Filed under: Bands, Narc | Tags: Calexico, Cat Power, Chilly Gonzalez, Lee "Scratch" Perry", Narc, Stealing Sheep, Talibam, The Orb
Cat Power – Sun (Matador)
It’s tough being a fan. You don’t want the object of your fandom to stagnate but neither do you want them to make a stylistic wrong turn. Somehow, with her new album Sun, Cat Power has done both and it’s a bit of a disappointment. She still has a honeyed, gorgeous, warm summer’s day of a voice. But the songs manage to be a little too obvious, and the nods to electronic music – especially the quasi-disco chugger Ruin – seem a little bit hackneyed and dated without adding much. There are some standouts (Always On My Own is deliciously woozy) and it’s still better than 90% of the records you’ll hear this year, but it’s far from her best.
Chilly Gonzales – Solo Piano II (Gentle Threat)
Chilly Gonzales –The Entertainist, the record breaking pianist, the man for all reasons – is back with his second album of solo piano pieces, eight years after the last. In a ridiculously varied career, nothing Gonzales does should come as much of a surprise, but the quality and flat out sophistication of the pieces here tests that theory. Some pieces are gentle and simple, others more melodically or rhythmically complex, and there are hints of classical and jazz – Keith Jarrett is obviously an influence – without it ever sounding merely bland or tasteful. Like the man himself said, sometimes it’s just time to shut up and play the piano.
The Orb Ft Lee Scratch Perry – The Orbserver In The Star House (Cooking Vinyl)
I own upwards of 25 Perry albums and even I’m forced to admit he’s just phoning it in now. I’m sure The Orb (Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann this time out) were chuffed to be working with him, but I suspect Scratch just saw t as another payday for standing at the mike rhyming ‘moon’ with ‘June’ and ‘madman’ with fucking everything. The album starts promisingly – Ball Of Fire has a dirty bashment bounce- but everything goes downhill from there. Tired digidub meets tiresome wackiness. And as for the horrible Police & Thieves version.. Sheesh. This album would have been past its sell by date 20 years ago, now it’s just a disgrace.
Calexico – Algiers (City Slang)
Be careful what you wish for, someone wise once said. I used to listen to Calexico albums and wish they had more great songs and less desert-jazz noodling. Well, Algiers has minimal noodling and a handful of great songs but still washes over you somewhat. There’s little sign of the influence of New Orleans where they recorded it, the sound still built from country shuffle and mariachi flourish. To be frank, it’s all a little polite and restrained (apart from Sinner In The Sea, which is like a Cormac McCarthy book in song form). They still sound like the soundtrack to the best western you’ve never seen but along with the noodling they’ve also lost a little a sparkle, some of that old desert magic.
Stealing Sheep – Into The Diamond Sun (Heavenly)
This album has me beat. I want to loathe it – as a bitter old cynic, Stealing Sheep push all the wrong buttons: twee psychfolk from some impossibly talented and willowy cosmic scousers with face paint and headbands; like a trio of Joanna Newsom pixie girls coming to take you dancing through the magic mountain mist. Bastards. But fuck, it gets under your skin and just won’t quit. Playing the comparison game, think a blend of Psapp, Jonny & Lucy and Tunng: gorgeous harmonies, inventive and unusual arrangements, an underlying folky strum. The whole album feels like you’re tumbling headlong down a grassy hill on a sunny day – euphoric, giddy, bewildering, but with a slight sense of nausea at the end.
4/5 (bloody hippies!)
Talibam! – Puff Up The Volume
In an ideal world, music should stand or fall by its own merits, but somehow knowing that Talibam! are (an admittedly entertaining) ESP-signed, Wire magazine-approved quirky jazzbo duo makes the fact that they’ve made a ‘no school’ hip hop album seem just a bit… wanky, somehow. At its best, it recalls the potty mouthed flow of someone like MC Paul Barman, and tracks like Puff Up The Volume are amusing for a minute or two, but mostly it seems like a couple of over-trained musos with carefully stupid hair trying to show us just how easy it is to make hip-hop. And failing. No amount of chanting “I’m tapping that ass” over frenzied percussion and studio in-jokes makes this anything other than an extended sneer. Great fucking name though
2/5 (this review didn’t make it into Narc, it was too shit to warrant the space)
Filed under: Bands, Festivals, Gigs!, Narc | Tags: Dr John, Pine Hill Haints, Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra, SummerTyne Americana
I’ve been very remiss over the summer in posting things I’ve had printed in Narc, so I’ll try and include the good stuff. The summer was quite quiet, gig-wise, these are all from the same weekend:
The Pine Hill Haints / Serious Sam Barret – The Central Bar, July 22nd
Hoopin’ and hollerin’ out of the hills of Alabama like an impossibly good looking, rock-a-hillbilly cave-dwelling cult, the Pine Hill Haints tore the roof off The Central Bar at their post-SummerTyne Americana secret gig. A short set from Leeds-based folky Serious Sam Barrett was great, especially when head Haint Jamie Barrier joined on fiddle and vocals (expect an album in the autumn), but the Haints were the main event. Barrier led things on fiddle, guitar and vocals but there was plenty of swapping round along the way, especially when the utterly charismatic and possibly deranged Matt Bakula, usually on washtub bass, came forward to jabber and dance and testify and bewitch – and sing a calypso number (they resorted to drafting in their affable Irish roadie to play bass for that one). A drummer with a single snare, Katie Barrier on saw, mandolin and washboard, songs about death and drinking and fucking and God. Chanting and yelling and stomping. Fiddle–led folk numbers, low slung rockabilly, the best t-shirt sales pitch you ever heard and just about the most exciting, charismatic, brilliantly chaotic band that most of us crammed in The Central to see them have ever come across.
Dr John & The Lower 911 – The Sage, July 22nd
We arrived at the Sage absolutely exhilirated from a ‘secret’ Pine Hills Haints gig, and so any disappointment with this show has to be seen in that context: after that, sitting politely in rows, unable to see the sweat on the band’s faces, lacks something.
That said, it was a solid enough gig. All credit to Dr John, his new album is a genuine return to powerful R&B form, which for a man in his eighth decade is no mean feat. He’s obviously getting old and he seemed to let his band do most of the heavy lifting here, but he still has that fantastic growl and his playing was spot on. The band were mostly solid and unshowy, save for an irksome keyboard player, gurning away in a vile frock coat. Props, though, to a genuinely charismatic trombonist and backing vocalist, whose charm and relaxed nature made her a highlight. We got a fair amount of new material and plenty of old classics – Going Back To New Orleans was a particular high point. The evening did dissipate into endless solos and noodling by the end, but to hear the Doc in such fine voice and playing so well was still a blessing.
Jumpin’ Hot @ SummerTyne Americana – The Performance Square, The Sage, July 21st – July 22nd
Two days of free music (three if you count the local band line-up on Friday) on the banks of the Tyne, in mostly glorious weather. Can’t be bad. When a good number of bands the Jumpin’ Hot Club have booked turn out to be pretty damn great, that’s even better. To be fair, there were a couple of dodgy blues bands and one too many acoustic duos, but let’s accentuate the positive: Rob Heron & His Teapad Orchestra, with their sharp-dressed take on cajun and western swing, were a brilliant opening act on Saturday – there’s an album due soon and it’s going to be a gem. Saturday’s highlight were obviously Pine Hill Haints but you can read more about them elsewhere. Mama Rosin were the closers on Saturday and as per usual their delightfully bouncy take on Cajun was a treat. On Sunday, Treetop Flyers brought some proper southern rock, equal parts Crazy Horse and My Morning Jacket – a bit low on memorable songs but fun all the same. Larkin Poe’s blues inflected folk rock was a good fit, and Slim Chance – Ronnie Lane’s old band – were surprisingly enjoyable in a ‘neckerchief rock’ sort of way. Props too for the DJ for the weekend, Stagger Lee. Worth keeping an eye on that lad, he’s got an ear for a great tune. Handsome fucker, too.
A little while back – on the same day as my anxiety-inducing encounter with Michael Gira – I interviewed Richard Hawley, a man Alexis Petridis described as a ‘fantastic advert for the human race’. And ahead of his Newcastle show this week, here it is.
You don’t so much interview Richard Hawley as wind him up and let him go. Charming, funny, whipsmart and swears like a trooper, it’s hard not to describe him in terms of all those things – icon, national treasure etc – that would REALLY piss him off.
We kicked off with a chat about his Mercury-nominated album Standing At The Sky’s Edge, and some of the odder reviews it had earned.
“Well they used the word psychedelic, which has such a wide meaning, Aldous Huxley and Albert Hoffman probably invented that idea of psychedelia, in a western way, but they wore 3 piece suits and rode bicycles. But every album gets reviews where some people get it very wrong. I mean, there are components of that, but it’s more influenced by the blues than any psychedelic whiffle.”
“The songs to me just warranted – and we were very disciplined about this as well – not having any orchestration or peripherals. There are a few extra instruments on there, but not very many, it was more like a peppering rather than being the whole core of the record. It was just time for me to play the guitar and restrict myself. Because I’d got to the point where I could do anything – disappear into the wilds of China and come back with some weird esoteric Tibetan record…
It just felt like it was time to bring it back down to basics, which is the thing I love the most, just the guitar, it just seems to be the perfect vehicle. It was recorded with just me and the guys in a room, playing together. It was very basic. Instead of doing what I could have done, fly to LA or all that bullshit, I just stuck – I didn’t twist. I kept it to Sheffield, kept it to my brothers and friends and fellow musicians.
I asked if the success of the last album bought him the leeway to do what he wanted, which was met with laughter. ”Do you think a 45 year old guy who’s been doing this for 30 years can be told what to do? I’d like to see the person who wanted to try.. Hilarious. I mean, with Truelove’s Gutter, we were successful by some sort of weird stealth. After Lady’s Bridge, which was very front, square and centre pop (or as pop as I’m ever going to get), that record brought me into contact with a world I didn’t want to be in contact with, which was to be nominated for the BRITS and all that. If I was a ship, that was me heading towards dangerous rocks, that’s for sure.
Truelove’s Gutter was a record that I knew I had to make, for my own sanity. To make an album that was about songwriting, not just getting yourself on daytime fucking television. My goals are very different, I’m not interested in all that at all.”
Just then, a strimmer becomes audible. “Ah, fuck, it’s always the way, man, you know, on a beautiful sunny day? There’s always some cunt who comes out with a strimmer. We’ve just had two months of the most intensely miserable weather that Britain has ever seen and all this motherfucker can think about is to get his fucking strimmer out.”
Conversation moved to Hawley’s serious leg injury (a disastrous combo of a marble staircase in Barcelona and some new leather soled shoes). “I broke me leg really badly. I can move about – as you can hear, I just moved from the front of the house to the back to get away from that fucking strimmer . I’m fairly mobile but I’ve hated it. Walking’s one of my great pleasures.
We played Latitude at the weekend and I was so out of it on the pills for me leg. It was a great gig, but it was a bit like doing gigs in the old days, only legal this time. I was off me fucking head on tramadol and all these other fucking red pills they gave me, I don’t know what the hell they were but I was told to take a couple before I played and whatever other shit I was on, and red wine… Halfway through the gig it all went like Top of the Top 1975. It was great! “
I asked about the more pronounced social comment on the album, and his reaction to the current political situation. “I believe in Labour politics, from Keir Hardie onwards, and all the great men and women who formed what we would call socialist politics, but I don’t see many of them around really. You can’t put a Rizla paper between the lot of them frankly. Tthe only difference between them now is asking yourself which one is going to dismantle Britain slower? Labour will find it a bit more difficult to dismantle the NHS or what’s left of it, so let’s hope they get in. For that reason alone, and that’s how sad it’s got, you’re voted against these days, rather than for.
As well as releasing fantastic albums, Hawley is making a name for himself in other ways – folk collaborations, radio shows…
“I tend to dip my toes into a lot of things. Martin Simpson, the great folk guitarist, is my neighbour. We spend a of time out in the garden playing our guitars, usually when there’s not Mr Fucking Strimmer there. But it’s not a world I belong to, I belong to my own little world really. Like, the radio shows, a lot of those things just come up, some wag at the BBC obviously thinks “What would it be like to stick Hawley in that situation?” I really enjoyed doing the rockabilly stuff, they actually put it out on radio 2, which I was really surprised about. I was really sad with that whole scene with Mark Lamarr (the comedian turned Radio 2 DJ who felt forced to quit after frustration over his role in the BBC). He’s a pal of mine as well. He’s a really good guy and very knowledgeable about his subject, and very passionate about it. Again, that comes down to this whole thing about stripping back what we are.
The BBC is a publicly owned body, and it’s accountable to the public for the services that it provides. So I’ve always been very surprised – and I learned this, I guess, with Truelove’s Gutter, where I’d written songs that were unpalatable for the 3 minute slot that a song gets – I don’t understand why the BBC has to continually, at its top end I guess, compete with commercial radio. I don’t get that. You’ll always fail because commercial radio will provide that snappy, annoying twat at breakfast kind of show. They do that really well. And if they try to copy that, the BBC aren’t providing anything new for the public so they’re really falling into the jaws of that shark. And shows like Mark’s – and many others that have been cut – are just lost. so that’s why I was pleased to take up that mantle and why I was pleased that it was on a major station like Radio 2. I was shocked that they let me get away with it, because it was very amateur. I would never claim to be a professional disk jockey, I was merely an enthusiast. I’ve always viewed myself as a slightly Caractacus Potts kind of person. In the whole pantheon of rock and pop and whatever, if I was going to be anybody it would be him. A kindly father banging away in his shed… (pause).. Maybe I should rephrase that?”
You can’t let an interview with Richard Hawley pass without asking for hair tips…
“Mark Kermode did this thing on the Culture Show that was all about the perfect quiff according to Richard Hawley, it was very funny. He couldn’t get the grease out of his hair, and he could never get it totally flat at the sides. I said “You don’t want to bother with any of that special shampoo, all you need to do is put the shampoo on when your hair’s dry. Then wet it, it all comes out. And the bits at the side that always stick up? Use a bit of moisturiser, kid” I did the same with Alex from Arctic Monkeys, we were in Paris and he was doing his hair before we went on and he was like, “I can’t get them bits at the side to stick down” and I was like, “Hello – quiff helpline?”
(thanks to http://www.kyeo.tv)
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Filed under: Miscellaneous, Narc | Tags: Brie Larceny, Kalamity James, Newcastle Roller Girls, NRG
I did a lengthy interview with two if the Newcastle Roller Girls a while back, it went up on KYEO today.