Futuremusic Begins

fm1tw

Futuremusic will run for the next few weeks here on Just Played, looking at how our access to music is changing, how people spend their money on music and some of the artists attempting to do things their way. To begin, the really rather wonderful, Tom Williams & The Boat.

I blame Steve Lamacq for this one. During a not especially sunny week spent in Northumberland almost exactly a year ago, I found myself tuning in to Lammo’s 6music afternoon show rather a lot. This was partly down to me reading his excellent autobiography at the time and partly because it was pretty good at drowning out the sound of incessant rain. One afternoon, his guests were Tom Williams & The Boat. Thinking back now, I can’t be absolutely certain what about them caused them to click so perfectly with me, but they were only half way through their first song as I reached for my phone to store the name of this curious new band. Since then, I’ve immersed myself in the world of their leader and ridiculously keen publicist, Tom Williams.

The music is what you’d broadly term ‘indie’ but each EP they’ve thus far put out meanders backwards and forwards across that rather vague terrain, at times sounding rather folksy, with some very well utilised violin on certain tracks. They fit into the finest indie tradition of ridiculously catchy, storytelling jingle jangle which has kept the NME staff in beer money for decades. At times they gather momentum like Arcade Fire in a power cut, while the love of late sixties folk is hard to deny. The slightly rough around the edges sound also brings to mind recent records by Malcolm Middleton, only less Scottish. Tracks like ‘Got Fuel’, ‘Half Mast’, ‘Train Station Car Park’, ‘Concentrate’ and marvellous new single, ’90mph’ (particularly for fans of Middleton’s recent single, ‘Red Travellin’ Socks’) all deserve the opportunity to caress your ears.

But, I hear you cry, why are Tom Williams & The Boat getting a mention in the rather brilliantly-titled new feature, ‘Futuremusic‘? Well, dear reader, this band are putting in extraordinary levels of effort in their hunt for popularity. Tom has embraced the idea of giving away bits and bobs via the internet and building your online support with aplomb and, having already furnished fans with numerous demos, live tracks and advance songs in recent months, he’s just undertaken a month of extreme generosity, giving away four volumes of ‘Home Recordings’ via his website. You simply need to fill out a request form and the lovely chap will email you a download link for the recordings. Naturally, these are of variable quality – both in terms of songwriting and audio recording – but they give you a pretty good idea of what makes him really rather special.

In addition to the free music, Tom appears to spend most of the time that he’s not using for recording or playing live online, sending endless updates on Myspace and Facebook and taking the time to respond to each and every email that comes his way. Just see what happens if you take him up on his offer of free ‘Home Recordings’ downloads. Finally, Tom Williams & The Boat have thus far released their records themselves in beautiful, handmade packages featuring lyrics sheets, random inserts and even the chance to get a cut price T-shirt. Wireboat Recordings as the label is known, still have stock of some of the earlier EPs and I would suggest you treat yourself right now. If you want to go for one in particular, I’d recommend the ‘Got Fuel EP’.

Regular readers may remember me banging on about Tom’s track ‘Half Mast’ last summer, with its marvellous line, “I don’t have a hoodie set at half mast, sitting on my fringe like  balaclava on my chin”. For a short while, here’s a chance to hear that track. Clicky. Naturally, if anyone involved with Tom Williams & The Boat objects to this being here for a little while, I’ll take it down. But I doubt they will. And that’s kind of the point. They want you to hear them, they want you to enjoy their tunes and I suspect you will.

I stand before you to urge you towards Action

On Saturday, I spent a couple of hours sampling music on the MySpace pages of acts tagged as ‘friends’ on Steve Lamacq‘s page. In that time, I found one act I liked the sound of. One! My new found enthusiasm for tarting around on MySpace was quickly extinguished. The one act I liked? Well, for a start, they’ve already split up but, on the plus side, you can download their music for free from their site.  They are The Arrogants and their music is essentially a rockier Sundays. Occasionally somebody gives them a few too many blue Smarties, but I suggest you have a listen. Go here for free audio goodness.

I finally visited Action Records in Preston yesterday. I’ve used them for mail order from time to time over the years, but I’d never previously experienced the shop. It was a delightful (and costly) experience. I’ll get my one concern out of the way immediately: For most of the time that I was in the shop, there was no music playing. That’s not right, is it? I used to have to budget extra when shopping in the now defunct Reveal Records of Derby to allow for the inevitable purchase of whatever was on the ‘now playing’ shelf. I expect to be bombarded with tunes and I don’t remotely care if they’re actually toss, just so long as they’re there. Which reminds me. The other week, whilst browsing the vinyl department of a well-known Midlands indie store, the young lad behind the counter decided that the next record we were going to hear was the current (and oh-so-very-perfect) Elbow album, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid‘. He’d been playing a dance 12″ previously and so, just as the record was starting, he flicked the speed from 45 to 331/3. Unfortunately for him, that particular album is pressed on two 45rpm discs. Plus, the opening track has a long, instrumental build-up before the vocal arrives. Hoping to communicate in the way only slightly anti-social, slightly hairy musos can, I looked across at him trying to convey my confusion about what was coming out of the speakers. At this point, he gave me a look that I can only describe as, “What, peasant? Haven’t you heard this great record?” Once Guy Garvey‘s delightful voice grace the speakers, he hurriedly (and, agonisingly, audibly) dragged the needle away from the vinyl. A few seconds later, it returned at the correct speed. As I was leaving, I looked across and he scowled at me. If you’re going to be an indie snob, know your bloody tunes. Like me, for example!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Preston. Action Records is packed full of quality stock and disturbingly good prices. In particular, the new vinyl section is very reasonably priced. For example, the Johnny Flynn album, ‘A Larum’ is available as a double-vinyl, pop-up gatefold sleeve, limited edition for £20. In Action, £18. And such was the case for many other titles I could mention. There’s a huge CD sale with piles of stuff reduced (admittedly not all of it worthy of your attention). Back catalogue isn’t marked up ludicrously and it’s clear that their approach to stock control is to keep prices low on stock that isn’t shifting. Seems sensible, but so few other record shops do it. I won’t say much more other than to once again recommend their excellent mail order service which is available on their website here and to reiterate how delightful I found to be.  A rare beacon of splendour on an increasingly dour music shopping landscape.

On that note, I’ve put up a link to the ‘Coalition‘ site along with the other record shops on the right-hand side of the page. I mentioned it a few months back and how it’s meant to unite the remaining indie stores in the UK to make them stronger and to help with business. However, they’re still not involving the good folk of Norman Records (or some other indie mail order types I can think of) because they don’t have an actual shop. Surely, for something designed as a means of fighting the big companies who shut off doors to small companies, being elitist is rather anti the ethos of the Coalition? Who knows.

 

Do you have hallucinatory visions of The Chuckle Brothers?

Mojo readers – is it wrong to like that cover of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da‘ by Gabriella Cilmi that’s on this month’s free CD? Clearly, it’s dreadful, wrong and naughty, but something about it got under my skin. Surreal, to say the least. Not a great start, I know, wittering on about a track you’ll only know if you buy a certain magazine. Not unusual, either.

The post had a few surprises in it today. Firstly, the new Herman Dune album, ‘Next Year In Zion’, which is really rather good. Never taken to them in the past, but, on first impressions, it sounds splendid. They haven’t changed particularly, perhaps I have.

Secondly, a new album from Misty’s Big Adventure! Oh yes! The last one only came out towards the end of last year, but even so there is more to delight, thrill and confuzzle your ears. ‘Television’s People’ is a concept album about a troubled man seeking solace in daytime stodge who ends up getting sucked into the TV. Delightfully bizarre, but not especially surprising when it comes to Misty’s. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of this lot  then a) you’re not a long-standing, loyal reader of the Vinyl Junkies internet presence (fair enough, really) and b) you’re in for an absolute treat. Start with the album, ‘The Black Hole’ and then buy everything else. Anyhoo, this album is wonderfully good and comes with a quite brilliant press release by Grandmaster Gareth (the head honcho). I truly hope the good folk of Misty’s and SL records won’t mind that I’ve temporarily placed track 10, ‘There Is Hope’ on the Muxtape, simply because of its comic genius. It documents the daytime commercials coming alive in the head of the man at the centre of the story and he starts to believe that the telly is talking to him. Superb. Naturally, if anyone’s pissed off at its presence on the Mux, please let me know and it’ll disappear rapidly. That also goes for any of the new bands whose material I’ve popped on there as a taster for those who’d like to go and spend their hard earned quids on some independent releases.

As I believe I mentioned the other day, I was off on my jolly holidays last week and upon arrival I was heartened by the lack of phone reception and utterly shite TV signal. I was subsequently startled when I turned on the DAB radio and had the strongest reception I’ve ever had. Figure that out. Anyway, as a result of that, I ended up spending some time with 6music outside of the Gideon Coe show. In particular, I spent a few afternoons with the ever-delightful Lammo. Only the other week I was praising his blog and now it’s the turn of his radio show. His ‘New Favourite Band’ feature is a logical extension of what he’s been doing on the radio for years and years. Quite simply, each week he identifies a new act to which he’s taken a shine. Last week it was Tom Williams & The Boat. It’s a good band name that. Although the name at the start is nothing out of the ordinary, by adding ‘& The Boat‘ on the end, the name is suddenly memorable. It would’ve been enough to keep it lodged in my mind until I got back to the world of Google. Obviously, I’m geeky enough that if I ever happen upon music I like when I can’t do anything about it, I save the name of act and song as a draft text message, but if I wasn’t a geek, I’d still have been able to remember their name.

Anyway, we got sidetracked there. Tom Williams & The Boat’s latest release is the ‘Got Fuel EP’, which you can get from this website. It’s a delightful little package, coming as it does in a PVC sleeve with a wraparound sleeve made of glossy photos stuck to sugar paper. Inside, you get two more photos, a lyric sheet and, of course, the rather splendid CD. ‘Got Fuel’ is a delightfully woozy indie singalong that has been going round in my head for the best part of this week. To confuse matters, there’s a song called ‘Pete & The Pirates’ that actually sounds like a menacing version of The Young Republic and ‘Half Mast’ contains one of my current favourite lyrical refrains; “I don’t have a hoodie set at half mast, sitting on my fringe like  balaclava on my chin.” I’m not putting it on the Mux because I think the bloke deserves £6 for that alone.

The whole EP is great but, should you want more convincing, over on the main TW&TB site there are loads of free downloads, including some rather amusing covers. Treat yourself.

One final act of note today. Our Broken Garden are a new act on the, quite superb, Bella Union label. She – for it is only one woman, Anna Broensted of Efterklang – had an EP out back in April called, ‘Lost Sailor’ and there’s a new album on the way in September, entitled ‘When Your Blackening Shows’. Nothing else to tell, I’m afraid, but you can be thoroughly enchanted by the tunes over at the Myspace page.

 

 

So, in conclusion, don’t read this…

I love Steve Lamacq. Not like that. Obviously. Although, I guess I could pretend if I could get near his record collection. He was the aural comfort blanket on the nineties and I adored listening every evening to the Session. Jo Whiley‘s subsequent media whoredom has tainted her legacy a little and I now tend to just remember Steve’s grand work. These days he’s on Radio 1, Radio 2 and the afternoon host on BBC 6 Music, also home to the beloved Gideon Coe. His shows remain a delight, but he’s gone back to his roots and you can read his musings on music in blog form. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s still as bloody great as he was back in his pre-radio days.

Go here for a number of witty, eloquent and downright entertaining blog posts.

Why do I bother?

Something Changed

I fucking loved getting off the bus on a Monday evening and dashing across the road to our town’s one and only independent record shop. You had to go down a little set of steps to get into Dominion Records. It didn’t mean an awful lot to me until Britpop kicked off. I can vividly remember standing by the 7″ section, flicking through the new releases and trying to decide if I could justify spending £2.29 on the vinyl of ‘Country House‘, when I’d bought the tape for the same price the week before.
Across those halcyon years in the mid-90s, every spare penny I had went into the till in that shop. You felt like no record would be a bad move. Nothing that you picked out would be shite – it was Britpop, and Britpop seemed invincible. That said, I never stooped to buying a full price Shed Seven single (I ended up with ‘Bully Boy‘ in some kind of ‘buy three for £1.50’ clearout deal, but we won’t count that.) ‘Marblehead Johnson‘ by The Bluetones and ‘The Circle‘ by (say it quietly) Ocean Colour Scene were the two CDs that proved to me that I was besotted with this particular ‘movement’. Never before would I have justified paying, gasp, £2.99 for a single. But, in October 1995 I got my first CD player, and thus the additional avenue of multiple CD sets entered the fray. I can remember being pissed off that both Woolies and my beloved Dominion Records wanted the best part of £3 for The Bluetones. I wasn’t too worldly-wise, but I knew that a single by The Bluetones was hardly a gold-encrusted cultural document.
Anyway, what Britpop offered to me was a route into an obsession. My love of music was vastly accelerated by those years, those issues of the NME and those hours spent glued to Lammo and Jo on Radio 1. The Sesh, as nostalgic wankers such as myself now call it, was a nightly appointment with two cool friends who seemed to have all of the new records long before we did. (Remember, this was a time before the internet was the first source of a band’s new single) I can remember Jo Whiley‘s articulate, compassionate and incisive interview with Nicky Wire when the Manics were taking their first, tentative steps as a three-piece. I’d make a mental note of any particularly good songs played across the week, and then hope to God that Dominion would have them in on the Monday. I can remember having to wait for the family trip to Bristol to rummage on the Gloucester Road for a copy of Marion‘s ‘Sleep‘ on orange vinyl. Still a cracking tune, to these ears, although probably not worth the petrol involved.
The afore-mentioned NME also played a huge part in my development. I was an NME snob, and I couldn’t bear the Melody Maker. It wasn’t as clever, it wasn’t as well designed and it didn’t get such good interviews. Occasionally I’d buy it for a Manics or Blur interview and sniff with derision as I flicked through it on my way to the important interview. It was a period where you had to speak up for whichever side you were on, where lines were drawn and allegiances fiercely protected. I loved it.
I get hugely nostalgic for it now, and that’s why ‘Something Changed – The Britpop Years‘ will be an on-off series for the forseeable future on this blog. Please have your say via the comment option.