26 February 2015

Ryan Adams - De Montfort Hall, Leicester (21 February 2015)

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The reason why I reactivated this blog last summer was to give myself a place to practice writing and force myself to be disciplined enough to make myself write something on a semi-regular basis. So far this year I have been in a start-of-the-year fug and haven’t felt very inspired or motivated to do much writing, either here or for LeftLion. I didn’t want a month to go by where I hadn’t written anything on this blog, as I have managed at least one post a month since last June, therefore I thought I would pen a few words about the Ryan Adams gig that I went to last Saturday night. 

Being a long-time Ryan Adams fan and having caught him on every UK tour since 2006, in London or in Nottingham, I know what to expect when it comes to him as a performer. Sometimes he can be amazing and other times really frustrating. Tonight was the later. 

I don’t know if something happens when he plays in a band, but  I’ve seen him both solo and as part of a band (The Cardinals), and the truly outstanding performances have been those where it has just been him along on stage playing guitar and piano. When I’ve seen him with The Cardinals his music often felt bogged down and stodgy with no room to breathe. He was playing with a band at this show, so the signs weren’t good. 

A prolific singer-songwriter with so many released and un-released albums under his belt, I’ve always thought as Ryan Adams as a modern day Neil Young. Someone doing his own thing and releasing musically that veers wildly between extraordinary and downright awful, and with such an extensive back catalogue, when you go and see him play live there is no guarantee that he’ll play everything that you want. 

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It was a gig of two halves. It started off really promising, opening with the reverb-saturated Tom Petty 80s rock of Gimmie Something Good, the show mined the more countrified-rock aspect of Ryan’s musical personality, with a rolling version of Let It Ride following. There was also room for a sumptuous Dirty Rain from Ashes & Fire, while the bar-band take on This House Is Not For Sale really lifted the Love Is Hell song. Wrecking Ball, from his new eponymously titled new LP, sounded like classic Ryan Adams. While the run of Magnolia Mountain, New York, New York, Dear Chicago and When The Stars Go Blue was unbeatable. The first half finished with a brand new and (so-far) unreleased song titled Blue Light that jangled like The Smiths attempting to cover Ryan’s beloved The Replacements. 

Next-up was a cover of the support act Natalie Prass. Although I’m sure it was well intended it was also the moment where the show lost momentum and took a nose-dive from which it never really recovered. After this it felt like the show meandered along and needed an injection of pace. There was some stand out moments with My Winding Wheel, Oh My Sweet Carolina, La Cienga Just Smiled. But these were interspersed with drudgery like a lengthy Peacefull Valley and the dreary Everybody Knows. 

I See Monsters is always something special, and in fact much of Love Is Hell often seem overlooked by Ryan Adams when I’ve seen him live. The song eventually descended in to a wall of guitars that must surely be a nod to Oasis, a band Ryan is a vocal fan of. There wasn’t any encore and Natalie Prass joined Ryan and the rest of the band onstage for the closing Come Pick Me Up. 

Gimme Something Good 
Let It Ride 
Stay With Me 
Dirty Rain 
This House Is Not For Sale 
My Wrecking Ball 
Magnolia Mountain 
New York, New York 
Dear Chicago 
When the Stars Go Blue 
Blue Light 
Your Fool (Natalie Prass cover)
Everybody Knows 
My Winding Wheel 
Peaceful Valley 
Oh My Sweet Carolina (with Natalie Prass)
La Cienega Just Smiled 
I See Monsters 
Come Pick Me Up (with Natalie Prass)

Ryan Adams website
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27 January 2015

Alvvays - The Bodega, Nottingham (26 January 2015)

I was late coming to the Alvvays album, only really listening to it at the back end of 2014, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's an album packed full of natural sounding songwriting that's awash with jangly guitars, love-lorn lyrics and saturated in a hazy reverb that makes the whole record feel like one of those late summer evenings which are heavy with some kind of intangible sadness hanging heavy in the air. 

The band from Toronto have been slowly winning plaudits since the album's release last summer, with the song Archie, Marry Me becoming a 6 Music fave, getting named 'Track of the Year' by Drowned In Sound  and even being covered by Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard. All this is testament to the quality of the band's songs. 

Reaching Nottingham in the middle of their first headline tour of the UK, what was refreshing to see and pleasing for a band currently generating something of a 'buzz' is how pleasant and genuinely excited they appeared to be playing their songs for the sold out Bodega crowd. There was lots of talk from lead singer Milly Rankin including the best UK chocolate bars and how the band were looking forward to having a pint in the "UK oldest pub" The Trip To Jerusalem after the show. 

If some of the album can feel a little affected in its attempts to ape the lo-fi C86 sound of the late 80s, live, the songs stripped of the studio production, feel re-invigorated and get the chance breath. With only one 32 minute album to their name tonight's set was always going to be pretty short. All of the album tracks are enthusiastically received by the crowd, while the band pad out the show with a couple of covers - Nosebleed by Deerhunter and The Primitives' Out Of Reach - that are clear touchstones for the type of thoughtful indie-pop that Alvvays are striving to produce. 

Their set ended with a new song called Haircut - a melodic and fuzzy slice of power-pop that, fingers-crossed, points towards a second album that builds upon the promise of their debut and shows that the band are here for the long run. 

Alvvays website

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31 December 2014

Albums Of The Year: 2014

Taylor Swift 1989 2014 Albums of the year

It's the last day of the year and everywhere I turn people are doing end of year lists, so I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and use this as an opportunity to list my top 10 albums of 2014.

This year as been a strange one in terms of buying new music. Most of it has been spent saving what money I could for a house move, meaning I had to ban myself from buying as much records as I usually would. It was tough. Even so, I still picked up bits and pieces here and there, just not as much as I would have done previously. Although there are still many records from this year that I still need to check out or spend a bit more time with.

In alphabetical order these are the albums of 2014 that have brought the most joy and comfort to my tired ears:

Alvvays - Alvvays
Strong melodies, twanging, breezy reverb-saturated guitars. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed an indie-rock record as much as this. Just an utter pleasure from start to finish including a couple of stone-cold belters including Archie, Marry Me.

Beck - Morning Phase
I've always preferred the more downbeat, mellow Beck to the funky wannabe-Prince version and this album delivered that by the bucketful. With his Dad providing string arrangements and the Seachange-era band backing him, Beck put together an album that sounded hopeful while still shaded by a nagging sense of melancholy. Beautiful and my go to Sunday morning record. 

Camera - Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide
Their first album has been one of my favourite records of recent years and even though this follow-up is slightly more 'out there' and experimental than that first LP and doesn't quite match their debut, Camera are still one of the better modern-day Kratrock bands, and Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide still had enough going on to warrant repeated listens.

East India Youth - Total Strife Forever
Gentle, home-brewed electronica that mixed both instrumental tracks and songs with vocals and felt like being wrapped up in bed under a warm duvet on a cold winter's morning.

Ex-Easter Island Head - Large Electric Ensemble
The beginning of 2014 went by in a blur due to a lot of work-based travelling that saw me taking long-haul flights to Japan (twice), South Korea and Hong Kong for the first three months of the year. It was exhausting and made me a bit ill and spaced-out, but during that time I had this record on my iPod and it felt like much-needed nourishment for my soul every time I put it on. 

Future Islands - Singles
Yes, it was that Letterman performance that brought them to my attention. I didn't initially feel what this album was about, but after spending sometime with it, most notably on airplanes and in various departure lounges (this year's theme), something about being in those transient situations finally made this record click with me. There's much to explore within the emotional depths that this record reaches.

Hookworms - The Hum
I've seen this band graduate from the UK's underground music scene and start to make a noise on a wider national scale over the past four years, and their second album cemented their reputation as one of the country's greatest guitar bands.

Kogumaza - Kолокол LP
Another great UK guitar band and every time I listen to them I discover something else hidden in their music, a new texture or sound, like their songs are living, evolving organic entities. This album mixed speaker shuddering riffs, atmosphere, and volume to startling effect.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pika Pika Fantajin
Not a J-Pop fan really but I was introduced to the strange, twisted world of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on a work visit earlier in the year and haven't stopped listening to her or watching her gloriously oddball music videos - a place where she thrives. This album is unlike anything else I've heard this year, a full-on assault of pop that's slickly crafted and exists in its own world. 

Mark Kozelek - Sings Christmas Carols

Sun Kil Moon's Benji has been winning the plaudits this year, but this is the Mark Kozelek record that I've enjoyed the most. It shouldn't work, but his straight-faced, stripped back covers of well known Christmas hits and standards is perfect festive listening. Will become a festive go-to album for years to come. 

Neil Young - A Letter Home

Another album that on paper shouldn't work, yet it somehow transcends its basic ingredients. Recorded at Jack White's Third Man Studios direct to vinyl in an antique recording booth, the sound may be shaky and lo-fi, but the well-chosen covers and dedications to his mum make this a sentimental journey that isn't sickly and sweet, but full of romance and charm.

Sleaford Mods - Divide And Exit
An old fashioned tale of a band working hard for year before finally getting the break they deserve. A resolutely DIY outfit, from the record label through to recording and touring, Jason Williamson's barbed, spiked lyrics have clearly hit and nerve with a public desperate for someone to speak up and tell it how it is. Divide and Exit's gritty realism was just that.

Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments To An Elegy
The Smashing Pumpkins reunion has been patchy to say the least and even if it doesn't compare to past glories, Billy Corgan can still write a tune when he buckles down. Monuments To An Elegy is packed full of tunes that it came as a bit of a shock after the proggy, meandering Oceania. For Pumpkins standards, the 9 song MTAE was a concise, short shock of modern alt rock that tipped a hat to new wave of the early 80s. The tunes were back too.

Taylor Swift - 1989
It's easy to be sniffy about pop music, especially when the charts and radio stations are pumped full of flim-flam, but once in a while an album and artist will come along that transcends genres and becomes part of the cultural furniture. Think Madonna and Michael Jackson at their peak. Taylor Swift became a cultural icon with 1989, an album packed full of super smart songwriting, hooks and beats that even though it was released in 2014 it will be the sound of 2015 and beyond. 

Ty Segal - Manipulator
A double LP of garage rock that struck the right balance between fuzzed-out guitars and melody showing that Ty Segal is a modern day songwriter of some magnitude.

The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream
I loved Slave Ambient so much that I was scared of listening to this new War On Drugs record in-case it ruined my opinion of the band. Fortunately, it built upon the sound of that last album and took the band even further down the spaced-out Tom Petty vibe road. A faultless mix of shimmering guitars and Americana.

While we are on the subject of end-of-year round ups, I put together this article for LeftLion called Top of the Notts 2014 - a run through 20 favourite Nottingham-related releases of the year.
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26 December 2014

The Cure - Hammersmith Apollo (21 December 2014)

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The merchandise adorned with an image of a spinning top should have given it away, but even that couldn’t prepare us for what a special night The Cure’s first of a three night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo would be.

Seeing The Cure in relatively ‘intimate’ surroundings was a refreshing change from the larger shows that they most often find themselves playing. I’ve seen them at outdoor festivals, the Royal Albert Hall, and at Wembley Arena - they were all great shows and spectacles, but nothing quite like tonight’s performance. Playing in this theatre to a majority hardcore Cure fan contingent really seemed to focus the band’s sound and they look and felt energised – Robert was playful, Simon was throwing shapes, and the whole band looked more relaxed than I’ve ever seen them before and it made for a stunning show. For all of the image of The Cure – big hair, eyeliner, black clothes – you can easily forget that lurking behind all that is a powerful rock band who have been harnessing their sound for over 35 years.

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If tonight The Cure sounded invigorated, so was their setlist. Away from festival headline slots, the band took the opportunity at this ‘Christmas show’ to dig deep and reunite themselves and their audience with some long forgotten treasures. Over a mammoth 40 song set what what we were essentially treated to was a 30th Anniversary Show for The Top.

Throughout the three hour long show, starting with the claustrophobic swirl of Shake Dog Shake, the band played all of 1984’s The Top, not in order but with tracks from the album scattered throughout the set, something the band probably hasn’t done since the album was released. Robert Smith had promised surprises during this run of shows, but I don’t think the sold out Hammersmith Apollo crowd has been expecting something quite like this.

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The songs from The Top sounded mighty as well, you would never have thought that many of the songs hadn’t been regularly performed. The album is an under-appreciated, and due to being largely ignored by the band in recent years, largely long-forgotten part of The Cure’s back catalogue. But the band did it justice, and in this setting it sounded full blooded, striking the right balance between the murky psychedelia, oddball weirdness and oppressive playfulness that runs throughout the songs. All in all the vibe was the right kind of heavy.

The Cure have mentioned doing a third set of Trilogy shows involving The Top, Head on the Door and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. These not-yet-announced trilogy shows must be in the back of the band’s mind as they play these Hammersmith Apollo dates. While we were treated to The Top in its entirety, the band also dusted off a couple of Head On The Door-era gems in the shape of Kyoto Song and the B-side A Man Inside My Mouth, with the Kiss Me… pick being a dusting-off of Like Cockatoos, which fitted in perfectly alongside the strangeness of The Top tracks.

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Keeping in mind that not everyone in attendance will be a hardcore Cure fan, the remainder of the main set tread a familiar path of hits, although played with renewed vigour; while the inclusion of Before Three was a personal highlight – a gorgeous song from the 2004 Ross Robinson produced The Cure LP.

After playing for two hours the band left the stage to return for four sets of encores that lasted well over an hour and felt like another show. The encores mainly focussed on The Cure’s early post-punk / pre-Pornography output. Charlotte Sometimes and M were pleasing inclusions, while the remaining The Top songs that featured were the first performance of The Empty World since 1984, Dressing Up, and Piggy In The Mirror (not played since ’97). The final set of encores made sure the night ended on an upbeat note as the band ran through some of their more poppy numbers ending on a blazing Hey You with its apt refrain of “Your the one that looks like Christmas”.

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As ever, Chain Of Flowers has a decent roundup of the show.

Setlist: The Cure, Eventim Apollo, London, UK, 12/21/14

1. “Shake Dog Shake”

2. “Kyoto Song”

3. “A Night Like This”

4. “alt.end”

5. “Wailing Wall” (First time since 1984)

6. “Bananafishbones”

7. “The Caterpillar”

8. “The Walk”

9. “A Man Inside My Mouth” (Live debut)

10. Close to Me”

11. Lullaby”

12. “High”

13. “Birdmad Girl”

14. “Just Like Heaven”

15. “Pictures of You”

16. “Before Three”

17. “Lovesong”

18. “Like Cockatoos” (First time since 2004)

19. “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”

20. “Want”

21. “The Hungry Ghost”

22. “One Hundred Years”

23. “Give Me It”

24. “The Empty World” (First time since 1984)

25. “Charlotte Sometimes”

26. “Primary”

27. “The Top”
Encore 2:

28. “Dressing Up”

29. “Piggy in the Mirror” (First time since 1997)

30. “Never Enough”

31. “Wrong Number”
Encore 3:

32. “Three Imaginary Boys”

33. “M”

34. “Play for Today”

35. “A Forest”
Encore 4:

36. “The Lovecats”

37. “Let’s Go to Bed”

38. “Why Can’t I Be You?”

39. “Boys Don’t Cry”

40. “Hey You!” (First time since 2004)
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17 December 2014

Grey Hairs - The Nottingham Christmas Covers Party 2014 (Full Performance)

Grey Hairs' set at The 13th Annual Nottingham Christmas Covers Party at The Bodega on Saturday 13 December 2014. 

They played: 
Dr Feelgood - She Does It Right
The Nerves - Hanging On The Telephone
Public Image Ltd - Public Image
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner

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7 December 2014

LeftLion Update

It's been a couple of months since my last update concerning LeftLion, so I thought that it was about time for another. I also want to keep this blog semi-regularly updated, even if it's with small updates like this while I think of something more interesting and worthwhile to post about. 

LeftLion Magazine Issue #61 Front Cover
The biggest news concerning LeftLion since my previous post is that following a successful Kickstarter campaign the magazine has now gone monthly. 

The first of the monthly magazines was issue #61. One of the best things about working on LeftLion is the opportunity to work with people I really admire and respect and this was the case when I asked Kagoule to take part in our 'photo interview' feature In Focus. This issue also included one of my favourite interviews that I've done for a long time. I often find interviews to be a frustrating experience, because if I haven't met the subject before it can take a while to warm-up and get a rapport going, which is when both parties relax and the conversation really starts flowing. Although in the limited time you often have to sit down and chat this doesn't always happen, meaning answers can be stunted and the person doesn't necessarily give you as good a response as you hoped or know you can get from them. This definitely wasn't the case when I met up with Nightbreed's Trevor Bamford in a pub on Mansfied Road. He spoke with the clarity and intelligence of someone who is passionate about the goth scene. I'm pleased with how my feature with him came out. We changed-up the music reviews section by trimming down the number of reviews to 8 from the previous number of 12 and introducing a longer 'featured' review, which in this issue was No Romeo by Indiana. I reviewed The Boot EP by Cappo, one of the best Notts hip hop releases for a long time. 

Issue #62 was the first monthly monthly magazine and for personal reasons - moving house and being overseas with work - I didn't do much writing for this issue although I was still involved with the usual admin and sorting things, but definitely not as active as I usually would be. Despite that I still had time to pitch in with the music reviews and gave my thoughts on the recent release by Trekkah

Away from the magazine, on the website I reviewed the first of two nights Sleaford Mods did at Spanky Van Dykes. I hadn't written many gig reviews recently before doing this one because I was getting tired of doing them and felt that I was repeating myself. I think the break did me some good as I approached this one with a clean slate and felt like I captured the spirit of the night and the band well, and it helped me re-think how to approach covering live shows. It's not often I can say this, but I feel pretty pleased with how it came out. I saw Owls and Fists at The Maze. Did a Q&A with the Berlin-based band Camera to help promote a show of theirs I was putting on at The Chameleon. The Sound of the Lion #30 podcast features tracks from the music reviewed in issue #61. Website Q&As are a good opportunity to cover an artist who may not seem 'typical' LeftLion material or isn't quite suitable for the magazine, which is why I enjoyed putting some questions to pop starlet Bianca and Seckou Keita. After a four year break the multi-venue charity music festival Hockley Hustle returned at the end of October and I was on hand to cover it. To accompany my Nightbreed article I collaborated with them to put together a Sound of the Lion: Goth Special that features songs from the Nottingham goth scene past and present. Natalie Duncan is an exceptional talent so it was a pleasure to ask her some questions and then go to Nottingham Contemporary to cover her epic night of collaboration with various Nottingham artists. One of my favourite new-ish acts in the city is Keto who, even though she has been performing around the city for a couple of years now, I have only shamefully been aware of, but I started to make amends by featuring her on the website. Finally, Sound of the Lion #31 has a song from each of the releases reviewed in issue #62. 
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16 November 2014

This Ain't A Hate Thing, It's A Love Thing

Lords - This Ain't A Hate Thing, It's A Love Thing

Early last week the band Lords put their entire back catalogue with the addition of loads of unreleased tracks and an entire live album up on Bandcamp. I started to compose this post on my birthday, and I'm not sure if this has caused me to get a bit nostalgic, but I it has compelled me to write about a particular gig of theirs that I attended.

2004 and 2005 was a pretty weird time for me. Like a lot of people of my generation and younger I graduated from university and stumbled in to some sort of vacuum where I didn't really know what I wanted to do with myself. Up to that point my life had been dictated by education, moving from one school to the other and then eventually to university without much of a plan for when I would do when it would end. Then in June 2004 it did end. I was now expected to think and fend for myself. What school and university don't prepare you for is the overwhelming sense of despair and misery that you will experience upon graduating.

I returned to Nottingham and moved three times between July 2004 and March 2005, and with the nagging emptiness I was feeling since finishing uni, it was a pretty strange time of my life. I was feeling anchorless and not really knowing what I wanted to do with myself. It was a period of transition and I was in a state of flux, neither here nor there.

My first priority was getting some money. So I did a series of temp jobs within various Nottingham City Council departments where I soon realised the much of the council is run by people who don't really know what they are doing and I was able to piss away most of the day posting on a Smashing Pumpkins forum and doing crosswords in the paper.

It was during one of these temp positions where I became friends with someone in the department I was working in. I can't remember how we first got talking, but I used to buy the NME every Wednesday and bring it in to the office, so we probably got talking about music over that. It transpired that we were in to a lot of the same things, and him being a bit older than me, he would also recommend bands and albums to me and was even able to score me a discount at Selectadisc. 

Nick was the drummer in a band he was in with his brother Andy called Clambake. I eventually started going to see Clambake play around Nottingham. Some of the nights got very drunk, but I remember watching them at various venues including Junktion 7, supporting Bob Logg III at The Bodega (then still The Social) and playing Drop In The Ocean in Rock City basement. It was my first introduction to a particular music scene in Nottingham, an underground DIY movement, and this was at the time where the indie-rock and garage-rock scenes briefly overlapped.

I soon left the department where Nick worked but we still stayed in touch and would meet up from time to time. He then invited me to a gig that even though I didn't know it at the time looking back would have a big impact on my life. It was one of those nights where things happened unexpectedly that would go on to affect my life much later on. A foreshadowing of some sort perhaps might be the best way to describe it. 

He invited me along to a gig that some of his friends were putting on. It was in an old Scout Hut / Community Centre in Sneinton and Nick also knew the guys in one of the bands that was playing that night called Lords. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists were also playing along with a third band who I couldn't for the life of me remember until I took a look on the internet. Turns out it was Red Monkey. 

Ted Leo, Red Monkey, Lords Poster
Poster by @Sumlin
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Red Monkey
Date: Saturday 5 March 2005
Venue: Green's Mill School Hall, Sneinton, Nottingham

I don't really remember that much about the bands if I'm honest. Lords were loud and I seem to recall the bands playing on a stage that had a white sheet hanging as a backdrop. There may or may not have been projections on that sheet. 

This was probably the first gig that I attended that truly exposed me to Nottingham's underground and DIY music scene. It made me realise that there was some sort of scene going on in Nottingham. And there were many people in the that night who would somehow indirectly or directly have some sort of presence and influence on my life, even if at the time I did not know it.

The show was put on by the Damn You! collective who seemed to deal in putting on interesting American indie rock acts and teaming them up with British bands of a similar spirit. Even for me as an outsider it was obvious that this was all motivated by the love of the music and making sure that everyone, both bands and audience, had the best experience possible. After this night if I wanted to go to a gig I would take a look at what Damn You! were organising and try and go along. I was exposed to numerous bands and nights including the legendary Annual Damn You Christmas Covers gigs where local bands would drunkenly wrestle songs by much more famous bands all for charity. It opened a door to a world that both appealed to me and that I felt connected to, I was amongst kindred spirits. I think I made my first foray in to writing gig reviews for LeftLion covering a few of these shows for the website. It definitely broadened my knowledge of what was going on in the local music scene.

At this gig I was introduced to a guy who I thought was going for an early 90s Neil Young look - big sideburns, kind of curtainy hair and plaid shirts. His name was Anton. I would eventually learn that Anton was something of a shit-hot promoter both with his own nights, that I think he was still doing at the time, and with local promotion company and venue owners DHP.

There was a table to the back of the room selling LPs and CDs. Nick showed be his band's album that was for sale that night called Gator In the Pool. It was on a label called Gringo Records. Even though I didn't really know who Gringo Records was, my interest was piqued, and like with Damn You! shows, Gringo Records became known to me as a signifier of music of a particular persuasion. I would check out Gringo Records bands and started to notice that many of them would play Damn You! nights and that this scene was interlinked, related and overlapping.

I went to an afterparty that night and stuck on how to get home one of the guitarists from Lords called Chris let me sleep on his sofa. As time went on and I attended more gigs, got involved with LeftLion, our paths would cross and we became more pally until the point where the other week he was helping me collect a sofa for my new house. There were probably a handful of other people in the room that night who I didn't know then, but now I know in some way. 

This post has been written over a few days and I'm probably not doing the best to explain how important that night was. But it was. Essentially in that room that night were a bunch of people that I would eventually become friends with and who helped influence (whether directly or indirectly) particular life decisions of mine. For one thing I do not think that I would have gotten involved with LeftLion if it wasn't for going along to that show. It's telling that my first piece of writing for LeftLion was only one month later, Quasi at the Rescue Rooms. Another odd coincidence is that the support band that night for Quasi was fronted by the host of the house party I went to after the gig at Green's Mill.   

I'm not really sure what the whole point of this post is except to document this particular moment in my life and to say that it's probably the gigs that you aren't expecting that turn out to be life-changing in some small way the way this show was. Going to watch Lords in a scout hut in Sneinton did change my life. 

Listen to Lords on Bandcamp
Lords Facebook page

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30 October 2014

Record Shopping in Tokyo

Record Shopping in Tokyo
I am very fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to Tokyo as part of my job. My recent visit in October 2014 was my third time visiting this year and reading about how Tokyo has around 700 record stores I thought I would try and squeeze in a bit of record buying while I was there.

A friend of mine has recently been posting about his favourite guitarists and one of them is a Japanese musician called Takeshi Terauchi who plays surf guitar and is notable for fronting the bands The Bunnys and The Blue Jeans.

I don’t think his records ever got released in the west, at least I don’t think they got a proper release in the UK, although a recent compilation has been put together choice cuts from the 60s and early 70s, spreading his music to curious new ears who may not have heard about him previously. With this list fresh in my mind I thought that seeing as I would be in Tokyo and planned to do some crate digging I would search out some Takeshi Terauchi records.

Tokyo is loaded with record stores from tiny rooms packed to the rafters with stacks of records to large warehouse type spaces and internationally known chain stores such as HMV and Tower Records. Thanks to a handful of really helpful blog posts I did a bit of research on the stores before I departed for Japan and focused on ones in Shinjuku and Shibuya knowing that I would be predominantly in these areas during my short work trip.

Due to time constraints, fitting in these visits around work appointments, and the vast size of Tokyo, I didn’t get the opportunity to visit all of the ones that I wanted to, which I think my wallet is thankful for. 

As a Western shopper whose understanding of the Japanese language is very limited, there were times where I couldn’t get my heard around how the records were ordered, but when I approached staff in the stores for assistance even though not many spoke any English they were all very helpful and pointed me in the correct section of the store; some would even get the LPs out of the shelves for me to take a look at. Pro tip: I found it useful to write down the name of the artist to show the staff.

In terms of the condition of the used records, I noticed that the Japanese appear to treat their records very well and the grading in the shops was very conservative. All of the records that I bought were in VG+ to almost pushing in to mint condition territory with the sleeves almost spotless too apart from a few signs of ageing.

Everything I bought and saw in the record stores was very reasonably priced too. I didn’t pay over £9 for any of the Takeshi Terauchi records, which is remarkable really. In fact that most expensive music that I bought was a new CD by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Time Records Takadanobaba
I hadn’t actually planned to go to this store. I was on my way to a meeting when I spotted a sign advertising a store selling second hand records. Once my meeting was over I popped in on my way back to Takadanobaba JR Station. This was a relatively small store compared to the others I visited, but was still well-stocked and superbly organised. After a few minutes of trying to get my head around how the records were organised I asked the man behind the register if they had any Takeshi Terauchi and he wasn’t too sure. So he rang his boss who appeared from somewhere and then proceeded to kindly look through the records until he pulled out a copy of Takeshi Terauchi and the Bunnys Let’s Go Classics as well as a seven inch. I decided to buy the LP and was gobsmacked to find that it was only 900 yen for a record that was in impeccable condition; I couldn’t see a mark on the vinyl and the sleeve looks just as fresh as they day it was originally released in 1967. Great shop and great service.
Takeshi Terauchi and The Bunnys - Let's Go Classics
Takeshi Terauchi and The Bunnys - Let's Go Classics

Recofan Shibuya
Located in the Shibuya Beam building, this is the kind of store that I could have spent hours in going through their extensive selection of records that were displayed in boxes, racks and on shelves. The shop was of warehouse size proportions and as well having lots of used and new vinyl records they also had a massive range of DVDs and CDs for sale too. There were plenty of discounted ‘bargain bins’ dotted around the floor for a spot of rummaging.  Due to the sheer vastness of the place they are able to stock a wide variety of music and from what I noticed had a good mix of both Western and Japanese music that didn’t just focus of rock, I saw hip hop and dance music sections too. As was the case in most of the stores that I visited, the majority of the labeling and signage was in Japanese meaning it took a while to get my head around where particular records could be found and how they were ordered.  When I approached the girl pricing up records about where I could find the Takeshi Terauchi records, she didn’t speak any English, but I showed her his name and she very kindly took me the correct section.  They had the largest amount of Takeshi Terauchi records out of any of the stores I visited and I ended up buying another copy of Let’s Go Classical (that I am going to gift to the friend who turned me on to his music) as well as two copies of Takeshi Terauchi and Blue Jeans Let’s Go Eleki Bushi by mistake – the original 1966 version and a 1971 re-release with gatefold sleeve. Recofan is definitely worth a visit if you plan on going record shopping in Tokyo and if you do go make sure to give yourself a fair bit of time to do so.  Highly recommended.
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi (1966)

Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi (1971)

Tower Records Shibuya
Apparently (according to Wikipedia that is) Tower Records in Shibuya is one of the biggest music retail spaces in the word. I find it remarkable that living in a country where record stores are almost becoming a thing of a by-gone age, Tokyo is still able to accommodate so many different stores from chains to small independents. It’s pleasing to see Tower Records still going over in Japan and the store in Shibuya is an impressive landmark building. Unlike the other stores that I visited Tower Records sells new releases and has 9 floors rammed with CDs, DVD, Books, Comics and all sorts of merchandise. There’s also a Tower Records Shinjuku, and alongside the at least two HMVs that I saw in Shibuya, it’s pleasing to see that Japan still has a culture and desire to both pay for music and invest in the physical product. The previous two times I have visited Tokyo I have passed this store numerous times on the way to meetings but never had the opportunity to go in, so on this visit I made sure that I remedied that. I didn’t spend too long here and headed straight to the J-Pop floor to buy a copy of the latest Kyary Pamyu Pamyu album Pika Pika Fantajin. It set me back around £13 which is a bit more than what new CDs cost here in the UK and is how much they used to cost in the 90s. I don’t really buy many CDs anymore, especially for new music as I tend to buy the vinyl, but being a fan of her music I thought it made sense to buy it and especially as I don’t think it ever got a physical release over here. It took me a while to actually find her section in the racks due to the confusing way the artists were ordered; it appeared to be that some were ordered by first time while others by last.  
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Tower Records Shibuya
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu display in Tower Records Shibuya

Disc Union Shinjuku
Disc Union is a large Japanese chain store that predominantly (I think) sells used vinyl and CDs, but I also saw some cassettes when I was there too. What is probably unthinkable for a record store in the UK, they have various stores that specialise in different genres. For example in Shinjuku alone they have individual stores for genres like Heavy Metal, Latin, Jazz, Blues. I headed to the main store in Shinjuku that was spread over 8 floors of music. I didn’t spend too long here and headed for the basement which is where the Japanese related used vinyl and CDs are located. Although a narrow building, pretty much every wall and floor space was utilised for storing and displaying the records making for some very cramped conditions down in that tiny basement room. Again, I couldn’t work out where the records I was looking for were but after asking the man behind the counter he very helpfully went to the section and pulled out the records for me to look for. Their Takeshi Terauchi selection wasn’t that great to be honest and I didn’t end up buying anything, which I felt bad about as the man was really helpful. But the shop was very busy with customers and seemed to be the type of place to go to if you are up for a good rummage to find a bargain or two.

Strangelove Records Shinjuku
I actually only stumbled across this store by accident, although I had read about it on one of the blog posts I have highlighted below. I was in the Nish-Shinjuku area just North West of Shinjuku train station looking for another record store that was in an area made up of a few low-rise older looking buildings set out on a grid type arrangement. Wandering around it seemed that this area was made up of lots of interesting looking independent establishments from cafes, shops and even a recording studio. Although I didn’t actually find the record store that I was looking for I noticed a handful of interesting looking record stores, including one that specialised in dance music and another that stocked reggae and dub, so it’s definitely an area worth investigating for a spot of crate-digging if you have some time on your hands. After giving up and deciding to head back to my hotel I spotted the sign for Strangelove Records and intrigued headed up the stairs to the store. This was a long and narrow store with shelves piled to the ceiling with what seemed to be mainly bootleg CDs and DVDs. I wasn’t looking for bootlegs particularly, so I didn’t pick anything up, but they had an interesting selection and is probably worth popping in if you wanted to buy a live recording by a rock band. Most of the DVD and CDs I pulled out to look at looked to be priced at around 3,000 yen which I thought was quite pricey compared to the price of the used vinyl, but there was a Zwan recording for the bargain price of 800 yen that I now regret not buying. 

Tokyo is a vinyl lovers paradise and if I get the opportunity to go again I will definitely be making time to visit its record stores. 

I found these blog posts and websites very useful for researching which record stores to visit before my trip to Tokyo:
http://mostly-retro.com/2013/04/16/the-mostly-retro-guide-to-buying-records-in-japan/ (this site also includes a link to a useful Google Map of Tokyo record stores)
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21 September 2014

In Appreciation of Adore by Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins Adore

1996 was the beginning of the end for the Smashing Pumpkins. On 21 July, midway through their 14-month, 173-date, world-straddling Infinite Sadness tour in support of their over-blown opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the band’s touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin overdosed on a potent mixture of heroin and alcohol known as ‘Red Rum’. He and Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain had been injecting the drug at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan. Attempts by Chamberlain to revive Melvoin by putting his head under a running shower came to nothing. Melvoin was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

It would later transpire that this was the third time Chamberlain and Melvoin had overdosed on the tour. Chamberlain was sacked from the band with immediate effect and checked in to rehab. 

Prior to Melvoin’s death, on 11 May at a date at the Point Theatre in Dublin, 17 year old fan Bernadette O’Brian was crushed by the surging crowd. Her life-support was disconnected shortly after. Four other fans were also injured at the show. During the same year, Chamberlain’s father passed away, Billy Corgan separated from his wife (they would divorce in ‘97), and in December his mum Martha died from cancer.

The spectre of death, drugs, divorce and drama would drape themselves around the Smashing Pumpkins like a ghostly veil and directly influence the making of the band’s next LP, Adore.

With Chamberlain now out of the band and replaced for live duties by Matt Walker (previously of Filter, now with Morrisey), the stubborn and single-minded Corgan dragged the limping, patched-up Pumpkins through the remainder of the tour in to early 1997.

In aftermath of the Infinite Sadness tour Corgan started experimenting with ecstasy, downers, and magic mushrooms. But, perhaps most distressing of all, became best pals with schlock-rocker Marilyn Manson - surely a sign that Corgan, if he hadn’t done so already, was slowly unraveling and starting to lose his mind. Instead of taking a much needed break, he dived straight in to writing the band’s next album.

With his closest musical ally, and the band’s powerful beating heart, Chamberlain no longer on the scene, Corgan wanted to craft an album that welded together acoustic sounds with his love of electronic music. Adore is unlike anything else in the Smashing Pumpkins discography: dark, brooding and quiet; the sound of a bald, early 30-something megalomaniac gently sobbing to himself by candlelight. Corgan was a man whose world was falling apart around him and he wanted the world to know.

If fans of the band’s first two albums, Gish and Siamese Dream, were put off by the outrageous indulgent extravagance of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, then its follow-up would send the majority of fans running away in their millions, with many never returning. Where were the dreamy power chords? The monster drums? That nasal whine? The things that had made the Pumpkins and defined their sound were now been banished from their music. This would be a brave move and one that would go on to cost the band and from which they would never recover.

Like Neil Young and his ‘ditch trilogy’, Corgan was at the peak of his creative and commercial powers, and reacted to close personal tragedy, as well as the pressures of creating a follow-up to a multi-platinum selling album, by creating music that was unlike anything he had produced before. Previous albums had seen Corgan full of rage and spitting venom against a barrage of thick, juggernaut-sized riffs. Now he was writing songs dripping with heartache that tried to get to grips with his emotional turmoil and make sense of his changing world.

Out of this mess and chaos came music that was enriched with beauty and honesty, elements that you could argue had never really been present in Corgan’s songwriting before, and haven’t been in his music since. Adore was a brave record and it’s telling that Corgan would never again make an album like it ever again.

The band moved to LA to record the album at the legendary Sound City Studios. But instead of sun-soaked harmonies that channeled Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty, what the listener got instead was sadness and sorrow, a rainy autumn afternoon of a record that tipped its hat to bedsit indie of The Cure and early New Order. And it was glorious.

Always one of the most dysfunctional bands, Corgan had wanted to the band to live together while they recorded the album, but only D’arcy Wretzky was up for this and joined him in a rented mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Significantly, James Iha opted to stay away and lived on his own in a hotel. The band were drifting apart and would eventually split in 2000.

Recording sessions followed a similar pattern, with Corgan working on his own most of the time, with Wretzky and Iha only dropping by when needed. While much of Gish and most of Siamese Dream was made in this way, without his buddy Chamberlain by his side and behind the drum kit, Corgan had become a loner in his own band. This feeling of loneliness and solitude seeped in to the sound of Adore. 

Upon first listening to the record, as soon as the plucked acoustic guitar and hushed vocals of To Sheila started you realised that this was the Smashing Pumpkins like you had never heard them before. Gone was the bombast of old and in its place was a new found intimacy, with Corgan gently singing in to the mic as if he’s whispering in to you ear.

The release of Adore was preceded with the release of kind-of title track and single, Ava Adore. Its mechanised percussive pulse and clanging guitars, with Corgan wailing “We must never be apart” like a man in the midst of a full-blown existential crisis, was far cry from the grunge behemoths of a Zero or a Bullet With Butterfly Wings. The music video for Ava Adore was the first time the wider world got a glimpse of the Adore-era Pumpkins. Gone were the silver trousers and ‘Zero’ t-shirts, and instead we saw Corgan stalking around something that looked like the set to an Eastern European porno shoot like Uncle Fester dressed in Count Dracula’s pyjamas, while his bandmates reluctantly milled around in the background like a pair of mardy teenagers who have been dragged along to their parent’s swingers party. Not a smile is cracked, Corgan wanting us to know that this was music to be taken seriously. 

The band didn’t make life easy for themselves by coming across as po-faced goths who had had a sense of humour transplant. This was a long way from making out on trippy ice cream van journeys or playing guitars with toy guns, so there’s no surprise that huge swathes of the public turned their backs on the band and Adore ended up selling noticeably less than Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. But those fans that jumped ship missed out on the finest music the Smashing Pumpkins and Billy Corgan would ever produce. Adore is the sound of a stripped-back Smashing Pumpkins, the band taking their music apart and re-building it from the ground up. The music was uncertain and brittle mirroring Corgan’s worries and fears. 

Adore often feels like an elegy to the recently departed. Corgan dealing with the death of his mother in the rolling acoustic of Once Upon A Time, Crestfallen’s tear-stained lament, and the sombre epic For Martha. Perfect, its electronic beat going over similar terrain to 1979, is quite clearly a lover-letter to abandoned drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. The squelching stomp of Pug is a bitter riposte to his ex-wife.

Chamberlain’s absence allowed the band to open up their sound to different elements and textures, doing away with any real drums and injecting many of the songs with electronic percussive crunch that sounded like jackboots marching over gravel.

The parts of the album that shy away from the more processed elements are focussed around Corgan and his piano. It’s these songs that provide the real, stark, stand-out moments on the album. The desperation of Annie-Dog (took me years to figure out what ‘Hong Kong glue’ meant – I was naïve) and the heartache of Blank Page (which features live drums by Matt Walker); these are songs without their make-up on - raw and exposed to the world. Corgan’s voice is dry and croaky as he plays simple chords on his piano.

The name Smashing Pumpkins may have been written on the sleeve of the album, but for all intent and purposes Adore is pretty much a Billy Corgan solo album, more so then any other Smashing Pumpkins record (we are talking pre-reunion here). Even still, there are a couple of moments that feature the band playing together and sounding, well, like a band. Shame is one of those rare moments. Corgan on piano, Iha on E-bowed guitar, Wretzky on bass, huddled around a simple drum machine like they would have been when they first started out. It’s no coincidence then that this is one of album’s standout moments, proper shivers down the spine territory. The other is For Martha, another special moment where the whole band are present, pulling together to create something magical that lifts the album towards the heavens.

Adore may have been a strategic re-think by Corgan, an attempt to re-focus the band’s music after the departure of Chamberlain, but fragments of the elements that are ‘typically’ Smashing Pumpkins can still be found littered throughout the record. The distorted sonic abuse of Pug is the closest Adore gets to that classic Smashing Pumpkins wall-of-sound; Tear is the band at their melodramatic best, indulgent, dramatic and over the top; and even on this most downbeat of records there is still room for the Smashing Pumpkins trope of intentionally misspelling words or inserting puns in to song titles – Appels + Oranjes, Behold The Night Mare, Tear. 

By 1998 grunge was dead. Pop, R’n’B and Nu-Metal reigned supreme. Adore was an album out of step and out of time and found itself lost in the cracks of this shifting musical landscape. To paraphrase Sharon Osbourne, Billy Corgan might have been a bald twat in a dress, but for a short period of time he channeled his sadness, loss and heartache in to a record of genuine emotional integrity and crafted a collection of songs that were beautiful, elegant, and above all else, honest. 

Smashing Pumpkins release the Adore box set on Monday 6 October 2014.

Smashing Pumpkins website

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