All The Pretty Horses…

Heavyweight Soundclash Or “Two Bald Men Fighting Over A Comb”
February 18, 2007, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Compadres, Listening

rather than doing something sensible like, I dunno, having an allotment or recreating the battle of Helm’s Deep out of Gummi Bears, the Chuckle Brothers of the UK reggae scene are having a soundclash..

Opening salvos fired by bad bwoy John Eden on his blog, whilst Rankin’ Paul Meme is playing it a little cooler. But it’s a mix of two halves and in the end one tinpan sound is going down – but which?

When the mixes are posted, I’ll let you know. Less Rodigan vs Bass Odyssey, more Big Mountain Vs Ace of Base, but bless ’em for trying!!!


Rockin’ N’ Reelin…
November 1, 2006, 6:38 pm
Filed under: Dancing, Listening

Really looking forward to playing at this.. I occasionally dust off some old swing / big band stuff, but to play a proper set of R&R, R&B and swing will be a bloody treat.. do come down!

October 31, 2006, 11:24 am
Filed under: Blogging, Listening, Reading

I’ve realised that I’m finding it increasing difficult to write about things I like.

It’s no surprise that ‘positive’ writing is generally harder – I presume that’s taken as a given? – but I seemed totally hamstrung by it these days. I wanted to write a blog piece about The Rockingbirds – how much I love them, how much I feel they missed out on tremendous acclaim and success by being a couple of years too early the ‘alt-country’ thang – but it turned into some kind of wiki-style potted history. Every time I tried to write about how Alan Tyler’s songs make me feel, I just seized up.

So I’ve been thinking about why. It was easy when I was a kid. Even when I was in the more ‘industry’ bits of the ‘industry’, and thus wrote fairly functional reviews, I still had the odd outlet (bigger review pieces, contributions to Lime Lizard etc) to set out my stall in slightly more passionate ways. But now, it just makes me squirm.

I guess it’s about self-consciousness / self-awareness. When you’re younger you’re both happier to look dumb (or unaware that you DO look dumb) and less aware of what your words seem like to others. You can write your purple prose full of absurdly OTT descriptions of the transports of ecstasy that your latest favourite single ever delivers, and you don’t cringe as you do it. As you get older, and you’ve read similar pieces by others and winced at them, perhaps you look at your own writing and clam up.

It’s also, I suspect, a rare talent to write with a ton of enthusiasm and passion about music and not look like an arse. Somebody like Bangs could do it (his review of Astral Weeks is pretty much my benchmark for this kind of writing) but more often than not even he just sounded like a cough-medicine-addled tit.

And that’s why, I guess, you end up with the Mojo / Uncut school of music writing – long on references and analogies and comparisons, but pretty short on joy and excitement. The aforementioned Rockingbirds piece did all that – compared them, contextualised them, boxed them off. It wasn’t a bad piece, really, but you wouldn’t have come away with any real sense of why I love them so much. Which is a shame.

The flipside of this, of course, is that it never seems to get any hard to write damning criticism of things. Even things you don’t detest, exactly. In fact, as you get older and more cynical and you’ve consumed more ‘stuff’, it all serves as further ammunition, till you can spew out all sorts of clever bile about rubbish pop records and pompous indie goons. And for every review of the calibre of the Bangs one mentioned above, I bet I could name 10 brilliant demolition jobs where a writer has reduced some poor sod to a heap of fuck-all. At least, in the writer’s mind, and mine…


Back Among The Folks
October 30, 2006, 2:40 pm
Filed under: Dancing, Listening

A great day ambling around north London (part of an ongoing campaign to do ‘different’ stuff and not spend every weekend wankered or recovering from being wankered) saw PieFace and I end up at Come Down & Meet The Folks in the early evening.

I used to go to this fairly regularly when it was in its two Camden locations but have failed to make it to the new pub – The Apple Tree in Clerkenwell(ish) – probably for the ‘wankered’ reasons above. I was expecting a new, spacious location but instead the pub – which is a grand old place on Mount Pleasant – was absolutely rammed, with people squeezed onto stairways and even forced to stand in the pub’s glass-panelled porch and peer through. Apparently, it’s not usually this crazy but it was all about Redlands Palomino Co, of whom more later.

First shock of the evening was seeing Alan Tyler reborn as a heavily-bearded mountain man. Alan’s someone I know to say hello to / chat with and he’s pretty much a hero of mine, because he fronted the Rockingbirds. Of whom, I suspect much more later, in another post.

Anyway, these days he fronts The Lost Sons of Littlefield and runs Come Down & Meet The Folks (Steve Tree used to run it with him but has fled to California or something, which is a shame – Steve is I believe widely regarded as the nicest man ever, and possibly the 5th tallest) and is incredibly hairy (the above pic must be quite old!).

I guess the main thing about CD&MTF is the music – all broadly in a country / country rock / bluegrass vein, although everything from The Stones to folk to a bit of rocksteady even has been known to appear on the decks (this week manned by John The Boatman, who has a fascinating face and bears a passing resemblance to a dignified, melancholy Harry H Corbett). You usually get two main acts and a short acoustic try-out spot, and sometimes Alan plays a song or two as well. All of which is free, save for the pintglass passed round at the close for donations (and is always brimming by the end).

But there’s also a fantastic environment to the club – it runs from about 5-8.30pm on a Sunday which works really well, and the atmosphere is incredibly friendly and welcoming and involving. I’d not been for more than a year but still saw a few regulars who remembered me, which is good for a South London boy in a North London boozer.. It’s all a bit shambolic – bands squeezed between tables, potplants getting caught in strings, fairly solid drunkenness.

The first guy yesterday, who’s name I don’t recall, was pretty good – looked like Gram, sounded like Rod singing one of Gram’s songs, you get the picture. Next up were the Southern Tenants Folk Union, who were great.

Looking like a Camden take on The Band – slightly ragged church-going suits and impressive sideburns – they’re very much in the southern gospel / bluegrass / gothic americana vein and damned good at it, especially since they’re a fairly new outfit (although they’ve got members from The Arlenes, The Coal Porters, Foghorn Leghorn and a bunch of others). All a bit haphazard but great songs and very ‘authentic’, although in this kind of context maybe that’s an insult (“presumably atheist North Londoners sing Appalachian songs about Jesus. Discuss”).

Redlands Palomino Company headlined and were really enjoyable, even though initial impressions were that they’re a bit pedestrian / MOR

I guess it IS a bit MOR – very pleasant and very crafted country rock with lots of harmonies and passion. But something about their enthusiasm, their drinking, the atmosphere and lots of pedal steel (“knitting machine”) won us over (which is a good job since I think the crowd were so partisan, any dissent could have seen us driven out of North London with flaming pitchforks). Nothing too astonishing, then, but pretty decent.. Oh, and a guest spot from a former Sugababes member (Siobhan, the first one to fall victim to the Mutya Machine) helped, too..
So, yes, totally recommended – I can’t think of another club that operates in quite the same way (perhaps What’s Cookin’ in Leytonstone, which by its own admission nicked the CD&MTF template to very good effect) and quite so successfully.

Spank The Monkey / Dan Sartain
October 18, 2006, 10:52 am
Filed under: Dancing, Listening, Looking

Another flying visit to the north-east at the weekend for a family event (not mine, hers!) proved pretty fruitful. I do love Newcastle – it seems to have made it through the bad old days with a sense of civic pride (as naff as that sounds) and an innate good nature intact, unlike other cities which seem to have slipped into a more bitter and twisted mindset. It’s a place where things are happening – just check the music and arts listings – and despite the worst excesses of the Bigg Market, it’s just a great city to mooch about in. And the view up or down the Tyne is fantastic – remnants of long-dead industries jostle with shiny new constructions like the Sage (which is otherwise a disaster, apparently, no matter how good the acoustics might be!) and the bizarre beartrap style pedestrian bridge. Somehow, the ragbag of designs along the river and its immediate environs fits together as a whole and it’s full of different angles and materials and curious juxtapositions.

Anyway, first off, I made it beyond the shop at the Baltic Arts Centre on the Gateshead side of the Tyne and actually into the gallery itself. As I’d heard, it’s all a little underpowered and much as I was very excited about the current Spank The Monkey exhibition of ‘street art’, it proved to be pretty underwhelming. The top floor contained a handful of works crammed in one end and then a faux-street scene with a nice shiny skateramp installed. The walls were covered in really poor grafitti, as if it were a demonstration by a flustered Daily Mail reader of the sort of thing that really gets their goat – an exhortation to Smash The State covered one wall.

It was all a bit, I dunno, ‘naff’, I guess – despite the odd Shrigley scribble popping up on the walls.

The lower floor was better – there was some great work on display but just so little of it. The large space was sparsely decorated, and inevitably it was the Shepard Fairey piece that totally dominated – I guess the red / black quasi-propaganda stuff from this ‘World Heavyweight Champion Propagandist’ has been done to death but it still works at a really basic level.

The other work of note was from Kozyndan, who had provided two Newcastle-specific pieces which were really impressive

“A matter of PRIDE: The Battle on the River-Tyne (Ootside! Yeandme!)” 
(larger version of the piece here  )

Kozyndan’s blog also has some great pics of the show that I couldn’t hope to get, forced as I was to furtively whip out my camera when the staff weren’t about..

There were some other good pieces dotted around, and a very lazy Banksy piece (but sod the backlash and the cries of sell-out, he’s still got enough wit and cojones that I don’t care who he sells to or what he gets up to, as long as he still sticks to his guns in other ways) but the highlights were the lovably daft Shrigley banner on the side of the Baltic itself (proclaiming “You Cannot Help Looking At This”) and the absolutely HUGE Shepard Fairey canvas draped along the back wall of the adjoining car park:

It’s about 80m long, I think, and while there’s something a little lame about how obvious the imagery is, it still looked pretty impressive – you can see it from the other side of the Tyne. I’m a sucker for propaganda imagery, I think, which feeds into the whole People’s Republic of Disco schtick.. The image above is from my own pics, laboriously stitched together, and doesn’t really give a sense of the scale of the thing

The Baltic is a fantastic building with big ideas, but if this show is any indication – and I’m led to believe it is – they really need to step up the quality of the shows.


Straight from the Baltic to RPM Records near the train station to see Dan Sartain and his rhythm section do an in-store. They’re always odd experiences, in-stores – nobody’s drunk (well, I was on the way.. ) and there’s no atmosphere. But after a nervous start, Sartain – a wiry guy somewhere between gang-fight cool and hillbilly geek – warmed himself and the small crowd up a bit and played a pretty good set, crammed in between the counter and the vinyl racks. I bought a single, started to queue for a signature and then remembered I was 38 years old.

And then we went to see him properly the following night at the Cluny, a new-ish venue under Byker Bridge in what seems to be the new gentrification zone of The Toon. It’s a great place – interesting split layout, friendly staff and promoters, good sound – and seems to err to the rootsy / country end of things (although a show there with the Lemonheads earlier in October must have really gone off! – 300 people in a smallish space for a biggish band!). Released from the aisles of RPM, Sartain and his rhythm section were in fantastic form – I love it when a band look like they were formed by committee (the drummer was a very smart, very smiley black guy in a crisp shirt, the bassist a cross between a member of Slayer and Jerry Garcia). It’s all very basic stuff – country / rockabilly with a bit of garage fuzz and some mariachi / Latino cha-cha-chas – but very well done. Sartain revealed himself as a little odder than you might first expect, but a funny fucker with it. Very broke as well, apparently, despite trying to sell 7″s afterwards at a fiver a pop, so go out and get the album – it’s very good indeed.

Besame Mucho!
October 4, 2006, 11:42 am
Filed under: Listening

You should indeed ‘Join Dan Sartain’. He’s excellent – not only does he look like he’d be in an early 60s teenploitation movie – in a biker jacket, ‘hopped up on goofballs’ – but he sounds it too. All teenage rockabilly thunder and snarly garage moves. And a brilliant / hilarious mariachi take on Besame Mucho.

He’s from Alabammy! He’s connected with Rocket From The Crypt! He’s the bomb!


stuff here and here

This Is Everything PROD Was Set Up Against
September 27, 2006, 4:35 pm
Filed under: Listening

click here for a larger version