Wednesday, 26 December 2007

End Of Year Polls: 2007 Inpress Writers' Poll

INPRESS 2007 WRITERS POLL – James McGalliard

1. Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters THE TWILIGHT SAD
3. A Weekend In The City BLOC PARTY
5. Grinderman GRINDERMAN
6. The Dreamer Evasive APARTMENT
7. Everything Last Winter FIELDS
9. About What You Know LITTLE MAN TATE

1. The Twilight Sad
2. Devastations
3. Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline

1. The Early Years @ The Luminaire, London
2. Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline @ Primavera Sound, Barcelona
3. Gallon Drunk @ The Borderline, London

TOP 3 LOCAL ARTIST GIGS (Australian acts in Europe)
1. Grinderman @ The Forum, London
2. The Scientists @ Dirty Three ATP, Minehead
3. Ed Kuepper @ Dirty Three ATP, Minehead

Phill Jupitus – BBC 6Music weekday breakfast
Andrew Collins – BBC 6Music Sunday Afternoon
Gideon Coe – BBC 6Music weekday mornings

1. Skins
2. Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe
3. Battlestar Galactica

1. Control

1. Wikipedia
2. Guardian Unlimited
3. BBC (esp. News)

Radiohead – if only the product was as good as the marketing

Barrack for Barack?

UK live scene; friends

More use of classical instrumentation in rock, especially string sections. More acts reforming who should have stayed split. Blues crossing into the indie fanbase. More talk about green politics. Recession.

James Press Release for April Tour 2007
To any of you cunts at the NME who thought we're past our sell by date;
To any of you cunts at the NME who thought we were over;
To any of you cunts at the NME who thought we couldn't cut it no more;
Think again!
In less time than it takes for most people to go to the toilet and have a shit we sold out Brixton Academy not once but twice.
Forget the Clash because we fucking own Brixton you cunts!
In less time than it takes most people to count from 1 to 20,000 we sold out out Manchester Arena and we could have sold it out twice but we couldn't be arsed to.
n less than it takes to catch a plane from Birmingham to Newcastle we sold out out both towns easy.
Stick that up your stelios and smoke it.
We are JAMES.
We're back.
We're fresh as a daisy.
You don't own us.
You don't control us.
If you step in our way you're fucked because the music is back.
Simply put:
We are JAMES.

Nick Cave and Grinderman on The Culture Show with Zane Lowe well out of his depth
No. You're wrong. Really, you haven't understood it at all…

Consistency was the key word - there were no great high or low points. Although there were many wonderful tracks, few great albums were released, making it harder than usual find ten albums to nominate for this poll. In the UK, a Prime Minister, marred by actions in foreign wars, chose the time of his departure after more than ten years in the job and successfully abdicated. As an Australian living in London, 2007 was a particularly tough year, as summer decided to bypass the UK, even though mainland Europe suffered a lethal heatwave. Festivals were washed away, and the country never experienced the extended period of goodwill the warm season traditionally brings. There was little to challenge on TV – too much reality and lowbrow entertainment; too little original drama. Radio suffered similarly, with BBC 6Music in particular parting ways with many of their stalwarts, replacing them with ex-XFM staff.

© James McGalliard 2008

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Acts To Watch In 2008 - for Drum Media (Sydney)

There’s only so much you can pick up from MySpace or foreign rock press. So our man in the UK James McGalliard has suggested some acts to watch out for in 2008

I’ve got a fair idea of some of the bands that will become hard to avoid in 2008. But you can read about Foals, The Pigeon Detectives, The Cribs, The Wombats, Palladium, The Enemy and their like elsewhere. What follows is not necessarily bands who will break big in 2008, but acts I’ve seen and been impressed by over the past 12 months. Acts I’ll be spending my time and money keeping an eye on; hopefully some of them will find success as well. But rather than just list a few in detail, here are more than 20 over a broad spectrum in rough categories for you to pursue if you so wish

Not The Same Old Blues Crap
Is the name of a set of promoters who have already presented gigs by The Scientists and the wonderful Gallon Drunk this year. They’re also bringing blues to a wider audience - and blues is making big inroads into the indie scene. Seasick Steve is the genuine article – of the old school. But he’s playing bigger and bigger audiences for every tour, and is like the Top Gear - folks who usually have no interest in this sort of thing are flocking to see him. One can only hope that John Peel favourite Jawbone will find success in his wake? With a renewed interest in “punk rock blues”, maybe Archie Bronson Outfit will progress from being one of the best live acts in the country, to being a big one too?

One man and his guitar
Or in the case of Simple Kid, a guitar and a laptop. Which allows him to duet with Kermit the frog on It’s Not Easy Being Green, have a karaoke-style singalong to The Ballad Of Elton John, and spew out the lyrics of set highlight Serotonin. Josh T Pearson (the T is for Texas) has been stunning UK audiences with his open-hearted, scary, long, involved honest one-man songs. He’s due to release his first real material since Lift To Experience soon – it will have been worth the wait. Kid Harpoon first hooked me with his brilliant live cover of Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan. Now he has a full band (The Powers That Be) and together they play some of the best folk-influenced rock since The Pogues

The shock of the old
Reunions are generally a disappointment, but there have been some exceptions. The best of all was Gang Of Four, whose 2005 live shows wiped the floor with newer pretenders. Sadly drummer Hugh is not currently in the band, but they’re recording new material and its release is sure to make a major impact. Similarly James played the arenas this year, but it was more than a nostalgia trip; they have written and recorded a new album. The live shows were great – if radio gets behind them, they may have a second coming.

Second chances to make a first impression
My Latest Novel produced a great debut album, but it never really translated into a big following. But they’re a fabulously adventurous live act, and the new songs are particularly strong. Fields progressed enormously over 2007; after much touring were able to keep the intensity levels sustained throughout their shows. I hope 2008 is the year their hybrid shoegaze folk-rock makes a mark. On the other hand The Duke Spirit were always great live, but sadly their debut album failed to capture this. However this seems to have been rectified with their new recordings, and their forthcoming album may yet make them a household name.

Pick And Mix
The Early Years were easily a live highlight of 2007. They’ve officially expanded to a four piece and are currently recording a second album – it should be blinding. When Fuck Buttons played Truck festival, such was the interest I couldn’t even get into the tent they were playing. But what I heard though the tent walls definitely made me want to find out more. SPC ECO is Dean Garcia of Curve coming back with something reminiscent of his previous act, but also entirely new. Curve should have been huge – Garbage owed their sound to them! Maybe this time the originators will grab the spoils? But Exit Calm are the where the smart money is. The music is tight and large, even if the vocals are yet to catch up. They will be in big venues by the year’s end. Think U2, but in a good way…

From Over There
The National may have released four albums and have toured a few times, but they’re yet to break big here. All the right ingredients are there – it’s just something not quite clicking. 2008 may well see them do an R.E.M. and jump from devoted fanbase to widespread acclaim.

Personal Bias
The Twilight Sad was the band of 2007 for me. Yet somehow, in a foolish oversight, their brilliant debut album has missed many end of year lists. Live the act is powerful and unforgettable. And bloody LOUD! There’s a special something about them; even though their music is entirely different, I keep thinking Here Are The Young Men. Andy Yorke is that Radiohead guy’s brother, and some years ago had his own band The Unbelievable Truth. At Truck he had be totally entranced – an understanding between the people onstage translated to a magic and beautiful hour. I’ve told Evi Vine that she’s a future Mercury Music Prize candidate; she thinks I’m joking, but her unique music is worthy of such accolades. She is transported when she plays and takes the audience with her; the journey may be sometimes unnerving though, as she is a singularly spectacular talent. A brother and sister – the guy on guitar, a gal on drums - but nothing like that that red & white duo? That’s Joe Gideon & The Shark – a real find for me, and a band I’ll definitely write about in more detail during 2008. And finally there’s Model Morning who may never find huge success, but still make my jaw drop, and my soul sing, each time I see them.

Sadly, there’s no time for
The return of doves. Or Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline. Or other acts with string sections. Or the whole world of new pop! So especially sorry to Tim Ten Yen, Strange Idols, 586, The Chaira L’s… But now that the ukulele has overtaken the recorder as the most played instrument in UK schools, who knows what the future will bring?

© James McGalliard 2008

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Live: Model Morning - London

Model Morning
The Luminaire, Kilburn, London, UK
Thursday 27 September 2007

In the early ‘90’s, a certain weekly UK music magazine controversially put then unsigned Suede on the cover with the caption "the best new band in Britain". Nowadays there is only one music paper, so there’s no competition, and no reason to look beyond the latest instalment of the Doherty saga. Then why should an Australian paper publish a review of an unknown British band when there are so many local acts that it could be covering instead? Well simply because Model Morning are creating something truly special, and the tired UK rock press hasn't even noticed them, as they don't fit into the current flavour of the day.

The set they play tonight is nearly identical to the one that first floored me around 18 months ago. Although many of the songs are now familiar, there have been significant changes in the interim. Most markedly, there’s been a near Spinal Tap procession of drummers, but with Ed Keenan they’ve found a driven player who pushes them further than before. This change has had reverberations throughout the band. The most noticeable hardening of their sound comes with Richard Davidson’s bass on We Are Gone, which now whacks you around the head and demands you pay due attention. There’s barely a pause between songs - they power along as though the world will end if they stop long enough for applause. While the songs have toughened up, some of the rock theatrics have calmed down, and the band is more powerful and impressive as a result.

Peter Morley has also developed as a frontman, and his voice is stronger than ever. When he sings his own backing vocals on Everybody's Drunken Friend, it seems so natural, and appropriate in the context of the inner voices of the song. He only really speaks to introduce This Town, which is a depiction of fear on the darker streets of their native Nottingham. Model Morning demonstrate that anthemic rock need not be embarrassing. Their music is clever, but not too showy; the atmospherics of Chris Moore’s guitars nicely complementing the more traditional attack of Rob McCleary’s playing. Their debut mini-album Your Worst Enemy only hinted at what they could do; their live performance is genuinely exciting and tonight they seem to have a new-found purpose and determination. The best new band in Britain? Perhaps…

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 24 October 2007

Everybody's Drunken Friend
We Are Gone
Harry Haller Suicide
Whenever I Can
This Town
Without You I'm Lost
As Guilty As

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Live: Devastations and Josh T Pearson - London

Monto at The Water Rats, London
Tuesday 18 September 2007

Josh T Pearson may be just one man, but live he sounds like a band. The ex-Lift To Experience frontman cuts a startling figure - an enormous beard appearing below the brim of his hat. His footstomp is a match for any kick drum and somehow that single acoustic guitar sounds like a three-man assault. His voice can jump from a barely audible whisper to a deafening howl, in a mesmerising performance where he fights genuine battles between angels and demons. The world he creates is as beautiful as it is horrifying. Love has torn him apart, but something special is rising from the ruins. He sends messages out from his own private hell; his songs are long, and moving. That’s Just The Way That Life Goes is a clear highlight. He asks if he has time for another song – everyone cheers in agreement. He responds “This ain’t a democracy”, but finds time to close his set with The Devil’s On The Run, which sees even the most cynical lose their cool and sing along.

Devastations are now back to the core three members; “three is the magic number – for us” drummer Hugo tells me before the show. With many songs having a strong keyboard basis, it’s going to be interesting to see how they achieve their sound with guitar, bass and drums. As with their shows earlier this year, Conrad no longer takes centre stage, but his mane tossing and depreciating humour still make him a magnetic figure on stage. As a three piece, the individual personalities shine more, and somehow they feel more like a band.

They open with early favourite We Will Never Drink Again but the vocals don’t mesh as they should. In fact, it’s their sound mix that lets them down tonight. Tom’s songs probably suffer the most – both The Pest and Black Ice rely on their sequencers, but they’re loud and distorted, taking the subtle nuances of the songs with them. In fact it’s not until Mistakes that things really bed down. Then Conrad’s vocals excel on The Saddest Sound and they end they set with an apocalyptic Rosa.

It’s by no means a bad show, but perhaps lacking something of the magic that makes Yes, U such a special record. Last October, at the Camden Barfly, Conrad was literally dripping blood onto his fretboard. While tonight’s show was lacking that intensity it did show a band prepared to take risks and try new things. They may fall flat on their collective face, but you can’t help but admire their faith. There were moments of brilliance tonight. Once they iron these bugs out, they’ll be truly dangerous. I can’t wait to see them again in November

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 26 September 2007

Monday, 17 September 2007

Album: Devastations - Yes, U


Until this year I really admired Devastations. Their first two albums were solid, and live Conrad Standish was an enigmatic and sensual frontman. Inexplicably, their performance at All Tomorrows Parties festival in April saw him leaving many of the vocal duties to guitarist Tom Carlyon. Additionally their sound had changed drastically, leaving even favourites like Previous Crimes behind.

Even on my first listen to Yes, U, I was convinced the band had shot itself in the foot. But then I was enraptured by The Pest, and slowly their new world opened to me as I realised my mistake - the band had progressed and moved on, while I had not. They’ve moved away from the sound that led to comparisons to Nick Cave or Tindersticks to a sound more akin to Shriekback, or The Cure circa Seventeen Seconds. They‘ve dumped their original template to create a wholly original work - instead of Coal II they’ve opted for something braver and far more adventurous.

The album is hypnotic and powerful, considered and intelligent and improves with every listen. It’s made up of long tracks, which fall and lock into a relentless groove. While it could meander and lose its way, drummer Hugo Cran keeps a tight rein on proceedings with his considered and timely work. Carlyon’s guitar spirals over lyrics that at first feel improvised, but then reveal their purpose. It’s immediately dreamlike and beautiful, a glimpse into a dark, sexual world. The album tells tales of love and acceptance, desire, marriage proposals, and the death of a parent.

Their stay in Berlin has influenced them, for Yes, U is the sound of a twenty-four hour city whose virtual heartbeat underlies the whole work. It may not grab on first listen, but it’s such a mature, considered and intelligent work that it warrants, nay demands, that you spend time with it, taking the time to learn its curves and intimate places, much like a new lover.

Both engineering and production are superb. The sound is at once both sparse and densely packed. The bottom end is weighty but never ponderous; the electronica meshing seamlessly with the organic, possibly partially due to the contributions of HTRK’s Nigel Yang and new(ish) member Andrea Lee.

This album is a brave and humanly-flawed statement from a band taking risks and exploring new avenues. At its best, it’s nigh on brilliant. With Yes, U, Devastations have risen above mere casual admiration; they’ve shown themselves to be worthy of our love and respect. I hope they find it.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review was published in Inpress, Melbourne on 19 September 2007

Friday, 14 September 2007

Live: David Sylvian - Manchester

David Sylvian – The World Is Everything Tour
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK
Friday 14 September 2007

David Sylvian is an enigma. Since Japan split at the height of their popularity nearly 25 years ago, his career has been a continuing search for self, crossing many musical genres in the process. Tours from him are comparatively rare, and reports say this is the last time he will perform his older material, so it’s an expectant audience waiting to greet him.

As always there’s an initial shock - that voice shouldn’t be coming from that man. There’s a stillness to him on stage - there is no sudden movement or motion; the whole performance resembles some deep meditation. He remains seated on a high stool throughout, his guitar resting across his lap. For songs without guitar, he carefully and slowly uncoils the microphone from its stand, and holds it close and still to his lips.

Sylvian’s singing has possibly never been finer and his voice is an instrument of singular beauty, its timbre having the resonance that can rend the very fabric of the universe. When it dips and soars, it’s magnificent. Playground Martyrs sees that voice weaving round a simple piano accompaniment, and ends with the kilt-wearing Keith Lowe bowing his electric double bass so high up the neck that it sounds like a deeper, mournful cello. It’s for these moments of pure transcendence alone that he’s always worth seeing, no matter what he’s doing.

But sometimes that is not enough. The PA is ridiculously small, meaning you’re aware that the vocals are coming from small speakers a good twenty-five feet away from the singer. While Steve Jansen is a truly wonderful drummer, he’s given little chance to be the powerhouse that gave a backbone to the Rain Tree Crow project. Keith Lowe shows his skill on a variety of basses and styles while Takuma Watanabe provides solid support on piano and keyboards.

But the biggest problem with this tour is Sylvian himself. Reinvention and reinterpretation are sometimes vital, but here at times he seemed to have lost the essence of what made the songs so special in the first place. Brilliant Trees opens wonderfully, with Theo Travis’ flute superbly recreating Jon Hassell’s eerie horn sounds. But when it segues into Before The Bullfight and Nostalgia, the tempo doesn’t change, and Sylvian’s guitar work seems unnecessary and cloying. At its worse it’s noodling, and it’s an effort to appreciate the beauty over the fill. Sylvian’s often dipped into jazz, but this for me was a step too far.

When he next tours, I’ll be there. But I’ll be hoping his muse has taken him on a somewhat different direction.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 17 October 2007

Wonderful World
It’ll Never Happen Again
World Citizen / I Won't Be Disappointed
The Day the Earth Stole Heaven
Playground Martyrs / Transit
Fire in the Forest / Ghosts
Snow Borne Sorrow
Mother & Child
Atom & Cell
Sugar Fuel
Brilliant Trees / Before the Bullfight / Nostalgia / Before the Bullfight
The Librarian

Every Colour You Are / Riverman / Every Colour You Are


Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Interview: Marc Almond

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

“My life’s been a continual swan song”. Marc Almond looks back on 27 years between the gutter and the stars with James McGalliard in London.

“I don’t want to be the party person anymore, I don’t want to be in the night club unless I am working there”. I’ve met Marc in the basement of a swish hotel only a stone’s throw from his beloved Soho, to talk about his new album Stardom Road. But a week after celebrating his 50th birthday with a career spanning live show covering his twenty-seven years in the spotlight, Marc’s worldview has altered.

“I wrote the song Redeem Me (Beauty Will Redeem The World) about… growing up and moving on, and wanting different things out your life…I wanted some light in my life, after a period of an accident. I just felt I had been surrounded by this ugly period of my life, a very dark period of my life. So I wanted to open the windows and let the light in. If that means looking on things in a more spiritual way, I didn’t look at it that way I am not a religious person at all. I think it does inevitably gives you a different view of life, a more spiritual appreciation of life - if anything it’s just wanting a calmer life.”

So what’s bought about this change for Marc Almond? On 17 October 2004, while riding pillion on a motorbike near St Paul’s Cathedral, he was involved in an accident and suffered terrible injuries to his head and upper body. He was in a coma for two weeks, and it was during his long recovery that he found he had forgotten how to sing, and had to go back and have lessons. “I went back to get the confidence back in my singing, to learn how to get my strength back and everything. It made me realise how lazy I was getting in singing and it made me… much more conscious, thinking of the notes I am singing, so it has been a good thing for me in that way.”

“I found that going back to singing lessons now, my hearing I went deaf in one ear after the accident because it was punctured, and my lungs were punctured and I couldn’t breathe properly and I couldn’t hear for like six months. That’s healed now but I have a slight imbalance in my ear which means I sometimes fall over on stage.” He continues, laughing “I have to hang onto the piano because I felt myself going over. I get vertigo, and everything goes round -I have fallen over on the tube before.”

The only clearly visible sign of his accident is a visible dent above his right ear, as though a thumb had been pressed too hard into soft clay. Yet Marc’s looking a remarkably sprightly 50, especially considering what he’s been through. “It used to be 50 was the end of your life, now it’s like a new beginning. Like 50 is the new 30 I like to think… I’m 30 in my mind; I don’t feel 50”.

Stardom Road is Marc’s first solo album since the accident, and while it only contains one new composition, it’s more than a mere album of covers. Taking songs from Charles Aznavour, Al Stewart and David Bowie, Almond has given them his unique touch, and the tracks are ordered like an autobiographical musical. But how would he fare on the mainstay of covers today? “I think that I would fail miserably on X Factor; I wouldn’t get past the auditions. I’m so glad, so lucky that I’m not an up-and-coming young artist trying to make it in the music business these days, having to go through that sort of trial by TV, or that kind of ordeal. ‘You’re not singing in tune; you’re not looking right’…”

“To me singing is about making people believe what you are singing and bringing your distinctive quality to the song that makes it instantly recognisable as you. You’re delivering the song and making people believe it, that’s what Frank Sinatra said”

As half of Soft Cell, Marc was a pop star in what was probably the last true age of pure pop, and a beacon for those who were a little bit different. I felt privileged to hear him describe how the sound of that era came about. “They had grown up though in an age of the ‘70’s where you went through four different musical genres - it started the decade with progressive rock coming out of the 60’s, it went to glam rock, you went through punk, and you went through disco. And when you took a mixture of glam rock, punk and disco, and put it all together… with a verse, a bridge, a hook and a chorus, you got what an ‘80’s pop song was… You took these influences - this colour and this fashion and this glitz and this glamour from the glam rock of Bowie and Bolan, from the punk of the Sex Pistols, and the disco of the Donna Summer and Sylvester, you put them all together and that’s what you got - this incredible melting pot of music which was 80’s pop!”

There’s sheer joy in his voice as he continues breathlessly, “And you sold millions of records because everyone watched one TV show (Top Of The Pops) and you brought your records from a record shop and everyone bought the same records. Plus it was the first beginning of pop celebrity culture as well…I remember doing an interview for German magazine Bravo around that time… They would turn up while you were on holiday and knock on your hotel bedroom door and walk in and go ‘All the fans from Bravo Magazine want to see what you are wearing and what do you have in your suitcase?’ ”

His next album may be his final one of original songs, which will “reflect this period of my life that I am going through, this reflective period is reaching 50. This coming out of an accident where I go to counselling to reconnect to my teenage years quite a lot, trying to remember who I am. I try and remember where I have come from, so I find I am retracing my steps, so I am listening to music from the ‘70’s… The world that inspired me to write songs initially that I did my growing up with that made me initially the person I am is now moving away and you have to accept that is going that is sliding away.”

But he’s not giving up recording, and his deal with Sanctuary will give him the security of a further two releases. Or hope: “I like the beauty of cities and places now. I want the more overground things as opposed to the underground; the light things as opposed to the dark things, that I really searched out before for experience. Not that I lost myself on that, but I wanted to find out how much of me was still a part of that. Parts of me I have found still are parts of that, but I feel I have grown and moved on. I can’t always be grovelling around in the gutter I have to be up in the stars there somewhere, sometimes”

© James McGalliard 2007

I interviewed Marc on Monday 16 July 2007.
A version of this interview appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 1 August 2007

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Interview: Nick Cave talks Grinderman


"I just fucken want to shove their records down their throats!" Nick Cave talks straight to James McGalliard about home, loss, and Grinderman

"There was a time, fifteen or ten years ago, it took a year to make a record. Not a year to record it, but a year to get everyone together, and sort everyone out, and get the right drugs in. The whole kind of massive event to make a record and it’s not like that anymore, and consequently output is much more rapid, and I’ve got the whole writing thing organised, and that makes it much more rapid"

It’s a blazing hot December afternoon, and Nick Cave is back in Melbourne for a family Christmas. "I love Melbourne. I having an absolute fucking ball here actually…I think that in England, even though I live in Brighton and it’s beautiful and all that sort of stuff, you kind of carry a weight with you that you are aware of and I find that that kind of dissipates while I am in Melbourne. I just sort of feel a lot more optimistic in general. (But) Brighton’s the first place that I’ve lived where I feel I could stick it out for the duration."

Despite the heat, Nick is wearing one of his trademark suits, as we meet to discuss his new project Grinderman. "There was a general feeling about the whole of the Grinderman thing is it’s anything goes…And I think what Grinderman is about is going to places you wouldn’t normally go or you can’t normally go, or you don’t have the confidence to go or whatever, and it’s just with a group of people where you are allowed to do whatever you like."

The group of people Cave is referring to are three of the Bad Seeds - Warren Ellis (electric bouzouki, Fendocaster, violin, viola, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Martyn Casey (bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Jim Sclavunos (drums, percussion, backing vocals). But this band features Cave playing electric guitar, and has a different purpose in mind.

"The thing is I don’t really look at it in relation to the last Bad Seeds record, it seems to me a very different project…We wanted to make a kind of music that was made by four people and that’s to me is the fundamental difference…Say something like No Pussy Blues for example – it’s an idea - that title which I had - it’s difficult for me to sit down in my office and write that song! It’s just difficult to sit and go – you know like…But it’s not hard if you’ve got someone fucking banging this bass line and you just start riffing on that idea. And people are laughing and you can see the other band members smiling as they’re playing and whatever."

It’s obvious that interviews aren’t one of Nick Cave’s favourite things, but he takes time to give considered answers. His eyes are clear and piercing, and there is little room for flippancy. He listens intently to what you say, and will pull you up instantly if he thinks you’ve missed the point, or are misinterpreting him. When I ask whether Grinderman may alienate fans of his last release, he dismisses it with "I can’t really keep up with all that". But it’s also clear the new album is very important to him. "Grinderman wasn’t something we did just to have a bit of fun though. It’s a serious record. I mean it’s a serious record for us. It’s a serious musical statement. But there are elements of humour in it. The point I am trying to make is it wasn’t just let’s go into the studio and fuck around for a while and put out a record. The intent was quite serious behind Grinderman."

But if you wanted a distance from the Bad Seeds, why did you use Nick Launay, the same producer as on the last two Bad Seeds albums? "We used Nick because we don’t have to re-educate a producer. I say that in the most humble way. A producer comes in with all of his stuff and we have to get rid of that stuff and find someone who will just record us as we actually sound, and not fuck around with where we are trying to get. And Nick actually has it in him to say ‘why don’t you go and do that again - I reckon you can do it better’, and sometimes a band can’t see that." {And you trust him to do that as well?} "More or less. A lot of the time we tell him to get fucked; other times we listen"

Cave is genuinely funny, and sadly some people miss the dry humour in his work. "I don’t see how you can be serious about something and get your point across without it being humorous at the same time. For something to be successful you’ve got to be funny first, or else you end up like, I don’t know, The Mission, or something…I don’t know why I said that band; I don’t even know what that band are like. But you know what I mean…The Australian sense of humour to me is extremely complex. It doesn’t fully translate anywhere…If you say ‘G’day cuntface’ to someone up North {in the UK}, they’d probably (trails off). But you can say that to someone in Australia and they see that it’s actually a term of endearment."

He wasn’t aware that Kylie had been performing a section of Where The Wild Roses Grow in her Showgirl tour, and said he would have liked to have taken part, despite a previous bad experience. "I actually did sing that with her at one of her concerts at some festival in Scotland, and there’s all these guys up the front, right fucking hardcore guys, and when I sorta put my arm around Kylie, they were all going, ‘Fucking grrrrr. If you touch her…’ It was really kinda terrifying actually. Her audience are a much worse audience than I’ve ever had."

He doesn’t dismiss working with other former collaborators either. "I would like to do something with Rowland (S. Howard). He’s fantastic. Blixa I saw, it’s a little early for Blixa, I think. But I saw him not that long ago - he was fantastic, he’s fucking fantastic. Even though we kind of barrelled on regardless when Blixa left, there is a, perhaps not musically, because we adapted, but he’s greatly missed in the Bad Seeds, just his presence, there is no one really like him. I was doing the movie The Proposition in Berlin and he came along, and we went out and he’s fantastic. Probably he’s warmer now because we don’t have to worry about the band any more."

There’s an extremely busy few months ahead for Cave. He’s currently back home in Brighton / Hove, on the south coast of England writing the next Bad Seeds LP, which is due to be recorded in June or July. The end of April will see the live debut of Grinderman at ATP at Minehead. Asides from that, John Hillcoat wants him to write another screenplay after Death Of A Ladies’ Man, so when I ask if he’d like to write another novel, he responds "I would like to…but I just don’t have the fucking time…"

But the primal mood of Grinderman is more than a rage against the dying of the light. Man In The Moon is a tender elegy to his late father, and strikes a hauntingly different note. In some ways Grinderman is a more personal record – it speaks of themes in the real world, rather than the timelessness of some of the Bad Seeds material. Cave gives the sense of wanting to really get on with things now. "I think the days of gnashing our teeth in the studio are hopefully behind us…I don’t bring that shit in with other band members and I don’t expect them to bring that shit in either…So that we go in, we are a group of men, we go in there and we work, and finish that and get on to the next thing. That seems to work really well."

"I read interviews with some of these bands who talk about you know, some bands who should know better, who are talking this sorta stuff about ‘the agony’ it took to make this kind of record. And then the next record ‘the agony’ and you know, ‘I lost my marriage, and I lost…’ – you know all this kind of stuff to make this record. And these are not young bands. These are bands who have been around, and they should know fucking better. I just fucken want to shove their records down their throats. Or up their arse more like - where it probably came from."

© James McGalliard 2007
This interview was published in Inpress, Melbourne 7 March 2007
I interviewed Nick In Melbourne in December 2006

Monday, 19 February 2007

Live: The Early Years and Wolf & Cub - London

The Luminaire, London
Monday 19 February 2007

It can be tough going from being an established act in your homeland to having to play as an unknown act down the bill on a foreign shore. This wasn’t Wolf & Cub’s first visit to the UK, or even their first gig in the country on this tour, having played the support slot to Wolfmother at larger venues around the UK. Yet trying to get your message across at 8.30pm on a Monday night in London is still a tough ask.

London audiences have the reputation of being hard to please, cynically standing with their arms folded, waiting to be impressed. While this wasn’t the case tonight, there was the bafflement of an audience not knowing quite how to react. The period of Oz music from which W&C draw their antecedents didn’t have an equivalent here so there are no points of reference for an UK audience to draw on. So This Mess ends up sounding reminiscent of ZZ Top, and when they do a Glitter-band style glam-stomp, it recalls Kasabian’s Shoot The Runner.

The two drummers make an instant visual statement, and all is well for their epic opening instrumental. But when Joel Byrne starts singing, there are problems. It’s a small venue, and the drums are virtually unmiked, and it’s hard to work out if the vocals are meant to be audible, or another instrument. It improves as they progress, and a friend who saw them the week before felt that tonight’s gig was a vast improvement. There’s no denying the intent of Tom Mayhew’s iron bass lines, but overall they just seemed to be lacking a certain drive and passion tonight. Or maybe they just seem underpowered, as the band that follows is such as removes the memory of anything that preceded them?

For tonight The Early Years are a revelation; I can barely believe that this is the same band I saw support iLiKETRAiNS last October. For now they are a band of power and intent and innate craftsmanship, and have expanded to a four-piece from the trio that recorded their debut album. There are a few minutes of gentle bleeps, feedback and fiddlings before they launch into All Ones And Zeros, but these have been building up an atmosphere so shivers run down my spine when the bass kicks in. The sound is crystal and sharp, the lighting thoughtful and evocative.

In some ways it’s pure shoegaze - exciting, uplifting and brilliant. The one downside of that style was a tendency for somewhat atonal vocals, yet Brown Hearts shows Dave Malkinson can really sing. There are elements of some early new wave as well; the way the bass lines break out is reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen; while the driving guitar riff of So Far Gone reminded me of the Talk Talk Talk era of The Psychedelic Furs. But theirs is a new spin on this, and they’re very much their own band.

One of the best things that can happen at gigs is when you find yourself grinning inanely at the sheer pleasure of the experience. Even better is when you turn around to see your mate wearing the same dumb expression - it’s joyous and wonderful. Sometimes you’re torn whether to watch the band play, or just close your eyes and loose yourself in the music. The room went whisper-quiet later during Things, and a prolonged applause and cheering provoked a rare genuine and heartfelt encore.

The Early Years is the band that the Secret Machines promised to be but never delivered. And for them this was just one of those special nights where it all came together.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 28 February 2007