A Week With… 13. Big Star


You know that feeling when you become completely and utterly obsessed with an artist? You track down every little detail, attempt to get hold of the rarest of releases and even, if you’re me, find yourself buying multiple biographies in the hope of somehow further enhancing that irresistible buzz. You arrive at this point from any one of numerous reasons known to prompt such an outbreak of hysteria and teenage style fandom. On this occasion, it was the sad news of the passing of Alex Chilton.

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Last week, I wrote about how this initially sent me scampering towards prime Teenage Fanclub, a band oh so very heavily indebted to Chilton’s band, Big Star. However, after doing a little reading and digging out a few items from the shelves, it’s been all things Big Star this week.

I should say now that I’m not writing this for the Big Star aficionados of this world. They will likely think me a gibbering brain dribbler based on my current depth of understanding of this quite magnificent group. This is for those of you who haven’t really given the band any of your time in the past or who simply haven’t really heard of them before. The crux of my message is: you need Big Star in your life. If you’re weak-willed and easily led and that has already done the trick, off you go and order the records now. Should you need a little more convincing, read on.

To be assured of musical greatness, you really need to have a couple of songs which make the alternative music world swoon. Too popular? Fear the backlash. Too obscure? Nobody can buy your bloody records. In fact, it took until the early nineties for Big Star’s albums to be anything like readily available again after their initial shelf life in the early seventies. Those reissues came about due to said alternative types swooning over some of the finest power pop music ever pressed to wax and while they came to it late, thank fuck they got there in the end.

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The ‘couple of songs’ which make Big Star essential? Well, firstly, it’s got to be four actually and, secondly, you should really just buy all the albums and get going. ‘Thirteen’ and ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ from their debut, ‘#1 Record’, along with ‘September Gurls’ and ‘I’m In Love With A Girl’ from ‘Radio City’, would make up my Big Star primer EP. Two janglers, two acoustic heart-melters, this quarter of brilliance are, arguably, all songs which no self-respecting music fan should be without.

‘Thirteen’ recounts the beautifully observed feelings and experiences of being that particular age, expertly capturing the absurdly real fashion in which we amplified the trivial and lived in the, albeit adolescently awkward, moment. ‘I’m In Love With A Girl’ pretty much does what it says on the tin. It is all the more effective as a result of its simple structure and purposeful brevity. Its breezy excitement about the power of human emotions is fabulously infectious and I’m not sure that there’s a better sub-two minutes song in the world. ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ is the blueprint for about a third of Teenage Fanclub’s output (and, if I’m being ever so slightly disingenuous about one of my favourite bands, ‘In The Street’ accounts for close to another third) and is ludicrously good for the second track on a band’s debut album. ‘September Gurls’ is a summer song in the same way that Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ is a winter song. Think of hazy sunshine and the last of the drawn out days so prevalent in the titular month and that’s what this song sounds like. It’s the sound of looking out over open fields, stillness in the air, a cold beverage of your choice in your hand and not a care in the world in your head.

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I have, thus far, not commented on the band’s third album, variably titled ‘3rd’, ‘Sisters/Lovers’ or ‘Third/ Sisters Lovers’, which was never properly finished, emerged six years after the group stopped working on it and is widely regarded as NOT the place to start with Big Star. That’s not to say it’s not worth your time, or quids. A sprawling, audibly unpolished set, it still contains some enchanting tunes. The concise, breezy jangle is less conspicuous however, and, to carry on the Teenage Fanclub references, it’s a bit like how every time the latter band release a new album these days, loads of people hope that it’ll contain some of the fully upbeat number last really attempted on ‘Grand Prix’ or ‘Songs From Northern Britain’. The fact is, they’ve been there and done that. Similarly, Big Star’s third record is a fairly logical progression, in the same way that ‘Radio City’ followed on from ‘#1 Record’.

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Last year’s superlative box set, ‘Keep An Eye On The Sky’, is an absolute feast for the ears with remarkably decent sound for a modern mastering job, alongside delightful packaging and a robust bit of writing in the accompanying booklet. While there’s much to take in, once the three albums have taken hold this box is absolutely the way to go. For now, in order to gain my additional fix, I’m juggling Rob Jovanovic’s biography of the band and Bruce Eaton’s 33 1/3 tome on ‘Radio City’. Chronic typos aside, the latter text features some hugely engaging recent interview material, particularly an extensive chat with Alex Chilton, while the former is the accepted (and pretty much only) overall guide to their music. There’s plenty to take in and much to love. The reaction provoked by the news of Chilton’s death demonstrates how much of an influence he had on many of today’s musicians and, in the hope of discovering the silver lining for this one, it should at least cause more people to discover some wonderful, wonderful music.

A Week With… 12. Teenage Fanclub – Songs From Northern Britain

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The sad news of the death of Alex Chilton last week sent me scurrying back to my Big Star records and the majesty of ‘Thirteen’, ‘I’m In Love With A Girl’ and ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ offered a welcome respite at the end of a tiring week. While the songs, and their parent albums, had more than a couple of plays, in amongst them was an album that unashamedly acknowledges its influences, confident in the knowledge that it’s good enough to stand tall in the exultant company of both Big Star and The Beatles. That album, as you may have guessed by this point, was ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ by Teenage Fanclub, a record which I’m increasingly certain belongs in my all time top ten, if not top five.

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The luscious vocals, soaring guitars and heart-melting melodies of Big Star are here in abundance, but that’s not to say that this is simply an homage. ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ is an out and out pop masterpiece. There isn’t a song you’d want to lose, a track to wish away in anticipation of the next or a chorus devoid of a hook. This is pretty much the result of an attempt to calculate how to make utterly beguiling, suitably concise and indefatigably effervescent songs to soothe the soul. It never sounds old, hackneyed or clichéd and I can say, quite unashamedly, that every time I play this record it gives me an undeniable lift.

Start Again’ and ‘Ain’t That Enough’ form a bright, shiny, soaring opening salvo, doing an admirable job of setting out the album’s stall. If you don’t like jangle and exemplary harmonies then this is not the record for you.Having said that, if ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ doesn’t make you truly glad you have ears then I’m not sure I ever really want to know you. I’m not sure you can really feel. You poor person, you. ‘I Don’t Want Control Of You’, replete with early seconds of farm noise, slightly confused me as a single choice around the time when the album first appeared, seeming too laid back for an assault on the chart, but, in the context of the record, it’s a simple, affecting love song which would be the highlight of so many other records, but not this one. Not that that’s an easy title to give out.

‘Planets’, with its gleaming guitar part is essentially a live recording of wistful summer evening sunshine while ‘Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From’ is so utterly bare and heartfelt it may have a legitimate claim to being the best Teenage Fanclub song of all time, let alone best on the album. Essentially little more than a gentle strum with some lolloping drums and an occasional burst of restrained, lilting piano, ‘Your Love…’ seems to simple to be special, but don’t be fooled. Listen again and noticed the radiant if relatively muted organ notes serving as the song’s undercurrent, notice the slowly increasingly volume and presence of those trademark soaring guitar riffs and be rendered agog by what is almost an anti-crescendo when the track beautifully manoeuvres itself to a close.

And that’s all without mentioning the sublime Beatles-esque plonking piano of ‘Mount Everest’, the chiming splendour of ‘Take The Long Way Home’ and the unassumingly magical album closer, ‘Speed Of Light’. ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ is a truly special record from a truly special band. I make no apologies for having a second ‘A Week With…’ feature about them for two very good reasons. Firstly, it’s my blog so nur. Eloquently argued, no? Secondly, I genuinely don’t believe that enough people know about this spinetinglingly magnificent collection of music and, with their new album due to emerge at the end of May, it’ll do nobody any harm to get acquainted. I once saw copies of this record, boxed with their second best album, ‘Grand Prix’, selling at £3 in Fopp and considered buying the entire stock so as to give them to the uninitiated. Sadly, I didn’t, but I cannot urge you strongly enough to get yourself a copy. Feel free to come and hurl abuse my way should you, for whatever almost incomprehensible reason, find it not to your liking.

Good cover choice for 6 Music

A few years ago, I encountered Jo Good hosting a report from some summer festival or other on one of the MTV channels. Her clear passion for the music combined with an intelligent and, most enjoyably, surreal sense of humour left its mark on me and I duly noted the name and resolved to keep an eye and ear out for her in the future. Her barely disguised ridiculing of some of the cheesier soft-porn offerings found in the dance music countdown, The Galaxy Chart, which it turned out she also hosted, was a refreshing alternative from the customary ‘that was… this is…. aren’t they both amazing?’ style of MTV presenting.

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Some time later, Good turned up at Xfm, having previously been networked around numerous commercial stations doing a live music programme sponsored by one of the big mobile phone companies. This struck me as a remarkably good fit, although her stint there didn’t last all that long in the end. As the playlist got ever more strict and depressingly predictable, it seemed that Xfm was determined to dispatch, or drive out, most of the decent on air talent and Jo’s show was shown the door.

Last year, she then popped up on her ‘local’ commercial station, Key 103, doing weekend lates, playing NOW albums on shuffle. But then, in a stroke of genius, the 6 Music chiefs opted to use Jo for some cover on the station and a perfect match was uncovered. With sufficient musical freedom to influence and shape the sound of the programmes and a core playlist of splendid stuff, it meant that you weren’t only listening for the bits between the songs. Whereas many DJs are criticised for not caring about the music or for not communicating honestly with their audience, Jo sounds like an intelligent, articulate, fanatical consumer of music who is simply speaking to like minded people and loving every second of it. Her approach to her shows on 6 Music so far has been hugely endearing, her genuine love of the station and its audience so audibly clear for all listening. She’s back on the station from tomorrow (Sunday 14th March) for six days solid, 10am-1pm, firstly filling the slot freshly vacated by Jon Richardson and then as part of a week of cover for Lauren Laverne. I suspect she’ll do the remaining couple of Sundays before Cerys starts in April, but I don’t know for certain. In light of recent news about the station, it seems a little odd to describe Jo Good as a rising star at 6 Music, but the controllers would do well to ensure that we get to hear more of her in the future. If you can have a listen at some point this week, I really recommend you give her show a go. Last time she was on, Jo caused me to buy the Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve remix of Midlake’s ‘Roscoe’ and an album by Margo Guryan, entitled Take A Picture’ and both are well worth a listen. In that sense, she fits in perfectly with the culture of the very best shows on 6 Music – Gideon Coe, Steve Lamacq, Marc Riley, the Freak Zone – in that she’s a trustworthy voice in the wilderness of discovering music that’s new to you. Exactly what the BBC should do, no?

Quick Link for readers of The Guardian’s Website

If you’re clicking through to the site today from The Guardian’s website, as it seems many of you are, the 6 Music article to which they refer can be found quickly by clicking on the image below. Naturally, I’d be more than a little chuffed if you had a read of some of the other articles posted here, which include interviews with Gaz and Danny from Supergrass and up and coming indie act Tom Williams & The Boat and a countdown of Just Played’s 40 albums from The Noughties.

6music Link

(More frequent, if less well thought out, comments available by following Just Played on Twitter)

A Week With… 11. Supergrass – In It For The Money

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It’s not actually that difficult to spot why this record didn’t turn Supergrass into one of the nation’s biggest bands. Not because it’s not great, because it is, but because it’s a curious beast. Off the back of the out and out fun of ‘I Should Coco’, ‘In It For The Money’ was a textured, meticulously structured headfuck for plenty of young green people with nice, clean teeth. As ‘G-Song’ roars and flails its way to its conclusion towards the end of side 1, it’s hard to align the sound with the band responsible for ‘Alright’ and ‘Mansize Rooster’. The trick, I’m willing to suggest, is to use ‘Lenny’ as your reference point from the debut and then it starts to make a little more sense. That one, joyously noisy, cleverer than it seems, burst of incendiary indie explosives contains enough hints that this band were not only seriously capable, but also ridiculously astute in their building of sound.

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In It For The Money’ is a wonderfully warm record, with noodly keyboards, twiddly bass parts and soaring guitar riffs that never go stale. It occurred to me this week that I hadn’t dusted down the vinyl of this one since upgrading the stylus a few months back, and once I’d picked it out again, it wasn’t going back in a hurry. The drifting drums and improvised guitar sounds across the end of ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ are amongst my favourite moments in indie-pop history. It’s a euphoric celebration of sound tacked on to an astoundingly tight chart smash. It probably shouldn’t be there, but that’s probably why it works so well. Sometimes you desperately want a bit more of your favourite songs and on occasions like this, it seems like a bloody good idea.

Going Out’, which appeared as a single almost a year ahead of the rest of the album, is a blistering start to side 2, somehow managing to combine a thin piano sound, swirling organ part and thundering guitars into an attacking force will leave you breathless. I never appreciated just how great this song was when it came out as a single. The bold, brassy sounds had a shade of Britpop about them and, forgive me for this, it felt a bit like it was trying too hard to fit in. I was staggeringly wide of the mark, but it took me a while to change my opinion. No such prevarication with the song that follows it, ‘It’s Not Me’, which is a track that should be used to demonstrate the sonic capabilities of shit-hot headphones. It’s a quite brilliantly arranged stereo soundscape which gently tickles every little corner of your ears, leaving me genuinely awestruck by the power of music.

All of this and I’ve not even mentioned two of the album’s vastly different but equally sublime singles. ‘Richard III’ prefaced the album and only served to emphasise the change in direction from ‘I Should Coco’. Short, sharp and bloody loud, it took a bit of getting used to and I remember thinking that it jarred a little alongside your average daytime fare on Radio 1 when it first appeared. Thirteen years later, it was clearly the perfect way to signal a notable gearshift ahead of the album proper as it took the core idea of a naggingly familiar melody, an ever-present tactic on the debut, and bulked out the sound without ever seeming bloated.

That this record is thirteen years old is actually quite staggering. While it no longer feels like a recent release, it doesn’t feel like something that belongs in the Nineties Museum along with Loaded, Menswear and TFI Friday. Indeed, ‘In It For The Money’ is the one Supergrass outing that can lay claim to being truly timeless. If you told me it was an early Seventies overlooked gem, I could believe it. ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’ is the closest they’ve come to putting out a sub-standard record, and even that has its redeeming features, but ‘In It For The Money’ ensures a very, very high watermark. Those who read the interview with Gaz and Danny on this blog a couple of weeks ago will remember the former’s comments about the forthcoming Supergrass album. “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.” If it is even half as good as the album to which it has been compared, then I will be more than content. Here’s hoping.

Wittering Wednesdays – Plastic Beach and a dog in a bath

I spent much of last weekend with the new Rufus Wainwright album, ‘All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu’, and I’m happy to tell you that it’s a charming and understated little record. I know, I never thought I’d type that about Wainwright either, but here it is: a collection of twelve songs featuring Rufus and his piano. It features some of his most beautiful singing to date along with complex piano figures, similar to those found on parts of ‘Poses’. Some songs feature guest lyricist Bill Shakespeare who, it turns out, can bash together a decent sounding phrase or two. Album closer ‘Zebulon’, a live version of which appeared on The Guardian’s site a few weeks ago, is spellbinding. I can’t recommend it enough. An alternative performance can be clicked on below.

The need to ensure the Rufus review was done on time meant that a number of delightful promos that landed towards the tail end of last week sat on the side for a while. I’ve previously tweeted about Allo Darlin’ who, despite a truly chronic band name, make some lovely, melodic indie pop. The include Aussie legends The Go-Betweens in amongst their influences and that should give you some idea about their commitment to songcraft. Well worth keeping an ear on. The album will appear in June and I’ll endeavour to say more about it nearer that time.


Tracey Thorn is back in May with ‘Love And Its Opposite’, an album which eschews some of the bleepier aspects of previous outings and presents a record of chiming, mature pop that sounds blinking great to me. I’ve always loved her voice but sometimes the material hasn’t quite lived up to it. Certainly not the case here and, but for the fact that I can’t imagine how the general public might be whipped into such a frenzy, this record deserves to sell well. As it is, I suspect it’ll end up being a lesser-known favourite amongst those with discerning lug’oles. Get in ahead of the game with a free download of the track ‘Oh, The Divorces!’ which you can claim here.

The rest of the promo jiffy bag was less obviously fantastic fare, but I imagine at least a couple more of them will get a mention here soon enough. Fabulous one man music cloud, Keith KenniffHelios, Goldmund – has had some professionally made editions done up of his previously CD-R only website releases ‘Unleft (Unreleased Vol. 1) and ‘Live At The Triple Door’. You can order from him direct here and expect to receive your discs rapidly and wrappedly. Did I get away with that? Hmmm. Anyway, they arrive neatly wrapped with a little bow around them. Charming. The music is, just as you might expect by now, ethereal goodness that tops up the soul and massages the ears. Highly, highly recommended. Should you need further convincing, here’s the old FUTUREMUSIC piece from last year.

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As I type, ‘Plastic Beach’, the latest opus from Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, is blaring away and I have to say, it certainly has its moments. Mark E Smith’s “where’s north from ‘ere” at the start of ‘Glitter Freeze’ is, perhaps, enough to justify buying the whole bloody record. Add in the just-the-right-side-of-annoying ‘Superfast Jellyfish’, childishly lolloping ‘Some Kind Of Nature’ (replete with Lou Reed) and the chaotic ‘Sweepstakes’ and things are looking up. ‘On Melancholy Hill’ is the latest addition to the Damon Albarn Musical Genius Songbook, a compilation I really should make some day. It is borderline perfect, with its slow-Daft-Punk opening, muffled Damon vocals and innocent background chimes. It makes me smile, and that’s a pretty decent test as far as I’m concerned. At almost an hour, it flies by surprisingly quickly and there is little to make you long for more judicious editing. The vinyl edition can’t come soon enough, but there’s much to like about the CD/DVD Experience edition so I’d treat yourself if I were you. You look like you deserve it.

A few shocks this week. Firstly, it turns out I love the album that is currently top of the UK sales chart. I feel completely out of step with what old people call the ‘pop charts’ these days, so to find that Ellie Goulding’s ‘Lights’, which may well end up being the pop album of 2010, is the best selling album in the country, despite me really liking it, took me by surprise. Were all of the supermarkets’ stocks of Michael Buble albums on holiday for a week? What happened? Anyway, forget some of the slightly sneering backlash that some corners of the music press are opting for and embrace an album full of lovely melodies and outstanding production.

The second shock was rather more severe. It was caused by this picture:


This is the actual cover of the new album by The Divine Comedy! What can you say? Loving the gong at the back of shot and the return of the ‘A Short Album About Love’ era logo design though. Till next time…

March Reviews

See what I did there? No? Me neither. After rejecting several tortured puns on ‘March’ and then several more about the fact there are six of these, I thought I’d go literal. Never mind, eh? As per last month, here are my six published reviews of records released this month. Obviously, it would be nice if you went out and spent actual money on the ever-so-shiny Clash Magazine, but should that be unlikely to happen, I can assuage my vanity by publishing them all here. And so it begins…

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LAURA MARLING – ‘I Speak Because I Can’ (VIRGIN)

Laura Marling’s debut set the bar high and this eagerly anticipated follow up confidently dispels any concerns about quality control. Her second album is an enchanting collection of beautifully raw songs, the faint trace of tape-hiss in the quieter moments combined with the rootsy feel of songs like ‘Alpha Shallows’ and ‘Devil’s Spoke’, making for a more laid-back affair than her debut. Marling’s songwriting has taken great strides forward; recent single ‘Goodbye England’ is a lullaby about the English countryside while ‘What He Wrote’ tells the haunting tale of separated lovers, belying the fact that its author only recently turned twenty. A remarkable record; you’ll want to play little else. 9/10

Last week’s New Music Monday has rather more about this album, should you need further info. It really is as good as this suggests. Having continued to play it solidly for a further month or so, I only love it more.


Some records are so bursting with ambition and invention that it’s impossible to not be charmed by them. Boasting a wealth of grandiose, uplifting and downright epic tunes, all accompanied by an ethereal yelp pitched somewhere between Wayne Coyne and Jonathan Donahue, ‘Sleep Mountain’ is one such record. At the risk of drowning in comparisons, it’s only fair to flag up the Arcade Fire debt. For those who felt let down by ‘Neon Bible’, ‘Sleep Mountain’ will give you a big hug and reassure you that it’s all going to be ok. ‘Don’t Wake Up’, the most transparent offender, is a fine piece of work. 7/10

A good, but not great, record. Plenty to enjoy but not exactly one that I reach for regularly. I suspect it may click with me at a later date and it has continued to slowly unfurl its charms.


Fourteen years on, it’s time to forgive Stephen Jones for ‘that’ bloody song. If one track can ever stain your reputation for more than a decade, ensuring you are written off as a novelty act, then that track is ‘You’re Gorgeous’. It was never a fair representation of what Babybird’s music can be and, thankfully, still is. He’s still prone to the odd clunker; ‘Drug Time’ lumbers along with clichéd drug metaphors aplenty. But, despite these minor niggles, Jones is still capable of some genuinely engaging storytelling and ‘Bastard’ and ‘Black Flowers’ cover both ends of the Babybird spectrum: chaotic fast one and dramatic slow one. Both are excellent. 6/10

Ok, so those of us who are fond of a bit of Babybird will likely end up enjoying it slightly more than a 6/10 suggests, but in the sense of people coming to this fresh it’s, well, ok. It does similar things to lots of his records and has some moments of wonder and then some lazy lyrics and lumpen tunes.

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KRIS DREVER – ‘Mark The Hard Earth’ (NAVIGATOR)

Sometimes you encounter a voice that has that indefinable something: it conveys emotion, commands attention and sounds unapologetically lived in. Kris Drever is not only the owner of one of these voices, but he’s also one of folk music’s great hopes. He is rightly lauded for his impassioned moulding of traditional sounds into contemporary songs that have the capacity to melt the heart. With a more complex sonic palette than his debut, ‘Mark The Hard Earth’ contains a number of absolute gems. The highlight, ‘The Crown Of London’, features a truly beautiful cascading guitar part that you’ll not be able to forget in a hurry. 7/10

Think this one might have climbed up to an 8 in the intervening time period. Recent FUTUREMUSIC coverage made my appreciation of Drever clear for all to see. He really is worth investigating and genuinely something ‘different’ to listen to.


I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to suggest that this lot own a few Smiths albums. In fact, some of the vocal affectations and extravagantly jangly guitars on this record would suggest that the band name is a gentle and affectionate nod to their Mancunian forefathers to acknowledge their not inconsiderable influence. This is, let’s be clear, a very good thing. ‘New Favourite Moment’ is glorious indie pop with a crowd pleasing chorus while ‘When Goodness Falls’ features the lyric, “I’m so glad to disappoint you”, making you wonder if there’s a punctured bicycle somewhere nearby, on a hillside, desolate. 8/10

As I pointed out when this lot came up in FUTUREMUSIC, I took a few liberties with this piece, overdoing the Smiths references so as to encourage as many people as possible to give them a listen. In a similar way to how Neil Hannon claims to have only really discovered Scott Walker after people kept telling him how much he sounded like him, Northern Portrait are fairly recent converts to The Smiths, for similar reasons. Oh well, point made, I think.


Staring out at rain-soaked countryside through train-carriage windows heavy with condensation, the sparse beauty of Lou Rhodes’ voice is absolutely charming but, once everyday life cuts in, it becomes a little bit forgettable. This collection of minimalist acoustic numbers is a soothing and gentle listen but it never quite establishes itself as an album deserving of regular listens. Nice is such a bland word that it veers close to being an insult but there’s no better way of describing this album. ‘It All’ and ‘Baby’ are particularly charming, but unfortunately it suffers from the perennial problem of all blending together and, while it certainly won’t disappoint, it won’t excite either. 6/10

Oh. I’d actually forgotten that I’d reviewed this one. That probably says it all, really.

2010 on the record

New Music Monday – Tom Williams Interview

Regular readers will no doubt recall the numerous mentions of Tom Williams & The Boat on this blog. Recently, ‘Concentrate’ was a Song Of The Day, last August they were featured in the inaugural FUTUREMUSIC and as far back as the summer of 2008 I was wittering on about this fantastic new band I’d heard on 6 Music.

My, how they’ve grown! Today, Tom Williams & The Boat released their debut single proper, ‘Concentrate’, via iTunes and on hand-numbered limited edition 7” vinyl. It seemed only right that Just Played should mark the momentous occasion and, thankfully, Tom was happy to talk about the single release, the forthcoming album and the current musical climate. Click play on this video to have a listen to the single while you read the feature below, then you’ll find handy links to allow you to purchase this beautiful track at the end of the interview.

For those of us who bought the early EPs through your website it’s pretty exciting to see you having a national single release. How are you feeling about ‘Concentrate’ being unleashed on the public?

It’s really exciting! It’s the first step of a long journey to hopefully drag us into the national consciousness!

The re-recording has a more dense sound than the original on the ‘Doing My Best’ EP. Is this an indication of where your sound is headed?

I think it’s just recorded in a better studio with better producers etc. but, yeah, we are getting heavier. The new stuff we’re working on now is really leaning away from that ‘folk’ tag which has been irrelevant for a while now. We’re getting into gloomy Radiohead, Grinderman, Bad Seeds territory with the new stuff!

When can we expect a full album and will any more EP songs be featured in re-recorded forms?

The album will hopefully be out in the summer after another single or two…it all depends how it goes. We really want to give this a go, and make sure we do our best to make sure there’s an audience waiting for the record. The album serves as a ‘greatest hits’ so far of sorts. So, yeah, some re-records but also new stuff!

You’re pretty excited about releasing ‘Concentrate’ on 7” vinyl. Even though you’ve provided plenty of free downloads on your site over the last couple of years, is the physical product an important factor in making and releasing music for you?

Yes, very, and especially vinyl. For me it’s the most generous format, physically it feels great in your hands, it sounds better than CD (the sound file is double the size) and also the artwork is glorious in that size!

You’re in the final twelve of Q Magazine’s competition to win a slot at Glastonbury. Obviously, Just Played wants you to win. Is this just about the music out there or does Glastonbury have a special significance for you?

For us it’s the best festival in the world, but also, the kind of classic rock references that drive us also drive Glasto: Springsteen, Neil Young, all that stuff…we’ve got everything crossed for the summer!

What can Just Played readers expect from the Tom Williams & The Boat live experience?

It’s louder than you thought it would be! Someone said the other day that we were more ‘muscular’ than he expected, so there you go! More muscular! We’re six, with violins, saxes, pianos and harmonicas so it’s a big noise with lots of sweat!

How did the moniker of ‘The Boat’ come to be applied to the other five members of the band?

It came very early on, I just wanted an unusual name that’d prick the ears up, but also a collective noun and a vessel seemed like a good idea! (I still maintain, as I said in the summer of 2008, that this is a top band name.)

What music would you say influences the sound of Tom Williams & The Boat?

Loads of stuff: Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young, The Beatles, Elliott Smith, Pavement, Radiohead. Ah, it’s endless! I can’t think now you know but those are probably a top seven of sorts.

You were one of this blog’s new music tips last August – could you tip some current music for readers to investigate right now?

At the moment I’ve got the new Gil Scott-Heron on repeat, along with the Swanton Bombs album ‘Mumbo Jumbo and Murder’ and Cash’s ‘American Recordings VI’.

You’ve been quick to express your dismay at the intention of the BBC to close 6Music. This blog discovered you through your performance on Steve Lamacq’s show. How important is it as a station and do you have a rallying cry for those who haven’t yet expressed their concern at this news?

I think it’s absolutely fundamental to the survival of independent labels and artists but also it’s one of the only surviving stations that ALWAYS play you something you’ve never heard before…and that’s priceless.

What are you reading right now?

A poetry/photography mash up with lost Dylan poems from the mid sixties written for the photographs of Barry Feinstein

Any good?


If you had to summarise what it’s like starting out in the music industry in the 21st century in one sentence, what would you say?



The nigh-on essential ‘Concentrate’ 7”, at a very reasonable £4 delivered, is available to order direct from Tom’s site by clicking here or you can purchase the single digitally via iTunes by clicking here. It’s a great track and I can’t even begin to express how excited I am about the prospect of the forthcoming album. I implore you to do your bit for splendid new indie by purchasing this mighty single and rewarding Tom’s endeavours to date.

2010 on the record

A Week With… 10. Manic Street Preachers – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours


Listening back to this album, the first thing that strikes me is how sensible it all sounds. I remember being truly fired up by this band as a teenager, leaping around at their concerts and feeling like no other band was able to communicate with me in such a direct way. I don’t really hear that now. I hear well produced, excellently performed and quite beautifully sung songs which hold plenty of memories for me. I’m not particularly setting out to criticise this record, but when you consider that this band recently released ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, even ‘Send Away The Tigers’ before that, it all seems a bit incongruous.

this is my truth

I won a competition to attend the album playback for this record at Cardiff Castle. I was plied with promotional goodies, ushered into a large room with plenty of cheesy local radio Dee-Jays who all ‘loved their work’ and, having heard what seemed to me like a pretty splendid record, suddenly found myself sitting at a table having a conversation with James Dean Bradfield about my home town. He’d once dated a girl from there, as it happened, and, while that information was of no great consequence to either of us at that particular moment, he proved himself to be a thoroughly nice bloke, keen to put me at ease. Looking back, it may well have been the fact that the longer he spent talking to me, the less time he had to chat with the local media types that spurred him on, but I’d think no less of him even if that were the case.

I still have numerous signed items from that evening, including an A4 lyric booklet for the album, something which contains some of the Wire’s best and worst work. ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ and ‘Black Dog On My Shoulder’ cover totally different topics but in similarly articulate ways but ‘S.Y.M.M.’ was simply never as good in reality as it may have seemed as an idea. For a start, the title was abbreviated, suggesting that the band already had some idea that it was more than a little toe-curling, but still pushed on regardless. Secondly, inspired though it is by the marvellous Cracker episode, ‘To Be A Somebody’, it never really seemed to know what it wanted to achieve and thus, as a result, it foundered on every level. Furthermore, it weakened what should have been a triumphant end to the album with the Richey Edwards tribute, ‘Nobody Loved You’.

There are some wonderful indie-pop moments on ‘This Is My Truth’, none moreso than ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’, to which I used to, if you’ll forgive the nineties parlance, pogo wildly. The computerised drumbeat (sampled from a pinball machine, if my knowledge of Manics trivia still serves me well) is a marvellously hooky way to begin the song and ebb and flow of verse and chorus is the work of a master musical craftsman. ‘You’re Tender and You’re Tired’ is an oft overlooked pop gem, with its plaintive piano and luscious, swooping backing vocal ‘ah-ahhhhhhs’ too often brushed aside as insubstantial. It has, at times, been my favourite song on the whole album, while live favourite ‘Tsunami’ is only saved from the ignominy of being my least favourite by the presence of the aforementioned ‘S.Y.M.M.’ It jangles and it chugs but it just feels so forced and I’ve never been truly convinced that the lyrics sit all the comfortably atop the musical accompaniment. Previous conversations have suggested that this might be one for the ‘irrational dislike’ pile, but I’ll not be swayed.

The Manics were in their imperial phase, riding high on the astronomical sales of ‘Everything Must Go’. ‘This Is My Truth’ is, to be absolutely fair, the logical next step. In the context of the horrible mish-mash that followed, ‘Know Your Enemy’, it seems to have aged reasonably gracefully. But it doesn’t entirely stack up. There’s plenty to enjoy on there, but it’s over-long, over-polished and, at times, over-wrought. Lop a few tracks off, chop a few tracks down and there’d be little to moan about. I listen to it fairly infrequently and spending a week with it has, in some ways, reminded me why. There are simply better Manics albums on my shelf if I want to listen to them. More urgent, more insistent, more shambolic records than this mass-market, adult-rock outing. It is, dare I say it, the Manics’ ‘nice’ album.

Wittering Wednesdays: New music, old music and 6 Music

It’s been a while since my last stream-of-consciousness muso thought vomit, so I should probably put that right. Not like there isn’t plenty to talk about, eh? In the last hour or so, I got to hear the new material on the forthcoming Doves Best Of so as to enable a review I need to turn around fairly rapidly. Across the two CDs of the special edition can be found a number of previously unreleased bits and bobs, but it’s the songs that have never been released in any shape or form that will draw the most attention. Rest assured, the new tracks don’t stick out amongst the many highlights from the band’s first twelve years. ‘Blue Water’, a track that has been knocking around in the back waters of the internet for almost a decade, is a fine, fine way to kick off the second disc, the swaggering ‘Drifter’ then appears smack in the middle of the disc. The former shuffles along with that wonderful stuttering drum pattern so well deployed on ‘Here It Comes’ and ‘Drifter’ features overlooked talent Simon Aldred, of Cherry Ghost. While both new songs on disc two are fantastic, it’s worth pausing to note the quite brilliant sequencing of the songs, as undertaken by the band themselves. It actually hangs together like a proper record, with the same ups and downs in mood and pace that we’ve come to expect from a typical Doves studio outing. ‘The Last Son’ is saved from the icky obscurity of being an iTunes only bonus track while ‘Friday’s Dust’ appears in its ‘Capital Tower Session’ guise, sounding even more stark and raw than the not especially bells and whistles version from ‘The Last Broadcast’. The decision to include a small number of album tracks seems at first to be an odd one, but the choices have clearly been made carefully and I can’t really see any harm in a couple of these beauts slotting in across the disc when, without them, it would just have had less tracks on it. Don’t kid yourself that they got in the way of new songs and, similarly, it’s easy to cry about favourite b-sides not making the cut but the obvious time taken in getting this selection right and, even more precisely, in the right order means I have no complaints. The main disc, featuring a veritable cornucopia of melodic indie class, is augmented by forthcoming single ‘Andalucia’ which, loosely speaking, is one of their upbeat turbo-chuggers. It’s a good ‘un and, after several dozen listens, you’ll know it inside out but it’s no world-beater. My slightly subdued first impressions may have something to do with it sitting between ‘The Man Who Told Everything’ and ‘Caught By The River’, two songs which did more than a little to soften the tricky late-teen to shit-I’m-actually-an-adult transition period. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll be banging on about how great it is. You watch.

Oh, and just to completely contradict what I said earlier, ‘Brazil’ from the ‘Winter Hill’ 7” really did deserve another outing! To be fair, I can’t see how it would have fitted, so here it is for your delectation and delight. You’ll have to turn your speakers up a bit.

I’ve been listening to the new Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings record, ‘I Learned The Hard Way’ quite a lot recently and it’s one of those rare beasts – an album that sounds incredibly warm… on CD! Regular readers will know of my obsession with vinyl and my general preference for its sound. This is largely as a result of the maximised and just plain bloody loud nature of most newly released CDs so, when one comes along that actually sounds good even when you turn it up loud on some decent speakers, it’s cause for celebration. I loved the first three Sharon Jones albums and this one isn’t a radical departure so, unsurprisingly, I love this one too. I need to listen a little more closely to make any meaningful judgements, but if you’re waiting on this one, you’ll not be disappointed.

The news about 6 Music continues to disappoint and disturb. There are those who are arguing that this is part of some complex ploy to generate publicity for the station and that its future was never really in doubt. Unlikely, I would suggest, but if it does turn out to be true, it still seems a bit mean to put people Lauren Laverne through the on air experience she faced yesterday morning, starting her show just minutes after the station’s closure was confirmed. She dealt with it with the good grace, intelligence and passion which has seen her become a firm 6 Music favourite and delivered one of the finest shows to be heard in the morning slot since Gideon Coe was shunted off to nights. Not that that actually seems all that bad an idea now that I’m happily established in my routine of spending ludicrous amounts of cash on an almost nightly basis at the behest of the genial music enthusiast and waffler-without-compare. His current stint covering breakfast is making for surprisingly pleasant morning car journeys and his presence on the station is a prime example of how it perfectly communicates with its audience. Watching Paxman make Mark Thompson look like the school bully after he’s been caught bang to rights by the head, threatened with exclusion and had his parents dragged in (and, frankly, like he’d shat himself a few minutes before going on air and couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit) was an absolute delight. He looked out of touch, out of his depth and out of line with popular thought. Thankfully for him, they also had Kelvin MacKenzie on, so he still wasn’t the biggest twat in the room. Even better than this, was Adam Buxton offering Thompson out for a fight on Channel 4 News a few hours earlier. Cutting to him for a serious response, Jon Snow asked Buxton if he had anything to say to Mark Thompson. To which he replied, "Mark ‘Thommo’ Thompson, I’m inviting you for a fight. I could take you, I’ve been practising." I’d click that, if I were you. It’s worth watching how remarkably serious he remains whilst saying it. Thompson appears to have no idea what is going on. Presumably not a member of Black Squadron?

Currently waiting on a couple of sizeable jiffy bags, so I’ll endeavour to offer a round-up of new things that have come this way of late by the weekend at the latest. That should include new Matinee signings The Electric Pop Group, the dreadfully named but beautiful sounding Allo Darlin’ and the new album from Tracey Thorn. Good good. Feel free to say hello on twitter – @justplayed is, perhaps unsurprisingly, where I am or you could always email. Address on the ‘About Just Played’ page. Speak to you soon.