[Mixtape]: I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive


“Now the dark air is like fire on my skin, and even the moonlight is blinding.”

As far as country and americana goes, I’ve always preferred songs from the darker side of the road. Songs that carry with them some of the ancient sinisterness rippling below the surface of the American South’s expansive landscapes or the isolation of its satellite settlements.

This mix was part inspired after reading my way through Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor’s short stories for an article I wrote commemorating her death fifty years on. Despite an early death, O’Connor’s output was formidable and her vivid, sardonic stories brought to life the conflicted and shifting American South of the mid-twentieth century. In a lecture on the grotesque she said, “I think it’s quite safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ haunted”. It’s this feeling of spiritual malaise that permeated the straggled communities and primeval swamplands of Louisiana in Nic Pizzollato’s HBO series True Detective, the other inspiration for this mix, and which I tried to recreate here.

So if, like me, you like your americana with a tinge of gothic desolation, this is for you. Plug in and enjoy.

Tracklist:
1. ‘Drover’ – Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
2. ‘To Bring You My Love’ – PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love
3. ‘Meet Me In The Alleyway’ – Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
4. ‘Redemption Day’ – Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave
5. ‘Rake [Live]’ – Townes Van Zandt – A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt
6. ‘The Way It Will Be’ – Gillian Welch – The Harrow And The Harvest
7. ‘Youngstown’ – Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost Of Tom Joad
8. ‘The Singer’ – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Kicking Against The Pricks
9. ‘Cold Irons Bound’ – Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind
10. ‘Algiers’ – The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast
11. ‘Fallen Peaches’ – The Handsome Family – Singing Bones
12. ‘Wings’ – Josh Ritter – Hello Starling
13. ‘Satellite’ – Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions – Through The Devil Softly
14. ‘Everything’s Fucked’ – Dirty Three – Dirty Three

Let me know what you thought of this mixtape, or post any mixes of your own, in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.

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[Live Review]: Curtis Harding – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London 11/03/15

curtis harding“It’s just a matter of time, the world has to know / This light of mine, I’m gonna let it show”

Secluded off Bethnal Green’s main road, it seems the Working Men’s Club has a lot to offer for a Wednesday evening. Downstairs are rows of tables bulging with models for the weekly meeting of Hackney Area Tabletop Enthusiasts and a framed pair of knickers signed by Tom Jones sitting behind the bar. But tonight the main attraction is upstairs in a room that has admittedly seen better days, decked out in chintzy plywood and gummed-up carpet, for a sold out night of dirty R&B from Atlantan, Curtis Harding.

First up, West-Londoners Fair Ohs lay into sax-fuelled jams with absolutely filthy bass lines. Guitarist and vocalist Eddy Frankel is in a typically confrontational mood, introducing the band after the first number ‘Fucking shit, we’re the fucking Fair Ohs, fuck you!’, before adding ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean that…unless you’re a racist’. There’s a strange tension between the effusively funky indie-rock with powerhouse drumming and intricate guitar noodling the quartet serve up and the abrasively bizarre onstage banter, but there’s no denying they get the crowd (tentatively) moving. Though not moving quite as much as Frankel and sax player Sam Ayers who pull shapes like Earthworm Jim, knees wiggling and heads shaking throughout the set, which ends on a characteristically idiosyncratic slice of psychedelia and goading announcement from Frankel: “Buy us beers, it’s the least you can do! Don’t buy our t-shirts though, because we don’t have any!”

After a brief interval Harding’s band climb the stage, which is barely big enough to house the five-piece with a tunnel-of-love heart sitting at the back, and vamp on a gospel groove before the man himself takes the stage and leads them through a rollicking ‘Soul Power’. Apart from afro and shades he doesn’t cut the traditional image of a soul man, wearing an orange cardigan over a torn green tee and wielding a red Airline guitar, but this is sticky punk ’n’ soul bred in garages and it suits the rough and ready locale he finds himself in tonight. There’s certainly no denying the soulful quality of Harding’s voice either, which he has learned to control from years of backing Cee Lo Green, knowing when to push for wailing heights and when to cool off to a smooth croon.

It’s a shame then that initial sound system issues mean his voice is hard to hear in the mix, while the keys remain indistinct for much of the show. After ‘Soul Power’ closes Harding requests for the vocals to be turned up and the burning lights to be turned down, which settle to an appropriately dusky red for the film noir soul of Next Time, while the heart in the background twinkles with carnival lights. Driven by a mellifluous bass line and scraping rhythm guitar, Harding’s bruised holler now rings out clear while warm trumpet swells add a touch of class.

As the song finishes a member of the audience shouts “The sound is shit!”, to which Harding retorts “Enjoy the soul!”. He takes off his sunglasses, the only time in the evening he does so, eyeballs her and asks “Are you going to fix the sound? Come fix the sound! Come fix the sound!” The chant is taken up by the audience, before Harding concludes “No? Then you’re not helping!”, accompanied by the lead guitarist comically playing the opening bars of Star Spangled Banner.

They head back into the set with renewed vigour, Harding’s brooding vocals playing against the muscular bluesy guitar of spacey ‘Castaway’. Ramshackle punk barnstormer ‘Surf’ kicks like a mule, rattling along with abandon as Harding wails the non-verbal refrain, while ‘The Drive’s loud, and moody groove oozes cool under shimmering guitar. Eventually Harding trades his guitar for a tambourine on a sultry cover of Bill Withers’s ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, before the band strike up the four-to-the-floor funk rhythm of ‘Heaven’s On The Other Side’. It too carries some of Withers’s magic from his disco days, as the crowd moves under an old mirrorball while Harding sings “I miss you, but the dancefloor’s right here”. He then announces “Here’s what I want you to do: Keep on shining… and don’t complain about shitty sound systems”, and the crowd erupts with jubilant applause for a ramped up twist through the Curtis Mayfield-esque debut single ‘Keep On Shining’.

The band exit into the crowd briefly (backstage being non-existent here) before returning for  some old numbers. Danny-Lee Blackwell, also a cohort in Harding’s side-project Night Sun alongside members of Black Lips,  swaps bass for guitar duties as they lay into a slow-burning jam of California Dreamin’. Harding gives a yearning performance that belies his gospel roots and the band trade sparring solos, with rhodesy keys whirling into syncopated drum flourishes, while Blackwell rips into effusive blues-psych shredding, looking like a member of Crazy Horse in Mayan patterns and under a wide-brimmed hat. The gang rally and fire on all cylinders for a home-run blast through Night Sun’s ‘No Pressure’, with Harding vocally mirroring Blackwell’s guitar solo over the hurtling DEATH-style surf-punk.

It’s heady stuff and brings the night to an uproarious close, leaving the onstage heart flickering  as the abandoned guitars feedback. Despite sound issues, Harding’s instinctual soul fused with visceral punk cut right through, proving that as a soul man he can kick out the jams too.

Soul Power is available now through Burger / ANTI- Records.

[It Was A Very Good Year]: The Best Albums of 2014

2014 was an incredibly strong year for music, both from young hopefuls and from established acts. As always, compiling a list of only ten albums was like trying to choose between which limb you’d rather lose. However, the fact that it is a such struggle to whittle the year’s output down to ten albums is always a good sign that there’s plenty of new music to get excited about, and long may it continue that way. So, let’s kick this year off right…

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10. Jack White – Lazaretto
And in the blue corner, the genre-bending third man, weighing in at #10 this year is Jack White, whose Lazaretto came out swinging this summer. No other artist these days is so evidently firing on all cylinders, buzzing off their own momentum, but makes it look so infuriatingly effortless.

2014 Banner 99. Gemma Ray – Milk For Your Motors
Full of high drama, junkyard romance and dreamy noir, Milk For Your Motors has been successfully fulfilling my Nick Cave fix this year. Spangled guitars twinkle over shuffling percussion and carny organs, while Ray’s honeyed vocals drift effortlessly through this shadowy landscape. Simply gothic-tinged pop goodness.

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8. The Rails – Fair Warning
The debut offering from a married folk-rock duo with a fine pedigree. Their tales have an inherent universality and a healthy respect for folk tradition, but also display their confidence and capability to carve out a plot for themselves that feels totally contemporary. Fair Warning rambles, gambles, rocks and rolls.

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7. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
I’ve always been a bit on/off with Van Etten, but this is her first record where she seems completely comfortable in her own skin, delivering yearning, accomplished rock songs that reflect a boldness which was shaky before. Replete with panoramic self-expression without resorting to navel-gazing, Are We There is acerbic, cathartic and triumphant.

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6. Interpol – El Pintor
The release of anything by NY’s best dressed is cause for celebration, but what I didn’t expect was an album that brimmed with the dark, beguiling magic that characterised their debut. Bassist Carlos D may be errant, but the remaining trio have created a surging album of nocturnal alt. rock that is quintessential Interpol.

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5. Smoke Fairies – Smoke Fairies
Beautiful, dreamy pop music of many depths that fuses elements of gentle folk, moody rock and soaring electro-pop with some of the most mesmerising vocal harmonies I’ve heard in a while. The Chichester duo have been doing this for years, but somehow they always slipped through my grip until last year. Still, better late than never, especially with such masterfully built melodies as Eclipse Them All and Your Own Silent Movie, an uplifting anthem for those who live their lives soundtracked by music. What can I say? I relate.

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4. Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean
I saw Fields, now 63, with The Expressions support Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings (who also released a stonking, hip-shaking record last year) in the autumn and for sheer energy and showmanship he blew every other act I saw in 2014 out of the water. That roaring energy is palpable on Emma Jean, which manages to take different facets of James Brown funk, Memphis soul and old-school R&B, and pull it off with inspiration and flair. Love, loss, life and struggle; it’s all here in spades and it never sounded so good.

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3. The Roots – …and then you shoot your cousin
For my money, The Roots are one of the most intelligent and significant forces in music today, and the only band that can allude to both Nas and Dylan Thomas in the space of two lines (Never). Making uncompromising use of samples and jazzy countermelodies, …atysyc is a concretely dense album full of discomfort that satirises and problematises the ubiquity of violence in society and the media. It’s exactly what hip-hop should be: a giant melting pot where disparate elements combine to reflect something of our nature. If you haven’t read Questlove’s article series How Hip-Hop Failed Black America, I really encourage you to do so.

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2. Mirel Wagner – When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day
The second LP from the Finnish songwriter (and her first for Sub-Pop) is an elemental, earthy affair, which echoes John Steinbeck for the stark vividness of imagery and the dustbowl ghosts that seem to linger around these ballads. Her lyrics are heavy on blood lines and the tracks we make on the earth which holds our bones, while the plaintive brushing of acoustic strings seem to breathe the dust of ages. But, what resonates most is Wagner’s voice: Commanding, almost ancient in its unflinching directness, and laden with undeniable truths that bury themselves deep. Utter ragged glory and a masterpiece of songwriting.

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1. Warpaint – Warpaint
Sounding like Laurel Canyon via The Twilight Zone, Warpaint’s crepuscular sophomore effort is darker and more seductive than its predecessor (something I didn’t think possible) and was my go-to soundtrack last year. Absorbing minimalist electronics and the vast deserts of Joshua Tree into their idiosyncratic, jam-oriented formula, Warpaint have created a brooding, delicious treat that taps into something thrumming in the subconscious. No other album last year exerted the same enigmatic pull on me despite being on constant rotation. If anything, it becomes more mysterious the more I think I know it and for that reason, it takes my album of the year.

So long, 2014, and thanks for all the great music.

What were your favourite music moments of 2014? Let me know in the comments below.

– Originally appeared on Hercules Moment.

[Sound and Vision]: 20,000 Days On Earth

20000days “I feel I can control the weather with my moods, I just can’t control my moods is all.”

A life in the day.

As Nick Cave rises early from his bed and opens the shutters on a stormy day towards the beginning of 20,000 Days On Earth, he outlines his daily routine in a conspiratorial interior monologue: “I wake, I write, I eat, I watch TV”. This in itself is a fair synopsis of the film, which charts a fictitious day in the life of Cave as he drives around his chosen hometown of Brighton attending a therapy session, visiting his personal archives and dining with Bad Seed and right-hand man Warren Ellis (whose backwoods svengali appearance is an amusing contrast to Cave’s bank-clerk-cum-preacher manner) before returning home. However, as with much of Cave’s work, much more is conveyed during Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s captivating portrait of the mercurial musician than a simple synopsis suggests.

Lying somewhere between straight documentary and psychological drama, 20,000 Days is a mix of orchestrated events and spontaneous conversations, as Cave is placed in situations and conversations that allow him to eloquently muses on his memories, his fears and his creative process. Interspersed throughout are songwriting and recording sessions in Saint-Rémy de Provence for last year’s Bad Seeds record Push The Sky Away (The Grapevine’s Best Album of 2013), offering rare insights into the putative formation of these songs (including a gentle piano ballad which loses its mojo once Ellis notes its similarity to a Lionel Richie song). Elsewhere an enrapturing live performance showcases The Bad Seeds in full messianic flight, Cave seemingly transformed into a lightning rod of a man as a young audience hang enthralled upon his every word.

As Cave drives between encounters he has conversations with friends Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld (one of Cave’s primary creative foils over the years, along with Ellis and Mick Harvey) and Kylie Minogue, Cave’s duet partner on The Bad Seeds’s biggest hit, ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’. They appear unannounced in his car as if figments of his imagination or ghosts, as the film blurs the lines between past and present, fact and fiction. These shifting spaces and temporalities serve not only to relate Cave’s history with an engaging immediacy, but also allow Forsyth and Pollard to focus in on recurring themes of mortality, creativity and spirituality which seem to preoccupy Cave.

Equally as captivating as Cave’s magnetic onscreen personality is the spellbinding cinematography. Shots veer between eye-watering lucidity, vividly capturing subtle gestures and flecks of spray chucked up by a grey sea, and a ponderous, hazy gaze as street lights smear on Cave’s windshield. Simply put, the film is bewitchingly beautiful, and creates the sense that time itself is stretching and warping as the past impinges on the present.

Over the course of 20,000 Days Cave seemingly reveals a lot behind his imposingly slim figure: he explains his songwriting process (“It’s all about counterpoint”) and conveys his fears of not reaching a creative place he is satisfied with; a session with psychoanalyst Darian Leader focuses on his formative experiences with music, girls and the metamorphosing effect of his father reading and explaining the opening chapter of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to him; while scouring through the artefacts of his personal archives and talking to old cohorts allows Cave to reminisce on his career and relate anecdotes about Tracey Pew intercepting a pissing stage crasher at a Birthday Party gig, meeting his wife in an art gallery, and introducing a belligerent and terrifying Dr. Nina Simone at the Meltdown Festival he curated in 1999.

Forsyth and Pollard have not merely a created a documentary, but have crafted the most engaging and dynamic way of perceptively exploring what Nick Cave does and how the creative endeavours of mankind in general attempt to tap into something transcendent and beyond ourselves. But for an enigmatic artist whose work distorts the boundaries between the real and supernatural and who has long manipulated his own mythic persona, the question you’re left wondering as the camera floats away from Cave, standing solitary on a twilit Brighton beach, is whether you’ve actually seen behind the curtains, or if you have been speaking to the Wizard of Oz all along?

20,000 Days On Earth is in cinemas now.

[Cover Me]: Dead Kennedys, Nouvelle Vague and Seu Jorge.

There are good covers, and there are bad covers. These are some I think belong in the former category.

Dead Kennedys – ‘Viva Las Vegas’ (Originally by Elvis Presley)
Appearing at the tail end of their 1980 debut Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, Dead Kennedys had been playing the Elvis Presley show tune since their early days. Stripped down and revved up, this version simmers with reckless abandon and the anarchic humour in Jello Biafra’s reworked lyrics of a coked up gambler rings truer than the original’s optimism. Fittingly, the Kennedys’ version appeared in Terry Gilliam’s leering film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.

Nouvelle Vague – ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ (Originally by Dead Kennedys)
Almost at the other end of the spectrum, this take on Dead Kennedys’ fourth single is slowed to sultry, bossa nova groove. Bringing their distinctive knack for transposing punk and new wave songs to a lounge jazz setting effectively, Nouvelle Vague put ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ in a drinks party and what it might be missing in Biafra’s manic energy is made up for by Camille Dalmais’s amusing and bubbly delivery.

Seu Jorge – ‘Rock n’ Roll Suicide’ (Originally by David Bowie)
Seen here in his Team Zissou garb on the good ship Belafonte, Brazilian actor Seu Jorge’s major contribution to The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was to reinvent a slew of early David Bowie songs as Portuguese acoustic ditties. Hearing these versions Bowie himself said “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs acoustically in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with”. Brimming with charm, Jorge’s covers are the masterstroke in Wes Anderson’s absurd nautical adventure.

[Mixtape]: Every Time The Sun Comes Up

“The mountains and the canyons start to tremble and shake / The children of the sun begin to awake”

A long hot summer is officially underway and nothing goes better with good weather than sultry jams playing through the long days and warm nights. I’ve kept this mixtape pretty current with choice cuts from the last year, but there are a few oldies in there too which are celebrating birthdays this year. Whether you’re on the move to sunnier climes, or simply lazing with no particular place to go, this mixtape will see you right wherever this summer takes you. Set off, plug in and enjoy.

Tracklist:
1.
 ‘Song For Zula’ – Phosphorescent – Muchacho
2. ‘Paris’ – Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
3. ‘Red Eyes’ – The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
4. ‘Fever’ – The Black Keys – Turn Blue
5. ‘Magnolia’ – Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean
6. ‘You’ve Got Nothing To Lose’ – Michael Kiwanuka – You’ve Got Nothing To Lose [Single]
7. ‘Going To California′ – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
8. ‘The Sing’ – Bill Callahan – Dream River
9. ‘Last Goodbye’ – Jeff Buckley – Grace
10. ‘Love Is To Die’ – Warpaint – Warpaint
11. ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’ – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Got any summer mixes of your own? Link them in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

[On The Record]: Thank You For The Days – Friars Music Exhibition, Buckinghamshire County Museum

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Probably like many other gig goers, I occasionally feel like I’ve turned up too late to the party to see legendary live shows. Completely untrue obviously, but with concert footage of any given artist now at your fingertips, a pang of envy sometimes takes hold for that disinterested crowd member in the corner of the screen during a seminal, spine-tingling performance by a band in their prime.

Recently, this feeling was not helped by the Friars Music Club exhibition at Buckinghamshire County Museum, which extensively details the illustrious heyday of Aylesbury’s premier music venue, now 45 years young. During its lifetime the club has had four different phases inhabiting various venues across Aylesbury: Phase one at New Friarage Hall from June 1969 to July 1970; Phase two (“The Golden Era”) at Borough Assembly Hall from April 1971 to August 1975; Phase three at Aylesbury Civic Centre from September 1975 to December 1984, then June 2009 to June 2010; and phase four which currently resides at Waterside Theatre since October 2010. In addition, Friars also hosted “Foreign Gigs” in neighbouring towns and even as far north as Newcastle and Liverpool.

Over the years Friars played host to pretty much any influential group you care to think of between 1969 and 1984. David Bowie? Played Friars. The Velvet Underground? Played Friars. Pink Floyd, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Clash, U2, Grandmaster Flash, Toots & The Maytals, John Martyn, the list seemingly goes on forever. Offering equal chances to underground bands like The Birthday Party and Captain Beefheart or local acts Marillion and Warren Harry, Friars Music Club and its members welcomed everyone with open arms. “I know Mott The Hoople happened in Aylesbury long before anywhere else,” commented  Mott frontman Ian Hunter. “Everybody seems to be friendly, and they make you feel good – and whenever I played there, I felt like an old friend being welcomed home”.

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The exhibition opened on 1st March, but it has been in gestation for quite a while. “I’ve been wanting to put it on for about ten years and the regime at the county museum wasn’t particularly sympathetic to the idea” says David Stopps, who founded Friars along with other music lovers in 1969 and who masterminded the exhibition. “But, last year the hierarchy changed there and they suddenly became very enthusiastic indeed about hosting our exhibition, so we talked to them about it and managed to get things together at very short notice. We only had it confirmed just at Christmas time and we had to get it open by the end of February, which is a very, very short time. But, we did and it’s been growing organically ever since, we’ve been adding things to it every week since 1st March.”

The exhibition is extensive: captivating concert photographs from Geoffrey Tyrell, Mark Jordan and others, some of which are being displayed for the first time to the public, hang on walls sprawled with gig posters and tickets. Elsewhere, clothes, memorabilia, instruments from Nick Mason, Edgar Broughton, Mark Rutherford and even a box of busted microphones (survivors from performances of ‘Headbutts’ by local hero John Otway) can be found. “We have our own archives, which is mainly tickets, handouts and posters,” reveals Stopps. “Then I contacted Toyah to see if she could lend us some costumes, which she kindly said she would. I contacted Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), who I know quite well, and he kindly lent us his “wave” drum kit, which is actually the same kit which he used at the Friars gig in 1969! It’s going off on Monday morning by courier as soon as the exhibition closes to a Pink Floyd exhibition in Milan which starts next week. Edgar Broughton kindly let us have his guitar, I contacted Stackridge and they let us have some stuff. [Free improvising saxophonist] Lol Coxhill’s wife helped me put together the exhibition booth around him, which I think is one of the highlights personally.”

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The dizzying list of Friars alumni and the glowing testimonials many have offered is impressive enough, but more than this the exhibition emphasises the seminal place Friars Music Club holds in music history. Friars quickly gained a reputation as an essential proving ground for bands to hit on tour and for picking up on bands before they broke into popular consciousness. Black Sabbath played just prior to the release of their debut album. Genesis honed their stagecraft there in the early days, with Steve Hackett remembering “there was a warmth and enthusiasm from the crowd that acted as a morale booster when other hearts were harder to conquer”. Even Rob Stringer, current CEO and Chairman of Columbia Records, started off as front of stage security at Friars: “When he was at the local grammar school he started working for us where he got into music really and has ended up going right to the top of the record business in America”.

Most notably, David Bowie premiered material from Hunky Dory during his first appearance at Friars on 25th September 1971. Three months later on 29th January 1972, Bowie returned with The Spiders From Mars and performed as Ziggy Stardust for the first time. The rest is history, and Bowie clearly recognised the pivotal role these shows at Friars played in his career when he texted Stopps hours before the exhibition’s opening night on 28th January. “Memories are everything apparently,” the text read “and I have only great ones of the fabulous Friars”. Remembering receiving the text Stopps says “I didn’t think it would be emotional, but it was and it was fabulous. Just a fabulous thing to get a few hours before we opened. I don’t think he does that for many people so it was particularly special coming from him”.

Friars kept its finger on the pulse of contemporary music and moved with the times, repeatedly proving its relevance in staging bands of the moment. As punk rose in the ‘70s Friars played host to MC5 in 1972 and Iggy Pop (with Bowie furtively appearing on keyboards) in early 1977, but it was when The Ramones played in May that year which punk truly arrived in Aylesbury. After a local campaign by Colin Keinch, The Ramones came to Friars on their tour with Talking Heads and delivered a blistering 45 minute set that fully kicked open the doors to the many punk and new wave acts that would play Friars. The Greatest Stiffs live showcase brought Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Wreckless Eric later that year and the following year would see Friars put on their biggest open-air gig in Aylesbury’s Market Square, which saw local punk acts play to an estimated 20,000 people.

During the nationwide backlash against punk culture during the summer of 1978 when councils around the UK were putting bans on punk shows, Friars again showed their prescience by working with Aylesbury Vale District Council to bring The Clash to Aylesbury in June 1978. A strong relationship was forged with the band, who would return with The Slits in December 1978 and chose Friars for the opening night of the London Calling tour in January 1980. They would go on to play to 2,000 people at Friars biggest indoor event during the Combat Rock tour of 1982.

I asked David Stopps if there any performances which stick out as particularly memorable? “If I had to pick one it would be The Kinks [6th August, 1980, Maxwell Hall], that was just a phenomenal gig. To me they’re like the universal band: they’re a sixties pop group; they’re a punk band in their own sort of way because they’re all pretty edgy’ they’re a rock ’n’ roll band; and a folk group. They were everything, they were the universal band for me. Obviously the Bowie gigs stand out as being incredible and lots of others. The Ramones come to mind, particularly astonishing gigs. Kate and Anna McGarrigle were absolutely magical”.

Sadly in December 1984 Friars closed its doors due to financial difficulties and so 25 years of silence ensued. “When we stopped in 1984 I was surprised that nobody took it on and did their own thing along similar lines,” says Stopps. “But, nobody ever did and the venue was just sitting, it wasn’t like the venue closed or anything. There were a few concerts here and there between 1984 and 2009 that other people put on but, not many and I was quite disappointed that nobody sort of picked it up and ran with it. Now there’s quite a lot of local band activity at the moment which is encouraging and there are a lot of little venues putting on gigs again where a few years ago that wasn’t the case. So I’m reasonably encouraged about that”.

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When Friars fan Mike O’Connor started putting together a Friars Music Club website in 2007, David Stopps was astonished by the in-depth charting of the venue’s history and the interest the website generated. Inspired by his enthusiasm, Stopps and co. decided to resurrect Friars for a one-off gig in 2009 to celebrate its 40th birthday, which featured Friars veterans The Pretty Things, Edgar Broughton Band and The Groundhogs. The success of that gig lead to further shows from Stiff Little Fingers and Paul Weller, and Friars has continued ever since.

Since the demolition of Aylesbury Civic Centre in 2010, Friars has entered its fourth phase at the new Waterside Theatre where it lives on as select shows, which have seen the return of Friars veterans such as punk diehards The Buzzcocks, Aylesbury natives Marillion and a sell-out show by The Specials. Compared to previous venues Stopps says, “It’s different, it’s an evolution. The first venue was 400 capacity, the second one was 700, the third one was 1,250 and this one is 1700, so they’ve all gotten bigger as we’ve gone on. The Waterside is a very expensive venue to use and that’s always a big risk to put something on there, but in the old days it wasn’t so much of a risk. It was sort of make £100 or lose £100. But, now it’s very much more expensive and risky, so we don’t do so many shows now, but we are intending to do more in future. This year has been about the exhibition really, but we’re definitely going to be doing more shows.”

Fortunately, the intimacy and atmosphere of old which made Friars Music Club such a legendary venue seems to have survived intact. “That was what I was worried about, to be honest,” says Stopps, “If we’d ever get the old atmosphere back. But, when we came back in 2009 it was just magical, it was exactly the same as it used to be!”

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With interest in the club reignited by the exhibition, Friars Music Club are now looking to the future with a mixture of current and new bands to come. “Whilst we’ve been looking back since 2009, although Paul Weller is still pretty current in his own way, we are looking through to the new bands breaking through at the moment,” reveals Stopps.  “We were going to put on Bastille last year and they wanted to do it, we wanted to do it, but we just couldn’t find a date. We could see it coming before they had the hit single [Pompeii], it’s just such a shame we didn’t get them. But anyway, we’d like to think we’re still quite good at that but we’ll see!” Friars have lost none of their edge it seems, finger still on the pulse.

The exhibition had been scheduled to close on Saturday 5th July, but to celebrate its success Buckinghamshire County Museum have decided to specially open their doors on Sunday 6th July for a Special Final Day. “There are a lot of people coming, a lot of artists, a lot of music business people,” Stopps explains. “I shall be doing impromptu guided tours all day, get ten people together who are interested in a particular area and talk about that. Hopefully that will work and I’ll still be standing at the end of the day!”

Friars Aylesbury: The Local Music Club That Rocked The World runs until Sunday 6th July at Buckinghamshire County Museum. You can learn more about Friars Music Club here.

Photo credits: Mark Jordan, Martin Percival, Geoffrey Tyrell.

 

[Cheap and Cheerful]: Cody ChesnuTT

cody-chesnutt-lo-res-press-photo-2“Know how to stay fly in the hardest times, But what we don’t know is that ain’t gonna be enough”

What’s better than discovering great music? Discovering it’s free as well. Cheap and Cheerful intermittently throws free downloads your way for continued listening pleasure that doesn’t break the bank.

Seen most recently supporting neo-soul Q.U.E.E.N. and fellow Atlantan Janelle Monae on tour, Cody ChesnuTT has also been carving out his own distinctive brand of rock ‘n’ soul in recent years. After splitting from L.A. rockers The Crosswalk in 2000, ChesnuTT set up a makeshift studio in his bedroom and sequestered himself for several months with a handful of instruments and a 4-track recorder to produce 2002’s critically acclaimed double album The Headphone Masterpiece. A genre hopping gumbo indebted to a love of rock ‘n’ roll, The Headphone Masterpiece turned a lot of heads with its prodigious musicality and lo-fi aesthetic, landing ChesnuTT on tours with Erykah Badu and The Roots. A subsequent guest slot on The Roots’s Phrenology for their cover of ChesnuTT’s ‘The Seed’, an appearance in Dave Chapelle’s Block Party and electrifying live performances only added to his growing cult status, yet ChesnuTT would not put out his second full-length album for another ten years. Following a quiet period of family life and reflection, punctuated by the release of Black Skin No Value EP in 2010, ChesnuTT returned with the smoking hot Landing On A Hundred in 2012. True to his bedroom basics roots, ChesnuTT has now chosen to make the Kickstarter funded album available for free over at Noisetrade, parcelled up with guest remixes and juicy outtakes from recording sessions at Memphis’s Royal Studios.

Like its predecessor, Landing On A Hundred covers a wide range of musical flavours and life issues, from socially conscious jams like ‘Under the Spell of the Handout’s honky-tonk funk and the gospel redemption of ‘Everybody’s Brother’, to ‘That’s Still Mama’s inner city holler and the sweet Sam Cooke-isms of ‘Love Is More Than a Wedding Day’. Meanwhile, the B-sides and remixes reveal even further scope and depth. The softly caressing lullaby of ‘Listen’ is counterpointed by country-blues stomper ‘Gunpowder On The Letter’, featuring searing leads from Gary Clark Jr., while in the hands of The Roots drummer and frontman Questlove ‘What Kind Of Cool’s shuffling beat is slowed to a soporific haze and an Eddie Hazel-worthy fuzzed-up solo leads out of the fog. Make no mistake, it’s a headphone masterpiece worth checking out

Landing On A Hundred is out now through Vibration Vineyard/One Little Indian and is available for free download here. Cody ChesnuTT is currently on a European tour, find dates here.

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: Eric Andersen, The Smiths and Bob Marley & The Wailers.

th21-record-player-music-flickr-stacey-d-630w

Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Close The Door Lightly When You Go’ – Eric Andersen
If the mark of an artist is the company they keep then Eric Andersen can be ranked up there with the best of them, having rubbed shoulders with Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Joan Baez, The Band, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and William Burroughs to name but a few. While Andersen has not shared as much of the limelight as his Greenwich Village folk scene contemporaries, his vivid songwriting about love in all its expressions has influenced and been covered by countless artists in the singer-songwriter tradition and in 2003 he was awarded the Premio Tenco for outstanding songwriting, an award previously won by Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave (again, the company you keep). While later versions of ‘Close The Door Lightly When You Go’ have gathered a more upbeat pace, none of them have the same raw sense of self-loathing and loneliness as the original found on Andersen’s second album ‘Bout Changes ‘n’ Things. A documentary taking in Andersen’s ongoing fifty-plus year journey as an artist entitled The Songpoet is slated for release later this year.

‘Back To The Old House’ – The Smiths
Morrissey is set to release his tenth solo album World Peace Is None Of Your Business in July (announced by way of a tongue-in-cheek music video), and while he tends to divide opinion like Moses parts large bodies of water you’d be hard-pressed to deny the emotional weight he lends to this stripped down version of ‘Back To The Old House’ lifted from a John Peel session in 1983. Nostalgia drips from Johnny Marr’s honeyed arpeggios, complementing the forlorn quality in Morrissey’s tenor and the palpable ambivalence conveyed through understated images in lines such as “When you cycled by, here began all my dreams, the saddest thing I’ve ever seen”.

‘High Tide Or Low Tide’ – Bob Marley And The Wailers
Replete with sultry rhythms from the Barrett brothers and beautiful harmonies from Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, ‘High Tide Or Low Tide’ makes perfect listening for the nights drawing longer. It was recorded during the sessions for The Wailers’ Island debut, Catch A Fire, which would begin Bob Marley’s meteoric rise to become the Third World’s first superstar, but didn’t make the final tracklist. However, positioned alongside the social commentary of ‘Concrete Jungle’ and ‘Stop That Train’, this soulful ditty of solidarity and friendship shows the scope of Marley’s songwriting even at this early stage and it is this sense of peace and love he would infuse much of his music with throughout his career.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

[Artist Spotlight]: The Rails

The-Rails-photo-1050x700“I’m a fool, no more you’ll rule my fragile, fucked up heart.”

Rising folk duo The Rails may have only been making music together for two years (initially as Dead Flamingoes) and only just released their debut album, Fair Warning, but they have a strong pedigree. Kami Thompson is the youngest scion of folk-rock royalty Richard and Linda Thompson and sister of singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson (Richard has previously joked ‘It’s a battle with the Wainwright-McGarrigles who can produce the most musical offspring!’). She has made appearances at the Wainwright Family’s Christmas shows as well as on tours with Bonnie Prince Billy and Sean Lennon before she released her solo album, Love Lies, in 2011. Meanwhile, James Walbourne’s impressively long CV as a hire guitarist touts such diverse names as Ray Davies, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Pogues, Son Volt and The Pretenders, while making his debut as a solo musician on 2011’s The Hill. In each other, though, they found the perfect musical foil, with Walbourne’s earthy bark playing off Thompson’s sweetly soaring vocals on tales of rootless vagabonds and fatal trysts.

This partnership has been a long time in the making though. The pair first met when author and music fanatic Nick Hornby gave Walbourne a call out of the blue to assist in the recording of Linda Thompson’s 2007 album Versatile Heart, on which Kami was assisting her mother. Both admit they were too wrapped up in their own projects to pay much attention to the other, and so years went by with chance meetings at odd gigs and events. It was only during the early sessions for Linda Thompson’s following album, 2013’s stunning Won’t Be Long Now, that the two started writing music together and found that they could effortlessly harmonise and trade vocals.

Recording sessions for an album naturally followed, which took place at the home studio of Edwyn Collins (who also co-produced the album) with their direct, pared down arrangements occasionally filled out by fiddle duties from Eliza Carthy and deft drumming from Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars). It was also during this period that Thompson and Walbourne forged a relationship and decided to get married. Although this means there is little to no separation between their personal and work life, in an interview with Secret Sounds Thompson said she does not see this as a problem: “You feel that you have a shared goal, I think, which maybe you wouldn’t have if you didn’t work together as much.”

Focusing on a direct and authentic English folk sound, they headed up to legendary folk archive Cecil Sharp House for inspiration and gleaned two songs which appear on Fair Warning, ‘William Taylor’ and ‘Bonnie Portmore‘. The latter was released as a lead single, for which their label, Island Records, saw it appropriate to resurrect the iconic ‘pink’ label which adorned releases from such folk luminaries as John Martyn, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson’s own Fairport Convention. While this stamp of quality might ostensibly serve to draw further comparisons to the work of Thompson’s parents, Richard and Linda (a married couple with harmonising vocals releasing folk-rock on the Island pink label), ultimately they carve out their own distinctive brand of contemporary folk with one eye cast back to traditional English lyricism, as they do on ‘Breakneck Speed’.

An upbeat modern ballad of extricating yourself from a relationship turned sour, ‘Breakneck Speed’ rolls along with the energy of Thompson’s driving acoustic rhythm and Carthy’s fiery fiddling. Thompson takes lead vocal duties while Walbourne’s electric noodling buoys the song up before joining in for those effortless harmonies in the chorus. With effusive and gloriously catchy tunes as this, The Rails are sure to be a highlight of the folk club and festival circuits they tour this summer and prove that Thompson and Walbourne make a handsome pair.

Fair Warning is available now through Island Records. If you enjoyed this article, why not check out my review of Richard Thompson’s Electric?