Monthly Archives: January 2011

Manchester Potential

A couple of Manchester-based bands contacted me recently – and I am very glad they did.

First up is City Reign.

Two of the band met at a Ryan Adams concert (that’s Ryan, not Bryan) and the band takes its name from one of his songs (‘City Rain, City Streets’) After a releasing a Steve Lamacq-endorsed debut single (‘Making Plans’) last year, the band are about to release their second single ’Out In The Cold’, which is a rollicking chunk of angst-rock – think Cold War Kids with more gusto. They’ve even set up their own record label – Car Boot Records – to release the damn thing. These lads have bucket loads of potential. You can find more about them over at http://www.myspace.com/cityreign

The second band is Letters To Fiesta.

I’m presuming the name comes from a John Cooper Clarke poem of the same name, and not from the actual act of writing to the fabled jazz-mag. They make spiky folk; it’s as if Siouxsie had joined forces with Tunng. Their track ‘Traveller’ has a fair old scream to the chorus which took me back to early Banshees. However, there is more to Letters To Fiesta than merely retro charm – the yearning ballad ‘Leaf Skeleton’ displays impressive songcraft.  Also, their singer is called Anna Louisa Reed-Etherington – which is a grand enough name for you to check out their MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/letterstofiesta


Gang Of Four and me

In the summer of 2009, I met up with Gang Of Four’s Andy Gill and Jon King in the former’s smart Camden apartment. Gill’s father had died a couple of weeks previously, and he looked tired and drawn. We talked about the Gang Of Four legacy, but it was only when we began to discuss the new material the band had produced did Gill become animated. Fast forward to January 2011, and the new album Content is about to be released. It is a sparkling return and an album which will sit comfortably alongside their cannon of work. The interview on the sunny summer day was a great insight into why Gang Of Four were – and still are – a major influence.

Gang Of Four rose out of the ashes of punk, welded driving funk and reggae beats to jagged, crunching guitars to create a new musical genre. Eulogised by Flea (who has said the track ‘Not Great Men’ shaped the sound of the Chili Peppers), Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe as a ‘major influence’, and more latterly pilfered by a new legion of indie big-hitters, Andy surgically dissected the legacy of Gang Of Four. “Lots of bands have borrowed to varying degrees, the sound of Gang Of Four. For us, it was [about] creating a new type of music and starting from first principles. We went into extreme detail with drumbeats and everything to make a new sound. I think people have recognised that was exciting and original.” Jon added his own sound bite; “One thing we always wanted to be was a white rock band that had a groove to it. A lot of people were very inspired by how far out there we were. If you stretch the possibilities in one direction, then people can fill up all sorts of slots up.”

Among their adoring fans were Michael Stipe and Flea. Many bands wanted to tour with Gang Of Four, as Jon recollected, “REM were our support band for a year and a half in America. When we were in America we would partner with up-and-coming US bands. So we had Mission Of Burma, Bush Tetras and, of course, REM. Bands like that became friends of ours.” The Chili Peppers would use Gill to produce their debut album, which proved an onerous chore for Andy. “Flea always shot his mouth off, without thinking very much about anything, but that’s fine. I spoke to him a few weeks ago and it’s now good.”

In 2005 the rock grapevine started to twitch with rumours about a reunion of the original line-up. “A lot of people started saying ‘why don’t you do some shows?’ At the time we were being managed by Jaz Summers, and one day I mentioned it to him and barely had the words come out of my mouth, than he was on the phone booking flights,” Andy said. “It was also at the height of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party ripping us off to the millionth degree.” The seed for new material had been sown.

So, Content is finally upon us, and it is an invigorating update of the Gang Of Four sound. Eighteen months ago, Jon boasted that “You’ll see that it’s the same band that made Entertainment and Solid Gold.” He was right to be bullish.

Content is released on January 24th via Gronland Records – http://www.gangoffour.co.uk


Ten artists for 2011: #1

1. Duologue

So, onto my top tip for 2011 and a band I don’t actually know much about, as they are shrouded in mystery and intrigue. What I do know is this; Duologue are some chaps from London town who make a sound which crashes techno with experimental guitar rock. The songs I’ve heard by them sound like a seething Radiohead, as if the Hadron Collider was trying to smash The Bends and Kid A together and put Thom Yorke in a very bad mood. They put me in a very good mood and I’ve been wildly excited by Duologue ever since.

I also know that the few shows that they’ve played are events, with venues decked out and DJ’s and other artists priming the experience, and I know that the main songwriters within the band are called Toby and Tim. Which is nice.

So, until things become clearer, go onto their website, sign up to the mailing list and receive two free download tracks. Check out ‘Get Out While You Can’ which fizzes with fury, paranoia and has the added masterstroke of a soaring melody. It is a brilliant, brilliant song and it is a live version. This band could become something very, very special.

Prepare to be amazed: http://www.duologuemusic.co.uk/


Ten artists for 2011: #2

2. The Heartbreaks

The Heartbreaks are a hugely exciting prospect. They look the part, sound the part and when drummer and principal songwriter Joseph Kondras told me this – “Teenage heartbreak is like the end of the world – I love the melodrama”  – I knew they were the band for me.

Originally from the seaside town of Morecambe (“the place completely informs what we are – small town lives,” says Joseph), the boys bonded over a love of their parents’ Northern Soul collections, Orange Juice and gritty Northern literature. Songs such as the swoonsome ‘I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt To Think Of You’ and the marvelous ‘Liar, My Dear’ fuse Mary Chain power, the poetic sensibilities of The Smiths (check those titles) and the romance of Spector pop. “One of our biggest influences is 60s girl groups like The Ronettes,” explains Joseph. “I love how tragic the songs are but how poptastic they are; choruses that are heartbreaking but soaring, melancholic but uplifting.”

Although now based in Manchester, Morecambe has defined the band. “It’s not a cultural hub, so you have to find romance in what is around you,” singer Matthew Whitehouse told me in a masterclass of understatement. There is an Anglophile angle to The Heartbreaks; Matthew is happy to follow a fabled blueprint. “When The Smiths came out music was very similar to now. It was very international and there was something very organically English which set them apart. It’s something we’re doing, which is as perverse to do now as it was then. I see no problem in having a similar agenda to The Smiths.”

A new single is due soon, and an album later in the year. It’s all very exciting.

Get your heart broken here: http://www.myspace.com/heartbreaksband


Ten artists for 2011: #3

3. Rayographs

Astrud Steehouder, lead singer and guitarist of London-based Rayographs describes their sound as “dark, atmospheric, voodoo garage – with a smattering of dreamlike surf-guitar.” I couldn’t have put it better. Formed as long ago as 2003, this startling London trio have taken their time (amidst their day jobs) to hone their alluringly subversive noise. Their last release, the single ‘Francis’, was magnificent – a tense, pulsing incarnation of The Breeders, with spectral harmonies flitting between sweet dreams and torrid nightmares. The Rayographs understand the power drawn from a minimalist approach; Astrud is a believer in the ‘less is more’ mantra, “We’ve all learned to play our instruments better but I think we’re pretty deliberately restrictive, or rather appreciate the simplicity of certain songs.”

The band are currently is about to release a debut album which the band describe as “filmic, beautiful and rebellious”. Astrud is finding it thirsty work. “We’re having a great time writing music, playing shows in different cities, meeting nice people in indie record shops, speaking to goats and horses on the farm at No Recording. Our main objective is to finish this album and make sure it’s good, then we’ll have a cup of tea and a biscuit probably and stick on the 13 minute version of ‘Return to Innocence’ by Enigma to wind down.”

Astrud also makes lovely music under the moniker of Paper Dollhouse. She’s one talented gal.

For voodoo surf music, click here: http://www.myspace.com/therayographs


Ten artists for 2011: #4

4. The Crookes

Birthed in the Sheffield studentland of the same name, The Crookes are four beautiful boys who evoke the long lost romance of downbeat Northern Englishness – chiming melodies frame their ‘kitchen-sink’ dramas, like a Shelagh Delaney script set to ‘The Boy With A Thorn In His Side.’ “Our influences are largely English-based literature and music,” singer George Waite explained to me before a gig at Sound Control in Manchester. “I wrote some lyrics and George told me they were just like The Smiths,” guitarist/lyricist Dan Hopewell told me. “I had no idea. I was just trying to be poetic. I’m into similar books and plays as Morrissey was, so maybe the original source echoes through.”

The Crookes are a heartwarming antidote to the endless stream of taste-making American bands. “We said from the start that if we all started to wear tight jeans and leather jackets and took up smoking, we’d never be able to pull it off because we’re not the coolest guys in the world,” says George. “It’s just about playing music we’re most comfortable with and enjoying it.” There is a refreshing old-fashioned romance to current songs ‘Bloodshot Days’ or my favourite track, the effortlessly brilliant ‘Yes, Yes We Are Magicians’. “I’m a bit of a dreamer, and a lot of the songs are about running away and escaping. I guess that idea is romantic,” says Dan.

As for a debut album, it is finally going to be with us in March or April. I can exclusively reveal the title is Chasing After Ghosts. George admitted to me that the band struggled to agree on a batch of songs, “We wrote a track-listing in January 2010 and none of those songs are on it anymore.” “We keep writing songs that are better than our last,” Dan says. “It’s quite a nice problem to have.” 

Fall in love with The Crookes here: http://www.myspace.com/thecrookesmusic


Ten artists for 2011: #5

5. MAY68

 The Manchester five-piece, named after the Parisian student demonstrations during the spring of 1968, sound like a randy bunk-up between Chew Lips and Daft Punk. “There is a definite MAY68 sound emerging,” guitarist Jonny Sture told me last year over a pint in the Northern Quarter.  “We’re all into dance music but also into pop – we have a new track ‘The Prisoner’ which is a lot less rhythmic and more a foot-to-the-floor Eighties pop song.” He was being modest, ‘The Prisoner’ is a giant slab of New Order disco and one of my favourite tracks of 2010.

MAY68 are almost perfectly-formed. If Matt Dutton’s keyboards and Camille Bertin’s vicious beats drive MAY68 songs upwards, it is the raven-haired singer Jude Wainwright’s crystalline vocal that launches them to Himalayan heights. “There are a few things that hold us together, and one of them is Jude – she’s really distinctive.” Jonny said. Their first single was a track called ‘My Ways’. I called it a “huge juggernaut of Hi-NRG call-and-response tuneage.” Jude was is more concise, “It’s awesome.”

The band are currently holed-up recording new material, which will hopefully become their debut album. I, for one, cannot wait.

Find out more here: www.may68.com