Thursday, 26 February 2009

Indietracks 2009: first bands announced

The line-up for this year's Indietracks is slowly making itself known. Camera Obscura are headlining one day of the event, with other bands announced including BMX Bandits, Tender Trap, Speedmarket Avenue, Casa Azul (which will be... interesting), the mighty School, and The Frank and Walters. Already that's an awesome list of bands.

What makes me really sad is that I might not make it this year. WOE

Monday, 23 February 2009

New Electric Pop Group album!

Just a quick post because today Martin from Electric Pop Group told me that they'll be releasing their new album in May, to coincide with some UK dates. The album will be released on Matinee.

It makes me even more excited about their gig with Northern Portrait, Horowitz, Red Shoe Diaries that I'm organising in May. In fact, I'm almost relaxed about it. Which is a bit worrying.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Grave Architects - Highway be true (Fortuna Pop!)

Yee-haww! The Grave Architects are back, with a distinctly Richman-flavoured single. Not being a big Jonathan Richman fan, it's sometimes hard understand why Matt Williams wants to sound so much like him when he sings, but there are worse people to sound like, I suppose. Bonnie Tyler, for example.

Highway be True is a country and western stomper that would have line dancers anywhere doing that thing with their belt loops, whilst on t'other side, Love TBC sounds like something from a John Waters film, and drops deliciously into a doo-wop section, before exploding into some heavy ROCK near the end.

The Grave Architects remain something of an enigma. Live they're pretty brilliant (and funny), but on record I sometimes don't get it. Maybe that's my problem and not theirs.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Red Shoe Diaries interview

Outside of The Melons Nottingham hasn't really had a great pop band. But that might change with Red Shoe Diaries getting everyone's hearts a flutter. They've been good enough to do an interview for me, anyway.

Tell me how you all met - were you all friends, or did you bump into each other in the street?

Ash: Tom and I used to play Sensible Soccer on the Megadrive, watch X-Men cartoons on Saturday mornings then go kick a ball around from a very early age, and we've been making music together since we were 12. Mike was a friend we made at college who turned into the backbone of a number of musical projects we worked on, one of which became Red Shoe Diaries. I worked at Gamestation with Nath, and we spent many a happy hour dj'ing for the customers. Leanne completes us, we just had to get her in the band, her voice is like a flurry of magic tickling your ears so it was just a joy when the five of us practised together for the first time. I remember thinking 'It doesn't matter if no-one else in the world ever hears this, we get to play it together and that's worth a million cd sales in my book'.

How would you describe the Red Shoe Diaries sound?

Ash: With difficulty. It's not a case of being like your average grumpy music interviewee who despises pigeonholing, I understand that it is necessary in the vast behemoth that is music, It's just I'd like to nominate us for so many pigeonholes we would need our own post code! I try and come at the way I play from somewhere between Weezer and Motown Records, tossing in a little of that 50s Telstar sound and a pinch of spanish guitar music, but the beauty of this band for me is that you could ask the other 4 members and they would describe an equal amount of totally different influences, and all would make sense without being too apparent in the actual finished product. We listen to a hell of a lot records, sure, but it doesn't mean we can't make an original one.

Tom: We aim for glittery-literary-pop. Who knows if that's what other people hear.

I'm not going to ask you about the band's name. Oh, well, I suppose I am: was it a toss up between Red Shoe Diaries and Midnight Caller? And when you're famous pop stars, do you expect you'll have to call yourselves Red Shoe Diaries (UK)?

Tom: I like that postmodern tradition of referencing pop-culture, be it in your lyrics or the band's name. Do you remember Kenickie? Sweep The Leg Johnny, is another personal favourite.

Who are you favourite bands right now?

Tom: The Hold Steady are fast becoming one of my all time favourite bands. It probably doesn't come through in our music, but I think Craig Finn is one of alternative rock's greatest lyricicists; loads of biblical references and recurring characters, all against the backdrop of American teens getting wasted. His half talk half singing style and incessent narratives owe a lot to hip-hop I think. People who bundle them in with Counting Crows et al are really missing the point. They're a band that I would strongly advocate listening to chronologically, the first two albums are so rich in imagery, they're great. I got into Springsteen after the comparisons were made, rather than the other way round I'm embarrassed to say. I'm also a huge Mountain Goats fan. They've dropped off a bit of late, but The Sunset Tree is fantasic, tune after tune woven through with great lyrics, and it also manages to be almost a concept album, dealing with an abusive step-father I think. Other than that I'm listening to the new Andrew Bird album and Love is Overtaking Me by Arthur Russell.

Ash: It's winter, so at the moment it's a lot of prog for me, though come summer, I'll be dropping the reggae left right plus centre. Current favourites beside those, however, include The Cave Singers, Destroyer, Papercuts,Get Well Soon, Throw Me The Statue and Mew.

What's the best thing about being in Red Shoe Diaries?

Tom: The camaraderie; we're all great friends. Some of us have known each other longer than others, but when you have something so precious as music you've created yourselves in common its very special, familial definitely. I'd like to think these songs would find an outlet anyway, but playing them with friends is just easier and more fun. Plus the other guys are the most talented musicians in Nottingham.

Ash: So many things. We've recently started doing a Spinal Tap-esque Hands-In before each show, and they are actually pretty lovely. The best thing probably is the times when we all click. I especially remember driving back from Derby in Tom's car playing the EP to Leanne for the first time, that was really special. It's not like you'd expect; playing on stage isn't the greatest thing for me, it's abstract things like the look on people's faces, the myspace comments we get, the strange things that we find on the internet about us... being asked to do an interview. They are the times when you truly get to reflect on what a great opportunity you have in front of you to try and do something with your life, and it fills me with more joy and wonder than any round of applause ever could.

What do you make of the Nottingham scene, such as there is one at all?

Tom: I love how disparate yet connected it is. I think it's a scene with no agenda, no one-type of music is embraced and others shunned. It's testement to what nice, open-minded people the musicians of Nottingham are. Everyone helps each other out, it's like six degrees of seperation sometimes in terms of band members and associations. For example I could get from JC Decaux to We Show Up on Radar in less than six moves!

Ash: The Nottingham scene is great! I've been contemplating moving to Manchester for some time, but firstly the fact the band lives here means I could never live without this new family of mine, and secondly the scene here is the best it's been since The Grips and Punish The Atom were carrying the torch! Fists, Swimming, Amusement Parks On Fire, Becky Syson, We Show Up On Radar, Joey Chickenskin, Natalie Duncan, Bonsai Projects... the list is endless and fulfilling, my friend.

Will you be releasing any records soon?

Tom: It may be out by the time you read this. But if all goes to plan Friday 20th February at Brownes is our EP launch. We're very excited! Ash: It's a 5 track E.P which we recorded in two sunny days not so long ago, and we're so happy with it we just can't wait to get it out there. It's a handmade thing, a really lovely object to hold in your hands. That was important to us, that you could tell we'd worked hard on every copy. Especially Mike, who hand-wrote the tracklisting on every single one.

What's the last record you bought?

Tom: M Ward's Hold Time. Post-War was great, I've not totally got into the new one yet but he's a great songwriter.

Ash: It was Close To The Edge by Yes. As a lead guitarist it's my sworn duty to listen to good guitar players, whether prog is a four-letter word or not, and that truly is a life-changing album. I guess it depends on how your ears are tuned. I recently bought Instant Coffee Baby by The Wave Pictures for my lovely fiancee, then not long after that we were asked to support them so that was exciting!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Patrick Fitzgerald (Kitchens of Distinction) interview

I couldn't quite believe it when one of my heroes answered an email I'd sent to what looked like a dead address, but Patrick Fitzgerald, vocalist from Kitchens of Distinction did just that. Bless him. Here's what he had to say. Doctor in the house.

What's your fondest memory of being in Kitchens of Distinction?

The first recording session for Love is Hell – my favourite time in the studio, down at Berry St in Clerkenwell. We had the run of this basement studio and allowed our fantasies full reign. Musical fantasies that is. Drove the engineer Barry Sage to drink. We had 10 days to make our first opus and we did it. Proud moment.

What's your favourite KoD song, and why?

Today it's In a Cave – the words and the tune. I’m a tune fan and this one still does it for me. Trying to get a version on the piano at the moment but getting stuck. Tomorrow it may be Sand on Fire, because of Julian’s tremendous riff.

Was there much pressure from One Little Indian at the time to change your sound, or go in a more commercial direction?

Er, how can I put this? Yes. How about, lets put Third time... on the second album as well, see if it helps sell it. And lets release a 4 track white label version of Death of Cool as a single? Oh god, they had the worst ideas and the least nouse of any biz people I ever met. They must be relieved they still have Bjork to pay the wages.

When did you realise the end was near for the band?

When it stopped being fun and became bitter and twisted instead. I can remember vividly one of the last rehearsals when we’d played a song and there was this eerie silence afterwards, as if it would be too painful to play another. And for the life of me I cant really explain why.

Are you still in touch with the other band members?

Julian was at mine recently playing some guitar and reminiscing. He writes for TV/film.

What did you do immediately after the end of KoD?

Went for a long walk. And then thought about this Fruit album I’d finished the year before and how I’d better get on with that.

And what are you doing these days? Still making music as Stephen Hero?

I’m recording the follow-up to 57 stars right now. I’ve pared it down to 11 tracks and have recorded all the pianos, and am halfway through the vocals. First week of March its cellos/effects/backing vocals. Then mixing. My first record without drums I think. And my most bleak, and the reason for that will become clear in time when I start talking about what’s been going on these past 5 years. Not now, not yet. And I also work – I’m a GP, which pays the bills.

Do you still listen to music as avidly? If so, who are your favourites?

I do, but to very different music. Lots of 20th century classical – Shostakovich, Vaughn Williams, Richard Strauss, Messiaen, Morton Feldman are in my car. Along with my favourite record of recent times – The National’s Boxer. Can't seem to play that too much. PJ Harvey’s White Chalk was a hit in my house. Joan as Police Woman’s records get played over and over. December was Nick Cave month, and January was Bob Dylan’s Bringing it all back home. Kristin Hersh’s new songs (Speedbath) are extraordinary. Why isn’t she up for some kind of ‘sainthood in music’ honour?

Would you do anything differently with KoD if you could go back and do it all again?

Hmm, isn't it good that you cant go back and fiddle? The mistakes are made, the regrets cemented. What did we do wrong? Well, lets start with that cumbersome name, that cumbersome label, the silliness of democracy in art. Want me to go on? Thought not.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Motifs + Crayon Fields poster

Here is a lovely poster James did for the upcoming Motifs and Crayong Fields gig in April. He's an ace drawer.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

On the streets I ran

Last night I went with Jamie to see the people who run Sumac - the place where I'm putting a couple of gigs on in April and May. We'd been invited to sit in on their Entertainments Commitee meeting, and so we arrived on time at a house in the middle of Forest Fields, and sat there all polite and nodding and desperate to really leave and go back to the pub, which we managed to in under half an hour without looking rude. I was proud of us both.

I lived in Forest Fields last about 12 years ago, and it changes little. The roads are narrow and packed with three- or four-storey houses, most of which have been chopped up into bedsits by landlords interested only in what profit they can gain per square foot, without little care for a community they'll probably never live in. But I like Forest Fields, because, despite the bullshit scare stories, people who live there actually talk to each other.

Jamie went into the offy after the meeting to get some lagers to take back to Jaynie's house, and I stood outside for fag. Jamie only lives about a 15 minute walk away, but he came out of the shop saying something like, "Forest Fields - it's a different world. People are actually interested in how you are when you buy something in a shop." And that's something you miss when you live in the rarified air of bloody West Bridgford, with its immaculate Oxfam shops, expensive delis, Marks and Spencer ready meals, and fucking packed out coffee shops.

Don't get me wrong - Forest Fields is a run-down shithole for the most part, and I wouldn't want anyone to accept that's all they're worth in life but, despite that, I'd rather buy a packet of fags in Londis in Forest Fields than I would in Frappalano Newsagents in Bridgford. Where, I might add, despite its reputation as the liberal capital of Nottingham, copies of the Daily Telegraph, Mail and Express fly out of the shops quicker than a loaf of sundried tomato bread.

Frappalano Newsagents doesn't actually exist, obviously...

Anyway, I had a jolly old time last night, roaming around streets with Jamie that I hadn't roamed around since I was young and thin and attractive to the opposite sex. And then we went to Jaynie's and tried some of her home-brewed beer. There are worse ways to spend a Monday evening. And I managed to get back for the second episode of Coronation Street

Monday, 16 February 2009

The day Christopher Biggins came to a tasty fanzine gig

I was watching Come Dine With Me last night. Well, it takes away that dreaded Sunday night feeling, when all you can think about is work and how much you fear the week ahead.

Among the 'celebrities' taking part was the ever-wonderful Christopher Biggins - star of stage, screen and pantomime horse. I sort of grew up watching Biggins on the telly; he was in Rentaghost and Dramarama, and has always sort of been there, really.

Last night he was on top form. I think it's his laugh that does it for me. He has one of those laughs that you can't help pissing yourself at every time you hear it.

Where is this leading? Well, I've had the honour of Christopher Biggins turning up to one of my gigs which was a very strange experience. On 13th December 2005, Christopher Biggins paid £3.50, and walked into watch Pete Green, Orchards and MJ Hibbett and the Validators play the tasty fanzine and Don't Start Feeling All "Romantic" Christmas party gig at the less-than-salubrious Rose of England pub on Mansfield Road in Nottingham.

He stood at the back all the way through with a friend who would occasionally disappear to get him another half of lager. It was all most surreal. I suppose he was in panto in Nottingham that year. Everyone saw him come in and go and stand at the back, but no-one really said anything.

Anyway, Biggins won Come Dine With Me last night. I was pleased. He didn't mention the gig, though.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Morrissey, indeed...

I don't know if you saw Morrissey on the Jonathan Ross show the other night. It was quite strange.

Anyway, on the show Morrissey played Throwing my arms around Paris, which is a pleasant enough little single, and then did what I think was a really ace version of This charming man. It was ace because it was completely surprising, and was totally different to how you think the song should sound live.

As someone pointed out on the anorak forum, it was really good that Morrissey's guitarist didn't try and copy Johnny Marr's guitar pickings, and the song came out as this kind of rockabilly number, which Morrissey really seemed to enjoy.

I'm not quite sure why he seemingly gets on so well with Jonathan Ross, mind, but that's none of my business. We all have odd friends who have made misguided phonecalls to the niece of a Fawlty Towers star, after all...

Morrissey's new album comes out tomorrow, and I can't afford it until I get paid a week on Tuesday, but according to a friend, "it sounds a bit like Vauxhall & I. Which is all very fine with me.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Lorna - Writing down things to say (Words on Music)

Lorna are Nottingham's lost band. Hardly ever playing locally, and disappearing for years at a time. Yet they've resrufaced with a lovely album called Writing Down Things to Say on the usually-excellent Words on Music Records.

It's sometimes trite to say that bands are versatile, but on this album, the band's fourth, Lorna take in folk-pop, chamber music, indiepop and country. It reminds me a little of Nei Halstead's excellent Sleeping on Roads album from a few years back.
Lorna manage the impossible; they make a Sebadoh song listenable. And not just listenable, but genuinely moving, with Sharon Cohen Rolfe's crystal voice soaring above the most simple of strings.

Elsewhere, (I wish I knew) How to Build a Home is almost comforting in its elegance, and features bleeps and bloops that rise it above the usual business.

This is a lovely album to listen to on cold winter nights like these, and when, like me, you'd forgotten Lorna exist at all, it's a record that reminds you that its not always those who shout loudest who make the best noise.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Please give generously

A couple of weeks ago, I was rummaging through boxes full of old crap that normally gather cat hair under the bed when I realised that I had only two copies of my old fanzine, tasty, left in the entire world.

tasty ran from 1999 to 2002 in its printed paper form, before zooming off into the exciting, erotic world of the internet, where it's still going strong (one million hits last year, according to my friend Shane, who I bequeathed it to when I'd had enough of it). There were 20 issues, and I only have one copy of number 19 and number 20 left. Which makes me a bit sad.

Two hundred copies were printed - bi-monthly in the end, and they were given out free. So, cast your minds back, old-timers and if anyone out there has any copies of any of the other issues they'd like to photocopy and send to me, I'd love you forever.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

MJ Hibbett speaks!

Oi, Hibbett! Answer us a few questions for a layer of chips! New album ahoy.

Tell me all about why you decided to play so many gigs last year. Are you popped out?

"Decide" is perhaps putting it a little strongly. I spent many many years finding it incredibly difficult to get gigs (because I was crap) so now when people are nice enough to ask me to come and play I find it very difficult to say "no" - largely because I believe that, if I do, that particularly promoter will bring it up at the next Grand Council Of Promoters and ensure that I never ever get to play anywhere EVER AGAIN.

Last year loads of people very kindly asked me to go and play, so I did. It was GRATE but yes, very VERY knackering.

What's happening with the new album? Is it the same band? Any radical new departures we should look out for?

What's happening is it's FINISHED - it's called "Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez" and it should be out on May 11th. We like it a LOT.

It's very much the same Validators, but in a slightly different order, with Mr Tim Pattison in the production chair this time. In the past, whenever we recorded something, Tim would always email me or Frankie (depending upon who was producing) with a list of, we thought, KRAZY and/or DERANGED IDEAS so we thought we'd give him a taste of his own medicine this time.

Much to our surprise this turned out to be a FANTASTIC IDEA, and as a result this album's PACKED with all sorts of sounds and strangeness. We finished it last week and suddenly realised that, actually, it's a bit weird. I think it sounds like "Giant Steps" by The Boo Radleys, Tim insists it sounds like "Rise And Fall" by Madness, and we are both convinced it is going to benefit from the much heralded return of SHOEGAZING. There's loads of sound effects, a classical PIECE, tons of samples, and more SEGUES than you can shake a prog stick at. Everyone else will probably say "Hmm, a touch more Wedding Present, a shade less Half Man Half Biscuit than usual", but we think it's AMAAAAAAAZING!

How do you think people see you and your band? Are you regarded as - gasp! - an elder statesmen now?

Maybe not "statesmen", but certainly the former, yes. I think most people who think of us at all think of us as a bit shambolic and ropey, based on the fact that we WERE a bit shambolic and ropey for the first half of our existence. After ten years together we've got a little bit FUNKADELIC - INDEED, when we supported Half Man Half Biscuit last year Geoff The Manager said "You were better than I remembered". I think we're going to have that as the next t-shirt!

Who are you favourite pop stars at the moment?

The same as ever - Take That. I Never Forgot!

What do you make of bands like Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts? Style, or style over substance?

Mmm, yes, yes, it's a tricky thing isn't it? So many ways to look at it - I tell you what, what do you think?

I couldn't possibly comment.

Did that sound convincing? If you can imagine me nodding, possibly why sipping on a glass of red wine, does that make it sound better? To be honest I've utterly and completely no idea. I've spent the last year listening to pretty much nothing but my own records - either to RE-LEARN songs for Edinburgh or MIXES of the new album - so have rather lost touch. I did buy the First Aid Kit album the other week, which was rather excellent, is that any good?

What's the most dangerous situation the Validators have ever been in?

We once went to play in Cleator Moor, which is as far away from ANYTHING and ANYWHERE ELSE as you can GET in England. As we drove for hour after hour over deserted moorland we gradually began to wonder if it wasn't some PLOY to bring in FRESH MEAT for the local werewolves, and when we arrived at the tiny pub full of surly, BURLY, men playing DARTS it looked like our worst fears were about to be realised. We were TERRIFIED!

We played our whole set AFEARED, being GLARED at, convinced we were in for a DUFFING UP, but when we finished and started to pack up everybody BAYED for a second set, which was one of the best gigs we've ever DONE, with the entire pub singing along as we struggled to remember age old songs and ended up repeating most of the first set, slightly more slowly and a lot more drunkenly. Then we had a lock in until about 3 in the morning. It was fantastic, until the next day when we had to get up at 6AM and drive to Leeds. That drive, THAT was the most dangerous situation we've ever been in!

What is your life's ambition (apart from playing Indietracks this summer)?

Man alive, you would not BELIEVE how much The Validators want to play Indietracks this summer. The only thing we talk about more is how we can get back into The Festive 50 this year. Our current best plan is to kidnap Pete Green and The Bobby McGees and STEAL their votes!

Apart from that tho, my only musical ambition was to make an album that sounded a bit like "Giant Steps" by The Boo Radleys. Done that!

Will you please release a DVD of your videos? I'd buy it.

That's very nice of you, thanks - I'll put it on the BIG LIST. At the moment we've got "Regardez Ecoutez et Repetez" in May, "Dinosaur Planet: Official Soundtrack" in time for the Edinburgh Fringe, a re-release of "This Is Not A Library" (double CD with b-sides from the accompanying singles) next year, then "The Forest Moon Of Enderby", the next "rarities" (more rare than the rest of our stuff anyway) album. After that though, yeah, why not? That'll be 2012, we should have enough to fill a DVD by then!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Vom it

Vom Vorton is Tom from Lardpony's dirty weekend secret, and I love it. It's just Tom on his own, and he's doing that whole write a complete album in one month thing, which I think is pure madness, but there you go.

Vom Vorton is different from Lardpony, for sure. The songs are written on Tom's collection of knackered out vintage synths and stuff (do I really sound like I don't know anything about musical instruments? Good), and they're crunchy and funky in a way that makes me want to bend my knees a bit. They also sound a bit like the stuff on Dead Media by Hefner, should that butter your toast.

There's a rather attractive looking album launch for the Vom Vorton and Mascot Fight albums in Derby on 16th March, that I think I might try and get to.

Meanwhile, download a Vom Vorton song here

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Mainly mornings

Pete Green mentioned something in a previous post's comments about Andy's Records in Victoria Street, Grimsby. I thought a little post about this mecca of music was apt.

Pete used to work in Andy's - not that I ever remember seeing him in there, mind - and I think he'll agree it was the sort of place that, for a callow 15 year old, could be quite intimidating.

I'm not one for fetishising record shops, really. I mean - they're only shops, after all, but Andy's had more vinyl in it than I've seen in a record shop before or since. The middle of the shop was packed with two aisles of vinyl that seemed to stretch for about thirty feet either side. Or maybe I was just smaller then. Either way, I used to spend at least two hours in this place every Saturday morning, completely on my own, before making my choices, paying, getting some fish and chips and walking round to my Dad's second hand car garage in Eleanor Street to clean some cars (50p a car: slave labour) and sneak a look at the nuddy calendar in his office.

Anyway, because I knew even less about music then than I know I used to take a chance of buying records more. One of these records that really sticks in the mind is Love is Hell by Kitchens of Distinction, which I thought had a nice cover. I'd also seen them mentioned in Melody Maker the previous week, or something like that. And their name was suitably krraaaayzee.

I took Love is Hell home when I'd finished washing the stupid cars and played and instantly fell in love with it. And I still am. Their second album, Strange Free World, is even better. And then they went a bit rubbish, but never mind.

Andy's has now long gone, and, the last time I went down Victoria Street, was empty and its windows full of posters for a long gone depressing circus in Cleethorpes. That sort of sums up walking around my home town these days. But, for some of us, there'll always be Andy's.

How melodramatic!

Right, here is the frankly immense The 3rd time we opened the capsule from Love is Hell.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Interview with Jimmy from Matinee Records

Matinee Records has been my favourite label for nearly a decade now, with consistently wonderful releases. Founder Jimmy Tassos answered some questions for me whilst he was flying to Washington. How modern!

How are things going for the label at the moment? Have you changed the way it’s run since having children?

Everything’s great with the label, thank you. We seem to have struck gold with our most recent signings (Northern Portrait, The Electric Pop Group, Bubblegum Lemonade, Strawberry Whiplash, The Hermit Crabs and Math and Physics Club) so the release schedule is active and exciting. I don’t think too much has changed since we started our little gang of indiepopkids except now I have the added element of seeing how 2 and 4-year olds react to new bands. Some recent favorites for the preschool set include ‘In Bohemia’ from Would-Be-Goods, ‘Just Like You’ from Bubblegum Lemonade, ‘I Don’t Know How’ from The Hermit Crabs, ‘My Day Today’ from Strawberry Whiplash, and ‘Crazy’ from Northern Portrait. It’s amazing to watch kids react to music.

Have you noticed an upsurge in interest in indiepop music over the last couple of years?

Absolutely. Many of the new labels and zines and blogs are fantastic and it also seems as if the music is reaching a broader audience so something is happening. Before having the indiepopkids you mentioned in the previous question I used to travel to Europe a few times a year to meet with bands and it seems since my last trip over that the UK has sort of exploded with a new indiepop renaissance which is excellent. There is a San Francisco Popfest in the works for this May and we’re planning to bring a few Matinée bands over for that which will be really nice. California is happening again with the resurgence of the mighty Slumberland Records in the Bay Area and the exciting new Yay! label down the road in Oxnard plus some good bands and club nights around Los Angeles. We have more than just glorious weather and beaches to offer here so come on over!

How do you go about choosing what records to release?

I have pretty specific taste in music... lyrics and melodies are key and I am a very harsh critic of vocals. I could name a dozen bands that might be on Matinée if they had a different vocalist.

Is there any money in running Matinée?

I try to run it at breakeven whenever possible as I’m in a fairly undesirable tax bracket from other endeavors and don’t want to hand over too much to the federal government. What this means is calculating roughly how much money the label has made at the end of the year and writing royalty cheques to bands on December 31 to bring the 'profits' down to zero. The label could probably be run as a proper business but that would take the fun out of it really and I don’t have loads of extra time to grow it much beyond its current size.

What's been your favourite Matinée release over the last year?

That’s a little like asking me which of my children I like best isn’t it? Can I tell you my favorite song from each of the nine 2008 releases instead? From the singles: ‘Summer’s Day’ from The Electric Pop Group; ‘Crazy’ from Northern Portrait; ‘Susan’s In The Sky’ from Bubblegum Lemonade; ‘Sporting A Scar’ from Northern Portrait; and ‘I Don’t Know How’ from The Hermit Crabs—and from the albums: ‘Enemies of Promise’ from Would-Be-Goods; ‘I’ll Never Be Yours’ from Bubblegum Lemonade; ‘Up with the Sun’ from The Lucksmiths; and ‘Dead Hour’ from The Guild League. Several of those are available as free mp3s on the Matinée sounds page (you allow shameless plugs here, right?). Northern Portrait and Bubblegum Lemonade would probably battle for song of the year honours, although Would-Be-Goods might just take it in the end.

And what's your favourite ever Matinée release?

I’ll dodge this one too, despite keeping regularly updated lists of this sort of thing. Some songs I am thrilled were released with a Matinée logo include ‘Wallflower’ from Brighter, ‘Untidy Towns’ from The Lucksmiths, ‘Love and Remains’ from Sportique, ‘Train Not Stopping’ from Harper Lee, ‘Summer Snow’ from The Windmills, ‘California Morning’ from The Young Tradition, ‘Citronella’ from The Guild League, ‘Graduation Day’ from Math and Physics Club, ‘Feel Good Factor’ from The Hermit Crabs, ‘Temporary Best Friend’ from Would-Be-Goods, ‘Crazy’ from Northern Portrait, ‘Susan’s In The Sky’ from Bubblegum Lemonade…. I’m getting myself in trouble now. Harper Lee take this one hands down, as ‘Train Not Stopping’ still kills me every time I hear it.

Do you still handle all the artwork yourself? Is this something you insist on?

Not always, although I have a hand in everything to some extent before it’s finished. Many of the bands I am working with now have impeccable taste in artwork. A few examples from the last year demonstrate some diversity in the label art—from the Warhol-inspired artwork of Bubblegum Lemonade to the Smiths-like Northern Portrait sleeves to the stunning silhouettes of the latest Would-Be-Goods album. I often take images supplied by the band and turn them into something. If I had my way all the record sleeves would be inspired by Eames or Warhol or 1950’s Arts & Architecture magazines but that might get a little boring so the bursts of design for which I don’t have as much involvement add some nice variety.

Which band haven't you put a record out by who you'd like to?

Current bands I love include Days, Camera Obscura, Bricolage, Clearlake, Glasvegas, Cats on Fire, The School, The Radio Dept…. Some of these bands are suitably situated with one of our indie brethren or significantly too big for Matinée but all would still be exciting. Note to others: let’s talk.

Any Matinée-related regrets?

Not really. I nearly signed Cats on Fire two times in the past but the stars misaligned each time. They sent me a demo that took me ages to listen to and by that time they had just signed with Marsh-Marigold in Germany. A year later Marsh-Marigold asked us to co-release their debut album but the timing was bad as we were having a baby the next week and we were also just starting on a massive rebuild of our house in Santa Barbara so I knew the subsequent 12 months would be a bad time for bringing on new bands. I also infamously passed on Camera Obscura back in 2001 which was a misjudgment on my part but I think they’ve done quite well since then with Elefant and look set to rule the world now with 4AD.

And how long do you see yourself committed to putting pop records out for?

As long as somebody is interested in buying them I suppose. We are very excited with the new bands and have a few others that may appear on the Matinée discography in the near future. This year we’ll be releasing albums from Northern Portrait, The Electric Pop Group, and Math and Physics Club and probably singles from Strawberry Whiplash, The Lucksmiths, Clay Hips, Math and Physics Club, and Bubblegum Lemonade at minimum. The death of the label will undoubtedly be caused by one of those insane blogs that consider it their mission to post whatever indie release they want for anyone to download for free. They seem to think we’re a major label and don’t realize when they post an album for downloading and the file is accessed 500 times in a day or two that this significantly hurts the band and their ability to continue recording and releasing new records. I’m not suggesting all 500 of those downloads would have resulted in sales but if even a few did it helps the band to break even and continue recording. Until they drive us away, though, you’re stuck with us.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Encounters with strangers in lonely places

I finally got around to getting some storage for my cds. Regular viewers will no doubt be able to sleep a little easier now.

As I was putting everything in alphabetical order, I came across stuff I haven't touched for years - dusty and scratched and generally over-loved years ago, but now completely forgotten. Like, say, the first Chris TT album. And then there was stuff I had no idea I actually had, like a couple of Firestation Tower compilations, which are full of lovely-looking songs; and a three ep series called the International Pop Underground, or something, which looks even more wonderful.

I thought I'dhave a quick look through muy vinyl to see if this occured again. It did. Where on earth did I buy that Greek Smiths maxi-single? And whenever did I pick up the twelve inch of Kidney Bingoes by Wire? I'm glad I did, like, because it's brilliant. But I didn't know I had it until about two hours ago. This whole thing terrifies me. What if I've murdered a rabbit and hidden it in the cellar and don't remember doing it at all?

But most of all, looking through my record collection made me sad and horribly nostalgic. So I went and cleaned the windows instead.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Pocketbooks interview

Pocketbooks, eh? Aren't they fantastic? They're going to release their debut album in a few weeks time, so I thought it would be good to get the Trinny and Susannah of the band - Ian and Dan - to answer some questions.

What's it like being in the best band in London right now?

Ian: That's very kind of you to say so although I couldn't say how true that is - I think you've forgotten that Razorlight and Babyshambles are in London too. I love being in this band though, it feels like a gang. I can feel that we are getting better and better the more time we spend together, that's the best bit - that there are real possibilities ahead for us and that we could really achieve something.
Dan: Actually, I prefer group. But er, erm. Sam, you always make me blush. Ian's right though the 'gang' aspect is the best thing. I've been in groups in the past and it's never been so close knit and I think that comes through in the songs these days we seem to playing off each other really well at the moment.

You seem to play all the time in London. Does this ever become tiring - or is playing live the best bit about being in Pocketbooks?

Ian: It doesn't feel like we play here all that much, really. I'm certainly not bored of it and there's plenty of venues to play. Hopefully we've kept the sets pretty fresh with new songs over the last year so the kids don't get bored watching us. Playing the gigs is my favourite bit of being in the band, that and the 20 emails we send each other everyday arguing about what font colour should be on the album cover.

Dan: RED TEXT ON THE LP. IN BIRO. I don't reckon we play too much at all. You see some bands who look like they're playing every other week. We're actually ridiculously choosy about gigs we should or should not play. As to the London thing, the cost for us can be prohibitive when it comes to playing elsewhere. Unfortunately we haven't unlimited supplies of cash even after soundtracking the 4th 'Back to the Future' film. (I'm not sure I'm supposed to let that out yet - a little exclusive for you).

Who writes the lyrics and who writes the music in the band? How does the songwriting process work?

Ian: Andy is the main songwriter in the band and he usually comes to practices with fully formed songs. We might change a few things when we get together but that doesn't happen very often. Once I've got the chords and structure figured out I usually jangle a guitar part over the top of it when we practice until it all sounds right.
Dan: Emma and I have written a couple between us. She came up with 'Skating on Thin Ice' for the new LP alone in an Andy style and taught it to the rest of us, a couple of others I gave her some music and she sang over it and help me arrange the bare bones. These ones the band then fleshed out in rehearsals.

What's been your favourite Pocketbooks moment so far?

Ian: Easy - Our set at Indietracks 2008. I remember being too scared to look up and out into the crowd during the first 2 songs, it was quite scary to play in front of that many people. The reaction was amazing though and the little stage invasion at the end was the highlight - 3 minutes of extremely awkward dancing. I remember leaving the stage on a massive high, I felt like I could do anything - in the end though I just went for piss, I was bursting. What a waste.
Dan: Can't argue with any of that, I also enjoyed sitting in the studio and being handed the finished recordings for the LP, it was a proper High Five moment. Anyway, Ian, away and wash your mouth out. What if your Mam was to read this?

Tell me about your album. New tracks - or a mixture of old and new?

Ian: I think all the details of the new album will be out very soon, I'm not sure what we can and can't say at the moment. The album is mainly new tracks, most of which we've been trying out live over the last couple of months. We recorded the album with Simon Trout which was a brilliant experience. He's worked with Darren Hayman, The Wave Pictures and The Clientele recently so we knew we were in good hands. He totally understood our sound straightaway and had loads of input into the record and came up with some great ideas. I'm really happy with the final mix, it's really poppy and 'up' sounding.

How did you all become involved in Indietracks?

Dan: The whole thing came about when Emma and I met Stuart at one of Ian Watson's HDIF shows in Brixton. We got chatting and he later came to us with this amazing idea for a gig on a railway platform. We egged him on. Stuart then worked some kind of magic and it snowballed from there. I don't really know how they do it - it's mainly Stuart, Emma, Andy and Nat who do all the hard slog. I like doing the fun bits like checking that the Ale is OK on the night.

Do you think that you sometimes underestimate yourselves as a band? I talk to so many people who think you're the perfect pop band, yet you hardly ever shout about yourselves enough.

Ian: We're just not that sort of people, I think we'd all admit to being a bit shy and reserved. Besides I can't stand people who only ever talk about their band and shove it down your throat in every conversation. I can hear that we are a great band though, If I wasn't in Pocketbooks I'd be massive fan. Anyway, I think we've done pretty well so far through other people doing the shouting for us.

Dan: We do seem to do well out of letting other people shout for us, don't we? I know for one I've smoked far too many cigs to do anything like shout. Also, it just looks uncouth.

How many drinks does Andy let you have before going on stage? Is this the secret reason why you always seem to play low down on bills?

Ian: After lots of begging I've managed to get it up to 6 pints, anymore than that and I'm a bit useless to be honest. I like a drink so in that respect it's probably best we go on early so by the time we've finished playing it's still 2 hours until closing time.
Dan: I've actually just got off the phone with Andy and he says he didn't allow anything of the sort. The problem here is that, like Ian, I like a good drink but this has lead to some pretty shambolic gigs in the past. Notice that was 'shambolic' not 'shambling' and therefore not a good thing. So having not gone 'straight-edge' is probably one of many reasons we play at the bottom of everyone's bill.

What's your favourite Pocketbooks song?

Ian: Right now I'd say it's a new song on the album called 'Fleeting Moments' - I really love the way this one has come out, it's very grand, sweeping sound to it with a fast, driving intro. Playing wise I always enjoy 'Every Good Time We Ever Had'.
Dan: I'm going with another new one 'Paper Aeroplanes' just 'cos it's got on of my best bits on it. For listening and jumping around probably 'Every Good Time'.

Who else is making your favourite music right now?

Ian: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Seeing them live (I saw them 4 times in December) is just amazing, easily one of the best bands of the last five years. They make such a satisfying noise and the lyrics are really great. To me, they're a perfect pop band - the songs are brilliantly simplistic and direct. I've been listening to Very Truly Yours a lot lately, ever since I found out about them at the start of the year. The girl who sings has got this really great Rose Melberg-like voice, this band are reminding me of all the best bits of Go Sailor and The Softies - two of my favourite bands.
Dan: I'm going with Sarandon. I can't get enough of that short, sharp, shock of theirs. That said, The School and The Pains are pretty ace. Apart from that I don't think I listen to much that isn't less than 40 years old!

Tell me a Pocketbooks secret. Or make one up.

Ian: Daniel can't listen to any Belle and Sebastian records because, when he was little, he was picked on by a boy at school called Sebastian so that band bring up terrible memories for him.
Dan: And Ian was that boy - he always looked familiar to me and I've just put two and two together. You bugger, I used to love 'Storytelling' as well.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Long live dreams

I was rummaging through some old cds this morning, and I came across the second Pinkie album, Sharon Fussy.

Alex Sharkey is Pinkie, (he used to be in Fosca, you know) and he seems to have disappeared from view, which is a great shame. Or at least I think it is. Bith Pinkie albums, My Little Experiment and Sharon Fussy are right up my street, because they're full of melancholy songs about doomed relationships, feelings and the general human condition. And the music reflects that wonderfully.

In the same way that I can sing my heart out to Lovejoy or Brighter or Harper Lee because they sing about Proper Stuff in a way some dullfuck like Chris Martin could only dream about when he's writing on his hand of an afternoon. And like Lovejoy, Brighter and Harper Lee, Pinkie are hardcore.

Pinkie's myspace page says a new download ep came out last autumn, but it doesn't seem to be on Planting Seeds Records' website anywhere. If anyone knows anything more, I'd be ever do grateful.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The way the world is

Whilst I was lying in bed awake last night I was thinking about great album openers, and I was trying to think past the obvious stuff like The Queen is Dead, and that. I got to thinking about Pale Saints' 1990 album Comforts of Madness, which I don't listen to for years on end some times, but remains such a precious record.

Just listen to Ian Masters' voice on that album. It's so fragile! And its opener, The Way the World Is is wonderful. It's so full of energy and tension and anticipation for the rest of the album, which contains, lest we forget, The Best Break Up Song EVER in Sight of You.

Comforts of Madness reminds of starting to go out a bit in Grimsby around 1990, and leaving school with my then-girlfriend and us both sharing a dingy flat above a vets practice in the centre of town. And it reminds me of getting hopelessly drunk on Thunderbird, getting 6am buses to work with hangover, and ridiculously inept sex. If there is any other kind.

The album's a masterpiece. Here's The Way the World Is.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

I left the north...

Although most of the time I can't be doing with London (the self-importance of many of its inhabitants; the grime; the downright rudeness of people in the street; the overpriced crap everywhere; the obscene wealth set against abject poverty), there remains, for me at least, a sense of magic and adventure in travelling down on a Saturday morning on the interminable National Express bus journey to see friends and some bands.

Getting off at Victoria Coach Station, going out the doors and turning left towards Victoria tube is done in doublequick time - you don't want to waste a second, after all.

I sort of love London Underground when I'm on my own, because I have this internal running commentary in my head as to where I should be going or changing, and how many stops there are til I can see some friendly faces in the pub. And, my word, if I aren't ever so pleased with myself when it all goes to plan. Smug isn't the word.

Travelling on the tube with others, however, I don't like at all. There is always a nagging doubt that the route I've proclaimed to the be The Truth will be completely wrong, and we'll end up in Norfolk, or somewhere. This won't do at all, so I prefer to travel alone.

I'll be travelling alone down to the Saturday of the London Popfest in a few weeks, and I'm moist at the thought. Last night the line-up was announced, and although it's not on the website yet, not only are Comet Gain playing, but so are Liechtenstein, which is fabulous news. And so are The Loves and Pete Green's jangly Juggernauts. And some others who I've forgotten, but I'm sure wil be just as dashing.

Anyway, I'll be the one alone on the tube going towards Shoreditch with an incredibly self-satisfied smile on my face. Come and say hello.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

He covered every blade of ice

Grimsby's game with Luton Town tonight was called off yesterday morning because of the snow which fell in the south-east of England over the last couple of days. You'd think that in the age of the train they'd be able to shift some snow and play a game of footy on some grass. Luton, of course, were one of the clubs in the '80s to have a plastic pitch. It wouldn't have happened in their day, etc, etc.

I remember turning up one Saturday morning in... ooh, 1987, I suppose, in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire to play for Gainsborough and District Under-15 Boys, and the pitch was under about three inches of snow. I usually hated playing for this team, because we'd get thrashed week after week, and, apart from my mate Shep, I didn't really know any of the other lads, because they all went to school in a different part of Lincolnshire to me and Shep.

I really thought this game was going to be called off, so I turned up to Gainsborough Trinity's ground in a quite relaxed mood. Imagine my surprise, then, when our bastard manager made us walk around the pitch to mark out the lines half an hour before kick off.

I spent most of the first half with my hands shoved down my shorts. It was bitter. And we didn't have an orange ball, so you couldn't really see the white one til it was five yards away from you, by which time you had about half a second to extract your hands and get on with playing.

I remember feigning an injury about five minutes before half time, and pulling the requisite faces and adopting The Limp, but the manager ignored me. We lost 4-0, as I recall. I don't think I've ever been as cold as that.

See, these modern footballers have got it easy. Pansies.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Memory Babe

There's a lovely little thread on the indiepop list about which is the most essential shoegaze song. Apart from the fact that it always fascinates me as to what is classified as shoegaze and what isn't depending on what part of the world you live in, a few people have mentioned The Boo Radleys' Memory Babe, which is just the most heartbreaking of songs.

I know I whittered on about the Boo Radleys the other day, but Memory Babe is so deliciously melancholy, that I hunted it down on youtube at work, played it and nearly started crying my eyes out, sat on my own in my office. I'm not sure what they says about the state of the world, really.

It's the line: "Remember when we used to stay up all night and laugh" which kills me every time.

I'll stop posting old youtube clips soon.

When it was winter

Walking to work in the snow is absolutely no fun whatsoever, as I found out again this morning. Walking anywhere else in the snow is perfectly fine, of course, but when you're walking like a man who's been freshly castrated for longer than ten minutes it actually starts hurting.

Anway, as my shoes collected an unreasonable amount of slush on them, and as my suit trousers started to resemble those snowballs that dogs get in their fur, and I started wonder just what the fuck I was doing pissing about like this at 6am in the morning, The Windmills' What Was it For? popped into my head.

And all was well with the world.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Keeping up with the Aislers Set

The first cd-r ep is somehow expanding into an album. Or a mini-album at least, with some wonderful exclusive tracks promised, which is really nice of people.

Anyway, what I really came here to mither about: you know when there's a revered band you've never heard a note of? Well, that's always been the case with Aislers Set for me. So, in the spirit of international pop co-operation, Marianthi made me a terrific cd full of their stuff.

I had a listen to it this morning whilst polishing stuff in the back room in preparation for my Mum coming to visit, and realised that I recognised nearly the half the tracks from heaven knows where. Well, I've got one single that was released on Fortuna Pop! ages ago, but have - criminally - never got round to listening to it.

So, I guess I've heard these songs at pop nights or a DJ has played them between bands, or something. But it made me feel mighty daft, whatever.

So, yeah, I've been a massive Aislers Set fan for years. I've been that big a fan that I don't need to play their records to know how great they are.

I'm sure there are other bands that everyone deems essential that I've never, ever heard, too, but they escape me right now.