Monday, 8 December 2014

Lost Pets

I have to declare an interest here, the wife's the drummer. But there are four other people in Lost Pets, and every one of them makes this three-track demo something to treasure as 2014 slips away from us.

Lost Pets have played three gigs, and only started practising six months ago. How, then - are these songs so full of pop magic?

Not that many would imagine 'Diamonds and Cobblestones' to be a pop song. A wistful waltz that could easily be played at the next Coronation Street wedding as the first dance, it's got Rebekah Barnett's tremulous voice across special guest Marc Elston's tremolo, whilst Hannah Bond honks her brass beautifully in the background. It twinkles and lopes and is downright beautiful.

Over on 'Get Out' Lost Pets get mean, a plaintive rant against a controlling other, with garage band drums, butter-wouldn't-melt glockenspiel and more Hannah Bond honking, but it's 'Richard Loves Doris' that really steals the show, with it's 'Be My Baby' drumming, bouncing bass and starlight glock. It's fun and cocky and wry and knowing and completely disarming innocent pop. You should try it.

Lost Pets play the Glasgow PopSouth! Weekender, which runs from 13th-15th February.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Interview: The Popguns:

Hello, again.

Work has taken its toll on me writing anything new for yonks, now. October was a very cruel month. But I've not been as quiet as The Popguns, whose first release for 18 years - the bolshy, chunky, altogether gorgeous 'Lovejunky' is out now on Matinee Recordings, to be followed by an album, 'Pop Fiction',
to follow on 2nd December.

I emailed Simon from the band a few questions. He was good enough to reply...

I first heard Popguns on the John Peel show, when Landslide was in the Festive 50. Is it true the single was held off being released because of the Hillsborough disaster?
Sorry, I’ve never heard that one before. Maybe it was an excuse for not getting more airplay?

What are your fondest memories of your first time around as a band?
Going out on our first mini-tour after we’d done a Peel Session and people in strange towns were singing back our songs from the crowd. I remember playing Warwick University (I think) and people were singing along to 'Bye Bye Baby' which had its first play on Peel a few days earlier and was not out on record yet.

And why did you stop?
Lack of commercial success. And ten years of indie rock and roll can take its toll you know. If I dwelt on that too much about that we’d probably stop again now so I won’t.

What brought the band back together?
The rest of the band kept begging me to do it again cos they loved the songs so much I guess. I was actually very reluctant initially as I had no new songs, but it all went down very well and then I had a rush of creativity for some reason so we carried on a bit more to do the new album. I never fell out of love with pop music but this experience has really brought that alive again.

Do you understand why some people are wary about so many indie pop bands reforming at the moment?
Not really, indie bands are not that dangerous at all. It was actually a real surprise that there is so much interest in indie music with all the Popfest stuff around the world. There’s plenty of room in the world for all sorts of music and all sorts of indie bands too. Not every band is everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for sure.

What are the differences between making music and gigging now, and doing it all in the late 80s/early 90s?
Plus ca change… and all that really. Live gigs are pretty much the same, playing a bit too loud and a bit out of tune in small venues to loud crowds and that’s the best bit really. Everyone at our shows are clearly out for a good time and that rubs off on us;  it’s just a real pleasure to play our music and see the reaction without the thought that we need to impress some journalists or record companies.

Recording has been a bit easier this time with all the new tech and less pressure to deliver. The biggest difference is the internet I guess which helped keep our music alive and lets us keep in touch with our fan base. Twenty ears ago we relied so much more on the music press and crumbs of radio play to get noticed but now that’s not so important.

Tell me about the new album. What influences have you taken?
Firstly, I’m just really relieved and proud to have made the record I always wanted to all those years ago. In our opinion we never really did justice to ourselves with our recordings and this has to be by far our best album. I was always influenced by great female fronted pop bands (Shirelles, Blondie, Pretenders) and that hasn’t gone away and I can’t stop trying to create that same feeling in our songs. Inevitably the subject matter of songs has hanged a bit but you may not always notice (secret: They are all about The Popguns, ha ha). Actually, there’s one song, “Alfa Romeo”, about the life of trumpet player Chet Baker but I don’t think we could be filed under jazz just yet.

And which new bands are you listening to at the moment?
Of the bands that have come along since we split I guess The Strokes, Libertines and Arcade Fire would have to be 3 that capture what I think is great is about pop music. Although Arcade Fire may not quite fit the uncomplicated pop category. Two albums I’ve listened to a lot this year are 'Crimson Red' by prefab Sprout and 'Help Stamp Out Loneliness' by HSOL (a few years old I admit). My 15 year old daughter’s faves are Taylor Swift… and Arcade Fire and The Strokes! Yay.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Allo Darlin' - We Come From the Same Place (Fortuna Pop!)

"Nothing feels like it did before, and I am grateful for that," sings Elizabeth Morris on 'Crickets in the rain', and with that the downbeat tiredness (but still beautiful) of 'Europe' is put to bed. Locked away. It's time to move on, and life is good.

Allo Darlin', perhaps more than any other indiepop band (if, indeed, that's what they are), have been so closely watched over the last four years. Births, break-ups, marriages, moves and a triumphant emotional comeback-of-sorts at this year's Indietracks - all over the space of three albums. 'We come from the same place' is the perfect, rounded end to their first three albums, in which they've not so much grown up in the limelight, as had it shone so brightly on them.

'We come from the same place' is the sound of a band on top of their game - a band who can write just about any song you want them to. 'Angela' is a deeply delicate hymn to love, but is followed up by new single 'Bright Eyes' - the romping, stomping duet between Morris and Paul Rains (whose guitar playing is the real star of this album, by the way). A call-and-answer masterpiece, it's the feelgood hit of the Autumn: "It feels better hanging out with you." Indeed.

Elsewhere, on the title track, Morris's voice, not for the first or last time in the band's time together, soars and then breaks and then does that thing that invokes such emotion that it's hard not to believe anything is possible. It's the past four years synthesised into one perfect four-and-a-half minutes.

Morris is again to the fore in the reflective 'History lessons', in which she rails against nostalgia and vents her frustration that we can't and don't celebrate the here and now and, for that matter, the future. The indiepop scene would do well to take notice.

There's even a hint of Britpop in 'Half heart necklace', which, if not exactly a straight down the line rock track, gives Rains the chance to sketch distorted shapes with his guitar as Morris tells the tale of her childhood back in Australia.

Back to 'Crickets in the Rain', though, which is the real star of the show. Perhaps harking back to older Allo Darlin' songs (at least musically), it's the one with the killer chorus, and another in which the vocals crackle and spark just enough to keep your eyes moistening. And there's that guitar leading everyone a very merry dance, as again, Morris puts nostalgia in its place. No looking back now.

'Another year' ends the album, and still the themes are travel and moving on and not going back. If this song about leaving on a plane is a metaphor for the whole album, or whether it's simply a tale about moving to Italy - it matters not. Sure, there's self-doubt here, but, y'know... onwards.

Much has happened to Allo Darlin' since their self-titled album bounced into the world back in 2010. That they're still around, writing songs as complete and life-affirming as can be found on this flawless record, is something to cherish. Always looking forward, always moving on - and thank goodness for that.

Allo Darlin play The Maze in Nottingham on 19th November, as part of a UK tour. 'We Come from the Same Place' is out on 6th October.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Debutantes - S/T ep (Soft Power)

Oh, the pop music, the pop music these people make. The Debutantes are Leon and Sarah and Paula from September Girls, and this is their perfect debut.

Whereas September Girls are all dark menace, The Debutantes are at the more blissed-out end of fuzzy, scuzzy pop. Opener, 'Burn the merchandise' revels in its prime-time pop-chime of Jesus and Mary Chain, whilst also hinting at Frankie Rose. The Be My Baby (there must be a more technical term than this) drums only add to the lengthening of the summer as the leaves fall.

'Gentleman's wash' is all new-wave atmospherics, with all feel of 'Japanese Whispers'-era Cure in there, and it's pretty much the jewel in the crown here. It's all fruitless yearning, like most of the best pop songs, and is followed up by the equally sensitive 'Kids', which is just gorgeous, like a freshly made bed with a bottle of wine under each pillow.

'X&Y' is both vital and meek and a rallying cry, and a sob into a pillow. It kicks out every remaining jam, and then comes back for seconds, whilst closer 'Adam's apple' is as near to September Girls as get through five fresh as a daisy tracks.

It's a treat to listen to a new band be clever with pop music. There's a subtlety at work here which is often lost in the eagerness to get your music out 

Now, if only Soft Power would stop releasing these things on cassette, which I have no way of playing. Still, you can get yours from 11th October, listen here, and watch here:

Gentlemans Wash from Leon Butler on Vimeo.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Show offs

I've got four gig promotions coming up before Christmas, and I'm kind of thinking of calling it a day after that (although I've said this before and never stuck to it). But it'll be a great way to go out, because...

On 4th October, of course, is our all-dayer. There are only about forty tickets left for this now, and if they go there won't be any walk-ups, so you best spend your wages whilst you still have them.

After that, it's Withered Hand with The Sweet Nothings at The Maze in Nottingham on 15th October. Withered Hand's new album 'New Gods' is a thing of complete wonder, and you'd be a complete idiot to miss this. Tickets are available here.

Into November, and at The Chameleon, we have Dignan Porch, Witching Waves, Eureka California and (hopefully) one very special guest. No tickets for this one - just be there early on Saturday 15th.

A few days later on 19th at The Maze again, it's Allo Darlin', Making Marks and Seabirds at The Maze. If this is where I exit stage left, then it'll be great to go out listening to my favourite band of the last four years. Do join me and get your tickets here.

I've spent the last week listening to the Allo Darlin' album constantly all week, and I'm deeply in love with it (review to come soon).

If anyone can get Alvvays over to the UK, thenm I'll change my mind instantly about putting on gigs. As it is, these four will do just fine. See you at the all-dayer!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Indietracks 2014: Permanent revolution and the smashing of the Del Amitri ghetto

The Hobbes Flanclub's Leon, who was packing adult emergency poncho heat all weekend
Indietracks is dead, long live Indietracks. After much huffing and puffing by Various Quarters of Indiepop, this year's festival not only lived up to its predecessors - it probably surpassed it.

Imaging being caught in the indiepop ghetto (or, as it's otherwise known 1988), when everyone (and by everyone, it was nearly always men with quiffs that were just on the right side of damped down so they could go to their office job every day without any hassle) wore their gentle plaid shirts tucked into their 501s and played listless melancholia about a girl named Cathy from Carlisle who doesn't want to roll about in a meadow with you any more. There are probably denim jackets involved, and record sleeves that so desperately want to be Smiths records, that not even Smiths fans clinging onto the distant past buy them. That's what happened back then. I was there. Indiepop was dead (only to be revived briefly by a couple of urchins from Bristol and a set of bands that saw that sounding like a slightly left-of-centre Del Amitri really wasn't doing anyone any favours).

And so in 2014, Indietracks sort of reinvented itself and took chances with the line-up - and it worked. For every person wondering why Gruff Rhys was playing (and I'm no fan, but he was deadly entertaining), there were many more who were probably discovering Slum of Legs, Joanna Gruesome, Thee Ahs, The Hobbes Fanclub or The Royal Landscaping Society for the first time. Isn't that better than our tiny little scene building a Berlin Wall around itself and patting ourselves on the back for being as pure as the driven snow? I'd much rather persuade a Super Furry Animals fan to love The Blue Minkies than the other way around, for example.


Friday night is a complete triumph, and one of my favourite ever times at Indietracks. We see tonieee and Jo at the head of the road down to Swanwick and catch up about kids, life, holidays, and which bands we're looking forward to seeing. And then friends and acquaintances arrive and you get that Indietracks feeling all over again, and just let the weekend wash over you like a comfort blanket.

I'd not seen Spearmint since the early 2000s in a sweatpit of a venue in London, but they've lost none of the sparkle that makes them instant pop stars, mixing old and new and finishing with an obvious, but completely triumphant 'Sweeping the nation'. They've not lost it.

Allo Darlin' somehow continue to rise and rise and as the sun goes down and Elizabeth plays 'Tallulah' you realise that they'll be difficult to beat this weekend, and so it proves.

Saturday is roasting hot, and I'm lost in a haze of a delightful gallon of bitter called American Girl, which is ridiculously easy to drink and makes me lose all feeling from my knees down.

The Royal Landscaping Society overcome early sound problems to claim the hearts of the crowd with their Wake-meets-Brighter sadpop, and it's all quite wonderful.

It's sweaty everywhere, but nowhere more than on stage with MJ Hibbett and the Validators who pull out a performance from the vaults to completely charm the really-quite-large crowd. The new songs sound great, and the band seem genuinely chuffed with the reception, and that's always lovely.

Joanna Gruesome, despite a stop/start performance (sound problems again), distil more energy into half an hour than most bands manage in a lifetime, and then go all coy when Dean Wareham joins them onstage for 'Tugboat'. They're as thrilling as ever, and that almost goes without saying these days.

By this time, I'm resembling something approaching red cabbage, and so it is with a heavy heart that I give Slum of Legs a miss in the church, and simply settle down on the grass and... wait for the sun to go down.

First on the main stage on Sunday are Axolotes Mexicanos, an Elefant band who I've never heard of, and who I desperately want to hear more of. A hyperactive singer being translated by a deadpan band member and a fantastic line of fizzy, abrasive indiepop later, and I'm fully pepped, and head into the shed, where No Ditching are again impressive, before Hobbes Fanclub show up and play those perfect songs from their new album in such an exciting manner that I forget how hot it is and actually start to dance. I apologise now for anyone who saw this.

One ace set from Night Flowers later, and my Indietracks is done. It's work tomorrow, and there's a four year old to put to bed. He cries when he's told we're going too.

I was told by an organiser that 200 more tickets were sold for this year's Indietracks than last year's. If Indietracks really wanted to "sell-out" (and I mean that in both senses of the word), then I'm sure it could and the people that benefit from the money it raises would be eternally grateful. The fact that they don't is testament to a group of people who say more to me about my life than sniffy purists. Ultra-leftism (in indiepop terms) is all well and good if you can afford to go to more than one of these events each year, but it won't lead us to any kind of Glorious Revolution, and as my dear friend Lenin said, is awfully infantile. Indietracks probably won't get us there either, but we'll have a lot of fun trying.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Slum of Legs - Begin to Dissolve (Tuff Enuff Records)

Welcome to futures and pasts. If Slum of Legs aren't the best band in the UK by the end of the year, there'll be something not quite right. They take the past 25 year of underground pop music and squeeze it out of tiny, tinny speakers. This single is magnificent, let's make no mistake.

The stars of Indietracks (I missed them due to being too hot - ROCK 'N' ROLL), Slum of Legs make the kind of tense, taut glam racket that Prolapse used to specialise in around the same time as Quickspace, and which the dear-departed Shrag excelled in until their demise last year.

There are violins and crunchy synths, mad wig-outs, scenes of genuine emotion (most notably on the superior b-side 'Razorblade the Tape') and a kind of lonesome defiance that is so missing from much of the pop underground right now. Slum of Legs might just give you some hope for the future if you let them.

Meanwhile, and as an aside of some great importance, Tuff Enuff Records is on a run of hits so potent that you'll have to try hard not to become infected.

Do not miss the chance to save yourselves.