Monday, 19 February 2018

The Corridors - The Corridors

(This review first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)

Viziarmonic CD

Jason Wagers makes music as The Corridors out of his apartment in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. More of a studio-based project than a band, The Corridors came about after Wagers became jaded with the under-paid, under-attended gig circuit. His re-focusing of energies is to our benefit. Stylistically loose and varied, this seven song album is difficult to pin down genre-wise but therein lies its strength.

Each song is a mini-cinematic adventure. Whether it's the domestic drug troubles documented in 'Ghoul', the Barrett-esque melody of 'Elixir Divine' or the magnificently titled 'Granny, Put Down The Gamma Ray' complete with vocoder vocals and sci-fi feel, it all holds together.

I'd wager that Wagers is something of an Anglophile, a neat guitar player in the John Squire indie-funk mould, and a singer from the Ray Davies school of vocals. True or not he's made a record that puts bigger names and established studios in the shade.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Stag - Midtown Sizzler

(This review first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)

Self-release CD

Crunch, hook and swagger are the key words that summarise this Seattle-based quintet's latest release. Their collective listening pile may lean heavily towards the glam rock of the early to mid '70s (think Sweet, Slade & T Rex), but the gutsy rock/pop they make has been given a contemporary speaker-pushing sheen. It's an in-yer-face guitar wall of sound topped with catchy melodies.

'Come On' channels Rod and The Faces, all bluesy bar-room boogie whereas 'The Bedazzler' passes itself off as a lost Chinnichap production, a feelgood glam stomper up there with anything Giuda and Faz Waltz have made.

Vocalist Steve Mack, best known from his days with That Petrol Emotion, is in fine voice, just the right side of raspy, and is backed by a band whose joy in playing is palpable. It's the sound of a band not trying to change the world but having fun playing music they love. Ain't nothing wrong with that!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Jack Cooper

(This first appeared in issue #71 of Shindig! magazine.)

Blackpool Tower of song. Ultimate Painting's Jack Cooper explores the emotional pull and push of home on his debut solo album. Duncan Fletcher listens in.

Jack Cooper's debut solo album Sandgrown is named in reference to a “Sand Grown 'Un”, the local term for someone from Blackpool. It explores the emotional pull and push of a place that ties and binds but that can also feel small and stifling. The album also has wistful, elegiac affection for a North that's been in managed decline since the 1980's, and a speaking up for marginalised and maligned communities. Key track 'Gynn Square', captures this perfectly.

“As a teenager I worked the deckchairs on Blackpool front,” says a jet-lagged Cooper, home after a short US tour with Ultimate Painting. “There were about 30 of us, all kids. We'd get taken out in a van each morning. Gynn Square was the furthest away and you'd have to get there on your own... It was kind of below the sea wall, a weird place... Sometimes people think of the north of England as backward but Blackpool was an incredibly liberal place – a lot of gay people, immigrants because it's a port town. I went to school with black people, Muslims, Hindus, it was a really multicultural place. I remember some drag queens from Funny Girls coming down, one just sat with me all day chatting, giving an insight into their world. But Blackpool also had a high proportion of heroin addicts. There'd be needles lying around and people shooting up behind the deckchair stack. You'd meet strange people and see things you didn't want to see. Scary people would talk to you and you'd feel out of your depth. Some places just have a sense of dread about them.”

The narrative is broken up by two instrumentals, 'Sandgrown Part One' and 'Part.Two', showcasing Cooper's sparse, but layered guitar work, something like Curtis Mayfield meets The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir. “That's exactly what I was going for along with the tremolo sound! I wanted it to be quite simple... I'm not fast enough to be a really good lead guitarist so I've tried to figure out my own style, kind of rhythm guitar with bits in.” The album was recorded on a Tascam 144, famously used by Bruce Springsteen on his Nebraska LP. “I'm no Springsteen fan but I've always liked the way Nebraska sounds. Wu-Tang Clan used a Tascam for 36 Chambers. That album sounds amazing! It has a kind of hazy fuzz to it. That's actually more of an inspiration sonically than Nebraska.”

For someone who has always worked collaboratively in bands, the question is why a solo record now? “I've always wanted to do, not like a song-cycle but a cohesive thing and I've always written about Blackpool, from that point of view. It would be odd to have done it within the band context just because it's so personal to me. With bands and collaborations sometimes things improve and sometimes things get diluted. This I wanted to be more of a singular vision... It's a solo album but because it has this overarching theme it's like one foot in the water of being a solo artist. It's not like 'these are my songs and these are my feelings on life'. This is just my feelings on one particular thing.”

Sandgrown is out now on Trouble In Mind.

Skeleton Key Records

(This review first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)

Duncan Fletcher talks with Neville Skelly whose label is spearheading the latest North-West musical renaissance.

Chess, Stax, Motown. All labels built on strong regional representation and deep family ties. Decades on since the inception of those powerhouse American labels, a small but dedicated team of music lovers on Merseyside are intent on building their own visionary dynasty. Skeleton Key Records is owned and run by velvet-voiced song-smith Neville Skelly and Coral main-man James Skelly. The Liverpool-based label's first release was a vinyl version of James' solo LP Love Undercover in 2013 made during Coral downtime.

“We both admired Labels like Elektra and A&M where the roster was eclectic and thought wouldn't it be great to do something like that where it's simply all about the music. We felt that at certain majors the accountants were running things so we thought we're the ones who eat, sleep and breathe music, we can either sit around moaning about how shit it is or do something about it, so we did!” says Neville when asked how the label came into being. “We run it between us and jointly decide what artists we want to sign. James produces the bands and I deal with everything connected to the releases along with bringing in the team to help promote the records.”

The family ties and talent are also evident in much of the accompanying artwork. Neville explains - “A lot of the artwork is done by Ian Skelly and his partner Anna Benson. They're so talented! Ian's done all the cover artwork for The Coral albums. So it was an easy call to make. We also encourage some of the bands to get involved with designing their own covers if they can.”

Skeleton Key's prolific string of releases include the street poetry/indie-pop mash-up of She Drew The Gun, the mixture of melody and metallic riffs made by Birmingham's Cut Glass Kings and the soulful fragile folk of Marvin Powell. Coral fans can't fail to have missed the mid-noughties “lost album” The Curse Of Love surfacing in 2014, it too bears the hallmark of quality that is the Skeleton Key logo.

Although Neville admits running a label has been a steep learning curve, 2017 has already borne two critically acclaimed LPs - Edgar Jones' The Song Of Day And Night and The Sundowners' Cut The Master. The label ethos of nurturing the artist and letting creativity find its course has certainly reaped rewards. Says Neville - “One of the reasons we set up the label is we felt bands weren't getting the opportunity to grow and develop so it's great to see Sundowners just getting better and better with each release. They are one of the best live bands in the country and it will be great to see them smashing it at Glastonbury and loads of other festivals this year.

With new music due soon from Serpent Power, Marvin Powell and all being well a new Neville Skelly LP for 2018, you get the feeling this is only the beginning. Oh and hopefully the ink will soon dry on a contract with hotly-tipped psych-folksters The Fernweh. That's one hell of a stable!

Friday, 16 February 2018

Jean-Jacques Perrey

(This first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)

The missing link between Spike Jones, Joe Meek, Kraftwerk and Fat Boy Slim? Duncan Fletcher celebrates the life of Jean-Jacques Perrey - composer, entertainer, electronic revolutionary and self-described “passenger here on planet Earth.”

Jean-Jacques Perrey's life sadly ended in November last year but he leaves behind an indelible stamp on modern music. His classically trained musicality, love of entertaining and innovative studio and tape manipulation helped make a wealth of groundbreaking music. Quirky musical jokes, sci-fi eeriness, concrete sounds and dance-floor friendly grooves are all found in his work. The Beastie Boys, Fat Boy Slim, and even The Beatles have all been influenced by, or sampled his music. A pioneer of electronic music, he helped popularise the Moog synthesizer and his music still sounds fresh on TV adverts to this day.

Perrey was born Jean Leroy in Paris in November 1929 and grew up during World War Two, an experience that affected his outlook towards life as well as music. Perrey's daughter/manager Patricia explains - “He witnessed a lot of suffering. He grew pessimistic on mankind. This is possibly why he mostly wanted to make people happy. He considered it his mission in life to bring joy and happiness through his music. His biggest reward was when he saw people smile when they heard his music.”

(Click over the jump to continue reading...)

Big Star - The Best Of

(This review first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)

Stax / Ardent CD/LP

Though commercial success evaded them in their lifespan, Big Star's influence and legacy endure. It's difficult to see who this collection is aimed at (Big Star inspiring devotion rather than casual interest), but the music remains timeless. This Best Of is released as part of Stax's 60 years retrospective campaign and draws tracks from all three of the band's studio albums. Its USP is the inclusion of rare single versions/edits including 'September Gurls' and 'Watch The Sunrise'.

Like Van Gogh's sunflowers, their studio albums are a case study in beauty, decay and fragmentation but the sequencing here favours flow over chronology. It works. From the opening guitar chime of 'In The Street' through to the soft landing of 'Thank You Friends' there's no let up in quality. Brash odes to teenage awkwardness sit easily next to ragged and frail melancholia. Argue all you like over omissions but the music here shines as brightly as ever.

Action Andy & The Hi-Tones - High And Lonesome: The Fall And Rise Of Hilo

(This review first appeared in issue #69 of Shindig! magazine.)

Relampago-go LP

It's not often in the singles-centric garage rock scene that anyone attempts a concept album but that's what we have here. Over the album's song suite the story is told of Hilo, an everyman kind of character who falls on hard times and battles the forces of darkness while searching for love in the honky tonks of South Texas.

Along the way he encounters temptation, the seedy dark underbelly of American culture, bar-room philosophers and finally redemption. It's a cautionary tale but ultimately an uplifting one, a story with more twists, turns, ups and downs than a Texas tornado, all told over a soundtrack of rockabilly, surf-rock, Tex-Mex and preacher-style spoken word passages underscored with jazzy double-bass.

This newest pressing of Action Andy's 2013 LP comes on bright red vinyl and is expanded with a rockabilly version of The Seeds' 'Pushing Too Hard' which fits neatly in with the deep-fried American noir.

Thursday, 15 February 2018


(This first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)

More simian adventures in sound! Cornelius returns after an eleven year gap. Duncan Fletcher steps in to the infinite cage with Japan's avant-electronica wizard.

In the Planet Of The Apes film from 1968 Dr. Cornelius is archaeologist and historian played by Roddy McDowell, an intelligent character with an open mind to new theories and possibilities regarding evolution. Cornelius is an apt choice of name then for a musician aiming to surprise, dazzle and entertain while taking music into new realms. Keigo Oyamada was born in Tokyo in 1969. Inspired by the original Planet Of The Apes trilogy, he chose the name Cornelius as his creative alter-ego for his solo musical projects that have made him a big name in Japan since the early '90s.

Inspired to pick up the guitar after hearing Black Sabbath - “The driving riffs were great for learning and playing guitar” he says, Oyamada first came to prominence in the Shibuya-kei music scene as a member of Flipper's Guitar who made fey guitar pop in the style of Aztec Camera. Oyamada says his favourite memories of those days were “recording at AIR Studios in London and hitting all the used record shops while in the UK.”

This crate-digging gives an insight as to where his music was heading next. After Flipper's Guitar folded, Oyamada adopted his new stage name and released a string of adventurous, genre-merging albums, including 1997's Fantasma, which gained him critical recognition overseas. It's been eleven years since his last full-length release (2006's Sensuous), though he's remained active - “I've been busy with many projects - recording and touring with Yoko Ono, supporting Yellow Magic Orchestra, and producing salyu x salyu. There's also been film music for Ghost In The Shell, a kids program called Design Ah, and a few more collaborations and projects.”

The wait for a new LP is over with the release of Mellow Waves. Fantasma's holy trinity of Beck, Bossa Nova and Brian Wilson has been replaced by one comprised of Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich. It's a subtler piece of work, more about textures than attention grabbing shape-shifting, and will appeal as much to chin-stroking Late Junction listeners as it will to pick 'n' mix pop fans. “Its a little more grown up or middle aged compared to my other works... Musically this one has more waves or strings of melodies compared to individual sound points being placed on a grid-like formation for song structure.”

Cornelius will be touring the new album throughout Japan including a high profile appearance at the Fuji Rock Festival - “This will be a new four-piece band with new members like Yumiko from Buffalo Daughter. Although we will not be completely reproducing the songs from the album, they are arranged in a simple yet musically demanding performance from the band.”

Despite approaching fifty, Cornelius' interest in new music shows no sign of diminishing, thanks in part to his son Milo working in a record shop - “He's now my main source for finding new bands like Mind Designer and Liss.”Having worked with many respected musicians over the last few years it seems there's still one dream collaboration he'd like to happen - “I would one day like to work with my son.”

Mellow Waves is out now on Rostrum Records.

(Click over the jump for the previously unpublished Q&A)

Marvin Powell

(This first appeared in issue #68 of Shindig! magazine.)

Duncan Fletcher finds magic on Merseyside with fragile folk's rising new star.

“I always think songwriting is like getting rid of noise in my head, I never write a physical song, I won't write it down... it's just in my head and I get it out there” explains Marvin Powell when asked about 'Salt', the title track of his debut EP. In person Powell is down to earth and affable, his personality seemingly at odds with the mysterious music he makes. It's pitched somewhere between Vashti Bunyan, Devendra Banhart, Nick Drake and his formative influences of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, but with a sensitivity that's all Powell's own.

Take his song 'China Town' - “Four of us used to live in a big panoramic penthouse flat... from every view, every window there was an iconic Liverpool building - the bombed-out church, the Chinese arch, Paddy's Wigwam. That's where that song comes from, I'm looking down on this changing landscape of the city.” It's sublime songwriting, with Powell drawing parallels between the changing skyline, his inner emotions and the human condition in general.

Alongside the strong lyrics and ethereal vocals, he's also a skilled finger-style guitarist, albeit one to whom the guitar is a means to an end - “It was just something to do. I learnt by watching people. Kinesthetic, is that the word? ...I started writing songs when I learnt three chords... To me it's about the songs. I don't care about the guitar, well I do, but as long you can get your message across in the tunes. It's more about the lyrics and the poetry.”

Powell has honed his artistry playing Liverpool's coffee shops and open mic nights, along with being the “sacrificial folkie” at the city's venues, opening for local and touring bands. With a full length LP already recorded it may not be long before that running order is reversed.

The Salt EP is out now on Skeleton Key.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Parson Red Heads - Blurred Harmony

(This review first appeared in issue #69 of Shindig! magazine.)

Fluff & Gravy CD/LP

Thirteen years since they formed as a student band these Portland, Oregon-based journeymen and women release their fourth and most satisfying album to date, interestingly without the aid of expensive studios and name producers. Okay, so they don't try and reinvent the wheel but they do keep it turning rather beautifully. This album's wheel conjures up desert highways, gentle breezes and the sun setting on a shimmering horizon. Their music is a sumptuous blend of cosmic Americana, Paisley Underground, and jangle 'n' harmony guitar pop.

Fittingly for an album that takes its name from a Donald Justice poem, there are themes of nostalgia, regret, stock taking, family and thankfulness for life's small mercies and everyday gifts. Add those to the rich layered guitars, pedal steel, four-way harmonies and genuinely catchy melodies and you have the sound of '70s FM radio remade as an aural security blanket. A sensual, soothing balm for the soul.

The Who: I Was There - Richard Houghton

(This review first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)

Red Planet

Like Houghton's previous I Was There book on The Beatles, the premise is simple – collect as many first person recollections of being at the band's heyday gigs as possible. The 400-plus accounts here form some sort of consensus; ticket prices were cheap, the band were loud, getting alcohol wasn't always easy, there was plenty of Gustav Metzger's Auto-Destructive Art (or smashing stuff up if you prefer), and that Keith Moon was as unhinged as we're led to believe. That and the fact that as a live group they were unique and peerless.

Where Houghton's book works best is in painting a picture of the times, especially via the band's forays into the provinces. Be it market towns where cattle pens double up as scooter parking bays, rumbles between rival town gangs, secretaries getting dolled up on the commute home, or apprentices painting on the smell of soap, the fans experiences are at the heart of this book.

There are reminiscences from across The Who's 50-plus years but the book focuses heavily on the classic line-up, their early years slogging round the country, and the first few US tours. Most telling of all are the remembrances from promoters and local support bands which provide illuminating backstage detail, and the debunking (and sometimes confirming) of a fair few myths. Sadly, many of the venues have long since been demolished, but for those who were there, this book will bring the memories back and more. Those that weren't can get close by reading it.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Songbook - A Taste Of Honey - PLUS SPOTIFY PLAYLIST!

(This first appeared in issue #68 of Shindig! magazine.)

How kitchen sink realism met Broadway theatre, sparked a Grammy-winning evergreen and inspired The Fabs. Duncan Fletcher investigates.

Ken Kesey's counter-cultural bus trips in the sixties were inspired in part by the Beat Generation writers of the previous decade. Jack Kerouac's On The Road being perhaps the biggest influence. Over on the British Isles, our own magical mystery tours and revolutions of the head had their seeds in an altogether different literary style.

The Angry Young Men and kitchen sink realists that had come to prominence in the late fifties had ushered in a new age of anti-establishment literature and film that gave a voice and confidence to post-war youth, especially out in the provinces. Regional accents became accepted, fashionable even. The northern working class were now represented in books, plays and films. Shelagh Delaney's 1958 play, A Taste Of Honey, may have been at the gentler end of this movement but with its themes of class, race and sexuality it was still subversive enough to help usher in new freedoms, and new ways of being and seeing...

(Click over the jump to continue reading and for the specially compiled Spotify playlist.)

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Various Artists - Acropol

(This review first appeared in issue #69 of Shindig! magazine.)

Discos Templo LP + Extended CD

Spain in the late 1970s was a country coming to terms with its recent past, and unsure of its future. From Franco's death in 1975 through the road to democracy, unemployment was high and the streets often hosted riots, rubber bullets and police on horseback.

While British and American youth had punk to soundtrack their dissatisfaction, the young gypsy musicians of Madrid gigged their local bars playing traditional Rumbas, albeit with a similarly raw aggression, and a much superior virtuosity. But while Johnny Rotten sang of anarchy backed by a multinational corporation, records in Spain had to pass state censorship before release.

Acropol Records was a small label started in the mid '60s, that specialised in limited run 7” singles and cassettes by gypsy musicians from Madrid's shantytowns, the kind of musicians that larger labels simply would not record. This collection covers the years 1972 to 1983, and makes for a fascinating and revelatory listen.

Action Andy & The Hi-Tones - Songs 4 Swingin' Sinners

(This review first appeared in issue #69 of Shindig! magazine.)

Relampago-go 7”

The long-serving Action Andy's latest band of sleazy rockers are based in San Diego, California and make garage rock that's infused with American roots music. Blues, garage, rockabilly, Tex-Mex and R&B all inform their latest four song EP. It's a lovely looking dinked 7” on marbled blue vinyl for those who like that kind of thing, and limited to 300 copies in a cartoon sleeve festooned with spiders, skulls and hot-rods.

Fortunately the music is an equally pleasing experience - 'Bleeding Heart' is a pounding '50s style rocker featuring distorted vocals, hand-claps and a lead biting lead guitar sound that could take your head off. 'Black Widow' is a sinister warning set to a hip-shaking R&B groove whereas 'Let's Buzz' is more of a surf/frat party track complete with a Dick Dale-esque solo from guitarist Xavier Anaya. Fans of The Jim Jones Revue, The Cramps and Jerry Lee Lewis can buy with confidence.

The Outta Sorts - The Outta Sorts EP / The Trouble With Love EP


(This review first appeared in issue #69 of Shindig! magazine.)

The first two releases from this San Francisco garage-punk trio compensate for their lack of subtlety with speed, attitude and spirited enthusiasm. The eponymous debut has two tracks of '77 style melodic punk on the A-side - 'Good With Bad Habits' and 'Hot Ticket' both setting the scuzz factor high. The flip-side has two tracks featuring the band's more twangy, dark rockabilly side with plenty of Bigsby tremolo action on the guitar solo of 'Feeling Difficult' and some Scotty Moore-style moves on 'Party In The Sky'.

Follow-up The Trouble With Love EP contains a format-stretching five songs, the title track channelling early Kinks via both melody and the ripped speaker sound. Then a couple of short punky blasts before 'Snow Covered Dreams' with its folk-punk Nuggets feel. Also of note is the should-I-stay-or-go homesick love-letter to Georgia in 'San Francisco Is An Iceberg'. It won't change your life but is pretty good fun.