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La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin

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La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin

Posted on 18 November 2013 by Joe

After watching this video for Antitaxi, the opening track on the debut album from Bairritz based surf popsters La Femme, I’m fairly convinced they are just about the coolest band on the planet, well, in France at least.

Psycho+Tropical+Berlin+La+Femme++Psycho+Tropical+Berl

Set in a frantic, cool as you like French club this video shows the band ooze style; and as for the music, well, its so far up our Rue its bought a house on it and moved in. Mixing surf guitar, synths, psychadelic rock plus an underlying Devo like punk/new wave sense of fun and edge, they have it all for us.

Then when I read the press release and they just get even cooler. While hanging around a surfing contest in Biarritz, the blurb tells us, they met some California surfers, made friends with them, saved some money and then spent three months in the US state packing in 27 gigs.

At 16 tracks long, including a bonus cover at the end of Chuck Berry’s Baby Doll, it is either a bargain or could do with a little editing depending on your propensity to get up and dance to odd ball pop music. Even at my advanced years I can still give it a go and there’s plenty on here to please the fleet of foot. Amour dan le Motu is immediately a contender for single of the year, sounding somewhere between surf pop and Japanese act Pizzicato Five. While Sur La Planche 2013 has lashings of catchy guitar and synth hooks. There’s also times for an angular and psychedelic take on the whole genre of pop with Nous étions deux.

As debuts go this up with there with the best of them.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

 

 

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Top Ten Glastonbury Festival Gigs (2011-2016)

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Top Ten Glastonbury Festival Gigs (2011-2016)

Posted on 19 June 2017 by Joe

With five Glastonbury Festivals, from 2011 to 2016, under our belt we decided to have a look back at some of our favourite gigs over that time. Feel free to mention your favourite Glastonbury performance in the comment section below or let us know if you also saw any of these acts.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Pyramid Stage 2013

Cave and co were scheduled before trustafarian folksters Mumford and Sons on the Pyramid Stage. The Bad Seeds promptly took ownership of the iconic main stage and presented the waistcoat wearing fops with one of the festival’s greatest ever ‘follow that, arseholes’ sets.

Resplendent in silk black suit and paisley shirt Cave provided a master class in how to perform at a festival. Each soft moment perfectly placed among the dangerous, violent lyrics and tales of murder that Cave has excelled at throughout his career. The brooding epic Jubilee Street became an instant live favourite, as were older classics such as Mercy Seat and a spellbinding encore of Red Right Hand.

The real highpoint though was Stagger Lee, as Cave embarked on one of two attempts to crowd surf/schmooze. As he screamed at those he made contact with about all the things he was going to do to poor Billy Dilly in the song suddenly this pre-Raphaelite looking women appeared. She kept resolute eye contact with Cave throughout as he ended up singing directly to her. This kind of thing is cheesy when someone like Bono does it, but not when Cave gives it a go. As far as I’m aware the U2 singer has never looked into an audience member’s eyes, held her hands and screamed “I’m going to fuck Billy Dilly up his motherfucking ass.”

Billy Bragg

Leftfield Stage 2016

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg, Glastonbury 2016

I often go to Bragg’s regular Friday night set at this stage that he helps curate but this set, just hours after the shocking Brexit vote outcome was announced, was by far the best.

The crowd’s roar after hits like Milkman of Human Kindness and Sexuality was “just what I needed”, he said, after the day’s testing events. We needed it too. Even Bragg admitted towards the end that this had been one of his best ever gigs and certainly it was the busiest I’ve ever seen the Leftfield in five years as a regular.

There Is A Power In A Union sing-a-long was intense with its added topicality and New England was dutifully rousing. Activism was duly recharged.

St Vincent

Park Stage, 2014

St Vincent

St Vincent, Glastonbury 2016

St Vincent provided one of the most astounding show of 2014’s event. Dressed in gold and black she moved around the stage like a android doll who has just discovered rebellion. Coordinated dancing, theatrics and two of the most insane crowd surfing moments I’ve witnessed were incredible on their own and that’s without mentioning the superb music and her sensational guitar playing.

Your Lips Are Red and a tender version of Prince Johnny were among many highlights of an incredible masterclass in performance and music.

John Grant

John Peel Stage 2016

John Grant

John Grant, Glastonbury 2016

Poor John had flu but this somehow made his performance at the John Peel stage better, with the crowd urged to sing-along and wave their arms around to keep him going. He has come along way as a performer since I last saw him at Glastonbury at the Park Stage in 2014 and he is now a proper diva, albeit one in a country and western shirt and a massive beard.

Queen of Denmark, Greatest Mother Fucker were highlights but Glacier blew the whole gig apart with its emotional brilliance.

Pentangle

Acoustic Stage 2011

Bert Jansch (centre) performing with Pentangle at Glastonbury 2011

Pentangle, Glastonbury 2011

Reformed for this special gig at the Acoustic stage, folk super group Pentangle excelled during a set that  featured the full original line up of guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, singer Jacqui McShee, drummer Terry Cox and bassist Danny Thompson. For a folk fan like me this was a very special occasion.

Even though they’d barely rehearsed together the old magic was still there. Watching Renbourn weave his intricate guitar playing around Jansch’s riffs and Thompson and Cox’s jazz folk rhythms was one of my favourite musical moments at the 2011 festival. They seemed delighted to be there as they swept though tracks such as ‘Hunting Song’, ‘Bruton Town’, ‘House Carpenter’ and ‘Cruel Sister’. This was an experience to cherish.

Tragically it was also the last chance to see Jansch, who sadly passed away just two months later. Renbourne is also no longer with us and the loss of these two pioneers of British folk music makes this chance to have seen them even more special.

Ron Sexsmith

Acoustic Stage 2015

Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith, Glastonbury 2015

Ron Sexsmith appeared in 2015 to celebrate two decades of music, but up until his engaging set his music had completely evaded me somehow. Through a career spanning set, including Strawberry Blonde and There’s a Rhythm to the more recent Getaway Car, he had me hooked. For a week later I was still humming these tracks, that I had only heard once – that’s how good a song writer he is.

La Femme

William’s Green Stage 2015

La Femme

La Femme, Glastonbury 2015

Another sensational performance at the 2015 event was Parisian eccentric surf-dance-you name it-pop act La Femme. At their William’s Green set there was crowd surfing, crazy dancing and wonderful banter. This is a fun party band who were on top form as they showcased tracks from their just released debut album Psycho Tropical Brazil.

Wilko Johnson

Acoustic Stage 2015

Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson, Glastonbury 2015

Like a crazed bird Johnson made a mockery of the cancer that the previous year threatened to take his life, as he weaved around stage, machine gun-chording the audience with his trademark Fender telecaster. He and his regular bassist Norman Watt-Roy are a sheer joy to watch.

Franz Ferdinand and Sparks

John Peel Stage 2015

FFS

FFS, Glastonbury 2015

For my final act of Glastonbury 2015 I ventured over to the half full John Peel Stage to see Franz Ferdinand with Sparks, who were competing with the Chemical Brothers and The Who. This didn’t stop them putting on one of this year’s best sets as they ripped through each other’s hits and showcased their remarkable and fun joint album from 2015.

Highlights included Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael’s endearing acting during the splendidly ironic Collaborations Don’t Work. Top moment though was the surprise sight of Ron Mael emerging from behind his keyboard to laugh and dance for a quick 30 second mesmerising burst of pop history. Not bad dancing skills for a man for whom John Lennon once said “bloody hell, its Hitler on TV.

Ok Go

John Peel Stage 2011

Ok Go

Ok Go, Glastonbury 2011

I love a band that makes a bit of an effort and Ok Go certainly do that. Known for their inventive videos this US pop rock are equally impressive live. With each member dressed in a bright coloured suit,  I was left impressed with both their showmanship and song writing.

Squeeze are the nearest comparison as OK Go  as put in for me the performance of the 2011 festival, featuring great versions of ‘Here it Goes Again’ (the one with the treadmill video) as well as ‘This Too Shall Pass’ and ‘Sky Scrapers’ from their then most recent album Of The Blue Colour of the Sky. It was a masterclass in audience engagement too, with a member of the crowd joining them on guitar duty.

Words and photos by Joe Lepper

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Glastonbury Festival 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

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Glastonbury Festival 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Joe

“Why aren’t you playing the Pyramid Stage,” shouted a heckler at Billy Bragg’s headline set at The Leftfield tent on Friday. Bragg’s response, to remind him of the event’s varied 100 plus stages, was obvious but too often forgotten by those at home watching on TV.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

In the spirit of Bragg’s comments this article will take you away from the 50,000 strong crowds of the Pyramid and Other stages to focus on those smaller venues, which this year offered a world of prog rock, punk legends, French eccentricity, young stars of the future and even Ron Mael from Sparks having a laugh and a dance.

Friday

As with last year the tented William’s Green stage continues to impress with the most eclectic and interesting line up. Opening on Friday was Declan McKenna, the winner of this year’s Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition. As a judge in the competition I was keen to see how this teenager, who has already garnered Radio 1 airplay, would tackle the festival crowd.

Declan McKenna

Declan McKenna

Turns out McKenna performed like an old pro, with his guitar and vocal looping allowing the tracks to build up before turning into perfect pop, in particular his best song Brazil. He even threw a beach ball into the crowd to gee up the weary Friday morning crowd as he proved he was certainly not intimidated.

Canada’s The Burning Hell sound like a cross between Camper Van Beethoven and King Missile, were full of laughs, have been going for a decade and have seven albums already. I’d never heard of them until Friday afternoon at William’s Green, where they completely won me over with tracks such as Nostalgia. How have they passed me by?

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Over at The Park stage and once again away from any TV cameras King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, the seven strong psychedelic Australian act, were putting on one of the best sets of the day. They are surely destined for larger stages on this evidence for future festivals, especially thanks to singer Stu Mackenzie tongue wagging and guitar noodling.

Heavenly Records are 25 years old this year and William’s Green snapped up their latest crop of acts for the rest of the afternoon. Hooton Tennis Club are for those that adore the likes of Teenage Fanclub, but it was Stealing Sheep who stole the show. Although their second album, which dominated their set, doesn’t have the same quality of songs as their debut this Liverpool trio’s great stage presence and sense of fun makes the tracks far better live. Roping in Dutch Uncles singer Duncan Wallis to sing with them for a track was also great to see.

Stealing Sheep

Stealing Sheep

Rain can really scupper plans at Glastonbury. It can also reveal some surprises. As I ducked for cover at the Acoustic Tent during a late afternoon shower I made a new discovery – rock ‘n’ roller JD McPherson, who was one of Rolling Stone’s artist to watch in 2012 for good reason. His was a blistering proper rock ‘n’ roll set. Speaking of which the TV cameras missed a trick in not popping by the Acoustic Stage after JD McPherson to catch the legend that is Wilko Johnson.

Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson

Like a crazed bird Johnson made a mockery of the cancer that last year threatened to take his life, as he weaved around stage, machine gun chording the audience with his trademark Fender telecaster. He and his band’s bassist Norman Watt-Roy are a sheer joy to watch.

Back at the Leftfield for the end of my night Billy Bragg was doing more than putting hecklers in their place. On the day the US Supreme Coast legalised gay marriage his version of Sexuality took on an extra special meaning. He never fails to deliver as a live performer and the hits came tumbling out on his now regular Friday night Leftfield set.

Saturday

At the foot of The Park area lies the tiny Bimble Inn, which proved a great venue for emerging singer songwriters and folk artists over the weekend. Kezia, from Falmouth was among the best I saw here. It took me a while to pinpoint who she reminded me of, as I searched for female singer songwriters to compare her to. Turns out it wasn’t a woman at all, but Sufjan Stevens. She must surely be a fan, with her whispering vocals and introspective lyrics showing another hidden talent at the festival this weekend.

Kezia

Kezia

A few years back I saw Giant Sand in the giant foyer venue at one of ATP’s festivals at Mineheads Butlins. It was a poor choice of venue for Howe Gelb and co’s sultry brand of American indie rock. The blazing, and I mean proper blazing sunshine, of the dusty Park was far better. Here joined by JB Meijers and Ilse DeLange from The Common Linnets Gelb took in a perfect festival set, mixing old and new as well as slow and fast paced reminders of their trailblazing 1980s indie rock roots, including a great version of their 1985 track Tumble ‘n’ Tear to end. The TV cameras turned up for this one and rightly so.

Giant Sand

Giant Sand

On my way back over to William’s Green I passed a couple of more smaller venues with interesting acts. Just a Couple of Mums, the Sussex based, energetic feather-duster waving DJ pair were putting in a stonking set at Spike’s Bar, while at the Fluffy Rock Café youngster (and I mean youngster as in primary school age) Tom Smith, was dazzling the crowd. Often little kids can’t sing, but we smile and nod in appreciation anyway. That’s not the case with Tom, he can actually sing and play really well. One of the festival’s youngest stars.

Tom Smith

Tom Smith

Performance of the day, perhaps the weekend, was La Femme, from Paris. I already knew their eccentric surf dance pop tracks from their excellent debut album Psycho Tropical Brazil and live they are nothing short of incredible. At their William’s Green set there was crowd surfing, crazy dancing and wonderful banter. This is a fun party band and I urge you to see them if they play near year.

La Femme

La Femme

To round off my day Father John Misty was putting in a rock star performance, running into the crowd and rolling all over the stage. Passionate performance barely touches on describing how good he was.

Sunday

Ron Sexsmith is celebrating two decades of music this year. How he has evaded me all this time remains a mystery. Those that saw his Acoustic Tent afternoon were treated to a career spanning set from early tracks like Strawberry Blonde and There’s a Rhythm to the more recent Getaway Car. Crowd pleasers for fans and newbies like me alike.

Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith

Success has consistently evaded The Bevis Frond, as its mainstay and frontman Nick Saloman tells his audience. He’s at the stage now in his career where he’s just happy that people want to hear him, however small the crowd. Saloman though has every right to expect more, not only are his songs great but his guitar playing is superb. Billed as prog rock, he’s more than that after pretty much laying down the blue print for Dinosaur Jr and grunge in the 1980s. Highpoints included Saloman bringing out his electric-sitar guitar for some complex noodling mid way through.

The Bevis Frond

The Bevis Frond

Saloman and co loved every second of playing, even in front of a half full William’s Green due in part to the blazing sunshine outside. Meanwhile, The Phantom Band, who followed, looked like they’d rather be anywhere else. During a subdued performance dominated by their excellent latest album Strange Friend they looked like band going through the motions, yearning to be out in the sun with everyone else.

The Fall are both brilliant and terrible all at once. Mark E Smith shouting and mumbling over a pounding rhythm section thanks to the addition of an extra drummer in recent years. Its hypnotic and wonderful, but as ever Smith seeks to create tension, twiddling the knobs and instruments of his drone musicians, as he wanders around stage picking up random mics to shout into.

The Fall

The Fall

Nowadays Smith’s drones, including wife Eleni on keyboards, are used to this part of the act and smile through it. They say play the hits, nothing but the hits at festivals. The Fall ignore this though with their recent album dominating the set and nothing older than 2003’s Sparta FC for those craving something recognisable.

Another Manchester punk legendary act Buzzcocks are surprisingly playing at Glastonbury for the first time in their 39-year history. They have plenty of hits, and in stark contrast to The Fall play pretty much all of them as they rattle through Noise Annoys, Promises, Ever Fallen In Love and many more. Singer Pete Shelley still sounds great and although larger of build and greyer of hair still has that boyish glint in his eye.

Buzzcocks

Buzzcocks

Buzzcocks’ Guitarist Steve Diggle was in full rock star mode, and even walked on clutching a bottle of Moet. He clearly loves every minute of playing live and spent the set going through the full list of rock guitarist clichés with his foot on monitor and arm aloft after each chord. It was great though, the guy’s happy and his constant winks and smiles at the audience made you realise that underneath that rock pomposity is a lovely bloke.

For my final act of Glastonbury I ventured over to the half full John Peel Stage to see FFS, aka Franz Ferdinand with Sparks. They were competing with the Chemical Brothers and The Who after all, but this didn’t stop them putting on a great set as they ripped through each other’s hits and showcased their remarkable and fun debut album from this year.

FFS

FFS

Highlights included Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael’s endearing acting during the splendidly ironic Collaborations Don’t Work. Top moment though was the surprise sight of Ron Mael emerging from behind his keyboard to laugh and dance for a quick 30 second mesmerising burst of pop history. Not bad dancing skills for a man for whom John Lennon once said “bloody hell, its Hitler on TV.”

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

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Glastonbury 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

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Glastonbury 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

Posted on 02 June 2015 by Joe

Shock revelation of the day – Glastonbury is so much more than the BBC coverage and the main Pyramid stage line up. So for all you Kanye West haters with tickets in your hand why not pop over to some of the event’s many and varied small stages.

We’ve had a scan through the full line up, which was released this week, and  have come up with our pick of the small stage acts. As with last year William’s Green continues to impress, especially as it hosts this year’s 25th anniversary of Heavenly Records. We also have some old punks, the best of Somerset’s local bands and one of the best indie bands around at the Leftfield.

Stealing Sheep

William’s Green, 4:30pm Friday

We first saw this Liverpool trio supporting Field Music in Bristol three years ago. They play as part of the Heavenly Records contingent, at what has become one of our favourite small venues at the Festival, and are one of the best live acts we have seen. Blending folk, indie and 1960s surf music they are not to be missed.

Declan McKenna

William’s Green, 10:45am Friday

The deserved winner of this year’s Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition opens proceedings at the William’s Green stage. Be sure to get up early to see why this teenager won the world’s toughest Battle of the Bands competition.

La Femme

William’s Green, 5:30pm Saturday

From France, via California, this stunning live act blend electro-pop and are another in our list to borrow from 1960s surf culture. Their 2013 album Psycho Tropical Berlin was one of our albums of the year for good reason.

The Phantom Band

William’s Green, 6pm Sunday

Their 2014 album Strange Friend was their best to date and proved why they are one of Scotland’s best bands as they merge rock and electronica effortlessly. Get there early at 5pm to see legendary prog rockers The Bevis Frond beforehand. Both great bookings for William’s Green.

Martha

Leftfeld, 6pm Friday

At Indietracks a couple of years ago Martha was the most talked about band there and for good reason. They are injecting some much needed energy into an increasingly introspective UK indie scene. Billy Bragg and co, who curate this stage, certainly know their indie music. An impressive booking.

Buzzcocks

Leftfield, 9pm Sunday

Leftfield again impresses and has bagged the legendary punk act Buzzcocks. With guitarist Steve Diggle still playing like a 17-year-old on stage and Pete Shelley’s timeless lyrics of love this looks like one not to be missed.

Nick Parker & the False Alarms and Flipron

Nick Parker and the False Alarms Avalon Café, 7:30pm Friday

Flipron, Avalon Cafe 1:30am Saturday and Bandstand 7:30pm Sunday

Nick Parker and the False Alarms

Nick Parker and the False Alarms

Two of Somerset’s best live acts are back again at Glastonbury, which once again is showing a strong commitment to promoting local talent. While Parker and crew focus on bittersweet folk rock  tales of love and life, Flipron will be showcasing their trademark brand of whirly-gig hipster new wave (note: actual genre may not exist).

Compiled by Joe Lepper

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Interview: John Howard

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Interview: John Howard

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Joe

John Howard’s story is one of the best, albeit lesser known, in music. During the 1970s he was signed to CBS as the latest singer-songwriting talent. But it was a career that faltered before it began. Adjusting to failure he dusted himself off, took a job behind the scenes in the music industry and then years later embarked on a second music career, this time in an internet age where he continues to produce some of his best work.

It was another singer songwriter, Ralegh Long, who introduced us to his music and through a subsequent flurry of emails we forged a friendship with Howard and so did Long and his fellow artists at Gare Du Nord Records.

Howard is now a regular collaborator with the Gare Du Nord stable of artists, that also includes Robert Rotifer, Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge and Death in Vegas) and Alex Highton.

John Howard (Spain, 2010)

John Howard (Spain, 2010)

This month sees Howard return to the UK from his home in Spain for a rare live performance as part of a Gare Du Nord showcase at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, where his backing band will feature Rotifer, Button and Paul Weller’s bassist Andy Lewis. This is the same line up that backed him at his last UK gig, at the same venue last year. November also marks the release of his  latest album, Hello My Name Is.

As he prepares to pack his bags for the UK Neonfiller’s Joe Lepper caught up with him to ask him about his two contrasting musical careers in the 1970s and modern day, changing gay culture, forthcoming releases as well as some of the characters and themes on Hello My Name Is. We even find time to discuss the benefits and pitfalls of  social media, musical theatre and the evil that lurks in The X-Factor and other TV talent shows.

Neonfiller: Your latest album covers themes of perception and identity. What is your perception of yourself as an artist? How do you think others perceive you?

JH: That young aspiring artist of the 1970s feels like a different person to me. I don’t really recognise him. I was so confident and arrogant back then, I believed I couldn’t fail.

So failure when it came was something of a shock, even though it crept up on me over about two years, between 1974 and 1976. I’d had such a clear vision of the music I would make up to that point. But failure with doing my own thing,  in my own personal style, meant that to try and achieve ‘a hit record’ I had to go down several other musical avenues, none of which felt right or natural and didn’t succeed either. It taught me lot though, and the fact I managed to get up, dust myself down, and simply get on with things, rather than let it knock the stuffing out me made much stronger and resilient.

kid

Now, as a rediscovered artist from the ‘70s I have two fairly distinct sets of fans. There are those who can’t really get past my ‘Biba Glam Balladeer’ period, who consider Goodbye Suzie my only single which means anything, and post a ‘Like’ on Facebook whenever I put up a video of a ‘70s track on my Facebook page, but entirely ignore anything more recent.

Then there are those fans who probably discovered me via the unexpected rave reviews of my re-released 1970s albums and have thankfully gone beyond that. This group have followed, bought and supported the albums I’ve written and recorded since 2005.

I am, of course, very proud of some of my ‘70s output, and will always be grateful for its rediscovery giving me a new career again, but I sometimes wish some people could accept that I’m not that pin-stripe suited Kid In A Big World anymore. That album and period is just a small part of what makes me what I am in 2014. I hope that doesn’t sound ungrateful or sour. It’s not meant to at all. Just an observation of how some people see me, or want me to be preserved in 1970s aspic.

asIwassaying

I remember turning up at a gig in London in 2006, we were hulking my keyboard and stuff into the venue and a bloke ran up to me shouting, “It’s John Howard! Where is your suit? Why are you not wearing your suit?”. I was in jeans and t-shirt with my stage gear packed in my bag. “You’re wearing jeans,” he cried, hands clasped to his head. I felt I’d completely let him down, and in fact I had. The hilarious thing is I never wore suits in the ‘70s except for photo sessions and concerts, I wore jeans and T shirts back then as well. People’s perceptions, which, as you say, is what this new album covers.

Neonfiller: You mention in your press release about interaction through social media making the world smaller but at the same time making us lose a sense of self. What is your relationship with social media like?

JH: Social Media has been a godsend for my career. If I’d had it at my fingertips forty years ago things would have been very different. Back then, an artist was completely at the mercy of his or her record company and not being signed to a ‘major record company’ does mean I miss out on all the ‘big time’ promotional stuff. But I’m happy to fore go that to keep control of what and how I do things.

My main concern with social media is how one can be fooled into thinking you matter more because of it, by how many ‘friends’ you have, when in truth we can still name our true friends on one hand. And that can create a sense of worthlessness when we start to crave approval, many times during the day in some cases, which can only lead to disappointment. It depends how strong one is mentally and emotionally, and on how good our personal life is, in terms of how one copes with apparent ‘rejection’ or ‘being ignored’. It’s all so transitory too, you put up a post and down it scrolls within seconds from the home feed, its importance and immediacy sinking before your very eyes. If you don’t take it – and what people write to you and about you – too seriously, then it’s fun, often very useful, and a door-opener in many ways I would not have thought possible when I started out as a singer-songwriter in 1970.

Neonfiller: Some of the tales on Hello My Names Is are extremely sad. The protagonist in ‘Bob/Bobbi’ is particularly tragic. Tell us more about the characters on this album.

JH: As with most of my observational songs, they are mainly an amalgam of different people I’ve known or read about.  Bob/Bobbi was different in that it is actually about one person who I knew, though even in this song other memories and experiences are interwoven into ‘Bob/Bobbi’s’ story.

Hello_My_Name_Is_2400 front cover

Bob was a guy my partner Neil and I met while on holiday in The Canaries in the late ‘90s. We got chatting to him at the bar of the complex we were staying in – though chatting is something of an exaggeration as he wasn’t very talkative. He was very dour, smoked his cigar with head down and answered my nosy questions with occasional nods. Later that evening, Neil and I were sitting at the same bar and suddenly, like a flash of gorgeous pink and purple, out of one of the apartments came this beautiful creature, long tight dress, fabulous hair and make-up, feather boa, giggling and dancing down to the taxi rank by the main gate, jumping up and down with excitement. “That’s Bobbi,” one of our bar acquaintances said, “isn’t she amazing?”. It was Bob in full drag, a slim lithe laughing creature, in love with life and basking in how fabulous she looked and felt.

The next day, there was dour ol’ Bob sitting at the bar again. This happened every day and night of the week. On our last day, I sat next to Bob to say goodbye and after a few puffs of his cigar, he turned to me and said, “Last night was Bobbi’s last fling. I’m putting her away now. She’s gone.” I tried to ask him why but he didn’t want to expand on it, stood, nodded goodbye and left the bar. We never saw Bob again. This rather poignant episode has stayed with me ever since.

The ‘character’ in City St. Sirens is based in part on a young guy I heard talking to his mum on his mobile on the train. She had obviously asked how he was, concerned about her son in the Big City and he answered as brightly as he could “I’m Fine!” But it didn’t convince me at all, and I’m sure didn’t her either. It took me back to when I first arrived in London in 1973 at the age of 20, living in digs in Epping, looking for job to pay the rent, feeling shattered and my mum sounding worried on the phone. “Are you alright, son?” she’d ask, and there’s me trying to sound positive. “Yes, I’m fine, honest, mum, really” knowing she wasn’t convinced at all. But I did love living in London.

Neonfiller: Born Too Early is an intriguing song with its focus on sexuality and the double lives of some gay men. Tell us more about this song and the messages it is conveying?

JH: Yes, this one plays around with the ‘butch/bitch’ thing certainly gay men of my generation went through. I had a friend back in the ‘70s who used to wear a T Shirt with ‘Butch’ on the front and ‘Bitch’ on the back. I used that as the starting point of juxtapositioning things like ‘Bent as Shirley, McQueen Straight’ in the lyric, using wordplay, which I always enjoy.  Now of course, such terms seem laughable, from another age, and they are, but they were the language my friends and I used back then. All the gay men I knew had ‘camp names’ for each other – I was ‘Mary’ as my friend Bill (‘Beryl’) thought it perfectly summed up my ‘dizzy bitch’ personality.

technicolour

The lyrics “Big and burly, inert, innate, slender twirly, Dance Till Eight flashing in your eyes and a glass of Riesling in your hand” are all images from my early 20s, when I would dress up in my best gear at weekends and dance the night away, then we’d all drive to a morning diner in Fulham called Up All Night and eat burgers before crashing out on someone’s floor.

Gay pubs in the ‘70s were full of ‘femme’ and ‘butch’ guys, eyeing each other up, while, hilariously, between the sheets those roles were quite often reversed! There are times when I feel I was born at the right time, others I wish I’d been born in a different age. I sometimes long for the chic 1920s world Noel Coward inhabited but also know it was a very difficult and dangerous time to be gay. I grew up in a decade where being gay was finally legalised, and the ‘70s felt very free and abandoned to me, certainly in London.

The line “Some men stopped and stared, chance some of them stayed the night and never cared how their wives swallow lies” describes how I was quite often picked up in various clubs and bars I was performing in by guys who had just a few nights earlier been at the club with their wives. These double lives again. Sometimes the knowingness of young people today astonishes me, the gaucheness of my own youth just isn’t there, people in their teens seem very grown up in their attitudes, and being gay, which was such a talking point, especially among straight friends in the ‘70s, is now considered uninteresting by young folk, which is great but also alien to me still.

I grew up feeling different, actually glad to be different, and it’s a bit unnerving when you are no longer regarded as anything different or special “just because you’re gay.” Being ‘different’ together was how we survived together.

Neonfiller: How has the music industry changed for gay men since your first career in the 1970s?

JH: I wrote a song called My Beautiful Days in 2007 after a conversation I’d had with my former CBS producer Paul Phillips about why I hadn’t been a success back in the ‘70s. Paul shocked me by telling me he believed it was because some people on high at BBC radio back then were homophobic. Around the same time my former manager’s widow also told me she’d had a conversation with a particular producer who had intimated to her that my sexuality would prevent me getting plays on Radio 1.

That seems completely unbelievable now, doesn’t it? I remember when George Michael was arrested for ‘lewd acts in a public toilet’ in L.A. in the ‘90s, the trash tabloids were gleefully getting ready for him to get a public roasting. Instead, George went on Michael Parkinson’s show and talked openly about the incident, laughing about it, and making the audience laugh about it too. Within a week his record sales were tripling.

John Howard at Les Ambassadeurs, Park Lane, August 1974.

John Howard at Les Ambassadeurs, Park Lane, August 1974.

The ironic thing about my situation in the ‘70s was that it came at the same time we had the campest of pop stars cavorting around Top of The Pops. But the difference then was that none of those pop stars admitted to being gay, they were all ‘straight’, were married, had girlfriends, so it was considered a bit of a laugh to wear make-up, huge earrings and feather boas and swish around a BBC set.

David Bowie got headlines in the early ‘70s for ‘coming out’ as ‘bisexual’. The ‘announcement’ in, I think, Melody Maker made him the talking point of the press just as Ziggy was being launched. Then he’d arrive at press conferences with his wife on his arm. “That’s ok then,” said those on high. But here was me, totally out as a gay man, not hiding behind ‘bisexuality’. The poor old Beeb just considered it a step too far.

The BBC thought up all sorts of excuses not to play my singles, “too depressing”, “anti-female”, all quite bizarre reasons. One of the singer-songwriters I admire now is Rufus Wainwright, completely out as a gay man, admired by millions, straight and gay.

Neonfiller: Every now and again you like to release a covers collection, often by less well-known artists. Which tracks and artists are next on your radar? Also what other releases are in the pipeline?

JH: The next covers E.P. I do will be going back to my 1970s songwriting heroes. I want to record a song by The Incredible String Band, who I adored in the early ‘70s; a Nick Drake song, which I was planning to do a few years ago but there was such a media saturation of Nick’s material then about that time that I decided to hold off. I want to record another Shelagh MacDonald song, such a wonderful singer-songwriter who has also had something of a comeback to performing and recording in the last couple years after disappearing in the ‘70s. She very kindly got in touch with me when she’d heard my version of her ‘Canadian Man’ and we’re now in regular touch with each other. I’m still mulling over the other two songwriters I want to cover for the next E.P., but I think a Sandy Denny song would be lovely to do.

John Howard (l) and Andy Lewis (r), November 2013

John Howard (l) and Andy Lewis (r), November 2013

I am also soon to begin work on a new album with the band I’ve gigged with at The Servant Jazz Quarters (Rotifer, Button and Lewis) last November. It will be recorded as a band album, together in the studio at the same time, and it’s a long time since I did that – As I Was Saying in 2005 to be exact. This time we’ve written all the songs together, so there will be Rotifer-Howard, Button-Howard and Lewis-Howard songs on there. Seeing what, say, Robert does musically with a lyric I’ve sent him, ditto Ian and Andy, has been fascinating, and vice versa for them.

Neonfiller: You are playing at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London for the second time later this month. What does it mean to you to be able to return to the UK and perform in front of an audience and meet up with your friends at Gare Du Nord records?

JH: It means a lot to me. The response I had at last year’s SJQ gig completely overwhelmed me, I wasn’t expecting such an amazing reaction. Before I left the UK in 2006, I’d played quite a few gigs up and down the country, Manchester, Brighton, Chester, London, and was getting very depressed at the dwindling audience numbers – the last gig I played in Chester had 15 people there, and half of those were close friends who’d – thank goodness – made the effort to come and hear me. Somehow the word was not getting out there about me  and I decided to retire from live performing again.

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 2013.

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 2013.

I still wanted to write and record, firstly because I love it, and secondly because, although I’ll never be a big album seller, there are people who buy what I do all over the world. It was the live circuit which just wasn’t turning onto me. I did a couple of shows once I got to Spain in the autumn of 2007, which my then record company, Bilbao-based Hanky Panky Records arranged for me (they’d released my album Barefoot With Angels that year) but once that album had done its bit their interest waned and there were no more shows in Spain either.

Robert Rotifer, Ian Button, Andy Lewis and John Howard (l-r)

Robert Rotifer, Ian Button, Andy Lewis and John Howard (l-r)

The traditional ‘paper’ magazines also lost interest over time, so your fantastic interest in and coverage of my work in Neon Filler, along with a couple of other online music magazines, has been a real fillip for me in the last couple of years. It’s reignited my belief in what I do, seeing how there is still journalistic interest in my music. It matters to read reviews of what I release. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.

It’s actually because of you that I am finally back performing on stage again! You gave my 2012 album You Shall Go To The Ball! an amazing write-up in Neon Filler and introduced me to Robert Rotifer and Ralegh Long, who unbeknownst to me were fans of mine. Robert, Ralegh and their Gare Du Nord compatriot Ian Button have been simply fantastic. They made me feel so welcome last year when I performed at The SJQ at their invitation, and that enthusiasm for what I do has never waned or lessened.

Neonfiller: Sometimes when on the rare occasions I watch Britain’s Got Talent or X Factor I wonder how you would go down among the mainstream prime time TV audience and the likes of Simon Cowell. Now don’t laugh, but would you ever consider applying for one of these shows?

JH: I absolutely loathe those programmes and what they stand for. Of course Britain’s got talent, as does every country in the world, it’s what the likes of Cowell do with that talent which bothers and angers me. He and his cohorts turn individuality into conveyor belt mush, autotuned-to-f**k vocals, the girls all sounding like Cowell’s’ musical wet dream of producing the love child of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, all singing 15 notes where one will do, and the male singers all ending up sounding like solo members of Westlife.

I call BGT and the X Factor ‘Cruelty TV’, the whole Coliseum atmosphere he creates, the audience baying for blood when they dislike a performer and cheering to the rafters when they see someone they approve of.

Cowell and his co-presenters have often defended this approach by saying that all artists have to get used to rejection in their careers, so the way singers are treated on X Factor. What tosh. Any rejection most artists experience from a manager, agent or record company is done in private, not with millions of people looking on. It’s just an excuse to make these self-important smug bastard judges feel like big men who get to wield their ‘power’ in public.

I guess you know the answer to your question then – No.

Neonfiller: Finally, I get a sense of drama from your songs. Your music and lyrics seem tailor made for the stage. Storeys in particular springs to mind. Have you written a musical that is sitting collecting dust somewhere?

JH: This is something that has been said to me ever since I started writing and performing in 1970. I never start out with any song intending it to have a dramatic twist but somehow, it usually does. I think the dramatic thing actually occurs because I love singing so much, and I always have had a physical need to take a melody from its base and let it soar. I discovered this ‘bent’ in my writing early on and as my voice got stronger then that happened increasingly more. I consider myself lucky that I can still do that. I think it’s fairly unusual to be able to still ‘soar’ vocally at 61. Don’t know why I still can, though I believe the fact I have never gigged very much has a lot to do with it. So there’s a kind of explanation of why my songs have that theatrical structure. I do love stage and screen musicals, always have, and my partner Neil and I regularly settle down of an evening to watch something like Oklahoma or South Pacific on DVD, every song is a classic, every performance a gem.

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I did have a couple of attempts at writing a stage musical back in the ‘70s, one was based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and I got as far as writing two songs for it then got bored, or events took over to take my attention away from it.

I feel very comfortable doing what I do, I know how to write and put across a song, I know how to record those songs, I know what arrangements I want for those songs, and I know how to get those songs out on the market. But a musical? It takes years to just get it on, if you ever get that far. The sheer effort which would likely end in failure exhausts me just thinking about it.

For more information about John Howard visit his website here.

Details about his November 26th gig at The Servant Jazz Quarters, London, can be found here.

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Top 20 Albums of 2013

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Top 20 Albums of 2013

Posted on 11 December 2013 by Joe

The first half of the year was a pretty poor period for releases but we just about scrabbled together our June feature,  Top ten albums list of 2013…so far. But since then the rate of excellent releases has picked up pace and now in December we find ourselves struggling to cram them all into a Top 20.  It is therefore with a heavy heart that we chop off some superb 2013 releases by the likes of Jackson Scott, John Howard, PINS and Josh Rouse from this list. We think we’ve got a good range for you here and urge you to read our full reviews, buy their albums and go see them live. Anyway, enough of our guff, on with the list.

20. Young Knives –  Sick Octave

Young Knives

Finally, after over a decade on the sweaty coalface of jerky punk rock,  some long overdue acclaim for this industrious trio. It’s taken a series of well received EPs, extensive tour schedules and three studio albums to get them thus far,  but this fourth offering will, our reviewer John Haylock confidently predicts, cure your jaded and cynical hearts. Read our full review here.

19. Wave Pictures – City Forgiveness

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Conceived on a US tour with Allo Darlin this latest album from the perplexingly under rated Wave Pictures is heavily influenced by the American blues. Thankfully in their stellar guitarist David Tattersall they have a musician who can pay tribute to the blues and put the band’s  very English slant on the genre with aplomb. Some say it’s a little long. But we say, who cares when the bulk of it is so good. Read our full review here.

18. La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin

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After watching this video for Antitaxi, the opening track on the debut album from Bairritz based surf popsters La Femme, I’m fairly convinced they are just about the coolest band on the planet, well, in France at least. Blending 60s guitar pop with psychedelia and electronica this album is among the most creative and original of the year. Read our full review here.

17. Thirty Pounds of Bone – I Cannot Sing You Here, But For Songs of Where

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This third album of folk music by Thirty Pounds of Bone, aka Johny Lamb, manages to sound traditional without ever slipping into genre cliche. It is one of the best folk albums released this year and one of the best albums of 2013 full stop. Read our full review here.

16. Mogwai – Les Revenants

mogwai

Mogwai’s soundtrack for Les Revenants, the French TV series about the dead returning to haunt a small town, perfectly matches the show’s sense of foreboding. The dead in Les Revenants have feelings too and this is perfectly formed in Mogwai’s brooding mix of piano, cello and percussion and tender glockenspiel. One of the best TV soundtracks you will ever hear.

15. Just Handshakes –Say It

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This impressive debut from Yorkshire’s Just Handshakes features many a familiar C86 sound, with whirly-gig keyboards, chorus pedals and  choppy insightful melodies, all providing the perfect backdrop to the sumptuous, earthy English folk vocals of singer Clara Patrick. Indie pop with a distinct folk twist. Read our full review here.

14. Mum – Smilewound

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Icelandic foursome Mùm’s sixth album Smilewound will draw inevitable comparisons with fellow Nords Sigur Rós. Fortunately this is for all the right reasons. Our reviewer Rob Finch says this is a damn-near perfect album, punch-packed with effortless experimental Scandi dreampop and intelligent, intelligible lyrics. Read our full review here.

13. Robert Pollard – Honey Locust Honky Tonk

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This is Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollards self-proclaimed country album, but aside from the name, cover and one song (‘I Killed a Man Who Looked Like You’) it would be hard to hear any strong country influences on this album. Our favourite of Pollard’s many solo and Guided By Voices releases this year. Read our full review here.

12. Okkervil River – Silver Gymnasium

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The band’s first on ATO Records is the most autobiographical yet of singer/songwriter Will Sheff’s tenure as Okkervil River frontman as he takes the listener into a brief period of his childhood in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden, where his parents worked in 1986 as teachers at a local boarding school. Its full of influences from the era and the band have even drafted in Cyndi Lauper’s producer to give it that 80s sheen. Read our full review here.

11. Low – The Invisible Way

low-the-invisible-way1

Centred around husband and wife duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker Low have been fine tuning their brand of so-called slow core rock across ten albums now. The Invisible Way takes the haunting, tender ethos of previous album C’mon one step further. Gone are the overt ’50s and ’60s electric guitar sounds  to be replaced with piano, acoustic guitar and an even softer Americana feel under the direction of producer, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Read our full review here.

10. Tullycraft – Lost in Light Rotation

Tullycraft_LILR_Cover

While many of their twee peers are still drinking weak lemon drink from a flask and grumbling about this and that, America’s veteran indie pop outfit Tullycraft have added a good splash of gin to this poor metaphor of a flask and are belting out optimistic happy pop as if the recession and all the other ills since their last album in 2007 had never existed. Read our full review here.

9. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

neko-case-the-worse-things-get

Arguably the longest album title of the year, but one of the most simple albums of the year. Great songs and great voice from the peerless Case. Fans will know there is a darkness to all her albums and this is a much darker beast  than the upbeat Middle Cyclone. One of the true great North American singers. Read our full review here.

8. Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You

mulcahy

Classic guitar pop from the former Miracle Legion frontman. Great vocals and some killer tunes here including ‘Poison Candy Heart’  and ‘She Makes The World Turn Backwards’, which our reviewer Dorian Rogers believes should be available in every karaoke booth round the world. Read our full review here.

7. The National   – Trouble Will Find Me

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Born out of the chaos of the hurricane that ripped New York state apart last year the Brooklyn based band have produced one of their most calming and satisfying releases yet. Read our full review here.

6. Southern Tenant Folk Union – Hello Cold Goodbye Sun

STFU Hello Cold Goodbye Sun Cover500

Conflict about musical direction, song choices and album themes, can be a destructive influence for some bands. Fortunately for Southern Tenant Folk Union, the Edinburgh based collective that loosely falls under the folk/bluegrass banner, the opposite has happened and pre-production disharmony has conspired to create one of their best releases and one of the year’s most innovative albums. This is folk and bluegrass like you have never heard it before. Read our full review here.

5. Matthew E White – Big Inner

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White is part of an eclectic country, rock, soul, gospel, you name it, collective of musicians in his native Virginia who are put through their paces with on this, his first album. The end result is timeless country soul at its best and fans of Lambchop’s Nixon are going to love this. Read our full review here.

4. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

phosphorescent-muchacho-520

American album of the year and our favourite so far as Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck expertly blends country, soul, electronica and rock. Perhaps the greatest exponent of sounding epic and in need of a good night’s sleep in modern music. Marvellous stuff. Read our full review here.

3. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

john-grant-pale-green-ghosts

In Pale Green Ghosts, sweary ex-Czars man, John Grant, presents an album of wonderful contradictions. In parts almost dirge-like folk rock, this incredibly raw and openly confessional record is also awash with poppy electronica. Read our full review here.

2. Rotifer –The Cavalry Never Showed Up

rotifer

Clever political lyrics mixed with some fine guitar pop make this the best album yet by Austrian broadcaster, artist and now resident of Canterbury Robert Rotifer and his band. With the track  I Just Couldn’t Eat As Much As I’d Like To Throw Up this trio has also served up our favourite song of the year. Read our full review here.

1. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

parquet-courts-light-up-gold

This US band emerged this year with a sound that has captivated us. Part Sonic Youth, part The Modern Lovers  and with a liberal sprinkling of  Pavement at their most Fall-obsessed this is a noisy, snotty album and the 15 songs fly by with several bum notes but no duff tracks. Read our full review here.

Thanks to all our album reviewers during 2013: Rob Finch, Patricia Turk, Conal Dougan, John Haylock, Scott Hammond, Kevin McGough and Matthew Nicholson.

List compiled by Neonfiller.com co-editors Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers.

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

So here it is. After two months of releasing this list in stages we’ve finally arrived at our Top 10 indie and alternative albums. Hope you enjoy this final instalment. Feel free to browse through the rest of the top 100 here and leave a comment about some of your favourites.

10. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses


This debut by The Stone Roses is an old fashioned album, full of 1960s influences. This is perhaps unsurprising given it was produced by John Leckie, whose previous efforts include two albums by XTC’s psychedelic alter egos Dukes of Stratosphear. Yet in 1989 when it was released it sounded like the most exciting and different album for years.  Decades on and it’s lost none of its energy and is arguably the best album to emerge from the so called ‘baggy’ scene of late 1980s Manchester. Highlights include the indie-dancebility of final track ‘I Am The Resurrection’, ‘Waterfall ‘and its backwards companion piece ‘Don’t Stop’, and ‘She Bangs the Drum’. In an interview with Quietus Leckie, who is the most name checked producer in our Top 100, explains that the album’s success was down to the band’s confidence and open minded approach to making music. “They seemed to have had experience, they were very well rehearsed and they wanted to try lots of things. But they weren’t frightened,” says Leckie.

9. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

After an underwhelming debut with 1995’s AM Jeff Tweedy’s post-Uncle Tupelo band have released a string of brilliant records from 1996’s Being There through to 2009’s Wilco (The Album). Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the album that demonstrates all that is good about America’s best rock n roll band. Recorded with a line-up that featured the late Jay Bennett, the multi-instrumentalist who would leave the band prior to the albums release (tensions during the recording are brilliantly documented in Sam Jones’ film ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’). The album earned the band the tag of the alt-country Radiohead due to the more experimental production techniques and sounds used by producer Jim O’Rourke. The albums reputation as being challenging is more down to the record labels reaction (and refusal to release it) than it is to the songs themselves. ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ has a weird feel and an erratic beat and ‘Radio Cure’ has an uncomfortable starkness but most of the record is very accessible and features some of the bands best realised songs. ‘Kamera’, ‘War On War’, ‘I’m The Man That Loves You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ are all great catchy tunes that sit comfortably with the more cerebral tracks.

8. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand

Bee Thousand, originally released in 1994, represented a turning point for Robert Pollard’s Guided By Voices. It was intended as the band’s swansong due to the lack of attention and money their previous five albums had garnered. The album was recorded in various basements, rather than the studio, and was primarily the work of Pollard and Tobin Sprout (with various members of the “classic line-up” pitching in). The songs were recorded in just a few takes on to simple 4-track equipment and the rough and ready sound is one of the album’s charms. Guided By Voices albums from this time are an acquired taste, with half formed song snippets sitting alongside  rough diamond pop classics like ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’. However, this is all part of the magic formula that makes Bee Thousand so special. There are no songwriters out there like Robert Pollard, no bands like Guided By Voices and no albums like Bee Thousand – this is a pretty special record.

7. The B-52s- The B-52s


Two years after performing their first gig at a Valentine’s Day party in 1977 in their hometown of Georgia, Athens, the B-52s self titled debut hit the stores. It was a sleeper hit in 1979 reaching 59 in the US Billboard 200 but has since been widely recognised as one of the best alternative albums of all time. Blending new wave, punk, 1950’s sci-fi kitsch and Duane Eddy style guitar playing the tracks have a strange timeless feel. Above all they are fun. There’s some silly stuff like ‘Rock Lobster’, but tracks like ‘Hero Worship’ and ‘Dance This Mess Around’ are serious, emotional stuff and showcase the powerful vocal talents of singer Cindy Wilson. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.

6. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

Sufjan Stevens probably regrets his claim that he would release an album for every American state, a feat that would be difficult to achieve and probably not an enjoyable or ultimately successful task. Illinois is his second and, thus far, last in the series. Nobody likes a show-off but it is hard to resent Steven’s ability to play every instrument under the sun when he produces music as wonderful as this in the process. The album covers a sprawling 22 eccentrically titled tracks ranging from the soft and sombre (‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’) to the exuberant and celebratory (‘Come on! Feel the Illinoise!: Pt. 1: The World’s Columbian Exposition’). The album tells an expansive story about the people, places and history of the state and listening to the album is like being taken on an exciting road trip. The brilliant ‘Chicago’ has been used on many a soundtrack, but for me the desert island pick from the album is ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ a song so sad and beautifully played that it made it to number 1 in our Top 10 Tearjerkers chart.

5. Lemonheads – Shame About Ray

Shame About Ray from 1992 is a masterclass in making two to three minute pop songs. Across its tight-as-you-like 12 tracks (bumped to 13 on reissues to include their excellent cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’) each is perfect indie pop. An album you can listen to from start to finish can be rare thing, but an album with 12 (13) potential singles that still retains an alternative edge is worthy of a Top Ten place in anyone’s indie and alternative books. The title track is an undoubted highlight, but each has its own merit, from the hooky ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ to the cover of ‘Frank Mills’, from the film and stage play Hair. We’ve been listening to this a lot in preparing for this list and are staggered each time at the energy and consistency of  this fifth album from the band

4. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes

When Gordon Gano, Victor DeLorenzo and Brian Ritchie took their busking trio intro the studio to record their debut album it is unlikely that they could have realised what an iconic record they were producing. Their acoustic blend of Lou Reed, the Modern Lovers and punk crackles with youthful angst and pent up anger over the tens songs here. ‘Blister In The Sun’ must be the most shamelessly ripped off tune in advertising and bursts the album into life, and ‘Add It Up’ stands as an indie disco classic due to the stark dropping of the f-bomb early on in the track. The album has more subtle moments and album closer ‘Good Feeling’ is sad, simple and honest. The band would release more good songs throughout their career but they could never quite match up to a debut as perfect as this one. The 20th anniversary reissue is a lovely package with demos, early singles and a live concert on the second disc.

3. XTC – Drums and Wires


Following the departure of keyboardist Barry Andrews in 1978 XTC opted for guitarist and fellow Swindon resident Dave Gregory to replace him. It turned into the making of the band, transforming XTC from a quirky, tight new wave outfit to a bonafide great English rock and pop act. Drums and Wires from 1979 was the first album to feature Gregory and his 1960s influenced electric guitar style as well as a new bigger drums sound, hence the title. It also gave the band far greater chart prominence through singles such as ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ , while losing none of their creativity.  Tracks such as ‘Complicated Game’ and Roads Girdle the Globe’ are among the most inventive you will hear in this Top 100. Amazing what a band can achieve with some drums and a bunch of wires. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

2. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

Stephin Merritt originally conceived this album as being 100 Love Songs before scaling back the idea out of practicality as well as adopting the rather appropriately more salacious number of tracks. Released as triple album, each disc containing 23 songs, it was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Each track deals with a different aspect of love and relationships and the album covers a wide range of styles from piano ballads to synth-pop to jazz to noise and beyond. Merritt’s wry gay new Yorker personality could overwhelm you over so many tracks and he wisely uses a team of vocalists (two male, two female) to record a selection of the songs. This adds depth to the record but also a more universal feel; relationships are kept unclear so that as a listener you can’t tell if the protagonist is singing to another man or woman. The result is that songs like the sprightly ‘I Need A New Heart’, the downbeat ‘I Don’t Believe In The Sun’ or the vicious ‘Yeah, Oh Yeah’ can speak to anyone.

1.The Clash  – London Calling


Tommy Tomkins excellent book on London Calling sums up the album perfectly as being about ” roots, with a sense of place.” For the band the roots were not just in London, but across the globe, especially through singer Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simenon’s love of Caribbean and US culture. The range of styles on London Calling from punk to rock to blues to reggae showed The Clash to be arguably the most mature and musical act to emerge from the UK punk scene. This double album has gone on to receive widespread critical acclaim and we are delighted to add our voices to that. From the pounding bass line of the title track, heartfelt lyrics of ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ and pop savvyness of ‘Train in Vain’ London Calling still thrills us decades after its 1979 release. Read our full review of London Calling here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Beirut to Headline the End of the Road Festival

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Beirut to Headline the End of the Road Festival

Posted on 13 January 2011 by Dorian

Beirut have been named as the first headliner for this years End of the Road festival.

The event, held at Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset, was one of the highlights of Neon Filler’s year in 2010. Read the full review here.

Beirut

Beirut

Beirut, lead by multi-instrumentalist Zach Condon, have released three critically acclaimed albums influenced by pop music and Eastern European Gypsy styles.

The End of the Road Festival 2010

The End of the Road Festival 2010

Other artists already confirmed for the festival include The Fall, Midlake, Gruff Rhys and former Violent Femmes front-man Gordon Gano. The full list of artists confiormed so far is below:

Beirut

Bo Ningen
Bob Log III
Cass McCombs
Doug Paisley
Dry The River
Gordon Gano & the Ryans
Gruff Rhys
James Yorkston
Joan As Policewoman
John Grant
Jolie Holland
Josh T Pearson
La Sera
Lanterns on the Lake
Lightning Dust
Micah P Hinson
Midlake
Mountain Man
Perfume Genius
The Deadly Syndrome
The Fall
The Walkmen
Timber Timbre
Treefight for Sunlight
Twin Shadow
tUnE-yArDs
Wild Beasts
Willy Mason
Wooden Shjips
Woods
Young Man

More details of the festival can be found at http://www.endoftheroadfestival.com/.

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Top Ten Indie/Alternative Music TV Moments

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Top Ten Indie/Alternative Music TV Moments

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

TV used to be so much more important for music promotion. Sure, a good Letterman performance can still help a band get known. But we now live in an era of internet self-promotion that has left TV a far less exciting medium to catch the next big thing or see your favourite band. Here we take you back to an era when TV appearances could make or break an act and frequently did. For our selection we’ve opted for the rude, the cheeky and the downright strange. We’ve also included some of TV’s best live performances as well as a more up to date reality TV moment. Sit back and enjoy the clips.

1. Kurt Cobain’s Morrisey Impression

Nirvana has had many memorable TV moments. From the band’s MTV unplugged session to Kurt Cobain declaring that Courtney Love is “the best fuck in the world” on UK TV show The Word. But here we’ve opted for their UK Top of the Pops appearance where Cobain decided to sing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in the guise of Morrissey. A band at their peak taking the piss in this way was unusual then as it is now. Opinion is divided as to why they did it. Some say a sore throat; some say it was to get at the producers as the band wanted to play another song. Maybe it was because they were cheeky chappies.

2. Jon Spencer Goes Ballistic Down Under

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is one of the best live acts around, however their TV appearances are sadly rare. For this 1990s performance on Australian youth programme Recovery they decided to show the rest of TV land what they were missing. Check out the action half way through their set as the Explosion go nuts with a theremin.

3. Ghost Hunting With The Happy Mondays

Music TV stations such as MTV have long since descended into a reality TV cesspit where Jay-Z buying a new sofa is considered good programming. Here the Happy Mondays show how reality TV should be done, when they appeared on ghost hunting show Most Haunted. Aged Manchester musicians stay in a haunted house. What could go right?

4. Iggy Bums A Teddy

Iggy Pop pretends to bum a teddy bear on children’s TV. It’s an eye-catching line indeed. Back in the 1980s children’s television shows were a staple way to see live bands, or rather chart acts mime to their latest single. The misguided producers of UK British kids’ TV show No. 73 clearly thought nothing could go wrong when they invited Iggy pop to “boogie in their basement,” and mime to his hit at the time ‘Wild One’. How misguided they were.

5.Husker Du Fail To Impress Housewives

Husker Du was one of the greatest indie alternative acts of all time. Merging punk with catchy pop they were one of the main influences for a host of bands, most notably Nirvana. What they are less famous for however was being a darling of Middle America’s housewife community. Here they are in 1986 bizarrely appearing on Minneapolis day time US TV show good Company in front of an audience of bewildered housewives.

6.Sabrina Finally Meets The Violent Femmes

Sabrina the Teenage Witch may have been one of the most annoying teenagers on TV, but at least she had reasonable music taste. This clip is from a 1997 episode of her series in which her efforts to see her favourite band the Violent Femmes are thwarted by her crazy witch aunts. Eventually she gets to meet them but be warned this clip contains some of the worst acting by a band ever.

7.Stone Roses Brand BBC “Amateurs”

The Stone Roses first album was a work of genius. The perfect band for the perfect 1989 moment all delivered with supreme dedication by producer John Leckie. They must have been proud. Imagine their disappointment when they appear on BBC’s Late Show when a technical hitch cuts their power. The presenter trying to explain the problem away while lead singer Ian Brown shouts “amateurs” in the background will forever be a classic nugget of TV gold.


8.Fugazi’s First UK TV Appearance

Snub TV was a great music show from the late 1980s, featuring the first UK TV appearances of the likes of the Stone Roses and this clip from Fugazi. Filmed during their first visit to the UK, lead singer Ian Mackaye can come across a bit pious, preaching to the crowd about rape, but the sheer intensity of the performance is not in doubt. Great, great performance.

9.Sex Pistols With Bill Grundy

This is the granddaddy, the godfather, the mother of all alternative music TV moments. Today Show presenter Bill Grundy attempted to wind up the Sex Pistols. Little did he realise that beneath the snarls, rips and safety pins lurked an intelligent man in John Lydon. Lydon takes the bait and throws it straight back at the hapless Grundy, whose career was in tatters by the next day. In contrast the Sex Pistols went on to become a household name.

10. XTC On So It Goes

So It Goes, the late 1970 music show fronted by the late Tony Wilson showcased some of the best acts of the punk/new wave era. Elvis Costello, The Clash, Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks all appeared. To mark this show we’ve chosen this little seen clip of XTC performing ‘Neon Shuffle’. Another fantastic performance in which you’d never guess that seemingly extrovert lead singer Andy Partridge went on to develop stage fright.

Compiled by Joe Lepper

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