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Record Store Day 2014

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Record Store Day 2014

Posted on 18 April 2014 by Dorian

I may not be willing to queue up from 6am anymore, but I still get excited about Record Store Day each year. the number of participating shops might be dwindling, two of my local participating shops have ceased to be since I first heard of the event, but the list of limited or exclusive records being made available seems to get longer each year.

Go to the Record Store Day site and you’ll see 17 pages listing the different items available ranging from ∆ ∆ (the secret of being first in a list is using some alphabetically tricky symbols) to Zoe Howe (a book rather than a record in this case).

Record Store Day 2014

 

The only way to be certain of getting the items you want from the list is finding a shop that stocks most of them (I’m lucky in that Brighton’s Resident Records always has a huge stock of titles) and get there very early. I’m going to have to hope that my (relatively) short list of “wants”, including Devo, Neko Case*, Grant Hart, Luke Haines and The Lemonheads aren’t on the lists of all the early risers.

Among the pick of the other Record Store Day releases is a vinyl limited edition reissue of The Twilight Sad’s astonishing and haunting 2007 debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters.

Remastered with bonus tracks, including demos, the album has not lost its impact, with lead singer James Graham’s beautiful Scottish vocals sounding better than ever on key tracks such as Cold Days from the Birdhouse.

However, top of my list is a glow-in-the-dark 10″ version of the Ghostbusters’ theme tune. The original 12″ release of the Ray Parker Jr classic was one of my first record purchases, but was sadly mislaid some years ago. A limited edition luminescent version can finally fill that hole in my collection, if it isn’t snapped up before I get there that is.

There has been some controversy this year, and a recent Quietus article explores some of the problems that the day creates for independent labels. Independent labels losing out to the majors in terms of getting vinyl pressed is one issue, but also highlights that there could be a place for a UK based pressing plant in an invigorated climate for vinyl. Another concern is that this year there are 643 releases, compared to 277 three years ago, which suggests that the quality of releases is being compromised in favour of sales that the event generates.

These reservations aside, it is a successful event that clearly helps a lot of the shops that take part and gives an annual boost to a struggling part of the highstreet. Perhaps some tweaks in the next twelve months would be wise by the organisers, scores of average releases will undoubtedly lessen the impact of the more interesting ones. However, if it gets people through the doors of their local record shop spending money, then perhaps that is enough?

By Dorian Rogers

*Since I originally drafted this post I have seen that the Neko Case and Jason Lyttle 7″ version of  ‘Satellite of Love’ has a list price of £14.99. One of the criticisms that people have of Record Store Day is that loads of the releases are overpriced and therefore aimed at Ebay and not fans. Charging £14.99 for a 7″ inch single, even if it is a limited edition coloured vinyl single, is just too much.

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Getting Ready for The Great Escape

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Getting Ready for The Great Escape

Posted on 09 March 2014 by Dorian

May 8th 2014 will see the start of the ninth Great Escape festival in Brighton and I’m already getting excited. The festival has built each year since 2006 and, with 400+ acts playing across 35 venues, it is the premier multi-venue festival in Europe and deserves comparisons to SXSW.

We cover the event each year and our experience in 2013 was of a festival that is getting better with age and one that has a more interesting line-up on show each year.

Kelis

2014 already looks interesting with Albert Hammond Jr, Kelis (pictured), Wild Beasts and Jon Hopkins being among the bigger names that have been announced so far. But as any veteran of the festival will know the recognisable names, as enjoyable as they might be, are not what this event is about. What it is about is new music, seeing someone brilliant you’ve never heard of play above a pub, or outside the library or in a launderette.

For every band I plan to see I discover two new favourites over the weekend, and miss twice as many again. You can see the enormous list of acts announced (so far) on the Great Escape website and buy tickets here.

In advance of the festival we’ll be posting about line-up additions on our Facebook and Twitter pages and we’ll publish a list of ten acts to watch out for a few weeks before the festival (see our ten from  2013 here).

By Dorian Rogers

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Highlights of five years of music blogging

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Highlights of five years of music blogging

Posted on 06 January 2014 by Joe

Five years ago this month myself and co-editor Dorian Rogers decided to start our own music blog. There were lots of reasons, with wanting to write about music the main and obvious one.  Back then I never thought it would last five years but now I can’t imagine life without it. We’ve made no money from the venture and probably never will but that’s not what the site is about, we do it because we enjoy it and have a genuine passion for helping emerging acts get some deserved publicity.

Neonfiller.com is no longer just the two of us anymore, we are proud to have a team of regular contributors who help us to cover around 150 album releases a year and gigs across the UK each month. We even put on our own gigs from time to time. It’s been a great five years and I thought I’d mark the occasion by jotting down five of my favourite highlights.

5. Meeting a bass playing panda

It started with an email back in 2010 from then Surrey-based  musician Paul Coltofeanu about his band Free Swim. He told us they had just released a free EP about a man who was really busy, grafted  some extra arms to his body, had second thoughts and had them removed. We were intrigued. On first listen our relationship was sealed as I discovered they were no mere novelty act. The music was quite simply superb, blending Super Furry Animals with Frank Zappa. Due to some fortuitous timing I ended up being the first person to ever review the band’s debut EP.

Free Swim

Free Swim

In the following years Paul sent us more EPs with equally diverse subjects, from a mountaineering panda to love triangles in Croydon. Musically he’s a great talent, as his other more rock project The Android Angel shows. But it’s his sense of humour and ability to hook in music journalists like us, those at The Guardian and 6Music that impresses us too. Free Swim, who features a bassist in a giant panda suit when they play live,  were also the headliner at our first show in Brighton. A new Free Swim release is promised for 2014. We can’t wait.

4. Top 100 albums list

All good blogs have a top 100 list, right? We tried to do something different with ours and make it loosely based on alternative music with a strong focus on new wave and indie pop. This meant there was no space for albums by the likes of The Beatles, even if I admire them greatly. We released the list ten at a time over a number of weeks and I’m really proud with the result.

Tar-Babies-NC-1

As far as I know we have the only Top 100 album list to feature both The Monks and Tar Babies. So what was number one? You should head over to the list here and find out yourself.

3. Darren Hayman wrote a song about my dog

We are in regular contact with artists about their latest releases and tours. Sometimes we just have a nice chat on Facebook or Twitter. One of my more unusual conversations was with Darren Hayman who during January 2011 was asking for inspiration for songs as part of his attempt to write, record and release a song a day that month.

Knowing he has a dog owner I suggested the tale of my dog who went missing but thankfully turned up after a week alone in the Somerset countryside. Darren was happy to oblige once he knew it had a happy ending. It was illuminating  to  be on hand to offer Darren details of Arthur’s story. The result was remarkable and my biased highlight of his January Songs project and eventual album.

2. Bristol venues

Bristol is my nearest City with decent music venues; and what music venues they are. From the floating Thekla, legendary pub The Fleece, the eclectic Trinity Arts Centre to the out the way Polish Ex Servicemen’s Club. There’s also the beautiful acoustics of St George’s converted church venue and the revamped Colston Hall.

Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012

Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012

The city is simply awash with a range of excellent venues of all sizes and over the years I’ve reviewed some of my favourite gigs thanks to this excellent location, taking in the likes of Belle and Sebastian, Chuck Prophet, Field Music and Okkervil River.

1. Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent judging

Last year was my first year as a judge for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition, in which the winner gets a slot at this prestigious event, which is just eight miles from my home. It was a real pleasure going through the submissions and I’m still in contact with the three acts that I eventually submitted, including Wilitshire’s Super Squarecloud.

Super Squarecloud

Super Squarecloud

As a judge I also got to go to the festival and the contest’s final battle of the bands in Pilton, where I got to see the level of work that goes into just this one aspect of this giant event first hand.

by Joe Lepper

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Glastonbury Festival – My Return After A Decade Break

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Glastonbury Festival – My Return After A Decade Break

Posted on 08 July 2013 by Joe

Glastonbury, what does it mean to you?  Were you heartily sick of the coverage and incessant media chatter or do you love it? Do you kneel at the church of Eavis? Do you subscribe to the ‘best festy in the world’ theory ?

After a ten year  break because of my self imposed ‘it’s not like it used to be’ policy,  I decided to return for 2013 and found that  in reality it is still utterly wonderful. I had clearly forgotten the magic that lies within those Somerset acres.

Backstage with Robyn Hitchcock

Backstage with Robyn Hitchcock

Of course it’s still too big but where else could you have Liam Gallagher for breakfast, Beady Eye rockin’ up the other stage like it was 1992. He’s still got the arrogance, the swagger, the rock ‘n’ rollness. Wow, if this is the first band on, what other delights await us?

Well…deep breath: meeting the mighty lord of the loud shirts Robyn Hitchcock back stage, seeing new synth lite pop kings Bastille, fairies, pixies, mad grannies, inflatable cocks, Public Image Ltd frightening the kids, pyrotechnic overkill, flames, explosions, lasers, out of control dry ice machines, Harry Enfield dancing to Slim Chance, Malian musicians, the overblown magnificence of Nile Rogers and Chic, Tom Tom Club doing psycho killer, whiskey, and then more whiskey with added Tom Tom Club.

From l-r, whisky, the author, Tom Tom Club's Tina Weymouth

From l-r, whisky, the author, Tom Tom Club’s Tina Weymouth

And there’s more. I also saw Keef Richards, met a tiger woman and her amazing tail, saw Tony Benn, as well some people climbing up ropes.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was also Nick Cave as Jesus, First Aid Kit doing Dylan’s Another Cup of Coffee (best sublime guitar solo of the weekend ), a furiously confident set from Stealing Sheep and the discovery of Haim and Rokia Traore.

Highlights continued to pour down over the weekend including seeing Don Letts DJ set, watching ye olde ex Hawkwind members space ritual doing orgone accumulator and master of the universe, Steve Hillage with System 7 and witnessing the legendary Wayne Kramer in my face doing kick out the jams.

MC-5's Wayne Kramer kicking out the jams

MC5’s Wayne Kramer kicking out the jams

In this seemingly never ending list of experiences that can be packed into such a short space of time I also saw The Staves, Zulu Winter, experienced slowly deflating air beds, aching feet, that smell and meeting total strangers who instead of killing you, like in the real world, wanted to be nice to you. I also got to see  Devandra Banhart do his funny little dance at the Park Stage.

To top it all off Public Service Broadcasting turned heavy metal before my eyes,  there were sculptures, installations, 13 trillion DJ sets, a fine rockin’ band called Vintage Trouble, Lloyd Grossman playing guitar, more fairies, hardly any rain and lots of love, love love.

Incredible. Simply incredible.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by John Haylock and Arthur Hughes

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Documentary Special

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Documentary Special

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Dorian

We appear to be in the midst of a bit of a golden age for music documentary, with films about interesting and surprising subjects coming out or being announced with increasing regularity. The reduced cost of making films in the digital age and the new crowd sourced methods of getting funding make creating a film about a relatively obscure artist achievable without the need for cinema showings or guaranteed DVD sales to support the endeavor.

Last year was a good year for the music documentary at both ends of the success and attention spectrum. At the top end was the Oscar winning ‘Searching For Sugarman’ which took an artists that was both obscure and hugely famous (depending on where you live) and coupled it with a fascinating story to great effect. Also notable was the epic homage to George Harrison, ‘Living In The Material World’, that was perhaps too comprehensive but was certainly a labour of love for Martin Scorsese.

TV has been another good source with BBC4 and Sky Arts leading the way in showing interesting and well produced documentary films on a wide range of artists. Sky Arts tends to show archive films but the BBC have made and shown excellent films on the likes of Squeeze, The Kinks and a surprisingly in-depth look at the work of Chas and Dave. They also have a film about David Bowie in the pipeline which features world renowned Bowieologist Nicholas Pegg in a consultant role.

Lawrence of Belgravia

Lawrence of Belgravia

Last year saw two of British music’s greatest curmudgeons celebrated in film, Felt/Denim/Go-Kart Mozart main-man Laurence and former Auteur Luke Haines.

‘Laurence of Belgravia’ was perhaps the better film and showed Laurence as an increasingly delusional figure, clinging on to concepts of stardom that  would never come, although it is all wrapped up in a self-perpetuated myth by the artist himself. (You can watch a trailer for the film here).

‘Art Will Save The World’ shows Luke Haines as a figure who is increasingly affable and comfortable with his place in modern music. At odds with his (again self-perpetuated) image as the most evil man in Brit-pop it sees him moving towards becoming something of a national treasure. It is perhaps best viewed as a companion piece to his excellent memoir, ‘Bad Vibes’. (You can watch a trailer for the film here).

Pitchfork has also entered the music documentary arena  and done some sterling work as part of their Pitchfork Classic series of films. These films are similar in concept to the 331/3 series of books focusing on a single album by the band in question whilst offering up some biographical details about them. These films to date have been of a very high quality and managed to get all the principle players interviewed for the films and included some excellent archive footage. Best of all is the recent film about Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, and managed to make a brilliant record seem even better. (You can watch the whole of the film on the Pitchfork TV site here).

The Sad and Beautiful world of Sparklehorse

The Sad and Beautiful world of Sparklehorse

Below I preview four films scheduled for release, or in development, most of which have been made possible by crowd funding (the pros and cons of which I will not discuss here, although it is much debated).

‘The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse’ is a film about the music of the late Mark Linkous, one of my favourite recording artists. The UK interview filming has been completed and the producers are currently trying to raise funds for interviews in the US and Europe on this crowd-funding website. I have mixed hopes for this film based on the interviews captured to date, with some like-minded musicians such as Jonathan Donahue and Ed Harcourt included as talking heads. More worrying is the appearance of TVs Matthew Wright in the film, he may be a big fan but this doesn’t add credibility.  Hopefully the remaining interviews will include collaborators like David Lowery, Dangermouse and PJ Harvey and the archive footage could be what lifts this film.

‘Song Dynasties’ has already managed to get full funding through Kickstarter and looks set to bring out the story of Kevin Barne’s Of Montreal on DVD later this year. The film has been put together from hundreds of hours of footage from throughout the band’s career and has been 16 years in the making. If it is anything like as entertaining as Of Montreal are live on stage then it will be captivating viewing. (You can read more about the project and watch a trailer for the film here).

In February we posted a review of a little-known (in this country at least) album by the South African punk band National Wake.  We now have an opportunity to find out more about the African punk scene thanks to the forthcoming release of ‘Punk In Africa’, a film made by Deon Maas and Keith Jones in South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Kenya. (No UK showings of the film are currently scheduled but more details about the film and some footage can be found here).

Best of all is ‘Are We Not Men?’, a film about Devo. And  if you watch the trailer (above) you’ll see what an exciting film it looks to be. Devo were colourful, subversive, different and had some ideology to support the ideas in their songs. The perfect subject for a documentary film and one that should appeal to those unfamiliar with the band as well as their fans. The film was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $70,000 and is scheduled for a release in August this year.

If you have any favourite music documentary films, or know of any interesting projects in production, please post a comment below.

By Dorian Rogers

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David Bowie is Cool. Who Knew?

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David Bowie is Cool. Who Knew?

Posted on 26 February 2013 by Joe

I’m being facetious of course with this title. There is of course a whole generation of people who know very well that David Bowie is cool. Those, who in their early teens in 1972 saw Bowie transform from one hit wonder  to glam star, knew it. Also in the know were those who marvelled at Bowie’s originality a few years later with his  so-called Berlin trilogy of albums of Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. And there were the ultra cool romantics of 1980, who watched in awe as he joined forces with the likes of Steve Strange as the vanguard for a whole new genre.

Bowie's 1977 classic album

Bowie’s 1977 album that launched his Berlin trilogy

But then there’s me. Born in 1972, I was a baby when Ziggy played guitar, a toddler when Bowie was off his mind on cocaine in the US, and starting primary school as he was gazing at the Berlin wall listening to Kraftwerk. For my formative years Bowie had broken the mainstream stadium rock circuit; to the teenage me he was merely a middle-aged, silly-haired bloke, dancing around in his pyjamas with Mick Jagger and dressing like a pixie king in the fantasy backcombing film Labyrinth. To me he was just about as far from cool as it’s possible to be.

Fast forward a fair few years and here I am in my early 40s discovering what I’ve been missing out on. The internet has of course helped. Through Facebook and Twitter friends such as That Petrol Emotion guitarist Raymond Gorman (now with The Everlasting Yeah) I’ve been enthralled by clips of tracks I never knew existed. I’ve also heard those tracks from his past, which I dismissed  for years, in a whole new light.

I’ve also been swotting away as a new Bowie convert by reading The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg’s weighty, exhaustively detailed but wonderfully written definitive Bowie manual.

So what have I discovered? I’ve discovered that 1971’s Hunky Dory is arguably the greatest pop album ever made. I can’t think of a single album to boast as many great pop songs as this album has, from Changes to All You Pretty Things, the majestic Life on Mars to the ballsy Queen Bitch. He also finds time on the album to cement his influence on the likes of Kurt Cobain and J Mascis with Quicksand, which Mascis’s band Dinosaur Jr were to later cover.

I’ve found that Aladdin Sane is one of the best 1970s rock albums. While I was familiar with Jean Genie, how did the awesome Panic in Detroit or Watch that Man pass me by for so many years?

And as for the Berlin trilogy. These three albums, Low in particular, excude coolness. I’d heard the track “Heroes” before, of course. But I’d never really listened to it until recently. I’d never really heard just how Robert Fripp’s sumptuous guitar effortlessly elevates this song. This particularly surprised me as I was more than happy in my early teens to let Fripp dazzle me with his star turn on Blondie’s 1978 track Fade Away And Radiate.

But on both Low and Heroes in particular there are amazing new songs for me to hear,  as the magpie like Bowie cherry picked his way across genres to create a pair of albums that were wholly unique at a time when other former Glam stars were struggling for credibility amid punk and disco. For example Be My Wife, with the simple lonely video of  a made up Bowie and his guitar, set the template for Blur and Britpop. Always Crashing in the same car, also from Low, has one of the best melodies and riffs I’ve heard, Sound and Vision is just remarkable and on “Heroes” Joe the Lion would surely have been the child version of me’s favourite song if I’d have heard it when it came out.

As Bowie prepares to release his first album of new material in a decade, The Next Day, there will be many more from my generation to realise that this quiffed pixie lord of mainstream 1980s rock is in fact just about the coolest bloke in music. As you can see by my omissions there are plenty more examples of the cool Bowie for me discover. The soul funk of Young Americans and Station to Station, the influential alternative rock of The Man Who Sold The World and Lodger, the third in the Berlin trilogy to name but a few.

by Joe Lepper

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Robert Pollard – The Big Make-Over

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Robert Pollard – The Big Make-Over

Posted on 09 February 2013 by Dorian

Regular readers of this site, and anyone who knows me, will realise that I have an unhealthy obsession with the music of Guided By Voices and their leader Robert Pollard. Recently I stumbled across a video entitled The Who Went Home and Cried on YouTube. It is a brilliant film in that it captures the most incredibly relaxed band rehearsal you will ever see. Also it features Pollard himself playing all the lead guitar (something you rarely get to see) and some great versions of lesser known songs.

One such song featured is ‘The Big Make-Over’ from his 1999 solo album Kid Marine. The song is one of my favourites and inspired me to put together an accompanying video for the album version which you can see below.

I’m no skilled film maker, my camera skill and editing are sorely lacking in finesse. However, I think that the rhythm, shaky camera and lack of obvious meaning fit with Pollard’s song pretty well.

Robert Pollard - Kid Marine

Kid Marine is no longer in print, and as such quite expensive to buy, but can be listened to on Spotify.

By Dorian Rogers

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Neonfiller among Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition 2013 judges

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Neonfiller among Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition 2013 judges

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Joe

We are pleased to announced that Neonfiller.com has been selected as one of 40 online music websites to take part in the judging for the Glastonbury Festival emerging talent competition.

The prize is a main stage slot at this year’s festival. Entry is free but bands have to be quick as the competition is only open from 9am Thursday 17 January to 5pm Thursday 24th January. More information about how to enter can be found here.

As a judge Neonfiller.com’s co-editor Joe Lepper will help compile a long list of 120 acts by sifting through tracks over the coming weeks and listing his favourite three acts.

The long list will then be whittled down further to just eight by a judging panel including organisers Michael and Emily Eavis ahead of a live final showcase in April.

Joe will be blogging regularly on Neonfiller.com  throughout the judging process with articles about the acts that have impressed him. His role as a judge also means he will be attending and reviewing this year’s festival.

Previous winners have included Stornoway, The Subways and Ellen and the Escapades.

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The Miserable Rich live at The Dome Studio Theatre (30/11/12)

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The Miserable Rich live at The Dome Studio Theatre (30/11/12)

Posted on 01 December 2012 by Dorian

When The Miserable Rich take the stage at Brighton’s Dome Studio Theatre it is a bittersweet event for the home crowd who have ventured out into the cold to see the band play. You know that a great show is in the offing, but there is also the knowledge that this is the band’s last show, if not for ever, for a long time.

The Miserable Rich

Since I first heard the band in session playing ‘Boat Song’ on Marc Riley’s 6 Music show I have managed to see them seven times in total. This may not seem a lot to the kind of people that obsessively follow their favourite acts, but I have always loved variety and seldom see anyone play that often. It also occurs to me that I have seen them play in a wider variety of venues than any other act.

Here, for posterity, is the full list:

  1. In the heart of South Downs at The Beachdown festival
  2. Upstairs at the Union Chapel as part of a Willkommen Collective takeover
  3. In Resident Records
  4. Downstairs at The Hare and Hounds
  5. On an derelict bowling green in Queen’s Park
  6. In The Green Door Store
  7. And finally, in The Dome Studio Theatre

The significant point about all the shows being that they all had a different feel, but were all a brilliantly performed showcase of great tunes, the final night being no different.

The set-list picked pretty evenly between the band’s three albums, the quality mark being so high that it is hard to pick out highlights from the set. ‘Ringing The Changes’ was memorable as James de Malplaquet forgot the words, not once but twice, and the rendition of ‘Boat Song’ played (as has become tradition) from within the audience was a fitting finale. Also notable was a version of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ that sits in nicely with the band’s other excellent cover choices through their time together.

The band were joined on stage for about half the set by their original guitarist Jim Briffet, boosted to a seven piece from their original five member line-up. One of the great skills of the band is their ability to move between big sounds and delicate moments, sometimes several times within a song.

The band are officially on hiatus, the members pursuing alternative musical endeavors for the time being. The good news here is that there are several great new acts that could rise from the ashes of the band in the next few years. I hope that they do reunite at some point in the future, the prospect of a forth album and more shows is certainly something I would welcome. If, however, this really is the last we’ll see of them then at least I have been lucky enough to enjoy them more than most.

By Dorian Rogers

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John Howard: Time Will Heal Things

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John Howard: Time Will Heal Things

Posted on 07 November 2012 by Joe

John Howard was once the next big thing. Signed by CBS in 1973 he was part of a wave of major record label interest in English singer songwriters. But despite having the pop sensibility to rival the likes of Paul McCartney, CBS found it hard to market his witty, intelligent lyrics and eccentric demeanour. Looking a like a cross between Peter Cook and Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus record execs, who were used to handling the next Marc Bolan or David Bowie, just didn’t know how to promote him.

By the time his debut album Kid In A Big World was released in 1975, Howard found himself struggling to fit into any category as glam began its descent and punk was another year away from the wider public’s gaze.

He proved just too tough a sell to radio stations and the public, and after three years Howard left CBS; a  career stalled  before it had even began.

He meandered through the music industry for the next few years working with Trevor Horn and Culture Club among others but by the early 1980s he gave up recording and moved to a new career in music industry A&R. As his website says “feeling disillusioned with lack of success or recognition, John locked his piano lid and walked away from unrealised ambitions, only occasionally recording material when producer friends asked him to.”

He retired from the industry in 2000  and moved to Pembrokeshire with his partner Neil France, where it would have been all too easy to sit back grumpily in front of the TV muttering about “what a shit business it is” every time X-Factor came on. Instead though he started to write and perform again, first playing in local pubs, and even piano bars on cruise ships and in 2003, after decades of artistic obscurity, he found himself not just  a man in demand but actually cool.

Arguably it was the internet that saved him, with an online buzz among music fans, journalists and bloggers created after Kid In A Big World was featured in the book In Search of The Lost Record. Suddenly there was a new audience for his music, one not clouded by 1970s ideals of what a rock star should be and used to seeing a raft of musical square pegs in round holes from Jarvis Cocker to Malkmus.

With the album’s reissue in 2003 Howard’s rebirth was nearing completion. Further reissues followed including his unfinished CBS album Technicolour Biography. With each four and five star review Howard realised that the time was right to start releasing new material.

I’d never heard his music until he was name checked, along with Bill Fay (another singer songwriter snapped up and discarded during the 1970s) in a press release for The Gift EP, the 2012 release of piano ballads by Ralegh Long, one of the UK’s current crop of emerging singer-songwriters. I feel like something of a fool now for letting Howard’s stunning, pop savvy, clever songs pass me by until now.

Better late than never, though and I now find myself  working my way through his back catalogue. I’ve decided to start with one of Howard’s best comeback albums, As I was Saying, which shows just what the record industry has been missing all these years.

The song writing is just about perfect, full of McCartney-esque melodies and tongue in check lyrics as he ponders getting old, his career and the state of the modern music industry.

There are echoes of Billy Joel’s Piano Man and Elton John in his prime but all wrapped up in something wholly contemporary with enough of an edge to interest older music fans and young up and coming artists like Ralegh Long alike.

The lyrics “Time will heal things, so they say, but they lie” opens the track Taking It All To Heart, a beautiful, powerful ballad that sums up his reflections on the past perfectly. The Dilemma of a Homosapien then comes in with jaunty echoes of a raft of songwriters that emerged and disappeared from the public’s gaze during Howard’s hiatus, such as Robyn Hitchcock and Pete Shelley. Special mention goes to this track’s killer chorus; most songwriters can only dream of writing anything so catchy.

Among the most intriguing is Oh, Do Give It A Rest Love, coming in at over seven minutes it is the most obvious tale of his musical career, with almost everyone of importance over the last 40 years getting a name check from Jimi Hendrix to Simon Cowell. My favourite is the timelessly upbeat Life Is Never The Way We Want It To Be.

Next up for me as I explore Howard’s career is his latest release, You Shall Go To The Ball, sent to me out of the blue by Howard’s partner Neil from Spain, where the couple now live.

Although recorded recently the tracks are largely from Howard’s 1970s CBS days, including demos that failed to make it past the powers that be.  Howard explains: “The songs are those which thirty five to forty years ago were only ever demoed and which I wished I could have recorded properly with the backings I could hear in my head.”

It’s a less accessible listen than As I Was Saying, with Howard opting for the slightly maverick idea of interweaving new interpretations of his older piano ballads and pop songs with soundscapes. This gives the album a dream like, almost Brian Wilson produced feel,  with his forgotten songs  shining brightly throughout. Star Through My Window is particularly good. How this track failed to become a hit in the 1970s seems bizarre when listening to it now. It sounds like a track that’s been part of the musical ether  for decades rather than locked away beneath Howard’s piano lid.

Forthcoming acquisitions for me will be his 1970s reissues, with debut album Kid in a Big World and its English pop gems such as Family Man,  the one I’m particularly looking forward to hearing.

As well as his music, I love the story of Howard; of a talented musician who started his career as a square peg in the music industry but has now at last found the audience that the 1970s CBS record execs failed to discover for him. Perhaps his experience has shaped him for the better. Reading this interview with him from 2005 he displays a modesty and sense of joy in knowing he has an audience that may have been lacking if he’d have been a global star since the 1970s.

Howard’s story is a lesson to all those talented musicians out there struggling to get heard. Cream always rises, even if it takes a few decades.

by Joe Lepper

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