly leading to a deal with Hut Records who re-released the song later that year.

All You Good Good People is a stunning opener, after a 46 second intro, to The Good Will Out, it sets a high bar in terms of quality and the remarkable thing is that the band largely match it across the album.

I feel like I meant something, you always say you need more time 
Well I'll stay right here and I'll wait for good until I find a love worth mine

The way the band build things up, bring it down and then take it higher is just brilliant. It blew my mind when I saw and heard them play it back in the late 90's and I'll be singing from the heart at the Barrowland next week.

How to follow that? Well with a heart melting, sky scraping ballad called My Weakness Is None Of Your Business. Where and how in hell were this band coming up with these songs? Danny McNamara sings over a piano before guitar, bass and drums gently kick in.

When the strings kick in as Danny sings that's why, I get that shallow feeling that you like, I'll never learn that I can't win it is spine tingling.

The McNamara's pour their hearts out on this album. There is love, loss, hurt, pleading and soul bearing honesty.

For evidence I present Come Back To What You Know, what an absolute beauty, I love the line that leads to the first chorus and I am a sucker for a double chorus.

I'll never let you down
Or ever feel the way that I've been fearing now

Coming back to what you know won't mean a thing
Everyting that you've done keeps you from me
Now that I know that I need more time
Come back and let me see you're right

I'm coming back to what you know
Cause I know that I need it now it's gone
Now I know that I need more time
Come back and let me se you're right

This is a ballad that builds and delivers a punch, McNamara is all in on this album, his cards are on the table, his heart is on his sleeve and in his mouth.

Credit must go to his brother Richard on guitar and Mickey Dale on keyboards for creating the soaring arrangements which go so well with the lyrics and vocal melodies. The whole band are totally on it and the production by Youth is absolutely spot on.

It is the ballads that I love this album for, so I have to confess that I'm not a huge fan of One Big Family on record, although it is a mighty live track.

Oh my, I haven't listened to the whole album in a long time but I am listening on headphones and Higher Sights is another absolute stunner of a song.

Then we'll dance
These plans we make won't last
They'll wear and fade 
Like fools too young to run out of time
We'll always set our sights high

And Retread is Danny McNamara at his most heartbreaking with his brother at his beat on guitar. The verses have McNamara singing over an acoustic before his brother comes in with a stunning riff, but then the chorus kicks in and it has everything I fell for about Embrace in a few seconds. Danny is just singing his heart out, it's really raw and beautiful and the band are just going for it. Look at those lyrics - pure.

Now I feel so insecure
I can't save
Something I feel so much for
Won't you stay 
And leave a light for me

After the second chorus the song goes to a new level with Danny questioning will you fight? as the strings and guitars go crazy.

I can't help but think of some of the b-sides from the era that could have gone on the album in place of I Want The World and You've Got To Say Yes.  In my opinion they just don't fit in with the album at all in terms of the way it feels, or in terms of quality.  But hey, there is more than enough to make up for it

'Cause then we get to Fireworks. What a song, so gentle, so soulful, so gorgeous, so inspiring. McNamara sings of seeing enough to want to try to change things, how the fireworks inside him are all gone, when it feels right and it's wrong, and at one point he almost asks if he has let his love down before correcting himself and confirming I'll never let you down.

This is the song that made me fall for Embrace and I played it to all of my friends and a crowd of us went to see them as they moved from Tuts to the Barrowland. I think they played Tuts twice before the Barrowland but it was a swift rise on the back of a string of EP's leading to the album.

The Last Gas is another rockier and I'm just not a fan of Embrace doing rockers like this. It sounds so out of place sandwiched between the gorgeous Fireworks and the incredible That's All Changed Forever.

McNamara is pouring his heart out again on That's All Changed Forever, he does it so well. The arrangement is just perfect, the emotion is beautifully captured in McNamara's voice, in the playing and production.

There's gotta be something, worth having, worth all this
In my life at last one thing
That I can go along with

I lost half of what I could have been
When I realised you weren't meant for me
I wonder which good feeling to go with
Til i realised, that's all changed for good, forever

Now You're Nobody is a moody gem leading to the title track and album closer The Good Will Out. It is an epic 6-minute plus ballad that leads into a Hey Jude inspired sing-a-long at the end. And it works, check the incredible live performance from Glastonbury 2000 below. There is a beautiful moment when Danny McNamara comes to the front of the stage as the band strip it right back and the crowd sings, you can see what it means to him.

So there you have it, The Good Will Out (LP) revisited. I'm not going to lie, there are 2-songs on the album I don't rate, 2 more that I don't think fit, but in All You Good Good People, Come Back To What You Know, Higher Sights, Retread, Fireworks, That's All Changed Forever, Now You're Nobody and the title track you have some sensational soulful ballads that have easily stood the test of 21-years.

Roll on the Barrowland.

Thursday 21 February 2019

Langley Schools Music Project

I first heard of The Langley Schools Music project when their beautifully moving version of The Beach Boys In My Room appeared on an Uncut/Mojo CD many, many years ago. It's a version that stayed with me and when I stumbled across an article that mentioned them last year I went searching on Spotify to see if there were any other songs by them. To my great delight there are plenty and I also discovered there is an album that was released on vinyl last year. Definitely one to go searching for.

The Langley Schools Music Project is a collection of recordings of a children's choir singing songs by The Beach Boys, McCartney, Bowie and more back in the late 70's in Canada, made by music teacher Hans Ferger.

Ferger's unique approach to teaching music is captured beautifully on the recordings, he isn't interested in people singing in tune, he's more interested in capturing emotion, feeling and soul.

I never liked conventional children's music which is condescending and ignores the reality of children's lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated 'cute' they cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness. Hans Ferger

The recordings were lost until a collector found them in a record store in 2000 and sent them to labels, they were rejected by 10 labels until Bar/None released a compilation CD of the two original vinyl LP's.

It's very easy to hear why people have fallen for these songs. They are recorded extremely simply with a rare purity and the sound of a children's choir singing Good Vibrations, God Only Knows, the aforementioned Space Oddity is spine tingling, generating emotion with ease.

their version of Space Oddity is a piece of art I couldn't have conceived of, the backing arrangement is astounding David Bowie

The choir singing God Only Knows is sheer beauty and brings a tear to my eyes.

I may not always love you, but as long as there are stars above you
You'll never need to doubt it, I'll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I'd be without you

And Brian Wilson's In My Room, a song about escaping the abuse he suffered from his father, becomes even more powerful when sung by The Langley Schools Music Project, the way they rise for the following verse is incredible.

Do my dreaming and my scheming, lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing, laugh at yesterday

Wildfire by Michael Martin Murphey is a song i wasn't aware of and it is beautiful, Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline is euphoric in a new way and elsewhere you have songs from the Bay City Rollers, Fleetwood Mac, Herman's Hermits and The Eagles.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Everything Is Falling Apart

If it sounds like Teenage Fanclub are feeling their way into new single Everything Is Falling Apart, as they pick out some notes through the first 19- seconds, then you could take into consideration the fact that this is their first single since the departure of Gerard Love.  But don't worry, after a deep intake of Raymond McGinley's breath, they soon hit their stride.

Gerry's departure after the euphoric Creation Years shows at the end of 2018 hit fellow Fanclub fans hard, but it could have been worse, the band could have split completely. Of course I'll miss Gerry and his incredible catalogue of Fanclub songs, but on the bright side the band have continued to reach deep into their catalogue with Norman's songs coming to the fore. And news is filtering through Glasgow that Gerry is writing and recording.

Everything could have fallen apart...

As it is, the band are hard at it, Dave McGowan has switched to bass and good friend Euros Childs has joined on keyboards. The band reconvened post Creation shows to record in Hamburg and have since toured SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand over the last 3-weeks. They now play in Canada and the States and release their first post-Gerry single. Another new song has also been aired on tour and it sounds like the band have the bit between their teeth, buoyed by the outpouring of love and devotion displayed at the Creation Years shows and the demand throughout the world. After a short break they head to Europe and have a series of festivals through the summer including a return to the Kelvingrove Bandstand.

There may be an element of band humour (I hope) coming through with the title and chorus everything is falling apart (from our love), maybe even with the line relax, find love, hold on to the hand of a friend, about Euros coming in? Maybe I am reading far too much into it.

Elsewhere there is urgency and a classic flowing McGinley melody. I noted as the band blitzed their 1990's albums over 3 nights just how personal Raymond's songs are and how many begin with I ..... the only difference with his latest effort is that it takes til the second word, he then declares;

Hey, I feel
I feel something new in my life
I don't know what's real
I've only just opened my eyes

There are the harmonies and guitars that we have all come to know and love from the Fanclub. If the Creation shows told me anything, it is that I've come to appreciate their qualities and personalities even more with every year. And Raymond's qualities really shine through on this welcome new single.

On this evidence Teenage Fanclub are a band that are together, enjoying writing, recording and playing. More please.

Sunday 17 February 2019

Bis and Cloth at the Old Hairdressers

Last night was one of those nights when everything seemed to come together. Bis, the DIY pop punk band who burst on to the scene in the 90's as the first unsigned act to play on Top of the Pops, were celebrating their new album, released on Last Night From Glasgow, the modern crowdfunded not for profit indie DIY label.

The rammed show in the Old Hairdressers was the second in a trio of sold-out weekend shows across Glasgow to promote Slight Disconnects, their first album in 5-years.

The Old Hairdressers is one of my favourite venues in Glasgow. It started out as a pop-up bar/arts venue and thankfully it has never lost that sense of atmosphere. Downstairs is sparse, open brickwork, the odd poster, some hastily assembled tables and chairs, fairy lights and a tiny bar. It is dimly lit and full of music fans - my kind of place.

Upstairs through a maze of stairs is what I describe to friends as a New York loft style party venue.  There is no stage, a tiny pop up bar in the corner, a merch table as you come through the door and a soundesk in the far corner. It's the kind of venue that some bands can take by storm, others might fall, there is no hiding behind a fancy light show or huge soundsystem at the Old Hairdressers, you've got to be on it.

Cloth at the Old Hairdressers by Brian Sweeney

Support for the night was fellow Last Night From Glasgow signings Cloth, a band turning more than a few heads thanks to recent 6Music and Radio Scotland sessions. The band have been releasing a song every couple of months, building a growing word of mouth buzz thanks to their sound which I can't help but liken to The XX in the way they play their guitars. Twins Rachael and Paul Swinton front the band playing guitars with Rachael on lead vocals. They are brilliantly backed by Clare Gallagher on drums who switched seamlessly between a standard kit and an electronic one.

This was the third time I have seen them and it was the best. Their reverb-y, sparse guitar riffs and melodies are all kinds of dreamy and Rachael's voice is one that is easy to fall for. Tripp was a highlight for me last night. Cloth probably haven't made it to double figures in terms of gigs, but on last nights evidence they are full of confidence, mystery and invention. 

Rachael Swinton by Brian Sweeney

Check them out on all the usual online platforms. Enjoy watching them build towards their debut album later in the year. They head to London at the start of March to play the Sebright Arms and have announced Glasgow shows with Broken Chanter at the Glad Cafe and the Hug and Pint in May.

Bis at the Old Hairdressers by Brian Sweeney

On to the headliners. Bis were an absolute delight last night, full of punky teen energy, angst, humour and hooks. They didn't build up their set, more like they started in fifth gear with the opener Sound of a Heartbreak off their new album and then just kept their feet on the pedals.

Sci-fi Steve, John Disco and Manda Rin were in brilliant form, clearly enjoying themselves and that spread quickly and easily to the audience. The bounded, pogo-d, yelped, screamed, shouted and bopped their way through high energy pop. The chemistry between the three friends is crystal clear to see. Another newby There Is No Point was delivered ferociously, it sounds fantastic on vinyl but for me Bis are a band that really come into their own when you see them live.

Bis at the Old Hairdressers, picture by Brian Sweeney

Old Bis classics, that Steve and John both joked should have been massive but reached number 74 in the charts, were aired along with plenty of new songs. Kandy Pop was a 100mph romp and Eurodisco started the encore even faster and there was even more dancing and singing.

The Big Sunshine which closes the new album is an absolute beauty, written in memory of a lost friend, it has echoes of New Order and it sounded superb last night.

There was no chance that the band were getting away with a two song encore so they had one last blast with Kill Yr Boyfriend before a well deserved rest. They play the Hug and Pint in Glasgow tonight and after 3 sold out shows over a weekend I suspect there will be a larger Glasgow show later in the year. Oh and any festival bookers who happen to read this blog should book them up now.

Friday 15 February 2019

Varshons 2

Evan Dando and his latest incarnation of The Lemonheads are back with a new album, Varshons 2 is their second album of cover versions and, as you would expect from Dando's exquisite taste and thirst for music, it is full of lyrical and melodic gems.

Songs by Yo La Tengo, Nick Cave, The Bevis Frond, NRBQ, The Eagles, Paul Westerberg, The Jayhawks, Lucinda Williams and John Prine are treated with love and affection by Dando. I had only heard a few of the songs before, so I'm also enjoying searching for the original versions.

I missed The Lemonheads recent SWG3 show but Dando's solo show at Saint Luke's in Glasgow two years ago saw him play stunning acoustic versions of some of the songs on this album alongside his wife.

As for Vashons 2, released 10-years after Varshons, it contains all the things I love about The Lemonheads. Dando's voice is equally soothing and world weary, it combines beautifully with his wife's vocals, the band sound like they are having fun, the production captures the fact that this is a band enjoying playing songs they love, at times it is deliciously raw in an age where many songs are (over) produced to within an inch of their life.

Varshons 2 is a strong and enjoyable album, though there are some standouts for me. The Jayhawks Settled Down Like Rain is glorious, bringing a big smile to my face. Things by Paul Westerberg is classic Dando, brilliant wordplay with the whole song having a flowing feel to it.

Things I'm bound to tell you, like that dress looks great on ya
I could use some breathing room, but I'm still in love with you

Speed of the Sound of Loneliness is a gem by John Prine, a grammy award winning songwriter who (after googling) has been on the road for 50-years. This is a stunning song with the brilliant line you're out there running just to be on the run.

Dando's love for humour and storytelling through song shines through on Magnet by 60's rock band NRBQ. You're like a magnet, I'm like a piece of steel. This song is so playful and enjoyable.

My favourite track on the album is a song called Round Here by an artist called Florida Georgia Line.  I hadn't heard this before until Dando played it in Glasgow a couple of years ago. The original is a modern country song, but it suffers, as I have mentioned above, from being over produced.

Dando transforms it, making it feel so much more intimate and magical with just him, his acoustic and some beautiful harmonies from his wife.

Evan Dando is an artists I have been following since falling for It's A Shame About Ray as a 16-year and I have fond memories of bootlegging Dando playing live on the Evening Session from those times. He is an artist I turn to regularly, an artist I feel is improving with age, someone with impeccable taste and knowledge of music, from obscurities like Australian band Smudge (who he has covered and co-written with) through to Gram Parsons, Nick Cave and The Eagles with plenty of love for indie pop punk in between. I look forward to hearing what he comes up with soon and I definitely won't miss him when he returns to Glasgow.

The album is available on coloured vinyl from Monorail and all good record stores.

Thursday 7 February 2019

Never Ending Mixtape Part 32

This months additions to the Never Ending Mixtape on Spotify begin with three songs from Scottish artists; The Bluebells Forever More, Flying by newcomers Hairband with the beautiful refrain I know a place where we can try to learn how to fly and Girasol by Lightships (Gerry Love).

Elsewhere we have Scotland represented by Stealer's Wheel, Eurythmics and Teenage Fanclub. In between we have a gem from Nick Drake that you imagine Stuart Murdoch must have listened to a few hundred times. Rainbows by Dennis Wilson is a song that I am always blown away by, Carole King at her absolute best with Where You Lead, Gene Clark is well represented, we have Burt Bacharach and even Petula Clark. And if you don't get a shiver down your spine when you listen to Harry Nilson's Without You then ......

Search for Everything Never Ending Mixtape on Spotify or CLICK HERE.

The playlist is now approaching 900 songs. Play from the start, anywhere in between, click on shuffle or scroll to near the end to play the latest additions that are listed below.

Forever More - The Bluebells
Flying - Hairband
Girasol - Lightships
Hazey Jane II - Nick Drake
Reason to Believe - Karen Dalton
The Shining - Badly Drawn Boy
Come Pick Me Up - Ryan Adams
Rainbows - Dennis Wilson
Spanish Dance Troupe - Gorky's Zyngotic Mynci
All You Good Good People - Embrace
Stuck In The Middle With You - Stealers Wheel
Where You Lead - Carole King
Here Comes The Sun (live) - Ritchie Havens
Up With The People - Nixon
Wow and Flutter - Stereolab
Tired of Waiting for You - The Kinks
Strength of Strings - Gene Clark
Some Misunderstanding - Gene Clark
Why Not Your Baby - Dillard and Clark
Eight Miles High - The Byrds
You Tore Me Down - Flamin' Groovies
I Got Kinda Lost - Chris Bell
Fallen Star - Flamin' Groovies
Johannesburg - Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
Without You - Harry Nilsson
South American Getaway - Burt Bacharach
Don't Sleep In The Subway - Petula Clark
(They Long To Be) Close To You - Burt Bacharach
You Don't Own Me - Dusty Springfield
Love Is A Stranger - Eurythmics
Thorn In My Side - Eurythmics
So Much Love - Dusty Springfield
Then He Kissed Me - The Crystals
Don't Look Back - Teenage Fanclub
Going Places - Teenage Fanclub