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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Record Review - Head South By Weaving & Alison O'Donnell

The Execution Of Frederick Baker

Following on from their 2008 single covering Nico and Nick Drake, cult prog-folk icon Alison O’Donnell (formerly of Mellow Candle) and Hampshire’s Head South By Weaving reunite for a full album.

Marking O’Donnell out from many of her generation is her willingness to experiment with a range of current musicians, including the experimental Irish free-folk collective United Bible Studies and the glassy brilliance of The Owl Service. Here, she and HSBW are generally in measured mood – the overall musical feel is of gentle folk-rock, but the music is awarded complexity through some striking lyrical themes.

Throughout her career, O’Donnell has always bitten and scratched her material with her voice. Songs like ‘Fleeing Limbus’ continue this tradition, mixing some violent and chaotic imagery with a stinging vocal delivery, all underpinned by a mellower musical base. Elsewhere, such as on ‘Bird In A Cage’, O’Donnell and HSBW interact with folk tradition, coming up with a Trees-esque beast of epic ambition.

Jeanette Leech

Record Review - Mondo Jet Set

Provincial Drama Club

Double albums, eh? Isn’t the traditional reviewer response to say ‘well, this could have made a great single album’, and lambast the self-indulgence of the creators? Indie duo Mondo Jet Set seems like the least self-indulgent band going. Provincial Drama Club does offer 23 tracks, yet none top four minutes, and most come in under two. Boredom isn’t really an option with this particular double album.

Firmly in the C86 tradition of shambolic cuteness, the melodies are joyous, and the vocals are extremely appealing; the sweetheart male voice stays the right side of wet even when the music itself gets a little too cloying (notably on ‘We Are Having A Pyjama Party’). There’s also room for more strident songs, like the great ‘Moth Attack’ which recalls something from the late ’90s on the Kill Rock Stars label, and the rhythmic ‘Cadaver In Motion’, its New York post-punk aesthetic charmingly filtered through polite English delivery.

So, no – it shouldn’t have been a single disc. Provincial Drama Club is an album that deserves its running time.

Jeanette Leech

Record Review - Elephant9


Atlantis sees Scandinavian trio Elephant9 tackling their fourth album with the aid of Swedish guitarist Reine Fiske. And it’s a beauty – a steaming full-throttle mash-up of rock and jazz that could strip paint.

Imagine Soft Machine or King Crimson at their dizzily inspired free-form best, with a shot of ’70s Miles Davis thrown in for good measure.

Opening track, 'Black Hole', sounds like it’s about to collapse under the weight of its own momentum, its layers of analogue keyboards sounding deliciously fuzzy and distorted over furious drumming - genuinely exciting stuff.

'A Foot In Both' is gently bucolic, spidery guitar skittering over glasslike keyboard shimmers before 'Psychedelic Backfire' kicks up the dust again with an almost Sabbath-like riff of pile-driving heaviness built over a two-note bass hook. Despite the furious technical chops on display, things never get too cerebral or too clever. This is music which aims for the gut, rather than the head.

Neil Hussey

Record Review - The Lemon Clocks

Now Is The Time

The Lemon Clocks wedge themselves firmly in the lineage of illustrious Liverpudlian psych-pop bands. They’re a trio of multi-instrumentalists who sport their ’60s influences proudly, melding them with a ’90s indie aesthetic so seamlessly that 'Life Is Like A Dream', for example, sounds rather like Teenage Fanclub covering The Beatles.

If that kind of thing appeals, then you’ll like this album a lot. 'The Bright Side' and the title track both have a pleasing Byrdsian jangle, and it’s only the odd squelchy synth sound and the polished production values that locate this record in the present.

'Rainbow Bridge' breaks the spell – its trippily repetitive riffs and rhythms and thickly applied smears and smudges of heavily reverbed guitar recalling ’80s/’90s riff-heavy psychonauts Loop. 'Better World Beyond' has the requisite backwards bits and phasing effects, but the overall quality of the material marks them out as more than clueless pasticheurs.
Neil Hussey

Record Review - The Luck Of Eden Hall

Alligators Eat Gumdrops

What strikes me about this, the fourth LP from The Luck Of Eden Hall, is how English much of it sounds, despite the band’s roots in deepest Michigan.

Admittedly, the title track combines garage band riffing and self-consciously trippy lyrics into its brief lifespan, and Bangalore mixes up heavy ’70s drums and guitars with spidery sitar embellishments, (“Batgirl does Bollywood” is how the band themselves describe it). 'Ten Meters Over The Ground' though, has a catchy, sax-driven Bowie/Mott style chorus, and 'Amoreena Had Enough Yesterday', with its swathes of cosseting Mellotron, evokes nostalgic reveries of a fabled Englishness that possibly never even existed.

The band have a winning way with a melody: 'A Carney’s Delerium' layers guitars and mellotron in a lovely, evocative soundscape; and 'Summertime Girl' is a pleasingly warm and fuzzy mix of acoustic guitars and organ which generates enough warmth to ease the winter chills outside.

Neil Hussey

Record Review - Lord Fowl

Moon Queen

Connecticut four-piece Lord Fowl are a stoner-rock act with classic rock leanings and a real eye and ear for quality riffs and melodic songwriting. What I didn’t really get from this album, however, was a sense of anything particularly original or groundbreaking.

The band has clearly mastered the formula on tracks like ‘Woman King’, where the riffs, vocals, powerful rhythm section and mood coalesce into something genuinely incredible. All too often however, the band just seem super-competent and self-assured rather than utterly transcendent.

Perhaps I’m being overly critical here. Chiding a stoner-rock band for unoriginality is like complaining your plate of fish and chips isn’t a bowl of snail porridge. While I would unreservedly recommend this album to any fans of stoner-rock, if you only occasionally dip your toes into the genre then you might want to wait for the next bus to come along.

Austin Matthews

Record Review - The Condors

3 Item Combo

Imagine you and your mates are holidaying in LA and stumble across their equivalent of the Dog & Duck, advertising ‘Live Music Tonite’. After a few sharpeners, you hear the familiar crackle of buzzing amps being switched on and mics being tapped.

“Pretty f***ing good”, you all agree as local boys The Condors race through a set of tight, gruff-ish, powerpop originals. A couple of sherbets further down the line you reckon you’ve discovered the new Fountains Of Wayne and snap up a copy of their new album 3 Item Combo (which sits alongside the first two on the tiny merch stall by the bog – “all complete classics”, according to beefy chap running it).

Next morning, you can’t wait to stick it on, which is when your fuzzy head suddenly realises The Condors remind you of that bloke Derek from Southend and his bluesy, new wave outfit, The ’Triffics, back in the ’80s.

There’s no doubt The Condors can kick ass, it’s just that they sound too uncomfortably close to yet another Feelgood-inspired British pub rock outfit – even with those jen-you-wine American accents.

Chris Twomey

Monday, 17 December 2012

RIP Down In The Grooves

It fills us with great sadness to announce that BBC Radio Leeds' fab Down In The Grooves is grinding to a halt due to further BBC cuts. Grrr. The man behind the show and its presenter James Addyman has his say.

I’m sad to be writing this because the radio programme has been part of my life for more than eight years,  Down In The Grooves, the show I do for BBC Radio Leeds is to finish at the end of December, along with dozens of other disparate shows across the BBC local radio network, as part of the DQF savings. DQF (Delivering Quality First) is a typical management confection that was basically cooked up as another phrase for cuts, once ex-Director General Mark Thompson had decided that he didn’t want to stick up for the BBC and froze the licence fee for six years – a decision that has had consequences right across the BBC ever since.

For the uninitiated, Down In The Grooves played a mix of garage-punk, psychedelia, R&B, soul, funk, ska/rocksteady, music library, soundtracks – taken mainly from the years 1955-75 but featuring modern acts echoing those eras and their music. When I started the programme in September 2004, I invited all sorts of DJs, producers, artists to come on the show such as Ady Croasdell (Kent Records), John Schroeder, Gary Walker (Walker Bros), Preston Ritter (Electric Prunes), Andy Votel & Dom Thomas (Finders Keepers) and it was great to hear all their tales. All this helped pass the word around about the show.

I got emails from all round the world saying how glad they were to have found a show that played northern soul next to Hungarian psych next to ’50s rockabilly next to German garage beat. These emails arrived from glamorous and not-so-glamorous locations all over the world including a geologist working in the deserts of Yemen who was blasting my show out to some bewildered goats and their herdsmen!! Now, it’s not uncommon for internet radio shows to have playlists as esoteric as mine but I suppose what people appreciated was that there was a BBC show willing to go beyond the bland playlist. That’s what people told me anyway.

I guess I should have known the writing was on the wall when Mark Lamarr was considered persona non grata at Radio 2. The reasons I was given by my manager was money and apparently 6Music cover the same sort of territory (not the last time I looked) but I guess the same manager knows what she’s doing in keeping two hours of Brass Band music on air and a Big Band Show presented by someone who wasn’t invited to be part of a Radio Leeds Big Band event!!

All I can say is that it saddens me that in the current climate, anything a bit unusual is not going to cut the mustard but hopefully there are outlets for the weird and wonderful sounds of the ’50s/60s/70s out there somewhere. Luckily the show enabled me to DJ in places like Barcelona and Berlin, which were unforgettable nights but I’m just wondering who’s gonna turn the next generation of kids onto the wonders of a Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich B-side!!  

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Record Reviews - Surf-Age Nuggets

Surf-Age Nuggets: Trash & Twang Instrumentals 1959-66

100-odd selections of beachy twangdom are on offer here. There’s enough drum rolls, coiled guitar runs, and doses of maximum treble to fill up both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I was delighted to hear so many gems that were new to my ears (the emphasis being on relative unknowns of the genre, thus the “Nuggets” in the title), in addition to old favorites like The Vistas ‘Moon Relay’ and The Cherokees’ ‘Uprisin.

The 60-page booklet is a treasure that contains images of record covers, gig posters, comic strips, magazine ads, etc. all of a nature in keeping with the sounds on the discs. It’s odd to be listening to a box set of surf music here in November, so for now I’ll suffice with the couple of much-enjoyed spins I’ve given the set, and in the meantime I’ve informed my friends that I’ve got first dibs on the stereo when we meet up for our annual beach vacation next summer.

Brian Greene

Monday, 10 December 2012

Live Review - Greg Lake

London Shepherds Bush Empire

November 25 2012

Allegedly, "the three worst things that can happen to you on the road are earache, backache and Greg Lake". So quoth one of his erstwhile bandmembers after his short tenure as frontman for Asia in the early 80s. No, the worst thing that can happen to you is getting stuck in a rain-drenched bus station in Hemel Hempstead on a Sunday night with a knackered mobile phone and a braindead Chavette yelling in your ear en route to a gig, resulting in your arrival some 35 minutes later than planned. Still, at least that means that, although I've sadly missed 'From The Beginning' and '21st Century Schizoid Man', I've also been spared a rendition of 'Heartbreak Hotel'. Our Greg, you see, is revisiting his entire life in words and music, and this not only includes songs wot 'e wrote or recorded, but ones he loved in his formative years. His decision to perform the first Crimson album in almost its entirety therefore makes sense (although none of the songs are technically his) but his hesitant semi-medleying of 'In The Court Of The Crimson King', 'Epitaph' and 'I Talk To The Wind' into each other makes less, especially when the beatific quietude of the last-named is unsuited to the booming tone of his now considerably deepened vocal. Ironically, Lake seems to have inherited the baritone range once possessed by Scott Walker, whereas Scott's voice has stretched further with age into the utter stratospheres. Did they ever meet and do a swap, perchance?

Covering the Beatles' 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' seems to be everyone's choice these days, but there is an incredibly self-effacing and humble element to seeing it covered by someone who also once filled Shea Stadium and whose ego was once rumoured to be roughly the same size in area and diameter. There's none of that onstage tonight: just a likeable, warm and immensely talented man (albeit still stood atop a magic carpet, but nowadays, the show wouldn't seem complete without it), supported only by backing tapes, playing the songs he loves on guitar, bass and piano with heartfelt passion and sharing candidly honest stories in a West Country burr undimmed by years resident on the other side of the Atlantic. He even turns the mike on us for awhile, asking for questions: as would be expected, they range from the perceptive to the utterly braindead (like the bloke who asks how Crimson came up with the title 'Larks Tongues In Aspic', a song written three years after he quit the band) but his replies are never less than perceptive, informative and full of revelation - particularly when I ask him about the pre-ELP band that never was with Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell. The "gun on the table" anecdote is priceless in itself, but I'll let him tell it, should he ever come round your way again.

Hopefully he will, as this was an immensely enjoyable experience, for once assisted (rather than hindered) by the intimacy of turning the Empire into a seated venue for the evening. By contrast, 'Touch And Go' is as big, butch and bellicose as it ever was in the 80s, but a bucolic, acoustic guitar treatment of the first half of 'Trilogy', seguing neatly into 'Still You Turn Me On', is sublime indeed. A cursory glance down the setlist might provide cynics with ample grist to their claim that "he does too many ballads", but to me, that's only a problem if you're expecting a hard rock show, and this was never meant to be that. Sadly that means there's nothing from Manoeuvres on offer, but hearing 'C'Est La Vie', originally released on the underrated second side of the otherwise self-indulgent Works Vol 1 and later a No.1 French hit for Johnny Hallyday, in this setting, stripped of the padding added by Lake and Palmer, reminds the informed listener that Lake's own songs, at their best, have less to do with prog itself, or indeed any kind of rock, and more to do with the genreless standards of Bacharach, Barry and Brel. Something which his association with arena pomp has unfortunately done its best obscure for many years.

If, alternatively, you want reassurance that the Bournemouth boy is still a rock'n'roller at heart, then his bone-snapping treatment of Johnny Kidd's 'Shakin All Over'. Again, an obvious choice to some, but you have to remember how exciting this must have sounded to the teenage Gregory on the radio in 1960, and indeed to everyone of that age, at a time when there was no psych, garage, freakbeat or even beat, just a hitherto sonambulent England finally waking up to the power of the electric guitar. Likewise 'Lucky Man', the best known ELP ballad (and allegedly the very first song Emerson ever used a Moog on) was actually written that long ago, before he even joined a band: a solemnly thankful take on Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready' also reminds us of those days when it was possible to dig rock and soul in equal measures without having to worry about the hems of your suit or the length of one's haircut.

It does, end, of course, on full-out prog thrust, with 'Karn Evil 9 2nd Movement'. A strange choice considering it's actually a song celebrating the start of a show, but there's a wry glint of humour in this that he's as much aware of as we are, as we all know, at this late stage in the life of rock music, that the show will continue as long as those who wish to play it remain. Given the choice, I'd prefer it not to be on a Sunday night when several tube lines are out of service, and to start a little later than 8pm, so I might have some chance of seeing the show "from the beginning", as it were. But ultimately I was thankful to have been there at all, as, while it would be unfair to assume Lake is seeking some closure to his career, it did seem very much like a unique performance from someone who won't offer us such rare pleasures again anytime soon. Those (and there were many) who turned down my offer of a plus one have much to regret.

Darius Drewe Shimon

Friday, 7 December 2012

Live Review - Sad Cafe

London Islington Academy

November 22 2012

There's no easy way to say this: this is a terrible turnout for such a great band. Even if you've been away for nearly 30 years, and it's well-known that your original vocalist sadly passed away some time ago, you surely could still expect more than 150 people to come out to see you. In fact, if anything, there should be more people eagerly awaiting your return. But sadly, the Islington Academy, which their agent freely admits to me is aesthetically the wrong venue anyway, is only a quarter full, and it shows.

Not that it's any way going to deter them, though. From the carefree, cheerful and, dare I say it, "rawk n rawl" manner in which long-term members Ian Wilson, Ashley Mulford and Des Tong amble onstage, be-suited, be-hatted (as is new guitarist/vocalist Steve Whalley, who resembles a cross between Sylvain Sylvain and a stray Ozric Tentacle, and at least partially fills late Paul Young's role with confidence) and oozing bonhomie. And once under way, you remember why you're here - because nobody else quite pulls off the heady brew of powerpop chops, pub-rock brawn and polished yacht-rock/harmony soft-rock dexterity that the Cafe do. Not in the UK at least. Sure, in the US, that kind of stuff ruled the airwaves for most of the late 70s, which is presumably why they (and Supertramp, and Sniff And The Tears, and City Boy, and Gerry Rafferty, and....) spent so many years there. But over here it's been sadly airbrushed from history, except in the 'ironic' playlists of Will Ferrell-loving Shoreditch DJs and cheesefest gatherings of clubs like Guilty Pleasures and Prom Night. Needless to say, none of those people have bothered to show their genuine appreciation of the genre tonight by turning up. In the words of Rowan Atkinson's disgruntled vicar, "WHERE WERE ALL YOU BASTARDS THEN?"

But I digress. The true believers that have bothered to show (some of whom have even made their own t shirts) are enraptured and enthralled, and so am I. By the time the opening chords to 'Strange Little Girl' appear suddenly three songs in, I can't stop bouncing. The four-man vocal frontline is also amply aided by keyboardist Sue Quin's feathery tones, and on the likes of 'Fanx Ta-Ra', a nod to the band's proggy origins that I am ever grateful for, she proves herself no slouch on the lead vocal front either. Ashley Mulford, who apparently has flown in from Denmark to rejoin his former bandmates is also a revelation as a guitarist. I mean, I know he sounded this good on record, but to actually witness him is quite incredible. Never before has a man who looks so outwardly humble projected such flawless fretboard fingering, like Salford's very own personal Santana. Though this is not an issue of Classic Rock Presents Prog, so I shall refrain from further indepth technical delineation of his abilities, especially when the whole point of a band like Sad Cafe - or indeed the many unsung contemporaries that existed in that nebulous netherspace 'twixt prog, glam, AOR, pub rock, soul and the onslaught of punk - was that the song was always more important than its constituent parts.

And, verily, that it is: 'Restless', 'Emptiness' and 'My Oh My' all bear the stamp of superior construction, just as you would expect from any band who sprung from 10cc's infamous Strawberry Studios stable, with the bubblegum tinge one would expect from such a background still evident on the uptempo, spiky 'Rat Race' and even that hit single. Yes, 'Everyday Hurts' may be ubiquitous, heard on every FM oldies radio station from Dorking to Dubai, but seeing it in the flesh makes it all the more evident why. Its overlapping harmonies, chord changes and blue notes evocative of the Walker Brothers or the Foundations at their best. It's just a shame that it's still, after 30 odd years, the only song people remember this fine outfit for, when there are so many others equally worthy of attention. Although sadly, two of the greatest, 'Keeping It From The Troops' and 'Run Home Girl' are omitted tonight. And don't get me started on 'Cottage Love'...

There is definitely mileage to be had in Sad Cafe's return to the road, which was always their natural environment, as captured on their seminal live double album from 1980 which I hear they are planning to record a follow-up to. What needs to be addressed is the matter of the correct surroundings, and some kind of angle to interest more than just a smattering of diehards in rediscovering their greatness.


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Record Review - Singing Adams


Singing Adams is the vehicle for Steven Adams, formerly of The Broken Family Band. This, the group’s second album, is a loosely connected suite of songs related to modern life in London: not the most original concept, one might reasonably claim.

However, Adams finds something fresh in Britain’s over-exposed capital city. He does this by being what could be termed ‘old-fashioned contemporary’. His subjects are up-to-date, and include two mediations on the 2010 riots (‘Black Cloud’ and ‘London Trocadero’), yet his tart-but-humane songwriting style has a long lineage. Adams, rather than sitting easily with the current crop of indie troubadours, has more in common with the generation before him: the latest albums by The Weather Prophets’ Pete Astor and Gene’s former frontman Martin Rossiter are its bedfellows.

The jangle is solidly played, and it’s not solely serious reflection; in fact, Moves is at its best when it allows itself a certain cuteness, notably on the Belle & Sebastian-ish ‘Theme From Moves’.

Jeanette Leech