Monday, March 30, 2009

Black Is The New Black

Note added 18 May 2009:
***Nancy Black live in Frome - 5 June 2009 as part of Acoustic Plus at the Cheese and Grain***

Yesterday I mentioned the part that traditional music shops still have to play in the current music environment. One aspect that has changed immeasurably in the digital age is one that is as new and as revolutionary as downloading and yet less often mentioned in wider circles. What is that?
Well, for better or for worse, you are reading one of many manifestations of it!
User created digital content has just made the sharing of music easy and global, it has done the same for the sharing of information about it. Barely a decade ago the truism was that 'everyone is local to somewhere' now, thanks to the internet, it might better be summed up as 'anyone is local everywhere', or at least have we have the means to exploit that potential if that is what we want to attempt.
If you hear a band or album that surprises you can review it for an audience of millions - almost instantly and for next to no cost except your time and effort. The obvious question I think is this: "Isn't that too good to be true?"
"Yes and no" is my unhelpful but considered answer. If I can have my opinion I have to accept that you can have yours too, that you can let me know it, and that we might not agree. That is part of the bargain and why I will publish comments to this blog even if I don't actually agree with them. One outcome that critics levelled at this explosion of content, be it MySpace or customer reviews on Amazon or blogs, was that it would create homogeneity based on the lowest common-denominator. It might not be thus if I were a music critic by profession, but from my point of view it has been anything but that way. Everyone is still local to somewhere, just now I know about artists that in the earlier situation I would almost certainly never knew existed.

Add to that is the fact that there is plenty of local live music worth hearing. I have mentioned Bristol-based Phantom Limb before and their gigs at the Griffin Inn are already local legend and they play there again on 2 April 2009.
The previous evening, and just a couple of minutes stroll away, is the opportunity to see another local act that is gathering good reviews from further afield:

Is the hype justified? I'd say that it is.

On the subject of hyped artists or acts one that most certainly has been so in recent months is London's Florence and the Machine, so you might think that new releases are easily available in the UK. Well that is not quite so, and another example of the fact that it has not become a case of one-size-fits-all globalisation. I have the A Lot Of Love, A Lot Of Blood 12" EP on pre-order...

...and while it is from Puregroove in London, is a US import item only!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Even in these digital days...

Once upon a time every town had a record store and they were there for browsing, talking and a source of unbiased (well mostly) advice. They of course reaped their reward by tempting you to buy things!

In these days of digital downloads, Myspace and and the like you might think that they are no more. It is true that they are now rare but they still exist and, along with the ongoing popularity of live music and vinyl, are determined to fight for a place amongst the new order. In fact they are now more valuable than ever and a resource to be cherished. Those that exist remain places where enthusiasm, shared by the staff, exceeds all else - and it is possible to claim that the pub band you saw last night is the next big thing whilst also admitting the need for an old Donovan album; for research purposes only you understand!
Most now also do on-line sales in a very professional way, and it is something in which they can excel, and I have mentioned many as sources of various items, often on vinyl or otherwise unavailable, already on these posts and they are scattered across the UK. Several are, unsurprisingly, in London. Puregrove is one (and now also a label) that I have mentioned before and this is another.

Rough Trade - a record label and also a record store or two.

This one is not a label but it is in fact the oldest continuously trading record store in the world...

Spillers, in Cardiff since 1896.

What I have never done is to mention that, fifteen minutes walk from home, there is just such an establishment. [Click on the images below to enlarge and these were taken by me yesterday morning.]

In fact there are two parts - the above is the one that specializes in physical digital formats - and a couple of doors away is the other branch...

They all deserve, and really need, your support.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Latitude 2009

Just a very quick note: Tickets for the fourth installment of Latitude, held as always at Henham Park, Suffolk, went on sale at 7pm UST (GMT) this evening - 23 March 2009. It sold out well in advance in 2008, so don't ponder too long before joining in. The dates are 17 - 19 July 2009, with the camping area opening from around midday on 16 July.
The main stage headline acts are:

Friday: Grace Jones
Saturday: The Pet Shop Boys
Sunday: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

For the latest additions see here Latitide 2009 - news and for criticism see here.

I was there in 2007 and 2008 and, don't even doubt it, I'm going again in 2009.

See you there?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Preaching To A True Believer...

I receive regular bulletins from and and that is fine as I have signed up for them. Earlier this week I received one that made me smile like the Cheshire Cat. While on that subject I might mention that in 2002 said mythical feline lent its name to the first album by 'Blink 182'. More importantly I well remember the days, in the penultimate decade of the last millennium, when hands were wrung, prayers said and obituaries written.
It started thus:

Dear Customer,

Everyone knows music sounds best on vinyl. As you've bought or browsed vinyl-related products, we thought we'd let you know about some of the 260,000 plus vinyl records we have on site. With everything from classic albums to new releases in every genre--be it an old folk 12" or the latest DJ favourite--you're bound to find something to add to your collection.

'No shit, Sherlock!' is to wantonly borrow the title of a column
that specialises in abstracting statements of the obvious in the free paper Metro, which is widely distributed on public transport in the UK, but all credit to Amazon too: Some, even many, new vinyl releases are local or otherwise limited in some way, and that makes life difficult for a mass-market player but I can't fault Amazon for trying and the Marketplace sellers are also a vital resource and they can frequently supply things not easily found on Amazon itself:

The world has become a small place for illegal downloading and for legal vinyl.
Artist: Irish; Release: US 12" vinyl only; £4.60 (UK, delivered) and tangible :-)

Vinyl has, despite the current poor Sterling exchange rates, become cheaper in real terms than it was twenty years ago and is also - and this was an issue particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s - now usually of unimpeachable quality with 180g being the gold standard but even lighter ones are usually excellent too.

Then there are the myriad other releases, often also (sometimes only), available on vinyl. One such that I have on order and am much looking forward to is the début solo single 'Wounded Bird' by La B, who has already appeared in this archive in a different guise, and it is available to pre-order from Spillers Records in Cardiff (scheduled release date - 23 March 2009).

Note added: 22 March 2009:
This 7" single will now be released on 30 March 2009.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From Home To Home and 6 Day Riot

Several people have arrived here looking for this album in the last week or two and I couldn't see quite why. Now I've twigged and realised that there is an on-going problem with the 'I've just listened to:' list on the side-bar.
I try to link items with blog posts that they obviously refer to but it is such a spider-web that to do so comprehensively is not really possible; not least because I will be completely unaware of many of the connections.
You have two direct options here: tell me what I've missed and ask me if I know what you want (e-mail), or just start a discussion (please feel free to use anonymous comments if you prefer).

Here is one album
that it would seem to fall in that category; I have it, included it in my 'I've just listened to:' list but I have never specifically posted about it:

From Home To Home - Tamara Schlesinger (2004)

You should still be able to find this very commendable album on CD at a reasonable price but given that the band she currently fronts, 6 Day Riot, is in the ascendency it might be better to do so sooner rather than later and not least because their first album, Folie à Deux (2007), is in another league - one of those rarities on which I find it near impossible to choose my most or least favourite tracks. Lyrics to both these albums are available if you ask.

6 Day Riot is on tour soon - click image below to enlarge :-)

Friday, March 13, 2009

New music I want in 2009 - Part 4

Every twenty years or so it happens; somewhere that has neither an obvious right nor reason to threaten the very core of music suddenly rises from its place, as generally regarded in musical terms at least, as the epitome of nowhere remarkable to the very top of the pile. No city has bettered Seattle in that respect - and happily it doesn't change everything. They were still playing The Eagles and Dire Straits incessantly on local radio in Seattle when I was there in 1999 - fully a decade after it became the fuzzy-felt board of 'grunge'; a creation that borrowed from aspects of heavy rock, metal and glam-rock all used in varying proportions. At times, although this might seem a curious observation now, it also featured whimsy and (sometimes cunningly satirical) humour in the lyrics.
The zenith of grunge lasted less than five years; some of the pieces stuck and others just fell off but its legacy, and it is almost worldwide, remains very apparent two decades later. Sub Pop, lest it be forgotten or should the young at heart now feel less so, is still going strong and celebrated its twentieth birthday in 2008 with a party headlined by Pearl Jam.
Little wonder therefore that it is hard to predict what might happen next. I wonder if the average American music consumer has even the faintest idea that Blackpool is on the NW coast of England? I don't know if they have pub quizzes in the US but, if they do, it might be useful to know and, like the famous Blackpool trams, you can wait for ages and then two strange things will arrive almost at once! Blackpool already has, in the artist 'Little Boots', one of the most hyped new UK acts of 2009 but it also has another very likely to become well known. The interesting thing is that they sound nothing like each other or for that matter bear any resemblance to the Seattle revolution of twenty years ago. At least that is not apparently so!
'Little Boots' is all electronic, italo-disco and that sort of thing, and is looking like one of the 'flavours of 2009'. She is finishing her début album in Los Angeles but the trans-Atlantic love doesn't end there - as you will probably already know if you've tried to find a copy of her US-only 12" Arecibo EP. I have no problem with that at all but, although also from Blackpool, Karima Francis isn't part of that scene: she's a singer-songwriter who mainly composes songs on acoustic guitar. There are many who say that there are more than enough of those already. They may yet be wrong.

The Author - Karima Francis
Blackpool aside the one thing that they have in common, and before either has released a studio album, is that both can reliably reduce a live audience - including press reviewers - to putty whilst leaving them feeling awestruck rather than manipulated. In 2009, as never before, that is a pretty trick.

Another artist making waves, and from just across the sea in Dublin, is Laura Izibor... Irish soul would be an alternative listening choice on 17 March!

Kathryn Tickell - NXNE versus SXSW!

SXSW is the largest "altenative-indie" showcase in the world and it takes place in venues across Austin, TX each March. Although called a festival it is much more an industry convention but strange in that sense. In an industry that is in many sectors on the verge of desperation, it also has the ability to bring UK artists to popular attention here as well, if not more so, than in North American markets. It has probably also done much to increase the profile of US-based folk/roots/country inspired music in the UK, something that has been a very apparent, and in my view welcome, trend in the last three years or so.

What they are wont to forget is that we also have a huge traditional canon of our own, played in a bewildering range of styles and on a vast range of instruments, that cover almost every topic from the positively ancient to the most modern in almost every way imaginable. What is not so easy to do, quite so simply, is to scan a 12" album cover as it is too large.

Ranting Lads - High Level Ranters

I mentioned this 1976 album [on the phone, in a private conversation, yesterday] and not even a half-decent image can seemingly be found on the internet. That is not a problem - or at least not round here - for this a photo of the original 12" album (TOPIC - 12TS297) taken about an hour ago. In keeping with the album there were no clever digital tricks involved, except to employ a lack of them; no flash, no tripod, and a 1/16 second exposure on my F20 using only the diffuse background lighting in my sitting room. It was originally 2048 pixels each way but, to make it more suitable for posting, I have reduced it to a more manageable 800 x 800 pixels but it seems to have lost little, if anything, in the transformation. Using flash for this kind of thing always results in undesirable brightness and burnt-out reflections. Using a tripod is fine but I decided to try without --- it is easier to centre the image this way. The challenge is to stay sill enough for 1/16 second - and this was the best of three.
I can't wait until Saturday when I'm going to see the Kathryn Tickell Band. It's been a long, long time since I have heard Northumbrian pipes (and Hardanger-tuned fiddles) played live and The Cheese & Grain has much to recommend it as a venue for such music.

Kathryn Tickell - live in 2004

The slightly rustic surroundings do nothing to spoil the atmosphere but nevertheless it also has surprisingly good acoustics for such a venue, a bar serving real ale from Frome's own 'Milk Street Brewery', and it is less than a twenty-minute unhurried walk from home.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lucky Ones - lyrics - Amy Studt

The Lucky Ones

One last chance to say the word we never said

One last dance with you might help me to forget.
There’ll be no mourners slowly trudging through the rain

But we won’t be alone and never will again.

We are the lucky ones in the final days of the dying sun,
Move across the shifting sands
‘cos there’s nothing left to lose.

We are the lucky ones with no regrets
when tomorrow comes.
And I could let it all slip away if I could share this last dance with you.

One last requiem of love straight from my heart
As the seams begin to stretch and pull apart.
Bathe in the memories of all that you have ever seen;
So strange when you face the end
You’re more alive than you’ve ever been.
Isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it beautiful.

We are the lucky ones
And we don’t know if tomorrow will ever come

We are the lucky ones,
No, no, no, no.

'The Lucky Ones' is a fine track, and on many albums it would be the finest, but for all its merit it is not even in the running. That honour, and have no doubt about it, goes to a song that is almost too good to be true.

Perfect pop, with a lyric and song structure that defies categorisation quite magnificently: 'She Walks Beautiful' is that song.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

It's been a long time coming... Amy Studt update

I have lost track of the number of people that have ended up here because they were seeking information on Amy Studt and her second album. In that regard she is second only to those seeking the same sort of information on Fefe Dobson!
I have written twice before on this subject:

Whatever happened to Amy Studt?
Amy Studt - album update
She Walks Beautiful - lyrics

I had almost given up hope but, an age after its download-only release...
... My Paper Made Men is finally released on CD!

Was it worth the wait? Yes, absolutely! It has a bonus track, Lucky Ones, but that is not the point at all. What struck me first, and I have the legal download version too, is just how vastly superior it sounds when played on a half-decent hi-fi system. For whatever reason, it is much more noticeable than other such comparisons I have made.
It is a much more intense, dark and thoughtful than her previous album and it really shows to full advantage here. I thought it good as a download but now it is something quite special and that, while it is just my opinion, seems to be shared by many writers whose reviews have come to my attention. It certainly isn't party music, or perhaps even music for sharing with friends, but then neither was the much under-rated False Smiles (I remember reading a review that dismissed it in two words "Avril-lite") and I still like and play that too.
I'm pretty tolerant but one thing that irks me is people who feign the like, or dislike, of this-or-that in an attempt to align themselves with a current trend.
I'm going to play both albums, back-to-back, this evening and there is a category of music that, while the actual selection is unique to each of us, everyone should have. Guilt-free music is vital at those times when nothing else matters much.
It is to be hoped that a live tour will follow but I currently have no information on this. If you know anything, be it gospel or mere rumour, or just want to ask a question however trivial then please feel free to add a comment (it can be anonymous) or e-mail me.

Note to 19 Recordings:
We have My Paper Made Men on CD and that is great; now how about a vinyl edition?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Doubtful Comforts - Blue Roses

Doubtful Comforts, the first single to be released by Blue Roses under her new moniker, is out now and I've just been listening to it. It is a single sided 7" and is another worthy addition to the music of Laura Groves. I haven't yet worked out quite which instrument(s) she is playing, let alone the lyrics.
It is sung in a high register that, were it not so natural and unforced, might be be seen as showing off. It isn't; neither will I mention the comparison that came to my mind.

This is sure to appear on the album Blue Roses as will, I suspect, one or all of those that I have mentioned before. This does not guarantee commercial success but it looks like being one mighty début album nevertheless.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

American pop - music I want in 2009, Part 3

I can be strange this way.
I know that Taylor Swift was one of the US artists of 2008 but made no commercial in-roads in the UK. Her first UK single release, Love Song, is now being played on the radio here quite intensively.
I like it and I'm not afraid to admit that; except to rue the fact that the album Fearless is not yet widely available in the UK. I'm usually not one quite so impatient, it is to be released in the UK in a month or so, but for once I'm glad to be so!

Last week temperance wasn't my strong suit so I ordered the US version on a whim. Now I'm very glad that I did - today I heard that the UK album version is going to be "sanitized" by the removal of the banjos and fiddles.
I know I can cope with the original, which some in the UK call the 'country' version. To add to that, unless you have been living under a stone for the last few years, you might have noticed these instruments often in UK and US alt/nu/anti-folk and actually in far more surprising situations.

Love Song has just been confirmed #2 in the UK single chart for the week ending 28 February, beaten only to to the top spot by Kelly Clarkson with the single My Life Would Suck Without You and two American solo artists at the top of the UK charts does much to restore the balance again but don't think the UK is going roll over and lie down. This is just as it should be!