Tag Archive | "Ralegh Long"

Ralegh Long – We Are In The Fields EP

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Ralegh Long – We Are In The Fields EP

Posted on 18 August 2016 by Joe

After his pastoral debut album Hoverance it seems inevitable that singer songwriter Ralegh Long would release a dawn to night collection set in an English country field.

We Are In the Fields takes in a range of emotions and musical styles as the sun rises and sets over a rural landscape. It’s a thoughtful release that for this rural based reviewer seems particularly pertinent. The line on Night (The River) “Down by the river, me, my dog and sky” perfectly embodies my evening stroll by the River Bru in Somerset.

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Musically, a lot of care has gone into picking the right style to fit the mood. Morning (We are in the fields) channels the English fields of Vaughan Williams with its lovely woodwind and piano arrangement. On Afternoon (The Combine) long time collaborator and ex-Hefner man Jack Hayter saunters into the field with his pedal steel. Long’s vocals and Hayter’s pedal steel worked beautifully on his debut album and do so again here.

For Dusk (Change), Long is found with his acoustic guitar, contemplating in the tall grass as the light fades. Finally, on Night (The River) he has his dog and piano for company as the stars begin the sparkle overhead.

As with his first album there’s a conscience effort to replicate 1970s singer songwriters. Here Bill Fay emerges as the most notable influence. As those who have read Rob Young’s excellent book on the history of English folk, Electric Eden, will know, this type of release, that immerses itself in the countryside, has been going on for centuries. That’s what makes this release not only a fine listen now but also an important part of Britain’s musical heritage.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Ralegh Long – We Are In The Fields is released on Gare Du Nord Records. More details here.

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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

 

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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.

19. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color

 

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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

 

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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.

17. The Bevis Frond – Miasma and Inner Marshland Reissues

 

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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

 

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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.

15. They Might Be Giants – Glean

 

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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)

 

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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.

13. 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.

12. 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.

11. The Tigercats – Mysteries

 

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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

 

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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.

9. 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.

8. 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.

7. 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.

6. 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.

5. 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.

4. 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.

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

 

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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. Read our full review here.

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Ralegh Long – Hoverance

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Ralegh Long – Hoverance

Posted on 07 April 2015 by Joe

During  our six years of reviewing at Neonfiller the most memorable albums have been those with the ability to create a world and immerse the listener in it. While Owen Pallett did this with the fantastical on Heartland, one of our standout picks from 2010, often the best exponents of this conjure up worlds closer to home.

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Darren Hayman did this wonderfully with his images of growing up in new town Britain on Pram Town (2009). So too did the Tigercats on their 2012 debut Isle of Dogs, which captured  urban life for British 20 somethings perfectly.

Step forward Ralegh Long to join this list and take the listener into the world of the English countryside for this rural inspired collection of romantic and thoughtful songs.

The press release makes great play of this pastoral feel to this debut album from Long. As a writer who tends to review albums while dog walking in the English countryside it certainly passes my pastoral test, as Long’s whispering vocals, Jack Hayter’s weeping pedal steel merge gracefully with the bird song around me.

But it’s not just the feel to the album that is so appealing, it’s the songs as well. Tracks like No Use, Love Kills All Fear and The Light of the Sun stay with you long after the album has finished. Love Kills All Fear is a particular standout with its strong Prefab Sprout influence.

As well as capturing the mood of the countryside perfectly Long also reveals himself here as being a songwriter of great quality.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

Hoverance is released on Gare Du Nord records, the label Long runs alongside Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge) and Robert Rotifer.

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Darren Hayman – Chants for Socialists

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Darren Hayman – Chants for Socialists

Posted on 23 January 2015 by Joe

This latest release by Darren Hayman is perfectly timed for election year, offering a powerful reminder of the too often forgotten ideals of community, workers’ rights and friendship, as we gear up for voting.

As those who have followed former Hefner man Hayman’s solo career will know, his releases are varied and involve a strong attention to detail. From an instrumental album about lidos to a trilogy about Essex, including its shameful witch trial past, he immerses the listener in his diverse work.

This latest album is no exception, with Hayman taking a pamphlet of idealistic chants from Victorian socialist William Morris as the source material and delving deep into its lyrics and ethos.

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A key feature is the strong socialist ideal of togetherness, that united workers and families can rise from their sorrow and defeat the evils of greed and capitalism. On this album Hayman has used a choir of people local to Morris’s former homes to convey this ethos. He even recorded their parts in these  homes: Kelmscott House in Hammersmith as well as the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

In addition Hayman traveled to Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire, to use Morris’s own piano for the album. And if that wasn’t enough Morris’ s letterpress was deployed to hand print limited vinyl editions of this release.

But while such details are important, this album should live or die on its music. Thankfully time has been taken over the songwriting as well. When Morris’s chants  require sadness Hayman is there to supply the right melody, particularly on the heartbreaking The Day is Coming. When a sense of optimism is needed he pops up with a smart guitar riff and infectious melody for May Day 1894. This is the album’s standout track and would be a sure fire hit if we happened to live in an alternate reality where a bloke from a 1990s indie band putting music to a  19th century political pamphlet is the secret of success.

To keep the songwriting fresh he’s also drafted regular collaborators and friends Ralegh Long and Robert Rotifer. Long’s tender songwriting style lends itself wonderfully to The Message of the March Wind, which may just be my favourite on the album.

Rotifer offers up his 1960s influences to good effect on Down Among the Dead Men, which sounds a little like it’s from a lost Ray Davies kitchen sink drama soundtrack.

But Chants for Socialists doesn’t always play to its strengths. The choir is chief among its assets but at times it feels too understated in the mix, more St Winifrids School Choir than the voice of a strong community. When they sing “We Will It”, on The Day Is Coming, they sound like they can barely muster the will to make a cup of tea let alone the will to “open wide the door” and send the “rich man” packing in “hurrying terror.” When the choir is used well the results are remarkable, such as on on the bold opener Awake London Lads, on the intro to A Death Song and their backing vocals on Down Among the Dead Men. I’d like to have heard more moments like those on this album.

Another strength is the array of musicians Hayman is able to call on. Nathan Thomas’s french horn addition to The Message of the March Wind and Down Among the Dead Men is really powerful but across the album he has been used far too sparingly.  The emotional pedal steel playing of Jack Hayter, who is also a former Hefner member and still a regular collaborator of Hayman, is a notable absentee on this album too.

There’s a book we frequently reference on this website called Electric Eden, by Rob Young. This charts modern folk music from its roots in Morris’ time through to the modern day. What Hayman is doing here is Young’s very definition of folk, taking traditional material from one era and recreating it in another. With our own modern May elections fast approaching I hope that the ideals of Morris and this album filter through in some way to the polling booths. It’s a slim hope though.  I also hope Young hears this album and considers including a section on Hayman in any forthcoming revision- he certainly deserves it after the effort that has gone into this.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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Gare du Nord’s Arrivée/Départ – Mel Mayr, John Howard & Rotifer – Servant Jazz Quarters, London (Nov 26, 2014)

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Gare du Nord’s Arrivée/Départ – Mel Mayr, John Howard & Rotifer – Servant Jazz Quarters, London (Nov 26, 2014)

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Patricia Turk

It wasn’t quite a trip on the Eurostar, and I didn’t need my passport, but at Arrivée/Départ, the festival organised by Gare du Nord records at Dalston’s Servant Jazz Quarters last week, I did feel as if I was taken on a musical European journey of sorts.

From Spain to the UK via Austria – it was a whistlestop tour that managed to gather a group of talent together for two nights of music in the lovely east London venue.

Having been at the previous year’s event of the same name, it really was as though I had made part-way of the journey with the fledgling label that’s not so that’s not-so-fledgling anymore, and it was wonderful to be back beneath Bradbury Street to be a part of le premier anniversaire.

Mel Mayr

Mel Mayr

Founded by Robert Rotifer (of Rotifer), Ian Button (Death in Vegas) and singer/songwriter Ralegh Long, Gare du Nord first hosted the event last November in an effort to showcase its mix of emerging and established talent.

Speaking to Long before the gig, he said the label had been going from strength to strength, which, looking at the back of the label’s sampler CD, is quite clear and lists the likes of Papernut Cambridge, Thirty Pounds of Bone and Alex Highton, among an ever-growing and diverse cache of musicians.

This diversity was on full display on Wednesday night, the second of the two-night event, which got underway without fanfare or indeed introduction when Salzburg singer Mel Mayr took the stage to open the night. Performing her first ever live UK show, she started with some sombre solo songs that had something of the Sharon van Etten about them – raw, stripped back, emotional. But things took an altogether more optimistic turn when she was joined onstage by Robert Rotifer, Ian Button and other fellow Austrians/guitar shop owners, and we were treated to lush, melodic pop songs instead.

John Howard

John Howard

Up next,was John Howard. Last year I was blown away by his easy charm, effortlessly lifting voice and exquisite piano playing – and a year on, nothing was diminished for me and I found myself once again smiling from ear to ear while he played joyfully from his extensive back catalogue.

Howard’s story is one Neon Filler has documented extensively over the past few years – from his signing with CBS and subsequent ‘next-big-thing’ status in the 1970s, to relative obscurity, and finally, rediscovery in the 2000s. He played songs spanning the breadth of his career, including his debut single Goodbye Suzie, another of his 1970s tracks Family Man as well as Believe me Richard – from 2013’s Storey’s and still his most downloaded song to-date. Paul Weller’s  bassist Andy Lewis joined Howard on the cello for a beautiful rendition of Missing Key.

Full band back-up came from Button, Rotifer and Lewis, and Howard revealed that the foursome were, the very next day, retreating to Ramsgate to begin recording a new album. It’s a collaboration that has been in the pipeline for a while, beyond English borders, with music and lyrics being sent back and forth across the seas from Spain, where Howard is now based.

He treated us to two encores – Deadly Nightshade and then an incredibly moving rendition of Star Through My Window. Suffice to say, I am a fan.

Rotifer

Rotifer

With only minutes left before curfew, Canterbury-based-but-Vienna-born Robert Rotifer took the stage solo and played on his jangly, mod-ish own while his AWOL bass player was hunted down from wherever he had left his white wine. But pushing it past 11pm, they played from last year’s release The Calvary Never Showed Up, including Optimist out on the Open Sea, and the sentimental Canvey Island songs, about the young Rotifer’s unusual childhood stay with a family on the Essex seaside retreat, far from the bright lights of London he craved.

When writing about last year’s event, I went on about there being a great sense of musicians helping each other and supporting each other, and I think that Gare du Nord achieved that again this year. Collaboration seems to be at the centre of what Rotifer, Button and Long are trying to achieve with Gare du Nord and it’s wonderful to see it doing so well. I’ll be looking forward to hearing the results of the Ramsgate sessions immensely and am already looking forward to Arrivée/Départ 2015.

Words and pictures by Patricia Turk

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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.

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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.

Storeys-2400pxRGB

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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John Howard – Songs For Someone

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John Howard – Songs For Someone

Posted on 23 July 2014 by Joe

Darren Hayman, Alex Highton, Ralegh Long, Robert Rotifer and Ian Button are five lucky fellas to have their songs covered by rebooted 1970s singer songwriter John Howard.

Since his comeback more than a decade ago, following a 20 year or so hiatus, Howard has made up for lost time with a raft of original material and the occasional covers collections.

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

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

But whereas previous covers have mostly paid tribute to those that influenced his early career, such as Laura Nyro and Paul McCartney, here he passes a musical nod to the emerging and more established independent UK artists he has collaborated with in recent years.

For Long, whose track The Gift from his 2012 EP of the same name is covered here, getting the Howard treatment must be an especially pleasing honour. When Long sent us The Gift to review he cited Howard as a major influence. We helped match them up via email and since then their friendship has blossomed, they perform together and help promote each others releases and ventures, including Gare Du Nord Records, the label set up by Long, Button and Rotifer.

Howard’s version of The Gift shows Howard to be a musician who takes his time, who really listens to a song he is covering to ensure he can give it his own take and bring out a particular theme. His version of The Gift sounds likes the perfect thank you to a young musician he clearly admires.

A good cover should offer a new interpretation as well as pay tribute to the source material. Howard achieves that on all the tracks here, especially Song For Someone,  from Alex Highton’s 2012 album Wooditton Wives Club.

After hearing Woodditton Wives Club, about Highton’s move from London to the Oxfordshire countryside with his family, Howard was clearly smitten, as we were when we reviewed it. It’s a wonderfully honest collection of acoustic guitar folk about family life and location. It’s also an album about looking back, learning from the past and moving on, common themes in Howard’s post comeback work.

Song for Someone is a track that I liked a lot but for me was overshadowed by others on the album such as You’ve Got The Trees. Howard though clearly homed in on it straight away and reinvents it as a great big old romantic piano ballad while achieving the neat trick of retaining the intimacy of Highton’s understated vocals. The pair’s mutual back slapping continues later this year when Howard appears on Highton’s forthcoming album.

Howard clearly likes covering Rotifer’s tracks. He did a great job turning Rotifer’s Creosote Summer, from 2012’s The Hosting Couple album, into a pop Waltz on a recently released Gare Du Nord sampler. He does another fine job on So Silly Now, a track about the relationship between a music fan and his collection from Rotifer’s 2013 album the Cavalry Never Showed Up. Howard brings to the table those extra few years of experience in the music business as if he really knows some of the famous names mentioned in the lyrics. He even finds time to unleash his Brian Wilsonoator (disclaimer: actual equipment may not exist)  from his home studio in Spain. I never even thought of Pet Sounds hearing the original, now I can’t separate the two.

Ian Button gives such a summery, psychedelic pop shine to his music under his Papernut Cambridge moniker. Here Howard sounds strips away the psychedelia and gets to the heart of the song to really draw out its melody and lyrics. Rather than the lush twinkle of Button’s production, here Howard has focused on cellos, which ensure a 1960s feel is retained as well as serving to give the song an extra sadness.

As with Button and Rotifer, who provided two thirds of his backing band when he played at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London last year, Darren Hayman is another musical collaborator. Back in 2007 Howard was invited by Hayman to play on his first album as Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern. The original is jolly folk pop but on Howard’s version the tone is sadder, the pace is slower and of all five the transformation is the most remarkable. I like the original but I adore this version.

Howard is enjoying a good streak in his ongoing comeback, especially with the release of his most recent album Storeys last year. Has the influence of Hayman, Rotifer, Long, Highton and Button been a factor in this recent fine run of creative form? Listening to his tender take on their tracks here that seems likely.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Gare Du Nord Records Live Showcase, Latest Music Bar, Brighton (May 1, 2014)

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Gare Du Nord Records Live Showcase, Latest Music Bar, Brighton (May 1, 2014)

Posted on 07 May 2014 by Joe

We were so impressed with Rotifer, who headlined our previous showcase in Brighton, that we decided to invite them back for our third event on the south coast. This time around they brought with them not only two other acts from their Gare Du Nord record label, Papernut Cambridge and Ralegh Long, but also some other talented friends, including former Hefner men Darren Hayman and Jack Hayter.

Five Thieves

Five Thieves

In addition, we also found space to squeeze in emerging Brighton act Five Thieves, which is fronted by impressive vocalist Jack Strutt and guitarist BB Maxx. Tonight’s Five Thieves line up were playing for the first time together and provided a vintage rock and roll start to proceedings with a Johnny Cash-esque sound to tracks, including Don’t Wanna Be and Fool To Love.

Ralegh Long

Ralegh Long

Ralegh Long followed and immediately settled into a more laid back vibe with his band, which tonight included Hayter on pedal steel. The gig gave him a chance to perform tracks outside of his London base, such as Elizabeth from his most recent EP, The Gift, as well as new songs destined for his debut album. Of these new tracks Light of the Sun was among the best in a set that also included a lovely cover of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.

Despite the more relaxed feel to his music than the bumptious Five Thieves, there was an intensity to his performance fueled possibly by a few rogue chatterers to the side. There are a variety of ways I’ve seen bands deal with the annoying audience habit of talking through a bands set. Some get shirty, some tell them to politely be quiet and some like Steven Adams, of the Broken Family Band and Singing Adams, invite them to come near the stage and play word games. In the absence of the schoolmaster-like Adams, Ralegh took by far the next best route, play the bejesus out of your songs and soar above the chattering miscreants.

Papernut Cambridge

Papernut Cambridge

There’s a warm summer glow to Ian Button’s releases under the Papernut Cambridge moniker, especially his latest EP Swaps, a joint release shared with Canterbury based Robert Halcrow, who releases under the name Picturebox. For tonight’s line up Halcrow was part of something of an indie supergroup line up including Darren Hayman on drums, Robert Rotifer on guitar and Hayter on pedal steel.

With his electric 12 string, soft vocal style and technical wizardry that includes amp building,  Button’s set was full of beautiful 1960s sounds with Swaps track When She Says What She Says particularly standing out.

Rotifer

Rotifer

Last up was Rotifer, who like Ralegh Long also had to deal with some chatterers and also tackled them by beating seven shades out of their tracks. Robert even broke his guitar strap as tracks from their recent album The Cavalry Never Showed up carried them over the chatter and into the ears of the rest of the audience. Highlights included The Fall-esque Optimist and the Open Sea, New Fares and I Couldn’t Eat As Much as I Like To Throw Up. The set also contained many of our favourites from recent albums including Children of the Hill, Aberdeen Marine Lab and Canvey Island.

Aside from some chattering there were further distractions to come to test Rotifer’s wills to the limit. A slightly worse for wear Bruce, the guitarist with Five Thieves, decided tonight was the night to break gig taboos and during a couple of songs took it upon himself to shuffle around on stage packing his amps away at the back. He even stopped to have a chat with bassist Mike Stein mid-song as he passed by like a drunk, rock Eric Morcambe. All that was missing was a brown overcoat and Rotifer covering Bring Me Sunshine. But unlike Ernie Wise, Rotifer, which features Button on drums, took Bruce’s indiscretion with good humour.

For more information about Gare Du Nord Records visit their website here.

Words by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers. Pictures by Kristan Akerman

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John Howard – Live at the Servant Jazz Quarters

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John Howard – Live at the Servant Jazz Quarters

Posted on 27 March 2014 by Joe

It seems like an age since I listened to a live album. Was it The Woodentops’ Live HypnoBeat or perhaps U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky?  The mists of time have been cruel to my memories of the art form.

So after a couple of decades hiatus it’s been a revelation to once again enjoy a live album and remember just why they can be so good. The artist to drag me back is John Howard, who had a couple of decades long hiatus of his own between his 1970s singer songwriter career and a critically acclaimed comeback around a decade ago.

John Howard

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters

Recorded at the Servant Jazz Quarters in the heart of hipster East London late in 2013 this features his gig supporting emerging songwriter Ralegh Long, who is a fan and recent collaborator of Howard’s (see our review of the whole night here).

With a set list spanning both his 1970s and recent catalogue he has carefully weighted the performance to appeal to both fans and those catching one of his rare gigs for the first time.

The overwhelming reaction from both camps must surely have been that Howard is, for want of a better phrase, a proper artist. He plays and sings seemingly the right way. I don’t mean that other newer acts are not good or can’t sing, or are somehow not right. But Howard is a rare beast in being classically trained with a vast breadth of experience from playing 1960s folk clubs to recording in Abbey Road. This experience oozes across the performance, especially his stunning vocals in the set’s only cover version, David Bowie’s Bewlay Brothers.

As the set progresses another collaborator, Robert Rotifer, joins him on stage to play guitar and provide backing vocals for Don’t It Just Hurt. This track was covered recently by Rotifer on a compilation for his Gare Du Nord label, which  he set up last year with Long and Ian Button.

Button also joins the set midway through on drums, along with bassist Andy Lewis, and the trio, with just one morning’s rehearsal, give Howard’s songs a welcome full band feel.

Some on stage banter remains on the album and is all the better for it, with Howard’s north west of England accent sounding endearing and friendly as he jokes about Radio One shunning him in the 1970s and reminding Button that if in doubt do a drum roll.

This intimate gig is a great example of how the live album still has an important place in our music collections.  This is specially the case for an artist like Howard, whose performances are such a rare treat.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Gare Du Nord Records Live Showcase

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Gare Du Nord Records Live Showcase

Posted on 13 March 2014 by Dorian

We at Neon Filler are delighted to announce that we will be presenting a showcase of brilliant acts at Brighton’s Latest Music Bar on May 1st 2014. (Go here to buy tickets)

Heading the bill is Rotifer, who played at our Oxjam benefit back in 2012 and released one of our favourite albums of 2013. Joining them on stage will be Gare Du Nord records lablemates Papernut Cambridge and Ralegh Long, both of whom are firm favourites on this website. Completing the bill is the soon to be legendary Five Thieves who will be debuting songs from their forthcoming album at the gig.

Rotifer

Rotifer

Robert Rotifer was born in 1969 in Vienna, Austria, played in various local bands since the mid-eighties and dropped out of University to become a full-time music journalist in 1992. He made an album with his band The Electric Eels (no relation to the legendary punk band of the same name) in 1995, and in the same year became one of the co-founders of Radio FM4, an alternative young music station that turned out to be hugely influential in Austrian pop culture.

Playing as Rotifer, a band that now features Ian Button on drums and Mike Stone on bass, he has released seven albums. the most recent of these, The Cavalry Never Showed Up, may well be the best of his career.

Find out more and listen here.

Papernut Cambridge

Papernut Cambridge

Ian Button plays drums in Rotifer and his many other credits include Thrashing Doves, Death In Vegas and Go Kart Mozart. Papernut Cambridge is the band name he operates under with a rotating cast of supporting musicians. Their debut album was a pretty unique record and the excellent 5D-EP followed this year.

“Papernut Cambridge the name of a band I dreamed about once. They were playing a gig with another band called Elvis Breakdown… this is the first actual incarnation of them in the real world.”

Find out more and listen here.

Ralegh Long

Ralegh Long

Ralegh Long is an English Songwriter who has released two EPs, Sprawl and The Gift. His debut album is expected in 2014. This pastoral debut features a cast of collaborators including Tom Dougall of Toy, string-arranger Louis-Philippe, Jack Hayter (ex-Hefner) and A Little Orchestra.

He impressed our reviewer when he played with Darren Hayman and John Howard last year.

Find out more and listen here.

Five Thieves

Five Thieves

Five Thieves are a band based in Brighton, England with a debut album planned for release in 2014 on Innocent records.

Jack Strutt provides vocals/guitar and BB MaXX brings the lead guitar, they will be playing with a band of guest musicians on May 1st.

Find out more and listen here.

The details

The gig is on May 1st at Brighton’s Latest Music Bar. Doors at 8pm with the first band on stage at 8.30pm.

Latest Music Bar | 14 – 17 Manchester Street, BN2 1TF. Brighton | View Map

Tickets are £5 in advance and £6 on the door.

Click the image below to buy tickets on line:

If you are going to join us on the night then why not make yourself known on the Facebook event page?

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