Tag Archive | "The Auteurs"

Luke Haines – New York in the ‘70s

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Luke Haines – New York in the ‘70s

Posted on 20 May 2014 by Joe

I can never fully decide whether Luke Haines is an underrated, national treasure or an overrated failure lurching through middle age from one vanity concept album to another.

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At times he can be witty and brilliant, such as on 2011’s 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early ’80s, which brought to life the bygone era of TV wresting and its characters. This was the first part of a ‘psychedelic trilogy’ that also featured 2013’s Rock and Roll Animals and concludes with this look at New York in the 1970s.

Unfortunately though this last offering in the trilogy just feels too much like a vanity project with no sense of quality control. The result, sadly, is lacklustre and humourless.

There’s a basic conceit somewhere about comparing the drugged up club and art scene of New York with rubbish English towns and life. This could have worked as the basis for a song but it is not an interesting enough concept to be able to carry a 12 track album.

Lyrically even Haines seems bored by the concept, at times just reciting lists of New York celebrities and British seaside towns, or whispering through efforts such as “’Oh Lou Reed, Lou Reed, rock and roll is Om, like the Doo Ron Ron.” It just all seems a little lame for a man of Haines’s talent with the written word, particularly his Brit Pop memoirs Bad Vibes and Post Everything.

Musically, New York in the ‘70s fares little better as the tracks move between synth pop and guitar rock, with hints of US rock solos and excess all played by someone who thought he had a good idea but has discovered it wasn’t before it was too late to call a halt to the studio time he’d booked.

This is not Haines at his best and unlike his far better recent albums left me thinking that if Haines can’t be arsed anymore why should I be arsed to listen to his latest albums? Of course I’ll be back for more. He’s a witty and talented guy, even if he doesn’t show it on this album.

3/10

By Joe Lepper

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North Sea Scrolls – Komedia, Brighton (6th December 2012)

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North Sea Scrolls – Komedia, Brighton (6th December 2012)

Posted on 08 December 2012 by Dorian

An album of fictional historical events featuring songs by two of music’s grumpiest men and a narration by an Australian journalist isn’t likely to be everyone’s cup of tea. However, we liked it so much that it sneaked in as a late entry into our albums of the year chart. Even though I had enjoyed the recordings a lot I was curious to see how the album would work as a live performance.

North Sea Scrolls

And a performance is what this was, it wasn’t a gig in the conventional sense. There was no support and the entire album was performed in order including Andrew Mueller’s spoken introductions to each song. The musical line-up was Luke Haines on guitar, Cathal Coughlan on keyboards and Audrey Riley providing cello accompaniment.

As with the album Haines and Coughlan sing their own songs, but seeing them play instrumentation on each others songs made the set seem more unified. This isn’t a close collaboration like St.Vincent and David Byrne but seeing the album performed live make it seem more cohesive than on record, especially as Mueller (a bashed gavel between each song) ties the performance together.

The three men are dressed in white suits and pith helmets, their musical underground tribute to the Raj, and this adds to the absurdity of the performance. Performed in character, there are no words between songs, they make their stories seem deadly serious even when they concern Chris Evans, Ian Bell from Gomez or an Australian IRA tribute act.

Luke Haines is in the middle of a bit of a purple patch and his songs on the album continue in the same vein as his wrestling exploration from 2011. He has received the lion’s share of the attention in reviews of the album and it is true that his songs are the more immediate and obviously witty on the album. ‘Broadmoor Delta Blues’ is a particularly enjoyable track and starts the show and album brilliantly.

However, Coughlan’s songs have as many merits even if they take a little longer to sink in. In live performance his songs sound even better, his voice being a striking instrument with some power. Just as on the album it is the contrast between the two artists style and voices that make then set so satisfying.

As a whole the album works brilliantly as a live performance piece and I hope the two artists will unite to present more discoveries from history in the future.

By Dorian Rogers

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North Sea Scrolls

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North Sea Scrolls

Posted on 25 November 2012 by Dorian

North Sea Scrolls is an album that brings together two celebrated musical grumps*, Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlan, along with journalist Andrew Mueller to create an alternative history of the British Isles. (*this isn’t the word that I was originally going to use but after watching Art Will Save The World last night I’m studiously avoiding the use of the “M” word).

The North Sea Scrolls

The album is based around the information from the scrolls that have been discovered offering a new view on our history, excerpts of which are read out by Mueller between the songs. Among the concepts featured are the ritualistic sacrifice of Chris Evans, Joe meek as the Minister of Culture, Enoch Powell as Poet Laureate and Ian Ball, the kidnapper of Princess Anne, having a crisis of identity in Broadmoor about Ian Ball the singer from Gomez.

The album is split equally between songs by Haines and Coughlan, and despite having very different styles they sit nicely together across the album. The arrangements are simple, mainly guitar and vocals or piano and vocals, with some additional cello on some numbers. This lets the songs do the talking, with the distinctive vocals and off-kilter lyrics making the absurd concepts believable and amusing all at once.

The album is presented twice, once with just the songs and Mueller’s intro and outro pieces and additionally with his readings from the scrolls presented before each song. This is a wise move as it gives the album a longer lifespan for most listeners. Whilst it is very much worth listening to the full concept first, at least a few times through, you’ll find yourself just wanting to listen to the songs after a while.

2012 has already presented one of the most thoughtful concept albums that I have heard in years, Darren Hayman’s The Violence and North Sea Scrolls matches that album in terms of conceptual inventiveness. Neither album would score as highly if all they had was an interesting concept, what Haines and Coughlan have in common with Hayman is intelligent lyrics, distinctive voices and way with melody.

This is likely to be a marmite album, obscure references (I had to Google a lot of people mentioned) and acidic delivery isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste. Even some of those who like Haines’ work may struggle with Coughlan’s Scott Walker style delivery and vice verse  However if, like me, you see the brilliance in both you will find that November has delivered one of the best albums of the year and unquestionably one of the most unusual.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Top Ten Books About Music – Updated

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Top Ten Books About Music – Updated

Posted on 27 September 2012 by Joe

There’s plenty of rubbish books about music out there. Hatchet jobs, cobbling together a potted history of a band that adds nothing to understanding their music. But once in a while a real gem comes along, offering a different, sometimes personal take on the music industry. Here’s ten of the best music books around that are not only a good read but offer the reader the chance to really get to know the subject matter.

1. Lester Bangs – Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung


Lester Bangs is a legend among music writers, portrayed by Phillip Seymour-Hoffman in the film Almost Famous and died tragically at the age of 33 in 1982. For some he is one of America’ best writers, it just so happens that he wrote music reviews in the likes of Rolling Stone rather than novels.

Perhaps his best trait is that he wrote about how music made him feel, rather than whether it will be a hit. Among the highlights here are his review of a Barry White gig recounting the grotesque caped image of ‘bulbosity’ wandering around murmuring about “lurve” in a hundred different ways. His time with The Clash on tour in 1977 is another high point, as is his arguments with Lou Reed and thoughts on John Lennon’s death. “Did you see all those people standing in the street in front of the Dakota apartment where Lennon lived singing “Hey Jude”? What do you think the real — cynical, sneeringly sarcastic, witheringly witty and iconoclastic – John Lennon would have said about that?” This excellent collection of Bangs work is a must for all music fans.

2. Rob Young – Electric Eden 

What started off as a look at the explosion of folk rock bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s soon turned into an epic exploration of UK folk music taking in the  Victorian era through to the modern day; from Vaughn Williams to David Sylvian and Holtz to Talk Talk. While the musical forms of folk music differ, all those featured in this weighty tome have the same attribute in common; a desire to find Albion in music.

It is the golden era of folk that Young started to explore that still dominates this book, but by turning the very notion of folk music on its head and spanning multiple generations of musicians Young has created one of the most absorbing, clever and inspiring books about British music.

3. John Peel – Margrave of the Marshes

John Peel died while writing his autobiography. He’d barely got started, reaching about 1960 and the beginning of his life as a DJ in the US. His widow Sheila takes over the story from there and what follows is as much about the couple as the DJ and the history of alternative music over the last 40 years.

Even though the bulk of the book is told from Sheila’s view, it is pure Peel. She knew his thoughts on the future of British radio and music better than anyone. There’s some great stuff here. The couple’s friendship and fall out with Marc Bolan and the later years when Peel started recording his show at home. The anecdote about the many members of Belle and Sebastian performing across the house for one of the legendary Peel sessions is particularly endearing.

4.Simon Reynolds – Rip It Up and Start Again

While Lester Bangs writes about how music makes him feel Reynolds takes another tact, how music is influenced by and influences society. This is his take on that largely unwritten part of music history 1978 to 1984. The over analysed punk of 1976 to 1977 is just the beginning for him and the story is particularly insightful of John Lydon’s musical influences, reggae and even prog rock that was so despised by the early punks.

Across the book, there are thoughts on Devo, Pere Ubu, Magazine and others. Often it is tales of missed opportunities, of pretension and of artists failing to live up to expectation like Vic Goddard of Subway Sect and Howard Devoto of Magazine.

5. Dave Simpson – The Fallen


The Fall fan and journalist Simpson’s attempt to track down all 50 plus members and ex members of the band almost ends up destroying his life. It’s a tough job, which he miraculously pretty much achieves. What emerges is a bizarre picture of life working for and with Fall frontman Mark E Smith, which at times, according to Simpson’s book, is like working in a Victorian factory, with Smith as the mill-owner.

Simpson even gets to interview the man himself  but it is the memories of the more recent members plus the infamous fight on stage in New York where Smith ended up sacking the entire band that  are among the true highlights.

6. Luke Haines  – Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part In It’s Downfall.

As lead singer with the Auteurs Haines’ reluctantly found himself part of the heady time of Britpop in the mid 1990s. This stunningly written and above all funny look back of that time is full of vicious musings about those around him. For us at Neonfiller we particularly  like the recurring appearance of Noel Gallagher, who annoyingly for Haines turns out to be a nice bloke despite his “mindless northern bluff”.

Others to get a tongue lashing including Radiohead’s Thom Yorke – “that most heinous of creatures, a heavy rock outfit, fright-wig and all” and Blur – “those habitual bandwagon jumpers”.  It’s the classic tale of a nearly man of modern music, who while convinced of his own genius is painfully aware of his own failings.

7. Chris Twomey – Chalkhills and Children

The story of XTC is one of the most interesting in modern music. The band of friends from Swindon, driven by the songwriting genius of Andy Partridge, who are to this day one of the UK’s most beloved bands despite never reaching the commercial success their talents deserved.

Poor management and business decisions coupled with Partridge’s crippling stage fright, which prevented them from touring from 1982 just when their album English Settlement and its global hit single Sense Working Overtime were about to propel them to the big time. They soldiered on for another 18 years producing critically acclaimed albums but sinking further into a Kafka-eque music business hole that included going on strike from their label Virgin. All of this is told wonderfully by Chris Twomey who interviews the band, their producers and those that know them. Most of the band’s members still live in Swindon making them the George Bailey of modern music, full of talent and wonder but never able to leave the town their grew up in.

8. Julian Cope – Head On

Head On is the story of Julian Cope’s discovery of the Liverpool punk scene and his subsequent adventures as an (almost) pop star with The Teardrop Explodes. His drug-fuelled adventures with the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Bill Drummond and David Balfe (the subject of Blur’s ‘Country House’) are hilarious and often astonishing. Cope proves to be a very accomplished writer and his honest account of his own, very flawed, personality make this book a compulsive read.  The book now comes packed with the sequel, Repossessed, a worthy if more downbeat successor.

9. Bill Drummond – 45

45 is the age that Drummond reached when he decided to write this series of memoirs, it is also the speed of a 7-inch single. The bulk of the memoir tells of his days as a man who was obsessed with nothing more than the pursuit of a hit single.

Drummond is a witty writer, and his life has been interesting enough to make these tales into real page-turners. The best bits are the descriptions of his time with the KLF and the K Foundation as they attempted ever more outrageous stunts. There’s a real sense of sadness as Drummond looks back and is filled with real doubts about what he has achieved.

10. James Greer  – Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll

Guided By Voices are the ultimately indie-rock act. They have produced dozens of albums, recorded many of them (quite literally) in a garage and have a strong cult following. They have also been a fairly insular act, not touring for many years and rarely appearing in interviews. Pollard himself being far too busy writing and recording to do much else.

Greer has a unique insight into the band being both a fan and also one of the revolving cast of players in the bands 21-year existence. He is also a music journalist and his writing on the band is of a very high quality.

The book deals with Pollard as a songwriter and also the band as a group of friends who meet and drink in a garage in Dayton Ohio. The stories jumping backwards and forwards between the bands final tour and their inception when Pollard was a 30-something school teacher are consistently engaging and have a pleasant, personal feel.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

Editors Note: This is an updated version of a list that first appeared in Neon Filler in 2009. Since then we’ve realised we should have included Chris Twomey’s Chalkhills and Children due to it being such a compelling  tale of a band that never quite fulfilled their potential. We have also since read Rob Young’s Electric Eden. This fascinating look at British folk music is a deserved new edition to the list. 

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Luke Haines – Outsider/In

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Luke Haines – Outsider/In

Posted on 11 July 2012 by Dorian

Outsider/In is the closest thing you’ll hear to a Luke Haines’ ‘Greatest Hits’ package. He has very few songs that could be classed as hits but, unlike the demo and b-side heavy Luke Haines Is Dead collection, this two CD set is made up of singles and album tracks from across  his career.

Luke Haines Outsider In
Whilst this more straightforward song selection, except for the inclusion of tracks from the The Auteurs vs Mu-Ziq EP, makes it less desirable to anyone who already knows and owns most of Haine’s work it does make for a close to perfect introduction for anyone who is interested in checking him out.

What is interesting in retrospect is hearing what a consistent producer of excellent records Haines is despite his (somewhat self-perpetuating) reputation for sabotaging his career. The Auteurs songs from the New Wave tracks, through the brilliant ‘The Rubettes’ to the orchestral reinterpretations are uniformly excellent. His early solo work is also much better than my memory would suggest and, although I struggle with the whole of the Oliver Twist Manifesto album, ‘The Death of Sarah Lucas’ sounds great.

Best of all is the inclusion of a handfiul of tracks from his Baarder Meinhoff project, an album that is criminally hard to track down. ‘There’s Gonna Be An Accident’ must be the funkiest song about German terrorists ever written.

This album isn’t a complete career retrospective, and that is a shame. Add a third disc containing tracks from his last three solo albums as well as his best songs as Black Box Recorder and you would have something just about perfect. As it is this is an excellent collection of tracks from one one of the finest songwriters this country has ever produced and anyone new to his work could do a lot worse than start here. And I think that most new listeners will be buying the full albums and the two excellent books of memoirs off the back of the experience.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (50-41)

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Top 100 Albums (50-41)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

There are some albums here you will have seen on similar lists before. But we’ve also opted for some obscurities with the aim of highlighting some different music for you to seek out.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. We hope you enjoy this fifth instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

50. Built To Spill – Keep it like a secret

Signing for a major label proved no bad thing for  Built to Spill. With some extra cash behind them this US band were clearly able to spend a lot of time getting their beautiful sprawling  guitar arrangements just right. On this 1999 album, which was their second for Warner Brothers, everything came together perfectly. Quality sprawling guitar sounds from frontman Doug Martsch coming at you from each speaker, brilliant hooks and all still with an alternative and independent edge, despite having the major label machine behind them. ‘Sidewalk’ is our standout on this collection of tight-as-you-like tracks as is the prog-rock-esque ‘Time Trap’. Other highlights are  ‘Carry the Zero’ and ‘Center of the Universe’, which were released as EPs.

49. The Kinks – Are The Village Green Preservation Society

This has proved to be the most contentious inclusion in our chart so far. The Kinks were a huge pop music success, one of the biggest acts of the 1960s, so what place do they have in an indie/alternative music chart? The hugely nostalgic Village Green Preservation Society sank like a stone on release in 1968 and didn’t spawn any hit singles. In contrast to this it has been a hugely influential album for alternative acts in the last 20 years. Album standout ‘Big Sky’ has been covered by Yo La Tengo as well as The Blue Aeroplanes, but the influence of the album goes further than that. It set the blueprint for a certain kind of Britishness that can be heard in albums by Madness, XTC, The Jam and Blur. Musically it is as inventive as anything that Ray Davies has produced through his career and the brilliant set of songs explains why this is the album of choice for Kink’s fans today.

48. The Fall – Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall


Picking an album by The Fall, out of the 27 released so far, was another tough choice in compiling our list. 1990’s Extricate has a special place in our hearts, as do more recent releases like  2010’s Your Future Our Clutter. But we’ve decided to narrow it down an era where we  first discovered them. An era in the mid 1980s, when thanks to the inclusion of leader Mark E Smith’s pop savvy wife Brix on guitar and production from John Leckie, they began achieving rare commercial and mainstream success. Ladies and gentleman we are proud to present 1984’s The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall. While the original vinyl version, with tracks such as the wonderful and bit frightening Lay of the Land, is great on its own the cassette and CD versions expanded the album further.  The inclusion of singles such as No Bulbs and C.R.E.E.P in these formats fit seamlessly among the album tracks and make this a great introduction to the band.

47. Calexico – Feast of Wire

Calexico were formed by the rhythm section from Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand and have produced a set of excellent albums mixing dusty border country with Mariachi sounds. Feast of Wire shows them upping the ante and has seen them described as the Tex-Mex Radiohead. There aren’t many similarities in the sound, but they do show a similar level of ambition and a desire to try out new sounds on the album. Waltz, country, jazz, electronica and, on ‘Not Even Stevie Nicks’, MOR pop all get an outing on the album and Morricone is clearly an influence on the arrangements. Despite the wealth of ideas and sounds it holds together perfectly as an album and stands as a high point in Calexico’s recording career.

46. Pretenders – Pretenders


After producing the Pretenders’ first single ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ in 1979 Nick Lowe decided against working with them again. He thought the new wave UK band fronted by American Chrissie Hynde, “wasn’t going anywhere”. Chris Thomas took over production duties for the band’s self titled debut and Lowe was proved woefully wrong as it achieved a Top 10 in the US Billboard charts and number one in the UK in 1980. Its success and inclusion in this list is not just because of great singles like ‘Brass in Pocket’, but also for its  ability to embrace a range of styles while sticking firmly to the band’s punk and new wave influences. From the reggae ‘Private Life’, to the hooky ‘The Wait’ through to the soulful ‘Lovers of Today’, this stunning debut’s variety is breathtaking.

45. The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen

The Afghan Whigs time on the Sub Pop label and their penchant for R&B covers left them with the tag of being the early 90s token soul-grunge act. This label fails to take account of what an excellent rock and roll band they were, especially on their third album Gentlemen. Greg Dulli’s snarling vocals and dark lyrics fit perfectly with his bands punchy playing and the surprisingly ungrungey  production which Dulli handled himself. The album spawned three excellent singles ‘Gentelmen’, ‘Debonair’ and ‘What Jail Is Like’ all deserved to bring the band to a bigger audience but they and the album sold in modest numbers. In amongst the loud guitars and bluster is the beautifully sung (by Macy Mays) ‘My Curse’ which is the album’s standout track.

44.  Fugazi – Repeater


This first full length album from Fugazi shows the Washington DC band continue their mission to shelve their hardcore punk origins and search for new musical directions. Still with a punk heart through the vocals of singers ex Minor Threat frontman Ian Mackaye and former Rites of Spring member Guy Piciotto, the heartbeat of the band was the jazz rhythms of bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty, who combined expertly with Mackaye’s dampened guitar style. On Repeater Piciotto gained a greater influence on the music as the band experimented more with guitar feedback.  Repeater remains the best full album by the band. Tracks like ‘Merchandise’ and ‘Turnover’ are among the immediate highlights, but the subtlety of styles on tracks like ‘Brendan #1’ show a band at their peak enjoying breaking down the traditional barriers of straight edge and hardcore punk. Repeater sold in its hundreds of thousands, but the band resolutely shunned major label interest, carried on playing in small venues and stuck with Mackaye’s Dischord label throughout.

43. The Auteurs – New Wave

The Auteurs were closely linked with Suede and the emerging Brit-pop scene when New Wave was released in 1993. Anyone who has read lead Auteur Luke Haines’ hilarious memoirs ‘Bad Vibes’ will know that he was too arrogant, mean spirited and unstable to play the game and become the star that he believed he should be. New Wave was nominated for the Mercury prize and was one of the best records released that year. Haines was right about one thing, he is a superb songwriter and the album is brilliant track after brilliant track. ‘Show Girl’, ‘Don’t Trust The Stars’, ‘Starstruck’, ‘How Could I Be Wrong’ and ‘Idiot Brother’ are all examples of great melody and interesting insightful lyric writing. Haines would record several other great albums, but his first effort stands as the best.

42. Pulp – His n Hers


Pulp spent most of the ’80s in obscurity, gradually building up critical acclaim but never quite achieving success. With the release of their fourth album His ‘n’ Hers in 1994 that all changed. This is one of the great breakthrough albums of all time as tracks such as ‘Lipgloss’ and ‘Joyriders’  brought them to a huge mainstream audience and the band started to emerge as the key act  of the Britpop explosion. By their next album Different Class, with singles such as ‘Common People, Pulp’s popularity had gone stratospheric. But it is here on His ‘n’ Hers where for us they were at their peak. This is both musically and lyrically through the bittersweet and at times downright funny storytelling of frontman Jarvis Cocker. This is especially the case with our standout track on this album ‘Babies’.

41. Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted

Recorded by two Californian Fall fans Stephen Malkmus and Scott ‘Spiral Stairs’ Kannberg (with the help of anarchic drummer/engineer Gary Young) Slanted and Enchanted was the debut album by a band that would come to be one of the most important American acts of the 1990s. It is a lo-fi album, scratchy abrasive and hissy, but a collection of great songs sits behind the static. With songs like ‘Summer Babe’, ‘Trigger Cut’ and ‘Here’ (an oft covered classic) it demonstrated the quirky pop skills that would become a feature of their albums, but it also retained the esoteric charms of their early singles.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Luke Haines – Live at The Hanbury, Brighton, UK, Nov 2009

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Joe

Luke Haines is one of the lost figures of modern British music. His first album with The Auteurs, New Wave, was as good as anything else that came out of the British pop explosion in the mid-90s and he released several excellent albums as The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder over the next 10 years.

Despite this I had pretty low expectations of his solo performance. The last Haines’s album I purchased was The Oliver twist Manifesto in 2001, and it was a pretty miserable experience. Unlistenable would be harsh, but pretty difficult to listen to pretty much sums it up. His largely excellent performance on the night was therefore a very pleasant surprise.

The set mixed songs from his latest solo album with songs by The Auteurs (‘Showgirl’ and ‘Unsolved Child Murder’) as well as one cut from his Baarder Meinhoff incarnation. The new songs prove that Haines is still a talented and relevant songwriter, no less bilious than before, but showing a little more humanity in his humour. ’21st century Man’, the title track from his album, was a show standout and was also one of the longest most rambling songs of the night leaving Haines’s to joke that there were another 12 verses to come before suddenly bringing the song to an end.

The revelation of the night was what a good guitarist Haines is. His role as sarcastic, spiteful, pop cultural satirist has always masked his song writing prowess, but is also at odds with his axe man qualities. At times things almost rocked, and he almost looked like he was enjoying himself on stage. Surely not.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

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