A Week With… 9. BBC 6 Music

JP AWW 09

On Monday morning, Gideon Coe tweeted that, having completed a week’s holiday, he would be back on his 6 Music evening show later that day and for the rest of the week, before spending a week covering the breakfast show. I was overjoyed at this news, Coe having previously been a regular, and unsurprisingly excellent, deputy to Phill Jupitus during the early years of his breakfast show. This additional role at the station came to an end and seemed unlikely to ever be reprised after Gideon was buffeted off the morning show and shunted to the late show in place of his daytime replacement, George Lamb in the latter part of 2007. A return to breakfast cover seemed to suggest a positive repositioning of 6 Music, potentially in light of the recent BBC Trust report which suggested that the station needed to commit itself to presenters with strong musical knowledge. Things were looking up. And then I listened to Tony Livesey’s 5 Live show on Thursday night.

The report in The Times that was being discussed declared, with no hint of ambiguity, that the BBC would soon announce that, as part of a raft of cost-cutting measures, it would close 6 Music. I was quite surprised by how taken aback by this news I actually was. It soon became clear how much I actually value this curious digital radio station. Marc Riley, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, Guy Garvey, Adam & Joe, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Bacon, Stuart Maconie and, most of all, Gideon Coe, host shows that I adore and, while I may not catch every second of every one of their shows, when it comes to radio listening, there’s little else to tempt me towards my radio coming from other sources, and absolutely nothing from the commercial radio sector. Say what you like about fair competition and BBC monopolies, but there isn’t a single commercial radio station that could hold my attention for more than thirty minutes, let alone command repeat listens. I’m sure that plenty of that does come down to the fact that the Beeb can broadcast programmes without the fear of poor advertising sales for the ad-breaks, but that doesn’t negate the point that widespread suggestions that music fans will be catered for elsewhere are complete bollocks.

JP GID

I go through phases of allowing myself to listen to Gideon Coe’s late show (Monday-Thursday, 9pm – midnight) as a result of the financial implications associated with each three hour programme I consume. This week alone, I ordered CDs as a result of three of the four shows I listened to. Indeed, so expensive is a week of Coe shows that I’m increasingly convinced that we have incredibly similar tastes in music, only he knows an awful lot more about it than I do. He is a warm, convivial and humble host, making you feel thoroughly involved in every show. Coe conveys his great enthusiasm for the music he plays in an understated, unassuming and yet hugely contagious fashion. I truly believe that is the best music show you can hope to hear on British radio. The Sam Prekop, Mojave 3, A Certain Ratio and Lee Hazlewood tribute album CDs which I’ve been enjoying greatly over the last couple of days would not be in this house were it not for that one particular radio programme. There are dozens of other examples, just from that one programme alone. I’ve also encountered, and subsequently purchased copies of, brilliant music on Lamacq’s afternoon show, Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone, Craig Charles’ Funk and Soul Show, Marc Riley’s evening and on the recommendation of regular cover host, Jo Good. I’m sure that are numerous other recommendations which I’m forgetting right now, but even that list says a lot about how utterly in tune with their listeners the 6 Music team are.

I make no bold statements about the need to join Facebook groups or to add a twibbon to your picture on Twitter, but I do think it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge what a wonderful station 6 Music is. Yes, George Lamb was a mistake that took a long time to sort out and yes, sometimes the daytime playlist can get a little clogged with identikit indie bands, but the vast majority of the 6 Music output is excellent and occasionally it’s truly outstanding. As a station, its musical scope makes it unique and its presenting team isn’t too shabby either. I am a staunch defender of the BBC and consider it to be ludicrously good value for money. I am well aware of why its competitors have their reasons to campaign fiercely against it, but some of the more general anti-BBC sentiment has always baffled me. I can only hope that the mass outpouring of something bordering on grief at this dreadful news may have some influence on the final decision. I’m preparing for the worst but, for now, I’ll continue enjoying radio’s best. Jarvis is on right now and Gideon’s on breakfast tomorrow. That’ll do nicely.

Song Of The Day 40: Lucky Soul – A Coming Of Age

This is the last of these for a little while and, weirdly, Popjustice beat me to it with this one. Thought I’d save this till the end of the week but, oh no, genius pop writer, Peter Robinson, has made me seem like a mere copycat.

lucky soul group

Still, this is a free download of a wonderful, wonderful song so no need to moan, eh? Click here and give them your name and email address and then you can sample the, quite magnificent, title track from their new album, out in April. If you like what you hear, why not revisit the FUTUREMUSIC 2010 feature from earlier this month by clicking here?

Song Of The Day 39: The Czars – My Funny Valentine

Was just doing some research whilst finishing off my review of the debut record by the ex-Czars frontman, John Grant, and found this quite stunning rendition of a fabulous song. I know Grant had a SotD all of his own on Tuesday, but this is something you really should hear. No picture, no video, just a Spotify link right here.

I’ll try and write in a more substantial fashion this weekend, ok?

Song Of The Day 38: Lonelady – Early The Haste Comes

Another one I have the NME to thank for. Read something about her the other day and couldn’t stop myself from seeking out the music forthwith. The album’s just come out and it’s in the post to me as I type. I’m already hooked by this delightfully ramshackle burst of spiky guitar and ever-so-slightly-too-low-in-the-mix-but-just-enough-that-it-actually-sounds-ace vocal.

Here’s a video in which Paul Morley talks with Lonelady about her views on the music world:

Then click here to hear the song.

Song Of The Day 37: John Grant – I Wanna Go To Marz

A beautiful, lilting winsome bit of indie this. Backed by Midlake and featuring some subtle but hugely effective strings, ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’ is an utterly charming first taste of John Grant’s forthcoming solo record, ‘Queen Of Denmark’. Formerly the frontman of indie bit-part-players The Czars, he’s struck out on his own. Well, if recording a record with a bunch of current folk-rock heroes counts as striking out on your own.

johngrant

This particular track also features some charming flute playing from Midlake frontman, Tim Smith, knitting together a beautiful vocal and a marvellously swoonsome music backdrop. The album will appear in April – you’ll be wanting it, I should tell you right now – but this first single is being offered for nowt by those nice folk at Bella Union. You can click through and read about it here or simply download the song by clicking here.

Song Of The Day 36: The Webb Brothers – Intermission

Less a song, more a tune. And, if I’m being brutally honest, I’ve not really picked it based entirely on its own merits. I’ve picked it because it is, as near as damn it, Gideon Coe’s theme tune for his 6music evening show. He returns tonight, after a week’s break, and announced this morning that he’ll be covering 6music Breakfast next week. This is something that Gid used to do quite a lot under the old regime at the station, but it’s been some time since last he did so. It gladdens the heart to find that he will be back on in the ‘am’, however briefly.

Can’t find a tube clip for this, but it doesn’t matter. Listen to the quirky minute and a bit of pop on Spotify by clicking here and then, more importantly, click here to listen to live to 6music right now (assuming you’re reading this between 9pm-midnight, Mon-Thurs) for a bit of Gid, or here for his recent shows. Public service announcement over and out.

A Week With… 8. Midlake – The Courage Of Others

jp aww 08

Whereas ‘The Trials Of Van Occupanther’ knocked you back with a couple of killer tracks and let the rest of the record wash over you, gradually becoming endearingly familiar, ‘The Courage Of Others’ is a record which refuses to offer cheap thrills or quick hits. This is a record for the listener and the more listening you do, the more it reveals. I didn’t expect to be quite so taken with ‘The Courage Of Others’, but the mixed reviews had intrigued me, the last record had gently entertained me and there was a vinyl pressing available. It was always going to happen!

Midlake-The_Courage_of_Others

What wasn’t always going to happen was my subsequent gradual, helpless, fall under its spell. For a start, it’s a lovely, warm-sounding vinyl pressing so it got a second play soon after its first, enough to suggest that there were some lovely textures in these eleven songs. But, when I found myself making a fairly sombre, chilly train journey, not to mention the accompanying, even more sombre and even more chilly walk home, ‘The Courage Of Others’ provided the perfect soundtrack. The album sounded perfect for those forty five minutes and I’m starting to think that that’s exactly what this record is. Perfect. The quite magically understated vocals from Tim Smith convey the sense of a songwriter utterly embedded within his own music. I can understand why some feel that this represents a slight dip from ‘The Trials Of Van Occupanther’ and that things aren’t as lively as they should be, but it certainly isn’t how I feel about this absolutely spellbinding collection. I’m a sucker for voices that become part of the music itself – Jimi from Doves, Joni Mitchell, Thom Yorke – and this is why the more subdued delivery by Smith on ‘The Courage Of Others’ is very much to my liking. The bafflingly sniffy Pitchfork review actually suggested that Smith sounds uninterested in his own songs and detached, “delivering every line with the kind of passion you might reserve for courtesy calls.” I really, truly don’t hear this. To me, it suggests a singer positioned at the core of his music, working with the music rather than riding over the top it. It feels highly personal and as such showmanship is kept to a bare minimum. I honestly never got the sense that he was in anyway detached or disinterested.

The warning tone of the flute motif on ‘Rules, Ruling All Things’ is one of those relatively minor, subtle affectations that are all over most decent records, but it’s one that stood out to my ears and, as such, has becomes one of the focal points of this record. The power of such tiny moments captures the spirit of ‘The Courage Of Others’. This is, perhaps thankfully, not an album with such a distinctive aural signature like ‘Roscoe’. Despite listening to this album a lot this week,  I don’t find myself wandering around whistling or humming various songs from it. Having said that, there are now a good half a dozen or so little moments like that unsettling flute that act as anchors for this record, completely transfixing me each time they pass my ears.

Words like ‘pastoral’ get bandied around for music like this without further explanation, and ‘The Courage Of Others’ seems, more precisely, to be about the importance of nature. There’s a strong feeling of the emotional turmoil and sapping of the spirit sometimes evoked by the winter months. Attempting to engage with such heavy blankets of melancholy, hoping to stave off their often disturbingly consuming weight, is no mean feat and I feel like this album speaks from such experiences. “I will train my feet to go on with a joy, a joy I have yet to reach,” Smith intones on ‘Core Of Nature’ and irrespective of whether that’s what he meant at the time, it captures perfectly for me that hopeful belief that you can walk yourself out of the gloom, even if you’ve never quite managed it yet. The very fact that there’s plenty of things out there to tempt you into action, to spur you into movement, if you’re willing to do so, further reinforces that awkward no man’s land where you know what you should do but still that doesn’t do a thing to abate the feelings that stop you in your tracks. I may have misinterpreted that line, the whole song, the whole album, but whichever way you come at it, I still believe there’s an emotionally articulate core to this record which is at risk of being ignored due to the minor key music by which some seem unengaged.

The Courage Of Others’ is littered with lyrics open to interpretation but this is an album about the human condition and how nature accompanies, embellishes and shapes our responses to life. The music is complex yet unassuming. It doesn’t do bells and whistles, it just trusts you to come and find its glories. I’m sure that for many, this will mean a couple of cursory listens before being consigned to the shelf or some untouched folder on a hard drive. More fool those people for missing out, but then I can’t deny that I quite like the idea that my absolute and unremitting love for this album makes me part of a fairly small group who will cherish this quite fantastic record for many years to come. It already feels very much like it’s my record, and that only serves to reinforce that belief.

***

You can read another thoughtful piece on this remarkable album over on a new music blog, ‘Signals’, which is the brainchild of former teatunes-er, Dan. Click here to have a read.

2010 on the record

Two Lovely Men Talk About Twelve Lovely Cover Versions

As this has now left the shelves of newsagents across the land, I can’t see any harm in posting up my interview with Gaz and Danny from Supergrass in their current guise as The Hot Rats. Their album of swaggering, insistent and remarkably vital sounding covers, ‘Turn Ons’, is out now. They were both thoroughly lovely and happy to chat about the new Supergrass album and their departure from EMI. There are some leftover bits from this that I really should put up here sometime. For now though, have a read.

THE HOT RATS

The Hot Rats

Two-thirds of Supergrass adopt new moniker, hook up with Nigel Godrich and record twelve remarkable covers in two weeks.

Fun. That one syllable is the essence of what The Hot Rats are all about. Essentially an extra-curricular project stemming from time spent promoting the last Supergrass album as fictitious duo The Diamond Hoo Ha Men, bassist Mick Quinn having sleepwalked out of a first floor window whilst on holiday, this latest endeavour is something that shows a different side to the band. “It’s got that mixtape vibe, but done with a contemporary twist by a contemporary band,” explains Gaz. “It was just a bit of fun and it turned out better than we expected so we thought we’d have a little crack at putting it out.”

“The whole idea was to do at least a song a day, a really fast recording,” Danny explains. “We’d choose a song really quickly and then do it that afternoon or evening.” “We had four or five songs that we’d decided on at the start of the session,” continues Gaz, “and then it was a case of waking up in the morning and getting in the studio and thinking ‘right, what’s next?’”

The impeccable song choices on ‘Turns Ons’ (Gang Of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’, Roxy Music’s ‘Love Is The Drug’, The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Can’t Stand It’) aside, it’s what they’ve actually done with them that makes this one of the first great releases of 2010. The Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight For Your Right’ is almost unrecognisable until the chorus kicks in, shorn of its not inconsiderable guitar riff. Although they initially considered sticking to the sound of the original, “we thought,” explains Gaz, “let’s just try it acoustic. So, I picked up the guitar and started playing chords over it and it just seemed to have this mid-Sixties Who feel.” Factor in the falsetto verses and you have one of the album’s stand out tracks.

Danny cheerily admits that their version ‘Love Cats’ draws on another great song: “Me and Gaz just started jamming for five minutes and we had this sort of ‘Lust For Life’ vibe. It’s the beauty of working with one person for so long, we know how we want something to sound. It was just really quick.” The inclusion of a cover of the Sex Pistols‘EMI’ can’t be entirely innocent, can it? Supergrass parted ways with Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary, in 2008 and this particular song choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows. “It’s a little cheeky wink, but there’s no real animosity,” explains Gaz. “The company changed and we were happier to get out before we got really left in the shade. All the risk taking had just kind of disappeared.”

Record label politics settled and with Supergrass now part of the Cooking Vinyl family, the follow up to ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’ will arrive soon after ‘Turns Ons’ and Gaz is happy to talk it up. “There are some amazing songs on there, songs that I can imagine playing in a vast stadium somewhere. I’m really, really pleased. This record began life as a sort of free for all; we were swapping around our instruments, keeping things fresh and spontaneous. It’s like our little ‘White Album’. It’s just been tightened up week after week in terms of making it into a record that’s really powerful. It’s not as rock and roll as ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’. I think it’s just a psychedelic record. ‘In It For The Money’ was quite a psychedelic record, and I think this is probably our most psychedelic record for a good few years. It’s hard to say exactly but it’s sounding wicked.”

Far from being a way of treading water or filling a creative vacuum, it seems that The Hot Rats album actually played its part in setting the tone for the new Supergras album. “I think on this one we wanted to be pretty disorganised,” continues Gaz, “go into the studio, the live room, with great sounds and bits and pieces. Working with Nigel on The Hot Rats album was a big inspiration for me and Danny. We brought a bit of that to this record.” We are, however, getting ahead of ourselves. ‘Turn Ons’ is more than capable of satisfying our ears for the next few months, sonically sculpted as it is by a man of some pedigree.

And what about the presence of genius producer Nigel Godrich? How did he find working at such a rapid pace? “He was really up for that, he didn’t want to sit around doing huge production numbers,” explains Danny. “I think he enjoyed using his musical brain and his techniques in a different way. He’s so good at what he does. He totally propelled the energy of the session. He was very up.” And ‘very up’ is the most succinct way to describe this wonderful record. It’s clearly intended as a one-off but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just a throwaway vanity project. Both Gaz and Danny talk of this album with genuine enthusiasm and affection. “It was just a case of exploring and experimenting,” says Gaz, “but it came out really well. I’m really proud of it.”

2010 on the record

Song Of The Day 35: Teenage Fanclub – What You Do To Me

I’ve been reliably informed that the new album should be with us by the end of May and that is reason enough to have a little smirk on your face this weekend. One of the loveliest bands imaginable and criminally underrated, I featured the Fannies in the third ‘A Week With…’ as I rediscovered the charms of ‘Man-Made’, their last outing from fully five years ago. We need more!

Still, while we’re waiting for more, it gives us plenty of time to keep going over the good stuff. This was before my time, but once I’d found it I didn’t want to let go. Pure indie pop jangle aplenty on this one. And look at their hair!

Dancing About Architecture

Thought I might start posting up my reviews after they’ve long since been digested in print. This is partly for vanity and partly for the purpose of sharing what I (largely) believe to be some decent writing. I’ll begin with this post containing my shorter reviews from the January and February issues of Clash. I’ve already posted up my Tindersticks piece which originally appeared in the January issue. The rest are all below for your perusal. Thought for a second I was having another Green DayAmerican Idiot’ moment with the Marina and the Diamonds album, but a few reviews have appeared recently with a similar view to mine, so I’m not looking too renegade anymore for simply pointing out that it’s over-produced and too polished. It is, by the way. One last thing, the rating system is their requirement not mine and, occasionally, what appears hear may not match what appeared in print. I’ve had a few scores subbed down a point in the past and I’m sure it’ll happen again in the future.

Let’s get on with it then, shall we?

JANUARY 2010:

Jan Clash

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS – ‘Realism’ (NONESUCH)

After a brief foray into self-sabotage with 2008’s intentionally noisy ‘Distortion’, Stephin Merritt has returned to the sound that made us love him in the first place. ‘Realism’ is a charming burst of cascading piano, shimmering cello and lyrics about trying to “shove you off the nearest bridge.”

Album standout, ‘Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree’ jangles along merrily despite containing the instruction, “if they don’t like you, screw them,” and a ludicrously silly but utterly wonderful chorus sung in German. Eccentric, endearingly arch and with an acute pop sensibility, this is the most accessible Magnetic Fields record to date. 8/10

God, I wish I’d had more words to write about this one. How do you capture the latest work by one of the most arch and intriguing lyricists around in a little over 100 words?

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Keb Darge and Paul Weller Present Lost & Found – Real R’n’B and Soul’ (BBE)

Punch the air Northern Soul, gritty and passionate funk and heartbroken r’n’b compiled by two fanatical music lovers – it’s exactly the resounding triumph you might expect it to be. ‘Stronger That Her Love’ by The Flirtations sounds like Motown girl group classic you’ve somehow never heard, while the doo-wop with attitude feel of The Intruders’ ‘Hang On In There’ makes a welcome appearance.

Weller’s half of the compilation just edges it, partly because it contains the absolutely essential ‘Call Me’ by Emmitt Long. A mid-paced, horn-infused organ-driven charmer that Al Green in his pomp wouldn’t have sniffed at, it’s one of a number of absolute gems here. 8/10

Get the limited vinyl pressing of this one. It’s a cracking set of songs and it sounds ludicrously good at a high volume.

FEBRUARY 2010:

feb clash

KATHRYN WILLIAMS – ‘The Quickening’ (ONE LITTLE INDIAN)

Eleven years into a recording career that has garnered a small but loyal following, Kathryn Williams may well be casting the net wider with this first release for her new label. A witty, warm and intelligent songwriter, Williams has always had a way with words and, when she sings “watch you in my mind, all through my lunchtime” in ‘Wanting And Waiting’, she perfectly captures that lovesick feeling of wishing the day away so you can be back with that special someone. ‘The Quickening’ may be her finest release to date, with folk, jazz and pop influences all merging into a rather special whole. 8/10

Having lived with this for another couple of months, I would stand by the suggestion that this could well be her best to date. It’s a very accomplished record with some truly beautiful singing on it.

THE LOUNGS – Big Wow’ (FRESH HAIR RECORDS)

The musical landscape is a poorer place for the absence of The Beta Band, who disbanded back in 2004. For those still pining for unusual sounding indie music with a wry sense of humour and laced with killer melodies, meet The Loungs. Their debut, ‘We Are The Champ’, sounded like the Super Furries after too many E numbers, while this second outing is a cross between the aforementioned Beta Band and the unashamed retro of The Bees. Beware ‘Jack Sarfatti’, however, which sounds dangerously like the Kaiser Chiefs. There really is no need for that. Oh, and as I suspect you’re still wondering, it’s pronounced ‘Lungs’. 7/10

Their first album was a big favourite of mine and this one doesn’t disappoint. They’re funding it all themselves this time round so please don’t go off trying to Google an illegal download of this one. Buy it.

MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS – ‘The Family Jewels’ (679/ATLANTIC)

Marina Diamandis was responsible for one of 2009’s best singles, ‘I Am Not A Robot’, an infectious pop track featuring a unique vocal with more fluctuations than Florence sat on a washing machine. Sadly, its parent album doesn’t always maintain such standards. While ‘Numb’ and ‘Are You Satisfied?’ are similarly excellent, things sometimes feel a little forced, such as on the hideously titled ‘Hermit The Frog’ and ‘Shampain’. Marina describes the album as “intricately produced” and that’s where the problem lies. Such attention to detail leaves some of the songs feeling pretty sterile and, as a result, it’s a frustrating listen. Cherry pick wisely. 6/10

I really wanted this album to be brilliant. I remember being absolutely thrilled when I got asked to review it a couple of days before Christmas, but when I actually played it I found the experience fatiguing. I like to think that this brief review conveyed that fact, but Alexis Petridis’ review in The Guardian explored this line of thinking in far more effective fashion here.

2010 on the record