Articles

  • Green Man Festival 2012

    22 août 2012, 20h56m

    Even cheating death on the way home after a front tyre blow out on the A483 (seriously) and waiting six hours for the AA to turn up couldn't detract from the thrill of having attended Green Man 2012. I'll stick my neck out - the best yet.

    Given that last year I wrote of my concerns that Britain's finest festival may finally be entering a period of decline, this was both a reassuring and an exhilarating thing to behold. If I point out at this stage that my top ten performances of the festival (below) doesn't include Friday's headline from Mogwai - musical super heavyweights at the very top of their game - you'll get some idea of the standards upheld and consistently exceeded throughout a weekend in which I saw full sets from over thirty bands and I'd say there was only one (I won't identify them) who failed at least to have something that raised them above the level of mediocrity. The vast majority of performances had more: the edge, craft and originality that had characterised all Green Men pre-2011 and a fair few of them have already been filed among some of the greatest musical moments from what, for me, has now become such an instrinsic part of my August schedule that it's worth missing a whole weekend of football for. Rare praise indeed.

    Although my priority is always to seek out the new, interesting and different within the Green Man schedule, I found time this year to check out a number of certifiable legends and wasn't disappointed here either. I understand why the aforementioned Mogwai were main stage headliners, but I still think the intensity of their performance is better served by a smaller stage. Nevertheless, they made it work and gave Friday night the close of play fireworks the festival lacked last year. Dexys were tight, professional and surprisingly pleasing, even giving a rapturously received 'Come On Eileen' a fresh makeover. Van the Man was slickness itself, running through the crowd pleasers with his legendary dextrous finesse, playing the audience like another instrument and getting a great tune out of it, particularly during 'Gloria'. I haven't liked much by Scritti Politti since 1982 and, of the two fixtures of their set from the band's finest period, 'Jacques Derrida' was robbed of its phenomenal 'rapacious, rapacious' closing rap and replaced with something rather more contemporary and decidedly flat. Still, Green's intros and intellectual charm remain endearing and pleasing. Apologising for the triteness of one of his lyrics, he pointed out by way of mitigation the Kantian and anti-pragmatist sub-text and can do this without sounding like a tosser. Unlike me, when I unwittingly found myself in beer-induced discussion at the front of the stage with a young female student as I clumsily articulated the finer points of Hegelian and Kantian idealism to her while probably coming across only like Bertrand Russell on the pull.

    The finest of performances from the legends had to wait until close to the end of Sunday night, when Jonathan Richman marched onto the Far Out Stage with an engaging grin, charismatic drummer in tow, and delivered his brilliantly honed combination of lyrics that veer between the profound and the brilliantly ridiculous, guitar work that wobbles between the virtuoso and the audaciously untuned, and a performance that, after years of blurring brilliantly the barriers between humour and madness, still manages to do so in a manner that no one else would be wise even to attempt. Richman remains a unique performer and a veritable human treasure.

    For much of the rest of the weekend, those of a new, brash and unpredictable ilk provided the bulk of the highlights. Particular mentions should go to the incredible racket produced by Three Trapped Tigers and Teeth Of The Sea. The percussive attack of the latter was only bettered over the weekend by the remarkable Stealing Sheep, whose sub-Slits fractured dynamism matched angular rhythms with the sublime guitar accompaniment of Emily Lansley (who appeared in session with her other band Emily and the Faves in my Dandelion Radio show last year). Remarkably, the intensity of the performance increased as the set went on and, had the vibrant crescendo not sadly ceased after 45 minutes, you wondered in what area of the stratosphere we might end up. This is a remarkable band, standing out even in the considerable quality of the company, courageous in its off-kilter explorations and sublime in the way it pulled off the challenge. Company which included ex-Gorky's Richard James' new band Pen Pastwn with what was billed as a warm up set. If that's the warm up, the mind boggles as to what James' new outfit might go on to produce. There was once a wonderful period in which Gorky's Zygotic Mynci were purveyors of a breathtaking music craft that combined tear-incuding melody with remarkable energy and vivacity unmatched by anyone else. If you were wondering where the latter in particular has gone, it's right here. Friends, meanwhile, brought the sheer artistic temerity that resides in a very singular form in Brooklyn to the Far Out Stage on the last night, with a bassist and drummer who came on like Tina Weymouth and Mo Tucker combining with a guitarist who looked like something out of The Fast Show somehow to produce B52s-style plastic funk overlaid by a sassy vocalist with, it appeared, Lady Gaga pretensions. And they made it work, adding a rich variety to a fantastically enjoyable last night.
    
    Sometimes, of course, you find such brilliance in more understated forms. Cass McCombs and his band reminded me - pleasingly, because I'm prone to forget - that a standard rock guitar four-piece can produce a subtle deftness of touch and create its own very singular kind of magic. And The Wave Pictures, excellent in 2010, managed to crank it up a stage further this time, their intelligent lyricism and well-placed hooks bringing this year's fantastic 'Long Black Cars' album to evocative life on stage. Errors, I would dare to suggest, managed to trump even their mentors Mogwai while new recruits to the Rock Action roster, Remember Remember, weren't far behind. And a mention too for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks whose hook-filled Mountain Stage extravaganza managed to improve even on their headlining performance of a few years back.
    
    One disappointment? Alt-J, whose set I was looking forward to and to which a large audience had been attracted, seriously underwhelmed me and I was drawn away from the stage only to wander over to Einstein's Garden, a happy accident for there I found a three-piece called Glis Glis who the programme described as 'kraut-pop' and who I found myself bowled over by. Every year I promise myself to check out this stage more and every year I fail to do so and yet over the last three years I've found some of the festival's most endearingly quirky performers in its cheerfully odd surroundings. To Dalmatian Rex and Llwybr Llaethog you can now add the name Glis Glis. I picked up a CD from them and there'll be something from that when my Dandelion Radio show gets round to catching up with some of this in October.

    Given the abundant riches on display, how to pick an overall favourite? I'm going for Tiny Ruins in the Walled Garden on Sunday night. Sunday was a remarkable day of bands even by the Green Man's standards, but the off-beat delivery and lyricism of these Anglo-New Zealanders has been thrilled to on my show and elsewhere on Dandelion in the past and to see them live only added to the mystique and aura. Just guitar and a sparsely employed cello augmented a heart-rending vocal performance that awed the crowd into a silent reverie reminiscent of that conjured up my Moddi last year but, amazingly, even better. Anyone who can experience the amazing 'Priest With Balloons' and not marvel at being part of a world that can conjur up such things must surely be tired of life. Green Man 2012 assured me, if I needed it, that I wasn't anywhere near ready to cash in my chips on that score just yet.

    There were minor gripes. The failure of the promised Cappucino Porter to make an appearance at the real ale bar, for one. If it turned up after Saturday evening, this was too late for me as I'd long since got fed up asking for it and settled for the not inconsiderable delights of Green Man Growler, a hardy replacment but I'm a man who likes his porter, so small thumbs down there. One other thing to watch out for is the irritating tendency of the moat between audience and stage in the Far Out tent to become filled with assorted cronies and members of other bands, irksome because it creates an elitist, 'executive suite' feel (a load of them were sitting down during Errors - like a row of deckchairs) that's totally out of place at this most human and communally satisfying of all musical events. I'm pleased Jonathan Richman drew attention to it during his set because it needs to stop before it becomes the norm. Come and join us in the audience if you want to see the band. Apart from anything else, it's bloody great there. And Green Man - if you don't need the moat, get rid of it and just let us near the stage.
    
    But it would be churlish to harp on about such things after one of the more thrilling weekends of my life. Thank you, Green Man, for comprehensively putting right the worrying glitches of last year. How 2013 will top that is beyond me, but I'm already looking forward to seeing it try.

    Green Man 2012 - A Personal Top Ten
    1. Tiny Ruins
    2. The Wave Pictures
    3. Stealing Sheep
    4. Jonathan Richman
    5. Pen Pastwn
    6. Glis Glis
    7. Teeth Of The Sea
    8. Errors
    9. Cass McCombs
    10. Three Trapped Tigers


    Fri 17 Aug – Green Man Festival
    Tiny RuinsThe Wave PicturesStealing SheepTeeth of the SeaGlis GlisErrorsCass McCoombsJonathan RichmanPen PastwnThree Trapped Tigers
  • Glasgow Popfest 2011 - Paradise reclaimed

    14 déc. 2011, 15h57m

    I recall, back in the late eighties, going to a Cud gig with a friend who'd spent the previous six months immersing himself in folk and world music to the exclusion of almost everything else. After a fantastic performance that caught the band just at their peak, he said he'd rediscovered himself, and realised he was 'an indie kid at heart'. Although I can't claim the circumstances are exactly parallel, I left Glasgow Popfest with a similar feeling.

    What the event - held between the 8th and 11th December in Heavenly on Glasgow's Hope Street - did was reaffirm just how exhilarating, unpretentious and downright entertaining this all too easily dismissed form can still be. Within seconds of entering the venue on Friday evening, I was swept up in the considerable frenzy generated by Spook School's opening set, so much so that when they gave out free homemade CDs at the end and announced they had only one left, it wasn't just the whisky I'd spent much of the afternoon imbibing that led to me forgetting my inhibitions and shouting for one with the desperation of a spinster reaching out for a tossed bouquet. You'll be able to hear a result of my successful lunge when I play a track from it in my Dandelion Radio show in January.

    The moment was, if you'll allow, something of a microcosm of the event as a whole, because at its best indie pop is inhibition-loosening music. Manda Rin & The Rinettes more than captured Manda's early Bis form, her unmistakeable tenor squeal accompanied by tossed out ironic gestures that only come from a performer of her considerable pedigree and verve. Ditto Amelia Fletcher, headling Saturday night with Tender Trap and dishing out an object lesson in close harmonies atop gorgeously redolent guitars. The session they'd done for my colleague Rocker's show was my favourite Dandelion session of 2011, and this was even better, the new songs rubbing up against the old, melodic delight faultlessly piled upon melodic delight courtesy of one of the true greats of British indie.

    And it wasn't just the veterans at the top of their game. The remarkable Standard Fare served strong notice that their upcoming January album is likely to be an early contender for one of the best releases of the year. Bubblegum Lemonade delivered wistful and sumptuous melodies of a rarely bewitching ilk, while Barcelona's Cola Jet Set's girl group harmonies and sprightly keyboard-driven head-rushes meant that even the considerable hand-clapping that accompanied their set worked perfectly, a further example of indie pop's ability to take apparently tired and outre elements and imbue them with freshness. My cynicism draining at every step, I was then dragged into the sprightly world of Madrid's Zipper, offering a sugar rush of C86 goodies spiked with a pinch of punk.

    Such was the conveyor belt of wonders on display, it's hard to pick a band that stood head and shoulders above the rest, but I might be prepared to plump for the extraordinary performance of Edinburgh School For The Deaf, whose MBV/JAMC guitar pyrotechnics unleash something entirely other on the Heavenly hordes. With vocals mixed way further down than in their recorded work, the performance offered new perspectives on the band's sonic architecture, a characteristic of only the very best live bands, and gave the event as a whole just enough of a serrated edge.

    Unfortunately, circumstances dictated that I couldn't stay for the Sunday and thus had to miss veteran headliners BMX Bandits and personal favourites The Electric Pop Group among others. Small indoor festivals like this are a treasure much needed in the UK music scene, and Glasgow Popfest 2011 shone brighter than most.Tender TrapStandard FareSpook SchoolManda RinBubblegum LemonadeCola Jet SetZipper[event=]Glasgow Popfest[/event]
  • Top Albums of 2011: 9. Nachtblende - Syntaks

    12 déc. 2011, 16h48m

    Seriously battling with 93MillionMilesFromTheSun for the best Parallax Sounds release yet, but 93MMFTS are Frazier and Syntaks are Ali. Stunning brute force against majestic guile. The woozy magnificence of this dream/nightmare electronica from the Danish duo resonates with flashes of something genuinely comparable with Boards Of Canada at their best - and these are words seldome said.

    I first listened to it in the car while driving around the remnants of a medieval abbey but Nachtblende could probably make cruising around an industrial state feel estoterically beautiful. The album’s title hints at its cinematic vision and scope, but the richness and variety of the textures here go well beyond mere words. Syntaks
  • Top Albums of 2011: Number 10: Milk Drops - Zoomonk

    6 déc. 2011, 15h17m

    The Myhand.thanx netlabel has been serving up slabs of excellence for a good while now, but Finnish duo Zoomonk produced an album of such zesty brilliance it defeated even the amazing ‘Memories of a Dog’ by Thomas W as the label’s finest moment yet. And, as with everything this remarkable label puts out, it's FREE!

    Suicide-inspired no wave brashness collides with noisy krautrock injected dronery to produce a work that conspires to recapture the word ‘rock’ from its clichéd hovel. Sadly, we’ve not heard anything from one the world’s finest labels since July – anything we can look forward to in 2012? Zoomonk
  • Top albums of 2011 - 15-11

    5 déc. 2011, 12h44m

    15. Snowy Psychoplasmics – Dissolved (Daddy Tank)
    Outrageously innovative, exploratory electronica – cinematic in scope and visionary in execution. Feeding time for the bits of the brain that we might think didn’t exist. A truly unique release from a label that spent the whole of 2011 producing unique releases.

    14. Pedro Joko – Decibelles (Self-Released)
    Sprightly French guitar pop. Unpretentious and easy to miss if you're not concentrating. Some make the mistake of dismissing this at face value as standard retro sub-punk fare - don’t be deceived.

    13. Ode 2 A Carrot – Soom T & Disrupt (Jahtari)
    Ganja-fuelled monologues over glitchy dub backings that provided one of the early highlights of a fascinating year. Humorous and provocative in roughly equal measure and scoring high in both respects.

    12. A Turn In The Dream-Songs - Jeffrey Lewis (Rough Trade)
    I’ve no idea what a bad Jeffrey Lewis album would sound like because I’ve never encountered anything slightly resembling such a thing. Lewis once again turns the world on its head, looks underneath and tells us all about it with the casual verve of the planet’s most undervalued poet.

    11. Wolfroy Comes To Town – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (Domino/Drag City)
    Will Oldham’s best album for many years. If releases in recent times have sometimes underplayed the delicate balance of spikiness and fragility that underpins the best work in the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy canon, it’s right back where it should be here.DissolvedPedro JokoSoom TSoom T & DisruptDecibellesJeffrey LewisBonnie 'Prince' Billy
  • Top Albums of 2011: 20-16

    28 nov. 2011, 11h50m

    Only two more days to vote in the festive fifty at www.dandelionradio.com/festive50.htm.

    Moving into my top twenty albums of the year:

    20. JD Meatyard - JD Meatyard (Probe Plus)
    John Donaldson goes (roughly speaking) solo, takes his Levellers 5 and Calvin Party heritage with him and delivers a stunner that, had not only arrived a couple of days before I started writing this list, maywell have been higher.

    19. Go Tell Fire To The Mountain – Wu Lyf (Lyf Recording)
    Much-hyped and deservedly so, mining that rich Mancunian tradition of fuck-you individuality and sweetly arrogant stylings and adding a curious mellow brashness.

    18. Zeroes QC – Suuns (Secretly Canadian)
    First seen at the Green Man and immediately loved. Effortlessly sunny guitar trip from sublime Canadians, with an edginess borrowed from Clinic at their best.

    17. Morbido – The Dreams (Kill Shaman)
    Ragged, idiosyncratic revision of what would once have been called post-punk from French collaborators.

    16. Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will – Mogwai (Rock Action)
    Scottish Peel-giants unleash their most consistent collection for years. The Mogwai steamroller rolls on – better to get in the front seat with it than stand pondering in its path. JD MeatyardMogwaiWU LYFSuunsThe Dreams
  • Top Albums of 2011 - 25-21

    24 nov. 2011, 13h00m

    Only six days left to vote in the festive fifty at www.dandelionradio.com/festive50.htm. You know what you need to do.

    Meanwhile:

    25. Ghetto Ass Witch – Ritualz (Self-Released)
    Mexicans defy their witch house heritage by giving themselves a name my keyboard can make sense of and putting out something good. The remix albums that followed were pretty damn fine as well.

    24. Sensitive – Trevor Sensitive & The Locals (Self-Released)
    Quirky, sub-Smithsesque parables on emotional conundrums that poke far into the recesses of convention beneath the slick indie pop veneer. They did a great session for my show during the year too.

    23. Bells & Proclamations – Big Block 454 (Self-Released)
    A not-before-time discovery and a rabidly contorted take on folk conventions and urban anthropology. Subsequently released much of their stunning back catalogue – it’s been a joy belatedly to discover it all.

    22. Guider – Disappears (Kranky)
    Delivering a swift kick to the l’cks to those who claim sublime guitar stylings like this are a thing of the past.

    21. Laced – Psychedelic Horseshit (FatCat)
    Indelicate noisemakers with their finest collection of abrasive guitar-driven noise cocktails yet. Less of the woozy gaucherie of releases past, but thankfully the maturing of Psychedelic Horseshit has brought the attraction of something reliably rough yet still more sublime. RitualzTrevor Sensitive & The LocalsBig Block 454DisappearsPsychedelic Horseshit
  • Top Albums of 2011: 30-26

    21 nov. 2011, 11h29m

    Only 11 days left to vote in the festive fifty at www.dandelionradio.com/festive50.htm.

    As for my albums of the year, the countdown continues:

    30. Paris Burning – Derajah & The Donkey Jaw Bone (Chapter Two - right)
    Superior reggae served up with considerable warmth (check out ‘My Sista’, which I’ll be playing in my December show for an example). One of several very late releases to muscle their way into this list (out at the end of this month).

    29. This Day Is A Good Enough Day – Prince Edward Island (Crocfingers)
    Scottish indie pop with hooks for hands. Anyone afflicted with doubts concerning the potential for current indie poppers to dish out original tunes need look no further for treatment.

    28. All Rights Reserved – The Evolution Control Committee (Self-Released)
    Veteran cut-and-paste iconoclasts rip up the world and put it back together in a far more pleasing fashion.

    27. Proxemics – Social Studies (Daddy Tank)
    The album that introduced me to the fantastic Daddy Tank label. Lengthy hip-hop treatises deliver a considered and considerable punch.

    26. Relics – Matt Stevens (Self-Released)
    The most innovative guitar instrumentalist since John Fahey. His ‘Live In Blackpool’ release would be in here too but for some reason I don’t include live albums.
    Matt StevensDerajah & The Donkey Jaw BoneSocial StudiesPrince Edward IslandThe Evolution Control Committee
  • Best Albums of 2011: 35-31

    15 nov. 2011, 13h47m

    A reminder that you can vote in the Festive Fifty - the only chart that really matters - up to the end of November at www.dandelionradio.com/festive50.htm, but in the meantime please check the latest instalment in my countdown of my favourite albums of the year:

    35. Crust Of Utopia – The Infinite Three (Self-Released)
    Growling guitars underpin a dark, intelligent masterpiece. Written about in loving detail elsewhere on this blog.

    34. S-750 – The Tinopener’s Art (Self-Released)
    German-based electronic magician with his best work yet. Includes collaborations with Julien Auroux, another favourite of my show.

    33. Senseless Sense – Piatcions (I Blame The Parents)
    At the psychedelic end of the shoegaze spectrum. This excellent band deserves credit for getting XFM to play something as good as this (after Dandelion Radio had got there first, of course).

    32. Hungry Ghosts – Lee Negin (Passing Phase)
    Brain-teasingly original electronic brain-scrapings from eighties Peel favourite.

    31. Red Barked Tree – Wire (Pink Flag)
    Art-punk veterans still standing apart from everything else.
    The Infiinite ThreePiatcionsThe Tinopener's ArtWireLee Negin
  • Best Albums of 2011: 40-36

    7 nov. 2011, 17h26m

    My top forty albums of the year, out of an original short-list of about 120, to be revealed during the course of November and December. A good smattering of self-released efforts. One record label features twice and another three times, but other than that it’s single appearances only, if indeed they appear at all…

    40. Apocalypse – Bill Callahan (Drag City)

    Best work since his Smog days. A steamy, atmospheric appraisal of an America in crisis.

    39. Palace Of Toxology – Bashed Nursling (Enough)
    Hungarian’s latest offering of brain-shredding electronic hammering. No one exposes the subtleties within electric noise better, and then batters hell out of them.

    38. Greezy Man & Stinky Man Meet Smutty Ranks On Tarantula Hill – Dog Leather (Ehse)
    Best album title of the year by far. Content doesn’t disappoint.

    37. The Big Fish – Kiran Leonard (Self-Released)
    Oldham-based innovator’s rich mine of varied sonic textures. You suspect he can, and will, continue to get better and better.

    36. Ersatz GB – The Fall (Cherry Red)
    Not their strongest effort, but for The Fall that’s like Messi not scoring a hat-trick. Still beats the pants off most of what’s out there. ‘Nate Will Not Return’ features in my November Dandelion Radio show, by the way.

    And remember voting is open in the only chart that really counts…the festive fifty. Let us know yours at www.dandelionradio.com/festive50.htm.
    Bill CallahanBashed NurslingDog LeatherThe FallKiran Leonard