Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Bobby Womack at the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Celtic Connections

Bobby Womack rolled into Glasgow last night, looking resplendent in a red leather pimp style outfit. Womack was backed by a 13-piece band and despite obvious physical frailties, his voice was strong, true and soulful.

photo courtesy of @davetaylorphoto

The band took to the stage and launched into an instrumental before Bobby was helped on to the stage to a huge ovation.

He had launched into 'Across 110 Street' within minutes, taking a few by surprise with his decision to play such a popular song so early. If anything it caught the sound engineer on the hop as well as to my ears it took a couple of songs until the sound was as it should be, the bassist made several gestures to turn things up.

Other than that the show was outstanding. The 13-piece band consisted of 3 female backing singers, one of whom regularly came to the front to join in with Bobby and she sounded like heaven on earth with an exceptional range. There was guitar, bass, drums, 2 keyboard players and a 4-piece horn section.

photo courtesy of @davetaylorphoto

Highlights? Well the whole show was very memorable and Womack's voice was one of the best I have ever heard. Sadly I doubt that I'll get to see Mr Womack again, but the following were particularly stupendous.

'That's The Way I Feel About Cha' was a slow groove, Womack stretched his vocals and conducted the band along, slowing things down when he wanted, picking up the pace when required.

A cover of Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' was another slow burner that allowed Womack to let loose when he wanted. This was soul personified.

'Deep River' was gospel style soul, 'It's All Over Now' got the crowd going.

photo courtesy of @davetaylorphoto 

Womack stood for most of the show but did have a seat for a few songs and the backing singers and his right hand man were never far away, making sure he didn't miss the chair and giving him sips of water.

The title track of Womack's latest album 'The Bravest Man In The Universe' was brilliant, I personally would have loved to hear a little more from this album.

The real highlight was the last song the impeccable groove of 'I Can Understand It' that was extended to allow the band and audience to really get in the groove.

There was no encore, Womack was escorted off stage by his two helpers, stopping to wave to the crowd. Despite huge cheers for more, the lights came on and it was time to go home.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Del Amitri at The Hydro, Celtic Connections

The boys were back in town last night, their home town. Del Amitri turned in a sensational performance at the Hydro in Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections. It was a tight performance that showed off impeccable harmonies, first class musicianship, an amazing run of songs and a front man with a stunning voice.

It really was a show that made a mockery of the fact that they hadn't played together for umpteen years.

The Del's kicked off in style with a sensational double punch; 'The Last To Know' swiftly followed by 'Kiss This Thing Goodbye' (my own personal favourite Del's song).

The packed crowd lapped it up. I was quite taken aback, had they used up two of their best songs too soon?

Not a chance, 'The Ones That You Love Lead You Nowhere' was all driving and duelling guitars, the band gelling, the sound was outstanding throughout.

The band were not hanging around, firing off 3-minute guitar pop/rock gems for fun. Justin Currie bounded from one side of the stage to the other during the instrumentals and joked between songs about the size of the guest list, generously thanking a good friend who had bought 7 tickets and letting them know they shouldn't have.

'Not Where It's At' was beautiful, it is always a pleasure to see a band in top form and this was certainly one of those occasions; sharing mics, smiling, exchanging knowing glances.

I don't have my finger on the pulse of my generation
I just got my hand on my heart, I know no better location

After a ferocious 'Hammering Heart' the band decided to slow things down and show off the acoustic side of the band, inviting a friend on stage to play violin on a few songs. The close harmonies during this acoustic section were gloriously warm on a January night in Glasgow.

'This Side Of The Morning' was exquisite and drew a fantastic response from an audience who were recognising and relishing a brilliant show. 'Sleep Instead of Teardrops' and 'Be My Downfall' were beautiful, Currie's voice was strong, true and soulful.

Currie's love songs were greeted like long lost friends by the crowd. 'Tell Her This' was a highlight.

Tell her what was wrong
I sometimes think too much
But say nothing at all

'Nothing Ever Happens' was Dylan-esque in style and delivery, the crowd sang heartily, especially with the hook.

And we'll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow

'Roll To Me', 'Driving With The Brakes On' and a stunning 'Spit In The Rain' (with Justin saying it is the favourite song of every Glasgow Taxi driver) continued a blinding run of songs. The bond between band and audience strengthening all the time.

A ferocious Ramones-esque 'Being Drunk In A Band' rounded things off before the inevitable encore.

We got a further 4-songs; 'In The Meantime', 'Here And Now', the disco funk of 'Just Before You Leave' and a blissful 'Move Away Jimmy Blue' sent the audience home in a good mood.

It was a glorious show, surely the reunion will continue with festivals and further show….

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Refugees by Embrace

I kind of saw this coming; Danny McNamara's Facebook updates, a little teaser video, secret gigs…however as much as I like Embrace and have followed them since before the release of their debut album back in 1998, I didn't foresee such a stunning comeback single.

Embrace are back with their first new material since 2006, with Danny McNamara stating the band had been away so long because they were unwilling to return with an album unless it was better than their 1998 debut 'The Good Will Out'.

"That was the rule we set, and I think we've done that. If I was going to explain Embrace to a person that had never heard us, I'd play them 'All You Good, Good People', from our first album, 'Ashes' from 'Out Of Nothing' and this new album from start to finish."

"Some people who've heard the single have said it's not what they'd expect from us and that it doesn't sound like Embrace, but I think we've always moved things forward and tried new things. We've been away for quite a while, and for us this feels like natural evolution." 

Source - nme.com

It is a bullish statement, backed up by 'Refugees', the first single to be taken from their forthcoming eponymous album 'Embrace' that will be released in late April.

Beats kick in before melancholic piano chords are played over the top, bubbling synth comes in before Danny McNamara starts singing better than I have ever heard him before.

Nothing is rushed, much like the album which McNamara says that they have been working on for 5-years, only finishing it last week.

The chorus lifts things higher, soaring and flowing superbly. And things just keep getting better!

Following the second chorus, there is a brilliant synth instrumental that builds into a crescendo lasting for a full minute before McNamara comes back in sounding all reflective and beautiful.

I've always enjoyed seeing Embrace live, including some classic shows at King Tut's and the Barrowland. I hope they return to Glasgow soon. They have announced some small Scottish shows HERE.

Have to say that I am blown away by this. Check the video below;

Monday, 13 January 2014

Drop Out by East Village

Back in Autumn I was flicking through the latest edition of Uncut Magazine and a 10/10 review caught my eye. It was for a re-issue of an album called Drop Out by a band called East Village.

"A perfect, breathless run of pop genius. 'Drop Out's is the lost classic of its era.'
Uncut Magazine, 10/10

I made a mental note to check if Monorail had it in, only my mental notes are not as reliable as they once were and I stumbled into the record store and asked about a re-issue out on Heavenly Records but couldn't remember the album title or the band!

Thankfully if Stephen Pastel (who just so happens to work in Monorail) was ever to go on Mastermind, his specialist subject may very well be the history of indie guitar pop/rock and he guessed (correctly) that it was East Village. Stephen knew the members and was able to give me a brief history of the band - they split on stage, just as they were on the verge. Interestingly Martin Kelly went on to run Heavenly with Jeff Barrett.

Drop Out is indie guitar pop in its purest form. The four piece of Martin Kelly, Paul Kelly, Johnny Wood and Spencer Smith rely on guitars, keys, bass, drums, melodies and harmonies rather than any effects. It is warm and pure and makes me want to play electric guitar.

Silver Train opens proceedings, a warm hammond underpins the west coast guitars and harmonies. I was drawn in immediately.

Shipwrecked is even better, all chiming guitars with a sense of urgency around them. Byrds-esque is a phrase that comes to mind. At 2 minutes and 33 seconds, this is a song you'll want to play again and again as once is never enough.

through the morning I lay soaked
by the light from your window
where the sun comes streaming through

Here It Comes is just beautiful, the chorus is so uplifting and warm, this is like a ray of sunshine.

The warmth continues throughout the album, even for the track with the title Freeze Out. The guitars are turned up nice and loud in the mix. Stunning.

I'll get away from the shadows
I can't live here

At just over 5-minutes long, Circles is double the length of some of the other pop gems on Drop Out. A length intro highlights a band with confidence in their sound and groove.

It's cold outside, it's always cold
I hide inside, I always hide

it's an ordinary day, but I want to be alone with you

When I Wake Tomorrow is vibrant guitar pop. I love the sound of the guitars on this record. I just think that the band are having fun playing this music. So good.

The band return to several themes throughout the album; waking, the rain, sunshine, leaving, shining. Words and imagery that everyone can identify with, so simple, so effective. The best pop music always is.

Way Back Home slows things down, there is another long intro before Kelly reminisces about a classic summer romance.

I was thinking of that summer
You seem so different now

What Kind of Friend is melancholic with glorious harmonies and a gorgeous wee riff playing over the acoustic guitars on the outro that could go on forever.

Kelly's lyrics question himself and the person he is in love with at the particular time of writing. Black Autumn is more Byrds-esque pop but with a slightly darker edge to it.

Somestimes I wonder about liberty
It's never there, there is only me
And i can't see you anymore

Black Autumn comes
Crying like a prison

The guitars are there, lead beautifully played off against the rhythm, sounding warm and pure.

The album closes with Everybody Knows featuring guest vocals by Deborah Wykes who was in the Dolly Mixtures. The vocals are stunning, the song is different from the rest of the album; almost mature (for want of a better expression) in style and structure in comparison to the pure guitar pop throughout the rest of the album.

Let me live one moment again

Drop Out is a fantastic album, one that I will return to again and again. I'm certainly going to try and track down more by East Village. Original vinyl singles and EP's are extremely rare and collectable and  I hope that he success of this reissue might prompt a compilation of their earlier material.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Scared To Get Happy a story of indie-pop 1980-1989

Scared to Get Happy; a story of indie-pop 1980- 1989 was my early Christmas present to myself. 5 cd's of guitar pop music, a mammoth 134 songs, many of which I hadn't heard before.

I don't quite have the time to review every song on this brilliant boxset, however I decided to settle down with a nice glass of red to dig out some of the highlights.

Disc 1
Scared To Get Happy features predominantly male singers, so it's probably not surprising that 'It's A Fine Day' by Jane, an acappella female vocal, stuck out like a sore thumb. The song was written by the poet Edward Barton and this version was recorded by his girlfriend Jane Lancaster. It was sent to John Peel who played it and it was then released on Cherry Red. The song later became a huge hit for Opus III.

There are many stand outs, I really enjoyed Art Objects 'Showing Off To Impress Girls', top marks for the title alone. 'I Think I Need Help' by The Farmer's Boys also stood out and 'Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)' by Prefab Sprout is tremendous, I can imagine a young Stuart Murdoch listening to this.

The whole boxset offers music that retains a sense of innocence; the music is raw (sometimes incredibly so), not over-produced and soulful. All the better for it. I guess the height of ambition for many of the artists featured was to simply get a record out and played on John Peel.

Disc 2
'Oblivious' by Aztec Camera is one of only maybe a dozen songs I knew before buying the box set. It is stunning, a young Roddy Frame striving for pop perfection. It stands out a mile, so melodic and well structured.

The tracklisting on the boxset is roughly in chronological order and if I didn't know many band names on disc 1, then I recognised the names of Del Amitri, Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, Microdisney, The Jazz Butcher, Jasmine Minks, June Brides Revolving Paint Dream, James, Jesus and Marychain and The Loft on here. The demo version of JAMC's 'Just Like Honey' is stunning.

One band I hadn't heard of is In Embrace with their song 'This Brilliant Evening'. I was hooked on first listen. It sounds quite polished, quite 80's, compared to a lot of the songs on here. The chorus is absolutely HUGE and hits at just 25 seconds.

I don't care if you are just deceiving
Who could care this brilliant evening
I can't tell the floor from the ceiling
Who can tell this brilliant evening

'Southern Mark Smith' by The Jazz Butcher is brilliant; upbeat with spoken/shouty vocals, handclaps, a great guitar solo/instrumental and a great lyric 'I'm gonna find out what makes your heart sing.'

A very strong CD!

Disc 3
'Velocity Girl' by Primal Scream is rightly heralded as pure indie guitar pop perfection. Chiming guitars, bittersweet lyrics and coming in at just 1 minute and 24 seconds!

I don't need anyone to hurt me
No not anyone at all
Because my so called friends have left me
And I don't care at all
Leave me alone
Leave me alone
Leave me alone

The guitars are Byrds-esque, it is just beautiful. Described in the superb sleeve notes as 'possibly the quintessential indie-pop song'.

'Something Happens' by The Mighty Lemon Drops is excellent, powerful garage guitar pop with more than a nod to the 60's.


'Is There Anyone Out There?' by Mighty Mighty caught me immediately on first listen to the extent I played it four times in a row. The organ intro leads into a chiming/jangly intro and soon on to the lyric;

'the summer brings out the best of girls and the worst in me'

The song flows superbly, the vocals (by Hugh McGuinness) contain a hint of Morrissey - perhaps no surprise given it was released in 1986. The harmonica solo towards the end lifts the song.

Elsewhere we have 'Red Sleeping Beauty' by McCarthy, two of whom went on to found Stereolab and a brilliant slice of pinky guitar pop in the shape of 'Big Pink Cake' by Razorcuts.

'Almost Prayed' by The Weather Prophets is melodic and upbeat with excellent guitar riffs. 'A Gentle Sound' by The Railway Children was released on Factory and contains a chorus that just bursts out of nowhere, great stuff.

Disc 4
'Shine On' by The House Of Love (below) kicks things off in style and it still sounds glorious. The chiming guitar intro that you can sing to and the verse leading to the delicious chorus.

'Love Is Blue' by Hangman's Beautiful Daughter stood out for me, very 60's and with a lovely female vocal. 'Deliah Sands' by The Brilliant Corners sounds like it was recorded fresh after listening to Love - no bad thing in my book. 'Shimmer' by The Flatmates…shimmers in a lovely indie-pop way with a strong melody and chorus.

Glasgow/Scottish bands are liberally sprinkled throughout this boxset (copyright reasons prevented Orange Juice and The Pastels getting tracks on). I'd never heard of The Clouds before, although this probably isn't that surprising considering they only released one single 'Tranquil' which features here. It's a shame they didn't get round to recording/releasing anything else as there is a lot of promise in this single, featuring a young Norman Blake.

'The World Is' by The Hepburns is rather glorious with Marr-esque guitar and rightly compared with Talking Heads in the sleevenotes.

'Son Of A Gun (demo)' by The La's captures a rawness and magic that Lee Mavers would forever strive to find. I remember reading rumours of him buying old 60's recording gear and never allowing it to be cleaned so that the 60's dust remained!

Disc 5
The flowing and chiming 'The Hardest Thing In The World' by The Stone Roses starts off disc 5 with a band. Tucked away on a b-side, all the ingredients that generated so much love for the Roses are on display here.

Their Mancunian counterparts Inspiral Carpets follow them with 'Keep The Circle Around' with ferocious drumming and Clint Boon's trademark organ sound. The pace is fast and furious, a real garage punk 60's vibe going on.

'Indiepop Ain't Noise Pollution' by The Pooh Sticks follow it, charming with its rawness and innocence.

Another excellent title is 'I'm In Love With a Girl Who Doesn't know I Exist' by Another Sunny Day, wistful indie pop.

I'll be writing a blog on East Village very shortly after discovering their debut album 'Drop Out' following its reissue on Heavenly Records at the end of the year. They are represented on this boxset with the tremendous warm guitar pop of 'Strawberry Window'.

I would recommend 'Scared To Get Happy' to anyone with a faint interest in indie pop. The Smiths are an obvious omission (like The Pastels and Orange Juice this is due to licensing issues) but their is so much to discover on a boxset that has been lovingly compiled.

I am finding myself googling bands and delving into their back catalogue as a result of buying this - surely one of the objectives for any compilation/boxset.

Enjoy if you delve in.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

2014 - 10 things I'm looking forward to

Happy New Year everyone.

I hope that you enjoyed the festive season.

To kick start my blogs this year I thought I'd make a list of 10 things that I'm looking forward to. They are roughly in date order;

1. TeenCanteen 6Music session, 15th January
Next Wednesday TeenCanteen head to Manchester to play a session for Marc Riley's 6Music show.

Marc became a fan of the band after hearing 'Honey', the bands debut single. He ended up playing it about 10-times over a month or so and then invited them to a session live on air by saying 'if anyone from TeenCanteen is listening then we'd love to have you down for a session, get in touch.'

I'm looking forward to hearing their warm pop hooks and harmonies coming through the airwaves on a cold winters night.

2. The New Mendicants album, end of January
I caught Norman Blake and Joe Pernice at Mono last year. Their set was absolutely stunning, highlighting what fantastic songwriters they are. As well as playing Fanclub and Pernice Brother faves, they also showcased some songs from their forthcoming album as The New Mendicants.

Sadly I am working at a Burns Supper on the night they play the Arches, but I'm looking forward to the album. Norman actually let me hear a song from it on his headphones when we met on the train home from Glasgow one night!

Norman has been providing some of the soundtrack to my life since 1991 and I am thankful that he shows no sign of letting up. Check their brilliant Christmas single HERE - Fanclub-esque guitar and gorgeous Blake harmonies.

3. Bobby Womack at the Royal Concert Hall, 27th January
I always look forward to the line-up for Celtic connections being announced. There are always a few surprises. This time it was the announcement of soul legend Bobby Womack playing the Concert Hall - on my birthday!

My wife has already confirmed she has tickets and I've booked the day off work so we can relax ahead of the show.

Womack's latest album; 'The Bravest Man In The Universe', was released on XL Recordings last year. It is an absolute delight and I have recently been kicking myself for not buying it when it first came out. Damon Albarn is heavily involved in the project and his influence (along with that of XL boss Richard Russell) ensure modern beats and a sense of eclectic styles go with Womack's incredible voice.

Albarn had previously tempted him out of retirement in 2010 for a guest on Gorillaz 'Plastic Beach' album. He seems to have been taken by Womack's skills and style and this album is a dream. i can't wait. Check this amazing Jools Holland performance with Albarn on keys.

4. This Love by Vigo Thieves; February, ABC on 29th March
I've been on quite a journey with this band and i cannot wait for the next stage that will kick off with the release of the 'This Love' single at the start of February followed by a tour in March and April. The tour includes a HUGE show at the ABC in Glasgow. Having watched the band go from basements to selling out 2-nights at Tut's, packing out tents at festivals, wowing the Barrowlands and the Academy when supporting the Fratelli's and The View and then selling out the Arches last October, I cannot wait to see if they can sell out the ABC. It will be quite a statement for an unsigned band.

'This Love' is absolutely fucking massive. It will blow people away. I think Scotland and the UK is crying out for a band like this. There is far too much crap about. This is a band writing with heart and soul and shouting about it in a way that resonates with people - hence the forever increasing fan base.

Stevie Jukes and co respond to a challenge and a crowd like no other. This has all the makings of a celebration.

5. Mogwai, The Pastels and Remember Remember at the Usher Hall, 8th March
I was all set to buy tickets for Mogwai playing Glasgow during Celtic Connections when they announced that this show in Edinburgh, with not one, but two brilliant support bands. I immediately decided to go for that instead.

Mogwai's 'Rave Tapes' album is already picking up some good reviews ahead of release at the end of January. They are such an interesting band, fiercely independent and capable of majestic instrumentals that can be soft, delicate and beautiful at one moment before reaching for the skies and soaring high the next.

The Pastels appearance hopefully means that they will continue with a burst of activity generated by last years superb 'Slow Summits' album. Remember Remember are label mates with Mogwai and one of my favourite Scottish/Glasgow bands. Their leader, Graeme Ronald, is a genius when it comes to melodies and layering sounds.

6. Velveteen Saints at Nice 'n' Sleazys, 28th March
I've blogged about this young Glasgow band a number of times. i've not seen them for a while though and i expect this Glasgow show to be an absolute riot. Velveteen Saints will be road ready after a 3-month tour with The View at the end of 2013. They will also be celebrating their debut single being released on Tim Burgess' O'Genesis Records in February

Velveteen Saints create fantastic fuzzy guitar anthems a-la JAMC and BRMC. This is going to be hot and sweaty punk rock with a pop edge. Should be a belter with Vigo Thieves to follow the next night!

7. Wickerman Festival, 25th & 26th July
I've been down to Wickerman 4-times now and I absolutely love it. It has such a lovely vibe. I love the line-ups they come up with. The first time we went down they had the Human League, Candi Staton, Idlewild and Magic Numbers - great festival bands.

I love the Solus Tent for up and coming bands, the Scooter tent for some Ska and the Silent Disco is a riot. The burning of a huge Wickrman at midnight on the Saturday is great fun. The setting is stunning and the vibe can be enjoyed by punks, ska heads, families, teens and those that should no better.

There is no guarantee that we'll be there - but Lynn and I certainly hope to get down. We have also discussed going to Loopallu in Ullapool for the first time in September.

8. News about a Stone Roses album
God I love this band. I love them so much that I am really scared they let me down by producing something sub standard.

I love the fact that the Roses have only given one proper interview since they reformed - and that was the press conference to announce their resurrection.

They have already provided me with some amazing memories in Amsterdam and at Heaton Park (Glasgow Green was a let down for me). Do they have anything else to give? Or are they happy to have proven a point and sit back and count their money? An album might not come out this year, but then again look at the way Bowie, My Bloody Valentine and Beyonce have surprised everyone in the last 12-months.

Me with Mani, the morning after the night before

9. A new Teenage Fanclub album
Having met Norman on the train home from Mogwai Plays Zidane, I know that the Fanclub have been writing and playing together. They never tend to rush an album and with Norman's New Mendicants album coming out at the end of this month I do worry that this might get shelved until 2015. Latest rumours point to a September release though….

10. A new Charlatans album/shows
The death of Jon Brookes last year hit me surprisingly hard. The Charlatans, along with the Fannies mentioned above, have been the most consistent and constant bands in my life since that magical year of 1991 when I was 15 and discovering so much good music. I really feared that the band might call it a day, Tim Burgess certainly seems busy enough with his solo projects.

But…A Charlatan I….this is a band that have come out fighting in the face of diversity more than once during their career. I can't wait to hear what they come up with. Might not come out until 2015 but I hope they play a few shows.