Thursday, 19 February 2015

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Oh, what's this that just dropped into my inbox? Why, it's the first bands confirmed for this year's Indietracks. I'm too tired and busy to make comment yet - suffice to say I wish it was Indietracks every weekend.

Here's the missive from Indietracks HQ:

The Go! Team, Cinerama, Martha, Tigercats and Euros Childs are among the first 17 artists to be confirmed for this year’s Indietracks. The festival takes place on the weekend of 24-26 July 2015 at a picturesque 1950s steam railway in Derbyshire.

The other bands added to the bill today are Desperate Journalist, Mammoth Penguins, The School, Bunnygrunt, The Catenary Wires, The Tuts, Los Bonsáis, Fire Island Pines, The Fireworks, JUNK., The Leaf Library and Eureka California. Dozens more artists will be added to the bill shortly.

Tickets are now available at an early bird discount price of £68 (weekend) and £37 (day). These cheaper prices are available until 5pm on Sunday 3 May. After this date, prices will be £75 (weekend) and £39 (day). Weekend tickets for children aged 5-15 are £10, or £6 for a day ticket. Children under 5 get in free!

Tickets are available by calling the railway directly on 01773 747 674 during office hours or by visiting:

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Bringing back Nat

On 30th January we're welcoming back Nat Johnson and her band to Nottingham for a show at Lee Rosy's, where we haven't put a gig on for YONKS.

The date is part of Nat's Neighbour of the Year tour, and she'll be accompanied by her wonderful band on harmonies, flute, fiddle, lapsteel, horn and banjo. Nat will be playing a retrospective set featuring songs from her Monkey Swallows the Universe and Nat Johnson & the Figureheads days, as well as (of course) songs from the new album.

Support comes from Derby's Mighty Kids, and you can buy tickets here

Friday, 2 January 2015

Tigercats - Mysteries (Fortuna Pop!)

What do you do when you get older and wiser and - frankly - better? Don't ask me about the last two, but if you're Tigercats, then you hole yourselves up in Soup Studios and make an album of such subtle genius that it makes your debut pop splash sound, at times, naive.

'Mysteries' is an album of understated scope and vision. Sure, underneath the measured brilliance of the songs here lies a pulsating pop heart, but there are huge differences compared with Tigercats' 2012 debut 'Isle of Dogs'. The addition of Allo Darlin''s Paul Rains could have had something to do with this, but maybe not. Maybe this band has done what so many others fail to; they've grown to polish what they already had and turn into into something a lot of more fulfilling for everyone concerned.

If 'Isle of Dogs' was your first, thrilling year of living in a big city, then 'Mysteries' is that difficult second one. There's world-weariness at work here, especially on tunes such as 'Wheezer', which sounds like a prime take from Architecture in Helsinki's excellent 2005 album, 'In Case We Die'. "I can't go a day without you!" sings Duncan Barrett as the horns (supplied by none other than demi-god Terry Edwards) and the keys fall over his head.

Other downbeat thrillers include 'To Sad to Tell You', all minor chords and longing, which explodes into righteous indignation now and again thanks to Rains' superb guitar playing. It ends of Barrett's stream of consciousness vocals and is pretty wonderful.

Every cloud, and 'Sleeping on the back seat' is the album's real pop gem. Telling tales of life on the road, this whirligig of a song is perfect. Rains again stars as his guitars spirals up and down in time with a story of longing, endless journeys and... singing to the radio with the car windows open. It might not have the instant hit of, say, 'Full Moon Reggae Party', but it's probably a better song.

'So Haunted' perhaps haunts back to 'Banned at the Troxy' from 'Isle of Dogs' (in style if nothing else), but paints such a vivid picture of claustrophobic frustration that by the time Rains' discordant solo comes in and out that you're pretty much immersed.

We all grow up, of course. But not many grow up as gracefully as this. Tigercats have clearly poured a lot of themselves into 'Mysteries', and the result is an often-revealing, soul-bearing exercise in perfect pop.

'Mysteries' is out on 2nd February on Fortuna Pop!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Lost Pets

I have to declare an interest here, the wife's the drummer. But there are four other people in Lost Pets, and every one of them makes this three-track demo something to treasure as 2014 slips away from us.

Lost Pets have played three gigs, and only started practising six months ago. How, then - are these songs so full of pop magic?

Not that many would imagine 'Diamonds and Cobblestones' to be a pop song. A wistful waltz that could easily be played at the next Coronation Street wedding as the first dance, it's got Rebekah Barnett's tremulous voice across special guest Marc Elston's tremolo, whilst Hannah Bond honks her brass beautifully in the background. It twinkles and lopes and is downright beautiful.

Over on 'Get Out' Lost Pets get mean, a plaintive rant against a controlling other, with garage band drums, butter-wouldn't-melt glockenspiel and more Hannah Bond honking, but it's 'Richard Loves Doris' that really steals the show, with it's 'Be My Baby' drumming, bouncing bass and starlight glock. It's fun and cocky and wry and knowing and completely disarming innocent pop. You should try it.

Lost Pets play the Glasgow PopSouth! Weekender, which runs from 13th-15th February.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Interview: The Popguns:

Hello, again.

Work has taken its toll on me writing anything new for yonks, now. October was a very cruel month. But I've not been as quiet as The Popguns, whose first release for 18 years - the bolshy, chunky, altogether gorgeous 'Lovejunky' is out now on Matinee Recordings, to be followed by an album, 'Pop Fiction',
to follow on 2nd December.

I emailed Simon from the band a few questions. He was good enough to reply...

I first heard Popguns on the John Peel show, when Landslide was in the Festive 50. Is it true the single was held off being released because of the Hillsborough disaster?
Sorry, I’ve never heard that one before. Maybe it was an excuse for not getting more airplay?

What are your fondest memories of your first time around as a band?
Going out on our first mini-tour after we’d done a Peel Session and people in strange towns were singing back our songs from the crowd. I remember playing Warwick University (I think) and people were singing along to 'Bye Bye Baby' which had its first play on Peel a few days earlier and was not out on record yet.

And why did you stop?
Lack of commercial success. And ten years of indie rock and roll can take its toll you know. If I dwelt on that too much about that we’d probably stop again now so I won’t.

What brought the band back together?
The rest of the band kept begging me to do it again cos they loved the songs so much I guess. I was actually very reluctant initially as I had no new songs, but it all went down very well and then I had a rush of creativity for some reason so we carried on a bit more to do the new album. I never fell out of love with pop music but this experience has really brought that alive again.

Do you understand why some people are wary about so many indie pop bands reforming at the moment?
Not really, indie bands are not that dangerous at all. It was actually a real surprise that there is so much interest in indie music with all the Popfest stuff around the world. There’s plenty of room in the world for all sorts of music and all sorts of indie bands too. Not every band is everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for sure.

What are the differences between making music and gigging now, and doing it all in the late 80s/early 90s?
Plus ca change… and all that really. Live gigs are pretty much the same, playing a bit too loud and a bit out of tune in small venues to loud crowds and that’s the best bit really. Everyone at our shows are clearly out for a good time and that rubs off on us;  it’s just a real pleasure to play our music and see the reaction without the thought that we need to impress some journalists or record companies.

Recording has been a bit easier this time with all the new tech and less pressure to deliver. The biggest difference is the internet I guess which helped keep our music alive and lets us keep in touch with our fan base. Twenty ears ago we relied so much more on the music press and crumbs of radio play to get noticed but now that’s not so important.

Tell me about the new album. What influences have you taken?
Firstly, I’m just really relieved and proud to have made the record I always wanted to all those years ago. In our opinion we never really did justice to ourselves with our recordings and this has to be by far our best album. I was always influenced by great female fronted pop bands (Shirelles, Blondie, Pretenders) and that hasn’t gone away and I can’t stop trying to create that same feeling in our songs. Inevitably the subject matter of songs has hanged a bit but you may not always notice (secret: They are all about The Popguns, ha ha). Actually, there’s one song, “Alfa Romeo”, about the life of trumpet player Chet Baker but I don’t think we could be filed under jazz just yet.

And which new bands are you listening to at the moment?
Of the bands that have come along since we split I guess The Strokes, Libertines and Arcade Fire would have to be 3 that capture what I think is great is about pop music. Although Arcade Fire may not quite fit the uncomplicated pop category. Two albums I’ve listened to a lot this year are 'Crimson Red' by prefab Sprout and 'Help Stamp Out Loneliness' by HSOL (a few years old I admit). My 15 year old daughter’s faves are Taylor Swift… and Arcade Fire and The Strokes! Yay.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Allo Darlin' - We Come From the Same Place (Fortuna Pop!)

"Nothing feels like it did before, and I am grateful for that," sings Elizabeth Morris on 'Crickets in the rain', and with that the downbeat tiredness (but still beautiful) of 'Europe' is put to bed. Locked away. It's time to move on, and life is good.

Allo Darlin', perhaps more than any other indiepop band (if, indeed, that's what they are), have been so closely watched over the last four years. Births, break-ups, marriages, moves and a triumphant emotional comeback-of-sorts at this year's Indietracks - all over the space of three albums. 'We come from the same place' is the perfect, rounded end to their first three albums, in which they've not so much grown up in the limelight, as had it shone so brightly on them.

'We come from the same place' is the sound of a band on top of their game - a band who can write just about any song you want them to. 'Angela' is a deeply delicate hymn to love, but is followed up by new single 'Bright Eyes' - the romping, stomping duet between Morris and Paul Rains (whose guitar playing is the real star of this album, by the way). A call-and-answer masterpiece, it's the feelgood hit of the Autumn: "It feels better hanging out with you." Indeed.

Elsewhere, on the title track, Morris's voice, not for the first or last time in the band's time together, soars and then breaks and then does that thing that invokes such emotion that it's hard not to believe anything is possible. It's the past four years synthesised into one perfect four-and-a-half minutes.

Morris is again to the fore in the reflective 'History lessons', in which she rails against nostalgia and vents her frustration that we can't and don't celebrate the here and now and, for that matter, the future. The indiepop scene would do well to take notice.

There's even a hint of Britpop in 'Half heart necklace', which, if not exactly a straight down the line rock track, gives Rains the chance to sketch distorted shapes with his guitar as Morris tells the tale of her childhood back in Australia.

Back to 'Crickets in the Rain', though, which is the real star of the show. Perhaps harking back to older Allo Darlin' songs (at least musically), it's the one with the killer chorus, and another in which the vocals crackle and spark just enough to keep your eyes moistening. And there's that guitar leading everyone a very merry dance, as again, Morris puts nostalgia in its place. No looking back now.

'Another year' ends the album, and still the themes are travel and moving on and not going back. If this song about leaving on a plane is a metaphor for the whole album, or whether it's simply a tale about moving to Italy - it matters not. Sure, there's self-doubt here, but, y'know... onwards.

Much has happened to Allo Darlin' since their self-titled album bounced into the world back in 2010. That they're still around, writing songs as complete and life-affirming as can be found on this flawless record, is something to cherish. Always looking forward, always moving on - and thank goodness for that.

Allo Darlin play The Maze in Nottingham on 19th November, as part of a UK tour. 'We Come from the Same Place' is out on 6th October.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Debutantes - S/T ep (Soft Power)

Oh, the pop music, the pop music these people make. The Debutantes are Leon and Sarah and Paula from September Girls, and this is their perfect debut.

Whereas September Girls are all dark menace, The Debutantes are at the more blissed-out end of fuzzy, scuzzy pop. Opener, 'Burn the merchandise' revels in its prime-time pop-chime of Jesus and Mary Chain, whilst also hinting at Frankie Rose. The Be My Baby (there must be a more technical term than this) drums only add to the lengthening of the summer as the leaves fall.

'Gentleman's wash' is all new-wave atmospherics, with all feel of 'Japanese Whispers'-era Cure in there, and it's pretty much the jewel in the crown here. It's all fruitless yearning, like most of the best pop songs, and is followed up by the equally sensitive 'Kids', which is just gorgeous, like a freshly made bed with a bottle of wine under each pillow.

'X&Y' is both vital and meek and a rallying cry, and a sob into a pillow. It kicks out every remaining jam, and then comes back for seconds, whilst closer 'Adam's apple' is as near to September Girls as get through five fresh as a daisy tracks.

It's a treat to listen to a new band be clever with pop music. There's a subtlety at work here which is often lost in the eagerness to get your music out 

Now, if only Soft Power would stop releasing these things on cassette, which I have no way of playing. Still, you can get yours from 11th October, listen here, and watch here:

Gentlemans Wash from Leon Butler on Vimeo.