Saturday, 28 May 2011

Live: Pulp - Primavera Sound, Barcelona

Primavera Sound, Barcelona, Spain
Saturday 28 May 2011

Is this the way the future’s meant to feel?

Or just 30-odd thousand people standing in a concrete playground by the sea in

There was only one place to be at 1.45am last Saturday morning. And that was at the main stage of the eleventh annual Primavera Sound festival, by the sea in Barcelona, to witness the first official show by Pulp in nearly a decade.

They had played a secret club show in France as a warm-up, but this was the big one. Would they be able to meet the almost unreasonable expectations placed upon them? The build-up was enormous. On the same stage a few hours earlier, Belle & Sebastian had playfully sung the chorus of Common People while Stuart Murdoch worked the pit. But now, with only minutes to go, around 30,00 people are trying to secure the best spot to witness the return of the premier league champions of BritPop.
Messages are projected onto the gauze screen in various languages - Are you ready? Shall we begin? Then the screen drops away, the name PULP appears above the stage in four huge neon letters and the band launch into Do You Remember The First Time? The place erupts but the most stunning thing is how sharp and contemporary their sound is. Jarvis himself is a bundle of energy, making shapes while spread-eagled between two foldback speakers. Pulp and Barcelona have a long history Jarvis tells us. 2002 saw them last play this festival, and how it had been many years earlier since they’d last played here with Russell Senior. “Tonight is not about ancient history. It's about making history”.

In the manner of a true gentleman, Jarvis asks permission before removing his jacket, and again for the tie. Freed of these restrictions he is really able to dance and it seems he must have been practicing for this as well as the music as his moves are sharper than ever. Although virtually all the set comes from songs off His‘n’Hers and Different Class, This Is Hardcore makes an appearance and in a nice surprise Sunrise from swansong album We Love Life comes later in the set, which hadn‘t been played at the warm-up show. “So what have you been up to for the last fifteen years” asks Jarvis drolly as he straps on a guitar for Something Changed. Perhaps strongest of all is Babies, the bass bouncing along as the song gets more frenetic as it races towards a climax. The album tracks sit as well as the singles and there’s not a flat moment at any point. You might have expected some flab after the years of absence, but its unbelievably tight. Jarvis is such an eye magnet that its easy to forget the rest of the band but Russell’s violin in particular gives them an edge, and they work together seamlessly.

At the end of I Spy Jarvis takes a microphone with a camera attached down into the pit and asks for silence - something important is about to be said. Audience member Shane makes a live marriage proposal to his girlfriend Michelle. We never hear if she accepted. Perhaps not the most auspicious place to make such a tryst - to a band whose songs look at the darker side of sexuality.. Even Jarvis notes that this coming directly after I Spy was “a most inappropriate song!”

Introducing the last song of the main set, Jarvis says he’s not one for political statements but has to speak out about the police action at the protest in Placa de Catalunya, the square in the centre of Barcelona, at the top of Las Ramblas, which left nearly 100 people requiring medical attention. Jarvis aligns himself with them as indignado (outraged) and dedicates Common People to them.
They manage to squeeze in a single song for the encore - Razzmatazz, a Barcelona nightclub institution that once more cements the links between the band and this city, and makes it clear why they chose Primavera Sound as the launch pad for their summer of festivals. “We were very nervous before this gig“, confesses Jarvis as a closing statement. “Thanks for being gentle with us”.

The truth was Pulp shone.
They are back and possibly better than they were before. Make sure you see them.

© James McGalliard 2011

Pulp played:
Do You Remember The First Time
Pink Glove
Pencil Skirt
Something Changed
Disco 2000
Sorted For Es And Wizz
I Spy
This Is Hardcore
Bar Italia
Common People

Friday, 8 April 2011

Live: Kylie Minogue - London

Aphrodite - Les Folies Tour
The O2 Arena, London UK
Friday 8 April 2011

s no doubt Kylie cares about her audience, her music and her craft but when playing enormodomes facing a daunting 20000:1 ratio, you have to make large sweeping statements, or be lost to the space. From the audacious opening reveal of Kylie rising up through the stage as Sandro Botticellis The Birth Of Venus, its clear this is going to be big on spectacle. And spectacular is the word that rightly sums up Aphrodite - Les Folies, a show which jumbles Roman and Greek elements but not the classicism of history, but that of Hollywood or Vegas, never taking itself too seriously.

Each time I think
this is the campest thing Ive ever seen some even more outrageous tops it. I Believe In You sees Kylie led around in a chariot, her steeds a quartet of half naked male slaves. Later we see Kylie mounted on a giant golden Pegasus, and further along she flies on the back of an angel (although this probably owes more to Barbarella than classicism). There are large projections of male figures cupping themselves, while the revolving motif patterns of animated soldiers during Wow resemble some giant potential daisy chain. Perhaps its an acknowledgment and a thank you from Kylie (and William Baker) to a core section of her adult fan base?

But a live music performance needs to be about more than the visuals; sadly the live sound and some of the arrangements aren
t on a par with the brilliant staging. As the setlist is heavily reliant on new, perhaps not so familiar material, its key that some crowd pleasers are thrown in, yet it felt as if some of these songs were just thrown away. Spinning Around sees the house lights up, but the arrangement is stripped it of its disco sheen and the illumination merely showed thousands standing still, seemingly unmoved. Worse still was Cant Get You Out Of My Head which had an added rock riff that just killed its momentum leaving it stilted and flat. The live sound itself was not great and its low volume allowed the murmur of distracting chitchat to be clearly audible for much of the evening. If there are problems with the live sound, there are none with Kylie’s vocals. Her voice is the clearest part of the sound, and thankfully free of the effects which dragged it down on Showgirl Homecoming.

s never been afraid of her past, or trying new things. A high point is a radically reworked Slow, now a sultry jazz number, which sees her stood on a rising disc surrounded by fan dancers. Aphrodite - Les Folies is more like a piece of theatre than a traditional concert, but that means a delicate balancing act between the intimate and the spectacular. There was a full hour before the audience seemed to get involved with the show, unsure of their role as voyeur or participant, whether to passively watch or actively engage. There is no doubt that this is a stunning show visually but sometimes it seems that the artist is lost to the spectacle. Yet Kylie can hold this crowd alone as she showed in the impromptu section. I was marvelling at the small figure stood in the centre of the large arena, engaging with the audience and taking requests. This is the naked Kylie, performing an a capella rendition of Hand On Your Heart, and here sheer simplicity was its strength.

But the ending is truly spectacular as On a Night Like This features ejaculating fountains, while a final coup de théâtre is delivered with the climatic All The Lovers. which sees the stage rise up in tiers like a wedding cake, leaving a living fountain as dancers above on wires and below in the water all look towards the golden goddess. Overall Les Folies is like a bright glittering object - one that might catch the eyes of a toddler but is lacking an emotional heart to allow it to truly take root as a treasured memory in the adult years to come.

© James McGalliard 2011

The One
I Believe in You
Cupid Boy
Spinning Around
Get Outta My Way
What Do I Have to Do?
Everything Is Beautiful
Confide in Me
Can't Get You Out of My Head
In My Arms
Looking for an Angel
There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)
Love at First Sight
If You Don't Love Me
Better the Devil You Know
Hand on Your Heart
Better Than Today
Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)

On a Night Like This
All the Lovers

Friday, 1 October 2010

Live: Grinderman - London

Hammersmith Apollo, London UK

Friday 1 October 2010

The longer an artistic career progresses, the more involved and convoluted any discussion of their art becomes. There’s a need to put the latest work into the context of what has preceded it, and to opine whether it is a progression or a retrograde step. With this worrying burden, you can understand why artists sometimes wish to take a tabula rasa and begin again; sometimes this succeeds brilliantly, at others you get Tin Machine. When Grinderman’s first album arrived in 2007, it was clearly intended as Year Zero, and for all the dark humour it contained, there was no doubt that it was a deadly serious endeavour. Their live shows that year lived up to the promise - it was a completely independent and legitimate statement. Yet when The Bad Seeds reconvened, it seemed as if Grinderman had crossed back to the main project. While Today’s Lesson could have been a GM song, live it was even more striking. It was effectively Grinderman who played the first performance of the Lazarus material at a London record store, except they had an extra member - Mick Harvey playing a very quiet acoustic guitar off to the side.

Now Grinderman are back with the second album and have sold out the 5000 capacity former Hammersmith Odeon. It’s certainly theatrical the way that the band takes the stage and Nick Cave follows; but it risks looking like Nick Cave & The Grindermen. Certainly Cave is the visual centrepiece, prowling the apron of the stage, and casting long shadows on the walls, his guitar a seeming substitute for his beloved ciggies of old. There is no doubt that their’s is a reactionary rather than revolutionary approach. Opener Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man recalls the Cavemen period as he howls “Big Bad Wooooooolf”. Recent single Heathen Child still sounds like the stylings of Archie Bronson Outfit to me, but here it gains intensity, the rhythm section building a platform for Nick to be the madman preacher. Like all the songs from the second album, it works much better live than in the studio. They play the entire new album in the main hour long set without it overpowering proceedings; it’s the older songs that seem a bit loose tonight.

It is strange though how Cave refers to the band in the third person. “This was Grinderman’s first single” is how a covers act would introduce a song. His introduction to Palaces Of Montezuma mentions the current alleged plagiarism of the song - for which he apologises to his wife. There is a broader canvas now too; What I Know is skeletal and features an acoustic guitar, while the keyboards of Man In The Moon recall the organ sound of ‘60s psychedelica. For No Pussy Blues the audience provides an accomplished and complicated clap along which follows the bassline. And Martin Casey’s bass is the rock on which this church is built, holding it all together. There is a hugely sensual element to all this; nearby two strangers start to dance together, which rapidly escalates to bump and grind. For me, the whole night comes together when they play Grinderman; Jim is standing and his hanging drumbeats sound as if he’s summoning King Kong, Warren goes maraca mad and Cave tortures his guitar as the song continues to build in intensity. It has real menace, power and sensuality, the four seamlessly working together to create that unique buzz which has kept coming back for over 20 years. Sadly, it is the final song.

So why can’t a new approach be seen as such; if painters are allowed to make wild stylistic turns, why not musicians? Perhaps because in art it would be unusual to have someone jumping between impressionism and cubism, as one style tends to be abandoned as another takes control. A friend thought that Grinderman was a toy they’d weary of, and eventually put it away to concentrate on the main act. Yet now it seems that Grinderman is no longer the hobby; it’s become the horse. This places Cave at a crossroads. Although tonight’s performance had a lot more vim than when The Bad Seeds played this same venue on the Lazarus tour, it’s a simpler template that appeals more to the genitals than the heart or mind. To go in this direction, Cave has put his muse away; if she’s ignored for too long, she may not choose to speak to him again.

© James McGalliard 2010


Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man
Worm Tamer
Get It On
Heathen Child
Palaces Of Montezuma
When My Baby Comes
What I Know
Honey Bee (Let’s Fly To Mars)
No Pussy Blues
Bellringer Blues

Man In The Moon
Go Tell The Women
Love Bomb

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

End Of Year Polls: 2009 Inpress Writers' Poll

INPRESS WRITERS POLL 2009 - James McGalliard


1. Deaths And Entrances MY LATEST NOVEL

2. Harem Scarem JOE GIDEON & THE SHARK

3. Two Dancers WILD BEASTS

4. Tarot Sport FUCK BUTTONS


6. Sun Gangs THE VEILS

7. Other Arms REDJETSON

8. The Bachelor PATRICK WOLF

9. Primary Colours THE HORRORS

10. Origin:Orphan THE HIDDEN CAMERAS

Just outside:

Love Songs For The Chemical Generation DANIEL LAND AND THE MODERN PAINTERS; 3-D SPC-ECO; Songs SONGS


1. Sea Of Regrets I LIKE TRAINS

2. Sun Gangs THE VEILS

3. I Declare A Ceasefire MY LATEST NOVEL

4. Sea Within A Sea THE HORRORS

5. Papillion EDITORS


1. Joe Gideon & The Shark

2. I Like Trains

3. My Latest Novel

4. The Boxer Rebellion

5. The Horrors


1. My Latest Novel @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester, UK

2. Joe Gideon & The Shark @ The Lexington, London, UK

3. I Like Trains @ Concorde 2, Brighton, UK

4. Edwyn Collins @ Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, UK

5. The Lotus Eaters @ Royal Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK


The Shiny Brights at The Great Escape in Brighton played the only gig in the UK by an Australian artist this year that I’d even mention in an end of year poll


1. Adam & Joe (BBC 6Music)

2. Marc Riley (BBC 6Music)

3. John Kennedy (XFM)

4. Steve Lamacq (BBC 6Music)

5. Gideon Coe (BBC 6Music)


1. Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (BBC Two)

2. In Treatment (HBO)

3. Misfits (E4)

4. Harry Hill’s TV Burp (ITV1)

=5. Battlestar Galactica (Sky 1)

=5. Generation Kill (HBO)


1. Guardian Unlimited – - for Charlie Brooker if nothing else

2. BBC News –

3. Wikipedia -

4. Digital Spy –

5. Dan’s Media Digest –


Lazy Galah (Lady Gaga)


The Guilty Office – THE BATS; The Unruly Imagination – JULIAN COPE


Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Charlie Brooker, reunions


'I will call on my fully sick boys, eh'. And then they pulled out a gun and just went chk-chk-boom!" - Clare Werbeloff – Nine News May 17 2009


Kings Cross shooting video – as above. That and the whole HHIS blackface incident meant a lot of clarifications on the differences between British and Australian cultures were needed from me.


Ride reformation leads to shoegaze going mainstream; debate over whether to call new decade ‘The Teens’; regime change; comedy goes viral.


The trouble with the noughties was that we seemed to spend the whole decade looking backward, not forward. Pop was literally eating itself. So no! Can I give you five albums to look forward to in 2010 instead? No? Ah well then – Funeral by THE ARCADE FIRE then


As above


Wars, greed and reality TV


The decade of multiplatform slacktivivism AKA fiddling while Rome burns

© James McGalliard 2009

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Live: Patrick Wolf - London

Patrick Wolf
London Palladium, London UK

Sunday 15 November 2009

Playing big, one-off event shows can be a bit of a gamble. The successful ones become significant occasions, talked about in revered tones for years to come, but ignominious ones may become just as famous. In the years since I saw that Patrick Wolf supporting Arcade Fire, he’s matured immensely, both as an artist and a performer. Tonight there’s a feeling that this gig is drawing a line in the sand as a summary of all that he has achieved over these past few years.

was the working title for his last album, and it feels as if there’s an internal conflict between the serious artist and a spoilt prodigy who is want to throw his toys out of the pram. As he stands heroically astride a slowly revolving mirrorball atop a podium, stripped to waist and covered in glitter, a pair of wings attached to his back, it’s hard to avoid using the adjective ‘flamboyant’ which he hates so much. He’s supported by a tight band, and the added strings and voices compliment the usual arrangements and allow songs such as Damaris to acquire a majesty rarely found in pub gigs. Marc Almond may have cancelled his guest appearance due to illness, but his influence and theatricality can be felt strongly throughout. In his place Florence (& The Machine) Welch appears to perform The Bachelor as a duet, while the statuesque figure of Gwendoline Christie provides ‘The Voice Of Reason’. Most impressive is Alec Empire, whose contributions raise the energy, particularly his freewheeling solo improvisation which provides one of the highlights of the evening.

The Bachelor
is the centrepiece, as virtually the entire album is played, but the expanded line-up allows songs which are rarely performed to get an airing, as well as highlights and obscurities from his career to date. But a sit down concert such as this exposes any flaws in execution, and restricts the audience from really taking part in the more uptempo numbers. The venue presents other problems. In the cramped confines of the upper circle the sound is disappointing, vocals being lost in the mix for the first section. Such a long show would have benefited from an interval, and removed some of the pauses needed for costume changes. And while there’s no denying that he did put on a spectacle, sometimes this came at the cost of the music (such as when he was so determined to change his jacket before a song ended, he fluffed its ending).

Throughout the evening, there are many moments here to admire. Wolf demonstrates his skills on a variety of instruments, and his talent shines through, taking advantage of a unique opportunity to do things that wouldn’t be possible in a normal gig. And while tonight included an apology for past bad behaviour, it also had a somewhat self-congratulatory edge which left a little bit of a sour taste. But there was also a sense that this was a victory in the battle for the more mature Patrick Wolf to step forward. I’ll be watching.

© James McGalliard 2009

Divine Intervention
Wolf Song
Wind In The Wires
Oblivion (with Gwendoline Christie)
Theseus (with Gwendoline Christie)
Who Will?
The Shadowsea
Pigeon Song
The Bachelor (featuring Florence Welch)
Count Of Casualty (featuring Alec Empire)
Battle (featuring Alec Empire)
Hard Times (featuring Alec Empire)
The Libertine
Magic Position

The Sun Is Often Out

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Interview: The Veils


“We might be dead or dropped in a year; then these songs will make sense.” Finn Andrews reflects upon The Veils new album Sun Gangs with James McGalliard in Reading

“When [debut album] The Runaway Found came out, I felt like the success we had that early on, I really didn’t deserve. And I think that was part of the reason for dissolving that line-up. I didn’t feel ready to be playing to that many people, and in some parts of the world out of nowhere it was a thousand people showing up. And I didn’t feel up to it at all. I was just scared by the whole thing”

Finn Andrews, singer, songwriter and founder of The Veils is someone who lives by his feelings in the present moment, and knows that these diverse impulses will make some sense in the future. In his work and in his writing he trusts his inner voice; the world will catch up in time. So to talk about their third album, Sun Gangs, we end up talking about its predecessor. “It seemed odd with this album [Sun Gangs] coming out and people were talking about Nux, and ‘oooh Nux Vomica - a hard act to follow’. It just seems so bizarre because when it came out no one seemed to give a shit... I was so excited about that record and it came out and waiting for what’s everyone’s reaction gonna be. There was a kind of shrug until about a year later…”

“With this one I feel so proud of it, and when we finished it I was so overawed with just everything that had gone in to it. It just reminded me of this whole time - it’s just so personal. I don’t really care anymore or keep track of it anymore what people are making of it. It is really complimentary and humbling if people compliment you on it.”

There is a world of contrasts in both Andrews, and the music he and the band creates. Born in London, raised in New Zealand, his speaking voice is deep, and somehow both authoritative and uncertain at the same time. There’s ferocity in his onstage delivery, yet here in the real world there’s an indefinable vulnerability to him. But although seemingly conflicted, he’s honest and genuine throughout.

“It’s a huge gift to be able to do this, and a huge responsibility as well”. He continues, “It’s been the source of all the greatest joys of my life so far; you also have the burdens with that. I love writing and I will do anything to be able to carry that on. It’s an unsure time for everybody. Not just musicians. No one is quite sure what is around the corner. The last few years the whole time I have been writing I felt like there was kind of strange impending something…”

“There is just something about this [The Veils] that has never wanted to stay in one place. Whenever we’ve tried to tie anything to the ground, it just rips away the cord, and floats off. It’s a constant balancing act this band. I think that’s maybe a lot of the great things come out of. I think we are gonna be constantly pissing people off and making new fans and losing old ones.”

Both the weakness and the strength of Sun Gangs is its eclecticism. From its jauntier aspects to the vitriolic tirades, it’s a difficult album to categorise. Andrews explains, “I really enjoy albums where you feel you are just being led like a hound by a scent and you don’t really know where you’re gonna end up, but you’re just being carried through weird corridors and it’s a real little unexpected journey and I think that’s what I wanted to make and I don’t know if I completely succeeded in that, but that what I always want to make the experience.”

There are themes that unite these songs, but exactly how this works is elusive; it’s more like a feeling than an intellectual conceit. The album ends, ironically with Begin Again. “I like that song because it begins at the end and ends at the beginning. I love songs with incredibly pessimistic words sang in quite a merry way,” he tells me.

But centrepiece of Sun Gangs is the epic Larkspur. “It’s a song I enjoy playing more than any other song. Ever! I just get such a kick out of it. For me, it’s a song about everything I love about making music… It’s just about that urge to write things down, and to perform, pick up the guitar, bash the shit out of the piano; just all about that love and that need. It seemed right to describe it in few words as possible.” And how did you record such a beast? “We treated that like it was a real living entity that we had to really respect and not tie down when it wasn’t looking. We didn’t rehearse it... I knew the day we recorded it, it would just be me waiting for the right space… It was like being in a movie about The Veils… We just went in and played it in one take and there it was. That was my favourite part of recording the whole thing – it was so organic and so unforced.”

As Finn sings Larkspur later that night before a Reading scene there for the chat rather than the bands, his earlier words make sudden sense. His disdain, his anger, his aggression, his frustration, all expressed through the repeated three lines of the song. For live it becomes a living creature; the universe encapsulated. From the cheesy pick-up lines, to the background hubbub of the chattering classes, to the worries on the horizon, to the turning of the earth, it consumes it all.

There is change in the wind. For these recent shows, The Veils have added a new member – Louisa on backing vocals. And one day someone else will leave, and there’ll be another room to fill. So what does the future hold? “It’s all just about the songs for me. I don’t care about any other aspects of this; whatever allows me to keep writing. That still feels worthwhile to me because it personally helps me. If I couldn’t do that I don’t know what I’d do with myself…”

“Songwriting is so great like that – all of these things all at once. It’s such an unspecific part of your mind that you’re casting in stone. It’s not a journal and it’s not some dream description. It’s all these things, all at once, and none of them at all. So I don’t really know what this album means. We might be dead or dropped in a year; and suddenly these songs will make sense. Maybe I will be in the band of my dreams and everything will be fine.”

Sun Gangs is out now on Rough Trade through Remote Control

© James McGalliard 2009

This interview was published in Inpress # 1070 in Melbourne on 13 May 2009
I interviewed Finn pre-show in Reading on Saturday 18 April 2009

Monday, 9 February 2009

Live: Howling Bells, Asobi Seksu and Red Light Company - London

Howling Bells / Asobi Seksu / Red Light Company
Islington Academy, London, UK
Monday 9 February 2009

There’s nowt wrong with Red Light Company, but they don’t give you many reasons for undying love either. They sound like the sort of band that A&R scouts sign up hoping to be the next big thing, who go on to release some moderately inoffensive radio fodder, and then disappear without trace at or before the second album. One song name checks Broken Social Scene, so in return I’ll namecheck them as a less imaginative Secret Machines, the prog replaced by Guillemot-isms with a pinch of Brian Molko. Expect them to be huge – briefly.

I don’t know what happened to Asobi Seksu tonight, but it’s hard to find positive things to say about their performance. From the flat vocals, to the keyboards that drowned out the guitars, to the lack of songs – it’s really just a tuneless mess. Then it gets worse, the sound is turned up to distortion levels, which fails to cover what just isn’t happening on stage. Near the end they begin to pull it together; their last track is C86 in feel, and has the merit of seeming to be going somewhere. Then they run out of time. If only more time had been spent on getting their live sound right and less on festooning the stage in fairy lights then everyone may have enjoyed themselves more.

When Howling Bells open with Blessed Night I think at last – a band! This is part of the NME Awards series of shows, and also the first gig for the new album Radio Wars. They use this to play all but one song off the new album, and it becomes a night full of surprises for band and audience. Juanita asks the audience to tell her something new, something she hasn’t heard before; “You look like a bloke” is yelled back. The highlights are from the new album; Golden Web is a genuine departure and all the better for it; the quiet allows the harmonies to shine through. Miss Bell’s Song is the sound of a band working together, and Digital Hearts is quietly subversive – the song builds, but doesn’t break.

Howling Bells have always been a competent enough live act, yet their shows have seemed to lack some intensity. Tonight is undoubtedly the best I’ve seen them, and for the first time I’m seeing them take some risks, but there are problems as well. Tying the song title Cities Burning Down to the Victorian bushfires was possibly misguided, and while Let’s Be Kids Again is better than the album version, it’s still childishly awkward. By placing so much focus on Juanita, there’s the risk of the rest of the band being seen as Sleeperblokes –anonymous and interchangeable male personnel behind the star. Setting Sun is a real mess, even after stopping it to try and get it right. I’m not sure they know how to read an audience either– the long instrumental lead in to Nightingale is really great; trying unsuccessfully to get the audience to clap along to the song proper isn’t.

They end with Into The Chaos, and I’m impressed, but their encore is so audacious I’m won over. They electro shimmer their way through Britney Spears' Toxic, and get away with it. Tonight shows a band in flux, when they take risks and break rules they’re genuinely challenging, at other times they feel as if they’re operating within fairly closely defined parameters. The question is, which path will they take?

© James McGalliard 2009
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 25 February 2009

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Live: The Veils - London

The Veils

The Macbeth, Hoxton, London, UK

Thursday 5 February 2009

Sometimes I’ll be asked why I’m going to see a band play again. Yet one of the joys of seeing a band many times over a period of time is to see how they alter and change. While sometimes they may evolve away from your tastes, other times you get to see them become something on a higher plane than when you first saw them.

Five years ago I saw the first line-up of The Veils launch their debut album; and eight months ago I last saw them, playing the fourth and final week of their Camden residency, road testing possible songs for their next album. Tonight they tell us that the finishing touches were put on Sun Gangs at the start of this week. They marked their return to the live scene by playing small venues over four nights at the four points of the compass around central London. Tonight was east, and found the four-piece in the cramped space of the Macbeth in Hoxton. The bar takes up about a third of the width of the room, and the band has to fight their way through the crowd to get onstage.

But what a difference the intervening months have made. From the opening notes of Three Sisters, it’s clear that they are more focussed and driven than ever. It has a searing urgency, and Finn Andrews’ ever-more insistent refrains of Oh My God build powerfully, with an underlying sense of menace. Whereas before the band were still compensating for the loss of the keyboards, now there’s a sense that a balance has been achieved without them. The sound is bigger, but also breathes - like a Henry Moore sculpture, the gaps are part of the whole, and not a loss. More than once I’m reminded of The Bad Seeds under Mick Harvey. Not so much for their actual sound , but the feeling of determination and single purpose, where the gestalt is much more than the sum of its parts. Henning Dietz’s restraint on the drums makes his flurries all the more powerful, while Sophia Burn is totally transported as she plays. Daniel Raishbrook’s guitar line on The Letter is wonderfully catchy, acting almost as a vocal response to Finn’s words.

And it’s not just the new songs that have been reinvigorated. Advice For Young Mothers To Be no longer canters along merrily – its steel spine is now felt. Jesus For The Jugular sees Finn mangling sounds out of his guitar; this is for real. Yet it’s not without tenderness. Sit Down By The Fire reflects a gentler side, and when broken strings bring things to a stop, Finn fills the time with a solo rendition of The Wild Son. The band rightly ignores the calls for Lavinia, which come like alarm clock on snooze mode, and they’re right to. For they’re not that band anymore, and the newer songs are far superior; I’d have loved to have heard more of them. They finish with a fiery Nux Vomica, and Finn comes back alone for the encore, and plays what he tells us was the first song he wrote upon arriving in London all those years ago. On record The Tide That Left And Never Came Back is a rollicking anthem; here it’s stripped back to its elegiac soul and becomes a beautiful and heartfelt requiem full of loss and regret. The Veils have always been good; they’re becoming magnificent.

© James McGalliard 2009

Three Sisters
The Letter
Advice for Young Mothers to Be
Jesus for the Jugular
Not Yet
Sit Down By The Fire
The Wild Son
Killed By The Boom
Nux Vomica

The Tide That Left and Never Came Back

A version of this review appeared in Inpress # 1058; published in Melbourne, Australia, on 18 February 2009

Monday, 29 December 2008

End Of Year Polls: 2008 Inpress Writers' Poll

INPRESS WRITERS POLL 2008 - James McGalliard


1. Schoolyard Ghosts - NO-MAN
2. Rest Now Weary Head You Will Get Well Soon - GET WELL SOON
3. Street Horrrsing - FUCK BUTTONS
4. The Midnight Organ Fight - FRIGHTENED RABBIT
5. Love, Ire & Song - FRANK TURNER
6. Neptune - THE DUKE SPIRIT
7. Simple - ANDY YORKE
I’m deliberately leaving the last two empty for the great albums from 2008 I won’t hear until sometime in 2009, so sorry to Elbow, Goldfrapp, Secret Shine and others who may otherwise have got a(nother) vote

Umm, it’s me isn’t it? Has downloading killed the single? Or does iTunes make any album track a potential for the combined singles charts? OK, let’s stick to physical releases…
1. Like A Suicide / The Computer Voice – THE EARLY YEARS
2. Grounds For Divorce – ELBOW
4. Sweet Love For Planet Earth – FUCK BUTTONS
5. Fear Of Opening My Mouth - COLLAPSING CITIES
Just outside: Songs, Nick Cave, Mogwai

1. Frank Turner
2. Fuck Buttons
3. Get Well Soon
4. Frightened Rabbit
5. My Bloody Valentine

1. Frank Turner + Andy Yorke + Chris TT @ The 100 Club, London
2. Get Well Soon @ Bush Hall, London
3. Fuck Buttons @ The ICA, London
4. Kid Harpoon @ Dingwalls, London
5. Frightened Rabbit @ Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, London
Just outside: My Bloody Valentine, Working For A Nuclear Free City + Epic45

1. The Wreckery @ Northcote Social Club
All I saw of note from Oz artists this tear. Sorry

1. Steve Lamacq (BBC 6Music)
2. Adam & Joe (BBC 6Music)
3. Marc Riley (BBC 6Music)
4. John Kennedy (XFM)
5. The Shipping Forecast (BBC Radio 4)

1. Battlestar Galactica
2. Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe
3. Underbelly
4. Sense & Sensibility
5. Doctor Who
Just outside: No Heroics, Peep Show, Top Gear, Have I Got News For You, South Park

1. Wikipedia
2. BBC (esp. News)
3. Guardian Unlimited
4. Digital Spy
5. Blogspot

Kings Of Leon
Surely Elbow performing On A Day Like This was the television highlight of Glastonbury, yet it was the headline Pyramid Stage slot of these generic US rockers that made them a #1 artist

Edwyn Collins’s live performance - a difficult yet triumphant return after his strokes; live reunions of My Bloody Valentine and The Wreckery for not being pale imitations of the past; dad’s gong; friends.

“He fucked your granddaughter” – Jonathon Ross on The Russell Brand Show on BBC Radio 2.
Not the quote itself, but for illustrating that multiplatformed broadcasting allows you to be offended time after time at your own convenience (thanks HIGNFY), and for showing exactly how far the media will go in a witch-hunt.

Elbow winning the Mercury Music Prize (I was supposed to say Obama’s victory, wasn’t I?)

Exorbitant booking fees for concert tickets / Morrissey failing to get a # 1 album

C86 slight return, unemployment, celebrity overkill, rise of the right

2008 IN REVIEW (in exactly 150 words)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; except it wasn’t really. It was just a little, er, mediocre. 2008 felt a little like a second series, where assurance had replaced the doubt, but some of the freshness and originality had been lost. There were no truly great albums, few television shows that stopped the heart, little new music likely to cause spontaneous joyous ejaculation. Instead it was all a little downbeat - we talked ourselves into a recession, and looked back at the nostalgic pillar of salt, rather than towards everything before us. Maybe the past just felt more comfortable somehow? Overall things felt less secure, the streets a little less safe, the unknown more of a threat. While the US writers’ strike affected many TV shows, Battlestar Galactica still managed to deliver one of the most stunning endings in the history of the medium.

© James McGalliard 2009

Friday, 13 June 2008

Live: My Bloody Valentine - London

My Bloody Valentine
The ICA, London, UK
Friday 13 June 2008

“Thanks for coming to our rehearsal. Our first gig is at the Roundhouse”. Thus from the outset, Kevin Shields is clear that this isn’t the finished artefact. But then they launch straight into Only Shallow and it feels nothing like 16 years since they last did this.

With time passing, there are things you forget. Like how tuneful many of their songs are. The boxes of earplugs by the entrance were a little worrying, but the mix is very dense and full rather than particularly loud. But it’s not all power; there’s fragility, particularly in the vocals of Bilinda Butcher, which make it vulnerable and human. All the vocals are mixed a fair way back, and Bilinda has a sweet innocence as she sings, seeming somewhat divorced from the proceedings. To her left Kevin Shields is head down in concentration, but allows himself a smile when things go just right.

The rhythm section is set far to the back of the stage. Debbie Googe dances around in her circle of foldback, while Colm O'Ciosoig is a solid and almost machine-like presence on the drums. They cover material from the Creation Records period, and of this it’s the Loveless material that works best. With sound sometimes being a maelstrom, it’s amazing how in control of it they all are. That’s not to say that their aren’t flat points, but for me the experience grew in the memory more than it gripped me at the time. But it was also a beast that gathered strength as it progressed, as both they and we came to grips with the expectations after so long a hiatus.

They still end their set as they did back then with the behemoth of You Made Me Realise. The central section of this became known as the Holocaust, but it’s not that at all. It’s more like a journey; the trip through the stargate at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But standing there in awe, I realise what I’m hearing is an audio depiction of the Valley Forge ripping through the rings of Saturn in Silent Running. Communications arrays are destroyed as the ship enters radio silence for the white noise journey; then the ship emerges safely on the other side, but all are changed by the experience, and then reality intervenes as the almost psychedelic jangle of the song returns at the end.

This was as good as you could hope and better than you had any right to expect. So why the reticence? While people around me were melting in ecstasy, I found it a little hard to get involved. And then it hit me. I wasn’t hearing anything new. This was not even an official gig, so I don’t have much of an issue with that, but MBV were always trailblazers. Tonight they cemented their reputation as a live act, and allowed a new generation of fans to see what we had been going on about for so long. The time they’ve lost may be their greatest enemy; what will be most interesting will be if they’re able to go beyond Loveless into something entirely new. I’ll be hoping

© James McGalliard 2008

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Interview: John Foxx


I don’t want to be my own tribute band”. Electro pioneer John Foxx tells our UK correspondent James McGalliard how he’s looking forward, not back

“I see the tours going off in England, sort of Eighties things and I’ve been asked to join in with those and I won’t do it because I just think what we are doing is still alive and is going somewhere definite and we’re enjoying the journey and I don’t want to interrupt that”. John Foxx is in the high-rise bar of a posh hotel at the top of Regent Street in London, and is responding to me saying that his live shows (which he’s bringing to Australia for the first time this week) are far from retro.

“We are there to do music from some of the eras that we still feel are relevant. Some things from Metamatic and some things from even earlier - some stuff from the Ultravox! days and some from all the stages in between, things like Endlessly. Things that work with the way we play now, and also some of the very new things.”

But even the songs from thirty years ago seem to tie in thematically with the present work. “I don’t think there is anything that is inconsistent with the way we are working now, because when we look back on things I have written in the past there are themes that are present all the way through. And I like that, because there’s a thirty odd year body of work that is consistent.”

By all rights, John Foxx should be a household name. As punk grew into post-punk, he was the frontman and songwriter of Ultravox for their first three albums. After he left, they came up with Vienna, and Gary Numan found commercial success pursuing the path he’d laid down. When he wrote an album of ambient music in 1983, he couldn’t find anyone interested in releasing this new style of music. It seems that followers and imitators were achieving the recognition and the success that the pioneer didn’t. “It sounds vain when you say things like that, but a lot of that is true. A lot of things I did ten years before anybody else and then other people do it and it is like a new thing I just think, ‘Well, how interesting’. There is a price to pay for doing things too early…people ignore it until the time is right.”

But he hasn’t always been one with the times. He says his 1985 album, In Mysterious Ways, "was me driving on the pavement”. Shortly afterwards, Foxx disappeared from public view for ten years. “About 84 or 85 onwards I started losing interest in it – everything just got very boring to me. I wasn’t hearing anything I liked. I found myself doing those kind of things and I just thought ‘What’s the point? I don’t like any of this. So I should just stop for a bit’. So I walked away from all that…”

Time passed and around eight years later he found himself back in Manchester around the last days of the Hacienda and saw Louis Gordon playing at a commune party, and thought “I’ve got to work with this guy – he’s great. He just had a drum machine and a guitar he had borrowed from someone.” It’s this partnership with Louis Gordon that's been at the centre of his second coming and invigorating live shows. “A lot of that’s down to Louis because he was a fan of (my music)… He knew exactly how we wanted to hear it and it just turns out that’s the way I wanted to hear it as well. When we worked on that track together I thought this guy knows what he is doing.”

While live Foxx remains reasonably static, he rightly describes Gordon as “the human blur”. He continues in his soft Lancastrian lilt “I have never been that interested in being a performer as such. I think what I really like is recording best, but I also like getting on stage if it’s with someone like Louis because Louis is good fun to play music with and he knows my music probably better than I do myself he knows himself. It’s a good working relationship. It’s quite a hard thing to find that because a lot of people are competent but don’t have an intuitive understanding of that stuff. Whereas Louis does – it’s in his background, he grew up in Manchester and he has been right through that rave scene and he started off in the electronic scene. He’s been through all of it, and played all of it, so he knows all of it."

Melbourne’s second show will see only the fourth separate performance of Tiny Colour Movies, Foxx’s soundtrack to digitalised Super 8 movies. So what’s the story behind it? “I used to buy reels of film (from Brick Lane and Portobello Road markets) and didn’t know what they were and view them to see if there was anything interesting on them. Eventually I amassed all this stuff and didn’t quite know what to do with it. Then I saw this collector’s reel of films one night and thought ‘Yeah - that’s exactly right! It is finite. It does have a place in history’. And some of it is unique and some of the stories behind the pieces are very interesting too. It’s like reading an obituary; which is something I like - it’s not morbid at all. It’s very interesting because you get a summation of someone’s life and their achievements…”

“It’s about how ordinary things become extraordinary all the time, and it’s that kind of understanding. It’s also about the sheer beauty of it. I just like the look of that kind of quite crude film. Because you can now project it in a way that it was never intended to be projected, and the people who shot it would never have think it could be projected twenty feet high for instance, because it wouldn’t have been possible. But now you can digitalize it and do that, so you suddenly begin to look at things in a new way…”

And the music? “It’s simpler in some ways and more direct (than my collaborations with Louis Gordon)…It’s partly ambient but it’s also more electronic than that with analogue synths. Because I think there is a good parallel between these films being digitized and it being possible to see them in a new way where you appreciate all the faults as qualities; the scratches and bleached out bits are actually quite beautiful and the film wouldn’t be the same without them. And it’s the same with analogue synths. They were rediscovered because they were digitized and copied digitally and so people could hear how powerful and organic and strange sounding they actually were…”

John Foxx is busier now than ever. When he leaves me he’s off to meet with Leftfield about a future collaboration. He’s also currently working with Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie and Steve Jansen on a new project. Then there’s visual piece, The Quiet Man, an ongoing project he’s been working on since 1973. Not to mention his guerrilla plans for the ‘greening’ of public spaces of London. These shows are rare chance to see a true pioneer present his unique vision.

John Foxx and Louis Gordon play the Corner Hotel, this Thursday, 8 May 2008. “Tiny Colour Movies” will take place at ACMI, this Friday, 9 May 2008

© James McGalliard 2008

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Interview: Devastations

“I haven’t lived in a place for longer than four or five months in five or six years…” Conrad Standish of Devastations shares the overseas experience with James McGalliard

There are many universes, and parallel existences. In one, Devastations frontman Conrad Standish is half of a rock glamour couple, being followed by paparazzi and besieged by supermarket checkout magazines that want a feature on the celebrity lifestyle of him and his wife. In this one we’re sitting in a real ale pub in Hackney in London’s East End, a few days before Conrad flies out to Melbourne to begin rehearsals for their February shows, and I’m trying to understand how you can afford to live in London as a musician.

The truth is, you can’t. “At the moment I am going for a lot of job interviews… I’ve kinda managed until now, but this can’t continue like this; it’s dawning on me that I can’t be a gentleman of leisure for too much longer. It’s fucken tough here, it’s really expensive…” Conrad has recently moved here after he and the band spent the last few years based in Berlin. “Before we were living in (our current home), we were living in a place in Camden with seven or eight other people.”

Along with drummer Hugo Cran, and guitarist and vocalist Tom Carlyon, Conrad makes up Devastations, a band formed in Melbourne, and now living in three separate countries. But with Hugo still in Berlin, and Tom having recently moved back to Australia, isn’t this going to make things a little tough? “I guess we will just have to put aside a certain amount of time each year to get together somewhere. It could be Europe at the end of a tour, or Australia back on holidays, or we could meet halfway or something. Meet in Iraq for a rehearsal spell? We will just have to be more selective about the way that we tour and more respectful of our own lifespan as a band. We gotta be clever about it.”

This lack of money has had its beneficial side though. The long, languorous soundscapes of Yes, U may never have been achieved, except for the way the record was created. “We’ve always felt in the past, because of the way that we wrote songs, that when we would record albums, we will just layer and layer and layer stuff. Also we had a lot of time in which to record those albums, because we had no money, so we would only go into the studio when we had money. And like all the off-time, we had like a rough mix of the song and we would be thinking ‘maybe it needs an organ bit here, or maybe it needs a violin or extra whatever…’, which would invariably happen. We all would have ideas for the songs over the course of a year. I mean each of those albums took a year to make. Which was good in one sense, because it gave us a lot of time to live with the songs, and see how they could be improved but at the same time, when it came to playing live as a three-piece, there were obvious limitations…”

That’s the other big change recently in the band. Conrad tells me that there have probably been eight keyboard players during their history, but now it’s back to the core trio for the foreseeable future. “This is kind of tough on everyone who’s ever been in the band… But really the band is just the three of us; no matter who joins, that’s always how it is. It’s a funny dynamic. Even if we were craving a fourth member, still at the same time always the three of us.”

The other dynamic of the band is between the two singers. “I think that is a good thing for an album (and) for a pair of songwriters. I think we’re both fortunate to have each other in a lot of ways. We have quite a complex relationship, me and Tom, but I think we tend to compliment each other well. I think we’ve arrived at a point where we know what to do with one another, if you know what I mean.” Although Tom has always sung, recent shows seem to feature him more as a singer, as does Yes, U. “Tom’s a great songwriter and his contributions to the band have always been huge and his work probably overshadows all of us. But I don’t think he is actually singing more on like Yes, U…I guess on this album there are a couple of instrumentals so it probably seems more.”

Conrad has strong thoughts on live performance. “We don’t like to play for a long time. I myself get really bored watching anyone for more than half an hour. It could be The Stooges, after half an hour, I’ve had enough! So I keep that in mind when we are playing. It can be nice to have a show where you have your peaks and your troughs. You can do that in a dynamic sense, without having to get people to stay two hours to watch you play.”

“It’s a weird thing to perform in front of people. Sometimes you wonder why you do it at all, what’s like the point? …We’ve done shows where we’ve walked off stage and it’s like high-fiving in the sun in the Caribbean, and someone’s walked in, like our manager or whatever, with a very worried look on their face. And we’ve done shows like that, which we thought were a total piece of shit and we’ve had people walk up to us in tears - tears of joy. So we really aren’t the best judges.”

Conrad cuts a weird onstage figure. He’s tall, he struts, jerks his hips and arches his back, while his head comes forward, almost like a cobra. “It’s just how it feels natural to play for me. I have to move. It seems to be what the music dictates. It’s a physical thing, but I don’t have any idea of what I appear like on the stage… I don’t think I look that weird, but I really enjoy playing bass. Maybe I enjoy it 10% more than other bass players?”

Following the Australian shows is the possibility of an American tour, as Yes, U is only now being released there. And after that? “I think it would be boring if we made another record that sounded the same as Yes, U. All of us have ideas that we want to pursue, but it’s realistically like another year before we would step foot in a studio again. It gives us all a fair amount of time to get it how we want it.”

If you ask what he’d like most from the forthcoming dates, the answers simple – sold out shows. Although they’ve lived and played overseas for a long time, Australia is still loved, faults and all. What might people expect to hear on these dates? “Some songs you can leave out of the set for like a year or two. Then you’ll revisit them and suddenly they’re fresh all over again. Certain songs have to be put into gaol for a bit, if they are not kinda working for you… We’ve our whole lives to play these songs, I don’t see what the rush is - we will be around for a while yet.”

Devastations play East Brunswick Club on 2 February, and St Jerome’s Laneway Festival on 24 February. Yes, U is out now on Remote Control

© James McGalliard 2008