Posted in Songs I Love

Songs I Love : Lambchop – The Hustle

Bands are like friends, sometimes you lose touch with them for no good reason. You don’t stop liking them, you just don’t have as much time to devote to them as you used to, and you just drift apart. Lambchop, for me, are one of those bands. I loved their album Nixon, which has to be getting on for 15 years old now, and owned a couple of their others around the same time, but somewhere along the way I stopped paying attention.

Turns out they’ve changed a fair bit over the years. Gone are the sumptous country-soul stylings of Nixon. Instead we have skittering beats, electronic pulses and sparse piano. Kurt Wagner’s ever beautiful voice drifts, dreamlike, in and out of the track and is even more effective for that. The Hustle weighs in at a hefty 18 minutes, but it never outstays its’ welcome, which is quite a feat for a song this long, and stands alongside the best things they’ve ever done.

Lambchop, it’s time for you and I to get reacquainted.

Thanks to the excellent GoldFlakePaint blog, for the recommendation

Posted in Blogs

Blog – Can’t Techno More

Some of my best friends spent the weekend just gone at the Dekmantel Festival, a techno festival in Amsterdam (well ‘electronic and experimental music’ to be strictly accurate, but there was certainly a lot of techno on the bill). Having just bought a house a few months ago I have no money to be jetting off to music festivals, and being honest, I don’t actually like the idea of being away from my wife and child for more than a night or two. There was the odd moment in the week leading up to the festival where I had a pang of envy though. That is, until I though about the reality of what it would be like. I can no longer stay awake until the early hours of the next day, or even close, and I know myself well enough to know that I would get tired, I would get grumpy, sulky and sullen, and wouldn’t be much fun company for anyone.

Thinking of the festival did bring back some good memories though. My first trip to Amsterdam was for a one day festival called Dance Valley, back in 2001. Almost exactly 15 years before Dekmantel in fact, which suddenly makes me feel very old. The festival itself was great fun, but as it drew to a close, the heavens opened with the heaviest rains I’d ever experienced. We rushed to get a shuttle bus to take us back into Amsterdam, but soon realised the number of buses was wholly inadequate for the number of people. We had no choice but to start walking the seven or eight miles back into Amsterdam. We were cold, we were miserable and we had somehow lost one our party along the way. We trudged for an hour or more in increasingly heavy rain before managing to get a lift the remainder of the way, still worried about our missing friend. As we arrived back at the hostel, wetter than we’d ever been in our lives, we found him sat at the bar, in fresh warm clothes, drink in hand. He’d managed to stow away in the luggage compartment of a coach, the bastard.

Much of my late teens and early twenties (and a bit of my mid to late twenties too) were spent at similar festivals and club nights, dancing the night away until hours that are barely imaginable now. I still love the music (or some of it at least – my early dabblings in psychedelic trance are perhaps best forgotten). I loved the way a great DJ could blend three records into an entirely new piece of music, the way they could judge a crowd, knowing exactly what record to play next. Most of all, I loved the sense of adventure and excitement, travelling off to different cities or countries, leaving the normal world behind for a night or a weekend.

I have no desire to go back to those days though. I’m glad I enjoyed my younger days and spent more time and energy having fun than working or studying (although it will be interesting to see if I pass that advice on to my daughter when she’s older). I’m sure I will still go out dancing from time to time, but the days of emerging bleary-eyed into the early morning light from a basement techno club are long gone, and were gone long before I became a father even. What’s not gone and never will be are the friends made during those years, and the memories. Memories of speeding down the M6 on a warm spring day to get the last few tickets to our favourite club night before the record store closed. Memories of the adrenaline and excitement that flowed through a room when the DJ dropped Jaguar or The Bells or Emerge. Memories of Amsterdam, Hungary, Liverpool and Birmingham.

My life is different now, less wild perhaps, but full of a different kind of joy and wonder, and entirely new reasons for being up at 5am on a Saturday morning. Those raving days though are part of what made me the person I am. I wouldn’t have the life I have now if it wasn’t for the life I had then, and the memories of those days make me smile still.

Posted in Interviews

Q & A : Danny Chavis – The Veldt

The Veldt’s ‘The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur‘ is one my favourite records of this year (I wrote about opening track Sanctified back in May). It’s so inspiring to find a band who have been around for 30 years but have stuck to their creative vision and are making the best music of their career. So I am super-excited that Danny Chavis from the band agreed to answer some of my questions on childhood, fatherhood and a life in music.

Were your parents music fans? What influence did they have on your own musical tastes? 

My mother and father were not together by the time we took note of certain music, the family in general listened to the music of the time BB King, Motown, and a lot of soul/r&b my mom was 16 so we heard all of the top hits of the time. I pleasantly remember Shotgun and Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin. My grandfather had more of an influence with all the blues records.Sun House, Slim Harpo just to name a few.

At what age did you start playing music? Did you learn any instruments when you were a kid? 

I started playing guitar at age 13 my grandfather bought me my first guitar first an acoustic then a vantage flying V guitar.

When did you and your twin brother Daniel first start playing in a band together? Did you start out as The Veldt, or did that name come later? 

The band was called The Armory first then The Veldt, prior my brother played in a juke joint band, and I played in church.

 At what point during The Veldt’s existence did you become a father? Were you already an established touring band by then? 

 I became a father at 19 we were not established by then it was just the beginning. She was born July 6th 1986 Aprincesae Sade Glenn.

Did a career in music made it more difficult to spend time with your family (due to touring commitments etc.) or did not working a 9 to 5 job give you more freedom to spend time with them?

 Well in between time on and off I made time for her until her mother and I separated due to personal differences.

Do you think becoming a parent influenced the music you make? 

Yes it made me determined that I wasn’t going to be just another father who didn’t try to be more than he could.

How did your children feel about having a musician for a father when they were younger, and how about now?

Well it seemed like she liked it at the time, I used to take her to practice with me from time to time. And she liked it. I could have been anything and my daughter would have loved me for as long as I spent time which unfortunately wasn’t that often, from time to time, but I never gave up, there are a lot of things that I would do over for her if I had the chance.

Have your kids shown any interest in following you into music, and if not, did you/do you encourage them to do so?

Well my daughter has a pretty set idea of how she wants to live her life, I’ve never tried to influence her to do music. More like art and painting.

Danny-Chavis-The-Veldt

The Veldt’s sound is not quite like any other band I’ve heard, which other bands and musicians have influenced you?

 Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Lee and Love Cocteau Twins, Miles Davis

What prejudices have you experienced as a black man in a genre of music that is very white-dominated? And are things any better nowadays? 

Too many to begin to tell you, not much in the US as you can see. We tend to go where we are wanted. We pretty much know the passive-aggressive stance in indie music toward us the fake liberal agenda doesn’t go over to well and you can usually see right through it, not to mention when your own people do it to you it’s boring…

The records you put out in the 1990s were on a variety of different labels. Why do you think your record labels wouldn’t truly get behind you at that time?

Same old thing these labels served their purpose at the time, they were too concerned with racial stereotypes and marketing so we got pigeonholed. Which was the norm with most majors we encountered. But we persevered and continued making music, most people by that time had either gave up or moved on to other things. We never stopped because we didn’t know we were supposed to, so to speak…most people that were involved also moved on for one reason or another but we held on to our vision till this day.

After recording as Apollo Heights in the 2000s, what brought to you back to being The Veldt?

 Our history brought us back and the feeling that it was just time to do it, ironically there are tons of so called shoegaze bands now.

Was there ever a point where you and your brother stopped making music together?

 Yes 97-99 we didn’t see eye to eye on the direction.

 You released a fantastic EP earlier this year (The Shocking Fuzz of your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation). I understand a new album is on the way. What’s the latest on that?

 At this point it’s going to be an EP we like the idea of doing small projects from time to time and keep releasing new things.

And you’re over here in the UK for Liverpool Psych Fest in September, can we expect more UK/EU dates?

We are currently in the process of getting more gigs we’d like very much to play more dates here!

Thanks so much for your time Danny.

The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur (The Drake Equation) is available from Bandcamp. Tickets to Liverpool Psych Fest are available here. And when more tour dates and the new EP are announced I’ll be sure to let you know!

Posted in Songs I Love

Track of the week : Manon Meurt – To Forget

Manon Meurt are a band from the Czech Republic who might be described as shoegaze, but they’re certainly at the heavier end of that spectrum. Similarly to My Bloody Valentine, who they have supported, they have the combination of shimmering, beautiful melodies on top of intense guitar crescendos. Many bands have tried to produce such a sound, but very few have succeeded as well as Manon Meurt do on their recent self-titled album.

The full 6 track album is well worth your time (and money – available at Label Obscura’s Bandcamp), but opening track ‘To Forget’ is my personal favourite, starting out all shimmering and light, before expertly building up the noise. A song I would love to hear performed live, where I imagine it would sound even better than on record.

Posted in Kids TV

Ten actors I didn’t expect to turn up on CBeebies

10 : Alexander Armstrong – Hey Duggee

Ok, it’s not that surprising that he turned up on a kids’ show. He’s appeared on everything else, from game shows, to sketch shows, to grotesque period farces. It just gives me an excuse to mention Hey Duggee, my favourite CBeebies show of all. The animation is superb, as is the music, and it’s genuinely funny. There are also lots of little references for the grown-ups, such as when Duggee was dressed in the style of Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic.

Hey-Duggee-The-Life-Aquatic

9 : Jason Donovan – Boj

When he was one of the biggest stars of the late 1980s, I bet he didn’t expect to find himself voicing Pops in Boj, one of the more annoying CBeebies shows.

8 : James Bolam – Grandpa in my Pocket

Best known as Terry in The Likely Lads, he’s also in one of my all time favourite films, A Kind of Loving, a bleak but brilliant kitchen sink drama from the early Sixties. Grandpa in my Pocket is somewhat different in tone, but good to know he’s still around.

7 : James Corden – Little Charley Bear

Of course, nowadays he’s too busy performing Missy Elliot songs in a car with Michelle Obama to narrate CBeebies programmes.

6 : Julian Clary – Penelope K, by the way

I didn’t expect to find a man who famously once claimed whilst presenting a BAFTA that he’d been backstage fisting Norman Lamont to find a home on children’s TV.

5 : Roger Allam – Sarah and Duck

You may recognise the face more than the name. He’s been in all kind of things from The Thick of It to Spooks to a couple of Ken Loach films. He may be the only person to have appeared both on CBeebies and in Game of Thrones, although I stand to be corrected. Sarah and Duck is up there with Hey Duggee amongst the best CBeebies shows, incidentally.

roger-allam

4 : David Tennant – Tree Fu Tom

Tree Fu Tom is pretty action packed as CBeebies shows go, but I still didn’t expect Doctor Who to crop up in it.

3 : Lauren Laverne – Tee and Mo

Lauren Laverne was lead singer of Kenickie, one the favourite bands of my teenage years. She’s since become one of the country’s better presenters, but I’ve always hoped she would return to music. Little did I suspect that when she did it would be soundtracking a CBeebies animated monkey show. Still pretty good though:

2. Brian Blessed – Peppa Pig

There’s very little that isn’t made more entertaining by the appearance of Brian Blessed, but Grampy Rabbit might just be the role he was born to play

1. Mark Rylance – Bing

Mark Rylance is generally considered one of the UK’s finest classical actors, and has also won BAFTAs, Tonys and an Oscar. So it’s hard to know what drew him to the role of Flop, a kind of soft-toy carer for Bing, a toddler rabbit. It’s also hard to know why they felt they needed quite such a distinguished actor for this part.

It was especially weird discovering Bing shortly after watching Wolf Hall, in which Rylance also stars. The relationship between Bing and Flop is remarkably similar to the relationship between Henry VIII and Rylance’s Thomas Cromwell. Henry and Bing both charge around, demanding their every whim is satisfied, with little though for the consequences. Flop and Cromwell are the sage counsels, talking them down from their mistakes and excesses.

It’s possible I may be reading too much into this of course.

Posted in Songs I Love

Track of the week : Claire M Singer – Wrangham

I don’t listen to the Bleep podcast as often as I should, but whenever I do I make wonderful new discoveries. The most recent has been Claire M Singer, a composer, performer and audio-visual artist who is also Music Director at London’s Union Chapel. Her recent album, Solas includes a number of pieces performed on the chapel’s organ, including my personal favourite ‘Wrangham’ an organ and electronics-led piece of ineffable beauty. It’s a form of music I don’t really have the words to describe, certainly not to do it justice. I can only suggest you listen below.

Solas is available now from Bandcamp. More info on Claire M Singer can be found at her website.

Posted in Blog

Blog : Gil Scott the Heron and Other Children’s Stories

I hate almost anything that could be considered performing, especially when put on the spot. This has been the case as long as I can remember. Back in my schooldays, one year the school decided it would make a great ice-breaker at the start of the new school year if each class wrote and performed a song together in front of the rest of the school. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than singing, on stage, in front of hundreds of my peers, and tried desperately to think of a way out of it. Eventually I settled on the idea of just staying in my seat when the rest of my class went up on stage. Fortunately, either no-one noticed or no-one cared.

Another time, when at a teenage party my friends’ band invited me up on stage to perform an Oasis song with them, mainly because I happened to know all of the words and I’m not sure their singer did. Again, I wanted no part of this, and my chances of being a rock n roll frontman were over before they had begun (probably a good thing in retrospect). This stage-fright, this fear of performance, can manifest itself on the most unlikely occasions, which hardly qualify as performance at all. I remember being at a fancy dress party, not all that many years ago, where the theme was mythical beasts (I came as a Mongolian Death Worm, which mainly involved wearing a sleeping bag). The host of the party invited us in turn to pull our most ghastly faces to the group and, unnecessarily embarrassed, I refused.

Doing a speech at my wedding did improve my performance confidence levels a bit. I woke up very early on the morning in question so had plenty of time to practice. Plus, I was in a room full of people who only wished me well. So, I think that one went ok. I made lots of people cry at least, which is surely what it’s all about. Becoming a parent though, is what has truly made me a performer, because as a parent to a small child you don’t have much choice. Whatever works to cheer them up, you will do, whether it’s songs, stories or silly dances. At parent and baby groups, there’s all these things and more. I can’t imagine many other situations where I would sing and dance in front of that many other people without alcohol being involved, but as everyone else in the room is in the same situation you end up throwing yourself into with gusto. I do at least, some parents still look pretty embarrassed by the whole business.

So, whilst if anyone else demanded I sing a song on demand, I would surely still refuse (Karaoke is still my idea of hell), but if my two year old daughter does I can hardly refuse, nor would I want to. She has also started asking me to make up stories on the spot, or at least handing me a blank pad of paper and saying “read me a story” which amounts to the same thing. This doesn’t come naturally to me so I usually turn to music for inspiration. When I did creative writing in school and had to think up the name for a character it would usually be somehow related to one of my favourite bands, and things are no different now.

The first time my daughter asked me to make up a story on the spot, my thought process went something like “What do kids’ like? Animals? Birds? How about a heron? And the heron of course must be named Gil Scott after the great black poet, writer and musician Gil-Scott Heron” And so the tale began of Gil Scott the Heron and his riverside friends. I decided not to base the story on Gil Scott-Heron’s own novels though. Having read ‘The N*gger Factory’ not so long ago, I’m not sure it would be that appropriate for a two year old. Although who can say when it is too early to introduce your children to 1970s racial politics?

Subsequent stories have had similar inspirations. My personal favourite was the story of four music-playing pixies named Frank, Kim, David and Joey. Of course, Frank and Kim fell out for a long time, but they made friends again eventually and lived happily ever after. I left out the bit where they fall out again and Kim is replaced by a superficially similar pixie, but it doesn’t feel quite the same.

The possibilities of musical inspiration for children’s stories is almost endless. I’m sure I could make up a decent tale about a Starman waiting in the sky. Or one about a laid back dog called Snoop. Or Maggie’s Farm where all the animals have a lovely time (admittedly this might go against the spirit of Dylan’s song a little). It would be nice to think that, if my daughter takes an interest in music when she’s older, she may realise where the inspiration for these tales came from.

Posted in Kids' Music

Kids’ song of the week : Dean Jones – Swiss Cheese Angels

A bit more of a downtempo choice than in recent weeks, but a really great song nonetheless. Dean Jones has been making music for kids in the band Dog on Fleas since the 1990s, but latest album ‘In My Dreams’ is entirely his own work. ‘Swiss Cheese Angels’ is my favourite from the album, a stripped back production and simple melody, but with wryly funny lyrics about the titular swiss cheese angels, with holes in their wings.

In my Dreams by Dean Jones is available now at Bandcamp

Posted in Songs I Love

Track of the week : Frankie Cosmos – On The Lips

I was prejudiced against Frankie Cosmos for a number of deeply unfair reasons before I’d ever heard her music. She is the daughter of celebrity parents (Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates), and was a child actor. Her promo photos make her look somewhat silly (although to be honest, it probably just seems that way to me because I am getting old). And she goes by the name Frankie Cosmos, which sounds like a third-rate Sixties psychedelic band.

Once I actually listened to ‘On The Lips’ though, those prejudices disappeared within twenty seconds. It is exactly the kind of lo-fi melodic indie that I love, and she executes it superbly. The song is less than two minutes long, but no second if it goes to waste. Despite being just 22, she has a massive back catalogue as both Frankie Cosmos and Ingrid Superstar. I look forward to investigating further.