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Best Albums 2016 – Neonfiller’s Look At The Year’s Best Releases

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Best Albums 2016 – Neonfiller’s Look At The Year’s Best Releases

Posted on 14 December 2016 by Joe

After taking some time in June to list our favourite albums so far this year, the time has come to reveal our Best Albums of 2016.

The surprise alternative pop album of the year has not budged from its number one slot, but our extended end of year list has given us the chance to add a further 10 albums to our selection.

There are a few more veteran performers here, but also plenty of new bands with some stunning debuts released this year.

It may have been a horrible anus  in terms of politics and the death of iconic legends but 2016 was still a great year for music. Sit back and enjoy our Best Albums 2016 list.

20. Picture Box – Songs of Joy

 

a4145696296_10

Robert Halcrow uses his brand ‘wonky pop’ to take you on a tour of the lesser known nooks and crannies of his home City of Canterbury, in Kent. The demise of its speedway team, its smelly former tannery and a pet fish shop are the stars of this thoroughly eccentric look at small town England. Read the full review here.

19. American Wrestlers – Goodbye Terrible Youth

 

wrestlers-2016-pressphoto-evan-cuttler-wattles-650

The brain child of Gary McClure, once of Manchester band Working for A Nuclear Free City and now living in St Louis, this new act’s debut album earns a deserved spot on our list for its personal subject matter and catchy hooks all blended perfectly together with lashings of distorted guitar. Read the full review here.

18. Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door

 

robert-rotifer-not-your-door

Not Your Door is a deeply personal album for Robert Rotifer, taking in his present life living in Canterbury, Kent, as well as his past, growing up in Vienna. But with its themes of family and the very notion of home it aims to resonate with many. Its post Brexit release also offers a thoughtful alternative view on EU relations. Read the full review here.

17. Rapid Results College – In City Light

 

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Rapid Results College is such a great name for a band, cemented in modern urban life with tongue firmly in cheek about its pressures, pace and pitfalls. Their debut album left us enthralled, taking in influences such as XTC and their keen focus on melody, all channeled through some of the cleanest production you will hear all year. Read the full review here.

16. Southern Tenant Folk Union – Join Forces

 

joinforces500

After the ambitious Chuck Norris Project of last year, in which the Edinburgh folk collective used film titles by the rightwing actor to protest against his politics, their latest album goes back to basics. This has a more traditional sound, focusing on their bluegrass and Celtic influences, but still with plenty of politics and above all heart. Read the full review here.

15. 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.

14. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

 

mould-500x500

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.

13. 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.

12. John Howard – Across the Door Sill

 

acrossthedoorsill500

This may just be the best album to date by John Howard, the 1970s singer songwriter who is enjoying a renaissance in recent years as an independent artist. His time capsule preserved vocals are in abundance here thanks to some sumptuous layering to create an entire choir of Howards backed simply by piano. Beautiful. Read the full review here.

11. Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

 

 

martha

Many bands have trod the well worn path of capturing the pains of being young within three minute, fast paced pop songs, complete with guitar solos and rousing sing-a-long choruses. But no one does this quite like Martha. This collection from the north east of England act is another deserved entry to our end of year round up. Read the full review here.

10. 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.

9. 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.

8. The Wave Pictures – Bamboo Diner in the Rain

 

wave-pictures

Underneath what may very well be 2016’s crappiest album cover lies this year’s best blues LP, as The Wave Pictures take their fascination with American blues to new levels. Read our full review here.

7. 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.

6. 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.

5. 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.

4. Arborist – Home Burial

 

home_burial

Imagine a colliery band on tour of the Appalachians and I guess you are somewhere near this sound conjured up in this stunning debut from the Northern Ireland based act, that also features The Breeders Kim Deal on vocals. It’s Americana, but not like you’ve heard it before. Read the full review here.

3. Free Swim – Life Time of Treats

 

Free Swim

Free Swim’s Paul Coltofeanu is a silly chap, that’s why we like him. We’ve already been enthralled by his collection of quirky EPs but here, on the act’s debut album, he joins forces with chum David Turn to  take the charm up a few notches. Ray Mears, air drumming, Neville Southall’s moustache and angry internet sensation Gordon Hill are among the cast of stars that Paul and David encounter. There’s some fine music here too, which shows they are no mere novelty act. Read the full review here.

2. 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.

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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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

mould-500x500

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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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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John Howard and the Night Mail

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John Howard and the Night Mail

Posted on 04 August 2015 by Joe

A new angle has emerged in the John Howard story. The 70s singer songwriter, who was lost by the music industry and found by an Internet generation, has now got himself into a pop group. After a decade or so into a fiercely independent comeback career, where he writes, plays all instruments and handles promotion and distribution, the creation of The Night Mail is actually a big deal for Howard.

JH

Control Freak, one of the best songs on this collection of clever, timeless pop, best exemplifies the fear and excitement of having to relinquish some of his guarded independence to others.

But don’t feel too sorry for him as he steps out of his comfort zone. He’s in good hands as the Night Mail of Robert Rotifer on guitar, Ian Button on drums and Andy Lewis on bass and mellotron, are no strangers.

All are seasoned musicians and songwriters who have been in contact with Howard through mutual musical appreciation and common friends, including former Hefner man Darren Hayman, for the last few years. All three also formed his backing band for his two most recent gigs in London. Howard knows what he’s getting into and judging by the results is loving every minute of being in a band.

All three musicians also bring their own personality to each song, with each taking joint songwriting credits as manuscripts, demos and lyric sheets shuffled to and fro between England and Spain ahead of its recording last year at Big Jelly Studios in Kent.

There are merits to all three collaborations. But with five shared songwriting credits it is Howard’s partnership with former Thrashing Doves and Death in Vegas man Button that dominates.

Given Button’s love of the 1970s pop scene, most notably on his recent set of covers under his Papernut Cambridge moniker, it is unsurprising that in Howard he has found a songwriting soulmate. Whether it’s Howard supplying the words and Button tackling the music on Control Freak and In the Light of Fires Burning, or vice versa on Deborah Fletcher, This Song and Thunder in Vienna, their love of the era that Howard started out recording in oozes through each catchy chorus and verse.

Rotifer and Howard share four songwriting credits and is another stellar partnership on display here. Howard’s music compliments Rotifer’s lyrics of modern life on London’s After Work Drinking Culture perfectly, and Rotifer’s music on opener Before provides another high point.

Lewis, who is also bassist in Paul Weller’s band, shares just one songwriting credit but what a credit it is. The Lewis and Howard track Intact and Smiling was the one I singled out as the best on my first listen and that hasn’t changed over the weeks. Seems I’m not alone as its been released as a single and has already garnered BBC 6Music airplay. This track is great pop. How Howard must have craved such a quality tune from Lewis back at the start of his career.

There’s a cover here too, Small World by Roddy Frame, and it’s a testament to the creative partnerships with Howard here that this high quality piece of songwriting does not overshadow the original songs.

Arguably this is amongst the three most important albums of Howard’s career. One day it may even be seen as more important than his other two classics – his rediscovered 1970s debut Kid in a Big World and his excellent 2005 comeback album As I Was Saying.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top 20 Albums of 2015…so far

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Top 20 Albums of 2015…so far

Posted on 03 July 2015 by Joe

At the year’s half way point we take a look back on some of our favourite albums of the year so far. There’s been a distinct up turn in pop amongst our largely indie and alternative releases, with Franz Ferdnand and Spark’s collaboration and the return of Go! Team and They Might Be Giants amongst the standouts. We also feature an homage to arguably the UK’s golden era of pop, a concept album about wrestling, some prog rock, some teen angst, a bit of adult angst and another regular placing for Robert Pollard, who retains his tag as rock’s most productive artist. Watch out for our end of year list in December.

20. Mammoth Penguins – Hide and Seek

 

Mammoth_PENGUINS

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.

19. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color

 

alabamashakes

Our contributor Sarah Robertson’s favourite album of the year launches itself into our top 20 thanks to its “timeless, soulful” sound and a range of songs “that could provide the backdrop to a cult road trip film.” Read our full review here.

18. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ

 

mgoats

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.

17. The Bevis Frond – Miasma and Inner Marshland Reissues

 

bevisfrondmarshland

Welcome reissue for the cult 1980s prog rock act’s first two albums. The band’s driving force Nick Salomon is still very much guitar noodling and plays for the second time in two years at Glastonbury this year. Read our full review here to find out why his band is so adored by guitar luminaries such as Jay Mascis.

16. Matt Creer – The Leeward Tide

 

creer

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.

15. They Might Be Giants – Glean

 

TMBG

The iconic pop duo have revisited and updated their 1980s dial-a-song idea to release a song a week throughout 2015. Glean rounds up the best of those released so far and reveals they have lost none of their pop credentials. Read our full review here.

14. Papernut Cambridge – Nutlets (1967-1980)

 

papernut

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.

13. SLUG- Ripe

 

Slug

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.

12. Calexico – Edge of the Sun

 

26861-edge-of-the-sun

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.

11. The Tigercats – Mysteries

 

Tigercats

Now signed to Fortuna Pop and with Allo Darlin’s Paul Rains in their ranks the London band have managed to nail the potentially tricky second album after the critical success of their debut Isle of Dogs. It sounds great and as ever the songwriting and lyrics are superb. Read our full review here.

10. Evans the Death – Expect Delays

 

evans

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.

9. Ralegh Long – Hoverance

 

longalbumcover

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.

8. Southern Tenant Folk Union – The Chuck Norris Project

 

STFU-Cover-Larger-Email

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.

7. The Wave Pictures – Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon

 

wavepictures

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.

6. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

 

carrie-and-lowell

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.

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

 

belle

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.

4. Villagers – Darling Arithmatic

 

valbum2

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.

3. 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.

2. FFS – FFS

 

ffspic

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

 

The Go Team The Scene Between artwork SMALL(1)

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. Read our full review here.

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Picturebox – The Garden Path

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Picturebox – The Garden Path

Posted on 10 February 2015 by Joe

From the off there’s a real sense of fun on this follow up to 2013’s Home Taping by Robert Halcrow, aka Picturebox.

Now part of the Gare Du Nord stable of artists Canterbury based Halcrow has retained his lo-fi roots but this has more of a full band feel with Alex Williams, Ben Lockwood and Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge) joining him for this hugely likeable slice of guitar and synth pop.

picturebox

Opener A Nicer Man, with its Blur like turns of phrase, such as “he’s unflappable, Mr affable”, sets the scenes well as the pop tunes that follow like Graffiti and Happy Ending show a keen ear for melody. Fancyman, a theme to an imaginary 70s sitcom and involving music technology students from Canterbury College, is another highpoint.

It’s not all fun though, there’s a bit of an awkward bitter lover monologue on In Yr Dreams 2Nite that provides a sombre interlude among the jollity. While jarring it is perhaps necessary though as he gives a sense of reality to an otherwise whimsical album that after all is inspired by Canterbury, which has its share of real life problems beneath its Medieval veneer.

For those that enjoyed his Graffiti EP, which we reviewed late last year, this nine track album offers  a more than welcome chance to hear more from an artist that deserves to be heard far beyond Canterbury’s city walls.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top 20 Alternative/Independent Albums of 2014

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Top 20 Alternative/Independent Albums of 2014

Posted on 16 December 2014 by Joe

Welcome to our annual celebration of the year’s best independent and alternative albums. Many of our releases are  by artists you may not have heard of. If that’s the case we urge you to read our full reviews, visit their websites and Youtube channels and go and see them live and buy their albums if you like them. There is some great talent out there on independent labels and we are proud to do our bit to help bring them to a wider audience. So sit back, pull up a gig guide, get Youtube on standby and enjoy our favourite independent and alternative releases of the year.

20. Junkboy – Sovereign Sky

Come take a barefoot run across the Sussex Downs, sandals in hand, kaftan lapping in the wind as we head with Junkboy down to the coast. These are the images that this hidden 2014 gem from brothers Rich and Mik Hanscomb conveys with its echoes of flower-power California and good old fashioned British folk and pop. Read our full review here.

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19. Steven Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags

One of the most accessible and satisfying releases from the former Pavement man and his band, who has learnt to curtail his fret meandering leanings in recent years. One of the year’s most solid indie rock releases. Read our full review here.

Wig Out at Jagbags

 

 18. Co Pilgrim – Plumes

Nestled in Winchester is Mike Gale, one of the UK’s brightest song writing talents.  This third album with his band Co-pilgrim is full of beautiful alt-country, Beach Boys harmonies and Pernice Brothers and Teenage Fanclub indie alternative melodies and is a gem. We think its about time you started to discovering Gale’s wonderful music. Read our full review here.

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17. Avi Buffalo – At Best Cuckold

Four years on and California’s Avi Buffalo have finally released an album to match their breakout single What’s It In For. Full of 1960s pop references and sunny West Coast melodies Avi Buffalo, now of Sub Pop, have arrived as a major creative force in independent music. Read our full review here.

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16. John Howard – Live at the Servant Jazz Quarters

You can’t get more independent than John Howard, the singer songwriter who’s first career in the 1970s with CBS stalled before it began. Now from his home studio in Spain he writes, records, arranges, distributes and promotes each release with fierce independence. Here is a fantastic introduction to his work past and present that re-energised our appreciation of the live album.  Read our full review here.

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

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

 

15. Owen Pallett – In Conflict

Following a tour with The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, who specialises in autobiographical lyricism and story telling, Pallett has taken a more personal approach with this album. Gone is the fantasy imagery to be replaced with his most personal release to date. As you’d expect from a multi-instrumentalist who is equally at home conducting an orchestra or behind a synth the music is beautiful.  Read our full review here.

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14. New Mendicants – Into the Lime

The New Mendicants are a harmony-pop supergroup of sorts formed in Toronto by Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub/Jonny), Joe Pernice (Scud Mountain Boys/Pernice Brothers) and drummer Mike Belitsky (The Sadies). It will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of any of their bands to hear that Into the Lime is a string of melodic pop gems with beautifully sung vocal harmonies. Read our full review here.

The New Mendicants - Into the Lime

 

13. Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin

With Jason Narducy on bass and Superchunk and Mountain Goats man Jon Wurster on drums Bob Mould arguably is now in his best ever band. This is the second solo Mould album recorded with the pair and shows a veteran performer re-energised and at the top of his game. If you liked Sugar you will love what Mould is doing right now on this album and last year’s Silver Age.

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12. St Vincent – St Vincent

Art rock stalwart St Vincent, aka Manhattan’s Annie Clark, recently revealed that she tries to live ‘at the intersection of accessible and lunatic’. If her latest, eponymously titled, album is anything to go by, this is something she achieves with great success. Read our full review here.

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11. Hospitality – Trouble

This second album is as stunning as their self titled debut and shows a band progressing well, with guitars and synths powering them through an album full of influences from the 1970s world of progressive rock. As with their debut they have some darn fine tunes too. Read our full review here.

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10. Guided By Voices- Motivational Jumpsuit

Each year we lose count of how many albums Robert Pollard puts out, either solo or with his legendary band Guided By Voices. For sake of argument let’s say its about 20 albums a year. This was the pick of his 2014’s releases and sadly one of the last releases by GBV, who’s brief reunion ended this year. Read our full review here.

Motivational Jumpsuit

 

9. Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita

Despite having 20 years experience under their belts this 13th album from the San Francisco punk act manages to give the impression it is a debut by a group of youngsters. Its bold, enthusiastic and packed with a gigantic palette of genres like a band starting out and finding their feet in the world. Read our full review here.

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8. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Hailed as a return to form by many reviewers, we say that the Canadian power-pop supergroup never lost their form. It’s another superb release from Carl Newman, Niko Case and co as they continue to pack a punch. Read our full review here.

Brill Bruisers

 

7. Withered Hand – New Gods

If you have yet to discover the songwriting talents of Scotland’s Dan Willson you’ve been missing out. But there’s still time, just buy this fantastic latest release from the singer songwriter, go see his shows and then discover his back catalogue. One of many jewels on indie label Fortuna Pop’s roster. Read our full review here.

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6. The Phantom Band – Strange Friend

By coincidence with stick with Scottish talent for the next release in our annual run down of the best albums. Listen to the stunning indie rock, pop and synth magic of this album and then join us in wondering why they aren’t one of the UK’s biggest acts around. Read our full review here.

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5. Alex Highton – Nobody Knows Anything

Now signed to fledgling UK label Gare Du Nord, Cambridgeshire based singer songwriter Alex Highton has taken his honest folk style to new levels for his second album. One of the most ambitious folk albums you will ever here. Read our full review here.

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4. Happyness – Weird Little Birthday

This album from London based trio Happyness  quickly established itself as one of our favourite debuts with its sardonic wit and Pavement indebted take on indie rock. Among highlights are the superb ‘Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same’. Read our full review here.

Weird Little Birthday

 

3. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

It’s quite an ability to write 11 songs about grief and death and make it one of the year’s most uplifting releases. On each of the songs on Benji, Mark Kozelek, under his Sun Kil Moon moniker,  takes us through some downright horrific tales of loss, but we emerge at the end treasuring life and ultimately happy. Arguably Kozelek’s best album to date. Read our full review here.

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2. Eyelids

When Robert Pollard chose to bring his Boston Spaceships project to an end (the band that released our favourite album of 2011) the core of the band stayed together and formed Eyelids. Headed up by Chris Slusarenko and John  Moen the band play a classic hook laden rock that evokes Big Star, The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub and Velvet Crush across yet another debut to grace our list. Read our full review here.

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1. Papernut Cambridge – There’s No Underground

Two years ago the Tigercats topped our end of year list with Isle of Dogs, a perfect collection of songs about urban London life. Here Ian Button, formerly of Death In Vegas, has created the perfect suburban pop album to complement it. Full of the imagery of his native south east London suburbs and packed with musical influences spanning the last forty years this is one of  the most life affirming,  feel good rock and roll albums of recent years. It is also the second on our list to be released on Gare Du Nord, the label that Button is a founder of. Read our full review here.

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Compiled by Neonfiller’s writers.

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Picturebox – Graffiti EP

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Picturebox – Graffiti EP

Posted on 08 December 2014 by Joe

Bonkers is a word that rarely gets used in reviews these days. I’m happy to revive it though to describe the brilliantly bonkers psych-pop of Giving It All I’ve Got, one of three covers on this four track EP by Canterbury’s Picturebox, led by Robert Halcrow.

This track, a cover of another Canterbury artist Luke Smith, alternates between robot vocals, indie pop, 1960s pyschedelia and spoken word from Emily Kennedy. As well as being utterly bonkers it is a darn clever track, managing to pack a lot of fun into its short three minutes.

There’s more fun too, with a rip roaring version of Bit Part, the Lemonhead’s classic indie-pop track from their stellar album It’s A Shame About Ray. Kennedy is back again here filling in the Juliana Hatfield role.

Halcrow’s third cover is an eponymous 2013 track from Papernut Cambridge, the ensemble project of Ian Button, one of the founders of Gare Du Nord records, which has released this EP and will release Picturebox’s album The Garden Path next year.

The creation of Gare Du Nord last year has come at a good time for Halcrow and it looks like with their help he has a good shot of getting a wider audience after years of “self releases and low key café gigs involving tea, biscuits and music,” as he puts it.

The last track to mention is the title track that opens the EP. At just over a minute it is an editor’s dream, delivering perfect indie-pop with no extra baggage and a similar decade spanning feel of Papernut Cambridge’s album There’s No Underground, one of 2014’s best releases.  But while this short track  about spontaneous love is a lovely slice of indiepop it is the Luke Smith cover that shines brightest as we eagerly await more clever musical bonkerness from Halcrow next year.

8/10

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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