So it's a year when your heroes are dying and your ideals are trashed. Then, nearly at the very end, it redeems itself. Four blokes whose music you've loved since you were fifteen, and who are long overdue their bus passes, release a new album that was reputedly recorded over a couple of days, live in the studio. And guess what. It rocks, big time. The sleeve notes tell the tale, that they were planning to records some new songs, when they decided to play a blues cover to "cleanse the palate". The result was stupendous, so much so that the new material idea was abandoned, in favour of a return to their early-sixties roots when they blasted out full-on sets of Chicago blues in the underground clubs of Soho and beyond, making audiences go wild with frenzy at these animal boys and their twelve bar workouts and magnetic stage presence. Fast forward over half a century and the line-up may have been a through a few changes but the magic is undiluted. Stick on the record and twelve tunes of dirty, hard-edged, nonchalantly-delivered blues covers blast their way out of the speakers and blow away the cobwebs and downbeat vibes that emanate from this year of disillusion. The Stones are back, with perhaps their rawest release since Exile On Main Street, exuding a style and swagger that tells you they've still got it and they still mean it. It sounds like a bootleg from The Crawdaddy, 1962. But it isn't. Its from now, the year of the Lord 2016. Time to turn up the volume kiddos and realise that the world is indeed wonderful and alive and full of surprises. Stick it on and immerse yourself in its dirty licks. This is The Rolling Stones today. This is Blue And Lonesome.
The arrival of the new Spitfires album has enriched the last days of Summertime. Two albums in the space of a year is an ambitious project. You have to have belief and inspiration to pull it off and those are qualities which are in abundance on this record. The opener, the title track A Thousand Times, follows on from the conclusion of last year’s Response with a subjective look inside a relationship that is falling apart and, in so doing, sets the tone for the album where the disintegration of human relations in contemporary society of minimum wages, financial pressures and generation rent is a key theme. These issues are explored from a first person perspective, almost as if each song is a short story or an episode of the celebrated and sadly long departed Play For Today. Musically, the band are on fire, gelling brilliantly, with hard-edged guitars which interplay with infectious keyboards. Day To Day is a particular standout, with its immensely danceable bassline, and Return To Me is seven minutes of heartfelt beauty, while the hook of On My Mind will be running around your brain all day. I love the keyboard break on The Last Goodbye, the guitar on Day To Day and the slowed down section on The Suburbs (We Can’t Complain). Right across the album, Billy Sullivan is at his angry and inspired best, with witty and visceral commentary on life in modern Britain. This is one of the most important albums for a long time and you know somehow that its influence will last.
I can’t believe its forty years since the release of The Saints I’m Stranded. It must have been one of the first punk singles I bought, all gleaming black vinyl and paper pic sleeve in black and white with them leaning against the wall with the song’s title spray painted and the band’s name underneath. I can remember now how I felt, as those guitars blasted out of the speakers in my bedroom and ricocheted off the walls and Chris Bailey’s snarling, distorted vocals came through and the lyrics sunk into my teenage head, telling me about alienation and being stranded and riding on a subway train where everybody looked the same and living in a world that was insane. And I remember knowing that they were the sort of thoughts I had each day and here was a band, on the other side of the world, who thought and felt just like that. All around the world, I’ve been looking for you, that’s what I thought, or maybe there must be someone, who thinks like I see. Though not as eloquently as either of those sentiments, of course. I played it again tonight, and the b-side No Time. They sound just as relevant and biting in 2016 as they did in 1976. Like Pretty Vacant and Garageland and In The City. Universal lyrics about life and existence and how you view the world. Stuff like that doesn’t have a sell-by date. In fact its still utterly stunning and hasn’t dated a day.
In a year which has seen more than its fair share of musical losses, it is sad to read of the death of Prince Buster. He who Madness famously described as having “sold the heat with a rock-steady beat” and gave them their name, was born Cecil Bustamente Campbell in Orange Street in 1938 and forged a trail for ska and blue beat. The Prince was a pioneer, influencing early sixties modernists and providing a soundtrack that was just as influential as R&B and Motown. “They could have been perfect if they'd played Blue Beat as well", wrote Pete Townshend in the short story contained in the sleeve notes to Quadrophenia in 1973, illustrating perfectly the significance of Jamaican music to the mod dancefloor and mindset. His hits included Madness, Al Capone, One Step Beyond and Enjoy Yourself, deeply influencing the ska revival of 1979 and being covered by The Madness and The Specials. You can far worse than mourn his loss by a play of one of his finest, in this case Madness.
August begins with a blast of Hammond organ. Paul Orwell's new album Organised Blues, on Heavy Soul, is a selection of full-on instrumentals that have got me grooving round the house as effectively as the debut, Blowing Your Mind Away, from last year. The new record (as with the previous output, available only on limited edition vinyl) was recently described to Merc by Paul as "an album that kids would take to a party in the 1960's". You can't argue with that as a rationale for the album. All the tracks are equally infectious and full of pent up Mod energy and all will fire up the soul shoes on your feet. You have to admire the attitude that led to the recording of Organised Blues. It was the record Paul wanted to make so he went off and did it, eschewing any consideration of making a "sensible" follow up to Blowing Your Mind Away. That's where an innovative and open minded label comes in such as Heavy Soul. An inspired album. What you need to blow the post holiday blues away. The opener, Don't Do As I Do Just Do As I Say, is a perfect taster.
Pleased to see the the posthumous Viola Beach album has been released and reached number one. Listening to it brings disparate emotions - the inevitable sense of tragedy whilst, at the same time, an uplifting feeling from the quality and vibe of the tunes. Here was a band with all the youthful vision and belief that makes music great, with it all ahead of them. The sound is guitar-fuelled, with a vibe that does indeed put you in mind of a beach. A kind of indie surf music for the post-innocence generation. It is worth remembering that this was recorded before the tragedy in February when, as far as anyone knew, what lay ahead were good times and success. It should be listened to in that spirit. Check out the single Swings And Waterslides for a sample. It deserves to be played loud.
Another quality record is one I heard a couple of months ago from Derby band The Telephones. Coming Around/Nothing's The Same were destined for a Summer release. I was impressed by the psychedelic vibe of the songs, which follow neatly on the heels of the excellent Hummingbyrd back in 2014. With Lee Horsley (Spiritualised and The Selector) on keys, these tunes emanate the sound of sixties West Coast pop meshed with nineties Manchester, with a lovely feel of pure groovaliciousness that will get the feet tapping and the head spinning. Imagine the scenario of Roger McGuinn going for a pint with Noel, perhaps, on a day trip to Haight Ashbury and mixing it all up with Ian MacLagan en route. You get the picture. One band who it is definitely worth checking out further.
I'm a big fan of the Mubi film channel that features "cult, classic and indie movies". On returning from holiday, I launched into the screening of Fellini's masterpiece La Dolce Vita from 1960. It features a masterful performance from Marcello Mastroianni as a playboy paparazzi who traverses Rome over a seven day period one Summer. Other notable performances include Anita Ekberg as the glamorous film star Sylvia, Anouk Aimee as Maddalena and Yvonne Furnaux as Emma. The film is notable for thematic elements such as the juxtaposition of old and new Europe, the place of religion within modern post war society, the role of the individual and the choices found between individual goals (such as serious literature) and more immediate needs (financial reward through populist journalism). Lasting around three hours it requires an investment of time but one that is fulfilling.
Back to Minorca. A night of reggae at beach bar at Cala'n Blanes was particularly memorable, featuring Right Time by The Mighty Diamonds, a classic from the Front Line compilation from 1976. The former capital in Cuidedela is also well worth a visit, especially the harbour area which at night has a particular ambience.
Poolside reading featured Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, his memoir of twenties Paris, with a cast of luminaries including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford, Alastair Crowley and many others. Favourites for me are the portraits of F Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald, the former one of my favourite authors since I read This Side Of Paradise as a teenager. Its all written in Hemingway's unique crisp style. Well worth a read.
The sad departure of one Mr David Bowie has led me to check out his early records again. This one in particular stands out. I love the narcissistic tones of the title, hinting at what is to come in terms of Ziggy and The Thin White Duke. In fact, this would have fitted in perfectly on Ziggy, perhaps as the last track on side one. It could be from the perspective of Ziggy before he would make it all worthwhile as a rock and roll star, or of a disaffected adolescent (in the Jimmy from Quadrophenia style) who is just discovering clothes, music and hedonism and is about to encounter his soon to be heroes, The Spiders From Mars. However you look at it, it's a great tune.
Another great garage rock record to savour. Written and produced by Paul Orwell (a favourite of these pages) with vocals by Lord Essien, it blasts it's energy straight into the subconscious like a soon-to-be smithereens Rickenbacker on heat. Turn it on, turn it up , play it loud.
If you want to fill your head with quality garage rock, you could do a lot worse than checking out this gem of an album. The Ace, hailing from Leeds and featuring Jonny Magus of Sohostrut fame, have produced Riot Of Sound, a collection of tunes that deliver power, energy, a heartfelt rawness that come through every groove on the record. Standout tunes for me are Man Out Of Time, Misunderstood and Another Teenage Life Is Wasted. Find the album here.
It's barely believable that twenty years have passed since (What's The Story) Morning Glory was released. It's also funny how memory plays tricks on you. If someone had asked me, I would have argued til the cows come home that it was a warm Summer day when I stood in a queue in the now defunct Selectadisc in Nottingham (where, incidentally, every other person was buying the same album) in anticipation of my new purchase. Maybe it was the "summertime's in bloom" line in Don't Look Back In Anger that did it. But what is undeniable is that the whole mood of Morning Glory is bound up in my kind with sunshine, optimism and a positive sense of contemporary Britain and it's immediate future.
It takes years - perhaps decades - for an album to attain seminal status. There have been a few since the mid nineties (Up The Bracket, Is This It and Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not are three that come to mind). Morning Glory is definitely in that category. The sheer timelessness of the songwriting and delivery, together with the cover photography, taken in Berwick Street at a moment that was unmistakably "now" (with another Selectadisc in the background) featuring style that had its roots in the sixties but which had been updated to be totally of its time.
Back in '95, the whole album seemed to shed the weight of recent recession- laden collective depression and point towards a bright, optimistic future. More than anything, looking back it pinpoints a moment in recent British history where the party was new and anything seemed possible. Some of those dreams we had as children came to fruition, others could only Fade Away (John Harris' The Last Party is an insightful history of Britpop and it's legacy) but, in a sense, that doesn't matter. After twenty years Morning Glory still sounds fantastic, as alive as ever, a blast of hard-edged, adrenalin - laden sunshine in a world of increasing uncertainty.
Favourite tune? There are many to choose from but, for me, it's a toss up between Some Might Say and Don't Look Back In Anger. The latter edges it on penalties.
The lyrics in the opener Disciples indicate the direction of travel. They are socially aware, painting a picture of Great Britain in 2015 as effectively as any that came before did for their time. It is followed by anthems Tell Me, complete with infectious hook, and the full on Escape Me which showcases a wonderful blast of brass. "You've been living in my head for ages" sings Sullivan, just one of many lines that jump out and seep their way into your mind. Spoke Too Soon is perhaps the most ambitious tune on the album, pushing forward into new territory and incorporating melodies that will stay with you. Relapse is classic Spitfires, a hard, sharp guitar sound, blasting out chords and basslines and keyboards with edgy, powerful vocals. Top class.
Stand Down is more social commentary for our times - "get a job and fight to keep it" - delivered with passion and attitude, a kind of musical equivalent of an episode of Play For Today from the 70's. Serenade Part 1 (Part 2 comes later as the penultimate tune on the album) offers an instrumental insight into the musical depth of the band, offering an interlude that provides a moment to catch your breath before you are again blasted away by the sheer power of the anthem that is I'm Holdin' On.
The remainder of the album is packed with classics. The newly recorded first single Spark To Start has a more prominent ska edge this time round, which suits its melody and delivery perfectly, getting the feet moving and the adrenalin pumping. The original b-side Words To Say is also on fire here, complete with strings, more ska and raw energy.
When I Call Out Your Name is, from where I'm sitting, one of the best things the band has ever recorded, a plaintive yet confident slice of beauty, forged from hope that emerges from the despondency of contemporary life when all is laid bare. After Serenade Part 2, comes the finale, the achingly real 4am, where there's damp on the walls, an ultimatum to buy a tv and the realisation that your "friends don't care because they'll make sure they're never there". Its a top quality slice of realism, as accurate a portrayal of life as That's Entertainment was in its day.
With this album, The Spitfires have produced a classic of social realism, combined with musical accomplishment, diversity and a hard-edged approach that blasts out of the speakers. It is the sort of album that will still be played in thirty years time, the subjects are so true to life and universal, the lyrics poignant, the melodies infectious. It will retain its urgency for a long time to come.
There are the jazz-fuelled moments at the opening of Speak Your Piece, evoking the mood of Kind Of Blue to these ears, the glorious hammond on The Night Teller, the uplifting acid house vibes of A Love Uprising. The powerful moments of soulful joy on Something In The Light will have your feet moving. The finale Old Partners New Dances will enrich more reflective moments, with its haunting piano and brass refrain.
You know the feeling. You're travelling the highways and byways of what the ordinary world calls social media, and you suddenly come across a band that makes your rhythm and soul antennae start to buzz. That happened to me the other night, in the midst of what has become, at long last, a glorious English Summer.
There was a clip on their page which was filmed at a recent alldayer at Bobby Dazzler's in Melbourne and they played a solid brand of hard edged freakbeat, not dissimilar from how The Creation might sound if they formed today. From what I saw, the clip tells you all you need to know about this band, complete with go go dancers, it seemed to sum up their sound neatly.
I started exploring and found other tunes from them. One called This Is Sound, which is a full on instrumental, and this, Who The XXX Are You. It was recorded a while back and is another example of the sort of music they're producing. I like the upfront, in your face approach and that guitar sound. This tune is strongly recommended. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
For now check out Beverley.
Here are Les Cappucino
They have an album Response out in a few months, which has to be worth the wait.
The mod revival bands have never fully been covered before. As such, this excellent Cherry Red box set fills a significant void. Complete with sleeve notes about every band and track, it chronicles a unique and diverse youth explosion that sprung up in the late seventies and has continued, in one form or another, ever since. It is the story of the musical output of a generation that had been inspired by the legacy of the original mods. It is well worth a listen.
You can get a copy of the book from Amazon or via the Facebook page. This book sits with the best of the mod back catalogue, including Richard Barnes' "Mods", Paul "Smiler" Anderson's "Mod The New Religion" and Terry Rawlings' "Mod - A Very British Phenomenon". If you fancy a late Christmas treat, you could do a lot worse.
Mieux Comme Ca contains four tunes, each of which resonate with maximum style and finesse. From the opening guitar of the title track, through the harmonies and hammond organ, this is a selection for bona fide movers and shakers around the technicolor world. Check out the haunting melodies and power chords of End Of The Line, the mood of Spring that emanates from Le Vie En Couleur, the distinctive guitar refrain, piano and vibes of Tiptoes.
There are vocals that remind of Julie Driscoll and Serge Gainsbourg, guitars that would not sound out of place coming from Revolver or Rubber Soul, a look courtesy of the early films of Jean Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer. If the world out there is dour and grey, these slices of colour add life and hope and sunshine to a barren palate. It may not be Paris in the Springtime right now but that's what's coming through the speakers. Put on this double vinyl package and turn it up. Loud.
Mieux Comme Ca was recorded and mixed by Dennis Rux at Yeah!Yeah!Yeah studios in Hamburg and Talent’s River Studios in Paris. You can buy it from copaseDisques or via their Facebook ordering page. Also check out their Facebook home page.
And this is the first video from the collection.
The sitar on Hummingbyrd, courtesy of Jim Widdop, formerly of Fontana Instincts, is perfection, whilst the jangly guitar could have jumped straight from Revolver and mingled with some of The Byrds' early singles, and The Kinks' as well, come to think of it. Add in the harmonies on both tunes and you have an idea of the mood.
2014 has been a significant year for the band, with the addition of Jim Widdop, drummer Tris Alsbury (who is also with Saracen) and Paul Whittington (ex Eskimo Fires and Leon). If this sitar-drenched, slice of British pop is anything to go by, they are well worth watching. You can check out the band at their Facebook page.
"When you hit that town paint it seven shades of red for me", sings Andy Richardson. Spot on. But don't take our work for it. Have a listen to Hummngbyrd here
And so it was elsewhere. If you love your music, you will dig a bit further and keep on digging. So I soon found out that three of The Faces had been in another band, The Small Faces, that Mac (as he was known) had joined them around 1965. He had been a key element of the gang that had lived for a period at 22 Westmoreland Terrace, Pimlico and produced some of the most memorable tunes of the sixties. Before that, he had been a member of The Muleskinners and The Boz People (with future Bad Company member Boz Burrell).
You don't have to listen to too many records to gain an understanding of Mac's influence. From the music hall flavour of Lazy Sunday, to the soulful vibe of The Faces' Glad And Sorry, and the wistful brilliance of Debris, his playing is integral. His contribution to other bands' work, particularly The Rolling Stones, is also significant, for example the electric piano on Miss You from Some Girls.
But Mac's influence surpasses that of a musician. As soon as the news of his passing emerged, Facebook and Twitter were full of tributes to the man. Many people had a story to tell about meeting him, of how he took time to talk, of his generosity and warmth. He was no aloof rock star but someone who loved people, took his fans for who they were and spoke to them on the same level.
I met him a few years ago after a gig by his band, The Bump Band, at The Maze in Nottingham. I spoke to him after the gig, he signed an autograph, and answered my questions about his music and the bands he had played with. One question had been at the back of my mind for years. Its the sort of trainspotterish question that only the true fan has any interest in. It related to the line in Debris when Ronnie Lane sings about "that old familiar love song", which he would hear "at the top of the stairs". Which song was he talking about?, I had wondered. Was it a specific one? Early Tamla Motown? Or Stax? Or, probably (given its author's age) something much earlier?
I asked Mac this question, half expecting him to laugh. He didn't. He spoke, matter-of-fact, like it was the most obvious question in the world. "He never knew", he said. "He'd sit there and his Dad would come in, whistling this tune. He never knew what it was. But it stuck with him all his life".
What a star, I thought that night. Here is a man who has played with the vast majority of the true greats and he's answering questions from a punter he's never met before, talking as if you've known each other for years. And, judging from the comments on Facebook, I wasn't the only one.
A brilliant account of his life and times is contained in his autobiography All The Rage, which comes strongly recommended. And then listen to the musical legacy - the instrumental Grow Your Own ("people ask why I never play it, he said that night at The Maze - it was a jam!"), the title track on Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, the introduction to Love Lived Here, the peerless beauty of All Or Nothing and The Autumn Stone, the playful mood of You're So Rude.
Mac was a musical presence whose loss has genuinely made the world an emptier place. It would be nice to think that he's up there somewhere, right now, jamming with Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. That's a thought to conjure with.
Ian Patrick McLagan, Born Hounslow 12 May 1945 - died Austin, Texas 3 December 2014, RIP.
So where has all the social commentary gone? What happened to those tunes of yesteryear which regaled the state of the nation to a backdrop of any guitar and any bass drum? In times like these there should surely be an outpouring of tunes from angry young men with fire in their bellies and a protest song in their hearts.
Look no further pop pickers. In Ghosts Of Yesterday, The Dying Breed - hailing from Hounslow/Dartford/Braintree - have produced an album of tunes that dig deep into the social mores of daily life on this green and pleasant land, complete with elements of celebration at the possibilities of being an independent spirit among the bland conformity and excess of mediocrity. Packed with social observation, tunes such What Happened To The Roxy, They Believe (In Saturday Night) and God Bless Tommy hit you in the head like a black and white kitchen sink film from the British new wave set to music.
"Recorded in a garage in Dartford and a shed in Braintree", it says in the sleevenotes. Which is spot on, from where we're sitting. The Dying Breed (Jason Williams - guitar and vocals, Stuart Harris, bass and Pat McVicar, drums, ably supported by backing vocalists Sue Moore and Claire Draycott) deliver a set of modernist music from the streets, telling stories of life lived today, complete with grit, determination and perfectly worn Harrington. A testimony to the power of this selection is that a generous raft of tunes was recently featured on Glory Boys Radio, the essential programme of choice for the Sunday evening discerning listener. The band's music is also available at Heavy Soul and Detour. And to find out more about the band, check out their Facebook page.
Get hold of a copy if the album. Turn it up. And let it blast out the rhythm and commentary of Britain today.
The Ramones were one of the very few bands who truly changed everything, influencing a whole generation to learn three chords and start a band of their own. I can't imagine what my adolescent years would have been like without them - and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
This wonderful tune is from their debut album in 1976. Tommy Ramone RIP.
Some records have "recorded at Muscle Shoals" written all over them. It’s in the groove, the delivery, the vibe of the production. This is one of them. Except that it wasn’t. Stone Foundation recorded this album in their own studio in Warwickshire and, in so doing, have captured the sound of Memphis and Detroit and mixed it with the authentic heart that percolates across every groove of this British soulboy masterpiece.
From the opening guitar and Hammond of the title track, you’re pulled into the mood. There’s an uplifting, optimistic outlook to this record, a belief in the joyous, and the right to it, once you have “found the spirit”. The sentiments expressed in the single “That‘s The Way I Want To Live My Life“ sum up this new soul vision to perfection.
There’s an impressive array of guests. Legendary northern soul singer Nolan Porter and the Q Strings (Bring Back The Happiness/Crazy Love), Carleen Anderson (When You’re In My World), Andy Fairweather Low (Hold On), Paolo Hewitt (Child Of Wonder) and Pete Williams (Wondrous Place). Not to mention the dub mix of Don’t Let The Rain by Dennis Bovell and the artwork by Horace Panter.
Standouts? Too many to mention. The line “I stopped playing games around ‘83” in the opener, the Hammond on Bring Back The Happiness (shades of Booket T?), Paolo Hewitt’s edited extract from his excellent The Looked After Kid on Child Of Wonder and the infectious horns on Stronger Than Us.
A particular favourite is the slowed-down tempo of Don't Let The Rain, complete with Tams reference and languid, hypnotic bass - it is made for hot afternoons in the Balearic sun. And then there's the line "Whatever happened to the angry young man, divided opinion time and time again" on Wondrous Place - put that in the context of the social history of the last thirty years, mix it in with an adolescence rooted in influences emmanating from the studios of Stax and Kingston, and the result is infectious.
Since its release, To Find The Spirit has been a constant feature on my stereo. I'm in good company. There is little doubt that, if he were around today, the anonymous narrator of Colin MacInness' classic Absolute Beginners would make this album the soundtrack to his long, warm English Summer. Or, to put it another way, after thirty years of searching, the young soul rebels have at last been found. And the news is they‘re on fire.
Recorded at Paul Weller's Black Barn studios, I'm Holdin' On delivers a heartfelt assault on mediocrity, smugness and the self-righteous. It confirms The Spitfires as a band who are not afraid to take their influences and reinvent them for the twenty first century, angry young men who are speaking for their generation and producing authentic social commentary on life in modern Britain. And don't forget the sharp, clean clobber. As with all the important bands, it's an integral part of what they are about.
You can pre-order the single from their website. The cd and download are released on 3 March, with the vinyl available later in the month.
There is another name to add to that list. The Studio 68! were equally one of the torch bearers, lighting up the musical and sartorial skies in Camden and beyond in the years around 87-88. Led by soon-to-be-Britpop-chronicler, Paul Moody (and inspired by the events in Paris in May 1968 - hence the name) they were purveyors of full-on rhythm and soul, delivered with nonchalance, panache and a social eye that took few prisoners. Tunes such as Closer Than Close and The Next Time ("where will you, where will you be?") observed life as it was lived, with the sharpness and reality of kitchen sink drama put to the hammered chords of a Rickenbacker and the soulful vibe of a Hammond.
I remember a particular show they played at an underground club in Brussels in November 1987. They blew the night away. Paris Mods, Brussels Mods, London Mods alike. It was a true trans-Europe party. A roller-coaster to a cross-cultural melting pot of Tamla beats, sta-prest strides and dancefloor-friendly loafers. A true vision of how the world could be if it was looking - and moving - in the same direction.
Then the inevitable happened. The band moved on. Retaining the dynamic partnership of originals Moody and drummer Simon Castell, they revised, regrouped and re-wrote. The old songs left the playlist. New ones were added. And then, in 1992, they recorded their debut album.
The fact that it has taken over two decades for Portabellohello to be released, says a lot about populist priorities. Like their contemporaries, the band should have been massive and this album should have been on every stereo in Britain.
But its with us at last and for that we have thank the Paisley Archive imprint of Detour Records. First impressions are of an assured debut, one that brought together all the influences of their formative years and blended them in a way that anticipated the mood that was, in a couple of short years, to be known as Britpop. You could say they invented Britpop, in fact, if you wanted to.
There are nods towards psychedelia here, with inspirational guitar patterns (Windfall), punk rock anger (Pop Star's Mansion), and socially-observant pop (Afternoon Sun/Portabellohello/Doubledeckerbus). Then there is the issue of identity and the yearning for independence (The Other Me/Get Out Of My Hair), the bittersweet relationship (Goodbye Baby And Amen), and the intriguingly androgynous title (He's My Sister). And their ability to deliver a perfect cover should not go unmentioned - in their early days, they played a full-on rendition of The Spencer Davies Group's Gimme Some Lovin', here the choice of Python Lee Jackson's In A Broken Dream is equally inspired. It is all delivered amongst a maelstrom of Hammond-soaked beauty, which interplays with hard-edged guitar, no more so than on the closing tune, How To Succeed In The Music Business.
Portabellohello is a fusion of youth, anger and belief, combined with an innate understanding of the importance of the pop record and how it can reflect contemporary life. Ray Davies meets Holland-Dozier-Holland, after a pint with Pete Meaden, perhaps. And then there is the urgency. The fact that it was recorded in just two short weeks adds to the potency and the power of the album.
This is a modern classic - and an essential purchase. The Studio 68! invented Britpop, after all.
The 45s are from Carlisle and are blasting out those rhythm and blues like there's no tomorrow. The band's label is an apt description of the quality and approach - Heavy Soul - with an emphasis on both elements. James Green (vocals), Tom Hamilton (guitar), Joe Wyatt (bass) and Bailey Claringbold (drums) are delivering hard hitting, dirty blues, with a passion that emanates from every chord and every syllable.
Influences? As well as the aforementioned Small Faces, they cite the likes of Wilko Johnson (with whom they recently shared a stage) Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Booker T, Jimi Hendrix and a whole lot more. And they've got style as well, those boys. Just check the video of It Ain't Over to see how they can walk the walk, just as well as they talk the talk. Turn it up.
The performances by Daniel Radcliffe (Ginsberg) and Dane DeHaan (Carr) have drawn positive reviews to date. There is also Facebook page devoted to the film.
And this is a taster
Favourite line? "I've got a great black and white version dubbed into French". Priceless.
|A Bout De Souffle|
The roots of the French new wave - or nouvelle vague - can be found in Paris in the early fifties. A group of young film connoisseurs came together to work on the magazine Cahiers Du Cinema. At the heart of this group were figures such as Jean Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and Louis Malle.
The group developed their own philosophy of cinema, rejecting the conventional “cinema de qualite“, which they cited as old fashioned “cinema de papa“, and substituting a concentration on the modern. Costume drama was replaced with social realism and contemporary attitudes and settings. Of equal importance was the role of the director. They promoted the concept of the "auteur", where the director was the creator of the film, which bore his vision and trademark style.
The first new wave films were shorts. Truffaut’s Les Mistons (1957) and Rohmer’s The Girl At The Monceau Bakery (1963) are typical. Filmed in grainy black and white, these are the equivalent of cinematic short stories, with clearly defined characters, neatly devised plots and of course, stylised settings.
Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958) is often cited as the first full length nouvelle vague film. Starring Jean-Claude Brialy and Gerard Blain, it was influenced by Hitchcock and covers themes such as guilt and redemption. Shortly after this came Alan Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), starring Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada, which focuses on the lives of two lovers over a 36 hour period and is revolutionary for how it addresses the passage of time.
Then came Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959). Starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, its theme is the life of the eleven year old Antoine Doinel, which draws heavily from Truffaut’s own experiences in Paris. It won the Palme d‘Or at Cannes in 1959 and was the first of a sequence of films directed by Truffaut and starring Leaud, in which he played the character of Doinel, taking his story up to adulthood. Others in the series include Antoine And Colette (made for the 1962 anthology Love At Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968) Bed and Board (1970) and Love On The Run (1979).
Perhaps the film that is most identified with the nouvelle vague is Godard’s A Bout De Souffle (or Breathless). Starring Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, it follows a chancer and his on-off lover on the run from the police. The settings in Paris are exquisite, the Miles Davis theme is magnificent and the words “New York Herald Tribune” are unforgettable. Why? It is worth watching the film to find out.
|Bande A Part|
Truffaut’s Jules Et Jim (1962) may, at first sight, seem an unlikely nouvelle vague film, since its timeframe is not contemporary but the early part of the twentieth century. But the themes of the film tell another story. Truffaut was inspired to make it when he came across, by accident, a book written by Henri-Pierre Roche which recounts a menage a trois involving the author, writer Frank Hessel and his wife Helen Grund. Truffaut made a film of this relationship - with the main characters depicted as Jules (Oskar Werner), Jim (Henri Serre) and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) - with the approval of the book’s author. Its themes of free love and open relationships were ahead of their time. And it includes that scene on the bridge.
Other notable new wave films include Malle’s thriller Lift To The Scaffold (1958), starring Jeanne Moreau and with another memorable theme from Miles Davis, Rivette’s Paris Nous Apartment (1958), Alan Resnais’ dreamlike Last Year At Marienbad (1961) and Godard’s Made In The USA (1966). But there are so many great films I am bound to have missed many out.
|Jules Et Jim|
Strictly speaking, the nouvelle vague lasted from 1958 to 1964. But many of the films made by these directors stem from after this period. Godard’s work with The Rolling Stones produced the excellent Sympathy For The Devil (1968) documentary. Pierrot Le Fou (1965) is considered one of his greatest works and, as described above, films such as Weekend and Masculin Feminin are from later.
Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series (which includes early shorts) and Comedies And Proverbs are particularly worthy of mention, tastefully analysing the internal workings of romantic relationships and attracting a devoted, cult fanbase. My personal favourites include My Night At Maud’s (1969), Pauline At The Beach (1983) and La Collectionuse (1967) (look out for a shot of the cover of The Stones’ Aftermath album in the latter). Claire’s Knee (1970) was widely admired and was described by American film critic Vincent Canby as “something close to a perfect film“.
The influence of the nouvelle vague was widespread, almost immediately. Early modernists would watch A Bout De Souffle with the aim of studying how to walk like Jean Paul Belmondo, or copying Jean Seberg’s haircut. Filmmakers have ever since been inspired by the concepts and techniques. For example, The Devil Probably (1977), a later film by new wave fellow traveller Robert Bresson, incorporates the themes of the movement. And the nouvelle vague directly influenced the German new wave of filmmakers such as Wim Wenders.
More recent examples of nouvelle vague influence can be found in Quentin Tarantino‘s dance scene with Uma Therman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, which is a direct interpretation of the scene in Bande A Part. Set in the student uprising of May 1968, Bernardo Bertolucci‘s The Dreamers (2003) (with a screenplay by Gilbert Adair and starring Michael Pitt, Eva Green and Louis Garrel) is, in part, a tribute to the new wave, with a cameo appearance from Jean-Pierre Doinel and a recreation of the run through the Louvre in Bande A Part. Christophe Honore‘s Dans Paris (2006), also starring Garrel, references the new wave and Michael Haneke‘s masterpiece Hidden (2005) starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, makes use of long takes throughout the whole work.
Overall, the nouvelle vague is all around us, in style, attitude and filmmaking. The auteurs were creators of short stories, which they brought to life on film. There is no better way of getting to the heart of what the movement was all about than going back to the originals. For a start, why not get hold of a copy of A Bout De Souffle and spend an evening in the company Godard, Belmondo and Seberg. It will be an evening that you will not quickly forget.
Run by Tony Clark, Dexter Cullen and Jason Claydon, Plastic Pop is a quality independent label, with the ethos and authenticity of the greats like Rough Trade, Factory and Acid Jazz. These bands are all producing fine contemporary tunes that are set firmly in the twenty first century but with a nod to the great music of the past.
This is one of the bands who played that day. Marmalade Sky with their anthemic Last Ethical Hooligan.
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More French brilliance to come in the next few days. Watch this space.
The second new release on Plastic Pop we're featuring is from Nervous Twitch. The tunes on here have a very 1976 feel, with full on vocals, a hundred mile an hour pace and a definite attitude. There's relentless guitar, passionate angry vocals, courtesy of Erin Van Rumble, hard and thudding bass. All the tunes - This Modern World, Baby I’m Bored, Ask Me Why and Stuck In The Mud - come at you hard and strong, with themes of youth and frustration and alienation. They describe their influences are seventies punk and sixties girl groups - The Ramones meet The Ronettes - which is spot on. Get your copy from the Plastic Pop website.
Some great new releases on Plastic Pop right now. West Midland boys The Ganders have a three track ep, which features their hard-edged brand of soulful blues, forged from a musical lineage that goes right back to the late sixties, yet still manages to sound contemporary and vital. There are three tunes on the ep - Slipping In, Dirty Soul and Feeling - all of which boast tough riffs, bluesy vocals and straight ahead bass and drums. The band is made up of Daz Jordan, Dan Hickman and Paul Byrne and, on this evidence, they are well worth watching. Get your copy from the Plastic Pop website.
In 1967, Bowie was briefly in a band called The Riot Squad. Five of their tunes are to be released by Acid Jazz on 24 June. The record is entitled The Toy Soldier ep and consists of Toy Soldier, Silly Boy Blue, I'm Waiting For My Man, Silver Treetop School and For Boys.
The version of I'm Waiting For My Man preceded the Velvet Underground recording and it adds some interesting insight into both Bowie's development as a singer and how the song evolved. It's stunning, in my view, and has been played constantly since I discovered it. Can't wait until the ep is released.
Find out more at the Acid Jazz website and Facebook page.