Friday, 13 October 2017

Pre-Code Hollywood - Shake It Out

I'm not entirely sure who it was who originally introduced me to this mash up, but I think it was my friend Michelle Drury who combines her encyclopediac knowledge of all things Fall, Doctor Who, Radiophonic Workshop and Wars of the Roses with a similar degree of knowledge of all things Pre Code Hollywood and silent film.

This mash up is pretty apt given that the official promo video for 'Shake It Out' is very 1930s glamour anyway. This particular take on it never fails to cheer me up, as did Florence Welch's very emphatic disowning of the Conservative Party's unauthorised use of the Florence + The Machine's version of 'You've Got The Love' at their recent party conference in Manchester. I didn't make it to the customary anti-Conference march this year because I had a horrific migraine, but I gather it went well.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Pale Honey - Get These Things Out Of My Head (Official Video)

Gothenburg band Pale Honey are currently touring with our friends Pink Milk (whose album I now have!) in Sweden, but will be playing a London show at The Old Blue Last on November 7. Their second album, Devotion, is out now and this single, 'Get These Things Out Of My Head' captures life on the road for the band, as well as providing a taster of the album. It is, in their words, 'Heavy', but is also an exhilarating ride.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Wolf Alice - Beautifully Unconventional in the Live Lounge

I'm posting the live session version rather than the promo video to this single because I really don't like the promo at all, and feel it undermines (what I understand to be) the message of the song. That is to say, there's nothing innately offensive about using the well trod big white dress, blonde wig Monroe/Debbie Harry circa Parallel Lines schtick but, Ye Gods is it tired... There are some promo videos that you watch and feel really disappointed by. Not just because the idea is tired, but because it doesn't even seem to be the right tired idea to fit the image/sound of the band in question. It feels weird. Like you're watching that video of the the Waitresses 'I know what boys like' with the Kirsty MacColl version of 'They Don't Know' dubbed over the top of it.

'Beautifully Unconventional' isn't the new 'Rebel Girl' by any means, but it has a nice affirmative female solidarity message all the same. Not so much 'Rebel Girl' as 'She's Amazing'. The album, Visions Of A Life, is out now, and it's really, really good and definitely lives up to the hype. It should consolidate the momentum the band are building up around themselves and has all the hallmarks of an indie rock classic.

On that theme, Wolf Alice are the band at the heart of Michael Winterbottom's new film, On The Road, which follows the band as they tour the UK. The film weaves fictional characters and situations in and out of the day to day activities of the touring band. An unusual concept, which seems to have garnered a positive response, critically, so far.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Miya Folick - God Is A Woman - Live at London Calling

Along with Daughter's 'Burn It Down', this is my current song that I'm obsessed with. On 'God Is A Woman' we find Miya in a brooding, contemplative mood and, as such, this song isn't as guitar orientated as most of her work, or as angry/self lacerating.  It's a bit of a quiet recording, but it's also the only clip of 'God is a woman' that there is on YouTube so 'twill have to do.

'God Is A Woman' is available through Spotify and other streaming sites though, if you want to follow up by listening to the excellent recorded version

Friday, 29 September 2017

"I'm not right...inside": Wild Ones' return with classic new album

Wild Ones by Jeremy Hernandez
US band Wild Ones are due to release a new album of sparkling slightly skewed electro pop at the beginning of October. The title, Mirror Touch, refers to the medical condition mirror touch synesthesia and to the "physiological experience of empathy. How can you know yourself when in public you become everyone else?" It's this sense of contradiction and disorientation that runs through the album.

From a musical perspective, the band grew up on Cocteau Twins and En Vogue, and this knowledge provides you with a good bit of context when it comes to approaching their sound. On one hand there is a dark synthy element to a lot of the songs but this sits alongside the more evident bouncy electro pop and R&B elements.

Opening track 'Paresthesia' is all crashing electro chords, heavy synths and insistent, nagging percussive urgency. Singer Danielle Sullivan's vocals are reminiscent of Visions era Grimes, and are similarly sweetly endearing. This is a very bouncy track but in an offbeat way; wonky pop at it's best, with a great hook and chorus. It's a real ear worm, not to mention being a strong contender for song of the year. Sublime, euphoric and blissful despite it's dark lyrics.

The synth led 'Do you really' is a less urgent piece, but has similarly great hooks and bridge. More Naked And The Famous or Metric than Grimes, it's very sing along to. It's followed by the bouncy electro pop of 'They're not me', and the emotive and sweet electro ballad 'Invite Me In', which seems a good cousin to our friends Overcoats and their more electro orientated work. The most recent single, the soft and gorgeous lullaby 'Standing in The Back at Your Show', is similarly lovely.

Perhaps the most subversive track here though (aside from 'Parasthesia') is 'Wanna be your man', which follows the sad piano, crashing drums and swooping guitar of the instrumental 'Night Shift'. This is a laconic slice of electro pop that comes across like early Sugababes via Blondie and is just too good. This is woman as sexual pursuer, the swaggerer, the aggressive one. It has all the hallmarks of a pop classic and sits nicely along recent works by Gothic Tropic and Overcoats.

It's followed by the big song with big emotion that is 'Love + Loathing', in which brooding verses contrast with the emotional explosion of the chorus."Infatuation is so hard to hide"acknowledges Sullivan. There is a similar urgency to 'Forgetting Rock'N'Roll', with its pounding drums, swaggery synths and blurred and disoriented backing vocals, all making for good post disco electro pop.

The album ends with the bouncy but lyrically outspoken, shouty chorus fuelled 'No Money', which is another slice of classic electro pop. "Another hundred billion dollars gets me closer to God" snarls Sullivan in what is a (probably) unintentional nod to Nine Inch Nails, a reference only enhanced by the excellent insistent and unyielding drums at the end.

A perfect wonky pop album then, intelligent and innovative, also catchy as hell.

Mirror Touch is out on Topshelf on 6 October

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Daughter - "Burn It Down"

I heard this by chance on Lamacq on 6music on Monday and it quite literally stopped me in my tracks... It is currently haunting me and, my God does it feel so 2017...

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Dramatics- In the rain

It isn't actually raining in Stockport today, as it happens, in fact it was actually quite sunny earlier (!) but, well, you know... we are clearly in Autumn now...

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Bang Bang Machine - Geek Love (original 12" mix)

I was reminded of this record while I was both reading the book Geek Love, and also while I was writing about it for my Between Two Books post.

Last time I went looking for this song on YouTube (which was, admittedly, a few years back now) I couldn't find the full version of it, and the clip that was up was an indie chart Chart Show bootleg that wasn't great quality.

If you've never heard 'Geek Love' before, stick with it because it has a slow start, but once it gets going it just builds and builds and gets better and better... I would still class it as in the top 5 of my favourite singles of all time, probably number 1 favourite single of all time.

As you'll see if you click through to YouTube, this record was self financed by the band and much championed by John Peel upon it's release in 1992. It spent several months hanging around the indie chart top ten, and spent several weeks at number one in the summer of that year I think. It also bagged the number one spot in that years Peel Festive 50, holding off PJ Harvey's mighty 'Sheela-na-gig' by one vote.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Time machine time: The missing Florence review

Back in August 2009 I reviewed the debut Florence + The Machine album, Lungs, for The F-Word, but... it was never published. Why? Because I withdrew it a few months later, fretting that what I'd written was becoming irrelevant as the band's meteoric success became increasingly apparent. I was also waiting for poor Jess McCabe (the F-Word's then editor) to surface from under the pile of reviews she was drowning in, and I wasn't sure how long that would take.

Anyway, I went looking for this lost Florence review last summer, post British Summer Time festival, with the intention of revisiting it and maybe recycling it in some way. But I couldn't find it and assumed I'd binned it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I unearthed it when beginning the unenviable task of trying to tidy up my writing archive, specifically all the punk women research. 

Because I did review both Ceremonials and How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful for The F-Word, I've always regretted pulling the review of Lungs, an album I would still regard as one of the finest of the past ten years. At the time, it seemed a sensible course of action but, reading it back now, it hasn't dated as much as I thought it would. I think what follows is an accurate account of how I felt when I was first discovering both band and album in 2009, and in some ways, I was quite forward thinking with it, so it does still work.

I can't make it look the same as it would have done had it been published on The F-Word, but I will try and make it look nice.

Here it is:

The girl in the headlights: Notes on Florence + The Machine’s Lungs

I have been trying and trying to come up with a series of suitable analogies to describe this album, and time after time I find myself reminded of the opening sequence to the film Heavenly Creatures, and the shock invoked by the raw screaming of a blood spattered Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as they run through sparse woodland, away from the murder scene. I kind of feel it’s a most inappropriate choice on one hand, the film being based on a true story, but on the other hand this fictionalised scene is the only thing I can think of that invokes the sense of savagery, wildness and beauty this record evokes. There is something very raw, frequently violent and sometimes shockingly emotional about it.

“I want my music to sound like throwing yourself out of a tree, or off a tall building, or as if you’re being sucked down into the ocean and you can’t breathe” Florence Welch has been quoted as saying, on the bands website, “It’s something overwhelming and all encompassing that fills you up, you’re either going to explode with it, or you’re just going to disappear.”

The album opens with the sensory overload that is the single ‘Dog Days Are Over’, a song which makes characteristic use of light and shade, setting a delicate harp against sparse vocals one minute, and pounding percussion and crashing chords against fiercely impassioned words the next. It’s followed by the hit ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise it up)’, a slightly gentler ride, which was written, so the story goes, in response to Island’s request for something they could put out as a single. The resulting song is a critique of the process of negotiation and selling, of being bound to a contract. But Welch and the band take these themes very deep, so that the song becomes an almost Faustian analogy, delivered via references to Alice In Wonderland and Kate Bush. Welch is the rabbit in the headlights, or the girl in the spotlight, frozen in the gaze of the critics and the music industry at large. It’s a song about self-sacrifice that asks “who is the lamb and who is the knife?” while acknowledging that Midas is king and that, firmly in his grasp, she will be turned to gold, or in this case, profit. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, amongst others, have reflected on the dilemma of selling themselves, or sacrificing themselves in order to be heard (see ‘Young Girls, Happy Endings’) Kenickie touched on it, in passing, during the brief course of ‘Come out 2nite’, not to mention the Clash maintaining that they wanted “complete control”, but rarely is such a common dilemma expressed with such elegance and mesmerising beauty.

‘I’m Not Calling You A Liar’, which follows ‘Rabbit Heart’, is taut and sparse, precise and slightly ghostly in quality, whereas ‘Howl’ is an entrancing shamanistic stream of consciousness that evokes much of the savagery, wildness and otherworldly beauty of the record. Like an aural Angela Carter story, it is crammed full of imagery, blood and wolves. Amongst the very high standard of songs on the album, this is possibly the best.

How did the band go from the raw guitar rock of ‘Kiss With A Fist’ to this? Well, Welch is clearly a girl who knows her Kate Bush from her Tori Amos, her Patti Smith from her Polly Harvey. Like Patrick Wolf, she seems to be an artist who enjoys, and feels comfortable in, a studio environment while being equally comfortable in a live environment. Both songwriters are equally prodigious talents as well as sophisticated and sensitive songwriters so it's a fair comparison.

Florence + The Machine, who are currently comprised of Florence Welch, Rob Ackroyd, Chris Hayden, Isabella Summers and Tom Monger, took the comparatively old fashioned route of gigging a lot before recording, and this shows in the sophistication and confidence of the finished record. ‘Kiss With A Fist’, the bands first single, was written by Florence while she was still at school. It is her young punk song, in which a couple brawl increasingly violently in a bedroom, and the runaway feel of the escalating violence is echoed by the runaway guitars and drums of the song, plus Welch’s increasingly reckless vocals. The song that follows it on the record, ‘Girl With One Eye’ also has violence as a strong theme, and it’s a very tense, menacing song with an air of sexual ambiguity (“I slipped my hand under her skirt. I said don’t worry it’s not going to hurt”) and gothic imagery alluding to cutting out eyeballs and the like, possibly reflecting Welch’s rumoured appreciation of Edgar Allen Poe.

This gothic element is also evident in ‘Drumming Song’, the band’s most recent single. In the video Welch is shown in a black leotard, high heels and cape alongside other black clad girls, dancing in a very white, light, church in Shoreditch. They look slightly bat-like in their costumes, and as the song is quite hot blooded and sexy, as well as very hard and percussive, the mood is intense but swaggery. Welch sings of a sensation that is “sweeter than heaven” and “hotter than hell”, hence the religious imagery, and while the video is eye catching, the song itself is a very strong single, and does the band proud.

By strong contrast to the single is the song ‘Between Two Lungs’, a sparse, eerie and oddly beautiful piece, which has an interesting history. It’s become important to Welch because it signifies the moment when the sound started to come together, and she began to feel comfortable within her own musical skin. She wrote it by pounding on the walls of her friend’s 8-track studio with her hands to make the percussion, and then wrote the melody on piano, an instrument she can’t actually play. The backing vocals were recorded before the lead was, and the experience taught her to be confident in experimenting to achieve the sound she wanted. The song itself is about a kiss, and it’s a sensual, tender moment amidst the emotional rage and passion. 

It is followed by ‘Cosmic Love’, which begins as a delicate swirl of harp, piano and angelic vocals before the drums come crashing in and Welch’s voice becomes more aggressive. This song has that contrast of sweet tenderness and savage violence, and it’s emotive and large in scope and sound, contrasting pain with beauty. The hand of such predecessors as 'Hounds Of Love' and Curve’s Cherry EP can be heard on it, but lightly so.

Perhaps the most subtle song on the album is ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’, a remarkably stripped down and straightforward piece, with a folky-goth sensibility that is reminiscent of both All About Eve and Patrick Wolf circa ‘Wind In The Wires’. It could easily be neglected and passed by by listeners, but whoever picked the running order for this record picked well because, set after the sparse light and shade of ‘Between Two Lungs’ and the crashing emotion of ‘Cosmic Love’ it works very well.

The subtlety of ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’ pre-empts the poppier quality of ‘Hurricane Drunk’, which I would wager on as a future single, if only because it should appeal to what one critic has dubbed “Lily Allen’s school for wayward girls”, it being about going out and getting absolutely slaughtered. It also comes in at just over three minutes, has a buoyant tune and a sing along chorus, though it’s quite deceptive as well because the lyrics are so bleakly masochistic: “I’m going out, I’m gonna drink myself to death, and in the crowd, I see you with someone else.” I feel sure that many of us, whether we happen to be one of Lily’s wayward girls or not, have had at least one night out like that. Welch has said, incidentally, that she writes her best songs when drunk or hungover, which I can’t help but think might cause her problems later on: Disorientated, bewildered, lucid but not really with it = states in which to write good songs apparently. Others would probably agree, but I can’t help but think about the long term implications of this, if only because the (very) public persona of Amy Winehouse hangs over so many young songwriters these days, especially the girls, like a most unedifying vision of the future. In many ways, Florence + The Machine have made life rather more difficult for themselves, musically speaking, by mining a series of deep, powerful and often unpleasant or dangerously euphoric emotions rather than going for the safer subjects, but I don’t think Welch would want it any other way.

The final two tracks on the album, ‘Blinding’ and ‘You’ve Got The Love’ are typical of this drive for perfection. ‘Blinding’, while sharing a number of chromosomes with ‘Drumming Song’, notably its dominant percussion, is a darkly hypnotic track, both bleaker in sound and subject than ‘Drumming Song’, making for a strong, albeit intense, ride. ‘You’ve Got The Love’, a cover of The Source and Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’ is a credible guitar led take on a song that is indisputably a modern classic. The band regularly perform this song as their encore when playing live, and the resulting version holds itself up well without surpassing the original. Welch is pitch perfect in her delivery, suggesting a strong sense of familiarity with the song, and it’s a brave choice of cover, one that reflects the high standards of the band.

In February of this year, Florence + The Machine won the critics choice for most promising rising star at the Brit Awards. This award, and it’s predecessor Best Newcomer, has something of a chequered history, at times being unerringly accurate (such as in 1999 when the public were allowed to vote and chose Belle and Sebastian over Steps) while at other times seeming like the kiss of death (They Might Be Giants in 1991) so its fair to say that it’s led to a certain amount of unhealthy interest in the band, and in Welch. That girls are seemingly in fashion, musically speaking, this year also adds to the sense of both expectation and cynicism, with a recent commentator on a Guardian article (which wasn’t even about Florence + The Machine, but which did happen to mention them) accusing Florence of the cardinal sin of trying “too hard”. This in itself begs a number of questions as regards the metaphorical codebook issued as part of the initiation into the cult of indie, nonetheless being why should trying be a sin, and how can you try “too hard”? Post Brit Award, the band were shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize, but did not win. 

Whatever the future holds for Florence + The Machine, I for one can only hope that Welch makes it through and survives, remaining both sane and unembittered by the process. I also dearly hope that she continues to make startlingly original emotive music that is both exhilarating and ambitious.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

A literary voyager reaches land

Back in March, I took the decision to embark on an epic literary voyage into the unknown by reading, in consecutive order as much as possible, the full list of books read by the Between Two Books online reading group. 

Before we go any further, I feel I should explain a few things:

Firstly, 2017 hadn’t been going particularly well for me at that point and, as such, I was in need of some escapism. 

Secondly, I’d been fascinated by the whole idea of Between Two Books as an entity, ever since I found out about it last summer.

Thirdly, I’m the kind of person who keeps a notebook of books I want to read (I start to fret if the list gets a bit short...) and this is not the first time I’ve followed a literary whim.

Specifically, when I was 15 I made the acquaintance of the infamous Mancunian fanzine writer Dean Talent and, during our brief correspondence and customary exchange of fanzines, he gave me a list of Four Books You Must read. I can still remember them now:

1) Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar

2) Douglas Coupland - Shampoo Planet

3) Sarah Schulman - Girls, Visions, and Everything

4) Beth Nugent - City of Boys

This was in 1994, when Amazon had only just been invented and the UK had yet to embrace the internet. As such, if you wanted to read a book and the local public library didn’t have it, and you didn’t want to order a copy at Waterstones, (it generally was Waterstones at the time…) you did an Inter Library Loan for it. I think Stockport public libraries had The Bell Jar in stock, but they basically had to buy the Coupland, Schulman and Nugent titles in for me. I waited a good couple of years for the Nugent one, and at least six months for the Schulman book because it had been published by a tiny publisher in the US and, as such, was something of an ordeal to source, supply chain wise.

I can honestly say that I took something from each of the four books, even The Bell Jar (which I didn’t go much on, despite or perhaps because of being a depressed 15 year old at the time…) but that Girls, Visions and Everything was my favourite of the four.

With such a positive experience of literary recommendations to look back on, you can see why I liked the idea of playing catch up with the Between Two Books list of books.

When Between Two Books first started, the books were chosen by Florence Welch but, as time has gone on, it’s become a more fluid process with other musicians, friends, and writers entering the fray and selecting titles, almost in an unconscious chain reaction kind of way, which is cool.

As I draw near the end of the list (so far), I’d like to look back on the past six months of reading and reflect on it. It seems only fair to say that I didn’t enjoy every book I read, but that I did find them all compelling enough to finish. Overall, it’s been a really positive experience that has introduced me to a number of writers I might not have ever read otherwise, as well as reacquainting me with other writers whose earlier works I’d read but whose careers I haven’t followed so closely since. It’s occurred to me along the way that, increasingly, I read a lot of non fiction and, also, (and I was aware of this) I tend to read mainly British novelists. Which isn’t as parochial as you might think, given that I mainly watch Japanese and Korean films.

Anyway, please sit back and enjoy a breathless rollercoaster ride through my reading brain these last six months...

We begin with Gwendoline Riley’s Opposed Positions, a novel I found to be a bit of a masochistic read due to the subject matter. It revolves around destructive family relationships, particularly the relationship of the estranged father with his writer daughter (the narrater). While I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with Riley's work, having previously loved both Cold Water and Sick Notes, I finished the book with the concluding thought that the Gwendoline Riley period of my life has now passed. I was a bit sad about this, but I wasn’t entirely surprised. The two books I’ve mentioned served a purpose for me at the time, in my early/mid twenties, but I’ve since let them lie. In a related note, It’s a bit like listening to ‘Hurricane Drunk’ now (which I can still do, very happily): That was me when I was 22, basically, or a specific night when I was 22 anyway. Which, even now, all these years later, I can still look back at and wince, feeling the same echoing note of baffled, drunken, hurt. 

Second book, Kirsten Reed’s The Ice Age, was a very pleasant surprise, and I think that this has probably been my favourite of all the Between Two Books books so far. From the blurb of the back I was half expecting it to tread similar territory to Emily Prager’s Roger Fishbite (which I also love, but in a different kind of way), in that the central characters are a teenage girl and an older man, on the road together, but it wasn't like that at all. It was a much more ambiguous read, and there was a dreamlike quality to it that contrasted sharply with the violence. It is a mysterious, lucid, and beautiful book that I kept because I knew I’d read it again.

I read Ivana Lowell’s Why Not Say What Happened? out of sync with the rest of the sequence. This was because Stockport Libraries had a copy of it whereas they didn’t have copies of the Riley or Reed books. As such, I read this one first. While I really enjoyed it, it took me quite a while to read, but I didn’t mind that because of the high quality of her authorial voice. It would be simplistic to call it a scandalous tale of the upper crust, a modern day Mitford, but it would also be simplistic to call it a misery memoir or a drugs memoir: It has elements of all three, but ultimately transcends the three genres. It is a compelling read, and she has a nice line in dry humour and self depreciation which I really liked.

It felt apt to follow up the Lowell book with another memoir, in this case, Emma Forrest’s Your Voice In My Head. I grew up with Emma Forrest, or (more specifically), with her early writing career. She was one of a small group of very young female music journalists in the 1990s who, in an abstract sense, could be seen to have served as role models for me, merely by their existence and the fact that they were under 18 and writing about music for the music press and/or the broadsheets at the same time as I was writing my fanzine Aggamengmong Moggie. The other two were Caitlin Moran and Bidisha. Stylistically, I was more influenced by Gina Morris at the NME and Sally Margaret Joy at Melody Maker, but still. Emma Forrest drew on her experiences of the music industry when penning her first novel, Namedropper, and while I loved it at the time, I moved on quite quickly and, despite trying, never really got into her later novels.

Your Voice In My Head is different though, partly because it’s a memoir, but also because it feels like she is going back to her roots. The locations and characters feel more familiar somehow, the story more compelling and honest. It feels like the missing link between Girl, Interrupted and Prozac Nation, it has elements of both. There is the self destructive side, but also the redemptive side, and it works really well.

The next book was something of a literary classic: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and it was a pleasant surprise for me in that it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be (ie impenetrably literary). Weirdly, I found myself thinking of Thomas Hardy a lot while reading this, but in a good way (and as someone who has read Hardy at degree level, you won’t find me saying that very often…) in that the set up at the start of the novel, with the return of the heroine and the gossiping neighbours, reminded me vaguely of Return Of The Native. None of the rest of the novel did though (that would have been weird…) although there is tragedy within the book, as well as redemption. I suppose what I really liked was the characterisation and attention to detail, including that it was written in dialect. It made it much more vivid and real, like you were eavesdropping on a secret world.

Young Jean Lee’s Songs Of The Dragons Flying To Heaven And Other Plays, which I read next, was an unusual read. I read it in bed over the course of about a fortnight I think and found it quite hard going but at the same time, oddly moreish. I felt as though I wasn’t really understanding a lot of what I was reading, but the odd bit would leap out at me and I’d find myself liking it. It might be that the plays would make more sense if I saw them performed because it felt as though it was slipping through my fingers like melting ice as I read it, so that any meaning I could gleam from it was gone quite quickly after reading. 

Equally baffling, albeit in a different way, was John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy Of Dunces, a book that falls into a category that I call the ‘You should have read me by now!’ book. With that in mind, I was eager to read this one. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting, but I didn’t get it. It is a horribly compelling book, quietly addictive and really, really enjoyable. You feel like you’re eavesdropping on a kind of twilight alternative universe of 1960s New Orleans where very few of the characters are at all likeable, but are fascinating all the same. Bits of it seemed to foreshadow Tales From The City, also the Ballad of Peckham Rye, but you would file it next to Catcher In The Rye ultimately.

Having purchased the soundtrack to The Great Gatsby last year so that I could get ‘Over The Love’, it was probably more than time that I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Because it’s a slim volume, it is easily transportable and, as such, I read it at work on breaks, on the bus, and in bed and got through it very quickly. It was much easier to read than I was anticipating, and I liked it a lot. I could also see how it foreshadowed and paved the way for a favourite novella of mine, Truman Capote’s Breakfast At Tiffany's, both in terms of narrative structure and moral ambiguity.

It was a bit of a jolt to go from the Bright Young Things of The Great Gatsby to the 1980s of Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot, but I got over it. Mainly because this is a book to lose yourself in, in the very best sense. As with Dodie Smith's I Capture The Castle, it is stuffed full of literary references, and the characters and their world feel so lovingly, immaculately created in every detail that you can’t help but be thoroughly drawn in. I also loved that he resisted the idealised ending, which ties in with the whole central theme of the 'marriage plot', and didn't tie it all up neatly in a bow at the end. Reading it was a very different experience to reading Eugenides debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, a book I was obsessed with when I was 19 and which, while hauntingly beautiful, definitely deliberately holds you at arms length.

Another book to devour turned out, to my surprise, to be John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids, which I would happily declare a work of dystopian genius. What surprised me the most was both how subtle it was and how little it had dated. I began reading it on my lunch hour at work one Saturday and then, when I got home that evening, I got myself a drink, sat down on the sofa, opened the book… and didn’t move for several hours. I think I had tea at some point, but I don’t remember. I just devoured the book, finishing about midnight. It’s a more ambiguous read than you would think, with believable characters and plausible science to back up the science fiction. It also has a great twist/reveal towards the end. I will probably read this one again at some point.

A lot of the books up until this point had been quite short, but this changed with the next book in the pile: Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch. The Secret History is another book that falls into the ‘You should have read me by now!’ category, and, having heard the reading of it on 4Extra a year or so back, I was looking forward to The Goldfinch. It is another book to lose yourself in and was, unfortunately, the book I was feverishly finishing off on the 23rd May, the morning after the Manchester Arena bombing. It’s one of the many reasons why I didn’t find out that the bombing had happened until 18:50 that evening. (Day off work, devouring really good novel, online but not looking at news sites or social media,  not having the radio on, no smartphone…). Due to the nature of the cataclysmic incident near the start of the story, which goes on to  shape and overshadow the central characters lives, it felt horribly appropriate to be reading this book on that day. It is an amazing book, but will forever be associated with that event for me now. 

It was with this in mind that I was relieved to find that the next book in the pile was Lena Dunham’s Not that kind of girl, a series of essays by the creator of Girls. This meant that I had a largely light dose of relief in what was a bloody awful and very tense week. Heartburn, by Nora Ephron, followed, and is another one of those ‘You should have read me by now!’ titles. Again, it was not what I was expecting (ie, something very thematically heavy with impenetrable prose), instead it was a very funny, quick read, held together by an immensely likeable heroine. Bit like a 1970s comedy of manners, US style, but with more gender politics. I may re-read this one at some point. 

I should confess at this point that I don’t really read poetry. I think the problem lies with me though, rather than with it: I read very quickly as a rule and I don't think this approach is best when you're reading poetry. I think you have to take your time with it and let it soak in. Because I tend to rush at things, I don't soak poetry up very well as a rule. Having said that, I did enjoy Mira Gonzalez’s I Will Never Be Beautiful Enough To Make Us Beautiful Together, just not enough to keep the book. I decided that I wanted to send it back out into the world for someone else to enjoy, rather than hoard it. The Gonzalez book was partnered with Ted Hughes Birthday Letters, the collection of poetry he wrote for Sylvia Plath, and this was one of the few Between Two Books selections that left me largely untouched. Again, I think I read it too fast. But I also think it probably wasn’t for me. 

By strong contrast, I really enjoyed Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which had been on my list of books to read anyway, and not purely for the punk women connection. As a memoir it had a poetic quality, and was very vivid and lucid. It’s unusual because it is a memoir of her relationship with Robert Maplethorpe, not so much a memoir of Patti Smith, and in that context, it really, really works. I got a lot from it. It wasn't a heavy read, it flowed easily and read easily.

By contrast, the dynastic soap opera/tragedy that is Lauren Groff’s Fates & Furies felt like a hard slog initially, in that this was a book that I didn’t really start to enjoy until the second half: I definitely found Mathilde to be a much more interesting character than Lotto. It is worth putting the hours in with this book, I’d say, simply for the thrilling ride that is the second half. It will surprise and shock, it does not go where you think it’s going to go. 

After this late to start but ultimately thrilling ride, it was something of a relief to embark on The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. This was a much gentler affair in a number of ways, despite the sometimes existential subject matter. I found the reading experience with this book to be similar to the one I had with Andrey Kurkov’s The President’s Last Love back in 2007 (a satire on Russian/Ukrainian relations, written before the annexing of Crimea but post Orange revolution). Not because the themes are in any way similar (they aren’t) but because each are long novels with seemingly gently unwinding, meandering plots told through many, many short chapters, that manage to pull themselves tightly together at the end with a series of neat, shocking twists. Perfect bus reading books in both cases.  I did enjoy this one, but I didn’t love it, and I felt quite detached from it while reading it, while still retaining a fond affection for many of the characters, particularly the indomitable May Kasahara. 

The next book, Night Flowers: The Life And Art of Valli Myers by Martin McIntosh and Gemma Jones, proved to be by far and away the hardest of all the Between Two Books choices to track down. I resorted to the Inter Library Loan scheme to get this one, and after a library in the US said no, my library got me a copy of it from a library in Australia. I think it’s out of print, and it’s really, really expensive to buy. Because it arrived earlier than I anticipated, and because it took me ages to read The Goldfinch, it got read out of sequence: I didn’t want to over-keep it and have to ask for a renewal when it had travelled so far to holiday in my book pile. It is a beautiful artefact, with lots of gorgeous images of both Valli and her artwork, and I learnt a lot about Valli Myers from reading it, but it wasn’t one of my favourites. Again, I probably read it too quickly.

To get back to poetry again, the next book was Salt by Nayyirah Waheed, which, for some reason, I just couldn’t get into, and I’m not sure why, other than I probably rushed it. The other book of poetry it was paired with, Bone, by Yrsa Daley-Ward was a book I really liked. Her poetry is almost like prose sometimes in its density of words, and some of the poems felt more like stories or short plays than poems, which might be partly why I was able to enjoy it more. And I kept it as well.

The next book was Tupac Shakur’s posthumously published collection of poetry, The Rose That Grew From Concrete, a book I’ve been aware of for many years, largely because it got reviewed a lot in the music press when it was first published, but also because I think it was around when I was working in public libraries and used to be pushed at teenage boys a lot to try and get them to read more. Given this, I was interested to read it, but... didn’t really engage with it particularly. It was paired with Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, which was published in 1989, three years before the epic Bang Bang Machine single of the same name, and which felt like a particulary twisted bildungsroman crossed with cautionary tale, Frankenstein style. On another level, it also felt like a weirder Armistead Maupin novel. Most importantly though, it was an utterly absorbing read, accessible but strange with a dark, dark heart. On one hand the stuff of nightmares, on the other hand, an offbeat eccentric family story. 

The next book in the pile was Grayson Perry’s The Descent Of Man, which I really enjoyed (though enjoyed is perhaps the wrong word). It was at once easy to read and well worth reading because it makes it’s very serious points in an often entertaining way, but it doesn’t sacrifice the seriousness of the subject matter by doing so. It is structured, and written, in a way that is easy to digest, and given the complex nature of the subject, it is a remarkably short book. Part essay, part plea to the modern man. 

Because The Descent of Man had been the previous choice, it must have made sense to the Between Two Books folk for Grayson Perry to choose the next book. This turned out to be Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise Of Shadows, an essay on aesthetics, written at a time when it was feared that Japanese traditions and ideas of beauty were being undermined by creeping westernisation. It is hard to read, and meanders about a bit, but it’s worth sticking with. I found it a bit of an exercise in mind stretching, but it was worth it I think.

It was followed by Natasha Khan’s (Bat For Lashes) pick, Hubert Selby’s Last Exit To Brooklyn, which is one of those books that comes with a literary health warning, not to mention an introduction by Irvine Welsh. Reading this book, it’s easy to see why he would have been inspired by it, not just thematically, but by Selby’s ear for dialect. I had, weirdly, encountered the infamous gang rape scene before, when it was reproduced in a scouse situationist fanzine called The Scream in 1993, so the shock value of that particular story within the book was slightly neutered for me. On the other hand, reading that scene in context made more sense than reading it alone had. The central sadness at the heart of ‘Strike!’ was the most oddly moving though I think: Yes, he is a repellent character, but… Does he deserve his fate? It is a gritty, often shocking read, but it’s also vivid and sometimes beautiful, like the sun shining through a clear bit of a grimy window. 

While Last Exit To Brooklyn was a short, but demanding, read, Jonathan Safran-Foer’s Here I Am, which was chosen by Nick Cave, was easy to read while being similarly epic in scope to The Goldfinch. It’s an absorbing book that you can inhabit and live inside, and the more apocalyptic elements mean that it feels oddly timely from a sociocultural point of view. I haven’t read any of his other books, but I know he did a 9/11 related one and, as such, the geopolitical aspects of this book shouldn’t come as a surprise. I was reading this book while simultaneously working on my review of the Noga Erez album, which felt very apt given that modern Israel and what it is to be Jewish today are very much at the heart of both pieces of work I’d say. 

The state of the nation Here I Am has been followed by the lyrical The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, a book I’d been planning to read anyway. I hadn’t been aware before reading it that it was written in what felt, initially, like Irish dialect, which gave way to a very particular literary and dialogue driven idiom. Once I’d got used to this though, it became a much more all encompassing read and I was quickly drawn in. It proved to be a very dark, but also very romantic (in the visceral, compulsive sense, not in the flowers and butterflies sense...) book, and I was really happy that McBride chose to end it the way she did because I thought she was going to do a Hardy on it and make me cry, but she didn't, and the book was even stronger for that decision I think. Why? because it then becomes a novel about strength, about overcoming the dark, destructive stuff life throws at you, rather than being destroyed by it.

And so I drift slowly back to shore, six months on, with rather more to show for my Between Two Books literary excursion than purely an overflowing pile of other, neglected, books, waiting to be read. I would liken this particular literary experience to doing a second English degree, but in a really good way, not just because essays and exams weren't involved (I always liked essays and exams anyway), and despite missing out on discussing the books with other readers. I’ve been introduced to writers and works I probably wouldn’t have read (or necessarily stuck with) otherwise, and I’ve generally had my faith in a good book rekindled, which is always a good thing. A big thank you is due to Between Two Books I feel.

I’ve discovered in the last week or so that I’ve managed to miss a book out, namely Jay Griffiths Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression, which I added to my booklist earlier this year in a slightly different context, so no matter: It will be read at some stage.

Between Two Books and their followers have just finished reading, and discussing, Too Much And Not The Mood, a collection of essays by Durga Chew-Bose, which was recommended by Tavi Gevinson.

They are currently reading The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, which is recommended by Florence Welch.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Pink Milk return, with 'Awakening of Laura'

My favourite Scandi goth pop band are back!

For the uninitiated, I am referring to the excellent Pink Milk, aka Maria (vocals and drums) and Edward (guitar and bass), who I first became aware of last year when they released the glacially elegant but ferociously unyielding 'Detroit'. At the time, I likened it to "being engulfed in icy wind and rain, but in a good way", a sentiment I would still stand by. There followed the mighty 'Drömmens skepp’ (Ship Of A Dream)', a track that was commissioned for use on Swedish TV but wasn't used because it was just too unnerving. I've also just now discovered, via the bands Soundcloud, a frankly terrifying rendition of Foreigner's 'I wanna know what love is', which removes every ounce of saccharine sentimentality from the original and drives it screaming past Twin Peaks, Jesus And Marychain and My Bloody Valentine's territory into a sonic abyss from which it emerges ravished and wild eyed, like a Swedish Bang Bang Machine being fronted by Siouxsie Sioux.

'Awakening of Laura', the new single, sounds lighter and sparser in tone, but equally beautiful. It still has that icy brooding quality to it, but there is light amongst the dark, more Cocteau Twins than Banshees. It was inspired by the 1894 ballet The Awakening of Flora, and it heads up the bands debut album, Purple, which is out this autumn.

I am really looking forward to hearing it.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Taking stock

A nice festival moment: The crowd during 'Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)', Florence + The Machine at British Summer Time festival, 2nd July 2016. 

Looking back over this summer from a purely musical perspective (and even then it still means a summer not without tragedy) I find myself wondering if I had any kind of inkling that I was going to devote so much time to thinking about, or writing about, or sourcing secondary material about Women And Music Festivals.

Had I been asked about it in, say, mid June, I would have been very surprised I think.

While I had a grounding in the two basic issues: Lack of women playing music festivals, and the issue of safety for women attending music festivals, it would never have occurred to me to write about them myself due to my lack of personal festival experience. It's amazing where a bit of full on rage, provided by the right stimulus (thank you, once again, BBC World Service), can take you.

A friend of mine attended a large UK festival in about 2010 or so, partly to offer moral support to a (female) musician friend of hers who was performing there that year. They had a bit of a walk about the site afterwards, found a nice woody kind of place to sit and chill out... A couple of days later, after news of a rape at that particular festival had been reported, she thought back to that moment of peace and tranquility and realised that the rape had happened not very far away from the area where they had been chilling out.

It doesn't make you feel safe.

Around the same time period, as I recall, women were being raped in tents in Occupy encampments.

What conclusions do you end up drawing from that as a woman? As a female who is into music? Who is politically engaged? It screams out at you 'This is not for you'.

I mentioned in an earlier post a very positive story that, while it emerged from dark circumstances, showed the concern and care the staff at Glastonbury showed a young woman who attended this years festival. Unfortunately, later in the summer, there was another festival tale, this time from British Summer Time in London, where another young woman had been forced to get staff there to intervene when she caught a man taking up skirt shots of her in the pit. While it did sound like the staff reacted really quickly on that occasion, the police are not prosecuting. The incident has instead inspired a petition to clarify the legal rights of those who find themselves violated in this way.

To look at the musical issue, and the representation issue, I don't want to repeat what I've said in my piece for The F-Word, but what I will say is that we should never be putting our female musicians in a position whereby, at every music festival they perform, they are made to feel as though they carry the expectations of the rest of their sex on their shoulders; that's just too much for anyone to bear. Instead, we should be working towards a situation whereby a female performer at a festival is treated exactly the same as a male performer at a festival, both in terms of bookings, and in terms of respect. She should be judged only on performance, not on her sex, and not on performance purely through a prism and series of expectations defined by her sex.

I found when I was sourcing clips for my series of fantasy festivals that, even when women have performed at the big festivals, such as Glastonbury, there isn't always good quality footage of their performances available online. This is because such performers have often played on the smaller stages, and were not filmed by the BBC. The footage available tends to be patchy at best, often nonexistent.

Consequently, I lowered my expectations and began looking for good quality live clips in general, not necessarily of festival performances. My biggest friends in this quest turned out to be NPR, KEXP and Audiotree, all multimedia US based platforms who recognise the importance of broadcasting and releasing online live music, and who seem to take a particularly strong role in supporting new and emerging artists. Florence + The Machine had BBC Introducing (who have also recently championed Georgia) early on in their career, Overcoats have NPR, KEXP and Audiotree.

This lack of festival footage of female musicians is worrying though. It makes it easier to erase those performances that have happened if they are not filmed, written about, discussed. It means that they don't embed themselves in an audiences psyche, they don't become a seminal musical moment. That they will never, ever appear in one of those dead tree press Greatest Gigs Of All Time lists.

History, increasingly these days, happens online or is not officially happening until it is online. But YouTube clips are ephemeral. What happens to all those memories in a post YouTube world? where can I relive those moments when that platform has gone? Have I really experienced Florence + The Machine at British Summer Time Festival in July 2016 if I haven't since watched the few clips that exist of that gig again and again on YouTube?

These are wider issues, obviously, that I can't solve myself.

But when I spent a Sunday morning in June crawling around the living room floor with bits of paper with different artists names on them, arranging them into embryo fantasy festival bills, I wasn't trying to solve all of those issues. I was just trying to do something, however small, for visibility. I wanted to big up those performers I had listed at the end of my piece for the F-Word. I wanted to tell them that they matter.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Beth Ditto performing "Oo La La" Live on KCRW

Because Beth is still very new, as a solo artist, there's not a lot of live material available of her sans Gossip online. This is a session version of 'Oo La La' live on KCRW from earlier this year. Her performance of 'Fire' on Graham Norton is also worth a watch, and I'd keep an eye out for her live later this year.

For a taste of the full live powerhouse that is Beth Ditto, this clip of her owning the stage at T In The Park with Gossip in 2007 should dispel any doubts.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Natasha Kmeto - Inevitable (Live on KEXP)

This is Natasha Kmeto performing the brooding 'Inevitable' on KEXP back in 2015. You can watch her full KEXP set online. For the full live experience, you can also watch Natasha's full set from Bunk Bar back in February 2017. 

Noga Erez - Noisy

Dammit, this girl is just so new that there really is very little live stuff out there online, hence including the latest video for the new single 'Noisy' instead. I have found a live session from the ARTE concert in France earlier this year though.

You can read my review of Noga's album over on The F-Word

Friday, 25 August 2017

Fantasy Festival #7: The Fiercely Futuristic Festival - Lineup

Noga Erez: Noga Erez is a 27 year old new artist from Tel Aviv. She makes sometimes playful, sometimes dark, always danceable to electro pop in the inventive and glitchy vein. Erez has been compared to both MIA and FKA Twigs and her debut album, Off The Radar, is out now. She will be touring the UK in October and will also be playing the Pitchfork Avant Garde Festival in Paris at the end of October.  

Natasha Kmeto: Natasha Kmeto is a producer and vocalist who composes electronic music in Portland, Oregan. Often epic in her emotional scope, she creates shimmering dance music and pared down brooding electro soul. She will be appearing at Le Guess Who? in Utrecht in November. 

Honeyblood: Honeyblood are a guitar rock duo from Glasgow who create frantically catchy songs that seem destined to be teenage anthems. They released their second album, Babes Never Die, back in May, but are not currently touring.

Courtney Barnett: Courtney Barnett is a singer/songwriter from Melbourne. Her 2015 album Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit, included the indie fave 'No one really cares if you don't go to the party', and continued to excite critics and music lovers already inspired by the laid back quirky guitar rock of the single 'History Eraser'. She will be touring the US in the autumn. 

Zola Jesus: Zola Jesus is the stage name of Nika Roza Danilova, an industrial/electronic artist from Madison, Wisconsin. Trained as an opera singer, she was inspired to create her own music by artists such as Throbbing Gristle, Dead Kennedys and Diamonda Galas. She has released five albums, and her sixth album, Okovi, will be released in September. She is currently touring the US and Canada, but will be touring Europe, including the UK, in October and November.

Sleater-Kinney: Corin Tucker. Carrie Brownstein. Janet Weiss. Sleater-Kinney formed in the mid 1990s in Olympia, Washington, became the standard bearers for the later waves of Riot Grrrl, and then went on to became a very good, very credible rock band. After eleven years of writing, recording and touring, they went on a ten year hiatus before returning with the critically acclaimed and fan adored No Cities To Love album in 2015. Their live album, Live in Paris was released in January. They will be playing the Music Tastes Good Festival in Long Beach, California, in September. 

Grimes: Grimes is a Canadian producer, composer, singer and engineer of astonishing and ethereal electronic music. She grew up in Vancouver and her second album, Visions (2012), and third album, Art Angels (2015), were both critically acclaimed. She is not currently touring.

Beth Ditto: Arkansas singer Beth Ditto, formerly of electro punk band Gossip, is now a solo act. Her bluesy, punk rock Etta James voice has been heard recently on the anthemic and brooding southern rock blues single 'Fire', and her debut solo album, Fake Sugar, is out now. She is touring Europe, including the UK, throughout September and October. 

Fantasy Festival #7: The Fiercely Futuristic Festival

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Santogold Santigold - Say Aha / The Keepers Live @Made in America Festi...

This is Santigold performing 'Say Aha' and 'The Keepers' live at the Made In America festival in Philadelphia, 2012. Full live sets seem to be in short supply, but you can watch other good quality clips from this concert, including of 'Go' and 'L.E.S Artistes'. Why the crowd are not going ballistic, I do not know...

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Marika Hackman - I'd Rather Be With Them (live at Rise, Bristol - 5th Ju...

This is Marika Hackman playing live at Bristol Rise back in early June this year. There is a sound only bootleg of the rest of this set up online, but it's quite quiet and starts mid set. Similarly, there is a bootleg of Marika's set at Rough Trade East earlier this year available online, but the sound quality is very quiet. The single 'My Lover Cindy' is out now, and earlier single 'Boyfriend' is still very much a sonic presence on radio.

Grace Mitchell - NoLo (Apple Music Festival: London 2015)

This is Grace Mitchell performing 'NoLo' at the Apple Music Festival in London in 2016. Unfortunately, it's not the best live performance I could find, but it is the one with the best sound quality. Because Grace is playing to such a lukewarm audience though, and seems quite (understandably) nervous, I would also recommend watching this live clip of 'Jitter' as, although the sound is a bit quiet, it will give you a better idea of what she's about as a performer.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Fantasy Festival #6: The Pop Festival - Lineup

Grace Mitchell: Grace Mitchell is a singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon. Paul Lester as The Guardian's New Band Of The Day/Week guru got very excited about her song, 'Jitter' in 2015. She's signed to Taylor Swift and Lorde's label, and makes what I'd call smart pop that takes from a number of genres, but mainly R&B, electronica and rock. Grace has been touring the US and Canada throughout August.

Marika Hackman: Marika Hackman is a British singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist whose second album, I'm Not Your Man, was released in June.  The lead single, 'Boyfriend' is a swaggering indie pop tale of a female/female/male love triangle becoming increasingly complicated. She will be playing at Leeds Festival on the 25th August and will be touring the UK into the autumn.

Jane Weaver: Jane Weaver first appeared on the Manchester music scene in the mid nineties with her band Kill Laura, a scouse indie pop outfit signed to Rob Gretton's Manchester Records. She later popped up as one of Misty Dixon on the Twisted Nerve label, but it's been her solo work that has won her, at long last, critical acclaim, with its exploration of psych and space pop. Her album Modern Kosmology was released in May, and she is playing the Liverpool Psych Festival at the end of September. She is currently touring the UK.

Stealing Sheep: Liverpool band Stealing Sheep started life as a folk troubadour outfit, releasing two albums of curiously mediaeval sounding folk, Noah and the Paper Moon and Into The Diamond Sun. Their third album, Not Real, released in 2015, revealed their smooth transition to psych pop. The band are not currently touring.

Santigold: Santigold, aka Santi White, is a singer/songwriter and producer from Philadelphia. She has released three albums of immaculate electro pop, of which 2016's 99cents is the most recent. The glitchyness of some of her work, and her sometimes vocal delivery, have led to comparisons with MIA, but her music is ultimately a collage of all sorts of sonic sources: Everything from modern dance music to post punk samples, to ska and Two Tone. She is not currently touring.

Solange: Solange Knowles' 2016 album A Seat At The Table was one of the standout albums of 2016, a poetic mediation on what it is to be a black woman in the US, but also a lively, imaginative, danceable and moving work of art. She played Glastonbury in June and  is currently touring the US.

Lorde: Auckland pop star Lorde, real name Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, first began to garner attention in 2012, with her self released EP, The Love Club. A year later she released her second, immaculately written and produced, EP, Tennis Court, and debut album Pure Heroine, which featured the single 'White Teeth Teens'. An exponent of knowing, smart, observational minimalist pop, there is a world weariness to her voice and lyrics that contrasts sharply with her age: She is 21 this year. Her second album, Melodrama, was released in 2016. She is in the middle of a huge international tour at the moment, which will bring her to the UK in September. 

Fantasy Festival #6: The Pop Festival

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Monday, 14 August 2017

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Overcoats - 23 - Audiotree Live (4 of 6)

There was a severe lack of live concert footage of Overcoats available online, so I've chosen to revisit their session for Audiotree back in May. Which gives a good sense of what I live gig might be like. You can watch the full Audiotree session online.

Speech Debelle Performing "No War ,No Peace" Live @ Moth Club, Hackney #...

This is Speech Debelle performing 'No War, No Peace' live at Moth Club in Hackney in 2016. Again, sadly full live sets are in short supply online, but I do recommend you watch the film made for 'Live For The Message' in 2013. Eerily prescient.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Georgia - Kombine - Live (Eurosonic 2016)

This is Georgia performing 'Kombine' at Eurosonic in 2016. Full live sets are in short supply online, but you can watch a good clip of Georgia performing 'Nothing Solutions' live at CMJ in 2015 as part of a BBC Introducing showcase.

Connie Constance | Stars - Live at Adidas Futurehouse || GUAP

This is Connie Constance performing 'Stars' live at Adidas Futurehouse. There are other lives clips available online, but full sets are in short supply. I do recommend you watch the video to last years single 'Clouds' though. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Fantasy Festival #5: The Florence Festival - Lineup

Connie Constance: Connie Constance is a London based singer/songwriter who originally trained to be a dancer, became a poet, and then moved into song. The single she recorded with Jelani Blackman, 'Clouds', reflects this combination of poetry and song. She was tipped by ID as a future soul star in their Class of 2016 piece. She played the Afropunk festival in London late last month.

Georgia: Former footballer and drummer for Kate Tempest, Georgia released her 'post punky hip hop soul' debut album in 2015. She played a number of festivals in 2016, including British Summer Time and Eurosonic, and has just released a new E.P 'Feel It'. She has just played LeeFest, and will be playing Lost Village festival later this month. 

Speech Debelle: Mercury Music prize winner Speech Debelle is a London based rapper and social activist who makes understated, multi layered, narrative urban survival music. She has released two albums and, last year, a self released EP. She is currently touring the UK and is playing Shamabala Festival and Greenbelt Festival in late August. 

Overcoats: Overcoats are a folkatronic or 'folk-soul' duo from New York whose music has been likened to Simon & Garfunkel. They released their debut album earlier this year and are touring the US throughout the summer and autumn. They would have played at all three of the Dot To Dot festivals in late May, but pulled out in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing.

Kate Tempest: Musician. Novelist. Poet. Playwright. There is seemingly nothing Londoner Kate Tempest cannot do. She headlined The Great Escape in 2015, "moved people to tears at Glastonbury 2017", and was the guest director at Brighton Festival in May. Her current, extremely timely, album Let Them Eat Chaos was released in 2016. She is playing a large number of festivals this summer.

Angel Olsen: Angel Olsen is a singer/songwriter from St Louis, Missouri. She began her musical career with Will Oldham (Palace Brothers, Palace Music) but her 2014 debut took her away from alt. country territory and into dark indie rock. 2016's My Woman married folky strumming to Velvet Underground infused guitar pop and garage rock distorted vocal stomping, all with a dash of eighties synth pop and sixties girl group melodies. It gained fans amongst the staff at Piccadilly Records in Manchester, Florence Welch, and Helen McCookerybook, amongst others. Angel is currently touring Europe, including the UK, and will be touring the US throughout the autumn. Her date at Green Man festival next week has sold out. 

Cat Power: Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, from Atlanta, Georgia, has been making music since the early 1990s. Her early work featured choppy guitar work and raw vocals. She then went through a slow, minimalist phase, a critically acclaimed soul phase, and has in recent years emerged as a full blown soul electronica artist with anthems such as 'Cherokee' and 'Ruin'. She played a US date last week, but it looks as though no other dates are planned at the moment.

Florence + The Machine: Londoner Florence Welch formed Florence + The Machine in 2007. The name derives from the stage names Welch and keyboardist Isabella Summers gave themselves when writing songs together as teenagers: Florence Robot and Isa Machine. The bands first appearance at Glastonbury in 2007 was later described by Welch as "A complete shambles" and comprised of a muddied, sleep deprived and tearful Florence singing her set acapella until her guitarist arrived. These days, ten years and three albums down the line, Florence + The Machine are a veritable orchestra (there were twelve of them at the last count), no strangers to the festival circuit in the UK, US and Europe, and have headlined Latitude in 2010, Glastonbury in 2015, and British Summer Time in 2016. The band are not currently touring.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Helen McCookerybook returns with timely new album The Sea

In late June, the same weekend as I was feverishly working away at my piece on women and music festivals for The F-Word, I received a lovely surprise in the post.

The new Helen McCookerybook album, The Sea, complete with illustrated songbook.

You can tell, not just from the songbook, but from the CD packaging, what a labour of love this album's creation has been: It looks DIY in the best sense, an artefact painstakingly created with a lot of love.

Sonically, this is an album that has a clear and unfussy production that perfectly complements the minimalism of the songs. It seems odd to say it, given Helen's origins in the UK punk scene and post punk scenes of the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s, but the word that springs to mind most often when listening to this collection of songs is 'Gentle'. That said, it is perfectly possible to be gentle but scathing, quiet but raging, fierce but melodic.

Vocally, Helen's voice reminds me a bit of Kirsty MacColl, and the songs themselves have a timeless quality that mean that they could have been classics in a number of different eras from the 1940s onwards. There is the highly evocative 'Summer Days', an ode to summer with a looping guitar and crooned melody, the quirkily Doris Day ish 'Feathers',  and the silvery voiced 'Give Us Another Chance'.

There is also the very catchy and very timely 'Big Brother', a plea to resist the madness of walking unresisting into a cage of surveillance. A gilded cage hung with all sorts of bright sparkly things and bells and whistles, but a cage nonetheless. "You think you're free as a bird: Open your eyes" she cautions. Set alongside Noga Erez's recent take on social media addiction and Tacocat's take on the impact of the smartphone on modern day relationships, we do now appear to be entering an age where people are interrogating the recent and very fast impact modern technology is having on our lives. Which can only be a good thing.

With this in mind, it is worth pointing out that Helen McCookerybook has a very good line in wry observational, often very poignant songs, about relationships going wrong. 'Don't Be Silly, He Said' has a classic feel to it, with a gentle rolling melody and fierce and knowing lyrics detailing the duplicity of a marriage where one partner is straying and the other suspects that this is so. There's also the hauntingly beautiful, wry and vulnerable, 'Happy Ever After Man', a jaunty tune coupled with poignant lyrics. This is not a love song in the conventional sense: It is romantic disappointment, thinking you've found The One, and then discovering that you haven't.

'Who's That Behind The Camera Lens' is, by contrast, a spooky and unsettling affair, which in some respects has a similar lyrical starting point to Siouxsie and the Banshees 'Red Light', in that in both cases the camera becomes both a lyrical character and a sinister voyeur. In this case though, it's not a fashion model but a woman at the seaside who is being imprisoned in the lens, adding a chilling dimension to the jollity of the seaside holiday.

The title track, 'The Sea', is an absolute tour de force of a song. Opening with a  mournful choir, intoning 'Go home... to your war zone', this beautiful and haunting song uses complex lyrical imagery  evoking the peaceful scenery and calm sea with the raging waters and the 'monsters in the deckchairs' who 'damn you to hell'. The arrangements are gorgeous, which only enhances what is a mournful testimony to the past couple of years of inaction and folly when dealing with the refugee crisis. Following on from Helen's collaboration with the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy, 'Femme Fatale', late last year (which was sold in aid of Refugee Action) it is thoughtful and powerful.

'Women Of The World' is a gentle, positive, feminist, call to arms. It has a timeless feel to it so that you could  almost imagine it being used to summon women workers to the ARP in the 1940s just as much as you could imagine it being taken up as a feminist anthem in the late 1960s. A call to 'peaceful arms', it fits nicely between the folky but fierce marching song that is Pretty Girls Make Graves' 'Parade' and the biting post punk long look at history of Martha and the Muffins 'Women Around The World At Work'. I know that this song will definitely endure.

The album ends with a yearning for a utopian future via 'Think Of A Brand New World', but this is no hippy vision, just a quiet wish for something better; What, she asked, if we could start the world all over again? And do it properly this time.

A dream to live by.