Tuesday, March 31, 2015

CALM Sunday...

Although the two things aren't connected the release of a brand new compilation album and gig in aid of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) comes just a matter of days after the sad passing of Lil' Chris. The CALM charity was set up to tackle the frankly alarming number of suicides amongst men in the UK. Apparently 78% of all such deaths in 2013 were men taking their own lives and...perhaps even more shockingly...suicide is the BIGGEST killer of men aged 20-45. Just let that thought sink in for a moment. More men lose their lives to depression than any other illness. Shocking right? And yet of all the things that kill people depression probably gets the least attention.

Anyway, kudos to CALM, Till Deaf Do Us Party Records and all the artists and bands who've given their tracks and time to this. The gig's on Sunday April 5th and the album's out on the same day via iTunes, Spotify and Bandcamp.

Here's a quick blast of a couple of the tunes, first off the rather wonderfully named Alpha Male Tea Party....

...and one from Katie Malco who's appearing on Sunday...

Just Williams

Despite, or maybe that should be because of, the now unlimited access to music that pretty much everyone in the world has these days it can be increasingly hard to find the musical diamonds in amongst the rough. The true classics that deserve to be listened to, not just for a few hours, days or months but for years and years to come. One such gem is Roughnecks and Roundabouts, and the chap behind it for that matter, Pete Williams

It’s almost obligatory to mention that Pete played a huge role in the recent Dexy’s revival but it’s his solo work that really deserves the attention. With one fine solo album (2012’s SEE) already under his belt he’s back with another glorious collection of supremely soulful and personal reflections on life, love and friendship. With a voice that ranges deliciously from a post coital whisper through to a throaty testifying roar Williams tells tales of night’s ‘laced with gin’ (glamorous eh?) and his first job working / day dreaming in a factory in Oldbury (perhaps not so glamorous but to every ying there must be a yang right?). Lyrically witty (there are some truly great lines), refreshingly honest and played with all the gusto of an artist and band who are doing it for the pure joy of playing it’s frankly an essential release for anyone with a heart, soul and ears. 

The album’s out today on CD / download and (oh joy of joys) there’s a vinyl version hot off the presses too. To celebrate Pete and his band are playing a special gig at The REP Studio on Friday April 10th. Highly recommended. Tickets here! 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chic @ Academy Birmingham, Wednesday 25th March 2015

I wasn’t going to review this gig...and this isn’t really a review...but I couldn’t let it pass without a few words. From the opening grooves of Dance Dance Dance right through to the now traditional stage invasion (albeit a polite, very well organised stage invasion) at the end for Good Times Nile Rodgers and Chic played more grin-inducing-arms-in-the-air-dance-like-no-one’s-watching hits than any band I’ve ever seen. EVER. 

It’s perhaps easy to forget just how many songs Nile’s been involved with but on top of Chic’s output (arguably the definitive disco-graphy) there’s Sister Sledge’s We Are Family, Lost In Music and He’s The Greatest Dancer (sadly I’m not but I gave it my best shot) Duran Duran’s Notorious, Madonna’s Like A Virgin, Diana Ross’s Upside Down and I’m Coming Out and Bowie’s Let’s Dance (again I got an A for effort for a more modest F for achievement).

Whilst Nile is the only original Chic-ster in the outfit the rest of the band is superb and I’d go so far as to say that they’re every bit as good as the original line-up (judged purely from watching grainy footage on You Tube of course...how old do you think I am...actually don’t answer that). He’s not resting on his laurels though. 2013’s Get Lucky also got an outing as did brand new Chic track I’ll Be There which touchingly references Rodger’s old partner Bernard Edwards (who passed away almost 20 years ago after playing a gig) and combines that definitive Chic groove with a neat little Daft Punk edge. 

Having danced cancer into submission recently Nile acknowledges this evening that he’s making the most of this second chance, playing, writing and recording an insane number of gigs and tracks. On top of a new Chic album he’s working on Duran Duran’s next release (now that’s an intriguing prospect) and lord knows what else. It’s clearly working wonders for him though, the smile didn’t leave the dude’s face from start to finish and even when the show was over he was still up there on stage dancing away as the video for I’ll Be There played behind him. Truly an artist who goes the extra Nile. 

If you get a chance to see Chic take it, trust me. Good Times? You bet, the best...the very best.   

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lil' Chris RIP...and why you should show your pop stars a little more love...

Let’s face it, there are bigger and arguably more talented musicians who’ve passed away all too soon either through illness, accident or, as it sadly appears in this case, suicide, but the story of Lil Chris is still a tragic one. Thrust into the limelight by the walking tongue himself, Gene Simmonds, in Channel 4’s School Of Rock Lil Chris was, well, something of a lil' star at the time. After fronting the school band in the show he released a few singles (the first reached the dizzy heights of number 3 in the charts), did a bit of telly and then, horror of horrors, he grew up inevitably losing some of the cuteness that was part of his appeal in the first place. He seemed to have struggled with depression for a while, whether that was down to his dwindling celebrity or other factors is difficult to assess, but in the last couple of years he’d appeared in a musical and was working on a new album. He posted this track just three weeks ago, not bad at all...

Given the rapid churn of bands and artists these days it’s unlikely that Lil' Chris will be the last person to experience the dizzying highs and crushing lows of fame, however fleeting it might be, but perhaps if you’ve ever loved a band or artist and they've now vanished under the radar maybe today’s a good day to show ‘em some love eh? Twitter, Facebook...it couldn’t be easier. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Miss Halliwell - Shall We?

And so my undying love and respect for Miss Halliwell continues to grow as they simultaneously announce the release of their new vid for Shall We? (off the glorious Abscess Granted EP) and the fact that they've been turned down for a Glastonbury slot. As Miles himself says "Their loss". Wise words. Still, if the 'throw Kanye off the bill' protest carries on perhaps they're still in with a shout?!

Anyway, Shall We? is yet another cracker, imagine if Syd Barrett had grown up in the Black Country and downed pints of bitter instead of necking acid until it came out of his eyeballs this could well have been the result.

Speaking of illegal substances whilst much of the UK (the fools)  may still be ignoring them our chums in Amsterdam have wised up and booked 'em for two dates in June where they'll no doubt be spotted by some big shot record producer and jetted off to LA to record with Pharrell (imagine that eh?). Either that or they'll have some of that space cake that I had back in the noughties and end up naked and painted blue on a train to Bruges...true story...well...almost...


Novella - Land Gone

I've been meaning to post this for a few weeks now but you know how things are these days, the internet's such a weapon of mass distraction that it's frankly surprising anyone ever does anything any more. This track's pretty distracting too, listen to it a few times all in one sitting and you'll swear you've been smoking something...and I'm not talking those ridiculous 'vaping' devices. Pah, seriously people, if you're going to smoke you might as well go the whole hog and light up a couple of Cuban cigars for breakfast and be done with it. Anyway, Novella...Land Gone...it's a little bit trippy, it's a little bit cool and it's a little bit Krautrock. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Vinyl...it’s the future

It doesn’t take a genius to see that vinyl’s enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity right now. Granted the vast majority of people are quite happy to carry on downloading or streaming music (and good luck to them) but there’s something special about sliding a record out of a sleeve, popping it onto a turntable, lifting up the needle and dropping it onto the groove before settling back to soak up the sound, perhaps whilst perusing the sleeve or lyrics (without the aid of a magnifying glass), that other methods of musical consumption just can’t match. The fact that you then have to actually listen to the music or risk the needle plunging into the rough runout groove (nasty) means that the whole listening experience is heightened and enhanced.

Then there’s the difference in sound quality. Debate rages over this with many people preferring the crispness of a CD (remember them?) and an equally passionate number plumping for vinyl. Okay, you’ll get the odd crackle, hiss and pop with records but there really is a warmth and depth that CDs lack. As for downloads and streaming there’s simply no comparison. Convenient? Yep, no doubt. But downloads offer a thin one dimensional shadow of the original recording, especially if the music was originally recorded on analogue kit. How about the cost I hear you cry? If you stream or illegally download stuff then of course it’s free but pop along to your friendly neighbourhood record shop (if you can still find one) and you might pick up decent albums for just a pound or two, which is cheaper than ruddy iTunes. Car boot sales and charity shops can also offer up some gems although sadly some of the latter seem to think that anything on vinyl, irrespective of the condition or artist, is valuable. Bless ‘em.

Anyway, if you’ve never listened to anything on vinyl (and I’m guessing that most people under 30 probably haven’t) give it a...er...spin. Record Store Day’s coming up on April 18th too (although most of the special releases cost as much as a small family car and then end up straight on eBay these days, pah!), so there’s no excuse. What’s that? You don’t have a record player? Oh bugger...


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Marc Almond ‘cells’ out...

It’s heartening to see an artist I’ve followed for over 30 years now (from his Soft Cell days, through his Mambas era and on to a suitably eclectic solo career) sell out a decent sized venue a good couple of months before the gig but Marc Almond’s done just that, shifting all the tickets for his April show at the Town Hall Birmingham way back in February. This coincides with his first album of original self penned songs for five years, The Velvet Trail, which, on top of being more than a little autobiographical seems to embrace most of the styles of music he’s covered over the years...and that’s a lot of bases. A couple of tracks have already been uploaded and both bear those classic chanson tinged Almond hallmarks. Life In My Own Way is particularly Brel-liant... 

Aside from Brum he’s touring the UK, although I’m guessing most of the other venues will be pretty close to selling out by now too. If you’re in any doubt of the frankly groin moistening joy of the man in full flow here’s a trio of perhaps lesser known tracks to whet your appetite. Enjoy. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

AKA George - Inertia

Inertia’s not the first word you’d associate with multi-instrumentalist / one man music machine George Barnett (now seemingly  trading as AKA George) but that’s the name of his new single and it’s yet another top notch production stuffed full of housey pianos, soulful vocals, 'let me see those hands in the air' style “whooos” and a suitably hedonistic chorus. In fact it’s pretty much the perfect soundtrack for a Friday night for those of us who do indeed “live for the weekend” (that’s everyone right...unless you work in a shop I guess...in which case weekends are probably hell on toast). Play it, download it, share it, scribble its lyrics across various parts of your anatomy. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Northside story...

Started by the effervescent Tom (Top to his friends...well to me at least) Peel back in March 2014 Northsidestudio was established to big up north Birmingham’s music scene and one of the first physical fruits of these labours is a brand new album, The Acoustic Compilation, which is also raising much needed funds for The Norman Laud Association (who do sterling work by providing respite care for children with disabilities). There are 10 tracks on offer with some familiar names (step forward James Summerfield, Mike Moloney, Call Me Unique, Rick Wellings and, naturellement, Tom Peel) plus some new (to me anyway) artists and frankly there isn’t a duffer on it.

Ruby and Edd’s hymn to being happy who are you (something that sadly seems to be increasingly out of reach for people these days), Nobody But Me, kicks things off with the kind of chorus that’ll get you (yes, even you) singing along in seconds. Call Me Unique’s (why ain’t this lady a star yet?) deliciously free and easy vocals on Thank You and Marlem’s powerful take on the human cost of diamond mining in Five Feet fly the soul flag in fine style whilst listening to Flora Ward on Now Is The Time is like picked up gently by a hummingbird and flown around the flowers in a summertime breeze. Beautiful stuff. Tom himself closes proceedings with the gently spiritual Wisdom which, like George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, somehow even manages to appeal to a grizzled old atheist like me. A great album for an equally great cause. 

You can download the whole thing for £7 or buy a good old fashioned CD for just £9 right here!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Miss Halliwell – Abscess Granted EP

Hot on the heels of their hits album and a triumphant Valentine’s Day gig Miss Halliwell is back with a brand new EP, Abscess Granted. It’s a suitable title for a band that could be seen as existing to infect and eat away at much of the lamentable auto tuned overproduced dirge that passes for music these days and the EP opens with the kind of tribal drumming that normally, equally appropriately, signifies some kind of human sacrifice or declaration of war. In fact Dimwit’s a glorious post punk rollercoaster of a track, trundling along a fair old speed before slowing suddenly to an almost funereal pace and then...whoosh...we’re off again...hold on to your lunch suckers. Musos may spot a pleasing hint of The Blockhead’s Blackmail Man in there, good to see at least one band doing their ‘Dury’ service... 

Dimwit segues rather nicely into Solid Wench. I do love a good Solid Wench. “Half past hate” rasps Miles before unleashing a stream of lyrics that mean absolutely nothing and yet everything all at the same time. What would Ken Dodd make of it all? Answers on the decapitated torso of a Diddy Man please. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes a cover of The Four Tops classic, Reach Out. Miles plays it pretty straight (although I’m pretty sure Holland Dozier Holland didn’t write the line “Because the human race is rife with corruption and it’s scarred with organised religion”...more’s the pity), with just the merest hint of his familiar sneer in there. Sure it’s Karaoke meets Klassic but there’s something about the mix of old skool synths coupled with Miles’ Midlands’ accent that makes the whole thing strangely moving. Next up B-Raters Girlfriend drips with bile (for Miles himself seemingly - “I’m not as fun as the pictures in my brain would have me believe” - almost as much as for the song’s target?) and its classic Halliwell. Offbeat but catchy it’s possibly the ‘rockiest’ they’ve ever sounded with some particularly meaty beaty drumming from the lovely Rose of Bearwood. You never know where Halliwell will head next so frankly you shouldn’t be surprised that Shall We takes a psudden pysch tinged pswerve. Imagine PiL era Lydon fronting Syd era Floyd and you’ll have some vague idea of the vibe. Ambition and eclecticism? Thy name is Miss Halliwell.  

It ends all too soon with the mini 'masterpiss' of Capitulate, one man’s personal plea bargain with himself and his fellow Halliwellians to keep going no matter what, all set against a surprisingly bouncy synth line and old skool handclaps. “Whatever happens we won’t capitulate” (that’s the Miss Halliwell manifesto right there) spits Miles with the kind of defiance that usually ends in a six hour siege and police shootout before spinning off on a gloriously wild simian freakout. It...and this whole ruddy brilliant EP for that matter...is Abscess-ential listening for anyone who likes their music with the guts still in. 

You can snap up the EP right here via iTunes. Miss Halliwell also play The Sunflower Lounge this Saturday March 7th !