Category: Reviews

Photos: The Schizophonics

San Diego fuzz rock trio The Schizophonics returned for a second Northampton show last night [August 6th], this time at The Garibaldi Hotel. It was the hottest of nights, in…

San Diego fuzz rock trio The Schizophonics returned for a second Northampton show last night [August 6th], this time at The Garibaldi Hotel. It was the hottest of nights, in both senses. They left town with a even more fans than before, with another jaw-dropping incendiary performance.  Here are a few photos taken by David Jackson.

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Record review: Greg Coulson

GREG COULSON What’s New [self-released] Coulson is still only in his mid-20s but he’s crammed an awful lot in so far. He joined local Northampton band Danny Connors and The…

GREG COULSON
What’s New [self-released]

Coulson is still only in his mid-20s but he’s crammed an awful lot in so far. He joined local Northampton band Danny Connors and The Ladders at just 17, he hooked up with Two-Tone legends The Selecter at 19 – and stayed there for five years. He’s toured America, playing both South by SouthWest and Coachella festivals, and he even did a stint in a Burt Bacharach-themed West End show. Even now he’s gone solo, he is still called upon by The Blockheads to fill in on guitar when needed. Talk about paying your dues off early…

Finally the multi-instrumentalist has fulfilled the dream of a debut album. It’s full of vim and blues-funk energy, as demonstrated on the jive-tastic opener ’10/10′ [Adam Gammage’s drums propelling the whole thing to its peaks]. Follow-up ‘Girls’ sees the Flat Pack Horn Co give it some Daptones swing, plus Coulson lets loose on his Hammond to great, Stevie Winwood-esque effect. The pop melody vocal is so spot on it could give most of the Stax singles a run for their money.

‘Stitch Me Up’, a co-write with Danny Connors, is their idea of Stevie Wonder if he roamed The Mounts. The rhythm playing is as steady as a metronomic beat, though the feel of the lead instruments is a little on the wild side. Coulson runs through a ’60s reggae-styled Farfisa solo in the middle – completely changing the feel of things for a minute – before relaunching into that soulful groove chorus. The words are a treat too. It’s a seriously impressive five minutes, and should be the first thing you listen to on the album if in a rush. ‘Love Nest’ is the only really cheesy moment on the album, the ’80s blues-rock sound a tad too close to function band for comfort [nice guitar lines though]. All is quickly forgiven though as the title track roars into view, with it’s modern rock’n’roll feel [Jack White, Black Keys] and great call-and-response chorus. The fuzzy guitar from Staurt Dixon practically launches out of the speakers, such is his enthusiasm. And New Boots isn’t sure if there’s a word that could sufficiently sum up the outrageous Hammond solo.

The second half of the album is more of the same, and the quality never lets up. ‘Someone To Be There’ swaggers over the horizon with a great [or should that be Wonder-ful] soaring chorus in it’s back pocket. ‘End Of The Line’ introduces Coulson’s ability with a Michael Jackson-mimicked falsetto. It’s perhaps the most emotional song on the album, a plea to return to the past glories of love. Indeed it’s a song that seems to effortlessly amalgamate the last 50 years of blues rock into a coherent whole; and that’s no mean feat. ‘Ran Out And Ready’ is a slice of staccato Hammond-funk that would have been issued in 1968 on some obscure mid-Western label. In other words, very special. Great percussion movements on this too, muso fans.

Closer ‘Sick Note’ returns the horns to the fore, and is a fun-if-familiar number to sign off with. And there you have it: 40 minutes of blues-funk bliss from one of its newer exponents. Greg takes on the often unfashionable R&B sound and makes an album with personality, finesse and fine songs. We should all get behind him.

Phil Istine

What’s New? is out now on CD and the usual downloading/streaming sites

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Twinfest 2018: The Review

TWINFEST July 26th – 29th 2018 Northampton THURSDAY, THE GUILDHALL So here it is, Northampton’s best reason to believe in grassroots culture. The annual event celebrates all that is special…

TWINFEST
July 26th – 29th 2018
Northampton

THURSDAY, THE GUILDHALL
So here it is, Northampton’s best reason to believe in grassroots culture. The annual event celebrates all that is special about the acts from the twin towns of Poitiers, Marburg, and Northampton. It’s the antithesis of Brexit. Twinfest is *deep breath* truly something to believe in, that gives short shrift to any notion of this town being a “cultural black hole”. Twinfest is the actualisation that this is, indeed, a talented music town.

This year the excitement was more pronounced once it was announced that the opening night’s festivities would take place at the Guildhall, the neo-gothic council building at the heart of this market town. The Great Hall there hasn’t seen regular gigs for around 25 years, and many people present tonight remark that this is their first concert here. Let’s hope it isn’t their last…

Keiron Farrow kicks off proceedings on the warmest day of the year so far. It was toching to see people make the effort to come to this indoor event so early, as it was still about 30 degrees at this point! Farrow has the sort of voice that was built to soar in such environs. His jazzy blues numbers, played with much dexterity on his acoustic guitar, transfix the audience. His recent EP title track ‘Roundabout Queen Eleanor’ is apt, considering there’s a mural of said queen a few metres from where he stands. He slips in a cover of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’ at the end – bringing local music heritage into the present [Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley was born and raised in ShoeTown, you see].

Hyll are a desert rock trio from Marburg, and they crank things up a gear immediately. They lock into a groove straight away and never let up, giving the growing audience an opportunity to witness heavy rock that could shake the very foundations of this building. And whilst walls remain solidly in place, the Twinfest banner does decide to fall on their drummer during their opening song. They continue on regardless, and such stoicism wins the crowd over immediately.

Drinsipa have something to measure themselves by then, and they do their utmost to reciprocate the intensity of Hyll. They achieve this with aplomb, showcasing their grungy hardcore to the sweaty hordes. Now playing as a trio rather than a duo, new single ‘DOP’ is a raucous, epic number, and a definite set highlight.

Drinsipa

The Flims are an indie-pop quartet from Marburg, running a nice line in group harmonising. The sound is very much of the ’00s variety, the songs of Mumford & Sons or Razorlight played to a disco beat. The party vibes are in attendance when they play ‘Sometime Forgetting Is Better Than Healing’, and they can be sure they’ve made many new fans tonight.

The final of the travelling trio tonight is Poitiers trio Mantras. Guitarist-singer Pierre does what anyone on holiday in a hot country does: go topless. His band strike up elongated psychedelic stoner rock and play their hearts out. It’s as doomy as the best of them, rearranging a few of the heads present over their half-hour allotted time. This sort of rock works best in the live environment, and tonight they work us out right and proper.

Sarpa Salpa are swiftly becoming the hardest working band in showbusiness, playing all over the Midlands every weekend, taking men women and children hostage with their funky contemporary guitar pop. Songs about desperation with a disco beat, they are the epitome of the ‘sad and sexy’ movement sweeping popular music. These days they are treated a bit like homecoming heroes, and they know how to light up a dancefloor, as ‘She Never Lies’ comfortably does. If you’ve never checked them out and like acts such as The Killers or Foals, now is the time to do so.

It is gone midnight before The Barratts come on stage to finish the evening off. Those who have stuck it out are treated to a band who can still raise the energy level of any sun-beaten cordwainer or cobbler. They have never sounded so good, as their anthemic indie songs – ‘Satellites’ and ‘Same Old Kids’ amongst them – are played with spiky confidence and verve. James Faulkner’s word encapsulate all the small town ennui in poetic form you could hope for, matched with all the firepower his four brother-in-arms can muster. They send us home with Twinfest love beating heavily in our hearts.

The Barratts

FRIDAY, THE LAMPLIGHTER
This Mounts institution is busy, the vibe celebratory. Ready for the second evening of the Twin Town’s finest, the stage area at The Lamplighter is quickly filled by music fans from across the town and beyond.

Hailing from Northampton’s French twin city of Poitiers, Mantras take to the stage with a barrage of stoner rock. The band’s raw talent and synchronicity make playing live seem effortless and certainly seamless. Featuring melodic riffs and endless amounts of energy, the three-piece set the highest of bars for the evening.

German indie band The Flims were full of energy and strength during their set, providing Northampton with a unique sound. With memorable riffs and pounding drums, the band wouldn’t seem out of place in arenas. It’s the perfect music to finish a relaxing day.

Rapper Leo Robinson doesn’t play live that often, and probably will reminisce on tonight as a reason to keep it like that. He himself is on fire, his lyrical flow nothing short of magnificent. His freestyle bars have listeners hanging off his every word. But his right-hand man Charlie Borthwick is struggling with some technical issues, and the music’s power is lost to a frustrating degree and it affects concentration all round. Robinson does his best but he’s honest enough to know when he’s beat. A missed opportunity then, but one that still shows his strengths – and he continues to dazzle with his recorded output. He really might be “the best thing out of Weston Favell”.

Leo Robinson

Hyll continue to impress tonight, with a later set than the previous night. The crowd is respectful for half their set, but once singer-guitarist Martin takes off into the audience for a wander it heightens the excitement levels and from then on in it’s head-banging and hand-horns all the way to the end. With flawless guitar solos and pounding drums, they’re a band you won’t forget in a hurry. “Breathlessly magnificent rock” probably just about sums up their performance.

Headliners this evening are everyone’s favourite NN party starters, Century City. Regular drummer Tommy is absent, and Jake Crawford [Future Love, Acoda] ably deputises. They are on fine fettle, singer Nik Gray making jokes throughout and egging on his compadres to higher levels. Andy Convey from fellow alt-rockers Future Love jumps up to join in the chorus on one number. Gray does his bar walkabout thing, naturally. We all go home sweaty and happy. Can Northampton be like this every night, please?

Century City

SATURDAY, THE POMFRET ARMS
With a raised stage in the pub’s stunning beer garden, this Cotton End pub is the perfect place for some sunny Saturday afternoon acoustic singalongs. First up Duncan Bisatt uses his music as a way of storytelling. Featuring only his acoustic guitar and his voice, he strums gently as he sings about relatable experiences. Whether it’s climate change or dedications to his hometown, he does it well, including catchy riffs and a soothing voice.

After an issue or two with the line-up, Michael Kinder played earlier than expected. He takes it all in his stride, however – his hoarse, yet trained voice compliments the sun shining on Northampton, and later in the set experiments with using his guitar as percussion. He’s fun, fresh, and definitely funky.

Two piece Crybb are exactly what you’d expect from folk music. They stick to traditions while introducing a modern twist with a flute, so the tracks they perform don’t sound dated. It’s political music with a gentle sound: the very idea of a peaceful protest.

Straw Horses turn the afternoon into something gentile. Their music is calm and quiet, with mellow guitar riffs and the perfect harmonies, but it’s not boring, and nor is it downbeat. Instead, it’s tender and smooth, and they slot in with the rest of the afternoon nicely.

Following the issues with his set yesterday, Leo Robinson has been invited back to perform properly this time. Immediately you can hear the improvement, and he sounds much better. With diverse backing tracks complimenting his rapping, and several collaborations, it’s clear that Leo Robinson is going to go far.

On into the evening session in the barn, Deep Sea Mountains kick things off with their discordant fuzz rock. They are both a bit shouty and offer plenty of sweet harmonies. You could compare their set to watching an angsty Teenage Fanclub, or someone who should be signed to Sub Pop. They play cracking recent single ‘Pipe Dream’ and debut a rather good new song, ‘Five Mile Stroll’, which displays some measured feedback and punk attack – but then suddenly becomes all Television-esque in the arty middle section. This band is a multi-layered onion, and no mistake.

Deep Sea Mountains

Hyll, with the rain pouring outside, are even better here than the previous two nights, which is hard to believe. They bring out the moshers in all of us, and their interactions – coming into the crowd, getting everyone to sit down, being hoisted aloft during the climax – break down the separation between band and audience. Band of the weekend? Quite possibly.

The beautiful droney Mantras mix things up tonight, as guitarist Pierre has brought his slide guitar and an ironing board and proceeds to cook up all manner of beatific instrumental passages to delight the aural passages. The audience are silent in respect and awe. Northampton doesn’t really have a Mantras-type band, could they perhaps just move here? They’d be well-loved.

The Flims follow just as the sun sets, and they bring their best performance of the weekend yet. The intimate setting helps create an affectionate space, and their confidence looks up. They once again have everyone dancing along to ‘Emma’ and all their other Germanic indie-pop tunes.

Deaf Trap have the unenviable task of trying to top all these great performances. They aren’t helped by some power problems which regularly turn the lights on and off, but they persevere to bring Twinfest a dark, feedback-laden, somewhat chaotic, but ultimately joyous set of intense rock. All the mess feels very beautiful: bodies everywhere, a dancing Hotdog, a party at the end of the world. Long may their reign continue.

SUNDAY, THE BLACK PRINCE
Twinfest this year is proving to be one of the best, with the finale taking place at the well-esteemed Black Prince. The atmosphere has been incredibly social and friendly so far, with all of the bands – British, German and French – exchanging words of encouragement with each other and always making sure to catch one another’s sets.

Sunday’s proceedings kicks off with Tom Rose and The Heathen Orchestra, a group that takes elements of shock-rock and blues-rock to create a unique, horror-inspired sound that is reminiscent of the likes of Screaming Jay Hawkins and Space.

Next is Yodaclub, who are definitely unafraid to show their influences, taking notes from The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen [and dressing all in black accordingly]. These lot will be right at home to those who are fans of ’80s post-punk, with a standout track in the dream-poppy ‘Don’t Fall’.

Though today is The Keepers debut performance at Twinfest they certainly display no nerves. The band’s energy and enthusiasm is palpably infectious. They have got the mid-nineties mod revival, wall-of-sound down to a tee. Jordan Jones (vocals) and Liam Taylor (lead guitar) have Gallagher-like swagger by the bucket-load, while Oli Rumens (bass) and Steve Smith (drums) impress with rhythms reminiscent of ‘Elephant Stone’-era Roses. An excellent show; be sure to catch them again at another of their gigs.

The Keepers

After them we have Corby’s King Purple, a grungy three-piece with a hint of psychedelia, who are no stranger to genre mixing. Despite there only being three of these guys they manage to create a sound that is much larger than the sum of their parts. The highlight of their set is the track ‘Wasting Away’, a doomy number that feels like an early ’90s grunge throwback, with long instrumental sections that build up to a frantic, fast-paced finish. After being played and praised on Steve Lamacq’s show on BBC Radio 6, its safe to say that we’ll be hearing a lot more from these guys in the future.

Pieces then take the stage, an indie three-piece brimming with melodic vocal harmonies and buzzsaw guitars play with a punk ferocity that’s not too dissimilar to acts like the Buzzcocks [as well as more modern bands like Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon]. These local lads take the phrase “three chords and the truth” and proudly wear it on their sleeves. With massive, infectious pop choruses and tight as nails musicianship that would put major-label acts to shame, the future is bright for the fledgling trio.

The first German band of the day is Hyll, an act who have continuously proven over the course of this Twinfest that they are a force to be reckoned with. Their songs are punctuated by an abrasive post-punk edge, with blistering guitars, floor-thumping bass lines and primal drumming with the occasional breakdown that always gets the audience headbanging. It’s safe to say that Hyll have well and truly earned the respect of their Northamptonian counterparts!

We’re then back to the British bands with Skirt, who, after their recent triumphant gig at the reopening of The Hut in Corby, bring their high-octane set to Twinfest. Bursting with raw, youthful energy, these lads combine punk with late ’80s Madchester and garage rock presented with a boisterous Gallagher brothers-style swagger that certainly left an impression on today’s crowd. A definite highlight is the menacing ‘Easy Tiger’, a track that could easily sound at home on a Stooges record.

Next up is Marburg’s The Flims, an indie-pop four-piece bursting with class and an upbeat stage presence that reflects the upbeat nature of the music they play. With jangly guitar riffs that feel like a fusion between Johnny Marr and the alternative British bands of the noughties, The Flims are a standout amongst the foreign bands. They’ve managed to get the crowd moving on each day of this festival without fail, and this evening is no exception.

Changing things up are Mio Flux with Patchy The Rockstar, a hip hop duo with elements of trap music, and a bass that would shake the foundation of even the sturdiest venues. The drastic change in genre going from The Flims to these two definitely sets them apart from the guitar bands of the day. They open with a tasteful trap remix of Sarpa Salpa’s belter ‘She Never Lies’, and it’s an unexpected but creative rendition of the track.

For the penultimate act we again have Poitiers’ Mantras, a band that mixes dark blues and psych while taking some clear cues from Black Sabbath. It’s a change in mood that certainly turns a few heads in their direction. Their songs are mostly instrumental, with only the occasional, shrieking vocal that wouldn’t sound too far removed on a Scandinavian black metal record. Like many bands relying on their instrumentation, they are no stranger to speed and volume changes, sonically making them one of the more unique and left field bands of this weekend.

Last, and most certainly not least, we have the homegrown Monarchs to close the weekend. Fresh off of their tour with King Purple, they play what feels like a grand homecoming gig, performing a selection of old and new tracks. The highlight of their set is the recently released ‘You Got Me’, a tune which the local crowd and fellow outsiders alike are clearly familiar with, shown through what has to be one of the most intense mosh pits at a Northampton gig in recent memory. This is surely a testament to the appreciation that the scene has for this band. With a large and macabre indie sound and some Queens of the Stone Age-inspired riffs, chock full of breakdowns and siren-like guitars, Monarchs give Twinfest the finale it deserves.

Monarchs

This years Twinfest has proven to be a special one – with an array of brilliant bands coming from Marburg and Poitiers and excellent performances from local talent, Northampton has once again proven its musical and cultural diversity in spades.

Words by Phil Istine, Lucy Wenham, Oliver Rumens, Tom Rose

Photos by David Jackson, Nallie Simpson, Phil Istine, Kenny Precious

 

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Record review: Lew Bear ‘Love Light Dark And Death’

LEW BEAR Love Light Dark and Death [self-released] If there’s one thing that’s important to Daventry-based singer-songwriter Lew Bear, it’s returning to nature as often as he can. So much…

LEW BEAR
Love Light Dark and Death [self-released]

If there’s one thing that’s important to Daventry-based singer-songwriter Lew Bear, it’s returning to nature as often as he can. So much so, in fact, that several of his previous albums have been recorded in fields, or by streams. But now, with fifth album Love Light Dark And Death, he has decided that it’s time to return back to the studio.

Opening track ‘Devil You Know’ introduces the mood of the whole album with bouncing, crisp guitar strumming, while Lew Bear’s warm vocals are not too different to the cosy blanket you wrapped yourself in as a kid.

‘Going Home’ captures summer in a song, with lyrics such as “I won’t be there alone/in my mind/when I’m going home” bringing imagery of sunny days spent with your closest friends, whilst ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ hits upon a darker target. With acoustic guitars that sound foreboding and ominous, the song is eerily reminiscent of ’40s blues.

Songs like ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘Follow The River’ showcase Lew Bear’s jazz-styled vocals in a lower key, making him sound gloomy and encompassing. The guitar riffs also follow suit with simplistic strumming that boosts the singer’s voice to an even more powerful level. ‘Oh Death’, on the other hand, is deep and haunting, with echoing gongs punctuating the first hand story, from death’s point of view, of what happens to us when we reach the end.

‘Return To The Sea’ and ‘The End Is Never Near’ are album’s highlights, with their slow, calming melodies and soft vocals. ‘Return To The Sea’ is, musically, the perfect mixture of acoustic guitar and poetic lyrics, whilst ‘The End Is Never Near’ documents a love story to last for the ages.

Overall, Love Light Dark And Death is an album that couples folk music with a modern twist, resulting in a clear-cut sound that is neither dated nor out of place within the genre. Lew Bear has talent by the bucket load and he isn’t afraid to use it. This record is unique and warm, with a folk-blues sound that fits perfectly for those sunny Sunday afternoons spent in the countryside with the people you love.

Lucy Wenham

Love Light Dark and Death is out now for streaming, download or on CD

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Record review: Tom Grennan ‘Lighting Matches’

TOM GRENNAN Lighting Matches [Insanity/Sony] There’s something very endearing about the rise and rise of Tom Grennan. Firstly, five years ago he didn’t even play an instrument. Or consider himself…

TOM GRENNAN
Lighting Matches [Insanity/Sony]

There’s something very endearing about the rise and rise of Tom Grennan. Firstly, five years ago he didn’t even play an instrument. Or consider himself much of a singer. And like Richard Ashcroft before him he had a talent for football which almost took him on a different path. But then fate – and Chase & Status – intervened and boom; everyone wanted a piece of him. Confidence grew and he now carries that party-time swagger that thankfully is backed up with the talent.

The Bedford native has a rasping bluesmen voice that defines him as an artist. Musically he has a few different facades, largely reflecting who we works with on each song. Overall you’d probably categorise him as a sort of widescreen indie pop machine. His aim seems effortless and accomplished with a definitive joie de vivre. He’s the Harry Kane of pop! Not that the story of this album is purely one of joy. It’s triumph over adversity, as his words reflect a distressed young soul finding his way in a frightening big world. And who doesn’t relate to that? “I was made out of nothing, you were made out of gold” is one telling phrase on the ballad ‘Lucky Ones’.

Adam Gammage, Danny Connors and Tom Grennan on stage at Bedford Esquires

The album holds great interest for anyone connected to Northampton, as it contains the talents of two local luminaries. Danny Connors plays guitar, provides vocals and co-wrote recent single ‘Barbed Wire’, whilst Adam Gammage plays drums and percussion. They both tour with him too. It’s a terrific match-up, their chemistry clear to anyone from any of their recent live performances. In Fraser T Smith and Dan Grech he’s gone with producers who has crafted humongous hits for Adele, Stormzy, Plan B, Liam Gallagher and Tom Odell [to name just five]. The music is probably closer to a Blossoms though in structure – keeping it pop by focusing on a simple guitar or horn riff, and letting Grennan’s delivery take centre stage.

Almost everywhere you look here you will find gold. Opener ‘Found Out What I’ve Been Looking For’ is a bouncy anthem that will set the festivals alight this summer. ‘Royal Highness’, with its syncopated rhythms and inherent grit, repeats the Ibiza-soul trick that John Newman had going on fairly recently. ‘Barbed Wire’ displays a similar motif, making that retro-soul, horn-inflected sound comeback into the mainstream, just when it had seemed its time had passed. It should come with a warning: this song is likely to cause an outbreak of grinning and kitchen singalongs.

‘Aboard’ has a real maturity to it, Grennan promising not to “fuck around no more”. The band certainly don’t mess about with a tight arrangement that carries enough light and shade drama to make you think he’s a shoe-in for a  future Bond theme. The title track is another catchy yet bravely honest homage to his determination to strive for a better life. If it’s not the next single then heads need to roll somewhere – it will win over a million hearts from the first playback. ‘Sober’ is a touch Hollywood with it’s string parts darting everywhere, but still works out lovely as Grennan’s charm is undeniable. ‘Something in the Water’ was his debut release and reflects his initial soul balladry background. He’s outgrown that format now, but this number still contains the magnetism which bought the world to him.

Lighting Matches is not 100% fireproof though, which is no major surprise for an album that runs to a value-for-money 56 minutes. ‘Run In The Rain’ is Adele-saccharine cliche, ‘Lucky Ones’ can’t decide what it wants to achieve as it plods along alchemy-free [like late-period Oasis], and ‘I Might’ is singer-songwriter mundanity that he should have left on the cutting room floor. There’s always a worry that this collaborative creation-through-committee approach, so prevalent in modern music, might stifle the flow, but Grennan holds it all together even during the weaker moments. And even after all the dancefloor anthems the album puts forth he can leave you emotionally floored at the end, via his X-Factor-style offering ‘Sweet Hallelujah’.

It’s sixteen tracks feel like drinking stops on a big night out. They’ll be exultation and laughter, they’ll be a disagreement or two along the way, moments to think about packing it in. Then they’ll be redemption and hugs at the end. New Boots’ message to Tom is simple: nice one son, the next round is on us.

Words Phil Istine, photos David Jackson

Tom Grennan signing copies of his debut album at Bedford Esquires

 

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Record review: Tim Muddiman ‘Domino Blitz’

TIM MUDDIMAN Domino Blitz [Gun Street] Modern ShoeTown legend Muddiman grew up musically on Elvis first, before a New York electro and reggae phase took hold. In some way that’s…

TIM MUDDIMAN
Domino Blitz [Gun Street]

Modern ShoeTown legend Muddiman grew up musically on Elvis first, before a New York electro and reggae phase took hold. In some way that’s all you need to know in advance to get a grip around this often manic, sometimes debauched, and certainly never serene sophomore album from Muddiman. Once you throw in the knowledge that he has been obsessed by the twin beasts of Cave and Waits in more recent years, and that he shares a stage with Gary Numan for a ‘day job’, and the pieces all fall into place. A record this dense, claustrophobic and littered with ’80s references would only come from a musical magpie devouring these sonic worlds.

Muddiman’s first album, Paradise Runs Deeper from 2016, was a more lo-fi ‘straight’ alt-rock record, with the industrial edges that are still audible on the follow-up. But why try and fit in with the alt-rock world when you clearly have so much to say? And make no mistake, Domino Blitz is big on ideas. There’s a loose thread of a story of rock’n’roll redemption from the characters that inhabit this 21st Century version of the Blitz. It gives a voice to vice, to inner demons, and the battle to win them over.

The album opens, with a nod to Depeche Mode, in fine fettle via the glam stomp of ‘Broken Down Superstar’. It’s tempting to say it recalls Morrissey in his Your Arsenal pomp: tempting even though he is such a toxic touchstone right now, whose very name makes almost everyone wince. But it is accurate! Lead single ‘Get It On’ follows a similar path, adding some terrace anthem shouting bits. The rolling story of reprobates Muddiman eulogises about in the verses is nothing short of a call to arms. A reaction to the corporate takeover, the gentrification of iconic places like Soho. Unite and take over seems the order of the day.

The title track is a slow-burning post-punk electro throb, an apocalyptic theme tune in an album full of dark foreboding about where Western society has led us. ‘Summer Moon’ leaves little room for wriggle with lines like “I am the heroin inside your veins/A warm glow”; all-too-personal sorrow cast over elegiac guitar lines. ‘From the Hills’ is a cascading, 4am country-blues lament, something The Bad Seeds would have gone to town on back in the day. ‘Rat Ballads’ weaves similar magic, adding a cool ’60s jazz touch to the tale of Irish adventures in New York. It lacks a little focus, but that suits the story well one could argue. If that song dropped us off the ship and into the new world, then ‘White Dove’ takes us further south, into the desert badlands where anything can and will happen.

Domino Blitz lists a little musically around ‘Burn the Witches’, though it’s message is all true, railing at anti-immigration rhetoric that leads us to post-Brexit worlds. Where is the love, is all it asks. But the final one-two punch of ‘Clark Gable’ and ‘Out Of This World were worth waiting for; the former an urgent and hypnotic paean to learning from the mistakes of former relationships, and the last song ending on the most positive note possible. Out of the darkness comes truth and light, Muddiman preaches.

This album is magic and medicine, on a personal level for Muddiman and for the blessings of tortured souls throughout the land. If you sail the seven seas on the Domino Blitz and return to land in Northampton, there’s evidently a price to pay and lessons to learn. And, it seems, love to share.

Phil Istine

Domino Blitz is out now

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Record review: Tom Rose & The Heathen Orchestra

TOM ROSE & THE HEATHEN ORCHESTRA TOM ROSE & THE HEATHEN ORCHESTRA [self-released] Orchestral arranger. Bookseller. Gravedigger. As careers go that’s not a bad palette of experience from which to…

TOM ROSE & THE HEATHEN ORCHESTRA
TOM ROSE & THE HEATHEN ORCHESTRA [self-released]

Orchestral arranger. Bookseller. Gravedigger. As careers go that’s not a bad palette of experience from which to paint your tales of humankind. And Tom Rose has done them all. As leader of this Northamptonshire five-piece twisted blues ensemble he’s learnt to weave a consistently absorbing narrative on the freaks and weirdos that walk amongst us.

This twelve-tracker was recorded live last October at Parlour Studios near Kettering, and displays some Hammond-heavy dark forbodings that bring to mind some of the greats of the nu-blues genre: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Tom Waits, Mark Lanegan, Captain Beefheart, The Pogues, with various nods to the original US bluesmen of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The opening track ‘Keep Your Demons’ is the heaviest thing on here, and is reminiscent of noughties blues trio the 22-20s; and before them, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It feels like the sky will cave in over it’s three minute duration, which is probably the point. ‘Dance To Hell’ keeps the sweaty intensity up, coming across like a potent rockabilly version of ‘Red Right Hand’. It’s on this song that Roses’ preacher sensibilities come to the fore, with references to ‘demons’ and ‘hell’; the morality theme is later returned to on ‘Bible Morals’. If you’re going to tell stories you might as well make them biblical in scale…

On ‘Clay On Wood’ the voodoo punk spirit that has inhabited Jim Jones for thirty-odd years – most recently with his Righteous Mind – comes to mind. The band is really smoking on this number, cutting loose with joyous abandon. ‘Maggots’ slows things down a bit, bringing some smooth 60s atmospherics to rival Dylan with The Hawks, or perhaps The Doors. The grotesque nature of the song that Rose is chronicling is one to listen in sharply for, you get your just rewards. The album continues in a similar vein over its second half: ‘Falling Over’ and ‘All Of You People’ add some nifty guitar licks to enliven, ‘Garden Designs’ decides to add profanity to the spicy mix, and there’s some excellent garage-punk dynamics on ‘Trouble’s What You Got’.

This record is a spirited success and one you can’t ignore, for it has you by the throat from those opening notes. It has a timeless quality too – it could conceivably be ignored in 2018, only to be hailed as a minor classic by future scribes. One thing is for sure, however; we are much better off having it in our lives than not. Praise be.

Phil Istine

Tom Rose & The Heathen Orchestra is out now

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Record Review: Venus Fly Trap ‘Icon’

VENUS FLY TRAP Icon [Glass Modern] Much like their beloved Dr Who, it’s been a long, strange, bewildering trip for Northampton’s long-term purveyors of dark wave. Formed in 1986 as…

VENUS FLY TRAP
Icon [Glass Modern]

Much like their beloved Dr Who, it’s been a long, strange, bewildering trip for Northampton’s long-term purveyors of dark wave. Formed in 1986 as a trio from the ashes of their other projects by Novak brothers Alex and John, they rose phoenix-like to be a central part of the local scene of the late-80s [and you can read all about those early days in the latest, fourth, instalment of the Have Guitars…Will Travel book series]. Fifteen or so ex-members later and the last three albums have been the work of core duo Alex Novak and Andy Denton. Indeed Icon completes their trilogy that began with Zenith in 2004 and continued with Nemesis in 2011.

This record is probably the strongest of the trio, taking all the ideas explored so far and crystallising them into short, sharp, energised songs. If you are unfamiliar with the music, then imagine a PiL-like band playing Taffey Lewis’ bar in the original Blade Runner film. A sound rooted in the dark wave/electronica sounds that emerged post post-punk, but one that isn’t confined only to that world. Dystopian sci-fi rock from Northampton means everything from Bauhaus to The Cramps, The Stooges to Sisters of Mercy. The VFT sound is instantly recognisable, but never falls into the trap of being too repetitive. Indeed, after the scene-setting instrumental title track that pulses with film dialogue, each of the remaining eight tracks could be pulled off the album and released as a single. The one track that already has been, ‘Vitesse’ [see below], is pure Blitz kids synth-pop with a memorable hook placed above the motorik underbelly, whilst Novak mixes up his automobile and love interest metaphors to great effect.

The love theme continues on the crunchy ‘Voodoo Voodoo’ and the cinematic ‘Flashback’, both which revel in the VFT interest in the psychedelic. The characters within this pair reveal themselves more and more on each playback, as you catch new parts of the story. The middle of the album is dominated by the slightly epic ‘Deadly Nightshade’, which warms of the dangers in human relationships, where you can find “instant karma in the perfumed garden”. The track is the most sonically pleasing on Icon, as it transforms from beatific to angry and back again continually on its six minute journey.

‘Return of the Sidewinder’ kicks off a trio of culturally-referencing tunes. This song, named after a 1968 TV episode, gives nods to fellow Midlands heavyweights: Bauhaus in the lyrics, and The Specials in the ‘Ghost Town’-esque musical pallete of smokey dub reggae. ‘The Genesis Of The Daleks’, meanwhile, was a 1975 Dr Who series, and the Delia Derbyshire-indebted opening gives way to post-punk guitars and throbbing synth patterns. The song is surely a love letter to those childhoods that were both scarred and enlivened by existential television dramas.

‘Puppet’ seems to take the lead from ’50s pulp fiction from Philip K. Dick, but this time taking the music in another direction into dream pop. It’s a tender lullaby – well it would be if the intonation of Novak [“you’re just my puppet”] wasn’t quite so unsettling. Icon finishes with ‘In The Moonlight’: a Paisley Underground-style acid-folk slow waltz with a Hammond organ dominating the canvas, and some superb background harmonies that drifts us ever farther away from the darkwave idea from whence they came. It’s a fitting ending to a formidable album that, if it is to be their swansong, sees them very much go out on a high.

Phil Istine

Icon is out June 29th via Glass Modern

*Interview with frontman Alex Novak*
NB: You’ve said this is the last studio album.
AN: Probably; more than likely. Never say never. It’s just the length of time it takes to write and mix tracks seems to take longer each time. Does the world need another VFT album? We will see…

There’s quite a bit of diversity going on here; musical references to reggae and dream pop, for example.
We never set out to write in one particular style, just see what comes out of various ideas, see where it takes us. Our inspiration comes from many points of reference.

That’s always been a VFT strength – you always look beyond the “dark wave” tag.
VFT certainly has a dark psyche at the core, but we like to layer it or dress up with different costumes. We tap into many influences.

Keeping one band going for over three decades without a break is remarkable. What’s your secret – sheer, bloody-minded drive?
Its had more twists and turns than a rattlesnake, shedding many skins over the years. Change keeps it fresh. We are the Doctor Who of music – transforming a constant metamorphosis.

‘Icon’ is out via Glass – a label who you have history with, via your old band Religious Overdose.
Full circle – my very first release was on Glass. There’s a symmetry to it all. I like Dave Barker the label boss, and the band’s he has released over the years. It feels like home for us.

Will you continue the band as a live concern in future years?
We will see what reaction this album gets, and take it from there…

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EP preview: Ellie McCann

Ellie McCann is an acoustic folk artist from Bedfordshire, working with third year students at the University of Northampton to record and release her first EP, entitled Long Way From…

Ellie McCann is an acoustic folk artist from Bedfordshire, working with third year students at the University of Northampton to record and release her first EP, entitled Long Way From Home. Her EP is being released in April, including songs ‘Elephant In The Room’ and ‘Long Way From Home’, both with hauntingly brilliant vocals. Some of her inspirations include Kate Rusby, Show of Hands, Fleet Foxes, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills &  Nash, and Hunter Hayes.

The first track on the EP, ‘Elephant In The Room’, has superb vocals, beautifully played guitar, and peaceful calming tones throughout. The lyrics are truly remarkable. ‘Ghost Train’ has a certain twang to her vocals bringing a real folk vibe to the song, with some breathtaking backing vocals [also performed by McCann]. ‘Long Way From Home’ includes palm-muting, giving it a real ‘get your lighters out and sway’ vibe. This track also includes powerful, relatable lyrics. The last track is ‘Pickup Truck’, a catchy love song, is sung in such a passionate way you almost feel as if it were you.

She is now in the finals of a competition called New Roots, showcasing young folk artists, and then will go on to perform at folk venues around the UK. She is also participating in Royston Folk clubs showcase.

The Long Way From Home EP is out on Spotify next month; in the meantime you can find her music on her Facebook page.

Report: Katie Montford

 

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Stevie Jones & The Wildfires ‘Angels and Sirens’

STEVIE JONES & THE WILDFIRES Angels and Sirens Stevie Jones & the Wildfires are a rock group from Northampton. They released their first album in 2016, Stratigraphic Heart, and this…

STEVIE JONES & THE WILDFIRES
Angels and Sirens

Stevie Jones & the Wildfires are a rock group from Northampton. They released their first album in 2016, Stratigraphic Heart, and this is the follow-up. Composed of thirteen songs, most written by Jones, with a couple of covers by other songwriters [George Borowski, and Ian Babington]. The band consists of Stevie Jones (guitar/vocals), Vassilis Damitriadis (guitar), Jake Patrick (drums), and Bob Dabrowski (bass), with guest Autumn Dawn Leader often appearing on piano and vocals. LA guitarist Janet Robin (String Revolution, Lindsay Buckingham Band) and top Leicester harp player Sean Clutterham also provide guest appearances.

The opening title track starts off slow and steady, before speeding up the pace as the song progresses. It’s a song that makes you want to sing/dance along, with a catchy chorus. Along with the lyrics that seem to be about lost love, this song has great fire and passion behind it. It’s slightly reminiscent of Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, with an old-school English rock vibe. The following song ‘Neon Underground’ uses some unusual instruments in the beginning, giving it a Western feel with its use of harmonica. It has some awesome guitar solos. Near the end of the song the instruments drop out which showcases the vocals rawness before the music returns to finish the song.

‘Whitewash’ is very interesting as it uses clips from news and adverts to begin the song. The lyrics talk about what the TV presents to you – Royal babies, celebrities, etc – instead of broadcasting any of the real things happening in the world. The lyrics “They kept us in the dark for too long now” is an obvious reference to what the media shows us. The song ends with police sirens and chaos. This track it a very down to earth, with a clear message.

‘The Garden Path’ meanwhile has a peaceful and tranquil feel and is out of step with the general tone of the album; however it’s a welcome attribute to the album, giving it variety. Again, this song seems to be about love, and love lost. This song still maintains the rawness of rock, but keeps a calmer vibe through the musical accompaniment and backing vocals.

‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ brings back the rocky fast-paced feel to this album. It brings to mind a rock/swing mash up, the lyric content talks about how the writer will never fall in love again, seemingly after a relationship breakdown. It’s a really emotional song if you listen closely to the lyrics, though this could be overlooked with the upbeat tempo and happy-sounding vocals.

This album contains a reoccurring theme of love lost and heart break. It also incorporates a Western and acoustic feel into the rock, which gives the overall album a good mix and something everyone would enjoy. It is really impressive they have used their platform to talk about something like ‘Whitewash’. The album takes a more peaceful and mellow approach in songs like ‘The Garden Path’ and ‘Polly Anna & Me’. Recommended.

Katie Montford

Angels and Sirens is out Friday March 2nd, order here

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