(L-R): P. Brewis, D. Brewis, Andrew Moore (who left the band and is now training to be a chef. True fact)

So rather this than talk, grab your keys and get to work / Cos them that do nothing make no mistakes” – Field Music – Them That Do Nothing

I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that Peter Brewis is a bit of a genius.  Make sure to watch him during a Field Music set – the care and precision with which he works his way through odd but wholly methodical, inside-out drum patterns, the adeptness with which he plays every instrument, his seeming immunity to error – the way he conducts and encourages the new band members, guitarist Kevin Dosdale and bassist Ian Black, cajoling them with conspiratorial looks and broad grins.  Also check the solo album he produced during Field Music’s hiatus, as The Week That Was (why did it take me so long to work out how good that record is?

We’re a few months ahead of the release of the new album, which the band have decided to call Field Music, even though their first album was also called Field Music.  Somebody somewhere has added the word Measure in brackets to distinguish the two.

The group play a lot of new material during their 90-minute set and are typically eager to thank their audience for the opportunity.  Let’s call it an advance road-test, at a very reasonable door tariff – £7  is not a lot more than you pay to see a bunch of no-marks at a ‘showcase night’, over at the dear old Night & Day.

At first listen, the new stuff sounds definitely, proudly English, in a way that not many groups do any more, since it became the overwhelming cultural norm to draw almost your entire sphere of influence from the American underground and canon.  Field Music have never sounded remotely American and for that, they should be applauded.

There’s a streak of the seventies running through their sound, very definitely a touch of early Roxy Music, even a little Pink Floyd (a group whose sound and ethos I’ve always rejected). I once met Peter at a Futureheads concert – I still feel guilty for distracting him as he tried to enjoy the headliners – and remember being somewhat stunned when I asked who their main influences were and he just said ‘Queen’.  Full stop.   Queen were, to me, everything that was wrong with music.  Yet here was a group whose intriguing, canny music was giving me so much pleasure and there was the influence, from right out of the Red Zone, as far as I was concerned.  Balls, another preconception to be dismantled.

Back to the Deaf Institute show. For now, it’s hard to unpick the lock of the new material.  It’s dextrously played, never formulaic, riddled with ideas, time signature changes, unexpected twists.  That prog inclination rears its head when Dosdale and David Brewis play twin lead guitar with slightly abashed smiles (‘are we actually allowed to do this?’). The odd dip into the back catalogue rewards the faithful, but there’s no Closer At Hand, no You Can Decide – a particularly vivacious rendition of the latter moons ago at The Roadhouse is still one of my favourite ever live moments.  We do get Shorter, Shorter, If Only The Moon Were Up and an encore of It’s Not The Only Way To Feel Happy, but plenty of gems are missing – which is a great sign in itself.

Now I’ve been fortunate enough to hear the new record, I can tell you it’s a double album, which is something in itself.  Who makes double albums?  Since punk orthodoxy became the default, the idea of a rock album that doesn’t fit onto one side of a C90 has been somewhat verboten.  Double albums were pomp-rock excess and prog long-windedness.  But iTunes and so forth changes the concept of the album, which can now be as long or as short as you like.  If you don’t like a track, just deselect it.  Re-order the tracks, if you want.  Fuck it.  An album’s just a collection of songs.  The group give you a proposed order, but once you have it, it’s yours to deconstruct.

If Queen are OK, everything I have ever believed must be reassessed. Even YES might be acceptable...

Independence, goddamnit!  Field Music have their own studio, they produce music as they like.  They talked seriously about getting proper jobs, so they didn’t have to bother with the PR duties that go with being a ‘professional band’ and could just work at home in the evenings.  They’d do music whether they made money out of it or not.  They don’t think they’re rock stars.  They don’t want to be rock stars.  Peter’s defiant chorus line from the superb new track Them That Do Nothing sums them up very nicely indeed – that attitude is what I love about them.

Field Music are starting to become an English institution and we’re well short of those.  That they went on ‘official hiatus’ after their second LP, Tones of Town, was worrying for the state of the musical nation; that they are back is a great relief.  Their originality, work ethic and commitment is an inspiration.  Hopefully, that lengthy hiatus has had the desired effect and they’ll kick on from here.

euros_3

Euros Childs

Euros Childs went overground when his youthful, eccentric (and fitfully brilliant) band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci signed a major label record deal in the late 90s.  He’s still writing eccentric (and sometimes brilliant) songs to this day, but now, they feature lines like ‘Write a song and send it off / Sign a contract and get ripped off’.

Elsewhere in a stripped-down set culled from the new Son of Euro Child LP (available for free here), Childs pays homage to bread (‘not the TV show or the shit band, the foodstuff’) and claims to have written another song whilst house-sitting for Ian McShane – then adorns a superficially inoffensive pop number, How Do You Do, with the lyric ‘If I had a monkey, he would shit in your shoes’, before shifting it into another world entirely with an unsettling, deliberately off-key chorus croon.

You have to wonder how this uniquely talented but musically wilful man ever found himself in bed with The Man – it’s about as logical as the remorselessly experimental Faust being signed as ‘the German Beatles’.  Still, the pioneering spirit of John Cale flows through Childs’ frequently delicious melodies (although there’s no attempt at the VU man’s granite-stern grandeur) and his restless creativity means that people will always have  time for him. Childs is a bit of a wizard in an era where magic doesn’t happen.  Long may he run.

lovejoy

'Euros mate, I'm off to film another series of Deadwood - can you pop round and look after the yucca plant whilst I'm gone? Feel free to have a tinkle on the baby grand."

Yo La Tengo‘s spectrum ranges from the fiery (Ira Kaplan’s unhinged guitar storms are frequently unleashed tonight) to the delicate and restrained (Georgia Hubley’s perfect drumming and muted, reflective vocal style are also often permitted to shine, best exemplified by the new and beautiful When It’s Dark, which sounds gorgeous with just two acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.)

Possibly the evening’s only clunker is Avalon Or Someone Very Similar, which swoons wonderfully on the new and excellent album Popular Songs, but fails live, because Kaplan simply can’t sing that high.  In fact, I assumed Hubley took lead vocal on the song and was very puzzled to see the grizzled guitarist attempting a strangled castrato – you’ve heard better vocal performances at a ‘showcase night’  on a wet Tuesday in the Night & Day.

Fortunately, this misjudgement aside, all is well. For the intellect, there’s the bloody-minded, hypnotic growl of More Stars Than There Are In Heaven, powered by bassman James McNew’s metronomic baritone guitar thrum.  Then Periodically Double or Triple, which drops in on the line ‘Never read Proust, seems a little too long’, before proceeding on a loose-limbed bent, incorporating a cheeky Smile-era Beach Boys interlude and a fifteen-second pause.

YoLaTengo

For the indie rockers among us who want to dance, the frankly barnstorming Something To Hide provokes widespread delight, even without the killer organ riff that picks up and carries the chorus on the record.  Then there’s the timeless Sugarcube, from the classic I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One LP – as resplendent as ever – and a triumphant encore cover of Bob Dylan’s I Wanna Be Your Lover, with keyboards from Childs and his bassist Stephen Black (who performs solo as Sweet Baboo and played an excellent set at Fuel in Withington recently).  Kaplan teases the audience by saying ‘when we come to a city, we like to do a cover that’s connected, but we couldn’t think of any bands from Manchester’.  But of course, the legendary ‘Albert Hall’ (er, try Free Trade Hall) ’66 Dylan and The Hawks bootleg was recorded here.  Kaplan’s no Dylan, but the band whoop it up in fine style.

That capped it, or so we thought – but at the insistence of one totally determined audience member, the band stay on for one more, flickering through the candlelit, dusky You Can Have It All, an inspired reinvention of what was originally a George McCrae funk number.  It was a wonderful call from our friend in the crowd and I’m grateful for what followed – it was a special, rare moment of genuinely fine musicality.

Yet more much-needed magic to confound my cynicism.

19804mountain-goats-03-reel

John Darnielle is not a rock star.  Bespectacled, middle-aged, unrepentantly unremarkable in appearance, he has forged his reputation without recourse to fancy tricks.  He’s not even a great musician – his guitar style is very simple, he misses chord changes, his piano-playing is far from flub-free.  No, the reason Darnielle has a sold out Ruby Lounge singing almost every word of most of his songs back at him is the quality of his writing.

Once he twigs that his devotees can sing Up The Wolves just as well as he can, he laughs, pulls away from he mic and lets them do it.  Afterwards, smiling, he says, ‘I used to dream that maybe if I became a good songwriter, British people would sing my song back to me in a pub’.

Obviously whip-smart, Darnielle’s frenetic rhythm guitar and intensely rapped vocal is matched by a hugely enjoyable line in banter. Tonight, he fits in plenty of older numbers for the hardcore fans, as well as a selection from the excellent new album, The Light of the World to Come.  His total command of his audience means he’s able to deliver the brilliant, high-tempo relationship-breakdown blast No Children alongside the difficult, tender, genuinely moving Matthew 25:21, a song that manages to address losing a loved one to cancer without sounding trite, histrionic or schmaltzy.  This song, more than any other aired tonight, reveals the depth of intelligence and emotion behind the writing.

mountain-goats-life-of-world-to-come

Darnielle’s more extrovert, splenetic side is hugely entertaining and has gained him his ultra-loyal band of followers, but the sheer class of the songwriting on Life of the World to Come serves notice that he is an artist in his prime, deserving of a much wider following.  For now though, it’s just extremely encouraging to see such a literate, unconventional and brave songwriter connecting with a fanbase that makes up its lack of numbers with the bookish ardour of its faith.

After another song is delivered back to Darnielle by the fans without a missed lyric, he stops and says, ‘you guys are obviously way awesome’.

It could have been stagecraft, but I think he genuinely meant it.

Link to free mp3 download of Genesis 3:23 from the new album – which could well the best free download anyone gives you this year.

Before the show, Jason Molina (who is tiny) wandered happily around the venue complex, passing me about three or four times. First, he was watching support act The Bitter Tears, next, he came out for a fag out front (enjoying the fact that he turned heads with this appearance, he held up the ‘V’ for peace sign and lit up), then he passed me in the corridor, by this time, suited up for the show. I patted him on the back.

The younger Ollie would have accosted him at some point – I mean, I had enough chances – but I’m almost 30, don’tcha know. Let the man get on with his life and the show. My role is to spectate and annotate. Or as Denny put it when we went along to see Molina play solo at The Mint Lounge in Manchester, ‘what would you say to him? You don’t want to get too close to that sort of greatness’.

I don’t know if Jason Molina is one of the greats. Too often, his songs revisit the same themes – the first time, they hit, by the third time, you sense a little artifice – and the sound of tonight’s set is essentially one-dimensional. It’s an awesome, old-time electric rock dimension, but nevertheless, non-aficionado friends of mine are left feeling that the show was a little samey.

But he was rocking up old acoustic gems like Whip Poor Will – and adding hugely impressive layers of distortion and mystery to Talk To Me Devil, Again, which on record, is a lovely, chiming dream! Sure, but if you’re not familiar with the songs in the first place, it just sounds like another stern, musicianly blast, from the same Neil Young & Crazy Horse lineage as the last.

I took one look at The Bitter Tears, dressed up as they were in varying shades of preposterousness and wrote them off, before smirking and deciding to stick around and watch for a while. The singer, in white face-paint, hotpants, tights and a red, sparkly top (and straw Stetson) broke off from an excellent song from the PoV of a trucker who’s just run over a dog on the freeway to jump into a wary, reserved audience. He gets back onto the stage and unsuccessfully tries some banter, before giving in with one last shot; ‘don’t worry, the jam band Magnolia Electric Co will be here soon… then you won’t have to think too much’.

I wonder, does he have a point? But in the end, I’ve decided ‘no’. An evening watching Molina kick out the jams is fine reward for his fans, who have followed him through his lengthy, varied career.

There is pain in Jason Molina songs, cryptic symbolism, forlorn love – ‘static and distance’, many haunting images. All the violence of nature, many bleak, empty landscapes and endless variations on the theme of love. At his best, there are few songwriters capable of provoking such emotional resonance….

Fuck it, let’s rock for an hour.

Of course, there are numerous cuts from new album Josephine, with which I’m not yet acquainted – but previous Magnolia albums are well represented, especially What Comes After The Blues. The Dark Don’t Hide It, one of Molina’s poppiest tunes, benefits from the crunchy ambience of the silver-grilled Fender valve amps, more so perhaps than the awesome Hammer Down, which suits the nakedness of Molina + acoustic guitar superbly.

Elsewhere, Talk To Me Devil, Again surpasses the (gorgeous) Fading Trails version so spectacularly, it almost calls for a re-recording – and the classic Magnolia Electric Co LP gets two references. Riding With The Ghost makes for a stirring opening salvo, before a neat bookend set is completed by a suitably huge encore of John Henry Split My Heart. This full-blooded barrage follows audience requests / pleas for Farewell Transmission. ‘Oh, we’ve got something to top that’, drawls Molina. He doesn’t, but the unexpected lurch into mid air across the Grand Canyon-expanse of John Henry is nevertheless a fan’s delight.

Other than that, we get treated to some serious guitar riffs from Jason Groth – one or two friends felt his style was a bit overkill, but I love him for his aggressive, dominant lead, which is not promoted so high in the mix as to be over-the-top. Again, those I spoke to say that Molina’s voice was drowned out a bit by the band – nah. I’ve heard Molina sing plenty. I know what he’s saying. Let me bask in the amp power for an hour.

That’s where the singer from The Bitter Tears was dead wrong and that’s his problem. By hiding his undoubted intelligence behind a misanthropic facade, Alan Scalpone, who could do much better, who could go further, chooses not to. Molina has said so much in his career and provoked so much admiration for his songwriting, that to describe Magnolia Electric Co as a ‘jam band’, whether in jest or not, was another blooper on the road to the end.

(250-worder for citylife.co.uk)

When Damon & Naomi started recording together in the early 90s, they didn’t consider playing live, thinking a band without a rhythm section would be ‘the worst kind’. It’s credit to their talent that they made it work, especially as the duo started out played bass and drums themselves.

Naomi Yang is a renowned bassist, having developed a unique approach to the four-string whilst with the influential, reverb-soaked 80s indie stars Galaxie 500. Tonight, however, she plays synth, producing suitably celestial organ tones to flesh out Damon Krukowski’s simple, resonant acoustic guitar. High and higher harmonies hang in the air and the music floats serenely, unencumbered by the earthy tones of the traditional rhythm section.


Clearly blessed with enormous brains, Damon & Naomi chat amiably between songs, sharing urbane jokes about misheard lyrics and apologising for selling ‘coals to Newcastle’ by performing an English folk song – the stark, beautiful ballad ‘Cruel Queen’. This, along with the sumptuous ‘New York City’ and stormily graceful ‘I’m Yours’ (both on new compilation album The Sub Pop Years) are the highlights of a classy set. In spite of the glacial pace of the songs, the show spins past quickly and seems over before it’s even begun.

It’s strange to see legendary indie figures in your local pub, but such is the way of things since Dulcimer became a full-time microvenue. A word of warning, though – arrive early if you’re coming to a show here, as you won’t see much from the back.

This Friday is a big day, not just for Manchester music, but for UK music in general.

They're BACK!!! Tha mutha-fuckin' LONGCUT!

They're BACK!!! Tha mutha-fuckin' LONGCUT!

The Longcut – one of this city’s finest bands – make their much-anticipated return to live duty with a show at The Deaf Institute, ahead of a second album that proves they’re here for the long haul.

Expansive, intelligent, potent and urgent, Open Hearts will delight exisiting fans and convert swathes of the uninitiated to The Longcut’s cause.

Open Hearts is an incredibly natural-sounding, confident recording, which demonstrates the strides the band have made since the release of debut album A Call and Response in 2006.

By turns searing, forbidding, meditative and reflective, its beautifully poised, occasionally ferocious sound is an inviting backdrop for lead vocallist and drummer Stuart Ogilvie.

Ogilvie’s voice has always split opinion. Fans love him for his impassioned, yearning delivery and candid, emotionally forthright lyrics, whereas others remain totally immune to his style, citing a limited vocal range.

The singer himself is aware of this.

“I’ve started to sing a lot more on this album, really trying to use the full range of my voice on a lot of the songs”, he explains.

“I think a few people are going to be a bit surprised.”

Whatever your opinion, it’s undeniable that Ogilvie has an instantly recognisable, easily mimicable tone, in the same way that Bob Dylan does.  And even his detractors will be unable to deny that Open Hearts shows Ogilvie to have developed exponentially since the last Longcut record.

His Bobness - Has his detractors

His Bobness - Has his detractors

Since A Call And Response, he has added more subtlety and variety to his core approach – the unmistakable, signature yowl that elevated the fearsome instrumental churn of early singles ‘Transition’ and ‘A Quiet Life’, songs which match anything produced in Manchester this decade for soul-stirring, anthemic fire.

It’s those mercurial, thunderous songs that never fail to incite their loyal hometown crowd, who never fail to see a local Longcut performance as an excuse to kick off in style.  So the group’s long-awaited return to live action at The Deaf Institute – itself developing a fine reputation as a live music venue – promises to make for a sensational night.

“We miss the madness and the adrenaline so much when we haven’t played in ages. We’re planning a pretty full-on set”, promises Ogilvie.

And why not, when their fans turn the floor into a writhing mass of sweaty excess every time they hit full speed?

“It’s just a shame we can’t get in there with the fans and properly experience it”, laughs Ogilvie.  “It looks like fun in there!”

Not that anyone should believe that The Longcut are simply a high-energy live act, intent on giving the kids what they want.

The lyrics to ‘Something Inside’, say, detail the aftermath of the hedonistic impulse, whilst its brooding bassline stalks the wired, distressed vocal.  Then the album’s title track features a tender vocal delivery and patient, unimpulsive, slowburn build.

Then there’s the superb, tech-pop swirler ‘Repeated’.  This stand-out track builds on the template of the underrated ‘Tried and Tested Method’, from A Call and Response – and when its chorus resolves itself into a moment of logical, inevitable glory, you’re left wondering how something so complex can sound so organic.

A Call and Response - top debut, topped.

A Call and Response - top debut, topped.

Simply put, it’s the human touch that Ogilvie’s, well, open-hearted delivery adds to the stern, almost Teutonic efficiency of the musical machine manned by bassist Jon Fearon and guitarist Lee Gale.

They’re a thinking man’s band, who use their brains first and hit the overdrive pedal second – and when it matters.

Perhaps fittingly for a group whose new record affirms their unique, groundbreaking sound, The Longcut have even handled the release of Open Hearts in a distinctive way.

The album is now available for pre-order, but fans who reserve it will be permitted to download the mp3 or FLAC files instantly, before receiving their CD or vinyl copy when it comes out on Melodic Records in October.

The reasoning behind this is linked to a major problem faced by bands in the internet age – the issue of advance ‘promo’ copies of albums being leaked onto the web, meaning that new records by high-profile bands are routinely heard by digitally savvy fans far in advance of official release date.

“Our biggest concern was people getting hold of a poor quality version of the record before it even came out”, explains Ogilvie.

“This way, we know that everybody listening to it, whether pirated or not, is going to be hearing it as it should be heard.”

“Almost every album that’s released now is out unofficially on torrent sites two months or so before it’s in the shops, so we’re allowing people to get a high quality version from us instead”, adds bassist Jon Fearon.

Are the band upset to think that Open Hearts – painstakingly compiled with production help from close friend David Jones, of Nine Black Alps – will be accessible to online pirates for free?

“It’s a problem you can’t solve without overhauling and limiting the internet, which isn’t going to happen,” considers Fearon.

“You have to be realistic that not everyone who likes you will buy the record, but personally, I feel a bit guilty if I’m constantly listening to a band that I’ve not supported in any way.”

“Worse piracy has happened at sea”, shrugs Ogilvie – but it’s a knotty problem and one that does impact upon the chances for artists, especially independently-releasing ones, to make a living from their music.

Piracy - "it's wrong... It's wrong!"

Piracy - "it's wrong... It's wrong!"

“Bands will always need investment from somewhere, so if there’s no money from records, they’ll have to sign away something else to get the cash that labels used to provide”, says Fearon.

“I do think bands should try and do things themselves and keep control as much as possible though.”

This last statement is not just rhetoric.

By recording Open Hearts independently, The Longcut have given the lie to the apathetic convention that bands can’t do anything without the help of major labels and a huge budget.

Parting company with their previous label, Sony, only seems to have galvanised and liberated the group as a creative force.  Such heavy blows have crushed many a promising British band, but The Longcut are made from steelier stuff than most.

As the oddly-titled, but scenic and impressive piano-led study ‘Boom’ prettily burbles from my speakers, I think about the hard graft that has gone into the making of Open Hearts – not just the recording process, but the construction of each song.

The sleek lines and watertight integrity of each structure leave me in mind of a monstruous, beautiful ocean liner, carving an inexorable path through difficult waters.

“I think we’ve become a lot more tight as a band.  There’s a few tricks on Open Hearts that we couldn’t have pulled a few years ago”, decides Ogilvie.

"We've become tighter as a band"

"We've become tighter as a band"

“I think on Call and Response, everything was just so intense that it could get a bit much at times. This album is much better balanced.”

Meanwhile, the very title of this album reflects the songs’ lyrical candour perfectly.

“I’ve tried to rely a lot less on metaphor to express my feelings on this album and I think that’s brought out an honesty and an emotional core to the lyrics”, says Ogilvie.

“There were times when I had to stop and question whether some of the words I was writing seemed too obvious or clichéd, but then I could never think of a better or clearer way to express them.  I hope that makes it easier for people to relate or connect to the songs on the album.”

The Longcut play The Deaf Institute on Friday June 12th, with support from Kingtree & The Roots.

‘Open Hearts’ is available to preorder on CD or vinyl from http://thelongcut.melodic.co.uk, with the digital download issued immediately.

“I never realised how young you were…” – Bob Dylan

12644-the-pains-of-being-pure-at-heart

I was offered the chance to interview The Pains of Being Pure at Heart ahead of this show, but on first listen, I was totally underwhelmed with them.  This album is just derivative, I thought.   It’s just early My Bloody Valentine (‘Come Saturday’), for God’s sake.  With a dash of The Smiths (‘The Tenure Itch’).  And The Cure (‘This Love is Fucking Right!’).  Oh and there’s that one that sounds a lot like ‘Vapour Trail’ by Ride (‘Stay Alive’).

The songs were catchy, there was no denying that.  It’s just that the band were so nakedly in thrall to their eighties British indie influences.  It’s cynical, I decided.  These must be ageing, jaded New Yorkers trying to make money out of nostalgia.

They’ll get nothing from me, I decided, with a huff and a crossing of my arms.

Then a friend persuaded me it would be interesting to speak to them, seeing as they are one of the more hyped bands to come out of NYC this year.  I gritted my teeth and started to come up with some questions.

Here are the first three that came to mind:-

  1. Is it easy to get away with ripping off ’80s UK indie in the States?
  2. Are you surprised at the success of your new album, given that it is so derivative?
  3. Will your next record be less derivative?

I decided not to go ahead with the interview.

A couple of weeks passed and once I’d quite finished with Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, I felt an unexpected urge to go back to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.  Those jangling hooks had barbs.  That winsome, pure pop instinct wouldn’t leave me alone.   To my shock and surprise, when I put the album on again, I realised that over the past couple of weeks, without realising it or particularly listening to them, I had totally accepted them for what they were.  I started to like them.

I awarded the song ‘Young Adult Friction’ five stars on my iTunes rating.  But by this time, it was too late to sort out the interview.

The day of the Irish Club show came around. I was playing a set myself, in the snug room downstairs, before the Pains went on upstairs.  So I did my gig, then grabbed a couple of beers and went upstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

First of all, God, it was hot up there…  So many bodies, so little ventilation.  Sweat was pouring from everywhere before the headliners had even taken the stage.

Then, up they popped… and boy, did I feel like an idiot straight away.  They’re so young…

X - fashion inspiration for Pains' bass player

X - fashion inspiration for Pains' bass player

Bassist Alex Naidus’ killer Malcolm X glasses can’t disguise the fact that he can’t be a day over 23.  Keyboardist Peggy Wang is a classic indie poppet.  The second guitarist is so patently into it that his demeanour quite disarms you.  Singer Kip Berman is smiling fit to burst as soon as they burst into ‘Come Saturday’ and the crowd instantly goes for it.

By the time they get to ‘Young Adult Friction’, there is a bona fide moshpit and Berman just gazes across his crowd, with genuine delight in his eyes.  He is touched, you can see it. Wang half tries to retreat behind her hair, bashful, as the front few rows sing her vocal parts for her, but she can’t hide her smile.

They didn’t expect this; they are in no way blasé about the pleasure they have given to these strangers from the island that sired their music.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have touched a nerve.  Their unashamedly nostalgic music is (fucking) right for this crowd, right for this room.  It’s just like it must have been the first time around – the romantic introverts, bedroom poets and literate loners are brought back together by sugar-edged guitars, untutored boy-girl harmonies and dreamy, shimmery clouds of languor.
It really doesn’t matter that it’s nothing new.  People don’t care that it’s all happened before.  It doesn’t even matter that these American kids are bringing our own musical heritage back to us.  This crowd do not care who the band are, where they’re from, what year it is, or who they’ve ripped off.  They just like the songs.

The moshpit swells as more and more adults (some young, some not so young) are convinced to dive in and accept The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

I fight my way out of the hall, walk into the gents’ and look at myself in the mirror.  My shirt is doused in beer and sweat.   They’ve just played ‘Stay Alive’ and Berman has dedicated it to Manchester, ‘because we stole your drumbeat.’  Well, that one came from Oxford, actually, I thought to myself.

It doesn’t really matter.

the pains of being pure at heart

Kept updated via text whilst out in Manchester)

DERBY: Bywater; Connolly (c), Albrechtsen, Addison, Stewart; Barazite (Sterjovski – 74), Savage, Green, Teale (Villa – 64); Commons; Hulse
OTHER SUBS: Carroll, Nyatanga, Barnes

Not a game we’d expected to win, but by God, a draw would have been a good result.

Tommo was in Manchester and we were out at ‘No Point In Not Being Friends’, Chris Killen and Sally Cook’s spoken word night at the Deaf Institute.  It was a special one, because Chris’ debut novel The Bird Room came out last week – more on that later.

bird-room

We were having a drink in the middle bar when the text came in from Joe.  1-0.  Carsley.

As the night wound on, I was sure we would equalise (I always am), but then my dad called me, miserable, to tell me it had finished 1-0 and see how I had got on in London.  He rang just as the author Jenn Ashworth was launching into her reading.  She is incredibly softly spoken and the place was utterly hushed.  My ringtone, even from my pocket, was a huge embarrassment as I hustled outside in triple time.  Fortunately, I was stood very close to the exit.

(It’s only the standard issue tone, by the way – not ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’, or anything like that.)

During breaks between readings, Tommo and I went outside, to moan about the state of the team.  It hit me with brutal certainty that the problem is goals – looking at the stats confirmed this.  We haven’t scored in four league matches now.  The pressure is on Rob Hulse to deliver big-time, because the rest of the strikers – Ellington, Villa and Varney – have six league goals between them.  Hulse has got seven.  That’s just not enough for the top scorer at this point in the season.

I never rated him when he was at Derby, but by God, he's had a good career

Carsley - I never rated him when he was at Derby. I was wrong.

Hulse is going to have to score a lot more league goals and the others are going to have to chip in too.  Varney, Villa, Barnes, Barazite, Commons, Ellington and Green all have what Clough Snr referred to as a ‘moral responsibility’ to score.

Clough Jnr has referred to a lack of willingness to go into the six-yard box.

“That’s where you get your goals, but it’s also where you get hurt”, he said, after the draw with Forest.

“Are you saying your players aren’t brave enough?” Colin Gibson asked him.

“They’ll get brave enough over the next few weeks,” retorted Clough.

Nigel - in for the long haul

Nigel - in for the long haul

They’re going to have to, because last night’s results conspired to dump us into the relegation zone.

The current system is a 4-4-1-1, with either Commons or Barnes in behind Hulse, although Villa was brought on to replace Teale after Carsley’s goal, which meant 4-4-2 again.  But still no goals.

Why no Barnes?

Tommo had to shoot off to get his last train, but I stayed out late at the Deaf Institute.  It was nice to congratulate Chris Killen on his achievement – getting his first novel published by Canongate, no less.  I just finished it and I’ll review it once the hangover has kicked out.  It was a good night – local luminaries Socrates Adams-Florou, Sally Cook, Sian Cummins and Joe Stretch (love him or hate him) read too, amongst others.  I missed Richard Milward, author of Ten Storey Love Song, because I’d been out for a cig with Anne-Laure (whose new shop is opening in Affleck’s Palace on Friday).  We came back in just as he was finishing his reading.  He had a huge orange box on his head.

Once I got home, I sat staring mutely, disbelieving, at the results and the table. The bastards had all won – Doncaster, Watford, Forest, even fucking Charlton.  Southampton had drawn with Norwich, was the only sliver of good news.

We were 22nd in the Championship.

It’s ugly and it’s painful and if there was ever a must win game, it’s our next league fixture – Coventry City, home, Saturday.

Here is a link to some features I wrote yonks ago – Bill Hicks, Pixies, Plans & Apologies, Johnny Domino, James Yorkston…

http://drownedinsound.com/users/owright

There were a lot more.

Tortoise “It’s All Around You”

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/3660/reviews/9476

Television live –
http://drownedinsound.com/events/1046/reviews/9905

I can’t remember what else.

But in the end, I stopped writing for them, for two reasons – 1) I’d formed The Nightjars and saw it as a conflict of interests.. 2) I fell out majorly with a guy named Colin Roberts, who was pimping Busted on the site. He turned out to become the next editor…  so I resigned!

I walk up to the Krobar to meet Ben, thinking, “I’ve had enough of this year.  A few nights out and some null and void days are all that’s left.”  I feel low on energy, physically and mentally drained.  It’s winter.

One of my favourite bands are playing at the Academy.  I can’t even remember the last time I went to a gig that I wasn’t playing at.  Can’t have been Jeffrey Lewis and Plans & Apologies in Derby, can it?  This worries me.

I’ve been listening to a lot of new groups, but not many are hitting me.  There seems to be a lot of screaming and shouting going on.  Crystal Antlers, the Holy Roar label.

Rock is back.

Retro is back.

Nah.

Not that these things ever go away.  To me, a bloke screaming and shouting and howling is by definition, retro.  It’s that same old ‘big bang’ explosion of expression, of excitement, anger, pain, of life.  The source, the origin.  It’s exciting for the performer, but it doesn’t excite me to hear it, particularly. I’m more interested in what happens after that – what they go on to do once they’ve stopped getting a kick out of that automatic process of spewing stuff.

Bob Dylan talked about coming to terms with the fact that he became self-conscious about what he was doing, and continuing to create in the face of that realisation.  He couldn’t just bang out ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ automatically any more.  But he didn’t stop.  The end of Black Francis came when he found that the process “of writing automatically wasn’t working so well anymore”, around the period of the Pixies’ final LP, Trompe Le Monde.

I don’t want to feel like I’m in a cul-de-sac, or a backwater, just talking about the same old stuff all the time.  There has to be progress.  Music doesn’t necessarily have to constantly get better through time – not that I believe in any sort of Golden Age – but there must at least be interesting offshoots all the way.  Intelligent individuals.

The Week That Was is Peter Brewis from Field Music’s new project.  I spoke to Peter after their set and gave him a copy of the new Nightjars album.  He was as charming and polite as he had been on the previous occasions I’ve met him.  Introduced himself with a firm handshake, didn’t assume that I knew his name.

The interviews I’ve read with them have always left me thinking, ‘these lads are the proper stuff’.  Musicians who are more interested in making music than being stars.  You see, they have the horse before the cart.

I’m not sure that The Week That Was is as good as Field Music was, but with Field Music, they could cherry-pick from years’ worth of material – and there are still gems aplenty within the WTW set.   In this incarnation, David drums and sings backing vocals, whilst Peter plays keys, guitar and sings lead, with accompaniment from a dedicated bass player and another guy who swaps between guitar and keys.  David’s drums are the best bit, skittering, formal patterns, accurately snapped out; his high-pitched backing vocals also add a lot.

The songs are largely meditative and thoughtful.  One or two are more up-tempo (see the myspace for ‘Scratch The Surface’ – whose drum intro reminds me of Simple Minds – and yet it’s not shit!  How?!)

My favourite was a slow, spacious and gracious, seemingly new song with the lyric:-

“There’s no one to take you home
The lights are on
There’s no one to take you home”

“One more”, Peter shouts to the group at the end and they roll around the coda for one last, welcome time, before David rather messily brings it to a close.

Peter told me he thought the new stuff was too different from Field Music to be Field Music, which was why they ‘split’ into The Week That Was and David’s School of Language – I’m not so sure about that.  Anyway, they struck me, as they have always struck me, as honest lads who work extremely hard on their music.

If the 18-year-old me saw me writing this, he would go insane – that’s not what it’s about. The 18-year-old me believed in something glamorous, something different.  He believed in another world, better than the one he inhabited and that golden illusion, the ambition to transcend his world, kept him sane.

Now, it’s threatening to drive me insane.

The Brewis brothers strike me more as crafters than creative genii.  There’s something very ‘process’ about their music.  It hasn’t been delivered to them in a bolt of lightning.  They’ve worked on it, honed it.  The original idea will be a simple motif on guitar or piano, then they play with it, construct something with it.  Try a different rhythm, to break it up.  Backing vocals.  They work hard, you can tell.  I respect them for it.

*

Stereolab line up in a half-moon formation around the suitably luminous Laetitia Sadier.  The band lurk in the shadows.  Tim Gane stands at the back of the stage, playing Fender Mustang through Fender amp.  No tech to bring on guitars and drape them round his neck, not even a change of guitar, in fact.  He sets his own pedal levels before the set.

Why do people need techs to wipe their arse for them?  What are they so busy doing backstage that they can’t check their own levels?  Well, we’re having an economic downturn, dontcha know, so maybe a few roadies might find themselves surplus to requirements in 2009.

Speaking of the downturn, the ‘lab make themselves some cash on the merch desk by the simple expedient of pricing their stuff cheaply.  £8 for a double vinyl LP is tempting enough to have those long-haired, denim jacket-clad record collectors clambering over each other to pay out fistfuls of notes.

Back to the stage and they kick off with ‘Percolator’ from Emperor Tomato Ketchup, before playing some of the new album, Chemical Chords.  Ben and I are down the front.  I feel slightly guilty for being so tall.  I don’t think Ben does.

An early set-highlight is a quite beautiful rendition of ‘Valley Hi’, which loses the recorded version’s motor-bass thrum and is instead propelled along beatifically by Andy Ramsay’s drums and the Nord Lead of one of the two keyboard players, neither of whom I recognise.

Tim Gane stands at the back of the stage, playing Fender Mustang through Fender amp.  His head goes from side to side as he chops out rhythm.  Everything he plays is rhythm, even the lead.

I am amazed when they suddenly kick into a song Sadier introduces as ‘La montagne’ – fuck me, it’s ‘Mountain’, from Switched On 2: Refried Ectoplasm.  One of the most perfect, focused blasts of guitar I’ve ever heard.  That song floors me every time – emotionally, I can’t get over it.  It is a truly beautiful storm.  The shitty sound in Club Academy doesn’t help, but I feel like those kids down the front at the Kaiser Chiefs must feel when ‘I Predict A Riot’ happens – it’s my song.

When you go to watch a band, you subconsciously assume that they must be enjoying playing.  Laetitia Sadier gives that impression, as do the rhythm section.  Tim Gane seems happy enough, lost in his guitar world.  The keyboard sidemen have their moments too, enough for me to forgive them for their general air of being slightly bored.  They seem to be a bit more extended and engaged when they’re asked to play the complex and soulful ‘Double Rocker‘, from Sound-Dust.  Poignantly, Mary Hansen’s backing vocal part is picked out on the Nord.  I find myself singing it in my head, moving my lips in time.  I don’t want to catch Sadier’s eye at this point.

For an hour and a half, I am happy.

It’s a strange business, being a fan.  You want the band to be happy doing what they do, because they make you happy by doing it.  Once they start rattling out ancient beauties such as ‘Mountain’ and ‘Lo Boob Oscillator’ (with a generous extra helping of Neu! repetition at the end), I feel justified in hollering for the galvanising rush of a song that is ‘Super Electric’, but Sadier says, “no, no, no.  We will play a new one.  Then we will play an old one.”

Someone shouts for ‘Crest’, which Tim Gane has a little run at, before semi-embarrassedly admitting that he can’t remember it.

“You can”, says the crowd member.

I feel slightly disgruntled that they were prepared to have a go at ‘Crest’, but not ‘Super Electric’.  But when Sadier goes on to announce another new one, I whoop my approval, to show that I am supportive of the new songs angle – that I want Stereolab to enjoy themselves.  I want to be a good fan.

The new song is a post-Chemical Chords one, as far as I know.  I don’t remember it now, but I do recall thinking it was really fucking groovy at the time.  Then they play ‘Revox’, of all things – and I’ve had three from Refried Ectoplasm, my favourite three at that.  Then ‘French Disko’, which makes four from Refried Ectoplasm! Jesus.  I thought I’d be lucky to get one – and wouldn’t have dared shout for ‘French Disko’.

I wonder who decides which songs are played – Tim?  Laetitia?  The rhythm section?  All of the above, via e-vote?

Stereolab seem like a more obliging bunch, warmer than I had imagined.  The bassist, Simon Johns, looks genuinely pleased with the crowd’s ovation.  Laetitia controls the crowd with short, friendly statements.  Tim Gane is lost in his own guitar world.  I wonder what the rhythm section do when they aren’t making Stereolab records or touring.   Maybe they’re sessioners, like the guy I spoke to who, when he wasn’t playing trombone for the Tindersticks, played trombone for Basement Jaxx and Madness.  Somehow, I doubt it, though.  They sound too specific.

Johns teases me by playing the chords from the start of ‘Super Electric’.  Laetitia has already dedicated another old song to “whoever asked for it.  You see?  It’s all in the asking.”  I decide against the instinct to petulantly reiterate my demand for ‘Super Electric’ and let them get on with it, seeing as they’re entertaining me so royally.

After the encore of ‘Cybele’s Reverie’ and ‘Metronomic Underground’, it’s back to Kro for a last pint with Ben.  We smoke and talk about the set, but my enthusiasm for life is already back on the wane.  The beer isn’t replacing the high from the set.

That doesn’t stop me from wanting another.

Ben sagely says no, it’s time for us to go home.  So, homeward I go, with my black and gold Stereolab t-shirt and a ten-second video clip of the band playing, Sadier mid-shimmy.

At the bus stop, two of the denim-suited long-haired, middle-aged music geeks stand, excitedly debating the evening’s set with an acquaintance of theirs, who isn’t denim-suited, isn’t clutching a handful of vinyl and has not, in fact, been “Stereolabbing” at all.  He has been to a pub quiz instead, with his girlfriend.

It’s nice to be a fan again.