Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Nothing To See Here...

I'm no longer blogging here - but you can find me at hazelsheffield.com/

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Okkervil River + Wye Oak, Scala, 14/9/09


It’s weird watching faces change when you pass through the same venue often. Scala’s hosted La Roux, Dirty Projectors and Okkervil River in quick succession in the last few days, and for every garish girl and word-perfect gay at La Roux, there was a skinny east-end type at Dirty Projectors – Primark pumps swapped for brogues and a pout. Okkervil River manage to pull the other one, a sold-out theatre filled with the balding, bespectacled and bearded.

They’re the kind of people that file their papers at five thirty, eat their tea and arrive on time, and so Scala is already full for support Wye Oak. The Baltimore duo is a striking listen and an ambiguous pair. There’s just so much noise from those four hands – that kit, that guitar – that the eyes wander to the pedals and to percussionist Andy Stack’s left hand, simultaneously playing bass on a keyboard, his right hand and his feet never missing a drumbeat or cymbal roll. Jenn Wasner plays her guitar like it doesn’t belong to her, like her arms are disconnected, but the sounds that emerge from the speaker switch easily between the patter of folk and the incremental build up of unexpected distortion. She knows what that guitar is, make no mistake, despite all that innocent inter-song babble and softly softly vocal. It’s subtly brilliant, varied and an all-round success. The beards like this band. The brogues just might, too.

Subtle isn’t the word for Okkervil River, oh no. Someone gave Will Sheff a guitar when he was a baby and he never let go, he liked the attention. Now responsible for the watery indie-folk of Shearwater alongside his decade-spanning career with Okkervil River, and the as the king of all the beards, it’s astounding he hasn’t yet satiated his ego. Tonight’s set presents rousing stuff for fans that threatens to collapse under technical issues early on, Sheff complaining that the problem prevents him from really getting into the songs. After a few quick repairs he gets in with two feet, pulling everyone present in, too. There’s handclapping, acoustic numbers, songs old and new and the odd petering singalong. ‘Girl In Port’ is an obvious highlight rendered well-tempered and genuine, while ‘John Allyn Smith Sails’ is overwrought, even the audience shying from the obvious collective chorus the band are trying to induce.

Okkervil River are clearly a multifaceted, musical triumph and there is craftsmanship at work in the songs they create, but it can’t detract from the idiosyncratic smugness of that frontman and his Cocker-esque swagger. That his fans are out in force at Scala tonight justifies the showmanship – there are elated faces at the close of a set nigh on ninety minutes long – but one wonders how some of Scala’s other visitors this week might have reacted to such unashamed pomp.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Richard Hawley Interview


There’s a lyric on Truelove’s Gutter that ends: “blundered into the abyss”. Is that where we are, The Abyss? Two and a half million unemployed; our little island lagging behind all the bigger fishes and fatter cats in the semi-recovering global economy; clinging onto other people’s politicians and our own half-remembered glory days. If that’s where we are, then blunder we did.

Only Hawley wasn’t talking about the economy, or politics, or society. He was talking about falling in love. That’s the thing about Richard Hawley. Big things have gone to shit – Britain has forgotten what it is, where it’s going – but there are still voices of reason out there. And Hawley’s one of them. His sixth solo LP doesn’t directly reference the recession. But dashed hopes, damaged dreams and half-forgotten ambitions penetrate every weird sound and subtle lyric of its fifty-one minutes. His songs aren’t about boom and bust, but “the fall out of that, I suppose, and the way that people are affected by it. My family was deeply affected by the last major recession with the closure of the steel works. It cost my parents their marriage.”

That’s what it comes down to. Not statistics and politics, but the people you love and the streets you tread – something that Hawley has never forgotten. “My family has lived [in Sheffield] for 150 years, you know,” he says. “We live in a very transient, migratory age, but I really, really am rooted in Sheffield, and that’s important to me. Not in a stick in the mud kind of way, but because I know why I’m here.”

Hawley’s never made a secret of his love for his hometown. His Mercury-nominated fourth album, Cole’s Corner, told the story of one of the city’s famous meeting places, while Truelove’s Gutter is the ancient name of Sheffield’s Castle Street, so-called after Thomas Truelove, an inn-keeper there. “The juxtaposition of the two names seems to sum the record up perfectly,” he offers by explanation.

Hawley’s father was a steel worker, his step-father a miner, so he’s well-placed to remind people of a time when community still existed and work was anchored to identity. “It’s the people I love more than anything,” he says of the city. “When the steel works were open people lived really hard lives, but they had a right good sense of humour. Very self-deprecating, not taking yourself too seriously. And people would definitely stick together, you know?”

The people Hawley writes about on Truelove’s Gutter came unstuck, they lost themselves in the mire of modernity. They forgot where they came from. In ‘Don’t Get Hung Up In Your Soul’, Hawley recounts the story of a friend who spent a lot of time in institutions for mental problems because she found it safer in there than being out in the world. “You have to know something before you can really sing about it,” he explains. “It’s not about holding onto things for the sake of it, it’s about holding onto things because they mean something. And I think that’s the point. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

He speaks of how he takes his children to see the old steel works where their grandfather, the late Dave Hawley, worked, and about the museum in Sheffield dedicated to the industry. “In twenty years’ time or even ten years’ time I can’t imagine there being a call centre museum, can you?” And then, laughing: “‘This is where I plug my modem in, this is where I charge my mobile…’ Do you know what I mean?”

Coming from anyone else, it might seem worthy: a successful rock star championing the working class. But Hawley’s done his time. His career started when he was still at school, in a band called Treebound Story; when they broke up he found success with nineties Britpop act The Longpigs, and then, seven years later, with fellow Sheffield-natives, Pulp. “The ideas for a lot of the solo stuff had kind of been fermenting in my mind for a long time,” he says. “I wasn’t frustrated or anything, I was more than happy sat at the back watching someone else singing, that was great. But it just got to the point where I was 32 years old… And now I’ve been making solo albums for a decade, that’s longer than I was ever with any of my bands…

“I was completely shocked where I ended up and it completely threw me – I never expected that at all. But the music’s mine to be made. I’m sick of music being made for commercial purposes. I think that music can serve a different purpose.” For Hawley, music is his livelihood; it’s his trade, just as much as steel was for his ancestors.

“Music is a craft,” he explains. “If you pick up an instrument to become famous and rich, more than likely you will be very sorely disappointed. But if you pick it up because you love it… I’m very clear about what I set out to do and I’ve never lost that.”

He goes on: “At a time like this it’s not great commercial sense to make an album full of ten minute strung out pieces of music. But I don’t think it’s the time, either, for creative characters just to play it safe and play the game. That’s another thing that’s important for me as well, to make a record where I stretch myself as a writer, musician and producer.”

Truelove’s Gutter still features that same molten vocal that earned Hawley a reputation as ‘the Elvis of the north’, but this time it’s soundtracked by a whole host of instruments so unusual they could almost be made up: the glass harmonica, musical saw, megabass waterphone and crystal baschet. What should sound, from this description, like some kind of hellish modernist racket, actually rumbles and glides with similar classical precision as his previous work – testament to the man’s propensity for integrating innovation and tradition.

Hawley’s a man who’ll remind you just where you came from, and why things went awry. But he’ll also tell you that now, more than ever, is the time to push on with the future. “At the time I decided that I wanted to make music as a way of making a living, things were a bit like they are now. You’re not going to say, ‘don’t do that, get a job,’ because where are the fucking jobs?! You might as well do something that you believe in.” For a working lad from Sheffield, he’s not done too badly, after all.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Leeds 2009 Day 3


In a valiant effort to open a much-needed discussion with us muggles about the state of the music industry, Sunday at Leeds opened with two hours of ‘Instigate Debate’. Ten questions were distributed around the sitting audience to be put to a panel featuring the ubiquitous Jon McClure of Reverend And The Makers, Jamie Fullerton from NME, and Clint Boon of Xfm Manchester. The questions, ranging from ‘Are gig tickets too expensive?’ and ‘Would The Clash or The Libertines ever have made it in today’s industry?’ required some serious thought, resulting in several semi-drunken, semi-sensible outburst from the crowd. But it was McClure who stole the show, turning every question into a mini advert for his oh-so-worthy musical outings. Shush now, young man, and let the rest of us have a say.

It was The Horrors, later on in the afternoon, that proved substance will take you a lot further in life than a loud mouth and a few nice outfits. Their NME/Radio 1 Stage set blew doubters out the arena with new tracks like ‘A Sea Within A Sea’ and reinvented old ones, bolstered by the band’s more confident sound. The struggle with noise-laden records is often in bringing them to a live setting, but The Horrors managed admirably.

The Big Pink, by contrast, nearly fell on their arse with a lacklustre, rambling set of very little energy, failing to recreate any of the buzz surrounding new album ‘A Brief History Of Love’ in the Festival Republic tent. At one point the whole show looked set to implode as the music was replaced by a heated discussion between vocalist Robbie Furze and drummer Akiki Matsuura, presumably about the next song on the setlist. Onlookers stayed politely until the end, but those yet to be convinced by The Big Pink’s big sound are unlikely to be satiated that performance.

Jamie T entertained in a packed out set mid-afternoon, punters struggling for a space in the cavernous NME/Radio 1 tent. His set erred almost on pantomime, the south London wunderkind mustering sing-a-longs and call and responses with all his might. And then, as he drew to a close and everyone present trekked over to see Kings Of Leon on the mainstage, the carnage started. Muddy fields had prompted the organisers to make the festival one-way, and suddenly hundreds of festival-goers found themselves trapped and suffocating in a massive crush to get into the main arena. It was terrifying and frankly could have been fatal – that security were no where to be seen and KOL carried on regardless shows Leeds up as the corporately organised riot for which it has become reknown.

And for what? Kings Of Leon’s set was a disaster of wet stadium rock, a messianic Caleb Followill rambling endlessly about the band’s success and promising fans to return from the US next year with the best album the band have ever made. “Every song I wrote, I thought of England,” he gushed, before launching into the lifeless rock-by-numbers that is ‘Reverie’ and ‘Use Somebody’. Even old tracks ‘Red Morning Light’, ‘Four Kicks’ and ‘Charmer’ seemed devoid of the grit and guts that once made them so special. At the back, watching the circus, early fans felt betrayed. Yet the word on everyone’s lips was that this was the gig of the weekend, the best performance of the band’s career – just proves, if you’re going to sell out, you might as well do it properly. And if the thousand-strong crowd enraptured by this performance are anything to go by, KOL have done it very successfully indeed.

Leeds 2009 Day 2

Leeds this year was blessed with one of those most British of bank holidays, where the clouds bluster past at the rate of knots and you’re one minute set for sunbathing and the next scrabbling for wellies and waterproofs.

The changing seasons were nowhere better demonstrated than on the miserable chops of one Charlie Fink, Noah And The Whale frontman, who’s suffered in the last week from a horribly embarrassingly personal interview with the Guardian in which he waxed lyrical about new album ‘The First Days Of Spring’ being all about his break up with Laura Marling. Marling isn’t there for the Leeds show, and neither is any other female backing vocalist, a conspicuous omission after their prominence on the band’s debut. Instead the set is dark and electric, Fink’s stubble and furrowed brow a constant reminder that this is no long the happy-clappy band that gave us ‘5 Years Time’.

In sharp contrast, The XX manage subdued miserablisms so restrained and self-contained that they crawl under the skin. The stark, unharmonised melodies of vocalists Oliver Sims and Romy Madley Croft whisper outwards throughout the tent and raucous, neon-faced kids stand quietly in awe at such unexpected and unusual subtlety. Meanwhile, in a triumph of street team PR, roaming promoters hand out t-shirts and badges for free, and suddenly giant white X’s brand every other torso in sight.

Broken Records smash all subtlety out the water with their string flanked Scottish folk. A regular at many a festival this summer, their infectious jigging and cleverly orchestrated songs gather quite a crowd. It’s a well-deserved success that can only augment as the year draws on.

Now, there was a time when Brooklyn’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs had bite and guile to spare – a rip-roaring mess of distortion and screeching, furious vocals to make your stomach turn and the whites of your eyes bulge. And while ‘It’s Blitz’ was a very lovely slice of disco – ten points for diversity, guys – where was the hacked up guitar riffs, the sawn off Zinner magic, that made earlier stuff so striking? New sources show that it may have been hiding in an amp on the mainstage at Leeds, just waiting to blow the socks off the assembled festival-goers in 2009. This was a stormer of a set including ‘Black Tongue’, ‘Rich’, ‘Cheated Hearts’ and a mesmerisingly well-executed acoustic version of ‘Maps’ alongside the new stuff. It was all perfect – vocals, pacing, guitars and, of course, delivery from the inimitable Miss O.

A Bloc Party interlude – three years on the trot at Leeds and still holding out for that headline slot – preceded the moment everyone had been waiting for: Radiohead. Well, everyone apart from the screaming hoards of girls who trotted off to see La Roux. Two hours passed in moments as Radiohead set the bar higher than ever. Their set was a proper mix of all seven of their albums, from the lesser known ‘Wolf At The Door’ and ‘Gloaming’, right through to anthems ‘Idiotheque’ and ‘Just’, finishing with the cinematic ‘Everything In Its Right Place’.

It was musicially flawless, Thom Yorke’s vocal so well-timed and glorious that it could have been pre-recorded. Depite this, Yorke revealed to a photographer straight after the gig that he wasn’t happy with his performance at all, perhaps due to his slightly squiffy banter between songs, where he once asked Johnny Greenwood for the chords to new song ‘These Are My Twisted Words’. A perfectionist, no less – the rest of us were left speechless.

Leeds 2009 Day 1


Ah, Leeds. Where else would you find thousands of overdressed teenagers battling mud and queues to spend all of their pocket money on a tiny tray of chips and a paper cup of lager to the soundtrack of hundreds of crappy middling pop-punk bands?

Alright, it’s not all that bad. Those arriving early enough on Thursday and Friday morning caught a glimpse of the festival arena pre-carnage – a grassy, neon-lit circus of a festival site, all fairground rides and burger stands. Overcrowded sets from Wild Beasts and Blood Red Shoes attempted to entertain the early birds on Thursday night, but with so many people at the tiny BBC Introducing stage, it was impossible to catch a glimpse of the bands, let alone hear them properly.

Friday lunchtime heralded the start of the festival proper, just a red ribbon and a start line short of a race to narcotic oblivion. Newcastle’s Detroit Social Club did little to raise the pulse on the Festival Republic stage, sounding too much of a hotch-potch of Elbow and dad rock to make waves.

It was a special guest appearance – one of those secret gigs that everyone who wasn’t there kicks themselves for the whole weekend afterwards – that really set off Leeds 2009. Josh Homme, John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl turned up on the NME/Radio 1 Stage as Them Crooked Vultures, the QOTSA/Zepplin/Foo Fighters hybrid also featuring guitarist Alain Johannes. Homme should supposedly have played with Eagles Of Death Metal, the band he formed with guitarist Jesse Hughes, on the main stage that very day, but was apparently saving all his energy for the ‘Vultures, whose epic set finished with ‘New Fang’ and ‘Nobody Loves Me (And Neither Do I)’.

Later that day The Maccabees snatched the very same limelight for a packed out set to hundreds of punters, igniting a huge dance off with a mix of new and old material. Even Orlando looked to be enjoying himself as people jostled for a space in the massive tent.

Meanwhile things were heating up on the main stage for Friday’s headliners. Prodigy cemented themselves as undisputed kings of British rave, attracting a crowd that moshed right up to the sound desk and beyond. They mixed old classics ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ with newer material from Invaders Must Die, never once letting up on intensity.

There was much speculation as to the direction that Arctic Monkeys would take before they hit the main stage – and while sceptics were momentarily silenced as Alex Turner entered with dark glasses, leather and a swagger, the ensuing set violently divided fans. Much has been made of Turner’s drunkenness, austerity and lack of chatter on the night, but the bottom line has to be that this was a set constructed to reinvent a band bored of the relentless smalltown louts turning Arctic Monkeys gigs into hooligan affairs (many of whom found apt accommodation in the kindly branded ‘Relentless’ tent a little later).

A month in the desert has transformed this band into one of depth and distinction – so much so that even old favourites ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and closer ‘505’ came off darker and more accomplished than ever before. It’s unsurprising that the indie-pop plaudits were pissed off. It takes courage to slap thousands of fans in the face with the cold water of a new musical direction (no wonder Turner took to the bottle before the stage), but ultimately, it’s what’s required for a band to keep the cogs turning, the kids guessing, and their career alive. What’s more, the hoards of fans word perfect on new tracks like ‘Crying Lightning’ and ‘Propeller’ prove that there’s more than a little on ‘Humbug’ to get at, should the critics open their ears before their mouths.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Big Pink Interview


When The Jesus And Mary Chain first started recording demos in 1984, comparisons to The Ramones resulted in them adopting the feedback that would eventually come to define their sound. William Reid, one sibling half of the original line-up, said: “That’s why we started using noise and feedback. We want to make records that sound different.”

These days any band seeking distinction would be ill-advised to assume the same tactic – noisy records are everywhere, swinging back into vogue as the past is endlessly rehashed in search of something new. But what Jesus And Mary Chain did was take something simple – Beach Boys pop and Ramones punk – and confound it with fuzz. No one would listen – in the early days the band had to sneak into venues and pretend to be the support act to get gigs. Then they moved to London and got signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records on the strength of a sound check. A few months later, one NME writer declared them the best band in the world.

In the words of Willy Wonka – strike that. Reverse it. Take a duo – Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze – who met at an underground rave and discovered a shared love of feedback – straight up white noise – and launched a record label called Hatechannel to release digital hardcore records that were, in their own words “really very aggressive”. (The clue’s in the name.) There was already an eponymous label, Digital Hardcore Recordings (DHR), at that time “but we wanted to go one better,” Milo explains. “Hatechannel is supposed to be more offensive and aggressive than Digital Hardcore. We wanted to be the loudest.”

Somewhere, in these ambitious, arcane, a-melodic origins, The Big Pink was born.

Neither Robbie nor Milo, two Jesus And Mary Chain obsessives, are new to the music industry, and it shows. Milo’s the founder of Merok records, a label that has signed bands who could barely play an instrument before their first gig and then went on to become huge: Klaxons and Crystal Castles among them. He’s well-spoken and clearly business minded, traits inherited, perhaps, from his father, Denny Cordell, the producer responsible for Procul Harem’s ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’. Milo’s brother, Tarka, famed for flings with Kate Moss and Liv Tyler, was found hanged in his house last year on the eve of his own album release.

Robbie, meanwhile, comes from less conspicuous origins. They both claim to be in their late-twenties but Robbie’s weathered features tell a different story (though the babyfaced girlfriend he brings along to the interview suggests he’s not lost his charm just yet). He’s done his time touring every squat in Europe with hardcore bands, most notably as the guitarist for the founder of the aforementioned DHR, digital pioneer Alec Empire, and also with his own hardcore outing Panic DHH. No, Robbie’s no stranger to the notion of noise. But pop – the kind of scuzzed out, hook-laden pop that The Big Pink purport – is a new direction for him.

“When we first started we didn’t have any manifesto, really. We didn’t know what The Big Pink was going to be,” says Robbie. “It was something that we just did at home – twenty minute soundscapes of pure noise. At that point we were like ‘ah, man, we want to sound like the digital Velvet Underground.’”

“And then,” Milo interjects, “we added beats.” It isn’t just beats that make The Big Pink what they are today, although the fact that their music belongs on the dance floor as much as in bedrooms is undoubtedly part of their appeal. Where The Jesus And Mary Chain needed that feedback, The Big Pink needed the very opposite: melodies.

“The thing with the stuff that we were doing before is that there was no song structure,” Robbie explains. “We’d have seven or eight minute songs and we’d go off into six minutes of white noise. To try and do and three and a half minute song is a lot harder, but it’s more fun, it’s more interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up humming a noise track. A good melody is everything about music.”

Melody is everything? Coming from two men obsessed with amp fuzz? “With the record label I signed loads of pop music,” justifies Milo. “Alec Empire writes pop songs as well. It’s just pop music hidden behind distortion. Other people decide that it’s pop music, not us. I want people to decide for themselves what it is.”

And people will. With their debut, A Brief History Of Love, now out on 4AD, six months after NME gave them the Philip Hall Radar Award for best new act, there’s a lot to be decided in the coming months. Top of the list will be whether they can shake off the scenester tag that’s dogged them ever since a drug-fuelled interview with Vice man Andy Cappa and a few homoerotic photos preceded the mainstream release of any of their music.

“All this other bullshit’s so boring to be honest,” Robbie says of the media interest in their social lives. “I think we’ve made a really great record, whether we take drugs or party is irrelevant.”

“We write really good songs. Of course it’s the songs,” says a slightly paranoid-looking Milo when asked why people are so interested in this band. He’s right in some respects. There’s substance here – there’s a label man and seasoned musician, there’s obsession for music, and there’s the time spent distilling noise into songs. They’ve got plenty of ambition. But like Jesus And Mary Chain before them, who struggled in the early days to shake off the hype and get people to actually listen to the music, there’s still a lot to prove.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The XX Interview

For The Quietus

The shock of the new? A new sticky label on the same old tin of beans, more like. The NME’s future fifty recently proclaimed that our best hope for tomorrow is Animal Collective, a group of visionary 30-somethings who’ve been making music for a decade. They beat dormant Swedes The Knife to the top spot, the compilers momentarily overlooking the fact that the latter haven’t released a record in over three years. The rest of the list is so futuristic it can’t be mentioned here for fear of ripping a hole in the space-time continuum and transporting us all to a parallel universe that exists only in Chris Cunningham’s nightmares.

Chances are, those looking for something new to feed their insatiable ears will end up frantically clicking round the murky corners of the blogosphere before passing out cold in a pool of their own drool after reading some blethering pansy twit’s ‘creative’ review of an unheard of Brooklynite with an 8-track. The predictions and promises of your favourite garish magazine/blog/zine are so often redundant, self-serving and contrived. Good music, the kind that doesn’t need force-feeding down desperate open gullets, creeps up on you and demands attention, like an audio-tug on the sleeve that arrests unintentionally from the off.

One of the few acts to really merit their place in the future fifty, a veritable sleeve-tugger themselves, are south London quartet The XX. Theirs is an album of claustrophobic beauty and measured sentiment so strikingly self-restrained that it has, rather ironically, inspired some of the internet’s more excessively poetic reactions.

While the verbose reviews will grate, it’s true that there is something unquantifiably refreshing about hearing this band for the first time, though it’s for a far simpler reason than the word-botherers would have you believe. What sets The XX apart is the vision of four south-London teenagers, discovered two years ago and then quietly cultivated, keenly supported but unrushed and un-meddled with, until the time that they were ready to break. Budget cuts, media edacity and attention deficit in the information age have nigh-on made this kind of approach to new music obsolete: The XX are a reminder of what can surface when bands are given the opportunity to mature on their own terms.

“We started working with [Young Turks] when we had just turned 18,” Oliver Sims of The XX explains. “They just turned up at our shows and offered us a place to rehearse, got us gigs, got us chances to work with some amazing producers. That’s all it was for about a year – playing shows, writing songs. It’s only in the last year that we’ve started working towards an album. When they first started working with us we only had about six songs – now we have an album.”

Young Turks, the subsidiary of XL Records responsible for Wavves, Kid Harpoon, and (less fortunately) Jack Penate, were quick to realise the quality of their newest associates, offering the band the chance to work with some stellar producers including Diplo and Kwes.

“We worked with some producers beforehand just to get some experience, and maybe if we liked it to have them produce the album. But everything we did ended up sounding more like them than us,” says young producer-programmer Jamie Smith. “I was producing before I was in The XX, so during those recordings I kind of realised I was a control freak, and that I had to do it all myself to be satisfied with it.”

Jamie joined The XX when the band started working with Young Turks, adding to the original line-up of childhood friends Oliver and Romy Madley Croft, and keyboardist/guitarist Baria Qureshi, who joined to help the original duo recreate their ideas live. Baria explains: “Everyone else we worked with over-produced it. We wanted to stick to our original sound, and Jamie knows what it is that we want. It was important for us to be able to play the record live, and so it’s better to have someone who’s more involved with us.”

“Jamie’s work’s really good,” Oliver adds quietly. He’s spot on. Jamie is arguably The XX’s secret weapon. A shy, curly-haired computer-aficionado who barely looks up from his equipment on-stage and admits to terrible nerves before gigs, Jamie speaks keenly about his MPC – Media Production Centre. The technology, which has existed since the late eighties, allows him to programme the sounds he requires on his computer and then provide all percussion live on electronic pads, with his finger-tips, in a miniature imitation of a drummer.

“I did drum lessons for about two years. I’m okay at drums, but I’m not good enough to be technically innovative,” says Jamie. “There are so many bands with amazing drummers who sound the same, and I’m not good enough to make the drums sound different, and I wanted it to sound different. With an MPC I can make it sound exactly as I want, so I can create all the sounds that we need.” Not only does the technology add a dimension and facilitate experimentation, it’s also fairly unique. “Some bands use an MPC to trigger a long sample that plays round a couple of times, but I don’t think anyone uses it as much as I do, except maybe a couple of producers,” Jamie explains, citing American producer RJD2 as his major influence.

Of course, it’s not just Jamie’s production that makes this band. They talk openly of their ‘sound’ with rare precision for an act so young. “I don’t think it’s been an intentional decision to make this kind of music,” Oliver says when pressed to explain how their music came about. “I don’t know, Romy just got a new amp that had reverb and it kind of just came from that, and I’m not a very loud singer, so it didn’t make sense to make loud music that I couldn’t compete with vocally. I wouldn’t describe it as an accident, but it was quite natural rather than intentional.”

The unusual closeness between Romy and Oliver permeates this record. Their cool, antiphonal vocals, the lyrics addressed always to another ‘you’, manage to seem at once isolated and conjoined. Oliver explains that they each write their own lyrics, in their own time. For words written in solitude, they match astonishingly well. A testament to their friendship, perhaps? “I suppose so,” Oliver replies, with habitual vagueness. So many of his answers are punctuated with ‘dunno’ and the word ‘nice’. “I find it weird,” he goes on, “[the lyrics] seems to match up quite well. Romy’s like a sister to me, so all the songs are addressed to something outside of us.”

Music aside, it becomes quickly obvious that The XX are genuinely a product of this decade – a true, bonafide band of our time, for better or for worse. Romy and Oliver thought that ‘Teardrops’, arguably their finest cover, was originally garage remix rather than a hit for Womack And Womack in the eighties. (“It’s quite shameful, really,” Oliver admits now.) The two of them swap lyrics and write songs over iChat rather than face to face. Their understated pop-focus has its bottom flattened out at intervals with the unexpected squelch of a massive sub. They have rewritten classic pop and made it their own – listen to the parallels between ‘Infinity’ and Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. (“I don’t think it was planned, but I think he is deeply engraved in my mind,” Oliver counters at the suggestion of plagiarism.) They have toured with Micachu and The Big Pink, and they have support slots planned with Florence and the Machine and Friendly Fires; four bands engraved indelibly on the musical landscape of 2009.

Yes, The XX are a band that belong in that future fifty, if ever a future fifty is worth the paper it’s written on. But more than that, they’re a lightyear ahead of the rehashed, branded and contrived indie and pop that has dominated this decade, simply because they had clarity of vision and were given the resources to explore their ideas, undisturbed. “We don’t know what to expect, we’re just taking it as it comes,” Baria says of the future. But then, no one’s qualified to say what lies ahead. For now, it suffices to have discovered a band that make you glad to live in the present.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Observer Review Festival Watch: Leicester Summer Sundae

See original article here

Just big enough to entice campers, yet nestled conveniently in the city centre, Leicester's Summer Sundae attracts an untypical festival crowd - from the too young for Glasto to the too old for discomfort. This was reflected in the lineup, a hotchpotch of the nostalgic (St Etienne, the Charlatans) and the innocuous (Frank Turner, múm), all of whom took to the stage before it got too dark, with acts finishing well clear of midnight so as not to upset noise restrictions.

The result was part-festival, part-village fete. For a small event, Summer Sundae does well on diversity, offering an eclectic variety of luxury festival food, with side portions of comedy, spoken word and film. That said, discerning music fans were catered for too. Wild Beasts capitalised on their newfound acclaim, while Broken Records, Port O'Brien and First Aid Kit remoulded traditional folk into various new guises. Indoors, the impressively well-equipped De Montfort Hall played host to 65daysofstatic and Micachu and the Shapes, both of whom used the venue's capacity for visuals to maximum effect.

With swine flu keeping the Streets and Fanfarlo from attending, and Bon Iver's set strangely overlooked, it was the Beatles-covering Easy Star All-Stars who took most of the plaudits. The reggae troupe's perfectly timed Sunday afternoon slot had everyone up and dancing, can in hand, in the spectacular weather. This was the great British staycation in festival format - and just a carnival queen short of a summer fair.

Best performance Micachu and the Shapes.

Overheard [of Bon Iver] "I think he's some American folky dude."

Best discovery Broken Records.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Big Chill 2009 - Day 3

By Sunday, everyone’s lobster-pink, a bit grimy and dog-tired from excesses of heat and hedonism. But not to fear! The Big Chill programmers lay on a day of comedy and culture for the day of rest to help everyone recuperate enough to spend another night in a tent. The Guardian tent sells papers with free goodies (fudge and babywipes: a triumph of their targeted marketing strategy) and The Coop provides a whole day’s worth of stellar comedians.

As such festival-goers settle themselves onto hessian mats in this cavernous disco marquee looking like refugee-fallout from some humanitarian crisis: weary and ready to be entertained. First up, Mock The Week baby Russell Howard mixes material old and new in an hour and a quarter set that goes down a treat. His is a style that skews the humdrum into the extraordinary, re-imagining the world with a childlike wonder. It’s evident, for all the comedians, that the festival crowd is a very different creature to their usual audience, with Howard at one point exclaiming, “That was a great punchline, but don’t worry about it!” after a joke passes, collectively unnoticed.

Noel Fielding of Boosh fame fails miserably to carry the baton through the following hour. “I don’t have any punchlines in my set,” he proudly announces, before proceeding with dull fantastical skits and floundering audience banter, prompting the conclusion that he maybe should get some. Where Fielding excels is as the camp, cross-dressing zombie king of the videoed zombie rave, shown later on, on the screens of the Main Stage. The film, shot on site on the preceeding Thursday with the participation of early festival-arrivals, broke the record for the number of zombies caught on camera, managing to get over 4000 people mocked up and baring their teeth for a Warp Film and Film4 co-production entitled ‘I Spit On Your Rave’.

Zombies of a very different kind greet Dylan Moran as he takes to The Coop stage after Fielding late-afternoon on Sunday. A deadpan, cynical master-of-his-art, Moran holds the audience on a string, keeping momentum through a relaxed set that cements his inimitable prowess in the realm of disgruntled Irishman.

There’s plenty in the Sunday music stakes to keep punters at the Big Chill, despite what the city-types might tell you as they pack up and head off to work before the night begins. Broken Records perform a set of string-flanked, Scottish indie-folk brilliance at sundown that pulls an encouraging crowd ahead of a support-slot with The National in London the following week. Meanwhile, David Byrne rounds off a year of touring with his headline set, his band dressed head-to-toe in white, including a gaggle of contemporary dancers that could come straight out of Flashdance. His music is similarly anachronistic, the original in eighties pop at a time when countless new artists are re-imagining the decade.

The weekend draws to a close with the homebred charm of Riot Jazz, a fleet of mesmerisingly talented brass-players who take rock’n’roll, jazz, reggae and even dubstep into their own hands; and Big Chill originals Hexstatic, whose mash up of audio and visuals is the last dancing gasp of the mutating festival beast that is The Big Chill. Everyone’s left tired, but not totally frazzled – true to its name, this is one weekender that strikes the balance between rave and retreat with rare precision.

The Big Chill 2009 - Day 2

It’s a little known fact that God likes The Big Chill. As proof, the big man set about bestowing three days of uninterrupted, skin-sizzling sunshine upon the lesser-trod hills of Herefordshire. Coupled with which, the whole weekend retains a hard-to-come-by sense of laidback, communal magnanimity true to its name, from the sanctioned Big Issue vendors selling programmes to the hoards of children chasing bright balloons, bare-footed, around the site. It’s a festival you’d take your mum to, and then pop her in a tent in the quiet area after sundown and embrace the night with your mates. The line-up isn’t bursting with the cream of currently touring bands, but there’s so much more to this weekender than music, from gourmet foodstalls to big name comedians, to endless pockets of lesser-known entertainers, that there’s hardly time to notice.

There are a few artists that demand recognition, however, and Emmy The Great sits firmly in that box alongside the best of them, her mid-afternoon Castle Stage set bringing together a hillside’s worth of lazing sunbathers ripe for a little good-humoured folk. She plays the best of 2009 album ‘First Love’, alongside some excavated ‘new-to-you’ songs that have just been released on the Edward EP. The audience swells as the set advances, and Emmy’s cheered back for an encore (a rare occurrence at festivals, constrained as they are by time restrictions), performing the dreamy ‘Everything Reminds Me Of You’.

Who can predict the collective mind of the festival mass? Mercury Prize nominees The Invisible are scheduled for the Main Stage on Saturday, but fail to even really draw enough people to fill a tent. It’s a mad state of affairs, especially considering that the band have such an industry buzz about them and have been blowing people’s socks off with their eponymous debut album. Clearly this doesn’t immediately translate into popular recognition – a great shame given that their swirling, jazz punctured sound is one of the best to emanate from the Big Chill this year.

There is a heavy emphasis on nostalgia on Saturday night, as Orbital officially reform to snatch the headline slot at midnight. The swelling crowd barely squeezes into the huge field before the stage, where they are treated to a visual-audio treat of astounding proportions. Countless people are overheard reminiscing about the duo’s legendary Glastonbury performances 1994/2004 as lasers, bubbles, lanterns and lights punctuate the cloudless night sky late into the night. The Hartnoll brothers appeared humbled by their reception – there can be no doubt that this is a gig worth reforming for.

Saturday night is conventionally ‘the big one’ at any festival; post-Orbital, most are primed for a messy night of raving. Horse Meat Disco in The Coop serves up a side of nu-disco, having garnered increasingly impressive reviews for their south London residency over the last couple of years. Though heavy on the cheese, the set goes down swimmingly as the huge tent filled with movers and shakers under the spangled lights of a giant disco ball.

Meanwhile, for those that like their afters heavy on the bass, Annie Nightingale mashes toxic levels of the stuff at the Frisky Bison, playing with the wide-eyed punters like puppets on strings, at the every whim of her prolonged intros and sliced up tempo changes. She might be sixty-something and have the appearance to prove it, but Nightingale stomps all over the BBC’s ageist policies by playing to the kids better than most of their peers.

After sound restrictions put paid to late night fun around 4am, the Crap Stage becomes the central spot for those who can’t face their sleeping bag. A wee DJ box positioned at the top of the Big Chill hill, its location makes dancing near logistically impossible thanks to the gradient, but that doesn’t seem to matter to most of those present, who likely lost touch with the ground several hours ago. The dancing continues until the rising sun threatens an end to proceedings, and as a chill hits the air festivallers stumble back, thoroughly entertained, even if not yet sleepy.

The Big Chill 2009 - Day 1

Festivals in the middle of nowhere are a yin-yang equation of lengthy journey-times and unprecedented access to some of the most beautiful countryside dear Albion has to offer. It’s no different at this year’s Big Chill, which suffers from train malfunctions to the quaint Great Malvern station (some Londoners endure a four hour journey with the same number of bus-train connections), but on arrival, proves itself to be one of the most spectacularly located outdoor events on the roster. Ledbury is lush, green and full of furry wildlife, though the latter make themselves scarce in the face of having their natural habitat overrun with noisy revellers. The festival site is set into the bottom of a huge trough in the landscape. The uphill trek over the hill reveals this jewel of a festival in its full glory – from the peak of the hill, the whole site spreads into the circular dip of the land, lit up by lanterns and stage lights.

Most punters arrive on Friday, in time for Friendly Fires on the main stage at sundown. Theirs is one of those clichéd, meteoric trajectories of success that bursts from obscurity to mainstream acclaim in the space of one album, but they carry the mantel well. Fresh from a Mercury Prize nomination, they pull a huge crowd all dancing in pale imitation of frontman Ed Macfarlane, whose high-energy funk dance fills the big screens just as his impressive vocal fills the air. Continued performances of this calibre have rendered Friendly Fires the festival band of 2009 – they’re everywhere, magnificently polished in sound and image, and well deserving of the recognition they’ve garnered of late, even for those that aren’t huge fans of the music.

From unbridled brassy joy to the depths of video hell, Warp-associate Chris Cunningham unleashes a ferocious visual assault just next door on the Castle Stage a few hours later. Set to remixes of other artists and his own, more recent, musical outings, Cunningham’s artwork remains perhaps the grimmest, most obscenely magnificent exploration of digital craftsmanship available in the UK today – from that famously ominous Aphex Twin grin and the wide-set eyes of the alien-girl in his Playstation advert, to even more obscure and shocking looping images of swollen, tortured aliens and fleeting forays into porn. The industrial din draws a massive audience, who are, without exception, left open mouthed by such a spectacle.

We’re left gaping by Basement Jaxx too, though for sadly opposite reasons. A swill of hacked together commercialism fronted by voluminous black women and including a painful snippet of Kings Of Leon’s ‘Sex On Fire’ does nothing but wound the eardrums. Thankfully Sheffield-native Toddla T has some audio-healing up his sleeve at the Frisky Bison cocktail lounge. His is another kind of hackmanship, drawing upon a plethora of different styles and genres. Eschewing expectation at every turn, the South-Yorkshire wunderkind mashes breaks with techno coated with a gloriously tongue-in-cheek delivery that assuages ravers into the small hours. Tom Bell, we salute you.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Al Green Interview

For The Quietus

The sleeve notes to Al Green's 1969 album, the seminal Green Is Blues, introduced him as "a young man who is a red hot rhythm and blues singer with a difference that is gonna be greatly dug by all who tune an ear to the variegated tones and shades of this album".

And so it came to pass: by the time Al Green became the Reverend Al Green in 1976, half a decade of prolific album-releasing and hit-making had established him as the father of a new breed of soul music. Combining Memphis label Stax-Volt's brassy arrangements with the caramel vocal of Motown, Green, abetted by producer and friend Willie Mitchell, seduced soul fans and the pop charts, peppering the top 40 with his effortlessly sexy falsetto throughout the early seventies.

Now 63, Green is as effusive as your archetypal evangelical, barely getting through his sentences without breaking into song and then dissolving into laughter. These days he's back into soul, touring compulsively and preaching that same old kind of stay-together love from way back when, while the record labels and agents tot up the royalty fees on his behalf.

As can be the case with interviews with artists of Al Green's stature, it can take a while to actually get a hold of the man. By the time we speak, there's already been two cancellations and, this time, we make sure we listen to the preconditions. We're advised that Green is unaware Demon Digital are repackaging Green Is Blues for a reissue to celebrate its 40 years this June, let alone that there's an accompanying Most Sampled CD collating, um, his most sampled tracks – a fact that will be all too apparent when we finally get to speak to him.

We think we've been stood up for a third time then, just as interview notes are going the way of the paper bin, the phone rings. Michael Jackson's 'The Way You Make Me Feel' is playing. It could be morbidly appropriate hold music – except for there's a preacher man singing along in the background – and then suddenly Reverend Al comes on the line.

Does it feel like 40 years since Green Is Blues was released?
Oh god, no, it seems like it was just yesterday, remember?

Well, I don’t, no…
That was when Michael [Jackson] was playing the Wizard Of Oz.

Do you feel like a different person now to the person who released that album?
I guess so… I guess I’ve grown up in the meantime and I’m a lot stronger now, but I’m still Al, it’s just that I know more and therefore I don’t know anything, if you can make any sense of that.

I wondered about your return to secular music, which you’d kind of departed from by the eighties, and then this decade you came back to making ‘sexy’ songs again – why did you come back to it now?
Oh… oh, I don’t know, that was just what came to pass, I’m just following what was laid out, I’m not the author of anything. The big man upstairs is the author of everything, and you know what else, I got a whole record label named Demon! That’s right! When I go to heaven they’re going to be like ‘huh?’ [laughs] But they’ve really been a great company for me in the European and I guess international areas, so I can’t complain, they’ve been really good.

Okay, so you don’t think there’s any contradiction between making sexy music and being a reverend?
Jeez… you wanna ask the tough questions, huh?! Well, no, I don’t think so, I think there’s a tonne of difference between, say, secular, natural secular, or spiritual, now that’s the dividing line, that’s the difference. Like the ‘Belle’ album, “It’s you that I want but it’s him that I need,” so we can’t go further than that unless you have that element to go further, which is dealing in spiritual things right, right, right, right, RIGHT, RIGHT, RIGHT! [laughs] Now what about this album they’re putting out, what do you think about that?

The reissue?
Yeah.

Well I love it, but it’s been about for a long time now.
Did you guys remix it?

[Demon man comes on the line]: No, we didn’t remix it, we’ve released it in its original form with some bonus tracks on it.

Well, now, that’s just… you gotta send me a complimentary copy. [laughs]

No problem.

Now, Hazel you’re a witness to that right?

Oh I’ve got it all here, don’t worry. Speaking of the Green Is Blues album, you covered the Beatles on that right?
Yeah, the Beatles, that’s right, and I was just 22 or something, going into the studio with Willie Mitchell, um, it was the beginning beginning. So I feel like really it’s the beginning beginning of the ‘One Woman’ song that opens up the album that you know, going into the ‘Give Me A Ticket For An Aeroplane’, the Boxtops, and the Beatles, and ‘Get Back’… I don’t know! We were just cutting a lot of stuff! You know, we were cutting a lot of stuff! We were just flowing! [sings] “Ain’t no love like my baby’s love…” Whatever! [laughs] We didn’t have a direction back then, we didn’t know what Al was, what is Al? You know, Willie kept telling me, “Sing Al Green,” and I was like, “What’s that supposed to sound like?” I didn’t know.

Do you think you know now?
Oh yeah, oh yeah! We know now! We just played the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana to 60,000 people… I think we just about know now.

So is it better now that you know who Al Green is and you don’t have to keep striving for that?
Well, I’m never satisfied with him, I always want to push him further and further and further and further, it’s like a line or a track – because I know the hill’s over here, you don’t try to… uh, try to interpret it before it comes, you just finish the journey. Don’t worry about the hills or the valleys, just finish the journey, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Okay, so you never really feel like you’ve achieved what you set out to do?
Well, you say Creations, Al Green and the Creations, when you start saying Creations you start saying Green Is Blues because that was what he created in himself.

And you’re still striving to create something new every time?
Well, yeah, there’s this guy in the band, and he says to me after the show, “Why do you sing so hard? You already cut this song, this song’s already perfect,” and I go, “Well, I keep trying to make it better. In my head, I keep trying to make it better.” That’s right.

Do you think that’s why you’ve lasted so long when so many of your contemporaries have fallen by the wayside?
I guess so. I think you’ve got to find maybe one thing or two things you can do, and do those real well. And that’s kind of the philosophy of our National Anthem, ‘Let’s Stay Together’, you know. That’s what we do, and everybody comes in on the [sings] “I’m,” – it kills me! – “so in love with you!” Yes yes, okay, great, sit down! [laughs]

Did you ever hear what the Beatles thought of your cover of ‘Get Back’?
It’s like the Roy Orbison song, ‘Pretty Woman’, it’s like the same thing… those guys are so fantastic, so far advanced it what they wrote, it’s just incredible. And people were asking me “how do you sing it?” But I didn’t know – Willie wouldn’t let me hear the song! He said, “Sing what’s inside!” But I’d only heard it on the radio! So he said, “Just sing that!” But he wouldn’t let me hear it! So I had to kinda just improvise… but I think it turned out alright.

What about all the artists, hip hop artists especially, that sample you – Kanye West, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G – do you mind?
Their stuff is incredible.

Do you listen to it?
Yeah, I have to because I’m in the music business. And whether it’s rap, or whatever, I have to listen to it because I have to share in the vocation I’m in.

Okay, sure. So you don’t feel protective over your music when someone is cutting it up and reusing it?
No, I think they do good – Talking Heads ‘Take Me To The River’, that’s just fantastic; Tina Turner ‘Let’s Stay Together’, I said “Hey, man, that’s another interpretation – why didn’t I think of that?!” [laughs]

Have you ever heard your music used in a way that you really didn’t like?
I don’t really know because they send me from Los Angeles only what they want me to hear! [laughs] So I don’t know, I guess it’s a screening process or something! I probably should cut through that, but I don’t know, I guess they’re like “The man is a Reverend, he’s been in the church for 30 years, and now he’s been doing this here for 40 years and we kinda wanna protect the whole career…” the ‘Tired Of Being Alone’, the whole career, you know, ‘God Blessed Our Love’, fine fine fine. The whole thing is illustrated here on the wall with these gold records – but I can’t take these boys with me! Can’t take the money, can’t take the car.

Your music’s got a reputation for being really sexy…
Sexy?

Yeah, really seductive, but why is that?
You’re making an old man nervous! [laughs] Sexy, sexy… well when a man is 22 he’s got hips and a nice BO, he’s got that stance… I mean, Otis Reading didn’t try to be sexy, but he turned out to be sexy anyway – you know, 6’6’’ tall, young, handsome… come on man, I couldn’t help it!

It’s still hard to explain why some music can be so seductive…
I guess it’s kind of seductive if you’re playing it in the car on the way to work or something, and you’re thinking, “I should turn right here…”

What about your music, do you listen to stuff that’s in the charts or when you go home do you have your favourite records that you’re still listening to?
Well, I mean, with the tragedy of Michael they sent me all of Michael’s records, and I’ve played 1, 2, 3, 4 of Michael’s records so far, just incredible to listen to the talent of the man. I met Michael, and I hugged him, I gave him one of those boy hugs, type of thing, because we were over at Tito’s house, and they was having like a pool party with little crackers and champagne or something, and we were all out around the pool when Michael came in, with Germaine and, oh I don’t know man, it was a long time ago. And he says “Oh, I like your music,” and I said “Thanks, I like yours!” He’d been singing longer than me. It’s kind of hard to realise the fact that’s taken place for me. It’s just that everything ain’t right. A wonderful talent – a super-talent!

Yeah I know, but we kind of watched his decline over the last few years, that’s why I was talking about you still having the drive to get out there and do it – that takes a special kind of person.
Yeah, I mean, we’re doing like 100 dates, more than 100 shows a year, so you’ve got to be committed to it, you’ve got to love it to stay in it that long, to do that. Because if you don’t love it you get out of it real fast.

And who knows whether Jackson wanted to do it in the end or whether he just wanted out, you know.
Yeah, it’s kind of a question of whether he wanted to do it, and if he did want to do it, the people were saying he only weighed 112pounds! That he had anorexia! 112pounds! For 50 shows! I don’t know if he could’ve done the 50 shows. But he was a great talent, anyway.

For you personally, was there ever any one moment when you really thought ‘I’ve done it’?
Well, I keep pushing Al, I hug him and tell him how good he is, like at the Superdome, I keep telling him, ‘fantastic, fantastic, now come on, move of further, come on,’ But I don’t know how to tell him he’s done a good job, I just tell him to move on further to the next ladder.

Do you think hip hop and r’n’b has taken over from where soul music left off?
How can Monday be Tuesday? You gotta have your Mondays and you gotta have your Tuesdays. So why don’t Monday stay over in Monday’s slot and Tuesday stay over in Tuesdays slot, Wednesday will be in his slot, Thursday stay where he belongs, and everything will be fine!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Jamie T Interview


Billy Bragg once said, “I don’t mind being labelled a political songwriter – what upsets me is being dismissed as a political songwriter.”

Bragg had politics to write about. He musically came of age when Thatcher was doing one over on every working man that moved, Russia was giving off the nuclear farts of the decomposing Cold War, and people still believed in protest. These days British democracy means being governed by a slack-jawed mushroom who was neither elected nor validated by the public before he gained the authority to place the burden of billions of pounds of debt on its shoulders, nationalise the banks and remain in office while his entire cabinet – and the entire government – rot away around him in scandal.

Thus apathy has replaced activism in the universal attitude to the regime. Jamie T might carry the punk ethic and street serialising of Bragg into this century, but he point blank refuses to be directly political, in songs or in conversation. “I don’t talk about politics because I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he says, blue eyes flashing defensively on a pub terrace in Wimbledon. Presumably then, this is a one-dimensional view of suburbia – all beer, fights, fag and girls? “It’s sad to think that people think that’s all it is – beer, fights… I’ve got a wider perspective than that. I think it’s more important to know how you feel about a situation than to know what you’re fucking talking about. Your daily life comes from a lot of things, a lot of things can affect you, and I don’t think my life is just about beer, fights and cigarettes.”

A little riled, he slurps on his Kronenburg and leans back to light up, in illustration. This is Bragg in reverse: this is politics for the attention-deficient solipsists of a disenfranchised generation – and the only politics they know.

“If I find myself in two years in a mansion having a chat with Mariah Carey then I’ll write about that,” says Jamie of his consistency, “but until that happens I’ll write about the things around me. And no, it hasn’t changed all that much. I think you’d probably know if it had – you’d hear it.”

What you will hear on the Sticks ‘n’ Stones EP on June 29 and forthcoming album Kings and Queens is the same soundbitten street-life, wrapped up in cling-film choruses to sing along to. Jamie’s muses still scuff their shoes on suburban pavements and find mischief in their safe, symmetrical confines. His personal vaudeville is a stage for many players, guest starring, for this series, the gun-toting Emily, the cocky counsel of Joey, and the usual chorus of nameless mates with drug habits and attitude problems.

Four years since Panic Prevention’s schizophrenic mix of beats, punk and raw acoustics and the chain-smoking 23-year-old is still, by his own admission “a cheeky little git,” only now he’s got a top ten album, Mercury nomination, and Best Solo Artist award from the NME, no less. “I suppose it’s difficult when you have to deal with so many people’s opinions and people asking you who you are and what the fuck you think you’re doing,” he comments in a voice that implies he never gave it a second thought. “But once I came to the agreement with myself – early on – that I was going to do whatever I wanted, I didn’t worry about any of that. I didn’t feel particularly part of the limelight in any kind of manner, you know. I feel really part of being in a dark room for seven hours a day and writing music.”

Don’t let the south London accent and wide boy affectations fool you - Jamie Treays is a good boy come good. Raised by supportive parents and educated at private schools, he describes feeling like a ‘Vietnam veteran’ when he came back from touring Panic Prevention and wasn’t supplied nightly with a rider of carrots, hummus and pitta bread – hardly the diet of lager and snuff you might expect. He still lives in his hometown of Wimbledon, twenty minutes from his parents’, with his mate and the big brother who can be held responsible for his first musical outing. “My brother wanted to play the drums and I fucking hated my brother, so that’s when I decided I was going to play the drums to piss him off. He had a little cry about it,” says Jamie, “and after that it becomes your identity as a kid if you start doing something – it becomes what you do.”

What Jamie did was listen to a lot of records – a lot of ska and punk, and then a lot of garage and UK hip hop. But it started with ska. “Back then I was into a lot of Desmond Dekker and stuff like that, constantly trying to work out how it sounded so good – I still haven’t worked it out. So I spent a lot of time locked away, to some extent, having a lot of fun and going [he puts on a Dick Dastardly voice] “shut up, go away, I don’t like you! I like Desmond much more, you’re an idiot!””

Plenty of clean little white boys have appropriated music in their bedrooms. Few sign five-album deals with Virgin. Even fewer stop snivelling over acoustic guitars and write songs that become biting social commentaries better than any government white paper.

“I’ve always known I wanted to do music,” Jamie says, matter-of-fact. “I like doing graphics and a lot of that arty kind of shit. I’ve always been into that stuff, and that goes with doing it your own way. It’s better to do it your own way because if it’s not good then you’ve only got yourself to blame, and that’s what you want. Fuck pointing fingers.”

It seems Jamie T always left the finger-pointing and fisticuffs – political and otherwise – to others. Doesn’t he ever plan to turn his hand to the bigger picture? “We’ll have to see, won’t we? We’ll have to see. I’d rather talk about what’s going on at the moment than think about writing iconic epic songs that have world meaning. Leave that to Bono.”

Funny thing is, for all his apolitical posturing, Jamie T speaks for the streets better than any politician. Just don’t tell him that.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Tori Amos Interview


There’s something terrifying about pop music. All the smoke and mirrors of unrealism clogging the pores – the promise of the impossible sugared by sinister painted-on smiles. Pop music was invented to distil escapism into three minutes; to make us believe that there exists a place where sex-starved, gorgeous women are ten a penny and money comes for free and you can have what you want. Ultimately, pop music is about deceit.

And then there’s Tori Amos. A weird, writhing creature of many faces, she became an icon for the unconventional back in 1992 with her first solo album, Little Earthquakes. It was a deeply personal debut, perhaps best remembered now for ‘A Man And A Gun’, describing Amos’s own experience of rape. At first, Atlantic, her record label, rejected the album, fearing piano pop – the first of its kind – wouldn’t sell in an alternative climate of early nineties hip hop, trance and grunge. Amos fought a four-year battle to have the album released as she wanted it, fending off the ideas of an A-list producer who tried to replace all the pianos with rock guitars. Finally, Atlantic complied. The record was an immediate success.

“I had confrontations with record people at certain times that I don’t think would be my way now,” Amos tells Pigeon, curled up in black in the armchair of a Kensington hotel suite. She’s physically tiny, softly-spoken, and tired – but there’s a steeliness to her manner that can only have come from years navigating the choppy waters of the press. “You don’t even realise you’re agreeing to things, because the industry has so many tentacles. It’s not only the record company, that’s just one little facet. There’s the commercialised media, and then there’s the public – there are a lot of players in this story.”

Tori Amos’s story wasn’t ever conventional – and her pop music was about deceit, but of a different kind. Hers was the kind where fucked up people get fucked – and come out the other side.

It was carried by the enigma that is Amos herself. An odd-looking ‘moonchild’ with a static frizz of red hair, she used to rub herself suggestively against the leather of her piano stool during performances, falling across its keys with total abandon. The spectacle fascinated and enchanted onlookers, as much as the rawness of her material. Endlessly strange and ethereal, that talented pixie-pianist quickly divided listeners, winning legions of fans who stood with her on the outskirts of convention, and felt liberated by her openness and eccentricity.

Twenty years since she signed to Atlantic, and it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not with Tori Amos anymore. She’s mastered the art of disguise, transforming from brazen and bare-faced into quite the smooth professional. Any direct questioning is bound to send her off on rambling tangents about spirituality, mythology and the psyche, while the front that she presents to the world is a polished veneer of thick, ageless make-up and stiff fake hair. She keeps Pigeon waiting half an hour while being minutely groomed by her stylist, who hovers, readjusting things intermittently, during the photoshoot. Has age made Amos vain? Or is this self-defence?

“I realise that I’m 45 and that this is my tenth album,” she says. “But time marches on, and so I guess I’m at that age where you either become someone about whom people say ‘wow, she’s carved a trail’ or you become a tragic figure.”

Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive: surprisingly often it’s the pioneers who burn out under the pressure of their own innovation. The Amos whose first album ushered in a new generation of frank and forthright female singer-songwriters, including Beth Gibbons, Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spektor, has spent the ten years since trying to escape from the clutches of the aforementioned ‘players’, becoming ever more surreal in appearance in the process. It smacks of escapism, her way of coping with the industry that lays claim to her, and it’s rooted in an early struggle for control.

“I’d say in the nineties there were those moments when I got in trouble because I let the woman walk out the room and the teenage girl step back in. But that was more in the early nineties – mid-nineties – and then you learn that being a woman is such a powerful thing. That doesn’t mean I can do everything, but you have to be an expert at choosing experts, and it’s taken me a while to understand that. When you hand over too much power you have to ask yourself why you’re handing it over.”

And then, suddenly proud: “These are all little things that you learn in order to be making your tenth album, and sitting where I am – it’s not because it was handed to me. And the challenges I face all the time are just in a different arena from an artist on their first album, they’re just different issues in 2009 to those that I faced in 1991.”

Power struggles punctuate Amos’s biography. She was born in 1963 – the same year that The Beatles’ first album introduced the world to pop music, and the death of Kennedy signified the end of a democratic era. At the age of five she was awarded a scholarship to study classical piano at the prestigious Peabody Institute in Baltimore; by eleven she’d been thrown out for insisting on playing her own pop compositions in exams. At 21 she moved to Los Angeles, where she formed a rock band by the name of Y Kant Tori Read, the line up of which included future Guns ‘N Roses drummer Matt Sorum. In the same year she suffered the sexual assault that would later be relived in ‘A Man With A Gun’. Her band signed to Atlantic and released one album in 1988, which flopped, but the six-album contract meant that Amos was legally bound to continue producing music for the label: Little Earthquakes was the result.

“I wouldn’t choose a pissing match with a big cheese, I’d sooner drink champagne!” she laughs, but there are chinks of fragility under the bold exterior. “They never set out to be there, nobody sets out to be there, they don’t seem to be in control of their life, but sometimes you’re busy, and sometimes there’s so much coming up that they hand everything over and then you don’t know how to take it back. It’s very easy to hand it over but it’s very hard to start taking responsibility of your life.”

Is Amos talking about herself? Her longheld tendency to deconstruct the female psyche and deflect personal enquiry was best demonstrated on 2007’s American Girl Posse, which saw her adopt various guises to depict five alter egos, both in the artwork and her performances. “I don’t think that one female archetype is totally and completely any woman I’ve ever met,” she explains, aware of the dangers of taking certain character-types to the extreme. “Sometimes someone will show me something and I’ll seem a bit scary, and I think that’s got its context, but… That’s the thing, I’m strong when I need to be strong, but a strong woman can also be very supportive and nurturing and loving, and very feminine.”

Does she think of herself as feminine? “I do! My husband does, my daughter does, they think I’m really warm – southern American and warm – like my mother. But if I’m battling the big boys, in whatever structure I’m having to deal with, it’s a different tone.”

Repeated battles with the big boys at Atlantic Records eventually fuelled Amos’s decision to construct a physical retreat from label pressure. In 1995, while in Ireland to record third album Boys for Pele with sound engineers Mark Hawley and Marcel van Limbeek, Peter Gabriel advised Amos to build a private studio. Two years later, in a collaborative venture with Van Limbeek and Hawley, Amos founded Martian Studios – and a year after that Amos and Hawley were married. Her studio was constructed in Cornwall to escape the pressures of LA, London and New York, and when, in 1997, Amos suffered the first of three miscarriages, the importance of Martian studios to her career can barely be overestimated. It gave her freedom to work independently and respite from industry pressure, allowing for room to experiment. Today, with the ordeal of those troubled years well behind her, Amos has a much more flippant view of Cornwall, saying “my husband lets me crash there, and my daughter goes to school there, but so much of my life happens in the states…”

Her daughter, Natashya, was born in 2000. Afterwards Amos revealed that Atlantic had only allowed her two days to recuperate from the third miscarriage before pushing her back into a gruelling promotional schedule. It was the final straw, provoking her split from the label in 2002, and although she found a home with Epic for several years, last year Amos announced that she’ll be operating independently of all major labels from now on.

Label independence seems hard-won, but not unexpected. Amos has solitarily crafted every album since the completion of Martian Studios in its quiet confines, preventing any major label meddling with her masters. And her output is staggering considering the traumas of her personal life over the last ten years. Typically, however, she attributes her productivity to something else entirely: “I serve the muse. I do, I serve the creative force. I have to do it, when it takes over,” she says. “It can be when I’m taking a shower, sitting having a coffee somewhere, and she walks in, in a dream in the middle of the night – a lot of the time when I’m travelling, because your senses are heightened and you’re out of it. I just resolve myself to the muse being in control.”

And of her latest album, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, “I didn’t think I was going to do it, I thought I was going to take a break, but it took over…”

Why can’t Amos take credit for her own talent – for her own proven ability to withstand the multifarious pressures of producing records and media enquiry? It’s a contradiction that’s dogged her all her life – and a subject that finds a home on her latest release – “I’m fascinated by the idea of erotic spirituality,” she says, oblique as ever. But then: “there’s this idea of being attracted to something that once we’re into we’re not attracted to any more; once we realise what it is, it doesn’t seem very sensual, it seems disgusting to your spirit.”

The struggle between her compulsion to write and release records and the baggage that goes with the whole process is perhaps the reason that she’d now rather let imaginary friends take credit for her achievements. Amos has learned to deal with public and professional scrutiny by invoking eccentricity, and coating it with the lacquer of a contrived ‘public’ face. This deceit – this deflection of reality in favour of a more exciting alternative – is the very definition of pop. But talk to the woman long enough and it’s very clear that there’s a shrewd mind at work behind it all: “I’m a woman who carries my own weight: I hunt,” she says, blue eyes burning behind that distracting red wig. “So if you don’t hunt and you need help, that’s different, but if you’re a good hunter and you’re just sitting on your ass, I’m gonna kick your ass: you can come out and hunt with me.”

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Great Escape Festival Day 3

What better way to start a Saturday than with a secret fans-only gig by Ben Kweller, in a tent? Gigwise, like most other punters at The Great Escape, heard about this and seemingly hundreds of other gigs throughout the weekend by signing up to an invaluable texting service (though the text-a-minute tip-offs did begin to grate a little towards the end). Never one to disappoint, Kweller took requests from the crowd, encouraging sing-a-long renditions of ‘Penny On A Train Track’ and ‘On My Way’, before trying to flog his new album for a tenner at the end of the set, in true troubadour style. Maccabees brothers-in-arms Felix and Hugo were spotted singing along, word-perfect. “The only person I wanted to see was Ben Kweller!” an overexcited Felix told Gigwise at the end of the set.

Saturday’s big news was the not-so-secret Babyshambles gig, which saw Pete Doherty and co. play a six-songs to hundreds of festival-goers at Audio. Those who wanted to attend had to apply for separate tickets, but even that didn’t stop the waiting crowds from queuing round the block hours before the venue even opened. Pete seemed in reasonably good form considering he’d come straight from an impromptu Libertines reunion in London the night before, even managing to head a football kicked up to him by the crowd mid-set.

That night, in Audio’s basement, Fight Like Apes unleashed ferocious sweaty screamy-pop on an unsuspecting, beer-swilling audience. The programme described them as having spent ‘the majority of the past 12 months ram-raiding their don’t-take-no-for-an-answer songs in people’s ears’, and the ram-raiding continued unabated in Brighton. A short while later, on the same stage, San Diego garage rockers The Soft Pack played their second gig of the weekend. The soundsystem didn’t do them justice, but they impressed nonetheless, imparting fuzzily distorted riffs and disaffected obscured vocals to a rowdy crowd that threatened to erupt into full-on rioting – the gig was a definite Escape highlight.

Night-time revellers were low on the ground for the grand finale, perhaps the result of it being the third night of wind-beaten city trudging, but the cosy upstairs of Ocean Rooms busied slightly with the friendly fans of Post War Years, and their polished, punctuating, bleepy indie. Scheduled entertainment was equally thin on the ground after the midnight hour, but those with the stamina graced a marquee dance tent for Queens Of Noize’s very own cocktail of eighties pop and rock, that veered towards the bland as the night drew to a close. No bother – Great Escape had already re-instated itself as the best of the inner-city festivals. As the Camden Crawl with added seaside and cider, it’s pretty hard to beat.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Great Escape Festival Day 2

There were plenty of hungover gig-goers as grizzly as the weather when Friday came around. Daytime shows at Above Audio were sparsely attended, but that didn’t stop San Franciscan fourpiece, Love Like Fire, from playing a full-volume set of grinding guitar riffs and shouty vocals courtesy of frontwoman Ann Yu. James Yuill followed with his own especially enticing brand of bedroom laptop-pop, still managing to look incongruously the nerd even when surrounded by carefully styled Brighton geek-chic. By the time cheery Norwegians Casiokids took to the stage at 3pm the bar was full of the slow-to-emerge Escapers all hoping that some uber-happy Scando-pop could sooth aching heads. Entertaining haircuts aside, blissed-out saccharine songs were just too sweet for our ears, so we headed for one of Brighton’s many punter-filled pubs to find shelter from the storm in large pints of the best southern cider.

Evening entertainment kicked off at the Sallis Benney theatre, where the student cafe served fruit by the piece and cheap tea with portion packets of digestive biscuits, just like a student canteen should. Veils positively tumbled onstage at 6pm – frontman Finn Andrews breathlessly explained that they were “a little disorganised.” The New Zealanders are currently mid-tour promoting album Sun Gangs, and there was an urgency about the performance that Fin later put down to his being used to a ninety-minute touring set, rather than the standard festival thirty. “I kept thinking that thirty minutes is the length of an episode of The Simpsons, which actually seems quite long,” he mused to Gigwise backstage.

Micachu And The Shapes seemed much more comfortable with the rather stuffy industry crowd, chatting amicably with the audience between songs of meticulous pop chaos. One punter was overheard groaning “This music makes me feel so old!” To the contrary, it was very easy to see why Micachu has garnered such a high profile this year – who else could make catchy pop out of vacuum-cleaner samples and a battered, strung up acoustic?

Twilight settled into Brighton’s colourful lanes as Vivian Girls rattled the walls of the Pavillion Theatre with the kind of ballsy bitch rock that could incite impromtu violence against bras. Their set ended with a slick manoeuvre involving them each exchanging instruments without stopping playing – testament to their hefty use of distortion and pedals if nothing else.

Next door in the enormous school-sports-hall of a Corn Exchange, Club NME played host to a considerably younger crowd, who sat cross-legged in clusters on the laminated floor, waiting for neo-folk fourpiece Mumford & Sons. The effects of a day of free-flowing lager were becoming more apparent by the time the wholesome-looking band graced the stage at 11pm – and despite the fact that most of Mumford & Sons’ songs embrace subject-matter that tends towards indulgently melancholy, the venue erupted into zealous jigging and uncontainable grinning. It must have been the banjo (or maybe banjo-player Winston Marshall’s hilarious chicken-like dancing). They claimed it was the biggest gig they’ve ever played, and with an album on the way later this year, things are looking increasingly rosy for Mumford and his progeny.

Metronomy rounded off the night in their usual, infectious electro-vein, but with the added extra-excitement of a completely new line-up including Gbenga Adelekan on bass and one-time Lightspeed Champion drummer Anna Prior. Oscar Cash, on keys, was still affecting the robotic dancing and stylised pouting of Metronomy’s trio days, which made him look like a bit of a twerp, but the new band line-up was an resounding success, giving tired songs from album ‘Nights Out’ an unexpected vitality. If only the same could be said of the drunken punters who wobbled out into the night as the gig finished.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Great Escape Festival Day 1

Part punters’s piss up by the sea, part industry conference, Brighton’s Great Escape festival has established itself as one of the UK’s leading searchlights in the hunt for new talent. True to British seaside tradition, festival-goers can divide their time between arcade games on the pier, ice creams on the pavilion and fish and chips on the beach, or over thirty venues hosting live entertainment from undiscovered and established artists from all over the world. And while the city’s pretty well infested with those carrying ‘delegate’ passes pushing in all the queues (30% of those in attendance are in the business), there’s so much going on that you’d be hard pressed not to discover something special, even if you didn’t quite manage to get into Kasabian.

Brighton welcomes everyone with bad weather on the Thursday, which puts a damper on the trudge between venues. Brighton town proper is relatively small, however, and endowed with a huge number of gig venues all marked on a dummy-proof map, so it’s still fairly simple finding something to suit. Deadpan Londonite Emmy The Great kicks off proceedings at Digital with her delicate mix of acoustics and understatement. While Emmy is as enchanting as ever, the venue is ill-suited to her sound, and songs dissipate in the beery chatter of the crowd, loosing their poignancy somewhat.

Meanwhile down at Concorde 2 youngsters Bombay Bicycle Club have caused a bit of a ruckus in the rain – their gig is heavily oversubscribed and most of the hopeful fans are turned away at the door, left to trudge back down to town and see what else is on offer. A few early gatherers at the Corn Exchange catch noisy Brooklyn duo The Hundred In The Hands, who’ve begun to build a solid reputation from their raucous live performances. Tonight, however, a large proportion of the audience is still sitting in wait for Thursday’s big gig: The Maccabees.

Fresh from a UK tour in which they launched much anticipated new album ‘Wall Of Arms’, Brighton boys The Maccabees are on happiest on home soil, and their set plays out like a huge sweaty homecoming party. There’s the usual favourites from debut ‘Colour It In’, but some of the best received material comes fresh from their more recent release, including a joyous ‘Kiss And Revolve’ that threatens to see the riotous crowd lift off from the floor entirely. It’s a fitting welcome to Brighton – and judging by this reception no one present would be rather be anywhere else.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Madness Interview

So you’re skint, right? And everyone’s talking about how they’ve got no money, and the TV keeps telling us we’re all going to die of swine flu, and the fleeting sunshine has been replaced by those familiar black clouds. God love England.

Some things can be relied on though – Domino’s pizza is doing alright. Lager’s still on tap. And Madness are making a comeback ten years after their last album, with a record about London, no less.

Crafted with an Oliver Twist narrative borne of history, mystery and spectacle, The Liberty Of Norton Folgate explores London’s dirty little corners, sweeping out the oddities for inspection, and putting the city’s story to the tune of a full-scale orchestra. It’s as gleeful as ‘Our House’ was back in 1983. If the hoards of fans screaming every word in the backstreets of Camden at this year’s Camden Crawl are anything to by, it doesn’t matter one bit whether you fell for Madness back in seventies, or you didn’t hear ‘It Must Be Love’ until its rerelease in 1991. Madness are a band of the people, for the people, and they’re back to put a bit of cheer into our downtrodden, recession-filled lives, as Chas recently told Gigwise…

It’s been a decade since you last wrote an album. Why the comeback?
We began in a recession, in a difficult time for the country. It was a wave, so there was something being expressed by The Specials, Madness, The Beat. Then we reformed, again in an economic recession, almost because people wanted us to. And now we’re back in a recession again, and this album is the third energy bubble. I like to think of Madness as a bright shining bit of joy.

Where did the idea for the album initially come from?
Because we’ve been together for so long, it’s difficult to say who said what, when, and we’re it begins. It came from an interest in London, it came from wanting to express that interest, it came from Patrick O’Brien mentioning the Liberties [Norton Folgate is pocket of land in London excluded from the normal legal system of the UK], it came from Sugs reading Peter Ackroyd, it came from me reading Ian Sinclair – it also came from that side of us that likes to be a bit theatrical, you know? There’s elements of Beckett in there, there’s elements of Oliver Twist – when we’re touring we listen to Snow White & The Seven Dwarves and Tommy Cooper, because we get a buzz off that, that’s what we do. I think Madness has got a joyous thing about it – we’re more post-war than we contemporary – we were born around the fifties and early sixties.

What about Madstock, why are you bringing that back?
Madstock is a brand – I want us to be building that live. I don’t really care much about records and recording, I like the live experience. It’s financially sensible because you get 85% instead of 20% on a record.

Speaking of financial incentives – is that why you’re making a comeback?
No, not at all, it’s not like that at all. In fact I get bored with this – you don’t ask an actor if they’re acting in a film because they need the money. I’m an artist, you know.

You feel like you have things to say?
Absolutely, I think it’s a credible album and I think it’s worthy of being released. Someone like James Brown goes on for thirty years playing the same set – but for us it’s not about the same set, it’s about delivering something that people expect and want.

So you feel the pressure to deliver something of a certain quality?
No, not at all. Selfishly, we write for us.

But there is an element of trying to cheer everyone up a bit.
Sure, we play old songs, and when we play new songs we slowly introduce them over time. We’ve got such an extensive back-catalogue that it’s really easy – we can choose between our original songs, a ska-set, and a whole Liberty Of Norton Folgate set – so we change the sets depending on the territory and who we’re playing to.

What about The Specials, are they going to be appearing at Madstock?
Hmm, how can I put this – not if I can help it. I believe that Jerry Dammers started The Specials, I believe he’s a genius, and I think it’s very sad that the band can’t reconcile their differences. [Dammers hasn’t played with The Specials since the 1980s] Music should be a unifying thing, you know, and it just doesn’t feel right to me, to be honest. I know that I’m not meant to be saying these things, and that it’s political but I can’t be arsed with all that – it’s not the real deal.

You don’t want them to play?
I don’t want to stop anyone from what they’re doing, it’s their choice, but do I want them to play? I would feel like I was betraying Jerry in some way, and I wouldn’t betray someone as a matter of principle.

So that’s a no.
That’s a definite, resounding fuck off! [uncomfortable pause] I didn’t mean you! It’s difficult, it’s difficult because they’re a fucking great band. But the fact is that they can’t play original songs due to this rift. I want to mediate and have a little chat with all of them, you know. One thing that Madness is good at is sticking together and being truly friendly. The trouble with The Specials is that they weren’t friends before they were a band, you know. But I love them all individually, seriously, they’re good people.

Do you stay in touch with what’s going on in music at the minute?
I’m listening to Lily Allen’s album, to Elbow’s latest album, I’m listening to The Cinematic Orchestra…

But do you care what’s going on, in terms of what you actually do?
I like to see what cuts the ground a bit, you know – if it’s been in print for fifty years then I’ll read it. I’ve run a record label before, but now, I feel like I don’t need to know what’s going on. I’ve stopped reading newspapers, I’ve stopped watching television, and I don’t want 57 megahertz in my mind, I want 8 megahertz and a fireplace. My truthfulness to my voice is all that matters.

Is this the start of a new chapter for Madness?
I totally see it that way, I see this as the third cherry bomb – boom!