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

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Looking For The New Sound

2008 Preview (rework for Inpress)

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

Foals, Laura Marling, The Pigeon Detectives, The Wombats, Palladium… It’d be fairly easy to list bands who will make an impact this year. But this is more about 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…

The Twilight Sad was the band of 2007 for me. Yet somehow their brilliant debut album 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 at Truck he had me totally entranced; the 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 touching some dark places. And while Model Morning may never find huge success, they still make my jaw drop, and my soul sing, each time I see them.

The Early Years were another 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. But Exit Calm are the where the smart money is; their music is tight and large, even if the vocals are yet to catch up. Think U2, but in a good way. They will playing big venues by the year’s end…

But it’s not all about big music; sometimes it’s 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, and spew out the lyrics of set highlight Serotonin. Josh T Pearson has been stunning UK audiences with his openhearted, 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.

Blues is making big inroads into the indie scene, and leading the vanguard is Seasick Steve. He’s the real deal and is playing to bigger and bigger audiences every tour. It’s a little like Top Gear - folks who usually have no interest in this sort of thing are flocking to see him. 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? Also not to be missed are Joe Gideon & The Shark – a brother and sister – him on guitar, her on drums - but nothing like that that red & white duo!

Reunions are generally a disappointment, but in 2005, the Gang Of Four’s 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 be eagerly awaited. 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 and if radio gets behind them, they may have a second coming.

My Latest Novel produced a great debut album, and are a fabulously adventurous live act, but never really found a big following. But their new songs are particularly strong, so hopefully this will change. Fields progressed enormously over 2007 and the touring helped then to keep the intensity levels sustained throughout their shows. Maybe their hybrid shoegaze folk-rock will makes its mark this year? 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 Neptune may yet make them a household name.

Other trends to look out for in the coming months are classical strings in postrock (see Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline, Yndi Halda and The Monroe Transfer) and also expect an indie pop revival in 2008 (Tim Ten Yen, Poppy & The Jezebels, Strange Idols, 586, The Chaira L’s, and others). 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