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Indietracks Festival 2016

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Indietracks Festival 2016

Posted on 20 August 2016 by Dorian

Friday

As with our last trip to Indietracks we underappreciated the length of the journey from the south coast up to Derbyshire. Traffic jams for most of the route meant that by the time we’d pitched tent and set up for the evening that we’d already missed one of the three acts playing on the first evening.

Indietracks

Simon Love was in full flow at Indietracks Festival 2016 when we arrived on site, in the midst of a set heavy on tracks from his most recent album. Love does seem a little distracted, but puts on a  good show replete in white suit shirt and tie. It’s an irreverent, fun, and slightly shambolic set to start the weekend.

Simon Love

Simon Love

The Spook School have established themselves as Indietracks’ stalwarts since I first saw them play way back in 2012. They are as engaging as ever, although the many distractions of the site see me moving from shed to train to bar and back during their set. They’re an intriguing band with a lot to say, quietly spoken between songs and outspoken within them. Although they’re sound is primarily spiky pop punk there is a real variety to the mood. Some songs are really pretty downbeat, but that doesn’t stop them playing ‘The Vengabus is Coming’ as an encore.

Spook School

Spook School

Saturday

The first full day starts wearily; we camped far too close to the disco tent. Sleeping through a rowdy singalong of ‘The Hymn for the Cigarettes’ isn’t possible. A midday walk around the site followed by an invigorating ride on the miniature railway sweeps some of the cobwebs away.

Beard

Dirtygirl start things off in an “interesting” way, they are pretty ramshackle and don’t seem quite ready. There is a rawness to the band that I appreciate and an honesty to their songs, it isn’t for me. Vaccaciones from Spain are more like it, but also pretty ramshackle I have no idea what they are singing about but I like the sound of it and their senthusiasm seems to drag some sun from between the clouds.

In the Church Wintergreen get an immediate few marks on the obscure instrument bingo-sheet by having an Autoharp and harmonium on show. The bands start is delayed by a lot of tweaking to their set-up, and more endearingly by their violin player still being on the train. Indeed with harmonium and melodic also on the stage they are close to a full house. The band sound pretty good and remind me of a more classically English Efterklang. The only problem is that even with the extended set-up they don’t seem t be able to get the sound set-up quite right. The set breaks down half way through and the band do start to lose the audience a little. One to revisit on record I think.

Wintergreen

Emma Pollock on the other hand gets the sound rust right for her early evening set. The songs from her excellent new album, In Search of Harperfield, sound appropriately punchier live and it proves to be one of the sets of the weekend. Great songs and years of live experience prove to be the magic combination here.

Emma Pollock

Emma Pollock

Although Saint Etienne are the official headliners it is obvious that The Lovely Eggs are the band that the Indietracks crowd want to see most. The crowd is huge and rightly enthusiastic about the duo’s set, They play a nicely dirty take on indie pop punk and the audience goes wild.

Lovely Eggs

The Lovely Eggs

Even though the outdoor crowd is always a bit less rowdy than they are in the train shed, they seem pretty excited about Saint Etienne. They play a pretty great set high on hits, a well chosen selection of album tracks and not too many new songs. There is a lot of comfortable cosiness about them these days, but they are still a pretty great pop band and a fitting end to the day.

Saint Etienne

Saint Etienne

Sunday

Due to the unusually dry weather Indietracks 2016 for me is all be about the open air. So after a brief watch of City Yelps we head out again to get a seat on the grass for Witching Waves. The band play a fairly typical indie punk set, but there is thing wrong with that. They have some really good tunes and their on-stage nervousness is endearing. Wanderlust hits again halfway through the set though as we head for our (only) train based gig. Sadly we don’t get to see the band as some people (cheats!) were already on board and it fills up sooner than promised. Our photographer did get a place so he enjoyed Gavin Osborn and the rest of us had a pleasant train ride. The report came back that he was pretty brilliant, so one to catch in the future.

Gavin Osborn

Gavin Osborn

The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy have nice instrumentation and arrangements but a tendency to be rather dreary, a lot of which is down to the slightly flat vocal style. We go to watch Girl Ray as part of a rare venture indoors and well worth it. Tuneful vocals and catchy tunes are what I’m looking for and they deliver that perfectly.

Back in our place on the grass Haiku Salut seem perfect in the late afternoon and have a very strong sound. The second time Efterklang have come to mind this weekend, plus a bit of the Yann Tierson thrown in. No festival singalongs here but some very beautiful atmospheric music (Possibly the prize for most instrument changes also).

Darren Hayman arrives on stage in power trio format and takes no time to pillory Bill Botting for forgetting a bass strap. It is a well structured festival set and Hefner make an appearance as early as song 2. It is beautiful stuff with a number of recent songs from the  Thankful Villages and Chants for Socialists albums. A sore throat seems to cause Hayman a few problems but performing ‘The Hymn For The Cigarettes’ as the last song shows he knows how to play a festival.

Darren Hayman

Darren Hayman

I remember Comet Gain but don’t really remember their music, and noting in their set sounds familiar to me. I really like the overall sound, but I struggle to really get into the set without any familiar reference points.

Comet Gain

Comet Gain

Watching the last steamroller can crush of the weekend and stroking the tiny owl do mean arriving late for The Aislers Set. They’re another band I know little of, but I can tell they are a band I would have loved if I had discovered them first time around. It would have been nice to have had a band I was a fan of finishing the weekend, and you can’t fake that feeling.  But on the night they sound pretty great and seem like a pretty decent Indietracks finale.

The Aislers Set

The Aislers Set

So ten down and hopefully many more to come. There is nothing quite like Indietracks and it still holds the prize for being the friendliest and most relaxed musical event of the year.

Words: Dorian Rogers | Pictures: Nic Newman

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Top Ten Albums of 2016 So far…

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Top Ten Albums of 2016 So far…

Posted on 20 June 2016 by Joe

With 2016 at the half way mark we thought we’d present our list of the ten albums that have impressed us the most so far. All within our broad focus on indie and alternative music, we’ve some old stagers, new bands and plenty of rage. We’ve also got an act at number one who probably never would have thought they’d be acclaimed as the best indie act of the year in 2016 back. In addition to the ten below we also wanted to mention new albums by Shearwater, Pete Astor, The Wave Pictures, Steven James Adams, Picture Box and Rapid Results College, which are all in contention for a place in our end of year extended best albums list.

10. Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are

Robert-Pollard-Of-Course-You-Are

Incredibly, this is now the 22nd solo album from the hardest working man in music and proves another high point in an illustrious career. Read the full review here.

9. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

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Third album from the former Sugar and Husker Du man’s most settled line up for years. The key to its success is its ability to tackle the tough issues of life in the most fun way possible, as Mould’s rage and melody once again combine perfectly.  Read the full review here.

8. Dressy Bessy – King Sized

Dressy Bessy Kingsized

Fabulous return from a six-year break for the US act. This works particularly well by merging their beefier pre- hiatus sound with the pop nous that made their early work so infectious. Read the full review here.

7. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity

51655-nonagon-infinity

Like an extended rock jam, taking in science fiction, monsters and, naturally, some awesome guitar riffs this is another stellar release from the Australian psych rockers, with a little help from some robots and a gigantic wasp. Read the full review here.

6. Woodpigeon – TROUBLE

woodpigeon

Heartbreak, loss and a globe trotting meander prove the powerful inspiration for Mark Andrew Hamilton’s latest album. Beautiful and inspiring. Read the full review here.

5. Evans the Death – Vanilla

evans

On album number three London act Evans the Death have upped, shredded, beaten up and garrotted the ante. It’s full of rage, the guitars are heavier than before, the vocals fiercer and the ambition turned to stadium sized proportions, with a brass section and even a funky bass added to the mix. Incendiary album from what very well be Britain’s best rock band. Read the full review here.

4. Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves

papernut

Former Death in Vegas man Ian Button and crew have created their very own 1970s pop band. Full of fuzzed up guitar riffs and stomping rhythms there would have been plenty to satisfy the charts back in the day, especially the album’s title song, and its best pop tune, Radio. Read the full review here.

3. Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages – Vol 1

ThankfulWeb

One of Hayman’s best pieces of work and possibly his most important, preserving the oral history of the relatives of those who survived the horrors of the Great War as well as paying tribute to the village life these soldiers left and thankfully returned to. Read the full review here.

2. Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield

pollock

Childhood memories and the toils of adulthood mix wonderfully on the former Delgados singer’s latest album. With the track Parks and Recreation she has also created one of the best songs of recent years. Read the full review here.

1. The Monkees – Good Times

The Monkees - Good Times

The comeback to beat all comebacks. Originally planned as merely something to sell on their 50th anniversary tour this album has ended up grabbing the headlines in its own right. With Fountains of Wayne man Adam Schlesinger at the helm, a stack of lost demos to dust off and new tracks from talented Monkees fans such as Andy Partridge and Ben Gibbard, Good Times both pays tribute to their place in 1960s pop history and creates a great, modern day indie and alternative pop album in its own right. A well deserved number one slot. Read our full review here.

Top Ten Albums of 2016 So far was compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves

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Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves

Posted on 27 May 2016 by Joe

Being just a school boy during the early 1970s Ian Button missed out on fronting his own psychedelic glam pop band on Top of the Pops.

A few decades on, undaunted by being born in the wrong decade, he’s been making up for lost time by enlisting his friends to help create his own 1970s poptastic act called Papernut Cambridge.

papernut

While their debut album was an ode to surburban life and straddled influences across a number of decades, last year’s Nutlets covers album firmly rooted the band in the 1970s through loving tributes to the tracks of Alvin Stardust and Hot Chocolate among others.

Now the former Death in Vegas man and crew, including Ralegh Long, Darren Hayman and Robert Rotifer, have gone further by creating their very own 1970s chart hits that never were. It’s hard to listen without imagining Button, black-dyed hair and dressed in leather jumpsuit, coo-coo-chooing his way through the tracks. Full of fuzzed up guitar riffs and stomping rhythms there would have been plenty to satisfy the charts back in the day, especially the album’s title song and its best pop tune Radio.

There’s a nice nod to Eno-era Roxy Music too on Mirology, and the last paisley swirls of the 1960s psychedelic pop scene are also evident, most notably on the tongue-twistingly ever-so-English St Nicholas Vicarage. Who knew there were so many words in the English language that rhyme with vicarage? This wouldn’t look out of place on an album by another of our favourite exponents of psychedelic pop – XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear.

While the attention to detail in recreating the sounds of this golden era for British pop is a huge plus, what really marks out the work of Button’s crew is their heart. On their previous album the track Nutflake Social had a wonderful community spirit to it. Here the sense of sociability and community is still there, especially as the band are introduced on final track We Are the Nut. These timeless messages of love and friendship are hard to fault. Now all Button needs is a time machine to secure that coveted Top of the Pops appearance.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves is released by Gare Du Nord Records.

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Indietracks 2016 Q&A

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Indietracks 2016 Q&A

Posted on 25 May 2016 by Dorian

Indietracks is one of our favourite festivals and after a year off (and we missed it!) Neon Filler will be back this year to enjoy their 10th birthday.

We caught up with husband and wife Nat and Andy Hudson, two of the festival organisers, to ask them ten questions about ten Indietracks.

train

1. Let’s start with the obvious question. Why have an indie pop festival at a heritage railway?

Nat: Indietracks was actually first started in 2007 by a guy called Stuart Mackay, who used to restore trains at the Midland railway, and we’ve all gradually become involved since then. He originally started it as a fun way of bringing his own favourite bands to the railway after seeing other music events being held there, starting with a one-night event and then eventually turning it into a weekend festival. To be honest, I think the respective worlds of indiepop and steam trains intertwine perfectly, and I can’t imagine it being held anywhere else now!

2. The festival is celebrating it’s 10th birthday this year. Is anything special planned?

Andy: Yes, we’ve a few things planned – I’ll let you know about a couple, and we’ll keep some a secret. Firstly, we’re screening a documentary about Indietracks made by the acclaimed film-maker Jeanie Finlay. Jeanie’s previously made some great films including The Great Hip Hop Hoax and Sound It Out, and her Indietracks film is beautiful, funny and heart-breaking. We’re also going to have a 10th birthday disco on the Sunday night, playing some of our favourite songs from the last 10 years of the festival and hopefully sharing some cake around. One of the other ideas will be spectacular if it works, but we’re keeping it a surprise!

3. What are the 10 best performances you’ve seen at Indietracks?

Nat: Argh, it’s too difficult to say! I’d struggle to put performances in any kind of order, but sets I’ve enjoyed in the past include La Casa Azul, The Go! Team, Euros Childs, Darren Hayman, The Wave Pictures, Camera Obscura, Allo Darlin’, Stars of Aviation, The Hidden Cameras and Haiku Salut.

4. What 10 acts would be your dream guests at future Indietracks?

Andy: Kenickie – every year for the next 10 years! To be honest, we’ve always managed to book tons of our dream guests – Saint Etienne, The Aislers Set and The Spook School headlining is a dream line-up for us this year. And we’re still pinching ourselves that we’ve booked people like Helen Love, Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels and The Go! Team in previous years! Just as importantly though, our dream line up in future years will be finding the next new fantastic indiepop bands – we want to find the next Allo Darlin’ or the next Standard Fare. So, alongside Kenickie, my 10 dream guests would include 9 amazing artists that I’ve not heard of yet!

Allo Darlin

5. Outdoors, shed, church or train?

Nat: If you’re asking me which I prefer, then it’s just too tricky to choose! I’ve seen sets I’ve loved on all of those stages at some point! If I really have to choose though, I really love the church – it’s such an intimate atmosphere in there. Haiku Salut’s lamp show in there in 2013 was amazing.

6. If someone was thinking of attending Indietracks what would you say to persuade them?

Andy: It’s a relaxed and fun festival where you can dance to fantastic bands, ride steam trains and meet some real-life owls! It’s a very friendly festival where we hope everyone feels safe and welcome. And you’ll be raising money for a fantastic steam railway charity!

7. Richard Osman promised to attend. Did he make it? Or do you think he’ll be there this year?

Nat: Haha! He was very kind to me when I appeared on Pointless with my sister-in-law and allowed me to talk on national television about Indietracks which was great, but sadly I’ve not seen him since. He did mention he might come along the year that Allo Darlin’ played but it didn’t happen, and to be honest I can’t imagine it ever happening – he’d probably get mobbed!

8. It is a pretty unique location, what things do you recommend people do when they aren’t watching bands?

Andy: I’d definitely start with a train ride, either on the steam trains or on the narrow-gauge railway that runs through the countryside. We’ve a series of art and craft workshops for both children and adults, as well as discos in the evening. Then there’s the other railway attractions, including a couple of museums, the signal box, restored station and vintage railway memorabilia shops. Finally there’s a nearby country park, a miniature railway and we have an owl sanctuary on site.

9. Campsite or hotel?

Nat: The Golden Valley campsite is fantastic – it has brilliant discos, beautiful surroundings and lovely food. However, although I have to admit that although I camped in 2007 I’ve stayed in the Travelodge ever since then . I’m not a particularly good camper, and after spending the weekend running around I definitely need a comfortable bed to sleep on!

10. Will the owls be there this year?

Andy: Yes!

Owl

Nat and Andy were interviewed by Dorian Rogers

Indietracks takes place at the Midland Railway Centre in the heart of the Derbyshire countryside, and the festival is held on the weekend of 29-31 July 2016. more details, and information on booking, can be found at  www.indietracks.co.uk.

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Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages Vol 1

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Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages Vol 1

Posted on 23 May 2016 by Joe

Darren Hayman is at his best when placing a microscope over the details of people’s lives, their hopes, fears and how their environment shapes them.

The big issues of life, of war and inequality, are also important to him, but rather than tub thumping about them he is more interested in how they impact on every day lives.

Take the third part of his Essex trilogy of albums about the brutal treatment of elderly woman during the 17th century witch trials. It held up a mirror to the modern, shameful treatment of immigrants and others perceived as a burden on society. But of course this was all implicit. What mattered more were the people and the real horrors that befell them. The sound of the hangman’s rope stretching as their feet danced in search of life proved far more powerful than a soapbox rant.

ThankfulWeb

This latest project emerged from a conversation with his friend and frequent collaborator, Ian Button, whose father had told him of the rare collection of English ‘Thankful’ villages, who were lucky enough to see all those who went to fight in the First World War return. Given the scale of that conflict this is something to be thankful for indeed.

Like a modern day version of Cecil Sharp, the Victorian and Edwardian collector of English folk music, Hayman went out on the road, finding out more about these villages and their current residents as well as painting and recording them on his travels.

Although The Great War is one focus, it is mainly used by Hayman merely as a hook to document rural village life past and present.

There are 54 known thankful villages he is visiting and each will get their own tribute across three volumes.

Here on the first volume, 18 villages are covered starting in Knowlton in Dorset and ending in Bradbourne in Derbyshire. Miles apart, but its residents share the same gratitude that the lives of their grandfathers and fathers weren’t snuffed out on the battlefields of Europe. They also share the same aspects of rural life, where churches were and remain the focal point and local history continues to shape modern life.

When war does take centre stage, it is heartbreaking, as those that returned were never the same. On St Michael, South Elmham, Dolly’s account of her “hard” father’s show of emotion on Armistice day each year as he remembers the horrors he saw, is among the most tender moments.

Musically, Hayman uses acoustic and electronic instruments across instrumentals and songs that take in folk, soundscapes and soundtrack qualities. The sounds of the villages are also important, with the album recorded on location with post production added on later. On Butterton the village’s background noises even become part of the track’s rhythm. Local church congregations also take part and on Bradbourne the vocal harmonies create an upbeat end to this first collection.

What emerges is one of Hayman’s best pieces of work and possibly his most important, preserving the oral history of the relatives of those who survived the horrors of the Great War as well as paying tribute to the village life they left and thankfully returned to.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages Vol 1 is released on Rivertones. For more information visit here.

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Steven James Adams – Old Magick

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Steven James Adams – Old Magick

Posted on 01 March 2016 by Joe

Late last year Darren Hayman posted on Facebook that Fortuna POP!’s white middle aged men roster, which he is proudly part of, was in fine form, with imminent releases from Pete Astor, formerly of 1980s band The Weather Prophets, and Steven Adams, ex-The Broken Family Band.

SJA-OLD-MAGICK

On reading this it was the first time I’d even considered that Adams actually middle aged given the youthful twinkle in his eyes. Even his cynicism, displayed lyrically and with his sardonic wit on stage, is often that of a cheeky teen rather than a depressed old man.

Here, on what is perhaps his first ‘middle-aged’ release, he casts his eye over his and his fans’ advancing years but still with a youthful twinkle. For example on Togetherness, about the appalling way too many British people treat those from other countries, the delivery is far from preachy or serious, instead its cheekily accompanied with one of the album’s most upbeat melodies.

And on Ideas, another standout track, the self-deprecating tone of a middle aged man desperately trying to save a relationship with ideas that have not yet formed could easily apply to a teen. Perhaps it could also be about the performer Adams, urging his audience to stay with him as well.

This tongue in cheek look at aging is perhaps best shown on The Back of the Bus as the young care free teens shouting from the back of a bus are transported into middle-age where “now, it’s just massage music”.

Musically, this is a more low key sound than his full band Singing Adams indie pop project of recent years but more slickly produced than his last solo outing, 2013’s House Music, which was recorded in his living room. With studio production from Dan Michaelson this feels very much like a solo album that allows the lyrics to shine and is perhaps his best release since his Broken Family Band days.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

To buy Steven James Adams – Old Magick click here.

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The Wave Pictures – A Season In Hull

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The Wave Pictures – A Season In Hull

Posted on 26 February 2016 by Joe

Slowly but surely The Wave Pictures are winning around Britain albeit via the increasing influence of American music on their albums. Over their last couple of releases they’ve picked up heightened attention thanks to the US influenced blues of City Forgiveness (2013) and last year’s Billy Childish collaboration Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon,  featured a pair of Credence Clearwater Revival covers.

a_season_in_hull_500

Here they have delved even further into the US’s musical history, channeling the spirit of America’s early folk music recording pioneers, with guitarist David Tattersall, drummer Jonny Helm and bassist Rozycki here on acoustic instruments, gathered with friends around a single microphone

The idea to huddle around one mic came from their long time friend and collaborator Darren Hayman.

Tattersall says: “The idea appealed to me enormously. It’s a really beautiful sound, the one microphone sound. The results tend to be mysterious and lively, and it’s a very romantic way to record, too. It’s how Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys did it, after all.”

The bluegrass comparisons stop there though and although the trio are accomplished on acoustic instruments as they are in their usual amped up guise their ever so English lyrics and vocals of Tattersall still shine through. The result is yet again another great album from the trio, which is familiar but still refreshingly different.

The songs are also great, Slick Black River From the Rain and the wonderfully titled Thin Lizzy Live and Dangerous are particularly standouts.

So too is Tattersall’s transition from electric to acoustic guitar, where his solos continue to impress.

After more than a decade of recording and more than a dozen studio albums A Season in Hull shows that The Wave Pictures seem to love being in a band as much as they did when they first started.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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John Howard – Not Forgotten, The Best of John Howard Vol 2.

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John Howard – Not Forgotten, The Best of John Howard Vol 2.

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Joe

John Howard’s renaissance continued in fine form last year with the release of John Howard and the Night Mail, a collection of timeless pop written and performed with Andy Lewis (Paul Weller Band), Robert Rotifer (Rotifer) and Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge).

It ended the year gracing many a best of list, including our own, and even charted, albeit in the Austrian independent releases run-down.

As a result Howard’s music has come to the attention of a wider audience and may well be the reason you are reading this now.

John Howard and the Night Mail

John Howard and the Night Mail

Never one to miss an opportunity Howard has decided to release a second volume of his best of series to show his new admirers what else he’s been up to in recent years.

So for those who are new to Howard’s music let’s take a few lines to recap his tale.

It’s a familiar story, glam pop boy and his piano meets record company, in his case CBS in the 1970s. Boy then gets dumped by record company, ends up quitting recording and working for the music industry in A&R for a couple of decades. Much older boy then meets internet generation, decides to record again and the pair live happily ever after.

Since the release of his comeback album, the appropriately titled As I Was Saying in 2005, he has released around a dozen more, as well as a handful of EPs covering lesser known artists he admires such as Alex Highton.

On his first best of compilation These Fifty Years, released in 2009, the focus was on his 70s heyday and comeback releases up to that point. Here the focus is exclusively on his comeback, with the internet generation helping with the track list as Howard keeps a close eye on downloads, streams and Youtube interest to guide him.

John Howard - As I Was Saying

John Howard – As I Was Saying

Among our picks on this compilation are the As I Was Saying tracks the Dilemma of the Homosapien, with its killer chorus, and Taking it All to Heart, that perfectly sums up the emotions of a rejected artist. There’s also a heavy focus on glam pop, with upbeat songs such as Making Love To My Girl, from Same Bed, Different Dreams (2006) and Believe Me, Richard, From Storeys (2013) among highlights.

Maybe I Know Why and Born Too Early are among the best of the ‘slowies’ here. Both are from Hello, My Name Is, a largely autobiographical collection looking back to his time in London in the 1970s and society’s changing attitudes to sexuality

But as with any compilation this is as much about what isn’t on it as what is.

What awaits those who want to delve further into his releases are further gems on As I was Saying such as the Magic of Mystery. Bob/Bobbi, from Hello My Name Is, which gives genuine heart and substance to a drag queen he once met while on holiday, is another to seek out.

Also missing here are tracks from 2012’s You Shall Go the Ball!, featuring reworkings of his 70s demos that failed to see the light of day. It is here that an extra layer to the Howard story unfolds with his carefully crafted soundscapes interspersed with tracks such as the magnificent The Deal, where his adoration of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s solo work is clear.

And there’s some great covers too to discover, particularly his version of Alex Highton’s Songs for Someone and Darren Hayman’s Elizabeth Duke, on his Songs for Someone EP.

John Howard interpreta “The Bewlay Brothers”, de David Bowie from Oscar Garcia Suarez on Vimeo.

Looking back on his comeback output Howard’s initial failure to be a star in the 1970s may just have been the best thing to happen to him. The break from performing for a couple of decades has beautifully preserved his voice. Just watch him performing his cover of Bowie’s Bewlay Brothers in Barcelona in January this year (see above) to see what we mean.

It has also meant he is fiercely independent, embracing home recording technology and the promotional possibilities of social media to great effect to take direct control of how his music sounds and is released.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Pete Astor – Spilt Milk

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Pete Astor – Spilt Milk

Posted on 06 January 2016 by Joe

It says something about the quality of Pete Astor and his 1980s band The Weather Prophets that their track Worm in my Brain emerged as one of the best on the recent 76 track commemorative box -set reissue of the NME’s C86 tape. Up against the likes of Primal Scream and The Wedding Present this track with its wonderful guitar arrangement and Astor’s honest vocals stands up remarkably well 30 years on.

spilt-milk

Once of Creation band The Loft and still managed by Creation boss Alan McGee while in The Weather Prophets, Astor went solo in 1990. But a familiar story in music unfolded – critical success greeted Astor, while success continued to elude him.

He took a break for a few years, some more solo projects eventually followed, Astor briefly reformed The Loft and healso took on a new career, as a university lecturer on the music industry.

Now signed to Fortuna Pop he starts 2016 with this his eighth solo album. On this evidence Fortuna Pop, where he joins a recent roster of young up and coming bands as well as veteran indie troopers such as Darren Hayman, is a good fit.

The guitar and vocal delivery from Worm in my Brain is still there thankfully on this release, which has an unshowy production that allows the songs and lyrics to shine. The sparse use of a talented backing band, that includes former Hefner man Jack Hayter on pedal steel, helps as well. This means that when they do appear it has more impact.

As a disciple of the “sing what you know about” school of songwriting, so advocated by XTC’s Andy Partridge among others, Astor’s lyrics are unmistakably that of a middle aged man, full of wistful nods to the past and a wry look at the present and future. As he puts it in accompanying press release, time passes, shit happens; some losses, some gains. Don’t cry – but I did.” This is a good way to sum up this album’s feel.

My Right Hand about friendship and the country sounding Good Enough are among the best but for me Sleeping Tiger emerges as the stand out track. It’s got the melody, the full band feel and a great guitar hook driving it throughout. Very Good Lock is another good introspective piece that offers hope to the downtrodden.

As an advert to a new audience this album will hopefully do its job, with Darren Hayman’s recent solo work and the meloncholic melodies of Co-Pilgrim good points of reference for the uninitiated.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top 30 Albums of 2015

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Top 30 Albums of 2015

Posted on 18 December 2015 by Joe

It’s been such a great year for albums that we’ve upped our usual 20 strong end of year list to 30. There will be some in run down that will be on many other end of year lists, but we’ve also tried to include some of our favourites from emerging artists, who unfairly find themselves struggling to get publicity at times.

If there is a theme to our list it is that it was a good year for pop and yet again another year where the quality from both new acts and experienced artists was equally high. Here is our Top 30 Albums of 2015.

30. Papernut Cambridge – Nutlets (1967-1980)

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So it appears Hot Chocolate used to be cool. Who knew? Well, Ian Button, who releases under the Papernut Cambridge moniker, did. The former Death in Vegas/Thrashing Doves man is something of a 1970s pop expert and this fine collection features ten covers of his favourites from around that time. Read our full review here.

29. The Bevis Frond – Example 22

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There is no more underground act than The Bevis Frond, aka Nick Saloman. For many a year he’s been releasing quality psychedelic rock across more than 20 releases, relentlessly ploughing his own guitar driven furrow much to the delight of a devoted fanbase.

Here on the band’s latest release are no radical departures from previous works, just steady as she goes, bloody good rock songs with riffs a plenty and solos to make your knees go weak. Read our full review here.

28. Matt Creer – The Leeward Tide

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As calms after the storm go this latest album by Isle of Man singer songwriter Matt Creer is just about perfect. We first heard his beautiful take on folk music via a Tweet from Chris TT. We hope this placing in our Top 20 albums of the year so far prompts others to discover his remarkable talent. Read our full review here.

 27. Small Feet – From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like The Ocean

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The pool of talent in the Swedish folk scene just got deeper. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Tallest Man on Earth and First Aid Kit is Stockholm based trio Small Feet. With the epic folk of the Fleet Foxes, a band who inspired First Aid Kit, coupled with the intimacy of Ireland’s Villagers, Small Feet certainly have the sound to match their countrymen and women. This is a remarkable debut. Read our full review here.

26. Darren Hayman – Florence

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A simple idea, of a short winter holiday in Florence staying at the apartment of his indiepop chums Elizabeth Morris and her husband Ola Innset, of Allo Darlin and Making Marks respectively, provides the inspiration for this melancholy collection of songs. While a rare solo project it is far from being a lonely or sad album. Friendship is a key theme and there’s a cosy warmth to its winter setting too. Read our full review here.

25. Ricked Wicky – I Sell The Circus

Ricked Wicky I Sell The Circus

Robert Pollard has basically existed as a solo artist with a rotating team of supporting players for his whole career, but he always seems most energised when he is operating in band mode. Ricked Wicky is his latest band identity and this is the best of the three albums they have released in 2015 as Pollard remains music’s most prolific recording artist.

24. El Vy – Return To The Moon

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This collaboration between The National’s Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf is a mixed bag, but a consistently entertaining one. A captivating blend of pop and melancholy that makes good use of Berninger’s trademark baritone.

23. Public Service Broadcasting -The Race For Space

Public Service Broadcasting

As much as we enjoyed PSB’s first album there were doubts about the staying power of their approach to creating music. Their second album, about the golden years of the space programme, allayed any fears and is just as much fun as the first. Sounds even better live as well.

22. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

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Fronted by John Darnielle and still very much a three piece, with Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster in tow, the Mountain Goats’s latest is a concept album about the very human tales of wrestling, from their young fans to the stars of the ring themselves. Heartbreaking and joyous. Read our full review here.

21. The Wave Pictures – Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon

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Is this the best dirty rock n roll album of the year? We declared as such back in February and so far few have come close. With Billy Childish on board for production duties the trio get down and dirty and even roll out a couple of Creedence Clearwater Revival numbers. Read our full review here.

20. Tame Impala – Currents

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With this their third album Tame Impala have truly emerged from mere interesting Australian psych rock act to global pop sensation in waiting. The weird trippy psych rock of their debut album Innerspeaker and the stomp of its follow up Lonerism are still here. So too are the synths you can lose yourself in and the quirky, phasered drum rolls and guitar licks. But here they sound far more pop, far more danceable, with the bass squelchier and the band’s key figure Kevin Parker’s vocals purer, almost soulful at times. Read our full review here.

19. SLUG- Ripe

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Any album that is connected with Field Music is likely to be enthusiastically received at Neon Filler towers. The band have produced some of our favourite music over the last decade. Ripe is the twisted brain child o their touring bass player Ian Black and has both Brewis Brothers on board for the ride. Imagine Queen producing their music in 21st Century Sunderland and you get a flavour of what is on show here.

18. Calexico – Edge of the Sun

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You know what you are going to get when you play a Calexico album, the smooth sounds of Californian country rock with a consistent undercurrent of Marichi brass. Edge of the Sun offers no surprises, but is their most satisfying release in years. Iron And Wine’s Sam Beam, Neko Case and Gaby Moreno all pitch in with vocal support on an album that would sound best listened to in a desert.

17. Evans the Death – Expect Delays

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The despair for young people under coalition and now Conservative government since 2010 is embedded in every scream, guitar riff and drum beat on this incendiary latest album from the London four piece. This is what it feels like to be young and pissed off in all its magnificent angst. Read our full review here.

16. Mammoth Penguins – Hide and Seek

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Mammoth Penguins, the new band formed by Standard Fare’s Emma Kupa, are one of the best new acts to emerge this year. At it’s heart it’s basic indie pop of drums, crunchy guitar chords, bass and bitter sweet lyrics. But an elevation comes from Kupa’s distinct vocals, which here seem clearer and more powerful than on Standard Fare releases. Plus there seems to be a sharper focus to the songs as well, which pack a real punch. Read our full review here.

15. Ralegh Long – Hoverance

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Gare Du Nord label artist Ralegh Long takes the listener into the world of the English countryside for a beautiful, rural inspired collection of romantic and thoughtful songs. Read our full review here.

14. Wilco – Star Wars

Wilco Star WarsWhen Wilco announced an unexpected new album it was a pleasant surprise, the four years since their last being the longest break yet in their career. But is this giveaway album any good? The answer is a pretty emphatic yes. Wilco don’t do bad albums and they haven’t decided to break their 20 year run of form, even for a freebie. Read our full review here.

13. Co-pilgrim – Slows to Go

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In song writer and frontman Mike Gale, Co-pilgrim they have one of UK music’s best kept secrets, with his bittersweet lyrics merging beautifully with ’60s guitars and melodies. How his tracks are not well known is seemingly a mystery and this is yet another stellar release from the band. Read our full review here.

12. Bjork – Vulnicara

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As break up albums go Bjork’s return to form this year is up there with the best of them. Written about her emergence from a crumbling relationship this is one of the year’s most emotional albums with tracks such as Lion Song, Stonemilker and the 10 minute long centrepiece Black Lake among the best of her career. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and there may be tears when you listen but this is a deserved entry from an artist who very evidently put her heart and soul into this album.

11. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

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His 2010 album The Age of Adz may have been his most successful to date but it never sat quite easy with us. Granted its electronica was innovative but Stevens always sounds best to us with a stripped back sound and a hanky to wipe away the tears from his sad lyrics. Here he reveals his most intimate album yet focusing on his uneasy relationship with his late mother Carrie and his adoration for his step father Lowell Brams, who he runs his label Asthmatic Kitty with. This album is magnificently sad and uplifting in equal measure, as all great Sufjan Stevens albums should be.

10. New Order – Music Complete

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New Order returning with a new album was a small surprise, it being their best album since Technique (17 years ago!) was a bigger surprise. Gillian is back on board but Peter Hook is not, compare this to Waiting For The Sirens Call and make your own decision about who is a more important member of the band

9. Destroyer – Poison Season

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Four years on from the breakout success of Kaputt we find Dan Bejar delving further into the pool of ’80s jazz pop. If anything this is a stronger, more entertaining set than the predecessor and one of the best albums lyrically you’ll hear for a long time.

8. Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

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Following a five year break between albums the Scottish indie pop legends were back with one of the best releases. With added disco chic on The Party Line they even dip their toe into politics, with The Cat with the Cream and its heart breaking take on coalition government era Britain.

7. Villagers – Darling Arithmatic

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There’s something so wonderfully precise about Villagers’ frontman Conor O’Brien’s voice. Each line is told with such clarity and on this, their third album, the messag O’Brien wants to convey is loud and clear; this is a love album and one made by a gay man from Ireland. Read our full review here.

6. Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes

Robert Pollard - Faulty Superheroes

Like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts I too love rock and roll. But sometimes the idea of putting another dime in the juke box baby fills me with horror. Then just when you’d almost given up hope an album comes along and renews your faith in rock and roll. This is that album. Read our full review here.

5. Southern Tenant Folk Union – The Chuck Norris Project

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The Folk and bluegrass collective took a bold step using the film titles of right wing action star Chuck Norris to take on the weighty issues of the world, from gun crime to racism. Thankfully it worked, especially on Slaughter on San Francisco, where their singer Rory Butler delivers one of the vocal performances of the year. Read our full review here.

4. King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard – Paper Mache Dream Balloon

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On Paper Mache Dream Balloon out go the distorted guitars and lengthy conceptual moments and in comes purely acoustic instruments. The result from this Australian psychedelic rock outfit  is a fantastic whimsical album, like the soundtrack to a lost kids pop show from 1969. Fans of more latter day psychedelic exponents such as Dukes of Stratosphear and more recently Papernut Cambridge will love this especially as it harks back so vividly to those innocent days of lava lamp pop. Read our full review here.

3. John Howard and the Night Mail

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John Howard’s story is one well told tale by us, of a singer-songwriter that almost made it big in the 1970s, dropped out of recording and performing for the next 20 or so years only to return around a decade ago to be greeted by a new, younger fan base. Here with a stellar band of performers and co-songwriters in tow, of Robert Rotifer, Ian Button and Andy Lewis, this is arguably one of his best releases and certainly one of the year’s best pop releases. Read our full review here.

2. FFS

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This merging of art rockers Franz Ferdinand with 1970s oddball pop duo Sparks is one of the few collaborations in music that works. The Sparks brothers of Ron and Russell Mael look to have the upper hand in directing this, at times utterly bonkers, collection of pop songs. Alex Kapranos and co seem content to follow their lead and enjoy the ride. Read our full review here.

1. The Go! Team – The Scene Between

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The whole album from start to finish is teaming with singles, with wonderful hooks, riffs and choruses shining throughout. Its perfect pop and we challenge anyone who professes to have any form of appreciation for a good pop song to dislike this album. This gained a rare 10/10 from us when released and deservedly tops our Top 25 Albums of 2015 list. Read our full review here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers. Additional photos by Joe Lepper and Nic Newman

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