Get This!, New! Now!

Meet The Beetles

As far as new(ish) guitar bands with hot potential go, you could do worse than look towards The Bug Club as saviours of all things rough, ready and rabble-ish. With songs – short, in length, deep in content – pouring effortlessly from the trio as freely as the spring water in the Monmouthshire valleys from whence they come, and further vindication, should it be required, from the hip oracle of foresight that is Marc Riley, their time really is NOW!

Those constant rotations on Marc Riley’s nighttime show on BBC 6 Music became daytime earworms throughout last year and were eventually the catalyst for Freckfest, the wee music promotions team I’m involved with, to book them to play the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine. Last night, then, was The Bug Club’s opening night of a short tour of Scotland and the south, a tour they started in Irvine…and started in style.

Having more songs than they know what to do with, the band hit upon the idea of supporting themselves as an outlet for airing a whole set of new material that’ll form the basis of their next album. Much like The Wedding Present, who did a similar thing at the tail end of the ’80s when they’d turn up unnanounced and run-through their not-yet-released Bizarro album (watching as the pre-social media audience grew to capacity after half a dozen or so songs), The Bug Club absolutely wanted to keep it low-key and under wraps. Their soundman pressed play on a pre-recorded intro message on one of those old, flat tape recorders and, to a room of no more than 20 people, Mr Anyway’s Holey Spirits sauntered onto the ‘stage’, ‘disguised’ in masks, plastic crowns and cheap silky capes and proceeded to blow the walls in.

Man! What a sound! They’ve two styles of songs, The Bug Club. One is Modern Lovers/Velvet Underground-rich; repetitive, clean and scraping guitars, the occasional Jonathan sunshine melody or Lou mumble on vocals, a slinky bassline, steady Tucker-ish drumming…you know how it goes. Being Welsh, they’ve even nailed the John Cale spoken-word sections with nary an effort. I’m jumping the gun here, but the last song they played in this set was a 10 minute headspin of male/female spoken word vocals and pulsing Velvets groove that possibly won’t be bettered in the whole of 2023. Totally great.

Their other style is tight ‘n raucous Nuggets-y garage punk, whippet thin blasts of hairdryer blooze with short, sharp interjections of Yardbirds-rich guitar licks, the spectral fingers of Page ‘n Beck slippin’ and slidin’ up the frets and back again, a lightning fast blur of high frettery that leads to a bottom end sludge fest.

The Bug ClubCheckmate

It never quite gets full on Zep, mind you. And just as well. The Bug Club know exactly when to pull back and fall back into that Velvety grind. And talking of Jeff Beck, Sam Willmett, The Bug Club’s guitar-playing singer also eschews all form of effect pedal. He’s old school, and in a world populated by musicians who mask and disguise their limited playing with spaceship-sized chrome and steel stomp boxes, it’s totally refreshing. If I was a guitar player, I’d have thrown away all of that excess flab this morning and rethought the entire process. Or perhaps given up. With just an old Telecaster and a curly lead – there’s yr secret weapon right there – Sam coaxes all manner of tone and control from his six strings with nothing more than a snappily toggled pick-up switch or a pinky-flicked volume knob on his vintage amp for colour. I watched closely, less than two metres away from him at the side of the stage and I’m not quite sure what form of wizardry I paid witness to.

Of course, with the walls vibrating to the thrilling noise of just three people, ticket holders still in the bar begin picking up on the muffled thunk permeating their chat – “I think that’s them on!” – and gradually the room fills. By the time they’ve ended their near-hour warm-up set with that aforementioned 10 minute epic by unplugging, wandering off and singing the vocal refrain in the dressing room behind the stage, they’ve an entire audience on their feet in giddy appreciation. Not bad for a ‘support act’.

Soundcheck shot

A quick interlude – Ivor Cutler, Gorky’s, Them – again, the best points of reference – and The Bug Club proper are back. The capes, masks and crowns may be gone but the relentless tuneage continues. Did they just play three songs in a row there without breaking for breath? I dunno, but it’s a thrill. Tilly on bass, nice, mild-mannered Tilly, is transformed into Suzi Quatro doing Angus Young at Hallowe’en. She struts, she stomps, she pulls excellent bass face. She is a total thrill to watch. Sam, meek and humble, squeezes out an apologietic thanks with a nod of the head before letting loose welders’ sparks of metallic chaos from the Telecaster. At the back, tubthumping Dan keeps it all together, fringe whipping his face as he sings along, mic’less but still there, the third spoke in an almighty wheel.

The Bug Club It’s Art

Never anything less than can’t-take-your-eyes-off-them exhilarating, they must’ve played 40 songs over two one hour sets. Fast songs. Faster songs. Rockin’. Rowdy’. Quirky. Quaint. You can find them all at the band’s Bandcamp page. If you can, you should make a point of going to see them if they’re anywhere near you, anytime soon.

Yard Act and Wet Leg were the breakthrough bands of last year. This year belongs to The Bug Club. Hopefully we’ll get them back to Irvine before the rest of the world catches on. You, though. You should catch up. And catch up fast.

 

 

New! Now!

Baroque ‘n Roll

This is brand new for 2023 and absolutely magic. It’s lovely, so off-kilter and out of step with the fads ‘n fashions of the day, a bloody-minded and non-conformist ideal that will see it marginalised indefinitely yet should, were the ears of the world more open, see it canonised forever.

The Lemon TwigsCorner Of My Eye

If you’re looking for pigeonholes and labels you could probably file it under ‘sunshine pop’ or ‘soft rock’ or even ‘easy listening’, but really, it’s all of those things and none. It’s Wrecking Crew-good, just so expertly thought-out, played and put together. The production is the pure ’70s California of analogue desks, coke on the faders and Persian rugs for your bare feet to rest upon, the presentation that of grass-toking multi-instrumentalists with a thing for luscious hair and the Age of Aquarius. And who wouldn’t get behind that?

It’s the voices. Up front, choirboy clear and unashamed. A high falsetto makes itself known immediately and when the counter harmony breezes in, its a pure mesh of soft-focus, golden era Simon and Garfunkel, effortless and highly tuneful. If you’re going to sing it, sing it clear and pure. There’s high art in Lemon Twigs’ craft.

Nylon stringed guitars deliver tumbling and cascading pastoral backing, gently picked, in-the-wee-small-hours quiet, intricate melodies atop a myriad of chords – listen out for the descending, sliding barre chords that carry the song to its ending, just one of the signifiers that this wee tune hasn’t been flung together with nary a thought for the arrangement. The stand up bass that wanders its way through the rich tapestry of melody while the Village Vanguard-evoking brushed drums ease the whole thing to its softly sighing close only reinforces the notion of careful curation. Corner Of My Eye has been slow-marinaded and allowed to gestate before being eased out into the world.

We recorded this track in the winter of 2021 in our old rehearsal studio in Midtown, NYC. We laid down the vocals late that night once the traffic outside had died down. We’ve had the song for a while now, so we’re excited to share it with fans who may have heard it live over the years.”

The Lemon Twigs, as you may well be aware, have form for this. No strangers to a double tracked guitar solo or a Randy Newmanistic trill on the piano, a Beach Boys-influenced McCartney Rickenbackered bassline or an octave-defying, multivocal harmony, they’ve taken the best parts of all the bands they love and distilled it into their own sound. Less Hanna Barbera than, say, Jellyfish, there’s nothing contrived in their schtick. They play well-crafted and joyous songs really well – just the two of them, mainly, musical brothers and so young with it – wearing their multiple influences on their tank-top sleeves and running with them, the talented bastards.

Get This!, New! Now!

Read Wedge

The teetering pile of books on the bedside table has been slowly reducing since it first took on Jenga-like proportions around my birthday in the middle of November before growing a couple more spines in height at Christmas. Amongst others, the much-maligned Philosophy of Modern Song, Bob Dylan‘s multi-genre critique of music through the ages has been dipped in and out of and, despite the rising consensus that it’s misogynistic, plagiarised and not worth the lovely, thick recycled paper (mmm, the smell of it!) that it’s printed on, I really like it, even if I can’t be certain I’m reading Bob’s own words or not. It does read like a printed version of his scripted Theme Time Radio Hour shows, and perhaps the credited thanks to ‘fishing buddy’ Eddie Gorodetsky – coincidentally the producer of those radio shows – tells you all you need to know with regards to just how much input Bob may or may not have had. The scamp. Thankfully, no one shelled out on a ‘signed’ copy for me. That’s a whole other can o’ worms. But you knew that already.

Nige Tassell‘s Whatever Happened To The C86 Kids? will have to wait a wee bit longer, as I’m about to dive deep into Douglas MacIntyre‘s Hungry Beat, a tome that celebrates an era – The Scottish Independent Pop Underground Movement (1977 – 1984) – that I was born just too late to appreciate first time around, but a book that will no doubt have me scrambling and scratching around for the appropriate soundtrack as I read. So, expect a raft of niche Scots’ post-punk to start drip-feeding on these pages once I’ve properly digested Douglas’s book, probably sometime around the start of March.

I’ve a whole stash of Stephen King on my Kindle, and I periodically select one I haven’t read. I ploughed my way through 11/22/63, wanting to give up at times but making myself finish it. It wasn’t a bad story – the concept is great; man discovers portal, goes back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald killing JFK and suffers the consequences of changing history, but man, it was just so damn long. The love scenes (of which there were more than enough) were toe-curlingly excrutiating too.

The other book I’ve recently read where history is intertwined with fiction was so much better…

I’ve just finished David Ross‘s multi-faceted Dashboard Elvis Is Dead, a proper page turner that I read over four nights last week. A quick disclaimer: David is a friend and very kindly gave me a copy in return for a review, so it was a relief to reach the final line, brain a-whirring, and not feel worried about having to contrive a few paragraphs of praise.

Dashboard Elvis Is Dead is a right good read, a Forrest Gumpish run through the people and events of the ’80s to the 2000s – the Scottish Independence referendum, 9/11, high school shootings – intertwined with fictional characters including a mixed-race American photojournalist eager to find comfort in her murky roots and a Scots indie band (The Hyptones) who self-implode almost as soon as their one great song starts making ripples on the music scene. The song, or rather, its origins, are the cause of much soul-seeking and anguish to the band’s guitar player, as you discover as the story unravels. And what a story it is.

There are two seemingly separate threads running through the book – one featuring Jude the photographer, the other following Jamie, The Hyptones’ hot-shot guitarist, but of course, they are interlinked. For a while, the novel’s early themes (love and belonging, travel, violence) run in parallel; at one point Jude finds herself embroiled in a ripe-for-Tarantino road trip and the star-crossed lovers she falls in with drag her life in a new direction while, travelling the same roads, The Hyptones zig-zag across the States in a converted van, the drummer lamping the singer who thumps the guitar player while the bass player sleeps through it all, before the crowd of rednecks and punks who mix like oil and water at the band’s showcase gig cause it to end in predictably time-honoured Longhorn Ballroom fashion…

Dashboard Elvis Is Dead reads like the wordy equivalent of a well-considered album; fast paced and attention-grabbing at the start, the serious stuff in the middle, the reflective and philosophical stuff towards the end before the big closer at the finish. A four-parter that can, and should, be read in four sittings.

Indeed, if this was a record, the pages where the two characters come face to face would be the big, noisy, side-closer; London’s Burning, perhaps, or Problems, more likely… something to draw a line under what you’ve just listened to (read) before you flip over and dive back in again.

The nightspots of New York City give way to Glasgow’s Red Row flats. Arty advertising agencies are succeeded by Glasgow School of Art. The movers and shakers of NYC’s cultural scene – Seymour Stein, Madonna – are replaced by the movers and shakers of Scottish politics and the Glasgow underworld. Characters that you meet in one section invariably pop up in key roles in another. The trick, which Ross does well, is in getting from one to the other without contrivance or over-reaching.

Bonus points too, Mr Ross, for naming the bass player ‘McAllister’. I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental, but that earns you a Plain Or Pan rating of nine and a half out of ten. (A half point off for not calling her ‘Craig’).

You can get Dashboard Elvis Is Dead in all good book retailers, digital as well as print. You should seek it out. I think you’d like it.

Gone but not forgotten, New! Now!

World Touré

Ali Farka Touré was the guitarists’ guitarist, his bony-fingered multi-flowing rhythms sending chattering and cascading African blues out into the dusty ether. His speciality was in finding the sweet spot in which to riff, his band of tribal-robed desert bluesmen laying down and locking in to the steady groove to allow him the freedom of expression on top. His playing was nothing short of breath-taking; dextrous and elastic, primal yet boundary-pushing, a Saharan sand-coated John Lee Hooker, flash but without the player himself being flashy. When Ali took off, you took off with him.

Out this week is something of a tribute record to his songs and legacy. Ali’s son Vieux has teamed up with everyone’s favourite Texan guitar artists Khruangbin and, in what’s becoming something of a habit with the trio, created an interesting and highly musical collaboration.

Named simply Ali, the album is a real beauty, with Vieux taking the essence of his father’s music and passing it over to Khruangbin to add their respectful and reverential twist.

Midway through you’ll find the effortless Tongo Barra, five and a half minutes of clean and chiming, freeflowing high line guitar, an ever-moving, shape-shifting enigma with more melody per mile than the entirety of your record collection combined.

It’s a magnificent example of what happens when two worlds collide. Vieux, with his chanting, expressive Malian vocals and peerless guitar playing surfing atop a glorious gumbo of Khruangbin magic. Drums and bass are locked tight but loose, verging almost towards Fools Gold territory in places; solid and repetitive, driving forward but with space to breathe, to stand aside and admire.

Touré’s guitar is non-stop and continual, intertwined with Mark Speer, his Winkleman-fringed six string foil in Khruangbin, gushing like a burst and overflowing NYC fire hydrant in the sun. Hammer ons, pull offs, double and triple stops, spidering up the frets and slinking back down again, a funky one chord head nodding groove, powered, if these old ears don’t deceive me, by a cranked-up Roland Jazz Chorus and played with nary a hint of effort.

Right now, Tongo Barra hangs above all other music like an omnipresent and fluid dust cloud. I can’t get enough of it.

Get This!, New! Now!

Shaken, Stirred.

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.

Get This!, New! Now!

Finn de siècle

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 HouseBad 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 AreNails In My FeetInto Temptation...Distant Sun (great performance from the Tonight Show here) 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.

Get This!, New! Now!

Ceci n’est pas un article de blog

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.

 

 

 

 

Get This!, Live!, New! Now!

Roddy (Claim To) Fame

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.

Soundcheck, Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine

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 WoombleArchitecture 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.

Get This!, New! Now!

Sweeter Gabriel

Ten years ago, Jacob Lusk was one of the many big-voiced, big-hopes talents on American Idol that hung onto the fading coat tails of his dreams week on week until finally being eliminated at the top 5 stage. A decade later, dreams seemingly smashed, he’s back under the name Gabriels, signed to Parlophone and recording gospel-tinged soul that sounds authentically vintage but is as box fresh as a new pair of Air Jordans. American Idol’s loss is very clearly authentic, soul-stirring, respectable music’s gain. 

Sneaking out at the very end of last year, Love And Hate In A Different Time is the lead track from a long sold-out 6 track EP that’s already selling at eye-watering online prices. A low-key soul belter, Love And Hate… is all pounding rhythm, call-and-response, take-it-to-church vocals and snapping handclaps wafted straight off of some talc-dusted floor in a forgotten northern Mecca. Clomp your Weejuns at the appropriate time and you’ll convice yourself it’s 1975 and you’re hopped up on stolen Dexies in the Wigan Casino. It’s the sort of track that I know many of you will be familiar with and love already.

The music is great, on point as a long-lost 45 from the gospel/soul crossover era, the sort of thing Aretha Franklin’s early advisors might’ve had her lined up to sing on. It’s retro sounding, but brought right up to date with those wee synth whooshes – ‘eee-wooo!‘ – that separate the soul fug like a zip running up the middle of a mohair jumper. Not quite right on first impressions, yet unique, individual and totally acceptable once experienced.

The musicianship is one thing; those on-the-one cinematic string slides, the loose ‘n effortless jazz club piano and a snare beat that’s absolutely ripe for sampling, but it’s the vocal that elevates the track to greatness.

Having been pigeonholed as a Temptations’ covering, Luther Vandross loving crooner, those daft judges on the telly couldn’t hear Jacob’s true voice for all it was worth. With a tone that’s soft and rounded, he sounds not unlike Antony/Anohni channeling the spirit of Billie Holliday. Falsetto, yes, but with filling-loosening bass tenor when required, and dusted in the smoky undertone of a God-fearin’, spiritual-hollerin’ veteran.

Free from the naff pigeonholing shackles of mainstream TV and a need to compromise and fit in, he’s able to talk freely of his Christianity without alienating half his TV audience or making those slaves-to-sponsors telly executives jumpy and twitchy. Consequently, Jacob is much happier in the skin he’s in…and he’s unwittingly revealed himself as the most authentic soul singer since…well, add your name of choice here: __________ .

A recent run of UK ‘club’ dates, as they say, was abruptly cancelled recently, including a show at King Tuts. Shame that. No doubt greedy agents and double-crossing promoters are lining Gabriels up for headline shows in grander venues. Catch them before they become too big is what I say.

Get This!, Kraut-y, New! Now!

The Smile Sessions

The Smile could be considered something of a vanity project; a sideways step, an away from the day-job shaking loose and letting down of the hair until regrouping and getting down to the business of Radiohead. Just when your Spidey senses suggest the ‘Head might be due a burst of about-time-too activity, along comes Thom and Johnny’s hot new thing; guerilla gigs and sudden releases and everything.

They’ve just announced a hefty European tour that takes in the grander venues in all major cities throughout the summer months. By the time you read this it’s probably sold out and a healthy second market for over-inflated tickets at what were already over-inflated prices will be on the go and causing internet meltdown. Such is the way of life when the word ‘Radiohead’ is attached to the project.

Had the two tracks released in the past couple of weeks been done so under that day-job moniker, they may have kickstarted a media frenzy and signalled an interesting new direction for Radiohead. Instead, despite being fairly low-key releases, they point to a band that may well turn out to be something more than a distraction until the bill-paying job starts up again.

The SmileYou’ll Never Work In Television Again

The first track to emerge from the wintery darkness was the clanging, spitting You Will Never Work In Television Again, Thom Yorke snarling and swearing his way across the top of a band that sounds like The Police going toe-to-toe with Fugazi; chorus-effected guitars battling for earspace with searing feedback and a drummer that sounds like Animal from the Muppets going downhill without the brakes on.

Had this been the ‘Head and not The Smile, there’d have been a clamour of “they’ve got the guitars out again!“-type hyperbole, a feeding frenzy for the six string-starved Radiohead fan who stupidly, ignorantly lost touch round about Hail To The Thief. Here, The Smile – a power trio! – sound more guitary than yer actual Radiohead ever have.

Even better is the totally different The Smoke. Taking its cue from the skittering and skeletal repetitive beats of Jaki Liebezeit and Can, The Smoke is a bass-led noodling groove, a proper head-nodder in the vein of any of In Rainbows‘ more ambient moments.

The SmileThe Smoke

Thom swaps full force for falsetto, easing himself into the track and wafting across it, winding his way in-between and underneath the fug whenever he sees fit. Synths follow his melody, gently arpeggiated guitars ring across the sparse backing, and woozy, womb-like sounds add muted colours to the heady stew as it plays out with understated majesty. A proper grower and no mistake.

There are a handful of clips online from those guerilla gigs and more to suggest that The Smile might be making a proper go of it in the coming months. And although any notion of Radiohead perhaps releasing new music any time soon is somewhat fanciful, I for one am not complaining

 

 

,