By Mark Glenister
After what seems like a long hibernation, we start to wander out into the ‘normal’ world after weeks of lockdown, isolation and in some cases fear.
We are greeted by a world that looks like the one we abandoned all those weeks ago, but its not quite the same – like one of those puzzles where you have the same picture, but one of them has been slightly altered, and you have to look for the differences between the 2 pictures.
Some of the differences are obvious: people wearing face masks, queuing to get into shops, social distance signs wherever you walk. Pubs and restaurants have re-opened in most places now, but bookings are needed for both, and the days of just wandering into a pub and spending a few hours with friends are some way off just yet. That way of life may never return if you believe some of the many predictions being thrown around in the wake of an inept government who failed at every level to deal with this pandemic and are now blaming everyone but themselves for the 40,000 plus deaths.
Less obvious, but a key to the difference between Normal and New Normal, is within the music industry, and how bands and fans are having to adapt to life within lockdown and beyond. As music fans we have been starved of tours, seeing the usual group of friends at gigs, and missing that feeling of energy and connection that you get at gigs (well at most gigs anyway). I spoke with singer songwriter Tom McRae recently, and he said this about playing live and the connection between artist and performer:
“the reality of live music is that its sort of a magic trick, it helps if the person on the stage is good with something to say, but gigs work because 90% of the show is the audience, they bring that energy - its where your energy as a performer meets the energy of the audience somewhere halfway in the room, and it becomes this third thing that neither of you are in control of; that’s the amazing thing about live music and that is without drawing analogies to diseases, its infectious’, you stand next to someone who is singing, literally your heart beat will start to beat in time with theirs”
So, during lockdown, gigs and tours have been cancelled and music venues have closed. The closure of venues bought both artist and fans together, in a community based around ensuring that once live music can return, the venues will still be there to play in.
With a promise now of Government funding, it looks like this campaign has been successful. For a while it galvanised everyone, and the lack of tours or new music was forgotten about for a short time. However, as lockdown continued, music fans once again felt starved of their lifeblood, some bands released new songs, and in some cases albums. Other artists did streaming gigs, some in aid of charities and some just to be able to play music again, but with social distancing that became hard if the band didn’t all live together.
Now, as restrictions are slowly being lifted we have had a spate of artists announcing paid streaming gigs, Nick Cave doing a solo show at Ally Pally, IDLES doing 3 different live streams and LIFE have just announced a live gig experience like no other – All of this is great, but its not what the fans really want, and having spoken to a lot of artists over the past few months its not what they want either.
Recently the BBC had a ‘virtual’ Glastonbury weekend, showing entire sets of some of the greatest performs to grace those mythical stages, in some cases the sets have never been seen in their full length before. These performances are still available now and it was whilst watching the Stormzy set from last year, it dawned on me, that for the foreseeable future this is our new gig experience, this is the difference between the two pictures. There is no doubting that Stormzys’ set last year is possibly one of the most iconic and ground-breaking in the history of that famous festival. It was a powerful, emotional, raw and sometimes beautiful performance, that had the thousands in attendance mesmerised, and the viewing public at home stunned into silence. I sat it watched it again, yes it is still magnificent, but its not like being there, it doesn’t (no matter how good an HD TV or Laptop you have) have the same impact as being part of that sea of swaying fans.
Now I know the IDLES, Nick Cave and LIFE Streaming gigs will be good, and I will no doubt watch some of them if not all, because I want to support the bands I love, not because I feel this is the way forward. This cannot become the new normal, sterile gigs watched via your phone, tablet, laptop or TV, no connection, no sense of energy, no sweat, no aching limbs after stupidly going into the mosh pit.
Playing live is what the bands and fans crave the most, yes we will support these bands by buying merch or streaming the odd ‘live’ gig, but it does not, and will not make up for the proper live experience. It’s a facsimile of the real thing, speaking with Frank Turner earlier this month he gave his thoughts on streaming gigs;
“What lockdown and the whole livestreaming phenomenon has done has really very like precisely and scientifically isolated what’s good about gigs. I think livestreaming is great for the time being, it’s not a terrible replacement and blah blah blah, and even the minor sense of community with the comments coming through on the screen. But its not being in a fucking gig, James (From Crows) doesn’t crawl on your fucking head during a live stream, and I miss that . . . . We miss the crush, the gig, the buzz, the noise, the gathering, the sweat – now it may be a while before we are allowed to do that again, but the positive is that that’s become very very clear that it’s a very uncopiable experience”
Its spot on, a live gig is an uncopiable event and as Frank so rightly says as fans we miss the crush, the gig, the buzz, the noise, the gathering and the sweat. These are all reasons why music fans go to gigs night after night up and down the country, in 100 cap rooms at the back of pub to large arenas, the live experience is the ONLY experience, and this feeling is across all ages, I’ll let my fellow 51 year old Tom McRae have the last words on this;
“Even at 51 I want to be sweating down the front, I want to have my drink nudged over me, I want to feel that energy going through the room of people singing, laughing, falling quiet and that’s the beauty of live music which nothing else does”
If a band you love does a live stream, support it as it will bring in some much needed revenue, but don’t lose sight of why we all love live music!
What We've Been Listening To This Week...Silverbacks, The Blinders, Magick Mountain, Dense, On Video, IDLES, Pleasure Heads, Lumer
By Jon Milton and Mark Glenister
Friday was an amazing day for new album releases, the Blinders, Silverbacks, Protomartyr and Samantha Crain dropping new material and Leeds label Come Play With Me releasing their first album, a compilation of their featured artists from the city. This of course brings the challenge of having the time to give them a proper listen in a relatively short period of time, and as such our views on Protomartyr and Samantha Crain will have to wait to be heard another time.
Silverbacks have released a string of impressive singles over the last two years, most of which appear on their similarly impressive debut, Fad. The album starts at an excited gallop with a couple of those singles (Dunkirk and Pink Tide) setting the tempo at a sprightly pace that’s pretty much maintained throughout. Intermission tracks ‘Dud’, Travel Lodge Punk’ and Madra Uisce are wisely used to add a bit of space in between the bands energetic post punk and help to make the album a rewarding listen. The Parquet Courts and Pixies influence on the band is obvious, but the band have properly developed their own sound, which clearly domes through. Good stuff.
The Blinders debut album Columbia was a stunning piece of work; a raw, emotional journey, beautifully constructed and delivered. Following that up was always going to be a hard job, so how have they done on its follow up ‘Fantasises Of A Stay At Home Psychopath’?
Well, Circle Song, released in April was a great start, an ode to ‘Drive in Saturday’ / Rock n Roll Suicide era Bowie, sounding uniquely like the Blinders, but a fresh, revitalised version of the band. Next however the band released two Blinders by numbers songs, Forty Days and Forty Nights and Lunatic with a Loaded Gun; and ‘Mule Song’ an indifferent, Idles-like track.
I guess this is the story of the album for me, of a band at the cross roads, uncertain of which way to turn. Do they continue to churn out crowd pleasing songs that repeat themselves, or pursue new avenues? Fantasies also exposes some of the bands weaknesses, namely their limited instrumentation and overt reliance on Thomas Haywood's powerful rasping vocals to cover up the limitations of their songwriting. Take Black Glass for example, which lumbers along for six minutes apeing the last minutes or so of Fleetwood Macs ‘The Chain’. It’s just a little lacklustre and lacking direction.
Don’t get me wrong - this isn’t a bad album, far from it, and fans of the band will defend it to the last, it just doesn’t feel like they’re going anywhere fast, and have perhaps become weighted down by the hype and levels of expectation placed upon them.
Come Play With Me are a Leeds based label that usually release singles from the city’s up and coming talent. On this, their first full long player, they’ve brought together a number of those bright young things to create a richly diverse album that takes psych rock, indie pop, jazz, grime and more. Highlights are the Crulligan Remix of Team Picture which kicks off proceedings, Jasmine’s jazzy ‘Mindstate’, Van Houten’s demo of their recent single ‘Better than This’, Magick Mountain’s live version of ‘The Shitty Beatles’ and Electric Chair by Dense, although the album is good throughout. Listen/buy here.
Magick Mountain also released a new single this week, their first for three years. King Cobra is a quality piece of garage / psych rock which fuses the White Stripes and Hendrix to great effect. Staying in Yorkshire for the moment we also wrote about a new version of Lumer's By Her Teeth this week, in an article that you can read about here.
We featured lively indie rockers / poppers On Video on the site last year after they released their excellent Clap Trap EP, and they’ve released another damn catchy single this week ‘Stuntman’, which is their second for Permanent Creeps.
Elsewhere on the singles front IDLES released A Hymn, another taster of their forthcoming new album. After the all out energy or Mr Motivator and the powerful, anthemic Grounds, A Hymn seems an interesting song to bring out as a single, more of an album track really, although perhaps that’s the point of showcasing what promises to be a great record.
Finally, we featured the new single by Pleasure Heads on Friday, a song that deals with smartphone dependency, unconscious surveillance and modern day despondency. Its got a really catchy chorus too, and you can read about it here.
By Jon Milton
Indie rockers from Falkirk, Pleasure Heads release a new single ‘Cosmopolis’ worth checking out today. The four-piece originally bonded over a love of 80s post punk and contemporary garage rock which you can hear on their earlier tracks like ‘Slurrin’, although Cosmopolis has a more commercial edge and is very much guitar driven pop with a big catchy chorus.
Lyrically Cosmopolis deals with smartphone dependency, unconscious surveillance and modern-day despondency. A good reminder that for the sake of your mental health (particularly in current times) spending less time on social media is such a good thing to do. Vocalist and guitarist Euan Purves says of Cosmopolis:
“The idea for this song mainly comes from my disdain of technology. I'd admit that being able to see, in real time, events happening on the other side of the world is valuable in bringing humanity together; yet the personal connection is suffering as a result. It's easy to think of persons as disembodied voices, messages to be avoided, mere pixels on the screen. We too often can't see the brilliant, independent trees for the all-encompassing wood. Cosmopolis is a call for everyone to log off for once, see past the digital glitz, and broadcast their community spirit IRL.”
Of the artwork for Cosmopolis, a 1959 illustration titled ‘Traffic Of The Future’, painted by the late German retrofuturist artist Klaus Bürgle. Euan says
“We came across Klaus Bürgle and loved his work. Our favourite piece was ‘Traffic Of the Future’ and thought it might be worth getting in touch with the person who now holds the rights to the painting. Luckily he turned out to be a musician as well and was more than happy to let us use it as the cover.”
Interesting stuff, and the song itself is a bit of an ear worm. Find out for yourself here.
By Mark Glenister
The 4 piece from Hull release another single from their forthcoming EP ‘The Disappearing Act’ but this time you can hear 2 different versions of ‘By Her Teeth’ – the original is available to download, this version has a film noir quality about it, sounding like Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds at their menacing best, with lead singer Alex Evans sounding ever more confident as the brooding front man.
Its what you’d expect from Lumer as a defined and well-planned next step, if you have been following their past few songs, this is a natural progression, and for fans of the band they are definitely going in the right direction.
The other version, or Alternate version is available to see & hear on Youtube and is again influenced by Nick Cave, but this time its at his brooding, melancholic best - a feat which Evans has said in a recent interview was the aim of this single, he said that was trying to emulate Cave, but poorly.
I think he does himself and the band a disservice by saying this, yes you can see the influence of someone like Nick Cave in this, but Evans and the rest of the band have put their own stamp on it, and if you are trying to emulate someone then Mr Cave is a pretty good benchmark.
To have the same song sound so different in 2 versions is a real accomplishment, its going to be interesting and hopefully rewarding to see how this band progress now, I certainly cannot wait for the next step.
Watch the band perform the alternative version here.
What We've Been Listening To This Week: The Goa Express, I Like Trains, Colorama, Hoofs, Bananagun, Nest Egg
Stand out single this week comes from yet another promising band from Manchester, The Goa Express with ‘Be My Friend’. Its almost a year to the day since the band released their last single ‘The Day’ (which also appears on the 7-inch release of this single) and this is some follow up. Be my Friend leads with a punchy riff, bouncing bass and propulsive drums - pure psychedelic pop at its finest. Check it out here and buy the limited vinyl here.
Similarly psychedelic and super is ‘And’ the new single by Colorama. 'And' is taken from the new Colorama album ‘Chaos Wonderland’ which gets its digital release on 31st July. Frontman Carwyn Ellis attributes the title of the album to travelling a lot and seeing a lot of flux, but whilst doing so witnessing ‘the warmth and inherent goodness of the vast majority of people I’ve encountered’ which is a pretty cool way to view life, and this is a pretty cool single too. He’s joined on the record by the eminently prodigious Shawn Lee, and a handful of guests including Lovisa Sigrunardottir (Lay Low) and Valerie Etienne. Listen to it here.
Another band returning after a long hiatus is I Like Trains, who’ve just released ‘Dig in’ the second single from their forthcoming album Kompromat, which is due to be released on 20th August. Dig in mixes post punk and krautrock to wonderful effect and it’s a top, top tune. Check it out alongside a great video here.
Talking about post punk, whilst browsing the Murderati Facebook page this week I noticed a post from Dutch band Hoofs about their new single Crash, asking for people’s thoughts. It seemed only right to give it a play, and that listen revealed it to be a short, sharp, bright bit of post punk, good stuff indeed. Give it a listen yourself here.
Switching our attentions to albums, remember the Bees? The Mercury prize nominated band that managed to fuse sixties psychedelia with a host of other musical genres, and in doing so make it sound contemporary? Melbourne’s Bananagun sound like that band reimagined and revitalised on their debut album ‘The True Story of Bananagun’ with their own brand of breezy psychedelia mixed in with afrobeat, funk and soul. The parallels between the two bands are uncanny; if you told me that it was the Bees I’d be none the wiser, songs like ‘Bang Go the Bongo’s’, ‘The Master’, Freak Machine’ and ‘She Now’ just sound like them, but in a really fresh way. The Bees didn’t really do too much in the way of afrobeat, but if they did it would definitely sound like the sublime ‘People Talk Too Much‘ on this record. Similarities with the Bees aside though, this a wonderful, summery listen.
Last but not least this week, we reviewed the new album by Nest Egg this week which you can read about here. There’s only 6 tracks on Dislocation and all of them are mighty fine – thrashy numbers like the title track and What!!??! I’m a Bastard!!??! interspersed with brooding krautrock and post punk. It’s a very compelling listen.