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Set To Clean Up

There’s a terrific label that’s been releasing really great records with no fuss or fanfare for the past four years. Last Night From Glasgow – named, I imagine, from the opening line in Abba’s Super Trouper – is unique in that it exists through crowdfunding. Members pay upfront at the start of the year and the subscription fees are put towards the production of music from over a dozen acts. The music varies, from the wandering electronica of L Space and Broken Chanter‘s soulful folk to the E-Street isms of The Gracious Losers and a reborn, hard jangling Close Lobsters. The latter will launch their LNFG-curated Post Neo Anti LP this coming weekend at a sold-out Glasgow show and will, I suspect, feature strongly in the end of year Best Of lists. It’s a cracking record, one that, as a newly-converted member to the label, I’ve been lucky enough to have been listening to far ahead of its official launch date.

Another release of note is the eponymously-titled debut album by Glasgow 3-piece Cloth.

Released towards the end of last year and taking the label on yet another interesting path, the album almost defies classification and comparison. Squint and you might hear traces of Luscious Jackson’s more ethereal moments. The womb-like groove of Warpaint also springs to mind. The layered atmospherics of Built To Spill, maybe. But really, Cloth are fairly peerless. Sure, there are guitars on there. Chiming, perfectly clean and other-worldly in places, as far from ‘rocking’ as you can imagine. There are vocals too. Dry, high in the mix, gossamer-thin and spectral, yet honeyed and warm. There’s a drummer somewhere too, playing with an understated finesse that’s far more background than backbeat, and being under-stretched, she has the time and gumption to trigger an occasional bass sample to help put flesh upon the skeletal frame from which the songs hang. All in all, it’s a terrific sound.

ClothDemo Love

The album is only now gathering pace. Tom Robinson, a long-time supporter of the group has featured Cloth regularly on his BBC6 Music ….Introducing show. Stuart Maconie gave them a play at the weekend. Marc Riley, Gideon Coe, Vic Galloway, Steve Lamacq….all the big hitters really, have fallen for the band’s sound and given them generous airplay since the turn of the year.

ClothFelt

Guitars ping throughout. Airy atmospherics abound, swirling like the 5 in the morning mist on the Clyde. The rhythm chugs ever-forwards, propelled on a breeze of multi-layered breathy vocals. It’s all very lean. Fat-free. No superfluous clutter. By the third listen you’ll love this album, I tell you. Cloth, if you pardon the pun, are due to wipe the floor with all opposition.

Insular in sound, cosmopolitan in outlook, it’ll be exciting to see where 2020 takes Cloth. It’s not too late to jump aboard. Click the logo below and sign up to the label for the year ahead. Satisfaction and good music guaranteed.

 

 

 

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Leon On Me

Currently rolling across the airwaves via your more clued-in radio presenters is Texas Sun, a heady collaboration between unlikely bedfellows Leon Bridges and Khruangbin.

Bridges is the very epitome of studied soul cool; the voice an amalgamation of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, dress sense as lean and sharp as a pair of fifties Cadillac fins, and two albums into what you suspect might be a career that’s worth following.

Fellow Texans Khruangbin are also two albums to the good. Both are built around an anything-goes policy and the trio frequently magpie influences as disparate as r’n’b, psychedelia and foreign language and stir them into a heady soulful stew. 2018’s Con Tudo El Mundo should be your first point of reference if you’re unfamiliar with them.

A year in the melting pot, the 4 tracks on the collaborative EP grew out of shared tours and jam sessions and, in the shape of the title track, has yielded a modern-day stone-cold classic. Texas Sun blows like tumbleweed across a vast dustbowl landscape, big sky music that’s widescreen, expansive and wrung out on reverb and twang.

 

Caressing you from Fort Worth to Amarillo,” coos Bridges, his voice a controlled ol’ King Cole croon. “Come on roll with me ’til the sun dips low.” Weeping pedal steel slides effortlessly from the beautiful glowing orange grooves and out into the ether. Ghostly falsettos provide colour and tone in the background. And the guitar, strung-out and slow-burning, carries the whole thing home. It’s only February but if a better Lone Star State-borne shuffling love ballad is released this year I’ll head on out to the nearest Joshua tree and jab a cactus in my good eye.

The rest of the EP hasn’t yet quite matched the heights of the lead track – although I suspect at least two of them are proper growers that by this time next week will be perhaps on a par with the opener – but across those other 3 tracks there are plenty of vintage soul-influenced chops – rattlin’ wah-wah, understated Fender bass, Mayfield flutes, vibes, even a smarty pants Isaac Hayes sample – and a proper old-skool analogue sound from the production to sate your inner seventies soul boy. It’s a great record. Hopefully, an album will follow…

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Symmetry Gates

It’s not quite Hallowe’en yet, Brexit has been given some sort of stay of execution and the tapers have yet to be lit at arm’s length on yer roman candles and squibs and firecrackers, yet magazine feature editors employed by the more switched-on music publications will already be compiling their Best Of 2019 lists. While it’s far too early for me to think of such things, a prime contender will surely be Incidental Music by camera-shy Mancunians W.H. Lung.

I’ve written about the band a couple of times before, from their debut offering being whizzed in the direction of Plain Or Pan via email, to the debut album released without fanfare or fuss in April. Back then I was taken by its clattering juxtaposition of LCD Soundsystem mid-paced grooviness and clean, chiming Public Service Broadcasting guitars. These days, it still sounds fantastic…even better, to be truthful. Best heard as a whole, Incidental Music ebbs and flows and dives and soars in the way all great albums do. That it was hatched in Manchester will only cement its status as a future classic. It sits perfectly well in a lineage that includes Unknown Pleasures, Power, Corruption And Lies and Bummed, a trio of electronically-treated albums that rocked at the core. If it fails to make the upper echelons of those much pored-over lists come Christmas time, I’ll eat my original copy of PC&L in protest. You can hold me to that.

In the unassuming way that W.H. Lung do, I arrived home from work today to an email from the band. Would I make a feature of their new track, they wanted to know. Before I had my jacket off, the familiar whooshing, metallic guitars and linear groove were spilling their tiny, tinny guts from my phone. Music on a phone sounds totally rubbish, as you know already, so it was soon booming from the speakers wired up to my PC; a fantastic, skyscraping and soaring metallic clatter totally in keeping with the album material but, more importantly for Lung-watchers, a new track.

Snippets of lyrics sung by a falsetto voice with a social conscience unravelled and revealed themselves over repeated plays in the troughs between the peaks in the propulsive soundtrack. “A body curled around a lamp-post like a cigarette in light rain….Daddy, why is there a man asleep there? Should I wake him?” And was that something too about Alan Turing, WWII code cracker and thorn in the government’s side? Turns out it was.

As singer Joseph E explains, “There’s a statue of Alan Turing in a small park just off canal street in Manchester city centre. The statue has always struck me as odd, the face is quite childishly done and Turing seems to be offering his fruit to passers-by. People often sit with him and take pictures. The park is also regularly attended by the homeless community of Manchester, as visible a presence on the streets now as the statues of the great and famous.”

In a nod to the city’s homelessness problem, the band will donate all profits from the sale of the single to Mustard Tree and Booth Centre, two local charities dedicated to the issue of homelessness in the city.

If you like the track above, use it as your gateway to the wonder of W.H. Lung. Buy the track and help the homeless. Buy the album and help the band. Go and see them on tour in November. And look out for Incidental Music topping those Best Of The Year polls come Christmas time. Amazingly, you read it here first.

 

Tour Dates:
22/11 – Riverside, Newcastle
23/11 – Moles, Bath
24/11 – Patterns, Brighton
25/11 – Rich Mix, London
26/11 – Academy 3, Manchester

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Everyone’s A Runner Baby, That’s No Lie

Pound slam pound slam pound slam pound slam… The rhythm is heavy but regular, incessant and never-ending. I am not at an all-nighter nor am I listening to Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman in the corner of my living room, turned up to 10 whilst the house is shorn of all family members for the time being. I wish I was though. Even an all-nighter these days would be better than the reality, the living hell that I’ve chosen to inflict upon myself. I am on a treadmill in a gym, surrounded by mirrors and all manner of shapely and shapeless hotties and fatties, my own contorted, mouth-breathing face staring back at me in disbelief at what I’m putting myself through. “You bastard!” I say to myself between half-gulped gasps. “You’ve conned me!

 

Joe Strummer, London Marathon, 1983

I woke up a few weeks ago with the creeping realisation that I turn 50 in the middle of November. My clothes don’t fit as loosely as they should. That favourite suit jacket that I kept for special ‘going-out’ nights no longer buttons up. The pair of indigo Levi’s I used to wear with it are suddenly, somehow, a size too small. I’ve more chins than a Chinese phone book. I am almost 50 and I’m a flabby, Jabbaesque mess. As I’m singing The Strangler’s Something Better Change into my head, get this! – a Facebook ad pops up in my feed. It offers cheap membership with no joining fee to my local community gym and so, a couple of nights later, I find myself in a new pair of trainers being given an induction in a roomful of equipment I had no intention of ever becoming familiar with.

The first days were laughable. I managed a whole 7 minutes on the treadmill; a heaving, wheezing sack of useless mess, huffing and puffing my way through my mantra of “just one more song before I stop.” The radio in the gym is permanently tuned to Smooth FM, with Sade’s Your Love Is King and Spandau Ballet’s True taking turns to push me through the miles metres and I hate it. In a bid to reach my first real milestone of week three – 10 long minutes – I sang bloody Bohemian Rhapsody to myself from the 3rd minute mark, convincing myself that if I didn’t look at the stopwatch that was counting up the long seconds that would become unattainable minutes, by the time I’d rocked out the solo in my head and come crashing back down on the “mama, oo-oo-ee-oo” section, I’d be almost home and dry. It only went and worked too. I’d try this again, definitely, but with far better source material.

I know! The iPod!

I’ve tried using headphones, but from around 12 minutes, the sweat really comes on, so the wee tricky buds won’t stay lodged in my ears. The right one especially slips out at the first hint of a trickly brow. They stay in place a bit better when I’m on the rowing machine – a whole other version of repetitive hell where you provide light entertainment for the heavy weights doing the serious bench pressing and weight lifting behind you – and my tunes have helped me row as far as 5000 metres in the one arm-numbing sitting.

Johnny Marr, NYC Marathon, 2010

It’s the treadmill that I favour though, and I really need my tunes. I’ve realised I’m a luddite. Everyone around me is streaming their music through the musty ether from smart phone to ear pod with not a wire in sight. My old iPod Classic looks out of place, but then, so do I, so fuck it. I’ve discovered that if I happen to be the only one in the gym, I can sneakily switch channels on the TV that pumps out the blandfest that is Smooth FM, so this is what I do whenever I can.

It’s a magic sight when you see the teams of hardened gym folk, all daft hair and stupid, tight, jogging trousers and oriental tattoos and suspiciously golden skin coming in for a serious workout to the wonky pop of Pip Blom and Ty Segall blaring wildly on Marc Riley’s BBC6 Music show. Nobody knows quite how the channel changed, nobody bar the new guy in the new trainers seems to like this stuff and nobody is brazen enough to suggest changing it back again, so everyone works up their sweaty sweat to a beatless racket while I ignore the stopwatch on the treadmill and try to work out who is on Marc’s t-shirt for the night.

Ty SegallDrug Mugger

And d’you know what? This approach has seen me clock up 30 minutes – half an actual hour – on the treadmill of death. Two and a half sloth-like miles, where every pffft step eugh is hrrrr an accchht almighty heugh effort.

I think I can do this…

Dylanish, New! Now!

Appetite For Destruction

A few months ago I found myself driving Alan McGee – yer actual, Creation Records, King Of Indie Alan McGee – back to his hotel. With the car radio pre-set to Radio Scotland, it was the Billy Sloan show that sound-tracked our short 5 minute drive. As I drove and Alan held court I realised Billy was playing a new track by King Of Birds. My initial reaction was to interrupt my esteemed passenger’s non-stop flow of conversation to say, “Hey! I know these guys!” but a voice in my head suggested that King Of Birds might not be Alan’s kinda thing, so I stopped short of butting in and listened instead, my driver’s-side ear struggling to make out the rich music on the radio as the other battled with McGee’s non-stop enthusiastic monologue about the two seismic Oasis shows that had taken place on Irvine Beach 24 years previously, “just over that hill there, Alan.” As we reached the hotel, the song on the radio was ending and in the half gap that followed while McGee scrambled around the footwell in my car for his bag, I managed to squeeze in a quick but proud, “King Of Birds! I know these guys!” McGee nodded and cocked an ear to the radio, just, would you believe it, as the Pavlovian rush of Oasis’ Rock ‘n Roll Star barged in. “And I know these guys,” nodded McGee in the general direction of my car’s dashboard. And with that, he was out and off.

Had I been brave enough to stop the flow of rich one-way conversation, Alan would’ve heard I Hope We Don’t Fall In Love, the then current single by one of our country’s brightest talents. King Of Birds have been on the go for a wee while now. I first saw them maybe 4 years ago and was instantly taken with their knack for a good melody, a strong harmony and a seemingly never-ending run of songs that flowed as freely as water from a tap. “The McEverly Brothers,” I dubbed them at the time, a tag that sits well with the band’s principal writers. Sometimes a duo, sometimes a full piece band, King Of Birds is essentially Charlie and Stirling Gorman, two brothers with a long-standing relationship with the Scottish music scene. In recent years there have been right turns and wrong, a none-more Gallagher fall-out that threatened to derail all their good work included, but it’s from this frictious tête-à-tête that the seeds of a very fine album were sown.

Eve Of Destruction is the result, a dozen tracks of what you might call Americana. With nods to the twin towers of Michael – R.E.M.’s Stipe and The Waterboys’ Scott, main vocalist Charlie carries the songs with a gravel-throated world weariness. Brother Stirling is the perfect foil. A Peter Buck-obsessed R.E.M. fanatic (the band’s name should be clue enough), he’s never far from a waistcoat and a ringing Rickenbacker, his six and twelve string symphonies colouring the music with the requisite amount of jangle.

Like origami in reverse, the songs take time to unravel, exposing classic melodies from the simplest of chord structures. Built on a bed of dextrously-plucked nylon acoustics, the tunes tumble as jaw-droppingly effortless as the acrobats at the Cirque du Soleil. It’s all in the carefully considered arrangements; tinkling piano, weeping pedal steel, an occasional Springsteen-esque yearning harmonica, dust-blown sweeping strings in every other coda…….it’s ‘proper’ music, played expertly.

The band’s undeniable influences are all over it, from One Horse Town‘s opening Simon & Garfunkel flourish on the nylons and lightning-fast ascending riff last heard flying off the grooves on Bob Dylan’s I Want You, to the keening, Don and Phil-influenced “tell me if you see-eeee her,” from the track of the same name. Rod Stewart could do worse than involve himself in a cover of the crashing When We Were Kings. 12 string Rickenbackers tease out a widescreen Caledonian epic that manages to be both anthemic and reflective. There’s even a drop-out in the middle where ol’ Rod can do that leaning back with the microphone pose he’s been perfecting since The Faces. It’d be the perfect song for getting him back to what he was once good at.

In an era where bands don’t really release singles in the traditional sense, tracks such as Hard Times For A Good Man and I Hope We Don’t Fall In Love were the obvious promotional tracks to release to influential radio folks, but dig deeper and you’ll find the likes of Here And Gone or Peace Of Mind, with its banjo-led hillbilly hoedown by Travis vibe the track most likely to break out the social dancing round these parts.

My favourite track is buried deep on side two. Hang Me Out To Dry, the penultimate track, has a pretty, cascading guitar riff the equal of anything Paul McCartney recorded in his first post-Beatles years. Little shattered jewels of crystalline melody float on a sea of harpsichord and woozy, wonked-out synth. The whole thing reminds me very much of Elliott Smith, and that’s no bad thing at all. It’s so unlike the rest of the album I fear it’ll be forever overlooked by those seeking potential radio-friendly hits – of which, as you now know, there are at least half a dozen. Hang Me Out To Dry though is the diamond in a field of gold.

The whole record has a terrific ambience. It’s airy and spacious and in places brings to mind Neil Young’s last great masterpiece, Harvest Moon. Much of the credit for this must go to mastering engineer Frank Arkwright. Based at Abbey Road, he’s the man Johnny Marr trusted with the task of remastering The Smiths back catalogue a few years ago. Arkwright’s magic touch is all over Coldplay’s The Scientist, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and a whole host of respected records. He’s an inspired choice, no doubt costly, but the results are outstanding.

Packaged lovingly in gatefold vinyl, the finished record is a thing of beauty. The brothers, you feel, have put everything into this release. From the detail on the labels themselves, to the sepia-tinted artwork, to the carefully placed picture (of their parents?) that sits atop the piano on the front cover, everything has been carefully considered. Make no mistake, this is proper heart and soul music. It may be King Of Birds’ one shot at releasing a record (I sincerely hope not), but man!, they’ve gone all out to ensure that, should this be the case, they’ve made their mark with a masterful piece of work.

Don’t take my word for it though. Get yourself along to Stereo in Glasgow this coming Thursday (26th September) where King Of Birds will launch the album in full band mode. I’ll be there. So too, no doubt, will Billy Sloan. McGee hasn’t got back to me yet, the silly man. There are far worse places he could choose to be instead.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Live!, New! Now!

Sunshine From Leith

Ross Wilson has had a colourful life, growing up in difficult surroundings on a Leith housing estate, opting out of school from a very early age – “abandoning my education, I’m embarrassed to say,” – and finding himself in situations that none of us would wish to be in. Despite (or because of) this, he’s quiet, unassuming and completely humble.

His song ‘Grateful’ that opens Blue Rose Code’s 2016 album ‘And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing’ distils perfectly his life so far.

When I wake in the morning now, I try to be thankful,” he sings, in an effortless East Coast croon. “Did you know that I almost died? I’ll never be cool….I’ll never be good looking….I’ll never be rich, but Lord I am grateful.” It’s a simple song; short, direct and enhanced at the very end by a terrific gospel-tinged choir that competes with the Staple Singers for uplifting joyfulness.

Ross’s audience is grateful too. I watched him perform live over two extraordinary evenings in Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre last weekend. A super-intimate venue that holds just 100 folk, the HAC is possibly our country’s greatest hidden secret. Audiences and performers alike have really taken to its ‘gig-in-your-living-room’ feel. The front row is a decent arm’s stretch from the headliners’ fretboards, the back row closer to the action than the front of all other ‘intimate’ venues and the performers there really respond to the cosiness of it all.

Blue Rose Code is Ross Wilson. Depending on the gig, he can have 3, 4, 5 or indeed, as when he’s fronting his amazing Caledonian Soul project, dozens of musicians on stage with him. He’s been in the HAC before as a 3 piece. On Friday and Saturday his band appeared as a duo, the sum of the parts a fraction of the greatness on display. Playing two different sets, Ross took us by the collective hand and led us through the whole gamut of human emotions. Accompanied by the fabulous Andy Lucas on keys, the duo whipped up a quiet storm of intensity.

Wilson doesn’t so much play his guitar as attack it; pinged harmonics zing across the room while back of the hand percussive beats provide rudimentary four to the floor rhythm. Listening to him play, it’s as if a tap has been turned on, a slow drip at first before gushing and overflowing, unable to be held back. Melodies cascade and tumble from his fingers, complicated arpeggios formed from open-tuned guitars and a handspan as wide as the Clyde. Jazz chords give way to ancient folk melodies that in turn part their way for minor key melancholy. It’s rhythmic, tuneful and breathtaking.

When he sings, it goes up a whole other level. Anyone can sing, but no-one can sing like Ross Wilson. It’s all in the phrasing, y’see. He stretches words beyond all recognition, he st-st-st-stops suddenly, breaking into spontaneous scatting, he barks, yelps and laughs off-mike and he takes these brilliant long run ups from the back stage to the microphone, using the dynamics of an amped-up voice like no-one I’ve ever seen. Any singers in the room over the weekend must’ve gone home with a few pointers on how to get the best from their voice in the live setting.

Behind him, strapped in for the ride of his life, Andy Lucas riffs behind the guitar on his keys; piano one minute, Fender Rhodes the next, forever on a mission to incorporate a lost blue note or a major 7th flourish. It’s a beautiful sound, incredibly nuanced yet totally spontaneous. On Friday the duo sound-checked with recent new track Red Kites. By the time it appeared in the show, it was twice as long, Andy had added a second vocal and Ross was off on some freeform guitar odyssey. For the entire weekend, Lucas never takes his eyes from Wilson’s fretboard. He knows when to cut in, when to take over and when to play softer, allowing the spotlight to shine on Wilson’s unique talent. It’s incredible stuff.

Blue Rose CodeBluebell

The music on offer is superb. Recorded, it’s quite the thing, the perfect soundtrack for a Saturday night in or a Sunday morning sudoku. In the live setting though, the songs soar, a scorching cross-pollination of Chet Baker’s stoned jazz, the voodoo folk-blues of John Martyn and the meandering twilight ambience of the Blue Nile. You really should investigate if these reference points are your kinda thing. It’s led to Ross being offered tours of Canada, the west coast of America and Australia. With 4 studio albums to his name alongside a handful of live albums and non-album EP releases, Ross Wilson has quietly built a mightily impressive back catalogue. A cottage industry with no financial help from anyone other than his supporters, it deserves a wider audience and greater recognition. He’s easily one of Scotland’s greatest talents, a real hidden gem of a songwriter and a peerless performer.

All photographs courtesy of Chris Colvin

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Berry Good

Known to his mum as Alex Stephens, Strawberry Guy is one quarter of The Orielles and one wholly great artist in his own right.

Part of a thriving scene that until now I’d been totally oblivious to, his first demo release last year – demo, note – has clocked almost 2 million hits on YouTube to date.

Now signed to the excellent Melodic Records, home of the pulsating WH Lung and the soon-to-be ubiquitous Working Men’s Club, Strawberry Guy has taken his passion for analogue synths and melodies blown in on a summer breeze and created one of the stand-out tracks of the year.

Mrs Magic is one of 6 tracks on his debut release, the mini LP? maxi EP? Taking My Time To Be. If the released-to-stream track above is anything to go by, it looks like being an essential purchase. Bringing to mind another side project with endless possibilities, it sounds not unlike something from Super Furry Animals’ Cian Ciaran’s long-lost Outside In album. There, keys and soft rock vocals make space for late-era Beach Boys harmonies and gossamer-thin melodies.

Floating along on a woozy bed of 21st century psychedelia, Mrs Magic continues on a similar path. Cocooned in cotton wool and sung in an effortless amalgamation of Nilsson and Mac DeMarco, its minor key piano and liquid mercury airy synths would find it sitting happily alongside your Air and Beach House and Tame Impala and Lightships records. It’s that good. And remarkably, recorded in his bedroom and self-produced, it hints at even greater things to come.

Here’s that YouTube video that’s whipped up quite the quiet storm amongst the streamers and playlisters in the underground.

Strawberry Guy‘s Taking My Time To Be can be pre-ordered direct from Melodic Records, here. Look out for tour dates in the future….and the inevitable clash when he and his parent band The Orielles clash over headline rights at next year’s summer festivals.