Saturday, 22 December 2012

Milky Wimpshake - 20 years of heart and soul

Another year ends with news of the next Milky Wimpshake album, due out in February on Fortuna Pop! 'Heart and Soul in the Milky Way' comes 20 years after the band's first record was released, and, if 'Chemical Spray' is anything to go by, it's set to be another sure-fire pop classic.

Before I disappear to the Peak District to eat and drink way too much this Christmas, take a listen. Milky Wimpshake make the perfect festive gift.

Have a smashing Christmas. See you in the New Year.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

2012: Long players for the longest days

Got paid in the end, just in case you were wondering, like.

Anyway, my favourite albums of the year, you say? Well, read on...

Tigercats released 'Isle of Dogs' this year on Fika Records. I've raved about this album loads, and was lucky enough to finally see the band in Nottingham at our Christmas party a couple of weeks back, where they suitably wonderful.

I was also lucky hear 'Isle of Dogs' very early, after being sent the demos. Why on earth had I ignored this band for so long? 'Isle of Dogs' is just wonderful, but listen at me rattling on in January...
What Tigercats has come up with is a manifesto for what it means to be alive, to be in London and to be living life. Like Suede did twenty (gulp) years ago, and like Hefner did a little bit later. Those other three bands I mentioned earlier are doing it to, and however old you are you should cherish these times, because they're golden days for pop. 

Did the Evans the Death album really come out this year? This splendid band seem to have been around for ever now, but their precious eponymous long player on (Fortuna Pop!) rounded that thrilling first year of gigging off perfectly.
In a world where slack-jawed 21 year olds in bands seem to think that growing a beard will render them instantly fascinating, then this, amongst other things, makes Evans the Death heroes of my pop world.

Difficult second albums don't come much more perfectly formed than Allo Darlin's 'Europe'. It took me a fair old while to really love this album, but when it finally burrow its way into my affections it stuck there, and there it will stay. 
If you’re still addicted to the instant pop hit of Allo Darlin’’s first album, then ‘Europe’ might take a while to worm its way into your head and heart, but once it does it’s more than likely to stay there forever. Look back, for sure, but don’t stay there.

Ah, Cats on Fire, we meet again. The band's 'All Blackshirts To Me' (Matinee Recordings) finally realised their potential. Chock-full of off-kilter pop classics, this was the album I'd been waiting for them to make. I'm sure they're delighted they've made me happy.
Five years on from seeing this band at the pre-Indietracks gig we organised in 2007, Cats on Fire are back on form. 'All Blackshirts to Me' is their 'Strangeways, Here We Come'. Only now I really hope they get to make another record.

But, really, there's only one choice for my favourite album of the year, and that's Shrag's visceral pop fest, 'Canines' (Fortuna Pop!/WIAIWYA). Full of sex, zoology, humour and pathos, 'Canines' is a masterpiece.
Real, instant pop albums like this only come along once every three or four years. This time it's Shrag's turn. Still in love with these times.

Anyone who doesn't instantly fall in love with Orca Team needs a good look at themselves. Their 'Restraint' album on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records was this year's surprise hit, and, combined with some charmingly tense live shows, the band charmed the UK on an early summer tour that I hope they can repeat in 2013.

In a year when the Tory government continued to oppress the weak and vulnerable, then it was good to see The Great Leap Forward take up the agit-pop mantle with the inspiring 'This is Our Decade of Living Cheaply and Getting By' (Communications Unique).
There's nothing wrong with heartbreak over a saveloy, but sometimes I need more, and the Great Leap Forward have given me it. A properly thrilling, angry piece of work. 

Another triumph return came in the form of a newly-invigorated Tender Trap. 'Ten Songs About Girls' (Fortuna Pop!) was somehow the choice for being played endlessly in the car. It kind of seemed perfect.
I didn't really see this coming from Tender Trap. Always a band to adore, with 'Ten Songs About Girls' they've become a band to be in awe of. A bona fide pop masterpiece.

Into the Autumn and a band from years and years ago came back, and how glad I was. Matinee Recordings were good enough to put together The Sugargliders retrospective 'A Nest With a View, 1990 - 1994'. This brought the old days flooding right back.
What you have here, comrades, is the most perfect indiepop - a tribute to defiance, hope and the beauty of finding confidence in a simple piece of spinning plastic. Thank heavens we have that left, at least.

They were my favourite albums of the year. You may very well disagree.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Single life 2012

... but I'm bored of waiting for a reply from the accounts department of a company that owes me £1,000 in unpaid wages, so I thought I'd go all misty-eyed and take a look back at what was ace about this year.

Firstly, there are two glaring omissions: albums by The School and The Smittens - both of which I've simply not got around to listening to. I am a lazy, good-for-nothing tyke. Also, I missed London Popfest this year after being too tired and too skint to spend even one night in London back in February. With 2013's version just around the corner, I hope to make up for this.

Okay, which were the best singles of the last 12 months? I've omitted the Big Wave record on Soft Power from this, because I've only just come across it. Needless to say it's utterly thrilling.

Let's start at the beginning with...

Allo Darlin' - 'Capricornia' (Fortuna Pop!). It seems so long ago now, but I went all Mystic Meg with:
'Capricornia' ois frankly beautiful. I suspect there are plenty of people waiting for Allo Darlin' to trip up after their faultless rise and rise, but this isn't the single that'll let them down. And if this is a signpost the forthcoming album, 'Europe', then Allo Darlin' will be ready to take on the world. And they will.

Into February, and along come Shrag with 'Tendons in the Night', also on Fortuna Pop! (there's a theme here).
If this is a taster of what's on the new Shrag album then I'm in for a Spring of hiding indoors, crouched over the CD player, finger hovered over the repeat button, because 'Tendons in the Night' is the band's best single yet. Bob's deadpan delivery melds perfectly with Helen's hissyfit vocals across a strict background of clockwork drums, organ and squally guitar. The last 20 seconds in particular are just about the most exciting thing that's everey happened to me on a Monday.

Mascot Fight released a single in 2012, and not many people know that. 'Played a Hand' (Cassette County) was apparently released in March, and here's what I, rather unimaginatively, said:
Mascot Fight are still going, and thank heavens for that. Their brand of awkward pop deserves to be heard by more people than a few people in the East Midlands... if you're tired of the same old chords played in the same old order then you should chuck a few pennies their way.

Into April, and stalwarts Peru were back doing the rounds with their first single in what seemed like forever. And what a dreamy return it was.
'Archie's Luck is In' (Archdeacon of Pop) is like Haircut 100 playing McCarthy song, and if that sounds terrible, then you have tits for ears. There's also a bit of The Loft in there, too. It fair takes you back.

Another band back to haunt me (in the nicest possible way) this year were Amida, whose rattling pop showed up bright as a button in May in the shape of the 'My Life As a Trashcan' ep (Jigsaw Records).
Amida choose their influences well; the eponymous opener comes on like the Bachelor Pad covering one of The Creepers' more frantic moments. It's all over the places in the most thrilling of ways, whilst 'A New Low' sounds like a more wired Jonathan Richman, with its gloriously grating guitars.

Meanwhile, Bart and Friends cooled me right back down with the 'There May Come a Time' ep on Matinee Recordings.
When you've got tracks as chocolate-y as 'A Kiss You Won't forget, which combines the effortless grace of Berry's vocals with a guitar line straight from 'Johnny Marr: the early years', then you'll never be alone.

July threw up three of the best, starting with probably my favourite single this year, The Hobbes Fanclub's 'Your Doubting Heart' (Shelflife).
Sure, The Hobbes Fanclub wear their influences on their sleeves, but they do it with pride and when they take their lead from bands that have sat if your record collection for years, then it's pretty much impossible not to fall in love with them.

Similarly understated, and just about as equally brilliant, was Charlie Big Time's 'Dishevelled Revellers' on Matinee Recordings - a record so world weary I couldn't help but love it.
Charlie Big Time are never going to find themselves breaking down any barriers musically, but when they make such gorgeously gliding melancholia like this, well, I couldn't care less.

As if that wasn't enough, back from the dead came Pale Sunday after far too long away with 'The Fake Stories About You and Me' (Matinee Recordings).
Like everything about indiepop, it's a small miracle that this records exists at all, but it does and that's wonderful. Here's hoping Pale Sunday continue to soundtrack the lives of people everywhere.

The unsung heroes of 2012 have been Dufflecoat Records, and I guess they'd have it no other way. The Proctors/Apple Orchard they released in August was the perfect end to the summer.
Dufflecoat Records, the perennial outsiders of a scene already outside of just about everything else, have been putting stuff out at an alarming rate over the last couple of years. CD-Rs have been a speciality, but this is a beautifully packaged indiepop seven inch single on vinyl so thick you want to bite it.

By the time September was here, Shrag had pummelled me into submission with their flawless 'Canines' album. It was only natural that their 'Devastating Bones' single on Fortuna Pop! struck a chord.
'Devasting Bones' is at the same time savage, sexy, filthy and full of pop.

Just as deliciously dark were Fever Dream who in October released their 'EP', erm, through Underused Records. I'm still listening to this every day.
Six songs, then, that show more invention, more emotion and more pop nous than most bands manage in six years.

Also sneaking around in October were Pale Lights, releasing a single on their own Calico Cat label. It's flippin' tremendous.
The whole ep makes me want to sit and play the record over and over again - y'know, like you did in the old days. Take a listen to the mod-ish 'She Won't Ever Calm Down' and tell me you don't want to get off the settee, get dressed up and go out dancing. And how many records do that to you now that you're THAT age? 

The Spook School look set to take off in 2013, but this year they did just fine too, ta very much. Singles on Softpower and, before that, Cloudberry have been vignettes of what's to come.
This single is one of the most exciting things I've heard in quite a while. By the time the gentle distortion fades away at the end of 'Here We Go' you immediately want to go right back to the begin again. This is what pop music is all about.

I've nearly finished - honest.

November was similarly wonderful, mainly for September Girls' dark pop classic, 'Wanting More' (Matinee Recordings).
Throughout the three flawless tracks on this seven inch, September Girls create something so exciting and deeply beautiful that it's hard to understand why they aren't pop stars already.

Lastly, at the other end of the scale, come The Sunbathers with their 'EP' (lot of those this year) on Dufflecoat. A quiet classic with which to wrap up warm with.
The Sunbathers are something of a rarity. Julie and Paul are never really morose, but if you're looking to cut a rug, then you'll be searching in the wrong place on a Sunbathers record or at a gig. A gentle masterpiece.

This year was more of a great singles year than great albums year for me. Of course there were some great albums. The next time someone's not sending me any money for something I've worked ridiculously long hours for I'll write them down. Probably tomorrow, then.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Out with the old

As the year creaks to an end I and I turn my thoughts to those pesky top ten lists, out of the blue come two prime pieces of new pop music to make me screw up those bits of paper and throw them in the bin.

Northern Portrait are back with another ep on Matinee in January, and the lead track from that, 'Happy Nice Day' fair blows the cobwebs away. It's the same sort of sublime pop we've come to expect from the Danes, but then what were you expecting? Dub step? 'Happy Nice Day' swoops and glides and ends on a suitably joyous, hopeful note. But, heck, why take my word for it? Listen to this over and over again for yourself.

And then there's Joanna Gruesome, who have pretty much taken 2012 and given it the roughest, most ramshackle power cuddle they can. They end with these tracks from their forthcoming Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records seven inch.

We've heard 'Lemonade Grrl' before, and it's still as thrilling as ever, so why not lose yourself in Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still in Love With Me', which, underneath all that gorgeous fuzz and discordance, is just a really, really beautiful pop song.

Northern Portrait and Joanna Gruesome have a lot more in common than I first thought. Here's to seeing them both do more of the same next year.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Sunbathers - EP (Dufflecoat Records)

In a time when most go to a gig to get sweaty, dance and sing along to their favourite pop bands, The Sunbathers are something of a rarity. Julie and Paul are never really morose, but if you're looking to cut a rug, then you'll be searching in the wrong place on a Sunbathers record or at a gig.

Of course, that's perhaps what makes this record such an alluring piece of work. Many compare the band to Marine Girls, and whilst that's fair enough, I also hear Harper Lee, Lovejoy and some more Kitchens of Distinction's more introverted moments, and it's in this tradition that makes me love this record hard.

'Hope' kicks us off, and is positively radiant. A wildly optimistic polka about sharing bags of chips and snogging and go for long walks. Wonderfully, it deviates halfway through into something not dissimilar to mid-period Smiths, with Julie almost veering into a yodel. It's better than I make it sound.

'Hopeless Romantic' continues a theme of coupledom and features a sterling melodica solo from Julie whilst Paul picks a guitar line that makes you wonder if he actually has ten fingers on each hand. It's really quite something on record, and simply mesmerising live.

'Northfield Lane' is what reminds me of Lovejoy and Harper Lee so much. From the seagulls and sea samples to the world-weariness and longing to recapture the past. Could this song be about Northfield Lane in Wells-Next-The-Sea? Answers on a melting ice cream, please.

The Sunbathers make me love the seaside even more than I do already. A gentle masterpiece.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Soft Power to the people

Have you heard those couple of new Spook School songs off of the amazing Soft Power soundcloud page yet? There's a couple of them; the first is called 'You Don't Know', and it sounds like your broken heart falling down the stairs in a tin can. It's possibly the finest song written this year and it makes me want to go out and sit in a park and get roaring drunk. But it's a nit nippy for that. And dark. And Corrie is on soon.

Whilst 'I Don't Know' doesn't quite match it for me, it does bring back the spirit and sound of The Deirdres back in 2008, and all those amazing nights we shared together.

Spook School are perhaps the most exciting new band since the last new exciting new band I heard this year. They write each song like it's their last, play their instruments like they having some kind of torrid affair with them. It's pure exhilarating.

Please, please, please check out the other songs on that soundcloud page. I mean, where have Big Wave been hiding? Lost in music for another weekend.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Souper Sunday

What are you doing this Sunday apart from sitting there at home, in the dark, crying into a Cup-a-Soup about going back to work on Monday? Well, why not come to this instead and save yourself all the hassle of boiling the kettle. You could also pretend that the Chickfactor weekend that you can't afford to go to isn't actually happening in London.

See you there, like.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Veronica Falls - Teenager (Bella Union/Slumberland)

Veronica Falls are one of those bands who have, in my eyes, remained just about aloof enough to remain a ridiculously cool enigma, whilst continuing to write drop-dead gorgeous pop tunes in the process.

'Teenage' is perhaps their best yet; a gliding jangle that brings to mind Bart & Friends, Camera Obscura, Bubblegum Lemonade, and a whole host of prime late 80s indiepop, with hints of House of Love, Primitives... probably Kirsty MacColl. Its also got this waterfall of a guitar part that makes me want to put my thumbs through the cuffs of my jumper and do that dance you used to see all the time at indie discos. You know the one I mean...

'Teenage' takes on the themes that happen to you between the ages of 13 and 20: listening to records, being dumped by your boy or girlfriend, the insecurity, spots (probably), and ends up telling us that's, after all of these horrible things then it's going to be alright in the end. If only Veronica Falls had been around in 1988 I'd have probably not ended up buying 'Bummed' by Happy Monday just to lend a girl to impress her.

Any teenagers reading should take note and steer clear of stuff like that.

There's a new Veronica Falls album out sometime soon on Bella Union and Slumberland. If this is a taster (and it is), then the teenager in us all (steady!) can rest easy. Veronica Falls are looking out for us.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Wanted: ace pop band for NSA fun in Nottingham, 8th December

Darlings, I write to you with some urgency. See that gig up there on the right hand side of this page? Well, Young Romance have found themselves in something of a pickle, and are no longer able to make it.

I'll be frank with you: we're a band short, and we seem to have put just about every brilliant band on in Nottingham this year, and are running out of ideas.

That's not to say that if you've played for us recently, then you can't do again - more than we're drawing a bit of a blank. So, can you fix it for us to have the best Christmas party ever on 8th December in Nottingham? That last sentence is perhaps not the most well-advised, but you get my drift.

I don't normally do this kind of thing, but if you're free, and brilliant, drop me a line. Fanks.

Friday, 2 November 2012

September Girls - Wanting More (Matinee Recordings)

One of my favourite memories of this musical year (I sound like David Hamilton now) was seeing September Girls wandering around the Indietracks site, clearly loving every moment of being in a band, looking like a band, and basking in the fact they knew pretty soon that they'd be playing to a rapt audience in the church.

Soon after that Jimmy from Matinee sent me an email asking if I had some contact details for the band. I'm not saying for one moment that I have any part at all in creating this wonderful record, but it's nice to hear from others who appreciate sheer bloody brilliance, isn't it?

Throughout the three flawless tracks on this seven inch, September Girls create something so exciting and deeply beautiful that it's hard to understand why they aren't pop stars already.

'Wanting More' is like a clarion call to the fragile, all organs and fuzzpop and reverb, it's refrain of "Where did you go?" and 'Take me back to where the summer last forever" touch kind of nagging insecurity that most of us all feel from time to time.

Meanwhile, 'Hells Bells' sounds like the Shangri-Las fronting early Jesus and Mary Chain. This pleases me a great deal, and 'Hells Bells' is easily as strong - if not stronger than the title track, with its swirling Farfisa, growling bass and shimmering stars.

Last up is the rollocking instrumental 'Man Chats', two minutes of thunderstorm pop. It's the sort of music you'd play if you'd got away with robbing the world's biggest sweet shop. It's immense, really.

A little piece of plastic to treasure. Buy it here.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Lardpony: return to pop innocence

Prepare yourself this winter for the return of one of pop music's greatest lost bands. Straight outta Derby, Lardpony are making a return to the first team squad after a few seasons out with babies, solo projects, and beards.

Lardpony, as if you didn't know, are a pop phenomenon. They are Tom, Pod, Nathan and, replacing Mandy on keyboards, Swap Chilka. Their comeback gig isn't in Las Vegas, but Las Maze on Mansfield Road in Nottingham. I think that's a lot more sexy than some glorified slot machine in the middle of a big beach, don't you? It's on 6th December, by the way.

I first came across Lardpony way back in about 2003/2004 time when I heard their 'I'm in Love (With a Noxious Gas)' on Myspace. On a good day, this is in my top ten songs ever.

I think I've probably put Lardpony on more times than any other band, mainly because they're so brilliant. They write pop songs that are so clever they could teach A-Level biology in a secondary school. Their songs are about werewolves and robots and love and stuff. Their first album, 'This is Lardcore', released in 2006 merely hinted at how good a live band they were. By the time of their second, 'The Greatest Invention Ever' in 2007 Lardpony were an unstoppable pop force.

'The Greatest Invetion Ever' includes songs like 'Trance Anthem' a half-sinister synth-pop masterpiece about putting a hug target under hypnosis. Come on - we've all considered it.

Then there was 'Who Loves the Sol?', Lardpony's second best song. It's the sort of tune you put on when you've just about had enough. It's a world-weary tour de force that makes you realise that, actually, life's pretty bloody great when the sun's out and you've got a bit of money in your pocket.

Then they decided to pack it all in for a few years, the swine.

But now, they're back, and that's exciting. To prime yourself for the inevitable Christmas Number One, Lardpony have decided to give give up their entire back catalogue for free - including some NEVER HEARD BEFORE demos.

Prepare to empty your heads of all other pop songs for the foreseeable. Lardpony are back, and they're after you. You may as well lay down and have your tummy tickled by them right now.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Fever Dream - EP (Underused Records)

Truly, we are living in blessed times, for it seems that not a week goes by without another record being released that I'm instantly falling in love with. This week it's the turn of Fever Dream's mysteriously titled 'EP'.

Fever Dream seem to have been around for about a year now, mainly playing in London, and releasing a single earlier this year on Underused Records, run by Grant and Rob of the wonderful, lost Hillfields. And if I'm sounding a little vague, it's because I haven't got a press release for this new single.

I booked Fever Dream for our Christmas Party gig on December 8th in Nottingham on the strength of hearing one song, and so it's an absolute joy to hear six of the beauties. Here they veer between dreampop and urgent post-punk or New Wave. It'd kind of like discovering your older, cooler brother or sister's record collection in the space of 25 minutes.

Whereas 'Suspense' is Magazine at their most visceral, 'Poyekhali!' almost takes a trip into goth country, but is saved by a broken choirboy vocal and scattergun drums before building and building and just, all of a sudden, taking off into the sky somewhere. It reminds of Moose or Boo Radleys at their most powerful. It's thrilling, to be honest.

The ep ends with Alchemy a numb, dreamlike nursery rhyme that makes you feel like you're dropping off to sleep in the bath. This is how all songs should make you feel, and opener 'Glue' repeats the trick by sounding like a song that would sit easily on Pale Saint's flawless 'Comforts of Madness' album from way back when (still can't listen to that record too often, even after all these years).

Six songs, then, that show more invention, more emotion and more pop nous than most bands manage in six years. You best buy it.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Sugargliders - A Nest With a View, 1990-1994 (Matinee Recordings)

If you want the definitive review of this wonderful album, then go and read this piece of breathtaking writing from In Love With These Times, In Spite of These Times (the best music blog there is, really). I'm not going to try and review this record now, because Kieron, as usual says it so much better than anyone else out there, but indulge me for a moment, if you will...

Today, during my lunch hour, I popped into one of the the old Selectadisc premises on Market Street in Nottingham. It's now home to Baklash - a "vintage" clothes shop that has just relocated from its dilapidated premises around the corner on Parliament Street. I wasn't in the market for a crimplene shirt, you understand; I was being nosey and killing ten minutes before I had to go and sit behind my desk for another four hours.

I went into the basement of what we used to call "top Selectadisc". Down here they used to sell the tapes, VHS videos and t-shirts. I spent a lot of time down here and "bottom Selectadisc" (also on Market Street and now empty - the last tenants being... a "vintage" clothes shop). Anyway, down in the basement there's just a load of clothes, but I just stood there for a moment and thought back to when I'd arrived in "the big city" from Grimsby and remembered how wonderful it all felt. I've been in a bit of a funny mood today.

It was down there that I bought a Sugargliders t-shirt, along with a Sweetest Ache one. They were my two favourite Sarah bands, y'see, and I could take as much as I would leave with the label. Down the road, in "bottom Selectadisc" I used to leaf through the rows and rows of seven inch singles from labels such as Sarah and Summershine (Selectadisc used to seem to have LOADS of Summershine Records) knowing full well that, if I put my hand in my pocket and bought the ones I wanted, it'd probably be two days until I my dole came through and I could eat again. Of course I bought the records.

Oddly enough, the girl I was going out with at the time had a friend at Trent Poly who actually had a sugarglider as a pet. A mere coincidence. I wasn't attracted to her because of this fact.

I digress!

Anyway, I wandered out of the old Selectadisc building this afternoon and contemplated twenty years in Nottingham all afternoon. I thought about all the places we used to go and the places we go to now, and how things have changed...

Funny, then, that I should get off the bus tonight and head home to find that the Sugargliders retrospective had winged its way from Matinee in the US. Bitter sweet serendipity, that, and it's been playing all night.

Like I said, Kieron says everything that needs to be said about this album, but for it to land today of all days, is a pretty wonderful thing. What you have here, comrades, is the most perfect indiepop - a tribute to defiance, hope and the beauty of finding confidence in a simple piece of spinning plastic. Thank heavens we have that left, at least.

Excuse me for rattling on, but why not save your own life and buy this album, eh?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Baffin Island - Baffin Island (wee POP!)

Writing about a record made by your friends is a difficult thing to do. Mainly because I know that if I don't say that the new Baffin Island ep isn't the bee's knees, then they'll hunt me down and duff me up. Thankfully, that's never going to happen, because this self-titled single is wonderful.

Treading a fine line between the graceful death disco of Camera Obscura, and the pop thrill of Free Loan Investments, Baffin Island make it all sound very easy indeed. If 'Sorry for Myself' sounds too upbeat to mope to, then you can be sure that 'This Year' is just the right side of downright maudlin. Or perhaps you'd like to immerse yourself in the Wurlitzer pop of 'That Summer', which taunts you with a ghostly visitation.

Baffin Island, as you might already know, is the place geographically equidistant between Boise and Glasgow, and so 'We Were Meant to Meet', the closing track here, is kind of apt. The best song here, it combines a kind of coy world-weariness that is the hallmark of all the best love and lost and then found again songs. It's pretty much perfect - a sort of downbeat northern soul classic, if you will (and you will).

As a side project to the Hermit Crabs and The Very Most, the Baffin Island make a splendid job of actually being better than those two bands. A super group.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Spook School - Here We Go (Cloudberry)

I saw The Spook School at this year's Indietracks, and, although not really expecting anything from them, it was one of those moments where you instantly fall in love with a band within about five minutes. This doesn't happen very often.

This, their debut for Cloudberry, manages at once to sound like the legendary Deirdres, but with more of knowing nod to the mid-90s US underground. It also sounds like it would fit onto that wonderful first Airport Girl album quite easily, which is a huge compliment.

But perhaps The Spook School's most obvious influence are The Pastels. Not being the world's biggest Pastels fan doesn't mean that I think this single is one of the most exciting things I've heard in quite a while. By the time the gentle distortion fades away at the end of 'Here We Go' you immediately want to go right back to the begin again. This is what pop music is all about.

'Here We Go Again' is available to buy from Cloudberry on Monday. Make their day.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Pale Lights

Pale Lights have the sort of musical pedigree that, even before you listen to any of their songs, makes you want to hug them close. They count among their number ex-members of the long, lost, and legendary Kicker, Comet Gain, Crystal Stilts and Cinema Red and Blue.

Pale Lights have an eponymous single out now on their own Calico Cat label, and it's the sort of thing you don't hear too often. Some might call is classic indiepop (whatever that is), but these songs ooze of the sort of effortless cool that other bands have to pay for. I'm particularly taken with 'Boy of Your Dreams', which sounds like The Felt Tips playing their favourite Echo and the Bunnymen song, and the understated beauty of 'Ghosts of Youth' which makes me think of how Roy Orbison would sound if he wasn't actually dead and was into indiepop.

The whole ep makes me want to sit and play the record over and over again - y'know, like you did in the old days. Take a listen to the mod-ish 'She Won't Ever Calm Down' and tell me you don't want to get off the settee, get dressed up and go out dancing. And how many records do that to you now that you're that age?

Classy, sexy, smart and essential.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Tomorrow always comes

Tomorrow, then, is the Nottingham Indiepop All-Dayer. It's been age coming around, but that's maybe because we first started planning it in a pub at the beginning of February.

Anyway, for those of you wanting to schedule in chip breaks, then we've got a running order for you:

2.00pm - Marc and Graeme Elston
2.45pm - The Fireworks
3.30pm - Martha
4.15pm - The Hobbes Fanclub
5.00pm - The Give It Ups
5.45pm - Sock Puppets

(tea break)

7.00pm - Anguish Sandwich
8.00pm - Milky Wimpshake
9.00pm - Shrag
10.00pm - Standard Fare

Riots Not Diets DJ sets during the tea break and after the bands finish.

Oh, and if you're really bored, you can read an interview with me and the ace Brilldream blog.

See yer tomorrow!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The mysterious case of City Yelps

Every so often you hear the first few bars of a song and know it's going to be something you'll listen to over and over again. That's how I felt about an hour ago after hearing City Yelps's grump-pop classic 'Lawns'.

I think City Yelps come from Leeds and have amongst their number ex members of the Real Losers and current Downdimers. 'Lawns' speeds along like an early Prolapse track, and with just as much danger. It's my new favourite song, and I really, really wish I was going to this. You really should.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Hermit Crabs - Time Relentless ep (Matinee Recordings)

I never really thought the Hermit Crabs got the credit they deserved when they released those two eps and daintily understated album between 2006 and 2009. Alas, it's too late for that to happen now, as this is a deceased band, and 'Time Relentless' (a rather apt title, if you think about it) is, I hear, the band's last release.

It's a very perfect way to go out, mind, with 'On The Spectrum' hinting at danger, and the title track nudging at a greatness few other acts would let die. 'Stop This Now' (the clue is always in the question, isn't it?) sounds like The Icicles, and I miss that band so much.

Last track, 'So Blue', is where The Hermit Crabs exit the stage, I guess, and it's a particularly heartbreaking way to leave. It's about helping out a friend through a hard time and whilst it never really lets itself go, it's probably best for that. The last thing we want here is an ill-placed explosion of strings.

And so, ta-ra The Hermit Crabs - a band that never really fulfilled (in popularity terms) the promise shown by that exquisite 'Feelgood Factor' ep in 2006, but who were around long enough to be important in my life. Lost treasures are sometimes the most precious.

You can buy 'Time Relentless' from Matinee Recordings.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Lies, lies and government

If, like me, you found yourself crying whilst Jamie Carragher read out some dead people's names yesterday, then you probably need something completely joyful like pop music to bring you out of the anger/shock/revulsion you're feeling right now over the fact that the establishment lied to the families of dead people for over two decades. As ever, comrades, I'm here for you.

I did this last year, and it seemed quite popular, so I'm going to post a load of videos from the bands playing this year's Nottingham Indiepop All-Dayer. Details are over there on the right. This will be the fifth all-dayer, and we think (and no disrespect to those who played previously) that it's the best line-up we've put together.

So, by way of a half-arsed preview, here you go:

Anguish Sandwich

Milky Wimpshake

The Fireworks

Standard Fare


The Give It Ups

Sock Puppets

20110730 - Indietracks 2011 - Sock Puppets from Eolrin on Vimeo.

The Hobbes Fanclub


Marc Elston (in Bulldozer Crash)

... and Graeme Elston (in Pure)

Monday, 10 September 2012

Born With Stripes

Last Friday I went to The Chameleon (where else?) to see a little acoustic gig we'd organised last minute as Nick didn't have a proper show in the diary that night. He'd asked me to hastily book a couple of acts who could play an acoustic set each. So, I went and asked The Sunbathers, and a band who had posted on the anorak forum asking for a drummer, called Born With Stripes.

The Sunbathers were their usual joyful self, all handclaps one minute - genuine wistfulness the next. Most of their sings are about the seaside, and this I heartily approve of.

Before them, Born With Stripes turned up as a duo. Alarmingly young (although old enough to have both finished university), they picked up a couple of guitars and belted out half a dozen sunshine pop numbers that put me in mind of Beulah at their most optimistic, mid-period Boo Radleys or Belle and Sebastian at their poppermost.

On the other side of The Chameleon's big glass window there was a violent, loud, witless street party taking place. Inside the ramshackle walls of The Chameleon, listening to Born With Stripes and The Sunbathers, the 20 or so of us listening felt like we were in the best type of cocoon. Safe and sound.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

I love the devastating bones of them

Another band playing the Nottingham all-dayer are, of course, Shrag. They're headlining, of course. I've said lots of things about Shrag over the past few months, and so I'm won't gush any more about 'Canines' being the best thing to happen to me since they decided to start serving Harvest Pale in the pub around the corner from work. Suffice to say that 'Devasting Bones' is at the same time savage, sexy, filthy and full of pop.

It's out on 10th September on Fortuna Pop!. Shrag are playing at about 10pm at our all-dayer. Anyone missing will be taken outside and stared at for a good five minutes.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Hobbes Fanclub interview

The Hobbes Fanclub are pretty much the perfect pop band - this much you should know by now. Ahead of their appearance at this year's Nottingham indiepop all-dayer, they answered some questions for me.

Leon, you started the band via a long-distance music writing relationship, didn't you? How did that come about, and how and why did it end?

Leon : Well it was just me to begin with but after getting chatting to Fabiana, who lives in Sao Paulo, on we decided to collaborate. We wrote two songs together, but only one of them has been released. She sang vocals with me on the first two singles too, including lead vocals on Love From The Stars which she wrote the words for. It worked pretty well all things considered, and it was nicer having someone to share it with than working on my own, even if we never met. It came to an end when Gary at Bubblegum Records asked us to play Glasgow Popfest. The chance to play live was too good to miss and Fabi being in a different hemisphere obviously made it pretty difficult for her to be involved in that full time so I asked Lou and Adam to join me and I reckon we make a great team.

How did all three of you meet?

Adam:  Myself and Louise used to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Then we fell out, then we made friends again. Then Louise introduced me to Leon who she had made friends with in between. Then we also became friends. Then we formed our band!

Leon: I met Lou at a gig I played with my old band through a mutual friend about 4 years ago. We became good friends and after a couple of failed attempts at starting a band together both Lou and Adam were my first choices when I wanted to get Hobbes playing live.

Louise: Adam and I go way back to our teens, which is a pretty long way back! I met Leon a few years ago through a friend and we got along right away, then I introduced Adam and Leon a couple of years ago. We toyed with the idea of getting together to play for quite a while before we finally managed to mobilise but we quickly became quite a natural three piece once we started playing, somehow it just worked really nicely together. 

Do you all share similar musical tastes?

Leon: The more we get to know each other the more we realise we have in common, plus we're introducing each other to stuff all the time. I’m probably the most immersed in indiepop and shoegaze stuff, but we have loads of other stuff in common, especially girl groups and '50s & '60s pop.

Louise: I think we kind of meet nicely in the middle of our sometimes very different tastes! It’s probably fair to say that Adam and I come more from the rock/punk end, but we all have lots in common musically too. I think we all share enough to make us work well together but have enough differences to make it interesting and each bring something else to the songs too.

Adam: Yeah, I’d say we all like stuff the others like. And we all like stuff the others really don't like too!

What's your favourite album ever?

Leon: That's a tough one, I find it hard to pick one but it could be one from 'All Mod Cons' by the Jam, 'Bandwagonesque' by Teenage Fanclub or 'Nowhere' by Ride. They are albums I go back to again and again and they never get old.

Adam:  Wow, that's a tough question! Mine's probably the one that I made for myself that has my ten favorite songs on it!

Louise: I’m notoriously bad for getting through a full album and am much more likely to dip in and out for particular songs. If I were really, really pushed to say (and I’ll probably disagree with this tomorrow!) in my top ten would always be 'Siamese Dream' by Smashing Pumpkins, 'Doolittle' by Pixies, Violent Femmes (Violent Femmes) and some bits and bobs from Sonic Youth/Pavement/Hole/Dinosaur Jr/Moldy Peaches with a bit of Shangri Las and The Raincoats and assorted other girl groups thrown in! Not quite an album choice, but about as near to one as I get, sorry! 

What's it like in West Yorkshire these days for indiepop? There seems to be some good stuff going on in Leeds.

Leon : I don't get over to Leeds that often but obviously we've got Blanche Hudson Weekend who I love and before them were Manhattan Love Suicides. Like in many other ways Bradford suffers for being so close to Leeds, so we never get touring bands which is a real shame. It wasn't always so. We've only played twice in Bradford and never in Leeds so we've not met many kindred spirits locally. Having said that we did play with a Leeds band called Buen Chico in June who are a great pop band and lovely people to boot.

Adam: Leeds has LOTS of students. I think things like gigs and bands go hand in hand with that. Were playing a really amazing event in Sheffield soon, so I guess Yorkshire definitely does have its golden moments!

Lou: Yeah, Leeds certainly does better for touring bands and there’s a few great venues. Bradford has a reasonably small, but enthusiastic alternative scene which we’ve all been part of to some extent, though it definitely tends to err more to the rock than indiepop. Leon however valiantly flies the flag DJing at a monthly night we all go to/are involved in, treating folk to a fine array of indiepop/related tunes! As for us, the gigs we’ve done have tended to be further afield but I’m sure we’ll do more gigs locally, both in Bradford and maybe Leeds and Manchester in the future too.

How did the releases on Cloudberry and Dufflecoat come about?

Leon: In 2010 I sent a speculative email to a couple of labels including Cloudberry and Roque liked our songs and asked us to do the single which was fantastic. I didn't really expect anyone to respond but I'm really happy Roque did, it was a catalyst for everything that's happened since. Then six months later Gary at Dufflecoat asked us to be on his first release, which when you see the quality of the stuff he's put out since is something to be proud of I reckon.

Tell me a bit more about the songs on the new single. Kieron from ILWTT pointed out in his review that they were like a call and a reply. Was that intentional?

Leon: No, it wasn't intentional and it hadn't occurred to us to be honest although I can see why he would think that. They were written about two years apart and 'The One You Love' (the reply) was written first. 'Your Doubting Heart' was inspired by the title of a short story I saw in an 1950s copy of Woman's Own I found in a back room of Bradford Playhouse one night when I used to help run a night there. 'The One You Love' is just about that feeling you get when you know a relationship is beyond repair, and you're looking wistfully back at what you've lost even though you know it has to end. My songs aren't especially wordy, and I repeat myself a lot! But I think the tone of that song is a bit gloomy which matches the words 

Adam: From my point of view I'd say "Your Doubting Heart" is defo the punkiest moment in our set. And i like things punky! I think the vote was unanimous from the word go that it would be the first single. It seemed to be the one song that we were collectively drawn to.

What's next? An album?

Leon: We'd love to do an album or another single. We are in the middle of our busiest set of shows so far but in between we're busy writing some more songs. The Shelflife single is going well so hopefully we'll get the chance to put some more stuff out.

Louise: yeah, we’d love to do an album and I think we’ve certainly got one in us! We’ll just have to see what opportunities arise, as Leon said, we’re pretty busy with gigs right now, but we’re definitely keen to do some more releases.

Adam: I'd really love to play at Indietracks again! It was awesome. I'd love to record and release a couple more singles. And I'd love one of our songs to be featured in a reality TV programme. One about engineering or automotive construction, that would be good.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Tender Trap - Ten Songs About Girls (Fortuna Pop!)

Excuse the Tender Trap overload, but they're pretty much all I've listened to over the last two or three weeks...

There was a brief moment at this year's Indietracks, when I was sat watching Tender Trap, that everything seemed okay with the world, that the songs on this album being played on a small stage in the middle of a field in Derbyshire, were somehow going to save the world. Six weeks on, nothing's happened to really change my mind about that, just because these songs are now sat in front of me on a silver disc.

'Ten Songs About Girls' is a mighty, mighty album. It sees Tender Trap in their most confident form ever. It's all fistfuls of drums, sugar-coated guitar hooks, the most perfect of backing vocals, and - in at least one case - a masterpiece of angst and/or mourning.

Whether it's just coincidence or something more, the addition of Emily Bennett from the ace Betty and the Werewolves seems to have elevated Tender Trap onto a new level with this album.

It opens with the rollicking 'Train From Kings Cross Station', which namechecks Preston (I think), and is perhaps the best ever song to do so. It's like The Cure's 'Jumping Someone Else's Train' sung by the Shangri-Las. Next up is 'MBV' (strange as this record was produced by Brian O'Shaughnessy), easily the most radio-friendly (is that still a phrase?) song on the album, and surely a shoe-in for the next single?

The middle of 'Ten Songs for Girls' is taken up my three remarkable songs. Firstly. 'Step One', a hilarious guide to forming a girl band and becoming famous; secondly, the almost-grunge-y griefpop of 'Memoribilia' (my favourite track on the album), and third the tender (ho!) 'Mayday'. This triumvirate show the depth of Tender Trap nowadays, and they're all pop classics in their own perfectly-formed ways.

I didn't really see this coming from Tender Trap. Always a band to adore, with 'Ten Songs About Girls' they've become a band to be in awe of. A bona fide pop masterpiece.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Tender Trap's steps to heaven

Tender Trap's 'Step One' single is out on Fortuna Pop! today, and you really should all buy it. It's a big, brash romper stomper of a song, with humour, attitude a hook that worms its way into your brain FOREVER. Well, the last three weeks, anyway...

Anyway, 'Step One' is Tender Trap at their most confident best, as it taken from the equally life-affirming album 'Ten Songs About Girls', which is also out soon of Fortuna Pop! Yeah... soon.

If you're missing Indietracks (and who isn't it?), then take at look at the video for 'Step One'. It makes me want to stop doing this stupid job, shut down my computer and head out for fun forever.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Eux Autres are right again

Before I disappear to Bournemouth for the weekend to appear on the set of the most forced fun you can have at a family barbecue, I'd like to share the ace new video by Eux Autres, a band who make quite the best rattlebag garagepop.

This video is all kinds of brilliant.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Happy Christmas from Nottingham

Whilst I'm wandering around in a daze at how brilliant the upcoming Tender Trap album is, I thought I'd better tell you about a Christmas party we're putting together in Nottingham.

After falling completely in love with Young Romance (only half apt) at Indietracks this summer, I've invited them to come and play in Nottingham and they've only gone and accepted. Joining them are the lovely feedback pop of Fever Dream and the mighty Tigercats, who are making their Nottingham debut after what seems like forever. It should be quite a party, but it clashes with the Big Pink Pop do on the same night. Sorry, you lot!

DJing will be Kevin from the Felt Tips, who also have a new album recorded to follow up 2010's ace debut.

Here's some videos of the bands:

It's gonna be ruddy brilliant.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Fanclub on film

Just in case you were in doubt that The Hobbes Fanclub's 'Your Doubting Heart' wasn't the best single to be released for AGES, then here's a beautiful video to go with it.

This song, along with it's completely beautiful reply, 'The One You Love' have accompanied me to and from work this week, as well as in the car and, lastly, the bath. Hang onto that last thought, Leon and company.

Watch this, and then buy the single immediately from the Shelflife website.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Proctors/Apple Orchard split single (Dufflecoat/Luxury)

Dufflecoat Records, the perennial outsiders of a scene already outside of just about everything else, have been putting stuff out at an alarming rate over the last couple of years. CD-Rs have been a speciality, but this is a beautifully packaged indiepop seven inch single on vinyl so thick you want to bite it.

The Proctors have come back from the dead over the last couple of years after skirting around in the early 90s putting out some sublime pop music on Sunday Records (if my memory serves me), and it's a joy to have them back. They're even playing live these days.

Their two tracks here are probably towards what those Americans called 'dreampop', which is a fair description when it comes down to it; it's really way too upbeat to be labelled 'shoegaze'. 'Fun Sunday' is both sad and happy at the same time. The maudlin mixes with majestic, uplifiting, chiming guitars and a vocal from Margaret Calleja.

Having said that, 'Adrienne' is pure shoegaze, and could easily fit on that first, mighty Slowdive album. It brings back hours spent with in my bedroom with that record and a cheap bottle of red wine. My, I was the most bohemian man on the planet back then. Oh, yeah.

Apple Orchard are still around, and still making a quite beautiful sound. Taking their cue from the noisier stuff on later Sarah, and bands like Moose and Revolver, theirs is a dirtier, less glacial pop sound, but none less brilliant. 'Not This Time' fair grinds along, but it's 'The Early Riser' which shines brightest, with its carefree, lolling guitar riff and almost funky drums. It's way better than I've made it sound, don't worry.

I've got a few more new Dufflecoat releases to listen to over the next few days. If they're all as good as this one, I'm in for a treat. So are you, like.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Sauna is dead

Rather typically, I find another ace band as soon as they're about to split up. And so it is with Sauna, from Denver, who come highly recommended by the godlike Orca Team.

Sauna are the snotty little sisters and brothers of Orca Team, making a rougher, yet lighter, surf pop sound. Whereas Orca Team are perfect to drown yourself to, Sauna make you want to kill yourself in a high speed road accident.

Alas, they're about to kill themselves in a massive pile-up of a last gig in Denver on Friday 17th August. If for some reason you're reading this and you're in the vicinity I'd go along, call me, and let me listen to another slice of pop perfection slip down the shitter.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Sport for all?

Those who haven't been engaged counting of band members on stage at Indietracks in order to try and make a clumsy point, might well have been rapt by the Olympics. "Team GB" (yack!) is currently the centre of the universe in these parts, and the Olympics are being pushed by the state as a way of trying to unify the country.

The rapture on Saturday morning was reaching Diana levels, but time will tell whether a two and a half week corporate jamboree is really the thing to suddenly define a nation's mood, never mind catapult those out of work back into it, or stop the terrifying rise of homelessness, or suddenly stop successive governments' consistent attacks on public services. Call me cynical, but I'm not sure even the best discus final can manage that.

Along with what seemed like the rest of the everyone else I know I watched the opening ceremony to the Olympics on Friday evening - a big party with lights and people dressed up as nurses and pretend Tories attacking children in their hospital beds.

Elizabeth Windsor jumped out of an aeroplane. Unfortunately it wasn't the real Queen, and, alas, she had a parachute.

Remarkably, at a cost of £27m, and in the teeth of a fierce attack on the working class, this whole thing was declared as some kind of triumph for the left. At best, it was mildly surreal (and at times funny) and a kind of fairytale eulogy to the British working class and the welfare state it worked so hard to establish. At worst it was a bloody huge waste of money, and something of a piss-take.

The Olympics, now more than ever, is held up as the pinnacle of sport; each Games is better and more spectacular than the last one; each athlete bigger, faster stronger... more covered in advertisements than ever before. These facts might be true, but they have little to do with sport.

As Harley Filbin says in this week's Weekly Worker:

"Sport is art, quite as much as dance, or theatre, with which it shares the aestheticisation of the physical spontaneity of life. As such, it is quite as capable of producing something beautiful. It does so today in spite of its corruption by bourgeois society’s ideological decay, which turns athletic achievement into a celebration of pointless sacrifice."

Beautifully put, I think, and something which applies to every man and woman competing in this year's Olympics in London. There is no so-called  "pride" in this kind of ordeal where so much is sacrificed in the name of imaginary borders.

The drive towards Olympic glory at the expense of just about everything else create a self-serving elite that has access to the best facilities. Sport and recreation just isn't for all, it seems, unless you're willing to give up your life for Team GB and the nation.

All this led me to another article in the same paper, which told the tale of the Workers Olympics, which fascinate me. I'll hope you pardon me if I simply cut and paste straight from the original article here:

With the rise of national trade union federations, cooperatives and mass socialist parties during the period of the Second International (1889-1916), worker sport started to assume organisational form. As with so many other aspects of working class culture, the German working class movement served as a model - its enormously popular gymnastics, cycling and hiking associations were replicated all across Europe. Worker sport encompassed a wide-range of activities ranging from chess to jiu-jitsu.

The emphasis was always on participation - another way of patiently building the organisational capacity of our side, opposing the dominance of capital and breaking through the fetters it imposes on the self-expression of the worker. These clubs and associations often produced and distributed their own agitational materials and even specialist publications.

Reflecting the post-World War I division in the workers’ movement, two worker sport internationals came into existence in the early 1920s. The Lucerne Sport International (LSI), founded in 1920, built on the remnants of official social democracy. Nevertheless, its membership totalled nearly two million people, with more than half of these coming from Germany. The German movement had the honour of running the largest cycling club in the world, served by a cooperatively-run bicycle factory. While much smaller, the Austrian and French sections were also influential.

The Communist International helped found the International Union of Red Sports and Gymnastics Associations - more commonly known as the Red Sport International - in 1921. Its explicit aim was “the creation and amalgamation of revolutionary proletarian sports and gymnastics organisations in all countries of the world and their transformation into support centres for the proletariat in its class struggle”.

The fate of both organisations was bound up with the twists and turns of the relationship between the two wings of the international workers’ movement. At a grassroots level, however, the relationship between the two organisations was often close and led to some interesting outcomes. 

Worker Olympics

Following a series of large regional and local events, the first Worker Olympics took place in Frankfurt am Main in July 1925, organised by the LSI. Despite the fact that the festival banned communist sporting organisations from taking part, these games were a big success. Over 100,000 athletes competed, making them the biggest Olympic event ever. Frankfurt 1925 highlighted the schism between the (class-prejudiced) ‘amateurism’ of the official Olympic Games and the working class response to them. A line had been drawn - there were no common events or competitions between the two Olympics. (In other sports, however, there were examples of competition - on one occasion the Austrian worker football team actually beat the official Austrian national side. Forget Liverpool v Everton: that’s a real derby!)

In welcome distinction to the usual capitalist crap, the official motto of Frankfurt 1925 was “no more war” - sticking two fingers up to the official Paris games of 1924: the warped and jingoistic values informing the latter ensured that athletes from the ‘loser’ countries in World War I were banned from taking part, not to mention athletes from the young USSR. The LSI charged Paris 1924 with “using sport to promote war”. While the Second International’s record in fighting World War I was anything but exemplary, the message of the LSI games was clear: “For sure, competition easily awakens animal instincts. But only if the spirit of humanity is absent. Nationalists know no humanity. We all have the same enemy: capitalism.” 

Over 150,000 spectators attended the worker games, which eschewed national flags and anthems. Memorable events included a “living chess game” and an anti-war demonstration on the “day of the masses.” The games finished with the (hugely popular) football final and an aquatic exhibition in the Main river! Later on that year the first worker winter games took place - also in Germany.

Calisthenics were an important part - all competing athletes were expected to participate in these mass exercises. In this way the worker Olympics strove to break down the artificial division between the athlete and the spectator - and to counter national chauvinism by bringing together so many athletes from around the world in a conscious display of international solidarity. The aim was to proclaim the “new great power” on the global scene: the international working class.

Social democratic ‘Red Vienna’, renowned for its daring, avant-garde experiments in architecture and the design of working class accommodation, was the venue for the second LSI worker Olympics. The Prater Stadium had been built especially for the occasion. Over 250,000 people watched the “festive march”. All this was a bit of a coup for the Second International too, with its 1931 Vienna congress taking place at the same time. The event’s official programme even contained “welcome greetings” from such Second International luminaries as the Austro-Marxist, Victor Adler, and the execrable Belgian social chauvinist, Emile Vandervelde.

Once again, the festival’s opening ceremony was remarkable, featuring a live depiction of the history of the workers’ movement from the Middle Ages. At its close, a large model of a capitalist’s head placed in the middle of the Prater stadium collapsed into itself (imagine that, Seb Coe!).

All the while, the communist RSI and its affiliates, such as the wonderfully titled Combat Association for Red Sport Unity (Germany), were organising their own events as an alternative to both the official games and those of the LSI. The first Worker Spartakiad took place in Moscow in 1928, followed by a Winter Games in Oslo. Moscow 1928 could not compete with the LSI event in terms of numbers (600 athletes representing 14 countries), but it was nonetheless a crucial event for communist worker sport and its attraction internationally.

In 1932 the RSI attempted to take the second Spartakiad to Germany, but in the heightened political atmosphere of the time the games were banned. Then came fascist reaction in Germany and Austria. It is worth noting that Hitler crushed the worker sport organisations in Germany in 1934.

Fascism struck another blow against the worker Olympics in 1936. With Comintern’s embrace of popular frontism, there were successful attempts to organise a joint RSI-LSI Olympics in Spain. However, these games had to be cancelled immediately after the opening ceremony following Franco’s uprising. With much of Europe now coming under the influence of fascist reaction, brave attempts were made at organising another event in the following year, this time in Antwerp, but in spite of the unity of the two organisations the numbers were markedly down. The repression in the core country of worker sport had taken its toll.

Nevertheless 50,000 spectators at the opening ceremony was no mean achievement. And once again the games had tremendous symbolic value, especially for the many courageous working class militants engaged in the struggle against fascism. There was even a Spanish delegation present despite the civil war. Their armoured car and ‘No pasaran’ banners were met with cheers from the crowd.

This was the last time that a worker Olympics was organised on an international scale. In line with post-war ‘peaceful co-existence’, ‘official’ communism soon fell in behind the mainstream games - as did official social democracy, by then fully integrated into the US-led global order. The split between the bourgeois Olympics and worker Olympics was resolved in favour of the former. And this situation looks set to continue until we see a revival of mass working class organisation.
Fascinating stuff, and, for me, something more courageous than hiving yourself away in a five star resort "at altitude" for half the year. Of course I'll gasp with the rest of you when Usain Bolt breaks another world record, or Mo Farah either spectacularly wins or fails (oh, we British love a plucky loser - we're constantly told this), but I'll also gasp at how grotesque it all is.

And finally, really, how can you love an event that is headed up by Sebastian Coe?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

September songs

Just a very quick post as I swelter in an office writing corporate shit about stuff that no-one will ever read: we've made a start on gathering up some track from all the bands appearing at our Nottingham Pop All-dayer on Saturday 29th September, and we're sticking them up on our tumblr thing. Or rather Andy is, because I don't really understand tumblr.

Already up there are tracks by The Hobbes Fanclub and Shrag, and I believe The Fireworks will be next up. Keeping checking back to give yourself a very slack-arsed preview of who'll be playing what come the end of September.

Right, back to the dulling world...

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Hobbes Fanclub - Your Doubting Heart (Shelflife)

In which Bradford is, for five minutes, the centre of pop music's renewed claim for world domination.

This second seven inch from The Hobbes Fanclub is the real deal, the perfect single; two short bursts of spine-tingling brilliance that make you want to either go and smash a bankers' windows in, or lie in the grass looking at the sky and dreaming of what you really want. These things can be done in either order - just make sure you're listening to these two songs whilst you're doing them.

There are no a-sides here - not to me, anyway. 'The One You Love' is introspective, maudlin, powerful and, to be honest, a little bit teary. It sounds like it'd fit nicely on those first four classic Ride eps, and there's no higher praise from me than that.

'Your Doubting Heart', a tale of self-doubt and insecurity, you emo filth, is decidedly more upbeat, and rattles along like in much the same way The Wedding Present used to when they were good and less awkward about writing pop songs.

Keener ears than mine might say there's a definite similarity between these two Hobbes Fanclub songs and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and they might be right - I couldn't possibly comment. Sure, The Hobbes Fanclub wear their influences on their sleeves, but they do it with pride and when they take their lead from bands that have sat if your record collection for years, then it's pretty much impossible not to fall in love with them.

Have yourself a listen to 'The One You Love' on the Nottingham All-dayer tumblr, and make sure you com and see them on 29th September in Nottingham, as well as everywhere else. They're playing in Paris soon. Now that's a combination to dream of...

Monday, 16 July 2012

Charlie Big Time - Dishevelled Revellers (Matinee Recordings)

Do you remember those times where you used to lock yourself away for hours and hours, with just your records and your record player in front of you. Maybe you might've been making a tape for someone you had your eye on at school, or maybe you just didn't want to go outside and have to deal with the real world.

I remember those times when I listen to the Charlie Big Time's debut ep for Matinee 'Dishevelled Revellers'. In the days of mp3 files being emailed everywhere and clogging up your laptop, then it's easy to forget that records used to be an artefact - an object to loved and admired. Something to look at and hug (come on, we all did it). 'Dishevelled Revellers' is such a record, and it makes me long for the days when I had days on end to just sit and listen to record after record after record...

Enough of the romance - here's the science bit: Charlie Big Time are never going to find themselves breaking down any barriers musically, but when they make such gorgeously gliding melancholia like this, well, I couldn't care less.

The title track here tells of the hideous aftermath of those endless nights out where, all of sudden, you're back home, and reality bites. Charlie Big Time salute this heroes of the night during three or so minutes of the most beautiful guitar pop. "My life's a mess, my Sunday best' they sing...

'Liberation of Love' recalls both underated Sarah types Harvest Ministers and The Smiths' more tranquil, early moments, whilst 'Real Estate' and 'Passion and Headaches' end this whole magnifienctly downbeat package of songs on a deliciously downbeat note.

Charlie Big Time have had songs out of Cloudberry and Series Two over the last couple of years, during which time I've been a bit busy. That doesn't stop me being miffed with myself that I've missed out on two years of the most beautiful pop music. Best start catching up now.

Listen to 'Liberation of Love', then head over to Matinee and buy the record.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Pale Sunday - The Fake Stories About You and Me (Matinee Recordings)

Pale Sunday first came into my life when their glorious 'A Weekend with Jane' ep shimmied its way through my letterbox almost a decade ago amidst a period of serious upheaval. It's fair to say that back then it was a ray of light, and the band have remained that way since. Even when they let me down by not turning up for Indietracks the year before last.

It's easy to forget Pale Sunday, to be honest; stuck in Brazil they've never toured Europe, and so it's left to my good comrade Jimmy at Matinee Recordings to keep in touch with them, and put their records out now and again.

'The Fake Stories About You and Me' is Pale Sunday's strongest release since those nascent days of 2003, with four songs that, whilst hardly tread a new path, are definitely more confident, rounded, and affecting that at most times since that first Matinee release.

'Happy (When You Lived Here)' is a fair heartbreaking tale of broken relationships and starting over - but ultimately hope, and it's that hope that almost makes the guitars break loose at times. Pale Sunday are too cute for that, of course, and the melancholy harmonies return. It's a majestic three minutes, but it's probably best you don't listen to it if you're having a hard time at home.

'About Your Life' perhaps should've been the lead track, but who cares where it is; I'm just glad it's here. Built around a guitar riff that will worm its way into your life for days and days, it's just thing to perk you up after the bitterness of the previous track and hints at a love of Teenage Fanclub or mid-period Ride.

'That's the Way' further illustrates a love of early-90s guitar manglers and is all the better for it (it even goes a bit shoegaze on the fade out), whilst Pale Sunday revert to type on 'The Winter Song' - a paean to the shortest day, and perhaps one of those clever metaphors about change and upheaval and all that jazz.

Like everything about indiepop, it's a small miracle that this records exists at all, but it does and that's wonderful. Here's hoping Pale Sunday continue to soundtrack the lives of people everywhere.

Have a listen to 'Happy (When You Lived Here)', and then buy the ep.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Shrag: "Nobody wants to see us over their Crispy Pancakes"

Call me rash and foolish if you will, but I'll come out and say there won't be a better album than Shrag's 'Canines' this year. The album was released this week, and if you haven't got it yet, then what are you messing about at? You can buy it from here.

Bob, Helen and Steph took time out from getting tanned and famous to answer a few questions.

You must be deeply pleased with the new album. How long have you been working on those songs?

Bob: Extremely pleased. The fun part was writing them. The process began last year around January. We’d have regular weekly writing sessions and within a few months we had 14 demos. The hard part was learning to play them. Even harder was recording them. Having a producer for the first time made us aware how sloppy we are in the studio. But it all came good in the end. I think!

Helen: Yeah, we're pleased with Canines, it became what we hoped it would be in the end...we wrote it in a relatively short, condensed period of time for us, between February and August of 2011, and (I personally at least) can see the way that has shaped the record - in a good way I think! It feels more coherent and immediate maybe than our two other records, and I think in part that is a result of the way it was written and recorded.

Steph: From start to finish, the album took about a year and a half. The first bit, when you're working it out, is the most enjoyable which makes sense else you might not continue.

Is there a common theme running through the album?

Helen: I don't know about a common theme exactly, because there is a fair bit of divergence between much of the subject matter of the songs. Saying that there is also I think a dialogue between some of them; some songs like 'Chasing Consummations' and 'Flinching at Forever', for example, are an attempt at interrogating a similar issue or situation from a different perspective or stance, getting round the other side of it and looking at it from there in an endeavour to make sense of it that way.

And what is that issue/are the issues? That six-month period, whilst we were writing ‘Canines’, was particularly unstable and strange for me, and I was, partly ‘cos of my own fault, facing making some decisions and changes that I didn't particularly want to have to make - in my personal life, in my 'career', and the rest of it.
And then it also felt like given the political changes seeping out of London, the trajectory we were and are still on, being uncertain and facing instability in your personal life was becoming an increasingly frightening, paralysing thing. Something is being taken away from people and it's those whose personal foundations are less established or more in flux who feel that loss the most. And so I guess I was interested in the way these structures interact, and indent each other - the bigger structures, the way we organise ourselves politically.

And then internal structures: ways of thinking, what you believe in and value, and then, importantly for ‘Canines’ I think, physical structures, of the city, of the body, the way it is possible to use the body to deal with or articulate emotional, psychological states or belief systems.

I don't know if this makes any sense. It does to me.

You've been around for quite a while now. Did you ever think by this point you'd be pop stars? Do you want to be pop stars?

Bob: Without Top of the Pops there’s nowhere to go is there? The Graham Norton Show doesn’t have the same cachet. I gave up wanting to be a pop star way too late in life, but it did happen. No one wants to see Shrag over their Crispy Pancakes do they! Maybe they do. I want loads of people to hear this album. Whatever their diet is.

Helen: What I'd like is to be able to get to a point where we could do this full time. When we do work out a way to devote a continuous period of time to the band, writing… I always wonder what we might be capable of if we had the time and the money to really give ourselves over to it for a while. I sometimes suspect it might be a lot. But that so rarely happens, and certainly not to a band like Shrag, and I don't think we've ever been under any delusions that it would!

Having said that, I would very much like to be a popstar yes, of course... love all that shit.

Who writes the words and who writes the music?

Bob: I generally work on the music in demo form before anyone joins in. When I’m happy there is a song in the making I’ll get Helen and Steph on the Batphone and we’ll add words and voices together. Helen writes all of the words.

Steph: Every album has been done slightly differently but basically, Bob will have a track, Helen will write the words, I will add some counter melodies, some harmonies, some keys, Andy will work out his drum parts… everyone adds their bit.

Do you feel any affinity with any other London (or elsewhere) bands? If so, who?

Bob: There are bands I really like but affinity is hard to come by. It’s probably hard not to mention Comet Gain at this point, however.

Helen: There's many bands that I love and who we have played with and feel connected to, to some extent, but that tends to be a measure of a shared outlook or ethos or friendship. I always just think we're a bit strange and so our music doesn't always fit right in with a bunch of other bands, we don't have bands that we always play with etc. I like that too, though, we've been able to do so many different things over the years which, looked at as a whole, don't really offer up any coherent narrative of where we 'belong' or fit in or are headed.

There are so many good people in London at the moment, and good people in bands and running labels and nights and promoting. We feel lucky to know them and be a little part of that, but I wouldn't want to pick out one or two with whom we discern an affinity more than others, they might disagree.

Steph: Chips for the Poor.

The album has received ace reviews. Do you think this will lead you being offered more money/fame/free booze?

Bob: It’s all relative, but yes I’d like a bit more of all of those please. Who do I see to make this happen?

Helen: All three of those things would be very welcome, and we were promised them in bucketloads by Jerv and Sean, so they will undoubtedly be coming our way soon.

The songs on the new album sound - to me - like they could be sung by a full-on chart act like Girls Aloud, or whoever is in the charts these days. Are you influenced as much by chart acts as you are more underground stuff?

Bob: I’ve always pitched our music somewhere between Throbbing Gristle and Girls Aloud.

Helen: I don't even know who's in the charts these days! Does anyone? But yeah, we always wanted ‘Canines’ to be a pop record, the poppier the better. I like Girls Aloud. I really like melody, I like things you can sing along to, I like changes in songs. We also like noise, noisy pop, happy with that.

What's coming up for the band over the summer, and beyond?

Helen: Planning all that now - late as usual. Despite strenuous efforts and intentions this time, we're still pretty disorganised...we have a few shows. But, ‘cos the album ended up coming out in July, it's obviously really not a good time to tour, so we're going to do a proper tour with the next single which should be out in September/October. So we're getting ready for that, making videos and rehearsing…

Bob: Gigs? Autumn tour? We are never really sure one month to the next! Watch this space. There is a certain all dayer in Nottingham I’m quite looking forward to.

Steph: I expect we'll all get really tanned and famous

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Indietracks 2012: Isn't this where we came in?

"This song's dedicated to some of the best bands in the country
Some of the bands we never got to hear
Bands who never got any records out
Never got played on the radio
Never got written about in the press"
Spearmint, 'Sweeping the Nation'

I'm sat here at work, counting down the seconds until I can run off and see Standard Fare and The Smittens and August Actually play about five minutes away. I'm still tired from the weekend, but right now that doesn't matter, because I was one of the 1,500 or so people who went to the best festival there's ever been last weekend.

Thursday night's pre-Indietracks show in Nottingham flashed by in a hail or excitement and general loveliness, and I woke up on Friday morning with the familiar hangover that means it's the first day of Indietracks

We arrived in Ripley just after lunchtime last Friday and booked into Moss Cottage, or 'Mottage' as it became known (crazy, I know). With about five hours to kill we walked in the pouring rain down to a nice little pub in Codnor where Rachel's American accent stood out a mile, and the beer was less than three quid a pint.

After a wet walk down country lanes we made it on site to be confronted by Andy, Murray, Trev and his good lady, and possibly someone else I've forgotten. The first stop is always the bar. Faces appeared, heads were nodded, hands shaken... then The Smittens started. On record I've never really got The Smittens but live they're a whole different bundle of fun altogether. Now a six-piece they kick-off the festival with perfect pep and even the constant drizzle can't dampen things. Apart from my feet.

The School are next, and the sun comes out. This seems almost perfect now, and although we watch most of The School from the bar carriage, they sound possibly more assured than ever. I remember those early, nervous appearances in Nottingham and see a different band now. Almost literally, as it turns out, because there's hundreds of them.

When Saturday arrives I leave Lisa nursing a hangover in the B&B and wander down to meet Murray and Andy, and we walk to Butterley only to find that there isn't a train for another hour, and our two budding DJs have to be on site in 20 minutes. Johnny and Astrid are also looking hopelessly lost, and so we join them in the muddiest walk down the side of the train tracks. Astrid's white pumps are knackered.

London has been in thrall to Young Romance over the last couple of months, and so, after meeting Rob from the train we decide to hang around outside the church until we can go in and nab a seat.

The place is rammed by the time the duo set up, and there's a reason for that: Young Romance are outstanding. There's a genuine reason to get emotional about this band, and the simple guitar and drums thing makes the spaces in the songs sound like a whole new, extra instrument. Later on I go up to the on the train, a bit pissed, and tell them that I love them and that they should move to Nottingham and play in my front room every night. I think they agreed.

I'll be honest: the rest of the day is pretty much a blur. Tigercats in the shed were perhaps even better than I hoped for. As the rain started, then stopped, then started, then stopped they brought a piece of sunshine inside and the crowd danced like their feet were on fire.

Outside and Evans the Death slope on stage to deliver some fierce pop songs before the heavens open and we run inside. Or were Evans the Death on before Tigercats? At this point fatigue was setting in...

It doesn't matter though, because Standard Fare come on and it seems the whole of the Indietracks is watching them. They're on fire and, there's even a good, old-fashioned moshpit down the front that I might or might not have got involved in - at my age! Afterwards Emma says, from their point of view, it was one of the worst gigs they've ever played. She's talking nonsense, frankly.

Waking up on Sunday is a very difficult thing to do, and, still a bit pissed I think, we decided to go and pick up our little boy from deepest Lincolnshire and drive back to the site - all before midday. We make it to Butterley just in time for the 12.30pm train and trundle slowly down to Swanwick Junction.

One of the best things about Indietracks is that you can take kids along and not get sneered at by "festival purists". Indeed, there's even a kids' workshop, which we attend, and Supercat is born. I don't mean I got dressed up as Supercat, more... well, see the photo from the previous post.

I'm gutted to miss The Hobbes Fanclub, but manage to catch half their set through the church window. The place is packed for them, which is particularly pleasing. I was speaking to Leon from the band the morning before, and he just seemed generally pleased to even be there, so to have such a big crowd to see them must've meant a lot to him and the rest of the band.

Meanwhile, outside Spook School are charming an ever-growing audience with some rowdy bubblegum pop and a drummer who looks like he stepped out of the Dutch Eurovision Song Contest entry in 1976. Spook School would almost steal the day, if it wasn't for what happened next...

Velodrome are playing the shed, and it's the first time I've seen them since probably the late '90s. Markie is in full drag, and is hilarious. Velodrome play punk pop like you've never heard it before... like you've never seen it before. They haul around 200 30- and 40-somethings out of their Sunday slumber and banish hangovers back behind the bar, ready to be topped up. They're bloody amazing, to be honest.

Our time at Indietracks comes to an end with Orca Team, a band so perfect that there's doesn't seem a better way to finish. If Leif is all cool and poise, and Dwayne is the sharpest drummer in the world, then Jessica is the real star of Indietracks. She puts her lippy on before the band starts, bops around, smiling now and again, whilst also the time picking the most perfect guitar shapes. Orca Team rule.

What rules even more, is that as I turn to leave, standing right next to us watching Orca Team are some of my oldest and best friends, a couple of whom I've known over 20 years, since I first started going out and dancing to music in clubs and going to gigs. That right there summed up this year's festival for me. We're still here, and we'll hopefully all still be here in another twenty years time (although someone might have to help me up the steps to the portaloos).

Having said that, each year's Indietracks seems to matter more than the last because we all know it can't last forever. But these times are good times, for sure, and that's more than enough for now.

See you next year.