Speakers Push Air

Narc April 2016

Quite a busy issue for me this month, and a real honour to interview Howe Gelb

Giant Sand picGiant Sand





Shonen Knife APril 2016Shonen Knife APril 2016 pic


white hills



Narc Magazine – June and July 2015

June 2015








July 2015



11th haiku

heavy trash


Narc Magazine July 2014















Narc March 2014

Quite a busy month for me in Narc, including another cover feature (and what a beautiful cover it is)

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Narc December

the usual reviews, interviews and nonsense.

narc cover

coyote text

coyote pic

sleaford textsleaford pic

fotl picFOTL text






Low Interview For Narc Magazinee
March 12, 2013, 1:51 pm
Filed under: Bands, Interviews, Narc | Tags: , , , ,

“American bands are always on the edge of falling into that pit of Americana, and I’m a little skittish about that. I don’t like the cheap use of something old just to legitimise yourself.  That music has to be won with your flesh to be really real”


With an astonishing new album to promote and a twentieth anniversary to celebrate, Lee Fisher picked a good time to catch up with Alan Sparhawk from ‘authentic American prairie gospel’ band Low. Although expecting a man to discuss religion in music before he’s had some coffee is a little harsh.

Despite me waking him up, it didn’t take long for Alan Sparhawk to gather himself and prove to be as thoughtful and warm as I’d hoped. We started off by talking about the sound of Low’s new album – their tenth. The Invisible Way was recorded with Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) in his Chicago studio and marks a distinct departure in their sound. Piano is foregrounded and the voice of Mimi Parker – possibly the most emotionally affecting voice you’re ever likely to hear – dominates the album in a way it never has before. I wondered if Parker had threatened to kick her husband’s ass if she didn’t get more mic time.

“Quite the opposite – we’ve been trying to encourage her! I was hoping actually that she’d sing the whole record. And though I was half joking, it’s kicked in this last year, she’s ended up writing more and that’s kind of the key – if she writes more, she’ll sing more. She writes on the piano, so that’s kind of a big factor as to why there’s so much piano. As we were writing songs, Steve, our bass player, ended up writing a lot on piano too, and it reached a point where I thought: ‘oh man – piano! There’s a lot of ways to screw that up’. Throwing a wrench into an already taut machine.”


The Invisible Way sees Low moving further than ever from their ‘sadcore’ reputation and lot of that seems to be down to working with Tweedy. “We went through to Chicago last spring and stopped by and he was working on some tracks for the new Mavis Staples record, and hearing the tracks – how raw and minimal the arrangements were – that brought it all together. And I asked him right there. It’s kind of a recording trick to keep something truly as it was and not have to mess with it too much. Not a lot of engineers can do it.” I suggested that, to very different effect, previous producer Steve Albini works in a similar way. “Definitely. It’s very much that idea of capturing the sound the way it really is, and as much as Steve comes across as an extremist about that, it really is a beautiful aesthetic. And once you have that as a basis, you really have a lot of freedom and can be really creative.”

Last year when I interviewed him, Michael Gira described Low as ‘authentic American prairie gospel music’ and I asked Sparhawk if that was a big part of what they do.

“Wow – I should write that down. I’m not sure which I’m more proud of – ‘authentic’ or ‘gospel’. I’m blown away by that. Mimi for sure has one foot in more traditional music, she grew up singing American folk and country stuff with her family, that’s where she comes from a little bit more than I do.” As to whether this is a direction Low might move in, Sparhawk is a little circumspect. “American bands are always on the edge of falling into that pit of Americana, and I’m a little skittish about that. I don’t like the cheap use of something old just to legitimise yourself. That music has to be won with your flesh to be really real.”


Charlie Parr

We discuss our mutual love for a fellow Duluth musician, Charlie Parr, who Low have worked with in the past. “Charlie Parr really is one of the few people who can do it, he really is in that music… It’s not a study, not a nostalgia thing or to add weight to something. When we recorded with Charlie it was effortless, it was just us sat in a circle playing the tunes. I feel like a lot of my checks and balances are dictated by how I view him and his integrity and what it means to make music.”

It’s always seemed curious that Low are rare in maintaining some critical cachet while being open about their religious views (Nick Cave might be the only other, in the UK at least). Their songs manage to be honest without being dogmatic or hectoring, and I was keen to ask Sparhawk how he approached it.

“I’ve learned over the years to just trust the flow of creativity. When I’m writing and something comes up and you step back for a second and go ‘Oh’ … I mean, I notice it, and I might wonder if I’m going to let this stuff out, or be shy about it. I tend to let it go, as long as we’re not intentionally going, ‘hey, we’re gonna write religious songs’. Just let it happen naturally and not second guess it when it comes up.”

There’s a clear difference in the way their faith is handled in the UK. “I remember early on, the British press picked up on it right away, ‘Ah, you’re the MORMONS!’ – they were really fascinated… By contrast, as glutted and sick with religion as America is, they don’t want to talk about that shit man. And once people have decided they don’t want to talk about spirituality or religion in America, it’s fucking over!”.


I finished up by asking if work had start on their next album. “Oh no, I’ve learned long ago to pace myself. It’s dangerous to be writing songs during the same time you’re doing a lot of interviews, it’s already humiliating enough without adding to it. The two together would be a deadly combination.”

Low release The Invisible Way on 18th March. play The Sage Gateshead on Friday 26th April.


Narc Album Reviews March 2013
March 12, 2013, 12:16 pm
Filed under: Narc, Reading | Tags: , , ,

Haiku Salut – Tricolore (How Does It Feel To Be Loved?)


Haiku Salut have me stumped. Sure, I can describe them as gorgeous, inventive, summery, captivating and uplifting. But when it comes to describing how they actually sound, I’m struggling for references. There’s a sense of adventure and restlessness here, and a brilliant variety of instruments and song structures, that suggests Psapp or even The Books (especially on the glitchy, almost Aphex Twin-like Leaf Stricken). More sedate, mournful tunes like Los Elefantes have a dash of Michael Nyman or even Beirut with a wonky drum machine. Closing track No, You Say It builds to an Orbital-style ‘taste the lasers’ climax. But those are just clues. Looks like you’ll have to get hold of a copy and work it out for yourself.

Laish – Obituaries (Folkwit)


Laish come burdened with the ‘indiefolk’ tag – a poisoned chalice, and not entirely accurate: their intricate, string and wind driven baroque sound suggests that they’re really a kind of ‘chamber-indie’ band, not unlike Brighton contemporaries The Miserable Rich. There’s a lot going on here, and most of it works: the lush, percussive Visions has a shimmery acoustic vibe that somehow calls to mind The Sea & Cake), the title track is brilliantly rousing and Warm The Wind would be a smash hit in another, far lovelier universe. Sometimes the songs don’t quite live up to the arrangements, and main man Daniel Green’s vocals sometimes slip from ‘heartrendingly lugubrious’ to ‘out of tune’, but those are minor quibbles about a major discovery.

The Smoking Hearts – Victory! (Bomber Music)


There’s something about Victory! that doesn’t quite gel for me, and I think it’s the vocals: singer Ben Mills seems to be in a different band than everyone else – a really  serious and angry screamo band, probably. Perhaps his AWESOMELY named predecessor Rodd Lethal was less intense? Still, the music is pretty rocking – a kind of good-time punk / hardcore blend, complete with some positively cheerful singalong backing vocals that really lift some of the tracks – Seatbelts in particular. Things are going well – everyone gets drunk and hugs and compares tattoos – but then along comes Ben with his ‘I’m a scary monster’ larynx shredding angst and harshes everyone’s buzz by going on about, like, ‘issues and stuff’.

October Singles Column

(Narc Magazine let me do the singles reviews again. Oops)

“Lots of local bands”, they said. “Try and be positive”, they said. “Some of these bands know where you live”, they said. This reviewing lark is fraught with danger, as Lee Fisher found out.

St James

I assume that St James Infirmary are one of this month’s local bands, although there are so many bands with the same name I can’t be sure. Eight For A Fiver is a decent enough Oi-style terrace stompalong, although the vocals need beefing up to sound proper hooly. At least they’re not indie by numbers. Also avoiding the indie slush pile are Rossi Noise, who on Knivesseem to be aiming for a tricky blend of beats and rock dynamics. I’m not sure it entirely works but they’re trying and they’re worth keeping an eye on.

Allo Darlin’

An indie-schmindie case in point are Sonner – I played We Go Forth Tonight about five times and it just didn’t register, I’m sorry. At least that means it probably wasn’t awful. I’ve been to a Street Party In Soho and it sounded nothing like Take Your Time, which isn’t a bad thing – there’s a nice bit of highlife guitar and it all stops short of stadium bombast on the chorus, which is a relief. Also touting a highlife-tinged guitar sound are Little Comets, who have already had some success, although A Little Opus leaves me struggling to see why. I was really getting into Resolver by Clockwork Radio  – nicely jerky, cool harmonies – and then they went and ruined it with a phenomenally ugly guitar solo. Thankfully, Collectors Club are all the way down in Middlesbrough, which means I can probably get away with saying that despite being very polished and produced, there’s nothing else going on. Allo Darlin‘s new single Northern Lights is actually pretty lovely, if you still feel the need to listen to late 80s indie-pop. But why would you?

Conversely, I wish The Spills and The Runaround Kids lived nearer, I’d buy them all a drink. Both the tracks on their Bitching Cassettes split single are fucking ace by dint of them sounding like a brilliantly noisy blend of Pavement and Archers Of Loaf, and because they have some actual ENERGY, dammit. And finally we have Women In Revolt. If you only have room for one song about vaginoplasty by a polysexual glamrock artpunk trash outfit, it ought to be Oestrogynal Itch, all caveman stomp and Valerie Solanas menace.

Women In Revolt

Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra
October 12, 2012, 9:28 am
Filed under: Bands, Narc | Tags: , ,

(this interview originally appeared in Narc magazine)

Sharp dressed and sophisticated, Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra one of Newcastle’s finest bands. With their debut album out next month, Lee Fisher caught up with Rob for a chat.


Taking their name from an album of swing songs about reefer and their musical lead from a bewildering but coherent range of old-time influences, The Teapad Orchestra have parlayed a love for everything from gypsy jazz to western swing, Cajun and bluegrass into a distinctive sound that makes debut album Money Isn’t Everything an absolute gem.

“The style of music we play now is the result of an obsession that I have pursued now for over 3 years, in early 20th century music of all varieties, mostly American.”, Rob explains, while “Tom’s always been a huge bluegrass/old-time fan, Ben is the man for gypsy jazz, Colin plays scottish traditional music but has blossomed into the best Western Swing accordion player in the North!, Rob and Dave play allsorts but fit in perfectly, as they are just brilliant musicians.”

Rob explains that the album really came into focus in March after a successful tour with Pokey LaFarge. “The huge buzz from that spurred us into organising an album. We recorded it all in about 3 days at Blank Studios in Newcastle and did it all live in the room, and got some of our friends to play too”. From the title on, two things dominate the songs’ subject matter. “I wanted there to be a theme of money and drink in our album, as these are things that affect me and my friends – lack of money and too much booze. Being over-political, over-analytical of politics, and heavily biased bores me though….so I only ever do so with tongue in cheek, which I hope comes across in our music!” Hence the inclusion of Bank Failure, recorded in 1931 but “so relevant today, I couldnt not record it!” Also on the album is the crowd favourite The Great Fire Of Byker, about last year’s scrap yard conflagration.

If the band (and studying for a degree in Folk & Traditonal Music) wasn’t enough, Rob also runs Teapad Presents, a promoter based at the Cumberland but spreading its net wider all the time. “There are big plans for 2013, including a mega Mardi Gras party, and a sampler CD of all the local talents. We sometimes venture into other venues, but the Cumberland is the hub.”

I couldn’t let Rob go without asking about his dress sense (you’ll have seen him about town, spats in place and hat at a jaunty angle). I wondered if he ever slunk about in sportswear.

“When i started playing music from the 1920s/30s I came to the conclusion that one can’t just put on a stage persona, then walk to the shops the next day in 21st century clothing. I enjoy dressing smartly, and it makes me feel like i’m living the music I play, not just putting on a show.” Although adamant he hasn’t worn a hoody in years, he admits “I sometimes wear jeans. Period jeans mind.”

Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra release Money Isn’t Everything on October 19 th , with a free launch party at The Cumberland Arms. More details at http://www.teapadorchestra.co.uk

Some Belated Narc Business: Album Reviews
September 25, 2012, 9:16 am
Filed under: Bands, Narc | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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)