Tuesday, 28 April 2015

I have always liked The Fall

I have always liked The Fall.

I’ve written about those (various) times before.  It was my brother Paul who got me into The Fall. Not John Peel.  He bought a seven inch from a man in a market and we played it at home again and again.

 It was called Totally Wired.

I arrived at Brixton Electric as the doors opened. Various Fall t-shirts already assembled in the queue – anticipation for this dedication to the rigmaroles of RnR already there in the air – all high tension (line) and knowing nods that we were all Fall fans.

And 50,000,000 Fall fans can’t be wrong.

As I ventured round the building locating enclosed open spaces for my lungs (that’s the smokers corner) I arrived there alone. On my own with cigarette smoke for friends.  When through the door burst two wide eyed – wired fresh young things – all angular movements and rapid talk – they were singing Totally Wired.

You don’t have to be weird to be wired.

I’d learnt this much early on.  Scunthorpe streets weren’t so tolerant back then – or at least I thought the world was divided into the ‘Henry Afrika’s Scene’ a nightclub on Doncaster Road with outdated hairstyles and outdated moral views and those of the independent scene – all spikes and hair and leather and cider – and never the twain should meet. It wasn’t actually like that at all – but I grew up thinking I was an outsider. 

Turns out we were just conforming another way.

So here I am a 43 year old man (and I like it) holed up in Brixton with The Fall. It was a first for me. It was a good introduction to the rampant ramalamma of MES and assorted musicians.  So from Totally Wired singing openings and nods and charged glasses I was wished well and that this would be an intense night and was welcome to join them later in the heaving mass of bodies up the front. I said I’d think about it.

There seems to be lots of discussion and talk at a gig like this – what’s your favourite Fall song? When did you first see them? How did you get into the Fall? Lots of never ending questions about the North and whether they’d be good or not.

They were good. Excellent in my head. But I’ll tell you about that later.

I read a review on the mighty Louder than War website that at a recent gig they had played a 45 minute slowed down film of rock royalty – just to set the place on edge. I wasn’t sure whether we’d be treated to the film  - I quite fancied it to tell the truth. Instead we had two bands – the first were called Wetpig and they had a ramshackle repetition in the music (and they're never gonna lose it) appeal. Scratchy and catchy if you get me. Three strong women with post -punk riffage  - keyboard drone – motorik drums and funked up bass. They were good actually. It may have been their last gig. So there you go.

This was followed by some overblown shite from a band who took themselves far too fucking seriously. All hand gestures to soundmen and raging intensity – they even had a strobe to accompanying their Ride/ U2/ Coldplay mash up. You don’t have to be weird to be wired. But it helps if you’re wired from the start. They weren’t. They will not feature on compilations in people’s cars in the future.

The Fall feature heavily on my car compilations. We as a family (my family- not the world) have listened to a potted history of The Fall over the years (yeah but what’s your favourite era?  I can hear you asking) So to eventually arrive in a building when I knew The Fall were going to play in was exciting for this old man.  So we waited - posters said 10pm The Fall - it would be considerably later than 10pm that MES and Frenz would walk on the stage. To a backdrop that simply read Dedication not Medication - You Decide on one half and The Fall (White on Blue) on the other  - microphones were set up and a moog set up right hand side with a chair - repetitive squelches and bass rumbles accompanying the roadies technical know how.

And then nothing. 

For forty five minutes. 


Two deejays playing vinyl - but no Mark E Smith. 

A can is thrown. 

Still nothing.

Conversations turn to Mark's state - is he too drunk to get it together? Is he actually in the building? Is this the way to start a UK tour?

And then an introductory tape - and the nucleus of The Fall arrive - Elena (Mrs MES) places her red coat and bag on the chair to the side of the Moog - Peter Greenaway turns up the guitar - Dave connects it all with his bass and then they lock down in double drum time (Keiron and Darren) and we wait for an entrance. At first a voice from the wings - and then the man - staring us down - prowling and stopping - gurning and growling. His door is always open. We welcome him en masse - we are suddenly under the thrall of Mark. He will command proceedings from now on.

And it's a whirlwind - muddy vocals and indecipherable sounds emanate from Smith - yet it mutates into a classic Fall sound.  Chugging and reverberating around - as Smith swithes stance and microphones - turns dials and creates art out of chaos. He's the real deal this fella - he's wearing suit - you know - he's made an effort (I remember an interview with Mark in one of music magazines and he was bemoaning the lack of getting dressed up for a night out - I think it was around the time of the rave explosion)but here he is like he's just got out the office - slipped the tie off and wandered on stage. Oh to work with a colleague like MES in the office - it would be great.

Hurtling through new Fall material - this juggernaut of a group pummel us with twists and snarls -  as Smith makes every part of the stage his own. There's new material from the much anticipated Sub-Lingual Tablet - I think Quit iPhone gets an airing as I snap cheeky photographs on mine at the side of the stage. A blistering Mister Rode and sonic exploration via Auto Chip 14 - 15 9 (another new one) So I'm there - and I'm getting it - not rushing like I did when I first heard Totally Wired - but all these sounds are falling into place and suddenly I have the revelation (to me - it may not be to you) that The Fall are direct (dead beat) descendants of The Kinks. Observational scowl and punk attitude - in your face - menance and grimace. The Fall are making art. They reflect and reinvent. They are incredible.

And then they are gone. 26 minutes in. They leave. 

The crowd seem bemused. The band seem bemused. MES has left the stage - so they do to. 

This could get ugly. But then from the wings - comes the crooning of Smith. He's back it's not exactly an encore more a light breather and then he's there - jacket off - back to get on with the show (and it is a show - studied rock n roll like Elvis' hips and legs) and we get four more numbers - including a song I think is called Stout Man - which the whole band seem to chant - in fact Darren the 'second' drummer may have had a run out on this one - adding more Smith like sounds to Smith's  microphone maelstrom. Darren gets to round off the evening too. He's pretty integral to this whole set up.  We also get Facebook Troll - a new song from the new album - as Mark commands from he front all open arms demanding that he 'wants a Facebook Troll'. It's brilliant. It's pertinent and it's funny. MES always in touch - always ahead of the game.

Four songs in they disappear again. The lights aren't up but people are unsure. It's 10 past 11. There's a scurry for (stale) air and I overhear a conversation - young lads - fred perrys and short sensible hair - moaning between themselves - and there's just one lad complaining - 'I can't understand him - it's shit - this is shit - I can't hear him - what's he on about - this is shit'.  This is a band still getting a reaction that's divided  - that's up for debate - 31 albums in.

And then they are back.

Two more tunes. Venice with the girls and Bury.  Darren gets brought to the front. Stood next to Peter and MES stands with them as they tell us - explain to us they are not from Bury. Things like that are important.  He's quite egalitarian is MES tonight - microphones are given to group members - all are encouraged to participate - including the audience.
Then they are gone. But not finished.

Suddenly as Smith is wont to do - they re-emerge and strike up a mighty Theme from Sparta FC - there's power in this longest serving line up of The Fall. And with Darren shouting Sparta, Sparta, Sparta to the crowd they depart. 

It is finished. I have witnessed (the fitness) of the mighty Fall.

I don't think I could have envisaged that The Fall would still be so relevant - so important when we first played Totally Wired back then in Scunthorpe bedrooms. But Smith needs more room (to live) in this world. He might not play the game for the industry but he is a role model for art. He creates an effect - he demands a reaction. 

He still makes me think.

I like that in my popstars.

I like The Fall.

It's Facebook Troll  - but you never know MES may be writing another song called Fibre Book Troll. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

It's been way to long, way too long baby

I don't know whether I have it in me to find a thing to write about these days - so pulled from pillar to post - to this to that and back again. 

I need to concentrate on the now and get that better (it couldn't get much worse)

So posts have gone adrift - have been started and lost and I've surrendered to the beat that goes on and on and on.

I wanted to write so much down over the last months.

But I couldn't wring it from this sorry brain.

I know it will come back again.

I'm certain of that.

Here are some random sounds for random times. 

There's an election coming you know.

I am currently writing about Sleaford Mods/ Panda Bear/ The Fall/ John Lydon

and of course forgotten youth

and possibly gigs on common land

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

When the cider starts flowing

I’d quietly started sipping the apple juice in a boogaloo bar on the other side of the street – I guess they were still putting out the chairs in The Red Hedgehog – because I was uptown in Highgate to see the ever wonderful Euros Childs ‘in concert’.  A sudden blast to the end of 2014 – a new long player (well 32 minutes or so) from the man himself and a series of dates to accompany the release of Eillaaig. 

The Boogaloo bar was once the haunt of Shane MacGowan and his brand of roogie boogie - his picture was on the wall – he was by the fire – he wasn’t on fire – I guess that would happen though – accidentally set himself alight – on an any given night.

The cider was strong in there. And when the cider starts flowing there’s only once place we’re going. To see Euros Childs in an intimate venue across the road.

The cider was flowing there too. All bottles from off licences sold at twice the price for a good cause. In fact a heady mix of strong cider and the eternal waft of a lit joss stick greeted my arrival to The Red Hedgehog. For some reason I chose a seat which pretty much meant I was looking at Euros’ back for most of the night. Just like the poster advertising the tour.

It would have felt a little odd to be seated right in front of him. You know Mark Chapman like.

Now - you know my unwavering bias for Euros Childs. So this review of sorts will simple tell you to go see him – buy his new album – and ask him to make another one – so we can all do this again next year.  So here goes – as I said the cider was stronger than me – I hope to recall the night the best I can.

The support act for tonight was Euros Childs – so it was two sets for the price of one. Never knowingly undersold is Euros. So the first set was the new record by. An odyssey (and oracle) of piano and words – like watercolour brushes dipped in water – trails and swirls. The new album -  Eillaaig – which I presumed was welsh – well he’s from another land this man – is actually a made up word – there is no translation there is only it’s fixedness to this album. It doesn’t translate to any world language – but then again Euros seems otherworldly at times – all angles and twitches – spreading utter joy wherever he lands.

This album is other worldly.

The album has this Satie/ repetitive/ Brian Wilson/ Mozart triads (that’s not a gang – I’m talking about the notes) discordant subtlety throughout it – mixed with sentiment and feeling. Of walks and old buildings – wood and smoke – it kind of conjures up the air – you feel like you’re outside when you’re listening on the inside. The piano is taut – crisp like winter mornings – but slowly filling with warmth as your cheeks begin to glow in icy sunshine.  Simple bass notes – holding the ethereal floating top end in place – not letting it drift away.  It’s full of honesty – and reminds me of arriving in halls for ‘singing practice’ dusty floors and piano masters (sorry that makes me sound so public school – it was comprehensive schools in Scunthorpe I’m referencing here – just so you know – I mean it maaaaaaan)

It’s classical in so many ways – possibly conceptual.

The Red Hedgehog was probably the right place to play. It had this awkward honesty about it to – all woollen hats and slight confusion. Euros seated at the far end surrounded by red chairs and candles and general tat – pushed to the back. The majority of the new long player is instrumental – you don’t always needs words. And besides we’d get those in the next half.

Suffice to say – It was great to hear this – without already hearing it first – a bold move on Euros’ part?  Not really – I think his audience – and it’s always growing – this night was sold out after all – I think his audience can take the risk too. You are always pleasantly surprised/ satisfied by his music making and I’ve been playing the album every morning since hearing it that first time.

It is my winter warmer.

So with the album played and hands clapped – Euros departed in readiness for the second set. It was costume changes and roadies testing equipment whilst we waited.

It wasn’t. It was an empty piano and more joss sticks. 

I don’t think there was a costume change – but there was an ‘entrance’. Appearing from the back to rapturous applause Euros was back (and of course my view was his back) to play some more – to put the soul in the rock and roll (or was that Denim?) This wonderful set mixed the old and the new – with his usual humourous insight and meandering tales we are accustomed to as part of the Euros audience – as I said there’s a gentleness to this star performer – that comes out in a humble manner – but he does make me laugh. He could do an ‘in conversation with…’ evening and it would be just as fun. Ok – well nearly as – because when Euros breaks into Ursula’s Crow (can you break into Ursula’s Crow – he’s not Elton John milking the masses?) you remember that it’s the songs that make you sing and grin.

He has that touch – light and airy meets well timed delivery. With a run through of some of the wonders of Situation Comedy (Second Home Blues and Tete-et-Tete)  and Summer Special (That’s Better ) and the majestic Ends (the Open Window, Spin that girl around, Parent’s Place – you can find how that song gets me elsewhere in my writing about Euros) And a thankful  outing for Bread ( I don’t mean we stopped and popped to Gregg’s) all baroque and crust – one day Jonny will release a second album – Euros said so – it might be the Joe Meek one.  There was How Do you Do from Son of Euros, Dust from the Cousins album and a wonderful version of Pretty Ballerina by The Left Banke that nearly rounded off the night. Euros should do a covers album at some point. You know it would be beautiful.  Euros even waited for a member of the audience to get back from the toilet. Well that was me – I told you about all this flowing cider and where it leads. And besides there was only one toilet – the other was screened off – for the rock stars I guess – or possibly because of the plumbing.

Euros finished off the night’s proceedings with a glorious uproarious Poodle Rockin’ finale. And that was it. Huge applause and shuffled chairs. Out into the bracing night air with a (miracle) grin and a wide eyed stare.

I don’t think I can make the later London shows – it feels treacherous – but there are young ones to look after and presents to buy and wrap and turkeys to feed and crackers to stuff or something. You never know – I just might find myself there.

An evening with Euros is somewhat irresistible.

Buy his album.  Buy all his albums. You even get a note from the National Elf himself. And elves like to make us happy at Christmas (or summat like that) 

I haven't got a video of the night - so here's a link to Euros' sound cloud site: 

And a lovely version of The Open Window

Friday, 21 November 2014

NWA (Noise with Attitude) Part 2

‘I'm going down to the place tonight,
To see if I can get a taste tonight,
A taste of something warm and sweet,

That shivers your bones and rises to your heat’

You see Jim always puts it best. 

Arriving early at The Troxy – in the scuzzy end of the east of London – where gentrification has yet to set in. Limehouse was an apt place for the return of the mighty JAMC – this wasn’t central London west end and bright lights – it was on the periphery – standing at the edges – but not wanting to get in – instead looking out. Leather jackets turned away from the surburban and mundane.

When I first heard Psychocandy – courtesy of my brother – it felt like the most thrilling piece of vinyl for a long time. At this point I had an understanding of who Spector was, rock n roll was played in the house – I liked it  - but here was rock n roll for my generation (not theirs) it was full of energy and anger – confrontation and isolation  - bravado and moments of doubt. It took the scowl of Lou Reed and wedded it to a maelstrom of white noise. It was coming from the tough streets of Glasgow – it was frothing at the mouth and screaming from its lungs. It echoed my steel town boredom and hormone fuelled adolescent – spotty kids playing guitar licks.

Jim and William felt like me and my brother – except we probably didn’t fight as much. But there was that insular – extrovert thing going on. And it’s evident tonight – whilst Jim’s upfront, slight swagger and confident (in parts) – William hangs in the wings – turning his back on us and towards his amps – his screeching and wailing emanating from his guitar is his only communication.  He’s Ron Asheton to Jim’s Iggy.

So tonight at the Troxy it’s the return of Jesus and Mary Chain - back to their beginnings – who McGee declared the ‘best band in the world’ way back in 1985. Would they still be? Can a set of outsiders  from Glasgow – now embraced  by the mainstream – still astonish the world?

The evening starts back to front or ‘upside down’ (see what I did there?) – they’re always contrary these fucking scots – aye – I’ll just do it my way – so they do - opening with ‘encores’.   From the opening chords of April Skies it’s clear that they are here to take no prisoners. They are going to assault the ears and lead us right into a mess of sound. Whilst the sound is loud it’s clear that William is controlling the intensity. Jim’s not always clear in the mix – but it isn’t muddy - just brutal at times – and never more so than on Upside Down – a song I never thought I’d hear in a live setting – I was 13 when that single emerged in 1984. I am 43 now.  It still rattled with chaos – as Jim forever upending his microphone stand – paced and prowled the stage as William layered the sonics and filled this wonderful venue with a snarling noise.

Then it was on to Psychocandy.

From the  opening promotional film for East Kilbride  all shot through with flame as the celluloid burnt and warped  through the jump cuts and repetition of motorbikes, youth, buildings, hands, fights, decay and blurred shapes and swirls the JAMC are here to entertain.

Those expecting Douglas and Bobby to be in the line-up may well have been disappointed - but it’s fair to say they left way back then and have pursued their own rock n roll dreams. So we might not have the iconic two piece kit but we still have the brothers Reid and that Spector beat to bring is in and hold us enthralled for the next hour ( I know the long player is only 43 minutes – but we had to clap you know)

I often return to Psychocandy – I’ve been dipping in over the past 30 years. It’s still raw and honest and surprising. The Mary Chain were my Velvets, my Stooges, my MC5 – I hadn’t heard those bands at the point Psychocandy emerged – well maybe the Velvets but the other two I can honestly say were not part of my record collection. They would come to be - because of this band.  And this combination of metal machine music with the ‘ba ba baas’ of sraightfoward rock n roll was revelatory.  You couldn’t predict that sound. You have to remember this was Wham time, Culture Club and Live Aid. We’ve got Band Aid again – right now – and right now we’ve got The Jesus and Mary Chain. They’re not trying to feed/ change the world – it’s just pop music (with an edge).  And oh what an edge – this felt out of nowhere –it felt juvenile but understood it’s past – yet they were dismissed as a ‘band who couldn’t play’ and  because when no one takes you serious - that makes you feel so dangerous – and therefore anything goes.  From bedrooms come great dreams and schemes – couple this to a defeated working class and a riot strewn landscape then the JAMC’s brand of desolation blues was bound to chime with some of us.

So here it was tonight- in full aural glory. This was a run through from track one to track fifteen ( see that pop pickers – 15 tracks – value for money) As I said it was controlled chaos – I saw My Bloody Valentine way back when – and they were just too loud – lost in the mix – not creating aural landscapes but just causing hurt.  This was explosive – but with modesty – it didn’t take over – Pyschocandy is a testament to the tunes that were played here tonight. The feedback is not added  - it’s integral to the sound – that ringing sound uh huh huh.  William is riffing and revving and the five piece are in full flow from the start.

This looking back to a seminal album does not mis-fire.

I am a moving and a shaking throughout. And I’m in the seats above. God knows what’s happening on the dancefloor.  It’s hard to pick out a moment with a concert like this – you kind of dive in and suck it all up. You experience it – maaaaaaaannnn.  But I guess ‘ In a Hole’ felt special – evoking that frenzied appearance on the Whistle Test and the first time I heard it in session on Peel – that’s my Mary Chain special one – and then of course there’s  'Never Understand' and 'Taste of Cindy' and, and, and. So it’s all buzzsaws or chainsaws and scowls and screams – Jim’s frontman posturing still hypnotic despite the thirty year gap – his voice was great – as I said hidden at times in the mix – but powerful nonetheless.

And then with the brief ‘ It’s So Hard’ (the only one that I feel sounds like it may have come from ’85 – with its Bunnymenesque bass and guitars) it’s over. It is all over.

Game Over – and it was.

When Psychocandy emerged it was a game changer – it would ultimately lead to the Gallaghers and Radio One’s embracing of the independent scene. Culture isn’t the same as it was – it never will be. We don’t do nostalgia here. This wasn’t nostalgia tonight - this was a revisit of one of the greatest rock n roll records ever made.

No swindle was involved.

Here is Upside Down - courtesy of Plastictoy1 - he or she captures the intensity