Lonely Tourist

LT promo picture

The CD arrived about a week and a half ago and the postmark confirms that you are indeed based in Bristol. That might partially account for my having missed this release altogether. I don’t usually need a best of list to find music I like but there you were on Jockrock’s top 40. How did I miss a number a 3? Was there any noticeable uptick in sales? Have you ever discovered a band or artist in this fashion?

Definitely sold a few more because of review and press in Scotland.  There were plenty of artists on top 40 lists I hadn’t heard before and then listened to after I read them.

Blogging from afar, I’ve likely developed an overly romanticized view of the Scottish music scene. Is there a tangible difference between the local scene in Bristol and that of Glasgow?

“A bit. Tangible… in that there are more outdoor gigs in the summer because the weather is a bit better in Bristol. They both have good music scenes. Good in different ways. Glasgow’s is probably a lot bigger with more acts and great musical heritage… Bristol’s is probably more diverse in terms of genres having their own scenes. Loads of touring acts come to Bristol so you can see most acts that tour… same with Glasgow. Almost every wee town and village round the South West has some form of festival during the summer. I think that’s more down to the weather again.”

What’s the last Scottish act you’ve caught in Bristol?

“I supported Rachel Sermanni at the Thekla last october. She was great. I also went to see Twilight Sad at the Louisiana on their last tour (in fact, I’ve seen them every time they have played here since I’ve lived here… 4 or 5 times.)  Supporting R.M. Hubbert, Admiral Fallow and Malcolm Middleton were all great nights as well.” 

Even though we technically won’t feature them, do you have any local musical discoveries that you have made that you’d like to share? 

“Bristol acts – Poor Old Dogs, Scarlett Rascal, Locks, Minke Whales, I Am Horse, Clayton Blizzard, Gaz Brookfield, Chris Webb, Yes Rebels, Beau Ties and a band called The Bad Joke That Ended Well. There’s whole load of decent bands who look like they are going to do well. Idles, Velcro Hooks, St Pierre Snake Invasion. You can find some of them on youtube.”

I had not heard of Odeon Beat Club until I did a little research and I was immediately taken with ‘Being Realistic’. I couldn’t track down an actual CD, but I did find a digital copy of the record on Amazon. Are there any other Scottish bands from the ‘noughties’ that we probably overlooked and should investigate?

Viva Stereo, Uncle John and Whitelock, Popup, Sneak Attack Tigers.”

The opening track of the new record kicks off with, to my ears at least, a Sons and Daughters like vibe underscoring the notion that this release, unlike the last one, seems to strive for a fuller band sound. I’ve noticed a few blogs saying just how much it has ‘upped the game’. Do you think you’ve found a proper balance as a solo artist as opposed to being in a full time band?

“Nearly.  I probably should do more band gigs. I’ve been rehearsing with the band and we did a few gigs at xmas. We will do more ….but probably not as a week in week out gigging band. I can (and often do) play every night of the week on my own and I like that. If a gigs rubbish there will be another along in a couple of nights.”

The  track ‘A Lonely Tourist’ is especially infectious. “The trappings of youth are mostly gone, I’ve got vinyl collection to remind of where it’s gone”. Is your collection still intact or is the lyric merely an apt metaphor for the subject of the song? 

“Haha…it is a metaphor but… my vinyl is sitting in my mums loft like a time capsule. Still intact. I didn’t sell anything. A few more dodgy Riot Grrrl and Indie Dance singles than anyone needs. I only stopped buying vinyl around 1998.  But I’ve also got some good stuff. A picture disc copy of The Holy Bible by The Manic Street Preachers …say what you you like about what The Manics turned into later…. but that album is amazing. I’ve got a vinyl copy of Peng by Stereolab that I think is rare-ish. I tried to get it on CD and there aren’t many around. A Captain America 12′ that I played to death when I first got it. Then again, I’ve also got a copy of Star Fleet by Brian May. (I was only 13 when I bought it… so leave me alone!).”

While digging further, I noticed that OBC once played a show with Cooper Temple Clause. I had the ‘misfortune’ of seeing them live once. While I rather enjoyed their albums, the live effort was almost comical and I left after the 3rd song.  Fortunately I discovered the opening act Calla. I can’t help imagining that a few people had a similar experience with your show. What opening acts have you ‘discovered’? 

“I saw a Canadian act called Basia Bulat supporting Johnny Flynn. She was great (possibly better than the headliner). Honky Finger supporting Jim Jones Revue were the loudest thing I’d ever seen ever until Jim Jones played. They were louder.”

The closer ‘Viking Jazz’, an instrumental piece, that you yourself describe as “Mogwai type noise”. I can’t argue with the description. Can you share any thoughts about the musical direction for the next release?

“I don’t quite know yet. I’m trying to write and demo everything and see what is taking form –  possibily less acoustic guitar and more noise.”

I imagine there is a bit of interest back in Scotland to have you do some shows there? Any plans to do so?

“Yes. I will sort some gigs in Scotland soon… Possibly a festival too if it comes off. Open to offers as ever.”

Thor

Since sending these I realized that I had, in fact, mentally tucked away the first Lonely Tourist record planning to revisit it later. The problem with mental notes is pretty obvious, but I’m not sure why I originally felt the need to suspend judgment until later. Much of it has to do with my evident preference for full bands as opposed to singer song writers. I’d strongly suggest you get this as well. It is nicely priced and contains this gem Patron Saint Procrastinate. And as for the Manics, I maintain that ‘Life Blood’ is a nearly perfect musical inversion. Give me it over ‘Send Away the Tigers’ – the supposed comeback record – any day.

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Midge Ure Live (Jan 23rd)

midgeureRDL

The Venue advertised it as “Midge Ure: the voice of Ultravox”.  While technically true, the set was a fairly representative slice of a 30 plus year career. One of my musical regrets was never having had the opportunity to see Ultravox perform live.

I imagine my first exposure would have been around the age of 17. Having only recently started a part time job after school, I was finally able to buy my first proper turntable and the records to go along with it. I distinctly remember being in the shop trying to choose between U2’s Boy and Rage in Eden. At the time, during the pre-internet dark ages, I knew nothing about either band. For some reason I decided to go with the Ultravox record. Naturally, this meant that the first song I ever heard was ‘The Voice’ and at that age one can well imagine what a profound, and as it turns out life long, impression that LP made. I did go back and pick up the U2 soon after, but that passion began to fade with Joshua Tree. Not so with Midge Ure. Those solo records continued to be a regular part of my life. Naturally, back catalogue and ‘side’ projects found their way into my collection

Coincidentally, I picked up a copy of Ure’s biography a few months ago but had not begun to read it until the show was announced a few weeks back.  It was interesting to read the behind the scenes information on all those releases that I had just dutifully purchased. It is rather astonishing just how much both artist and fan were at the mercy of the labels back then.  The occasional unarticulated misgivings  that I remember having at the time with a few of the releases make a good deal more  sense after the curtain was opened a little and some of the inner workings were revealed.

Midge was quite chatty in between songs, providing snippets of history spanning his entire career. While tuning, in between songs, he joked about the indignity of having to drive up in a van from Los Angeles. “I am a Rock star! I was in LIVEAID.”  Apparently the tour seems to have been a trial run, of sorts, for a potential full Ultravox tour. As Ure noted the band should be the recipient of an award for having unsuccessfully attempted to crack the North American market for the longest period of time.

In a way, the fact that the backing band wasn’t Ultravox and Ure used his guitar for every song turned what might have been an exercise in nostalgia into something unique and powerful. The guitar driven version of ‘Fade to Grey’ was a pleasant surprise. The rousing rendition of ‘The Voice’ toward the end followed by the single song encore of ‘Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’ was far more satisfying than I could have expected.

I hadn’t finished the book’s last few chapters until this evening. The positive, energetic experience that I had squares well with Ure’s expressed realization of the power of a more intimate connection with his fans. The reaction I witnessed to ‘Vienna’ was no different than the reaction to Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Keep Yourself Warm’. Personally, I don’t understand how either one makes for a very good sing along but the point is the deep emotional connection of the fans, for all intents and purposes, was the same.

Walking into the venue I was greeted with the Thompson Twin’s ‘Hold Me Now’.  I have this love– hate relationship with most of the decade. While waiting for the show, people around me are reminiscing about having recently seen the Human League and New Order and I’m thinking about how much I’m looking forward to seeing Chvrches in a few weeks time. Don’t get me wrong – my first CD was ‘Crash’ and I have a very vivid memory of listening and waiting for an American college radio station to play something from ‘Power Corruption and Lies’ in the summer of 1983. I just don’t understand how those of my generation stopped looking for new bands in 1989.

None of that has anything to do with my appreciation of the show. It’s my blog and that means I can vent whenever I want. I’ve never stopped being a fan of Midge Ure. Watching a few Slik videos for the first time  before the show, I was struck with how powerful the voice was even then. Finally hearing an artist whose songs have been inside my head most of my life was a moving experience. It was long overdue.

Even better– I’ve now got a fair bit of his soaring guitar to accompany it.

And, one day, I might just get to see Ultravox afterall.

Thor

Kevin MacNeil and Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space

I’ve spent a good deal of time listening to your voice on ‘Colombian Fireworks’. I think I replayed that opening track such a disproportionate amount of time that it seriously delayed my appreciation of the rest of the record. How did that come about and how did you convince them to make it the lead track?

“I really like what There Will Be Fireworks did with ‘Colombian Fireworks’. It came about because we happened to meet at a gig and they subsequently emailed and asked if I would write something for them. They’re great musicians and I was happy to create a new piece of work for them. I was living in Shetland at the time and my brother came to visit and recorded my voice. I deliberately wrote about fireworks to chime with the band name. I visited Colombia a few years ago and mentally absorbed something of the colours and beauties of Medellin. I wasn’t involved in the recording or track listing or anything like that, but I do think it makes for a great album opener. I like music with real intensity and TWBF certainly have that.”

It was a ‘There Will be Fireworks’ FB recommendation that pointed me to this project. Already predisposed to purchasing without hearing a note of it, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that William Campbell was the voice of ‘Astrid’.  How did the partnership with Mr. Campbell come to be? Have you had the pleasure of hearing something from the new TWBF album? If so – do tell.

“I’ve known Willie for a long time – we were raised on the same Hebridean island, the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland. And I was a huge fan of Astrid. Their first and third albums, in particular, are classics. I remember one time my friends and I hired a car and went on a road trip from the Outer Hebrides to Glasgow just to see them play. We were fans, as well friends, of theirs. And I still think that they would have been really, really successful if they’d only had a lucky break or two.

Anyway, Astrid and I talked about collaborating on a song but then I moved to Sweden and Astrid imploded so that never happened. Fast-forward a year or two and Willie and I were both living back on Lewis and we decided to work together. From the first time we sat down together, we were surprised how well we gelled. I had some words, he had some music and they fitted together like fate’s own jigsaw! The song that came out of that first afternoon of working together was ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’. And so a few weeks later it was released as a vinyl single by Fantastic Plastic! What’s really great is that our personal chemistry – we get on very well as people – translates into great professional chemistry. We respect and trust each other and we don’t have huge egos so we can have a laugh at ourselves, too.

As for TWBF, no, I haven’t heard their new album. They should send me one since I never got paid for ‘Colombian Fireworks’ 😉 I imagine the new album will be superb.”

It is a bit early to ask considering ‘Kevin MacNeil And Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space’ just came out, but are you sufficiently pleased with the experience, result and reception to do this again?

“We’re both very pleased with the album. The critical reaction seems to be gaining momentum all the time, which is very gratifying. We’ve done various gigs over the years – at book festivals as well as music festivals, which is kinda cool. Also, the BBC recently made a tv documentary about Willie and that has boosted his profile. I imagine we will do more music together, yes. I think we might get a video done for ‘Christmas Ghosts’ and release that as a Christmas single – one that’s considerably darker than the average Christmas single!”

What are some your favourite current Scottish bands? Has anything come out recently (in the past year or two) that has really caught your attention?

“Around Stornoway and the Isle of Lewis there is a music scene which is amazing and which I think of as a low-key version of what was happening in Seattle in the 90s. An explosion of talent. I could list a dozen superb bands from the island. I think Astrid’s success – signing to a cool record label, making a living from music – inspired a lot of teenagers in Lewis to pick up a guitar or some drumsticks and hone their talents. And with the honed talent came self-belief and, sometimes, success. I’m thinking of, for example, Colin MacLeod (aka The Boy Who Trapped the Sun), DotJR and others. Willie’s band The Open Day Rotation do rare but unforgettable gigs. My brother’s band, Brawth, are fantastic live, too, as are my pals the Murderers of Love. As for Scottish bands who aren’t connected to the islands, Gareth from Idlewild (and who used to be in Astrid) took me to a gig by The Twilight Sad that blew me away.”

Coincidentally, the CD and a copy of ‘The Stornoway Way’ arrived on the same day. I listened to the record three times before starting the novel. When I got to the poem from which ‘Every Month’ was apparently derived the day’s experience came full circle. Do all the songs stem from poetry already written?

“I think ‘Every Month’ is the only one that relates to a novel I wrote. Willie liked the words to it and it turned into one of my favourite songs because of how powerful and poignant his chorus is. The ‘Gaelic Song’ developed from a poem in my first book (‘Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides’) and musically relates to a play I wrote and for which we commissioned Willie to compose a soundtrack. ‘Corneal Graft’ is about an eye disease I have and was originally commissioned for the 500th anniversary of a college of surgeons. Tracks such as ‘Into the Next World’ and ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ were written specifically for us to record and perform together. I think the track listing gives the album an overall coherence that’s really important.”

I recently obtained Withered Hand’s Good News (rather late to the dance) and while taking the record from the sleeve, I began looking over the lyrics. They were so exceptional that I ended up reading them all before putting the needle down.  When the same words were ‘heard’ with music the effect wasn’t quite as powerful as I anticipated they would be. Their power seemed to be diffused somehow or, perhaps more accurately, the music that I imagined would go with them was understandably different.  On your record, the alternating spoken word (verse) and Willie Campbell’s singing (chorus) is extremely moving and effective. Was there a typical process for writing the songs or a philosophy behind them?

“No, we just do our best. We’re lucky, and we don’t take it for granted, that the words and music seem to fit together in a very natural, organic way.”

 People, perhaps understandably, seem to primarily focus on your poetry and literature. What prompted you to first combine poetry with music? 

“Maybe I’m a frustrated rock star! I suppose I get a little distraught when I hear songs with the same old unoriginal lyrics, one cliche clunking into another. If you’re going to go to all that bother of writing some wonderful music, why not give the lyrics a little depth and meaning, too? That way, you’re giving your audience more respect.”

This record has apparently been a long time in the making. Was the ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ single the first collaboration? What are the most recent tracks? Are there songs that didn’t make it on the record? 

“Yes, ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ was the first song we wrote together. The most recent tracks are ‘Into the Next World’ and ‘Kingdom’, which I had never heard prior to the live performance on the album – a performance I didn’t know was being recorded. The chat at the beginning of the song is genuine and makes me smile. We were playing a gig in our hometown and hadn’t rehearsed this song. I’d never heard it before. I went to the gym before our gig and was late in arriving at the venue. So Willie called me onstage at the end of the night, and I just read the words on a page someone handed to me. You can hear me make a mistake, talking over Willie. That’s fine, though – it’s very natural. We didn’t want to make a robotic, overly polished album and that’s especially true of the two live tracks.”

Glass half full or half empty, or just a glass where half the contents have been consumed and the other half remains?

“Yep – it is what it is and to see it otherwise a delusion.”.

Musically, I’ve been drawn to Edinburgh this past year. I’ve begun reading some Rankin and my wife’s Macall Smith books to obtain little more local flavour. I just ordered ‘A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde’ and am looking forward to seeing Edinburgh through a different set of eyes. What is the Scottish equivalent of anglophile? (There must be a joke in there). Could you recommend some contemporary Scottish literature that gives a sense of place?

” As with music, there are very many talented writers in Scotland. Edinburgh’s Laura Hird writes with a delicious dark humour, so I’d highly recommend her novel ‘Born Free’. Shetlander Robert Alan Jamieson’s ‘Da Haapie Land’ is an epic and rewarding read. Likewise James Robertson’s ‘And the Land Lay Still’. I could sit here recommending Scottish books all day!”

I just reacquainted myself with the music of Iain Morrison. I do have some ‘Crash My Model Car’ in the itunes folder, but didn’t make the connection at the first. There is the isle of Lewis again. The video for the new single ‘Homeward’ seems evening more heart wrenching having just read Stornoway. Are you aware of, and able to recommend, other musical artists specifically from the isles?

“Iain Morrison is very talented. I loved Crash My Model car – their gigs were so impassioned and energetic. There are a few bands making traditional music as well as the more contemporary guitar-orientated bands.”

My poetry set to music collection is limited to Patrick Jones and Kevin Gilday.  Are you familair with them? Could you point the way to anyone else? 

“I think there are a few more bands doing this now than there were when we set out, so maybe more people are placing greater value on the words they marry with the music. Something that inspired me was a CD I have of Jack Kerouac reading various poems to improvised jazz. Kerouac revered the musicians he worked with but they hadn’t even heard of him, which ultimately left him sitting in the studio on his own crying. Poor Kerouac!”

I did not  realize that Astrid recorded a third album. How is it?

“Ah, Astrid’s mysterious third album. It was only released in Japan and Spain. There is a song on it called ‘Seahorse Perfect’ which Willie wrote (he took the title from a poem of mine) and which must be one of the highlights of Astrid’s career. It’s a stunning track. A few of my friends reckon this album ‘One in Four’ is their best. I have a soft spot for ‘Strange Weather Lately’, their first album, as it is so happy and innocent sounding. ‘Distance’ is a perfect pop song.

 A Fish Called Rwanda? Truthfully? If you had to come up with another band name what would it be?

“A Fish Called Rwanda was just a bad joke I made somewhere. We called this album Kevin MacNeil and Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space because we were going to call ourselves Visible From Space from the next album onwards. But I heard there’s already a band called that so we’ll need to come up with something else, or stick to our own names…”

Thor

Happy Anniversary

We are exactly one year old today. Technically one year ago, we had our first post about Cancel the Astronauts. A year later, CTA have finally released their debut.  While we stumble along at the furthest periphery of the Scottish music scene, I thought that a good way to mark this date would be to feature two recently acquired deluxe box sets; namely Meursault’s ‘Something for the Weakened’ on Song by Toad records and James Yorkston’s ‘I Was a Cat From a Book’ out on Domino.

I made a point of sitting down and listening to the previous Meursault record ‘All Creatures Will Make Merry’ before attempting to write down my thoughts about the new one. My overall feelings for the band stem from my initial and current reaction to this sublime record. While I did have the digital emusic version for some time, to be honest, it didn’t get much play time. It was obviously special, but I seemed to be less taken with the quieter bits in between the more accessible stomping melodic fare. As a result, I tended to listen to it sporadically. After pre-ordering the box set, I also ordered a vinyl copy of ‘Creatures’. Much of the time waiting was spent listening to the first record. To say it was a revelation is an understatement. Quietly sitting on the couch, listening and watching the vinyl spin it all made sense; the poetry, the compelling and contemplative voice, the lo-fi erratic beauty of it all; I fell in love with an album previously only understood superficially.

Getting the Deluxe Box Set (now sold out) was a relatively easy decision. It contained the 12 inch, both 7 inch singles, badges, a lyric booklet, download codes, tote and t-shirt and, most importantly of all, the inclusion of a 12 track demo CD. I purposefully avoided streaming any songs because I wanted to put the record on and hear it for the first time when it arrived, something that isn’t actually easy to do anymore these days.

The opening track is both simple and effective; immediately we learn that the ‘weakened’ should not and will not be weak anymore. The next song ‘Flitten’ happens to be the one song I’ve heard several times before. I almost wish that I hadn’t. It is so powerful, in fact, that on the first listen it still manages to eclipse everything else on side A.  ‘Lament for a Teenage Millionaire’ steps back somewhat with its pleasing banjo melody. Oddly there were no lyrics for ‘Settling’ in the booklet. It might actually be my favourite song on the record. What is most apparent is the confidence in which the music is presented. The layers are elegantly put together. It is rousing, deep and heartfelt. It seems more purposefully put together. Overall it is a surprisingly economical, effective and polished masterpiece.

When you turn the record over and the vocals from ‘Lightning Bolt’ began, I was struck with just how much more soothing, comfortable and accessible Mr. Pennycook’s voice has become.  The new single ‘Dull Spark’ has a beautiful and gentle melody which perfectly sets up the grander ‘Dearly Distracted’ which follows. I happened to be browsing  twitter and just as the mailman rang Ian Rankin (having just obtained the record himself) had commented how up until then that song was the standout. I’d have to gently disagree. I had taken such a shine to ‘Settling’ that I was expecting something even more massive.

 The first listening sequence was as follows album, the demo cd, the album on mp3, and then one more listen of the demos. After one listen I was not altogether sure the record had managed to go beyond the previous. The demo CD is truly wonderful. In many respects it represents a bridge for those people stuck on the beauty of ‘All Creatures’ to more comfortably embrace the new record. The acoustic version of ‘Settling’ is worth the price of admission alone. The other alternate versions are as wonderful as the unused gems ‘Timbre’ and ‘Steve’. Given a hypothetical choice of only being able to keep the new record or the demo CD, I might just have chosen the 12 songs on the demo after my first listen. Hopefully this will be made available in the future.

Several subsequent plays balanced and deepened my appreciation of the new material. It is truly an accomplished release. Meursault, always a diamond in the rough, have spent a good deal more time working on the setting. It is grand and heartfelt. Emotionally satisfying and moving. It certainly will rank as one of the year’s best. Personally, I think it raises Scottish music in general to a whole new level. I mean this in all seriousness; this single record by itself has raised the bar. Whether Frightened Rabbit fame awaits them outside (or even within) Scotland is an unknown. What is certain is that they should be as successful, both domestically and abroad, if there truly was any rhyme and reason to the musical landscape.

Though it arrived a bit late due to the apparent unavailability of the backgammon pieces, the James Yorkston ‘I Was a Cat from a Book’ box set is equally impressive. For one thing, there is a genuine box. The double 10 inch gatefold doubles as the backgammon board. The 3 piece CD/DVD contains the album, some alternate versions and DVD of the Union Chapel show. For someone never having had the opportunity to see JY in person this probably ranks as the best extra bit of all.

Like in the case of Meursault, my JY collection was limited to an emusic copy of ‘The Year of the Leopard’. For whatever reason, it was never really listened to either; with the exception of repeatedly played ‘Woozy with Cider’. I was enamored with the spoken word tale but did not explore the rest of the record. Odd as it might sound, I’d never really taken the time to hear James Yorkston sing.

The immediate reaction to the first song ‘Catch’ was how much I liked Mr. Yorkston’s singing voice. Watching a bit of the live DVD reinforces what a good guitar player-performer he is as well.  By the second song ‘Kath with Rhodes’ I was struck with the exceptional musical sensibility unfurling before me. Not just a pretty voice. The next two songs are equally satisfying. I literally knew nothing about the record other than it was coming out. I was completely taken by surprise to hear ‘Just as Scared’; unquestionably my favourite duet from the Fruit Tree Foundation record. The overall reaction was so favourable that  I had to go on a 5 item back catalogue online shopping trip to shore up some of the gaps in my instant  JY collection. 

I’m looking forward to the releases to come in our second year. There is so much still to explore. It has been a pretty amazing start.

To celebrate, Pedro has wangled us a couple of spots on the list for Django, Django this evening.  The Scottish connection just never ends.

Be Like Pablo

Who is Pablo and why should we be like him?

“Pablo is our good friend from Chile.  He is very enthusiastic about everything he does: partying; juggling; drinking; eating; working and probably even sleeping.  If you met him, you’d realise why we had to name our band after him.  Life is just so much more laid back and fun when you are Pablo.  So everybody should try to be like him.”

To American ears an obvious, admittedly superficial, first reference is Weezer. How much of your direct musical influence can be traced to American “power pop”?

“There’s a big American influence on our music.  I love bands like Weezer, Fountains of Wayne, Ben Kweller and Grandaddy and those bands have had a huge impact on us.  When I was in my teens, I remember seeing one of Weezer’s videos and thinking that there were no pretenses about it at all: they were just four normal looking guys playing simple but interesting music and just having fun and not taking themselves too seriously.  I think American bands were really great at that in the 90s.

 I do feel that I need to mention that there are strong Scottish and British influences in what we do too.  It’s maybe less obvious on first listen but bands like Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian have been really important in shaping our sound.”

What exactly is ‘power pop’? Would you even place yourself in a particular category?

“We pretty much just call ourselves ‘power pop’ because it sounds cool.  I think that adding the word ‘power’ in front of anything always makes things sound a million times better.  It’s like pop music but even more powerful.  But with great power pop comes great responsibility so we understand that we need to be careful not to hurt anybody when we make music.”

If you did have to stick a post-it on the outside of the record how would you fill it in?

“‘Punk rock for nerds’.”

My first exposure to BLP was ‘I Can’t Dance’ from last year’s ‘Songs for the Land of the Rising Sun’ charity compilation. Have you collaborated or played with any of the other artists that contributed?

“We’ve shared festival stages with a few of those bands such as Light Guides, Kitty the Lion and Randolph’s Leap.  Randolph’s Leap have a good name because there’s a place called Randolph’s Leap quite near my house.  We’re actually good friends with Inspector Tapehead but we’ve never really worked with any of those bands in a musical sense.  We’d love to in the future though.  If any of the bands that contributed to that compilation are reading this and want to work with us, please let us know!”

I woke up with ‘Oh, Emily’ in my head. This is pretty remarkable considering I had not listened to the record the day before. Obviously, you’re not afraid of melody, a catchy hook or an upbeat tempo. Unlike most of what I listen to, you’ve managed to bypass melancholy with apparent optimism. Could you describe your basic approach to creating a song?

“When I used to go on holiday as a child, my parents used to play a lot of classic pop music in the car and it made me feel great.  So I’ve always just tried to capture the way that I felt back then in my own music.  In terms of methods, I usually just come up with a melody in my head when I’m driving or in the shower and try to write everything around that.  Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes I do stupid things like turn up the heating in my house in the winter to make it feel like summer when I write.  It’s just a bit of a weird process really.  My brother helps me write the songs by telling me what sounds good and bad which is much more important than you might think.”

Feeder’s ‘Emily or the Manic Street Preachers version? Incidentally; who is your Emily?

“Embarrassingly, I’ve not actually heard either of those songs before but I just looked them up on YouTube.  I think I prefer the Feeder one but the Manic Street Preachers song has a cool chord progression at the end of the verse so it’s a close call.

 I’m really sorry to disappoint all of the Emilys out there but my Emily doesn’t actually exist.  It’s a song about friendship and trust and I just made up a person to sing those things about.”

Another Scottish record given away for free; thanks are in order. Naturally, the next question is what are you thinking?  I’m glad a physical release is planned for later in the year. How difficult and expensive is a self-release these days?

“Truthfully, it’s incredibly expensive.  At least it is was for us.  I’d like to say we did it on a tight budget but we needed to make the best record that we could so we went all in.  That’s why the album took so long to make – we had to record it in installments after we’d made some money form our respective jobs.  But we’re all totally happy with the final album and I don’t think we would have been if we hadn’t done it in that way.”

We didn’t really make the choice to self release but we did make the decision to release it for free when the time came.  In our minds, a free release was the best way to ensure that people would listen to the songs that we’d spent so much time and care writing and recording.  Plus, in the long run, it’ll help us win any popularity contests.”

Do you have a summer festival story (either played or attended) that you could share with us? Sadly, we have to live vicariously in this regard.

“We’ve had amazing opportunities to play at some great UK festivals over the past few years.  I used to go to T in the Park when I was younger so performing on the T Break stage with Be Like Pablo was a real highlight for me.  I’m not much of a storyteller and most of my memories from the festivals that I’ve played at involve flyering in the rain with mud around my feet.  But after flyering all weekend, it’s always really cool playing in front of the people you’ve met.”

What is the best Scottish record you’ve picked up so far this year?

“Kid Canaveral’s Shouting at Wildlife is a fantastic album.  But that came out a little while ago, so I don’t know if it counts.  I think they have another one coming out soon which should be cool.”

Ever since, I’ve started the blog my CD and my regrowing vinyl collection has been separated into Scottish and non-Scottish shelves. I’m not yet prepared to subdivide these into regional sections. Does geography make an impact in Scottish music? Do different types of bands tend to originate from or gravitate to either Glasgow or Edinburgh? What sorts of advantages or limitations does one inherit by hailing from the north east?

“I think that geography is a very important factor in the construction of people’s perceptions about Scottish bands.  To some people, I think that where you live can contribute to what your music should sound like.  It’s not something that I personally consider at all but I’ve come across a lot of people who seem to have a clear idea about what a Glasgow band, for example, should sound like.  So, coming from the north east of Scotland, where there are less bands and less of an expectation about what we should sound like, might make us seem more interesting to some people.  It certainly makes it easier for us to stand out.  On the other hand, we pretty much live in the middle of nowhere so, as you can imagine, there are a lot of limitations.  For example, we usually have to travel quite far to play and record.  But it’s a big part of our identity and this part of Scotland is a really nice environment to make music.  And it’s always exciting to hear some of the other great bands from our area.”

I understand that this record has taken a considerable amount of time to bring to fruition, have you given any thoughts to the follow up yet? I only ask to reassure myself that unlike so many bands discovered this past year, from this great distance, you are not in danger of imminent demise.

“I’m confident that we’ll release a second album in the future.  And I’m sure we’ll start to think about writing it very soon as we’re getting bored of playing the same songs all the time!  I think we’ll probably release a new single in the near future to sort of test the ground.  We’re interested in taking our sound in new directions while keeping it familiar to our fans.  I have some ideas but it will be interesting and exciting to see where it goes.”

I must confess that if I simply had watched all 14 episodes of Be-like-Pablo TV some of my questions may have been answered. It does raise one important point though: Highlander surely isn’t as good as the Decoy Bride is it? While it goes without asking why you don’t reference Gregory’s Girl 2 in your songs, could you recommend a few good Scottish films to us?

“Highlander is the greatest film of all time!  No film can be as good.  I never did get around to watching Decoy Bride but, because the bar has been set so high, I don’t think it could possibly be better than Highlander.  I’m glad that you mentioned Gregory’s Girl 2 because it’s probably the second greatest film of all time.  I’ll try and stick some references to that one in the next album.

 But in all seriousness, I’d highly recommend Local Hero – my pick for best Scottish film of all time.  I’d also recommend Restless Natives if you’ve not seen that.  And Brigadoon for a laugh.”

Be sure to head to the band’s website, register and then download ‘The New Adventures’. http://www.belikepablo.com/

Swervedriver (post show interview)

Swervedriver returned to San Francisco for a stop on their brief US Tour. GlasGO Pedro sent some questions to Adam Franklin to bring himself and others up to speed on this underrated band. Thanks to Michele and the Swervie Fan Forum for helping out…


Swervedriver formed out of your first band, Shake Appeal, named after the great motor city madness of The Stooges. I recently saw Iggy punish the Warfield here in SF w/ James Williamson on guitar snarl and Steve Mackay on sax assault, while commanding the audience to “Occupy the Stage” which they wholeheartedly did. What was it about this Detroit hi-energy rock’n’roll that got you hooked in quiet, leafy Oxford?

“Well Oxford wasn’t all quiet and leafy in the late 1970s and early 80s. Mine and Jim Hartridge’s journey to school would take us through the old British Leyland car plant in Cowley where a lot of our friends’ parents were employed. I’m not going to say that the sounds of ‘metal-on-metal’ were an influence on the sounds of our guitars or anything – as The Stooges and Black Sabbath have said about their own experiences of being in proximity to factory sounds – but there was certainly something about driving past all of this smoke and car parts everyday. Triumphs, MGs, Minis and Rovers were all created in part there. BL used to do work for Rolls Royce also and the RR and Bentley chassis had to be covered over but occasionally you would see a Rolls Royce skeleton poking out.

 The centre of Oxford itself on the other hand, within the perimeters of the old city wall, can often be a quite beautiful and serene place and is possibly the very definition of the ‘England’s dreaming’ that Johnny Rotten sang about in God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols. It certainly lent itself well to listening to post-punk stuff like Atmosphere by Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen in the days when me and my mates would walk around town in our raincoats with our Bunnymen haircuts.”

 I love the story of your first gig following My Bloody Valentine who ended their set by covering “Shake Appeal”. Did you foresee the impact they would leave on guitar sound and production later on?

“I remember being impressed and intrigued that Kevin had two identical combo amps – Fenders, I assume – either side of the stage with a completely clean signal coming out of one and completely distorted fuzz out of the other. At that period in time I think you stuck together with anyone that you felt was doing anything even vaguely along similar lines as your own band and so we looked out for their progress and bought the Geek! single which came out around the same time. By the time they released Isn’t Anything we had already become Swervedriver and both bands had shifted their line-ups around and the sounds were changing and getting more exciting.”

I believe our dear friend, Mark Gardener (of Ride), was responsible in getting you signed to Creation Records by playing your demo to Alan Mcgee while driving (how appropriate) around LA? When Swervedriver finally hit the states, fans, colleagues, and critics took to your sound and song craft right away. Was the reception that warm back home in the UK?

 “It’s difficult to gauge. Our gigs as Shake Appeal were quite chaotic and although we ended up being well loved in Oxford we confused the hell out of people when we played in London and Brighton. The first Swervedriver show was at the Fulham Greyhound in late ’89 when we performed under the name Junk – or it may have been Rollercoaster. I think the show was with B.A.L.L. as I vaguely recall chatting to Don Fleming and Kramer and them being a little curious about us. I think we still kinda confused people though.

Then McGee signed us and we went out on the road with the House of Love. Graham Bonnar had just joined on drums and his first show was at Liverpool Royal Court in March 1990 where he had reams and reams of prompt sheets for all the songs. Perhaps being put into the context of being a Creation Records band helped people to get a handle on us. I’m sure it did, in fact. It was all about noise and melody back then.”

Fellow live music supporters across the pond, Sonic Cathedral Records, sent us a question: When are you playing in the UK?? (If and when you do, Nat Cathedral is your man..)

“I don’t know when we’re playing – we’ll bear Nat in mind for sure!”

Now for a couple of questions from the Swervedriver Fan Forum:

 Will the new songs definitely be released or is that still being decided?

“No and yes. Will I definitely be knocked down by a bus tomorrow? I can’t say for sure on that either or on how long a piece of string actually is. I think the official line was that we’ve been working on new material for probable release later in the year. You can take an educated guess or interpret that any way you want but we have a couple of ideas we’d like to execute, certainly and we’ll see how that goes. There would be various other ‘variables’ to throw in the mix beyond that of course.”

I notice sometimes you use different amps depending on the gig. Is there a reason you use a Matchless, Marshall, or Vox depending on the gig?

“In Swervedriver I always use a Marshall in conjunction with either a Vox AC30 or a Matchless DC30. The Marshall is quiet and crunchy onstage and takes the drier effects pedals but can be cranked loud out front of course. I’ve always used Vox AC30s for the subtler chiming sounds as well as the crazier, wetter more “showboaty” pedals. I can’t always get a hold of an AC30 when I’m in the US but the wonderful folks at Matchless have me on their client list and can always sort me out with one of their DC30s which were of course based wholesale on the AC30, to the point where it went to court I believe. 

Jim has a similar set-up although his combo always seems to change – I have no idea why that is. We have the Marshalls panned pretty out far left and right at maybe 4 or 5 o’clock one side and 7 or 8 on the other, with my Marshall over on his side and his on mine and with the combo amps further in – mine at maybe 10 or 11 o’clock and his at 1 or 2. This means that the stereo effects – such as Jimmy’s stereo tremolo – pan across the whole stage. A creative soundman can pretty much fill up the room with sound with that set-up. People sometimes say they’re amazed that there are only two guitars re-producing all the guitars on the recordings but with four amps all creating slightly different textures you can certainly fool people’s ears into thinking they’re hearing everything I suppose. It’s all done with mirrors really.”

How did you initially come to use the Jazzmaster? Jimmy seems to have a different guitar, (or at least a different Les Paul) every tour, but you always stick with the Jazzmaster. When did you get the infamous sunburst Jazzmaster you’re always using?

“I bought that Jazzmaster for £400 from Andy’s Guitars on Denmark St in London in 1990. I went in and was served by Brendan who was the guitarist in Dave Vanian’s Phantom Chords and I put my money down and left it with Brendan to pick up the next day. As I walked out and was turning the corner onto Tottenham Court Road I bumped into Kevin Shields and Andy Bell from Ride who asked me what I was up to so I told them I’d just bought a Jazzmaster. Kevin wanted to see it of course so we walked back to Andy’s, I asked Brendan to take it out from behind the counter and gave it to Kevin to have a play on. Kevin played on it for a bit and then said “shit, this is a really nice one.. do you wanna sell it?!”

To be honest, what brought me to wanting one was simply because Thurston and Lee from Sonic Youth and J from Dinosaur played them. It didn’t hurt that Costello played one too. They look cool, have lots of mysterious knobs and switches plus there’s the area behind the bridge that sounds like church bells chiming.”

Thank you for pushing past your experiences with the cutthroat record industry biz fiascos of the past and coming out the other end by sharing your art and thought live and on the road. What keeps you and Jimmy forging ahead these days?

“I’ve been forging ahead for years because I get ideas. I had to re-record a demo of a new song a couple of days ago because the original recording was in a different key and I wanted to send it to the Bolts of Melody guys for a show we have coming up. It was only a demo recorded in the middle of an afternoon but it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do really.”

You’ve been playing, recording, and collaborating consistently over the years with a variety of interesting projects and people. From Toshack Highway and Bolts of Melody to Magnetic Morning and the split single release with current tour support, Heaven. Any other releases to anticipate this year?

 “Definitely maybe. There’s the new Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody album I Used To Live For Music to finish off – we have the drums and bass all down under the original demos so far. There are the Swervedriver ideas, possibly a film soundtrack with a friend of mine plus I’m thinking of making Everyday, Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Saving My Life Vol 3 available, since there have been four albums since Vol 2 and there are some interesting demos/live/instrumental versions of songs as well as unreleased songs and covers knocking around that people might wanna hear and that might help fund the recording of the Bolts album too.”

What bands or records do you recommend we should check out (new or old!)?  

 “Right now I would recommend Kraftwerk’s Ralf und Florian album which is the one before Autobahn; a David Axelrod compilation called The Edge and Jackie McLean’s 1964 Blue Note release Action Action Action. I quite like that Tralier Trash Tracys tune from the TV advert which is called You Wish You Were Red. Heard a nice tune by Beach House yesterday and the UK band Toy have some cool Television-type guitars going on.”

Finally, any questions for us?

 How long is a piece of string anyway?

A guitar string is about 25.4″ (64.52 cm) or multiply the distance from the nut to the 12th fret by 2.
Chrono String Engines were the source of power for spacecraft. These engines drew their power from Chrono Strings.
Ah, the power and ease of the internet. How long is a Chrono String? First to answer gets a personalized Swervie mix tape on good ol’ fashioned cdr…

Live review: The set was loud, b-side heavy, and we managed to snag prime seating for lift off (or, for our old legs) at the end of the bar. “Space-travel rock’n’roll” at its finest. And as one pleased fan said on the way out, ” They played ‘Cars Converge On Paris’ and that’s all I needed to hear.”

Pedro

 

 

Comets and Cartwheels

Growing up in Southern Ontario, I was fiercely loyal to a small independent Toronto label called Ready Records. It was only in existence from 1979 to 1985, but considering I was 15 in ’79 it was disproportionally influential. With a refreshing (at the time) focus of promoting and developing local artists, the label quickly developed a strong presence; if it was on the label it was probably worth buying. I’ve transferred some of that independent label loyalty to Chemikal Underground. Looking a ways down the road, what can both artists and music fans come to expect from Comets and Cartwheels?

“We hope that a few years down the line we’ll be known as a label that puts out great bands and works hard to get their artists out there. We’d love to build up a good list of acts and get a few album releases under our belts, as this is where the great reviews and attention really seem to come in. From early teenage-hood right up to now I’ve been obsessed with the ethos surrounding great labels like Saddle Creek, Bella Union, Fence, Sub Pop, Arts and Crafts etc… to whom I would consistently  return to discover fantastic new music. If we could be known as a label like that one day I think we’d be sporting some smiles on our faces. I guess just being known as a collective family of musicians and creatives would great too. We’re also really look forward to building up our catalogue of music promo videos. We were lucky enough to work with a very talented London based director called Mat Sheldon on Quickbeam’s debut single Seven Hundred Birds, and it turned out stunning. I’d highly recommend checking out his short films at crushfilm.com.”

How did you conjure up the label name?

 “It’s nothing too profound. Paul and I just decided to pick one word each, I don’t know why I chose Comet, but Paul chose Cartwheels cause it’s his favourite Reindeer Section song.”

Currently you have 3 artists: Endor, Quickbeam and Partwind Partwolf.  It is a nicely balanced bunch. Do you have a strategy, perhaps better said – a philosophy, for how you intend to seek out or attract other artists in the future?

“At present we are really open to receiving demos from anyone and there are no real rules as to what we would and wouldn’t consider signing, since our tastes are pretty eclectic. At present everything is still within the indie/rock/folk vein but that’s not to say we wouldn’t want to branch out in the future into other genres. Ultimately as long as the music affects us and we feel it has artistic merit then we will be willing to work with the artist. I’d like to think that those bands looking for labels will judge whether they want to work with us based on our previous releases and the previous success we’ve had with our roster. Ideally I’d like to put out a mix of singles, EPs and albums, with the latter of course being released in physical formats too. We’d like to secure a distributor in the next year and continue building our relationships with press/radio and music video producers in order to continue offering our artists a full release package. I’m really excited at the prospect of possibly working with some international artists going forward as well, particularly because we have strong music links with Canada through friends there.”

The first release on April 9th is from Quickbeam and it is digital only. How soon can we look forward to a physical release? Will vinyl receive any special attention or emphasis?

“I think we’ll avoid 7″ singles, but I’d be very interested to release an album on vinyl/cd and digital. Endor are currently working on new material for their second album and if we get the funding together I think it’d be great to release that on vinyl if the band were up for it. We’re keen to offer high quality physical product that has real aesthetic value, and vinyl definitely ticks those boxes, and widens the scope for working with visual artists on designs for album artwork.”

Pedro and I took in the Creation records documentary the other week. When is someone going to make a Chemikal Underground documentary?

“Give Forest of Black a call, they make awesome documentaries. I know I’d watch it! Our friend Hubby (RM Hubbert) signed with Chemikal last year, and absolutely everyone should listen to his second album, it’s incredible.”

I’ve fairly recently re-discovered vinyl.  The appeal is obvious. I’ve also noticed a smattering of cassette tape releases. My personal experience with the format was quite horrible. Is this purely a novelty or is there another dynamic I’m missing?

“My band actually released an album on cassette last month. I’m not really sure what the motivation behind it was but it seemed to garner us some really good press attention! I have a cassette player but the catch on the tape deck is broken and won’t stay shut. So I can’t listen to it. I’d vote vinyl any day over cassette, though I do love the portability of those iPod thingys.”

If I could wish upon a Comet and Cartwheel, I’d wish for the re-emergence of an A.C. Acoustics record. Isn’t it about time? What would you wish for?

“I’d wish for a Reindeer Section reunion show!”

T&P

I’ve just downloaded the new Quickbeam single ‘700 Hundred Birds’.  Up until now I’ve only listened to snippets and practiced my  translations skills on a few German reviews. It is a lovely delicate song that even though it runs for 3:46 seems to end all too quickly. ‘Empty Space’  continues in a more  plaintive and melancholic vein. I can’t wait for the full length. Hopefully they’ll go well north of 10 tracks. Don’t forget to take advantage of the earlier free release of ‘Tide’.  http://quickbeam.bandcamp.com/album/seven-hundred-birds