If you’re a regular tuner-inner to night-time BBC 6 Music, you’ll be no stranger to the music of Los Bitchos. Their largely instrumental pot pourri of surf guitar, fuzz bass and Columbian cumbia rhythms is pretty unique and well worth further investigation if the likes of Khruangbin or Cats Eyes or the Allah-Las are on your radar.
If you’re a garage rock aficionado whose tastes extend far beyond the mother lodes of Nuggets and Pebbles, you may well be familiar with Danny Lee Blackwell, authentic mid-’60s sound seeker and prime mover in a scene of wonderfully-named bands; his The Old Explosives and White Light Fever sound exactly as you’d expect. I’ve yet to dive into the back catalogues of Night Beats and Medicine God Box, but I can imagine what awaits.
You can, then, make a good guess at what might happens when an ex-Los Bitchos – Carolina Faruolo – collaborates with Danny Lee Blackwell under the name Abraxas.
Great, isn’t it!
A minor key reggae ‘n garage-fried head nodder, it has shades of Jonathan Richman’s Egyptian Reggae and Byron Lee’s Rocksteady, a vapour-trailed late summer groover that would sound perfect played out in a melting heat haze or wherever your sun may set. It’s the perfect sound of offset Fenders, hip swinging and hair.
That Los Bitchos cumbia beat is still there, shuffling along on a bed of Os Mutantes tropicalia and the sort of lazily shaken maraca shimmy that might well stir Lee Mavers’ inner yet dormant Bo Diddleyisms. The surf guitars are still there too, aimed skywards, set to maximum whacked-out reverb and twang and happily chattering away like a couple of auld clucking biddies at the Beachcomber Bingo.
It’s the vocal though that elevates it all; Blackwell channelling Lee Perry, half-singing the effect-heavy verses, elongating the words and phrases for extra frazzled effect, echoes of key words morse-coding their way into the ether before hitting the high notes with the double tracked ear-wormy refrain. Dry my tears, ah-ye-aye. It’s a beauty!
Midway through, the guitar breaks out in a rash of heavily-delayed psychedelia, some nicely pitched wah-wah going toe to toe with a delay pedal, but it’s short lived. Before you know it, we’re back to that hip swaying desert blues shuffle, Tinariwen by way of Texas (the state, not the band), as Faruolo freeforms her way up the higher reaches of the frets and Blackwell mutters his way to a lightly toasted conclusion.
What’s amazing – but not surprising these days – is that the track was recorded not in some suitably lo-fi, low rent studio, but across the internet between Blackwell in Dallas and Faruolo in Manchester. That such great music can be created when its principal players are separated by the Atlantic Ocean and a couple of time zones is pretty impressive.
A word too about the band name. Abraxas, as you well-know already, is the title of the second album by jazz rock Latin guitar strangler Santana. It’s no coincidence that this new collaboration has named itself after an album that is packed full of interesting rhythms, experimental percussion and endless, inventive, meandering guitar playing.
‘Planet Abraxas is a world filled with jungles, mist-covered rivers, panthers lurking in the night, desolate shopping malls, Neolithic citadels and sand-worn walls,’ they say. Well, of course it is. You know that just by listening to the track above. It bodes well for the album – Monte Carlo – released at the end of October on Suicide Squeeze.
You can find Abraxas at Bandcamp and in all the usual corners of the internet. I’ll see you there.
How do you pronouce certain band names? Hingmy Malmsteen? Sun O))) or just Sun? (It’s Sun, believe it or not, despite the ‘O’ and the trio of parenthesese – that’s the sun, innit?) What about !!!? And what of Lynyrd Skynyrd? Is it Suede to rhyme with Fred or Suede to rhyme with frayed? (It’s Fred, obviously, if you’re Scottish.)
What about Fatherson? Is the emphasis on the ‘Father‘ prefix or the ‘son‘ suffix?
It’s not, as you might think (or say) Fatherson, with the heavy emphasis on the end of the word, turning one word into two. It’s run together as one word – Fatherson – the way you might say Andy Robertson, or perhaps if you’re of a certain vintage, B.A. Robertson.
“Liverpool lining up tonight with an unusual back four of Robertson, Richarlison, Gerry Cinnamon and Fatherson. It’ll be interesting to see how they get on against the pacey Kilmarnock wing backs….”
To my shame, I’d pegged Fatherson as Biffy-lite without knowingly listening to so much as a note by them; hairy muscle power pop in Scottish accents, I’d presumed. I’ve eaten at least one slice of humble pie in recent weeks as a result. Firstly, I was involved in the running of a brand new festival, Making Waves, and Fatherson had been booked as late afternoon performers.
Being responsible for the press and what not, and with band interviews being lined up, I dipped a hesitant toe in their back catalogue and was immediately taken by a sound distinguished by loud, anthemic, ringing guitars and proudly parochial vocals sung brilliantly. Where had they been all my ignorant life?! I lost track of time into the wee small hours one night while I found myself falling for the song that coincidentally gave our festival its name.
Fatherson – Making Waves
It starts as many Fatherson songs do, with bookish and bearded guitar-playing vocalist Ross Leighton strumming out a kind of audible preface to what follows, just Ross with his plugged-in electric and soft Scottish burr setting the scene. As the intro plays out, there’s a wee brief pause where you just know the band is going to come crashing in, all flailing limbs and howling instruments, and Making Waves doesn’t disappoint. In they lurch, all divebombing, disorientating Valentine wooze and wobble, a wave of silver and mercury effect-heavy instrumentation filling the room then dropping out just as quickly to allow the vocals back in.
The wee brief, chiming guitar riff that introduces the chorus is totally ripe for soundtracking the goals of the week on a particularly hip football highlights show, maybe even Sky if they had suitably ‘on it’ researchers. I say ‘on it’, but Making Waves is four years old, so what do I know – it may well have soundtracked the entire 2018-19 season on Soccer AM for all I know.
Making Waves is Fatherson in miniature. Riff heavy, melody-rich and hooky, played out with a we mean it, man sturm und drang. There are some great call and response vocals in the chorus, all keening heartache and sincerity, a sign that despite the ability to turn everything up to 10, there’s a compassionate soul beating at the heart of the band.
Cut to the Making Waves festival. Live, Fatherson are terrific. Like, really terrific. They’ve got the band look sorted – orange and grey boiler suits, turned up to ankle dusting levels like some hipster, fashion-conscious, guitar totin’ Beastie Boys collective – and boy, they can talk it like they walk it. They run on stage and they’re straight into it, a downhill without the brakes on riot of hair and frets and space-age chrome ‘n steel pedal boards. Those brief wee pauses the band so-loves are well-timed and slick. Flyaway hair freezes in midair then continues its trajectory as the trio slam back into it. Drums clatter like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The bass guitar sounds like a speeding Paul Simonon in some places, my neighbour’s non-stop nail gun in others. Ross’s enviable collection of vintage guitars take a good heavy-plectrumed scrubbing.
I hang back sidestage and experience the show from a new perspective, watching their loyal audience mouth the words back to the band, watching as the band is spurred further on by the frenzy in the crowd. It’s all thrilling stuff.
Just when you’re thinking that Fatherson don’t, or can’t, do acoustic-based music, along comes the loveliest version of Making Waves, floated in from the furthest corners of the internet, intent on worming its way into your primed and ready for it ears. Wonderful stuff all in, it’s the unexpected call-and-response female vocal in the chorus that pushes this version towards greatness. A gently restrained take of one of the band’s best tracks. You just can’t argue with musicality, melody and properly great singing.
Fatherson – Making Waves (acoustic)
Fatherson, man, where have you been all my stupidly ignorant musical life?
In a game of two halves, Trompe le Monde would prove to be Pixies ‘final’ album before their resurrection in more recent times. Frank Black has said that the record was made in fractuous times, the band splintering, Kim being marginalised, with all of Black’s songs making the cut at the expense of everyone else’s. Although credited to ‘Pixies’, the album foreshadowed the singer’s solo career and should probably be classed as his first such record.
It’s a patchy set of songs. It lurches from the punkish rush of Alec Eiffel via a hundred mile an hour cover of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Head On to the ultra sweary U-Mass and half a dozen other weird and wonky rockers that would benefit from a dusting down and reappraisal at some point.
Lead single Planet Of Sound came housed in a sleeve featuring an eyeball dipped in salt, a metaphor, surely, for Pixies’ uncompromising and at times uncomfortable sound. It’s sci-fi AC/DC, a proper screaming throat loosener with blowtorch guitars, chugga-chugga bassline and a neat line in counter vocals buried under the chorus.
Pixies – Planet Of Sound
When Kurt Cobain openly admitted stealing Pixies’ quiet-loud-quiet blueprint, there’s a good chance he had this track as his point of reference. It’s all there; the semi-spoken vocal atop the bassline, the hint of Marshall-stacked guitars straining at the leash, Black singing his way to a chorus where fuzz boxes are stomped on and guitars snap free and twang their giddy way to the outer reaches of space like a hopped-up Duane Eddy auditioning for Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion. Go and listen to the filth and the furore of Nevermind‘s Lithium or In Bloom or even Teen Spirit if you don’t believe me. Total Pixies, man!
By the second verse, the guitars are back under control, just, itching to break free once more against a backdrop of rolling bass and space-referencing lyrics: I got to somewhere unknown, with its canals and colour of red. Joey coaxes wee angry squeals from the six strings under his fingers and lets them loose again on the chorus. Somewhere along the line, the sound of a bottle can be heard dropping, shaken loose from a studio shelf by Pixies’ electric blast of rampant energy. This time the chorus is twice as long, twice as loud, the guitars pushing the vocals to the very limit of Frank Black’s larynx-ripping abilities, the vocals spurring the guitars on to even angrier retorts. I wonder if that flying ‘P’ in Pixies’ logo is a reference to the way the band flies off the grooves of this record…
A fat-free solo pops up, no frills, simple and economic, with just enough requisite bend and strangulation to sate the appetite of any indie guitar hero-loving listeners. No sooner has it flown in than it’s flown off again, and a red-templed Frank is back again to scream his head off through another verse and a chorus that stops just as suddenly as this post.
Bass. How low can you go? Actually, not that low for now. A tight ‘n taut bass guitar plays high up the frets, its woody thunk foreshadowing what will follow:
Nagging, inistent. Immediately earwormish. It moves through the gears a semitone and the drummer falls in with a loping, skipping, skittering beat that’s been rescued after falling from the back of a lorry last seen leaving Manchester in 1989.
A brief dropout from the bass brings another burst of rat-a-tat percussion, immediately followed by two short and teasing electric guitar riffs – bendy, wobbly, hypnotic – and then, on a surge of nagging, asthmatic guitar, the band is here. The second guitar player makes themselves known by triggering their distortion pedal and a viral squiggle of feedback bleeds from the speakers for a bar or two before plectrum meets nickle. It’s a cheap, punky trick and you love it.
Spitting in a wishing well. Blown to hell. Crash. I’m the last splash.
As far as song intros go, Cannonball by The Breeders is so familiar, so engrained that even 29 years later, Pavlovian rushes make their way to the soles of the Doc Martens without you realising.
The Breeders – Cannonball
It might be the riff that moves the feet – a nagging, twanging, guitar player’s sore finger of a lick jigsawed to a monster, see-sawing tidal wave of fuzzed-out barre chords, but it’s the vocal that moves the mind.
Kim Deal, moonlighting from a by then fragmented Pixies, has the unequalled ability of sounding as if she’s constantly grinning as she sings. Not in a Marti Pellow, I-can’t-believe-I’m-getting-away-with-this dimple buster of a grin, but a proper mile-wide smile as expansive and welcoming as the Ohio of her birthplace. In the golden age of Hollywood, Kim and her cheekbones would’ve been filmed swinging carefreely around lamposts. “I’m in love…I’m in love with singing, and I want the wurld t’know!” Check the video below for proof.
Freed from the pressures of Pixies, Kim takes centrestage and ropes in her twin sister Kelley (replacing Tanya Donnelly who’d by now left and formed Belly) alongside English bass player Josephine Wiggs and Slint’s Britt Walford on drums; an alternative rock supergroup of sorts that occasionally – especially on Cannonball – surpasses much of what made them so revered in their respective day jobs.
Kim and Kelley mesh and meld and harmonise across the verses, an electrified Mamas and Papas (or should that be Mamas and Mamas?), surfing the wave where two voices become one yet sound like three. Clever stuff, you’d need to agree. A metallic clatter of muted six-strings amplified to dangerously exciting levels heralds the noisy bit and suddenly you can see why The Breeders were one of Nirvana’s tour supports of choice. Melody and mayhem – always key ingredients in a proper guitar band’s arsenal.
Cannonball rocks. From the static bursts of fuzz mic, to the spontaneous “Heys!” that appear with satisfying regularity, to the underlying breathy a-woo-oos that you’ll spot if you scratch below the surface, it’s a real beauty of a guitar track, punky yet, eh, funky too. Do they really sing, ‘I’ll be your whatever you want…the bong in this reggae song‘? Yes. Yes, they do.
Here’s the demo of Cannonball, working title Grunggae. Very much a work in progress, you can hear the seeds being sown; that shuffling beat, the twin vocals, the a-woo-oos, the metallic k.o. and rattling clatter before the noisy bit. The DNA is all in place, even if the arrangement isn’t.
The Breeders – Cannonball (demo)
Fantastically lo-fi live version here:
The Breeders – Cannonball (Live in Stockholm, 1994)
Magpie DJs Radio Soulwax have oft incorporated Cannonball into their sets, mashed up occasionally (as was the parlance of the time) with Skee-Lo’s I Wish, intelligent rap and indie rock cross-pollinating into something wholly different.
Radio Soulwaxpart 0
Listen from 3 min 20, or download the whole thing and marvel at the psychedelic jigsawing of it all; Beastie Boys, Maceo & The Macks, EMF, God Only Knows, Elastica, Jack And Diane, Eye of the Tiger, Mr Oizo, Erik B & Rakim, What Have You Done For Me Lately?, Basement Jaxx, Funky Cold Medina, No Diggity…..all fed into the Radio Soulwax super-blender and served up as something brand new…. even 20+ years later. The soundtrack to every one of my barbecues for the past two decades, I can never get enough of 2 Many DJs mixes.
What’s Inside A Girl? by The Cramps is a riot of primitive rock ‘n roll riffage and neanderthal tub thumping hooked to semi-pervy lyrics delivered in reverb-rich vocals; in short, the perfect introduction to one of The Great Bands. If you’ve never heard What’s Inside A Girl? or its parent album, A Date With Elvis, you ain’t nuthin’ but an incomplete music fan.
The Cramps – What’s Inside A Girl?
It’s Ivy’s guitar that’ll hook you first. Six strings of electroshock therapy, feral and fried and white lightning-bright, the true sound of a hollow-bodied Gretsch plugged in to an impatient amp and turned up loud, her electrified strings alive and buzzing and looking for any excuse to sneak a bit of howling feedback into the proceedings.
She shifts between rhythm and lead, her big, twangin’ countrifed chords dissolving into a creeping and snaking, Eastern-tinged wander up the frets – the very sound of anticipation and danger that The Cramps seem to project within the first bar of any of their records.
Nick Knox, eh, knocks seven shades o’ shit from his rudimentary drum kit – tom/kick, tom/snare…tom/kick, tom/snare…tom/kick, tom/snare…tom/kick, tom/snare – the jungle drums that signalled to anyone looking for a decent alternative to what passed for music in 1986 to look no further.
Straight of back and dark of shade, Knox is the tribal heartbeat of The Cramps, a drummer so skilled in repetition, metronomic swing and discpline that that guy from Rush should be laughed out of the room to a chorus of Can Your Pussy Do The Dog? It takes skill to be flashy and polyrhythmic on a drum kit as large as a theme park ride, but it takes real skill to keep it dumb and simple on a couple of upturned dustbins. Flash or trash? You decide.
Then there’s Lux. Mr Ivy. Stick-thin, wolfish eyes, hair that can be Frankenstein fringe-severe one record then Little Richard stacked and pompadoured the next, often in high heels and perhaps not much else, the length of the microphone disappearing down his throat mid-verse as he country hick hiccups his way across the vocals, a hillbilly that would be run clean outta town by every other hillbilly within eyesight and make no mistake.
A vocalist rather than a singer – and you’ll know that that’s important – on What’s Inside A Girl? he runs the gamut of his schtick; breathless and gulping, subversive and suggestive, stealing old rock ‘n roll lyrics when he thinks no-one is paying close attention. The little alliterative run he goes on in the second verse – boots, buckles, belts outside…whatcha got in there tryin’ ta hide? – tells you all y’need to know. Magic stuff, it has to be said.
Our friends Scott and Gill were married yesterday. With DJ services provided by Rockin’ Rik under his Songs Ya Bass guise (Songs Ya Bass is an occassional club night in Glasgow with a catholic music policy and friendly crowd – it’s billed as ‘the club for people who don’t go to clubs any more’ and finishes in time for the last train home) it was always going to be a wedding reception unlike most weddings north of the border. Rik’s choice of music did not disappoint and his eclectic mix of hip hop, punk, ska, soul, pop, The Clash (always The Clash) ensured the dancefloor stayed busy until the very end.
It was wonderful to see the groom, his best man and his pal twisting and contorting unselfconsciously to What’s Inside A Girl? as Lux and co twanged and banged their way across the room at a decent volume.
Pausing only to shout the occasional lyric in the faces of his friends, Scott looked like the happiest man on the planet right there and then. A wop bop a loobalop, a lop boom bam, as they say.
I’d lost my way with Crowded House sometime ago. That wee imperial run they went on, from Temple Of Low Men via Woodface and Together Alone to their Greatest Hits compilation, would have been enough to sate the keenest of appetites for most things Finn. Add in the eponymously-titled album(s?) released by Neil and Tim in the late ’90s plus Neil’s solo material and the Seven Worlds Collide project in the noughties and suddenly you’d be knee deep in wafting, rolling melodies and jetstream harmonies wrapped around gently scuffed acoustic guitars and chiming, jangling electric six strings sent down from the musical gods above. There’s never ever enough time in the day to get through it all and so these ears wandered off in search of new bands and new sounds when they hadn’t fully soaked in the Finn brothers’ stuff that was already right in front of me. Which was, in hindsight, a bit daft. They’ll never be hip, but where the Finn name is attached, there’s usually something happening.
I took a chance last week on Crowded House’s latest album, Dreamers Are Waiting. I say ‘latest’, but it’s been out a year already. Not for nothing do I have ‘Outdated Music For Outdated People’ at the top of this blog. So, I’m slow to catch up, but for just £6 via the devil’s online supermarket (next day delivery, a mountain of packaging) I couldn’t pass it up, no matter how many independent shops it may close or rainforests it may fell or zero hours contracts it took to get it to me. Yeah. When it comes to the price of music, I have pretty lousy double standards.
Crowded House is a real family affair these days. There’s no Tim Finn, but ever-present bass player Nick Seymour is still involved, alongside Neil and his two sons Liam and Elroy, augmented now and again by Neil’s wife Sharon and the well-travelled Mitchell Froom. The songs on Dreamers Are Waiting are well crafted and carefully considered, the production rich and vivid. It’s a good album.
The opening track is a real beauty, a real scene-setter of what promises to follow. It’s not a wham-bam opener, over and out in a breathless rush of flailing cymbals and crashing feedback. Crowded House don’t go for that. What they do go for though is control and restraint. Bad Times Good is a quietly confident, gently unravelling masterpiece.
Crowded House – Bad Times Good
With breathy Californian harmonies wafted in from Neil Finn’s stint in Fleetwood Mac and a heavy borrowing of Don’t Fear The Reaper’s multi-tracked, multi-stacked backing vocals, the album opener has all the hallmarks of soft rock greatness. It’s absolutely vintage Crowded House; from the understated acoustic opening and muted percussion to its gently tumbling piano/guitar arpeggios and close-miked vocals – and it has you hooked from the off.
Neil Finn is a tease though. He has unlimited melody the way some of us listeners might have limited patience, but still, he doesn’t give it all up at once. We’ll discuss the music in a second, but first we must acknowledge one of the finest voices in popular music. There’s an unexplainable tone to his voice that gets me right there. Very few vocalists have this impact on me – most of my favourites don’t – but Neil Finn is one of them. An undeniably brilliant vocalist. And melodicist. And writer.
The music that carries Bad Times Good threatens to fly off on a couple of well-placed chiming chords midway through the first verse – ‘Make a good time last/Before we choose a path, let’s spend the night at Los Campaneros please,’ – but Finn pulls it back – ‘through the doorways of the past‘ – you’re not ready for it yet, he thinks, and the tune settles in again. Those chiming, not-quite-expected chords, sometimes the harbingers of deadly night, other times the chink of light in a door half ajar are, it dawns, something of a Finn trademark. Not The Girl You Think You Are…Nails In My Feet…Into Temptation...Distant Sun (great performance from the Tonight Showhere) all benefit through the principal songwriter’s way with a well-chosen chord that provides the stepping stone to melodies to die for.
‘Hey! Everybody wants to make a bad time good.’
Something is nagging at me by the second verse. It’s the vocals! They’re wonderful! And wonderfully close to Gerry Love’s more pastoral deliveries on those late-era Teenage Fanclub albums. No bad thing, obviously, and when married to those hazy, lazy Blue Oyster Cult heeeeyyys gives us a track that anyone with an addiction to ’60s-influenced sunshine pop and an unravelling melody should enjoy playing multiple times in a row and never tire from. Trust me on that.
As the second verse winds its way to an end, and the bass player begins a frugging run up the frets, the reins come off and we’re suddenly soaring. ‘It’s a challenge for the impresario,’ sings Neil, and the band behind him climbs upwards and outwards on a beautiful chord progression, led by understated and underscored strings – where did they come from?!? – subtle and keening, leading us to the key moment that opens the song into technicolour.
When they hit the sunshine chord – ‘Whether sunlight or shadow falls on me‘ – and the tune opens as wide as the Clyde- ‘You won’t come out….’ – aw man! It doesn’t get better than this! Neil Finn’s vocals are now flirting with that falsetto that he can do – the one you’ve tried and failed at since first hearing Weather With You – and a song that once showed real promise now really delivers and then some.
There’s an acoustic drop out, before perfectly executed ‘Heeeeyyy!‘ AOR vocals breathe their way back in, blowing the track to its slow-winding, meandering end. The rest of the album has a lot to live up to. It doesn’t quite get there, to be honest, but as far as opening tracks go, you’ll not hear a better one this year.
“Hifff y’wanna have hhhittt zhingelzzz ‘n sell a tonna rekids,” Keith Richards once said to me, “you need’t’add a chick’s name to the song title. Th’chicksss go mad f’rit and their owld fellazzz have t’buy them…hur hur hur!”
Ian McNabb does more than a passable Keef impression. He’s midway through his second set at Irvine’s small but perfect Harbour Arts Centre and introducing Understanding Jane, the breakneck bar room thrash that first pricked these ears to the scorched beauty of The Icicle Works when I was a Tesco part-timer with £9 a week to blow on music.
“Of course,” says McNabb self deprecatingly. “Evangeline…Jane…Melanie…It never worked for me.”
The solo acoustic version of Understanding Jane that follows is a rootsy, 12 string country romp that would sit neatly between your Gram Parsons and Waterboys records, McNabb’s guitar sounding full fat and thrumming, his wheezy harmonica stirring up the dusty ghosts of yore as his scuffed boot heels (actually, make that comfy Sketchers) stomp the beat.
“I’m worried this one sounds a bit too much like Neil Young,” he’d winked at me at the soundcheck earlier, before embarking on a very Neil-ish harmonica-enhanced and fingerpicked downhome beauty. For good effect, and to test this listener I suspect, he throws in the odd line that keen and eagle-eared Young watchers the world over will spot from those old bootlegs now being dusted down and released with regular, wallet-emptying frequency as part of his Archives series. “I’m happy that y’all came down!” he says with a mile-wide toothy grin.
I’m happy that McNabb came down too – he’s on fine form in our wee Arts Centre and, with a vast back catalogue to draw from, he’s chosen to forego any support act in favour of playing two full-length sets the likes of which Broooce and ol’ whiny Neil himself might baulk at the length of. Indeed, a Springsteen show might appear as short and sharp as a mid ’70s Ramones run-through by comparison. McNabb has set his stall out with a selection of variously-tuned guitars and a keyboard that’s set to stun and it’s clear from the off that we’re here for the long run.
Much of the material in the first half draws from recent album Our Future In Space and the lockdown-recorded Utopian. Highlight for me was the misty-eyed Makin’ Silver Sing, played at the keyboard with lovely elongated synth pulses and hanging-in-the-air majesty.
Many of the bands that come through our venue feature jobbing musicians; the guitar player from band x also plays in band y and happens to play in a ceilidh band at the weekend when he’s not laying down the groove to I’ve got a feelin’ that tonight’s gonna be a good night in the bill-paying wedding band that keeps him in petrol and plectrums. We once had a support act turn up after driving 5 hours from the very north of Scotland, play a half hour set to a disinterested and half-empty room and turn back around again to make the long drive straight home because both the singer and drummer were starting the early shift in the local tourist trap hotel at half six the next morning.
That notion, folks, of four guys against the world went out the window long before U2 started depositing their rubbish records on your iPhones while you slept. On Makin’ Silver Sing, Ian McNabb captures it perfectly. It’s a brilliant and underheard beauty, with the bonus of a great video. Do the right thing and listen…maybe even buy it. It’ll keep the songwriter in petrol and plectrums – he favours Roger Waters-branded picks as it so happens.
The second set is jam-packed with the big ones – Birds Fly, Hollow Horse, When It All Comes Down – before finishing, of course, on a raucous and well-received Love Is A Wonderful Colour. McNabb is very funny throughout, singling out individual audience members for a dose of rapier Scouse wit, breaking into spontaneous snippets of Live And Let Die (“‘appy Birthday, Sir Paul!“) and the Neil Young aping Horse With No Name whenever it occurs to him to do so. Take your eyes and ears off him and you’ll miss something funny, I tell you.
As much as the big hits are pleasing on the ears, it is though, another keyboard-led track that further blows me away. New track Harry Dean Stanton is jaw-dropping in execution; a swirl of room-filling electric piano and enough reverb and echo on the crystal clear vocal-ocal-ocals to drown a (Crazy) horse. Wonderful stuff.
Betwixt and between the hotchpotch of raggedy-arsed guitar stranglers and expensively-suited slick blues musos, world music groovers and torch song balladeers, you might have spotted Belgian funk/pop act Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul on Later the other week there. They wouldn’t have been too difficult to spot, dressed as they were from expertly coiffed head to carefully-considered toe in banana yellow and, as Jools Holland swept his arm by way of nasal introduction, began playing the sort of effervescent funk that makes rhythmically-challenged non-dancers the world over twitch a toe in admiration.
A Soulwax production, Ceci n’est pas un cliché is propelled by the sort of tight snapping bass line that any self-respecting breakdance crew could make excellent use of. Snap-snap-slide…snap-snap-grrrrowl. Great stuff. Retro ’80s pitter pattering rhythms keep the flow in motion, shocking pink-varnished fingersnaps, electro bloops and off-beat splashing hi-hats add the colour. On the Later appearance, there’s a great airy whoosh near the end – that same production technique employed by John Leckie in the middle of Made Of Stone – and, after the duo countdown from 7 to zero, it drop outs completely before recommencing the funk exactly and precisely on the one.
You’re a cold as icccce, goes Charlotte. I wanna make you feel real nice. It’s daft and it’ll possibly prove to be as irritating as that Wet Leg single, but for now it’s the sound of my early summer.
Ceci n’est pas un cliché takes its title from fellow Belgian René Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe, a perfect example of his surrealist humour-inflected art. This is not a pipe, he says, eyebrow arched and metaphorical question mark floating above his head. …or is it?
Charlotte and Bolis fill the lyric of their track entirely with cliched lines borrowed from songs that have gone before. I woke up this morning, I throw my hands up in the air, wave ’em like I just don’t care, my heart is beating like a drum, down on my knees, begging please…etc etc. Either it’s a lazy, quick-fire way to add a lyric to a track already completed or it’s a genius commentary on the banality of pop music. Like all art, the answer to that lies in the beholder. Me, I’m erring towards the latter.
I think the album – there’s a great earwormy track called, knowingly, Making Sense Stop – will be worth investigating too.
Idlewild frontman and focal point Roddy Woomble quite often steps away from the day job to indulge the folkier side of a personality that is perhaps quashed and lost in the blustery storm that his band cooks up whenever they get together. My Secret Is My Silence, released back in 2006 is a good starting point if you like this sort of thing; the title track itself is a lovely, lilting, fiddle-driven end of the evening affair that is exactly the sort of song that sounds just right five minutes before the bells when the curtain is drawing on an old year and re-opening to a new. He’s got a great voice, pitched somewhere between Michael Stipe and Ewan McGregor, and sings in an honest, unpretentious fashion. As I say, worth checking out.
Even better is his ‘current’ release, Lo! Soul. I use those inverted commas as the album is now a year old, but it’s only just come to my attention on the back of an excellent ‘solo’ show at the tiny but perfect Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine last week. I use that second set of inverted commas because, despite being billed as a solo act, he arrived with long-time Idlewild foil and current hip name to drop Andrew Mitchell.
As Andrew Wasylyk, Mitchell has released a handful of hard-to-find records that meld the intricate and jazzy compositions of prime time David Axelrod to the very best of UK library music of the ’60s and ’70s. They chime and vibe and meander tastefully like soundtracks to long-forgotten films of more innocent times; of walking lazily to school and endless hazy summers and adventurous bike rides out into the countryside where housing estates now nestle. The music of Gregory’s Girl or any of those Bill Forsyth films of the ’80s might be a good reference point for any reader struggling to make sense of this in their internal sound system as they read, but truth be told, they’re far more sophisticated, far more hip than even any of those beauties. You can imagine my disappointment when he told me he hadn’t thought to bring any of his own music to the merch stall. Seek out Fugitive Light And Themes Of Consolation for starters. And go and see him live with his 8-piece band who’ll be hitting the road anytime now. You can thank me the next time you see me.
Wonderfully, Lo! Soul combines low-key Roddy with peak-performance Andrew. Mitchell’s keys and synths are all over the record and it’s spectacular as a result. Big, clanging, minor key, grand piano chords give way to wonky and wobbly Moog, fizzing and squeaking and vintage and essential. The record has a lovely ebb and flow, Roddy’s unselfconscious croon filling the gaps left by the keys, leading the way whenever producer Mitchell reigns in the instrumentation. Pitter pattering drum machines rattle the rhythm throughout, as little soundscapes sandwiched between the beats and the vocals colour it all with a mystical sheen; synthesised ’70s Philly soul strings, spring showers of Fender Rhodes, tinkling and descending piano triplets… they’re all in there. It’s a really great wee record.
The standout track may well be Architecture In L.A..
Roddy Woomble – Architecture In L.A.
Sounding like the magpie eclecticism of peak Beck hotwired to Prince’s Lady Cab Driver, if De La Soul haven’t cut, sampled and looped that little horn motif and added a Daisy Age happy rap on top by the middle of July and conquered the world with it, I’ll be very disappointed. Even Roddy himself could be the toast of the festival season if he were afforded the opportunity of playing on the main stage as the sun sets to orange and an expectant crowd, hopped up on happy pills and expensive alcohol, look to cut a rug and get their party started. “All the ladeez do this…” (waves to the left) All the fellas do this (waves to the right)” I tells you, it’d work.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Roddy and myself actually grew up living across the street from one another, although being maybe 7 or 8 years younger than me he wouldn’t have known. His sister was ages with my sister and I’d sometimes see young Roddy running in loud and joyous circles around the front garden in his nappy when I was sent to bring her home. The Woombles then moved… to the same street we’d move to a year later. Then Mr Woomble’s job took him to Edinburgh (and then France and America, as I’d find out) and they were off.
I never forgot the name though. It’s not a common one. So, when Idlewild started making the press, I did wonder. Years later I had my thoughts confirmed when I interviewed Roddy ahead of what the local paper would bill his ‘hometown show’, when he played the first of his Harbour Arts Centre dates in 2014 or so. Funny how things come around.
The book is set into sections, with each song getting its own chapter that’s kickstarted by some writing and followed by a carefully woven tapestry of Trashcans’ thoughts, theories and half-truths about how each song came to be. The section below focuses on I’ve Seen Everything, the title track of the album under the microscope.
Trashcan Sinatras – I’ve Seen Everything
I’ve Seen Everything
My wife, being both morbid and practical, regularly asks what songs I’d liked played at my funeral. I usually bat away any such questions with waffled words about such things not really mattering, when of course they totally, absolutely matter. With its world-weary sigh and joyful melancholy, I’d like to state here and now that if I pass before it’s expected of me, I’ve Seen Everything should be the tune that soundtracks the curtain drawing on my life. Here’s why.
I was in the fortunate position of being around the studio a lot when the album recording sessions were in full flow. I worked in Kilmarnock at the time and the band I played in – Sunday Drivers – had a rehearsal room at Shabby Road, so on the nights when we practised, I’d leave work and go to our room early rather than get the Number 11 bus home to Irvine to go back to Kilmarnock again. The kettle was always on (even if the chances of getting any milk, or at least milk in date, were slim) and you never quite knew who you might meet in the kitchen. It was around this time that Chas Smash once poured me a mug of proper builder’s tea. “Hey you!!!” he never said, “Don’t drink that, drink this!” No milk or sugar was offered and, overwhelmed at the idea that a bona fide popstar would make me a cuppa, I was too scared to ask. ‘This is Madness,’ I thought, as I drank a mug of undrinkable tea and plucked up the courage to tell him that Baggy Trousers was the first record I ever bought.
Shabby Road was a great place. The walls, damp as they may have been, thrummed with the dull thud of bass drums and murderous singing from the half a dozen rehearsal rooms within. The damp patches and flaking paint gradually disappeared with each and every Trashcans’ release. A huge Obscurity Knocks promo poster greeted you at the top of the stairs, Paul’s outstretched skateboarding arm hiding the worst of the offending urban decor. There was a real, tangible buzz whenever you were there. The office was filled with the ephemera of working band life – a stack of mail to be answered, a wee pile of Go! Discs artist CDs, an in tray and an out tray, two ashtrays; one dirty and full of the tell-tale signs of working band life, the other clean and full of wee badges –The Cliché Kills! I Hate Music! The formidable Nanette was in charge of things, behind her desk the framed and signed portrait of yer actual Sinatra, the chairman of the board, overseeing proceedings with his clear and beady ol’ blue eyes.
One time I was halfway up the stairs to be met by Stephen, dismantling and reassembling his drum kit in the hallway. “Better acoustics,” he smiled.
I found myself in the control room when the band happened to be listening to a playback of I’m Immortal. I swivelled in the producer’s chair as Ray Shulman chatted with me about working with Bjork and The Sugarcubes, and the cello sound that was on the just-released debut record from PJ Harvey. He was pondering aloud about adding a similar see-sawing sound to I’m Immortal. I wonder if they ever tried it?
In our room below, we’d often hear the muffled sound of these new Trashcans tunes being twisted and turned into the masterpieces they became. I have a really vivid memory of sitting alone in our rehearsal room, waiting for the others to arrive, with a flaky sausage roll and an Irn-Bru as someone – Paul or John, but I’m thinking Paul – played a repeating guitar riff over and over and over again in the room directly above. No drums or bass or vocals, just a chiming electric guitar, pausing now and again before picking up where it had left off.
I came in one night to a cassette tape on top of my amp with a wee note from Paul. ‘Here’s some new tunes,’ he wrote. ‘The first track will likely be a single. Let me know what you think.’ When I played it back at home later on, I recognised that guitar riff, now fleshed out with happily ringing acoustics, a rootsy bass stomp and a terrific vocal, Frank seemingly duetting with himself about big mistakes and soothing your fears. By the second chorus, I felt like I’d known it all my life. By the time the trumpets parped their way down from heaven in that big, elongated outro, fighting for earspace with those ever-cascading and inter-weaving backing vocals and sounding as upliftingly melancholic as the Kilmarnock Concert Brass Band in full pomp outside the Burns Mall on Christmas Eve, I was punching the air in joy. That better be a single! I thought.
Frank: When we recorded I’ve Seen Everything we were going for that light and breezy sound. That’s quite an easy thing to capture in the studio. When it’s played live, it’s too hard to do it breezy, and our aggression and drive takes it to a whole new place.
John: Frank approached Ivor Cutler to play harmonium on the title track. He got a lovely reply from Ivor explaining why he couldn’t do it.
Frank: While we were at the Mill, I sent a note to Ivor c/o the BBC. We all love him, of course. Songs from his albums would always be coming on the van stereo, poetic relief from the rock music.
Iain Wilson: For maybe a year, we had the A5 glossy black and white promo pic of Ivor, his reply to Frank, stuck on the top of the dashboard facing the windscreen on the red van.
Frank: It was enough, really, getting a reply from him. I’m partly (actually mostly) glad that he didn’t come over to the studio, because I was so clueless then that I would have been daft enough to over-direct him and be generally overbearing. He’d have given me an Ivor tongue-lashing. There would’ve been tears.
You can catch ace photographer Stephanie Gibson and a couple of Trashcans talk about the book tomorrow afternoon around 3 on the Nicola Meighan show on BBC Radio Scotland.
You can read the full section in the book by buying it here. And you can book tickets for the Aye Write book show, featuring a TCS set at the end here.