Monday, 4 December 2017

David Thomas Broughton - Live at MIMA Middlesbrough 2nd December 2017

I was at MIMA, Middlesbrough on the evening of Saturday 2nd December 2017. I want to make sure that we have that on record.

There were others there too. David Thomas Broughton (jeans, jumper, scarf, beard) stepped onto the stage without fanfare; a stage constructed under the stairs in the black, white, grey and glass foyer. A bright, multi-coloured curtain serving as a back-drop in an area almost certainly more used to storing stacking chairs than hosting gigs.

This is no ordinary venue, and this is no ordinary gig.

This gig is all about atmosphere. All about the experience. Songs start sweetly and, via various combinations of loops, whistles, rattling loose change, electronic blips (somewhere between feedback and the sound of the air being squeaked out of a balloon) and a small electronic toy megaphone, collapse beautifully in upon themselves. At times it’s like listening to two radio stations, nestled closely on the dial, tuned in together, battling gently for dominance. These are slow, gentle, glorious, almost self-sabotaging, descents into mayhem. Tunes are sometimes spectacularly rescued before slipping away again, only to flip beautifully into the next.

David’s magnetic, occasionally unnerving, stage presence and his tendency to move from one track to another without pause leaves no space for applause until the entire set is over. It’s almost as if the audience feels that applause would be an inappropriate way to break the atmosphere. At one point David balances precariously on the rear left hand corner of the stage. Later he becomes deliberately entangled in his own microphone cable. David also uses his miniature megaphone to fantastic effect, occasionally using it to replace his microphone but, more often, pipping it percussively and looping it repeatedly until it sounds like a choir of Clangers.

At times he leaves the stage beneath the stairs altogether and steps toward us, singing dramatically and mournfully toward the corrugated roof 50 feet above our heads. There’s every reason for the sound quality to be challenging in such a unique venue, but the purity of the performance and the priceless work of the sound engineer mean it’s actually astonishing.

Choosing highlight songs seems a touch futile, as every moment is shot through with magic, however ‘Nature’ and ‘Liberazione’, when David forgets the words and ad-libs a few lines admitting to such, were my own personal favourites.

Ultimately, however, it’s all about the intensity of every minute, the overwhelming joy of the experience. The simple act of being able to say you were there.

Photo credit: Eugene Cheah

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Album review - Meursault - I Will Kill Again

Prepare to be unnerved.

I’ve been listening to, immersing my ears in, I Will Kill Again, the latest album from Neil Pennycook (and some extremely talented friends), under the guise of literature’s greatest outsider, Meursault. Four years in the making and recorded beneath the sunshine of Leith, it’s unnerving and disarming and heart-warming and haunting and strange, right from its opening track (enigmatically entitled ‘…’), all tinny piano and bowed banjo, and, just when you’re starting to warm to it, up pops a slightly robotic, cold voice to chill the blood with the words “I. Will. Kill. Again.”

It’s an ‘all bets are off’ opener, strapping in the listener for a ride to some dark but beautiful places; ‘Ellis be Damned’ is musically sweet but lyrically frightening and, on an album where you’d be best advised to expect the unexpected, ‘The Mill’ is a deftly handled melodic number until, three minutes in, it’s gloriously rear-ended by a yelping harmonica, simultaneously out of place yet perfectly suited.

On the anti-sea-shanty, ‘Ode to Gremlin’, guitar, piano and voice combine superbly. It’s raw and fragile and there are absolutely no hiding places in its sparse, open arrangement.

Meursault - Klopfgeist from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

Unbelievably, from this point, I Will Kill Again slips its leash and starts running even wilder; ‘Klopfgeist’ finds Pennycook at his most inventive, with its cut and paste backing track, part Kanye, part Norman Collier, a lyric about Sinatra’s last words and a sparingly sprinkled piano. And ‘Belle Amie’, my favourite of a great bunch, has a fractured vocal (“It’s true that I still miss you, and it’s true that I’m still angry”) over a delicate waltz, barely there in some places, cacophonous in others. ‘Gone, etc…’ boats another fragile vocal, set to a backing of piano, valve hum and Geiger counter (possibly).

The title track holds the whole album together, as all great title tracks do, by means of a craftily constructed lyric, thoughtful and dark, as the story hinted upon in the four word opener unfolds across almost seven intriguing minutes. It’s a deep and complex tale of suppressed thoughts that holds the attention throughout, until it finally fades into the gentlest of piano themes.

It’s important to stress here that albums of this quality are rarely made alone, and the contributions of Liam Chapman, Faith Eliott, Alex Livingstone and Reuben Taylor can’t be underestimated, the powers of I Will Kill Again would be considerably diminished without them.

Sad to say, I can guarantee that you're unlikely ever to hear another album like this one, which is all the more reason to seek it out and treasure it deeply.

I Will Kill Again is released by Song, By Toad on 27th February 2017.

UPCOMING LIVE DATES (full band shows):
25th February (Song, by Toad's GRANFALLOON) – Summerhall, Edinburgh 
4th March - The Lexington, London 

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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Modern Studies, live at Sage Gateshead 25th January 2017

If you aren’t aware of Modern Studies then please take note: You should be.

They’re a (largely, but not entirely) Scottish band whose debut album, Swell to Great, was released last year and gathered considerable acclaim. That’s not really the important bit. The important bit is that they make great music; thoughtful music with depth, and catchiness and, like all the best music, a little dollop of weirdness.

Central to Modern Studies’ sound is a slightly wheezy harmonium, that infuses the music with a distinctly analogue glow in an increasingly digital musical world and sees their tunes sliding around the little-known spectrum where ‘otherworldly’ lurks at one end and ‘Victorian Sunday school’ sits primly at the other. If this all gives the impression that Modern Studies are a bit grey and fusty then please forgive me, because they’re entirely the opposite; this is ‘feel good’ music, as those who have gathered in the magnificent Hall One at Sage Gateshead tonight will tell you.

Modern Studies (Emily, Rob, Pete and Joe) are here tonight primarily to support King Creosote, but their warmth soon engages those who have been sensible enough to arrive early, and the reaction rises from an appreciative ‘this could be interesting’ ripple of applause for their opening track, ‘Supercool’, to a full-on whooping and hollering for their last, ‘Ten White Horses’, which, like many of their tunes, starts slowly and quietly, then swells majestically with the aid of an almost military drumbeat and glorious group harmonies.

In between, the harmonium is used to best effect on the hymn-like introduction to ‘Bottle Green’ and when coupled with the double bass on the mournful and hypnotic ‘Sleep’.
For my money though, it’s the timeless ‘Father is a Craftsman’ that’s the best of the night, it’s intelligent and beautifully constructed and it sounds like it was written by a little-known folk singer back in 1962, rather than lovingly crafted by Emily Scott.

Not a bad way to spend Burns’ night.

Don't forget you can still get your hands on one (or all) of my books at Google Play by following these links;

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Friday, 13 January 2017

Modern Studies on tour in January 2017

In an industry that loves to put artists in little boxes with neat labels it’s always refreshing to find musicians that steadfastly refuse to fit in. So refreshing, in fact, that it’s so very often the difficult to categorise musicians who turn out to be the most entertaining.

Modern Studies, who released their debut album Swell to Great in 2016 to some positive kerfuffle are one such uncategorisable and entertaining band, consisting of Emily Scott, Rob St John, Pete Harvey and Joe Smillie. Quiet, thoughtful songs, written mainly by Emily on a wheezy old pedal harmonium, found fans across the discerning members of the BBC 6 Music squad, ending up on their ‘Recommends’ playlist and grabbing a top 20 spot in Mojo’s albums of 2016 list (just above Bob Dylan’s Fallen Angels.)

Later this month Modern Studies support King Creosote on their tour, playing six dates in Liverpool, Birmingham, London, Bristol, Cardiff and Gateshead before they play at Joe’s Glad Café in Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections.

They’re definitely worth catching up with, as you’ll see from their slightly unsettling video for ‘Swimming’, from Swell to Great, below;

Swimming from Modern Studies on Vimeo.

Full list of tour dates;

20th January (supporting King Creosote) – Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
21st January (supporting King Creosote) – Town Hall, Birmingham
22nd January (supporting King Creosote) – The Barbican, London
23rd January (supporting King Creosote) – Colston Hall, Bristol
24th January (supporting King Creosote) – Tramshed, Cardiff
25th January (supporting King Creosote) – Sage, Gateshead
26th January – The Glad Cafe, Glasgow (Celtic Connections)

Don't forget you can still get your hands on one (or all) of my books at Google Play by following these links;

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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Archive Interview - Kathryn Williams (interviewed May 2015)

There are few greater pleasures in life than sitting down with a cup of coffee (an Americano with milk if you’re offering) and having a chat with somebody who shares your interest in all things musical. And that, in a nutshell, is what I did with Kathryn Williams one morning last week.

I started by asking Kathryn (a Cappuccino, if you’re wondering) to explain the background to her new album Hypoxia, which started life as a commissioned work about Sylvia Plath’s legendary book, ‘The Bell Jar’.

“I got a call from New Writing North asking me if I wanted to write some songs for the anniversary of 50 years of ‘The Bell Jar’ and to perform the songs at Durham Book Festival, which I did, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I spoke to the record label, One little Indian and said could I turn that into my next record and they said that I could. So I spent a long time just working the rest of the songs while I was on tour doing the last album. I’d written five or six songs originally, then I did more and the whole record came around.”

I wondered whether all of the original songs made it onto the album.

“Yes, but I wrote three or four songs before I got good” At this point Kathryn laughs, as she continues to do at regular points throughout.  “They just said write anything about Sylvia Plath. They sent me all of the books, all of the biographies, spoken word CDs and it was really overwhelming.”

When I ask if Kathryn was faced with a strict deadline for completion of the project, she replies, “I was. I’m always kind of faced with a deadline. I don’t think I can work without that. I mean I’ve got three projects that I’ve been doing for the last three years that have had no deadline, and I think that unless someone gives me a deadline they’re never going to come to an end . The Durham Book Festival was right in the middle of my tour so I had to write on the road. On days off, like at the side of the A1 in a really scuzzy Travel lodge with only a Little Chef for company.”

I ask whether Kathryn normally has a nice, quiet relaxing place where she writes.

“Strangely ‘Cuckoo’ on this record and ‘Sequins’ which was on the last album were both written in Ed Harcourt’s bath. He wasn’t in the bath” she explains swiftly “He wasn’t even in the room. That’s become kind of a thing now; I’ve said to Ed for every album I do now I’ll have to write a song in his bath. I take a pen and paper with me everywhere. I mean it gets harder to write only when inspiration strikes because when you’ve got kids and job and tour and record, so it becomes, well, I make those times. It’s all about the process and loving the process and respecting the process, being delicate with it. Stephen King has got a book called ‘On Writing’, and it’s absolutely brilliant; it’s part memoir and it’s part talking about how to write and I’ve learnt so much from that book. He says get down to the slog of it, write, and always edit by 20%. It seems to work."

Then I comment that we’re very close to the album’s release date.

“I know, fucking hell!” she says, as if she doesn’t really want to be reminded of it. “Yeah, it’s nerve-wracking, but I used to be really disabled by my nerves, like 15 years ago for The Mercury, (The music prize, for which Kathryn’s album Little Black Numbers was nominated) I had stage fright. I had to sit down to perform because I would black out with nerves, I missed out doing loads of TV and interviews and stuff because I’d just be too scared and not turn up. It’s nothing like that now; I think the perspective of having kids and knowing that you’re not the be all and end all of everything, I’ve kind of got over myself.”

We discuss Kathryn’s ability to write songs that stir the emotions, and I wonder whether there are particular artists who have the same effect on her.

“Yeah, I absolutely love Ron Sexsmith and I think Steve Nieve has that kind of thing as well, that sort of vulnerability. Even the John Lennon and Yoko Ono album with the track ‘Mother’ on, which was a big reference for ‘Cuckoo’. Just to try and have that braveness to be vulnerable. I feel like that when I write lyrics as well, I used to always think it was a negativity to be raw….. I mean the Sylvia Plath thing is quite interesting because I’ve written character stories and character songs before, and I’ve written songs for other artists, for pop artists, but this is kind of a weird amalgamation of the two where I was writing delving through the characters of ‘The Bell Jar’ and the themes and get further into what it all meant and why she’d chosen these people and how it reflected back on her. She has an unblinking and muscular way of writing.”

Then we turn to the subject of the musicians that Kathryn likes to listen to and to work with.

“Well Chris Difford, he’s a dear friend of mine. When I write songs I’ll often send him something like this sort of recording (referring to the mp3 recorder with which I’m recording the interview). I did one the other day and realised that on the recording it had the washing machine on spin. And Neill MacColl, and Boo Hewerdine, and Michelle Stodart, and Steve Nieve, Georgia Ruth.  Ed Harcourt, he’s been a massive, massive support. He helped me with this record; he produced it with me, and let me write in his bath! I’m really lucky to have a real core of musicians and artists who I respect and they respect me and I can call up and say “I don’t know what I’m doing, will you help me?” It’s funny I don’t sell a lot of records, but I think that I do sell records to people that make music. Maybe I just say this to myself so that when I can’t pay the bills it feels better. I don’t have mass appeal but I often get championed by people that make music, like Guy Garvey, and that’s the kind of thing that keeps me going and makes me think that maybe I’m on the right lines. “

I ask whether Kathryn has a record collection.

“Yeah. I’ve got four big things of vinyl and then we’ve got two walls of CDs and then about 40 foot of floor space of CDs and we’ve still got tapes. I’ve got an iPod, but I haven’t really got down into all of that, I just like the physical things, I find it hard. I haven’t done Spotify either just because…” at this point Kathryn pauses as if reluctant to continue with this particular subject “I know that it’s a fantastic tool for the other person but it’s just something that I can’t swallow as an artist.”

When I confess to succumbing to Spotify recently, Kathryn asks me if it’s any good, and do I love it? At this point it’s my turn to pause. I explain that I do like it, in spite of my better instincts, further explaining that it allows me to discover previously unexplored musical avenues, prompting Kathryn to ask if I then go out and actually buy the music that I like. I tell her that I invariably do, but comment that, rather obviously, not everyone does.

“If it was used just like that it would be OK” Kathryn continues “I’ve got to just accept it and move on because it is the right thing in order to find new music. In some ways it would be more honest if it wasn’t paid for. It is difficult when people get into that mind-set that things are free, that music is a free commodity.”

“I do like the idea of something earning a wage almost for each time that it’s played. But you wouldn’t be able to get a day in a studio to record four songs for probably ten years earning on Spotify of all of my 12 albums, and when you put that in context it’s just crazy. There’s been this thing recently of a backlash against that, a “just get over it and move with the times” and I kind of feel like I’m torn between the two, because I know that Spotify is good and I know that I will go on it soon because there’s less and less avenues to get to good new music.”

“I like my iPod, but I don’t use it that much. I’ve started to do a thing where once I’ve dropped the kids off art school I come home and I have a coffee and I put on a vinyl album, and spend like half an hour or an hour with a coffee listening to an album. It’s just a slowing down. It’s like fast food, there’s nothing better than spending a couple of hours with friends on a good meal, that European way, and I don’t know how my music will fit into this fast paced world. But this is not a record that you can just switch on; you need to spend time with it, like sitting down with a book, giving yourself the respect to delve deeper.”

I tell Kathryn that I heard ‘Heart Shaped Stone’ recently when in a branch of a well-known coffee shop, and wonder if hearing her music while out and about still surprises her.

“Yeah, it’s fucking brilliant! I love that. It’s not like it happens all the time. I’ll get texts from someone saying “switch your radio on now!” and I’ll get the end of a song, it’s a fantastic feeling. 6Music’s been great like that.”

Then we briefly discuss Kathryn’s recent appearance as featured artist on Guy Garvey’s 6 Music show.

“Someone texted to tell me I was going to be on and I was doing the washing up. So I called the boys in and told them “Mum’s going to be on the radio” and then we had a dance around the kitchen to all the songs; it was really sweet. It’s a good feeling; I mean I’m not cool like that but it’s good, it’s what you want, you want people to hear it. The problem for me, and my career and my music is that people have an idea of what I do without ever hearing it. I’ve had people say to other friends “I want to go to that gig because she’s really folk isn’t she?” and I’m like “I’m not folk”. Only people who aren’t into folk call me folk and everyone in folk calls me pop so I don’t belong anywhere. But I like it if there’s a song on the radio because people are actually making an assumption based on fact. I have this, maybe it’s like an innocence, but I do think that maybe if people hear the music then they’ll like it, but it’s just trying to get music heard.”

Kathryn has a well-known history of covering songs imaginatively, and when I start to ask whether she has one lined up to play at her forthcoming gigs she quickly interrupts,

“I’ve got one!”

So I ask if it’s a secret and, while she’s good enough to share its identity with me, she would prefer it to remain a surprise, although she is happy to reveal that it’s a Neil Young song with lyrics that fit in sensitively with the new tracks from Hypoxia.

“It’s funny because when I did the covers album (Relations, released in 2004) I thought it would be a way to show people what my record collection is and who I loved, and it just didn’t work out that way at all. It was strange; the songs sort of choose you, in the same way that Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ chose me. When you do a cover version you’re stepping into something else and there’s certain ones that you know you can pull apart and re-interpret to better effect. I never want to do it when cover versions to me sound like a ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ version of the original and I’m never interested in doing that; I always want to bring something different to it. The ‘Dancing in the Dark’ one was great. I never have a big plan. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.” 

I wonder if there are any songs that don’t make the cut.

"Yeah, tons and tons. I write all the time. The last retreat I did I wrote 11 songs, and some of them would be co-writes, and I’ve just come back from Sweden and I’ve written 13 songs with a guy called Peter Jöback and I started writing with another massive artist over there called Loreen and I do lots of co-writes with people like Josh Kumra. And then I’ve got about 70 or 80 songs recently that haven’t been recorded and I’m writing towards the next album already. I’ve been writing for Tim Lott, the writer, I’m writing a musical for him and writing a project at the moment for ‘Nobody knew she was there’ about women in history who were overlooked or overshadowed; that’s three quarters of the way done and that’s coming out next year. I’m in a band with Michelle Stodart and Georgia Ruth, we’re calling ourselves ‘Rum Tits’ but that’s not going to be the final name! I’m in a band with a bloke called Tobias Fröberg and Ed Harcourt called ‘Jumping Elephants’, so I’m writing songs all the time, that’s why the house is in such a bad state! “

I ask if any songs that were previously rejected are ever given a second chance.

“Yeah, sometimes the process isn’t based on a value judgement, it’s a context judgement. So with this album I’m not going to put in a song that I’ve got about flying a kite and freewheeling down a hill and having fun. I mean I do write some songs that are shit, but not a lot. I know that sounds like I think I’m brilliant and I don’t mean that. ‘Heart Shaped Stone’ for example, I wrote with Neill MacColl for the album Two and it hadn’t fitted on any album since and when it came to Crown Electric it was there, it fitted what we were trying to do with that record." 

Originally published by

Read more in 'Writing About Music' available on Amazon Kindle and Google Play Books,

or you can meander with me through 130 classic (and not so classic) albums of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in 'The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy of Cassettes', also available on Amazon Kindle and Google Play Books

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Archive Interview - Steve Hackett (interviewed June 2015)

As you’ll almost certainly know by now, I’m not averse to a little bit of progressive rock. In fact, in the right mood I positively lap it up, with a particular regard for those two prog behemoths of the 1970s, Genesis and Yes. So it probably goes without saying that I positively jumped at the chance to interview Steve Hackett. I started by asking Steve about the writing process for his latest album, Wolflight, and whether he has a particular place where he likes to write.

“Well, funnily enough, I’ve just moved house. So once again I need to get myself into not just a different headspace but a different physical space, as you can imagine what it’s like when you’ve just moved. What I was doing before was I’d wake up with ideas at about five in the morning, which is the Wolflight itself, the hour before the dawn and much of the time I would work on paper because I find that lots of my ideas come in that form. Of course that’s not the only way I work, but I like to work with an instrument to discover new harmonies and chord relationships, but normally in a simple manner, on paper. Riffs kick in like that and lyrics come that way, but I find for orchestrating something I have to have an instrument there. Many years ago I managed to write on keyboard but that’s way back, that’s 40 years ago. I find guitar leads me to plenty of new places, especially with different tunings and I’m experimenting with that at the moment. Part of it was written in an open G minor tuning and an open G tuning as well, I found that very useful. But do you know that the writing process is one that’s so multifarious I can’t describe it. I find it’s generally good to have an idea of a story when doing the lyrics. I liked The Beatles best when they had some kind of story. It helps to focus the mind if I get an idea of the character of the song, something might be a character portrait that would influence in a certain way. I think The Beatles were masters at flashpoints in ordinary people’s lives and they made the ordinary extraordinary. I probably go for a bit more exotica than that, and I go for imagined situations at times. With the Wolflight song I was trying to imagine this ancestral procession right back to early man and reading about that, thinking about that, then encountering wolves myself and I could see how a relationship could be built up with early man.”

Steve then told me about the band he’d put together for the forthcoming tour.

“My regular band will be expanded by one other guy and that’s Roine Stolt, of The Flower Kings and Transatlantic, plus Nad Sylvan, so there’ll be two Swedish guys in the band. Mainly it’s going to be a rock band. I would like to look ahead to the point when I can play more ethnic instruments with the line-up, and I think that because I’m being required to do quite a lot of Genesis tunes, it’s in the contract I’ve got to do Genesis stuff” he chuckles at this point, “because it went so well a while back when for two or three years I did nothing but Genesis songs. The success of that has affected the way I’ll be presenting the new album.”

I asked Steve which musicians he particularly enjoys.

“I love Joe Bonamassa, I like him as a guitarist and we’ve met a couple of times. He’s done one of the Genesis tunes and funnily enough I met him with Chris Squire as Chris and I were working together doing one or two things and Chris is also on the album. He was the one who introduced me and Joe Bonamassa was playing a Yes tune so there was a connection. Although in the main it’s a blues approach, he reinvigorates the blues for me, and that’s not easy to do because there is a sense of, with blues, that you’ve heard it all, but I think he expands it a bit; there’s obviously the connection to Hendrix and Zeppelin and all the templates and the blueprints that have been before. I think that he does it with panache, so I do enjoy his playing. Funnily enough I’ve worked with a number of guitarists over the years that I think I was an influence on and I think have subsequently influenced me and one is Nuno Bettencourt who I worked with briefly in Japan; I worked with him along with Paul Gilbert, and they were both terrific. Also John Paul Jones, we were all working together doing a very Zeppeliny orientated set, but there were some Genesis things too.”

At this stage I asked Steve whether the BBC’s recent “Genesis: Together and Apart”, which brutally skimmed over his post-Genesis solo career, had brought him an increased following.

“Well I think I was marginalised in the edit!” He pauses for a moment, “I seem to remember that the BBC and particularly the director, John Edginton, came in for a lot of criticism from Mike Rutherford in particular, but the director, Paul, tweeted that Mike had asked for more Mike and The Mechanics and less of me. So you can draw your own conclusions from that!”

I remarked that many people had commented that they thought it was unfair that Steve’s solo material had been overlooked.

“‘Edited out’ I think is the word! But I think that, let’s put it this way, the cat is out of the bag  because the director has thought that, and it hasn’t worked, the usual blaming others has not worked. I basically gave that a lot of time; I did a lot of interview stuff to camera. I gave it hours of my time and you can see what came out in the end, so it wasn’t a great advert for me, but on the other hand I didn’t even get to say nice things about the band, which I did. I didn’t get the chance to praise Caesar, let alone assassinate him!”

Following Steve’s refreshing openness, I moved to safer ground by asking for suggestions of where a new Steve Hackett listener should start. Understandably, Steve said that he would point a new listener in the direction of Wolflight.

“I think that is a good place to start. I think that variety was the album’s calling card; all those extreme choices I’m proud to say have been vindicated because the album has taken off and it’s always nice to see your stuff in the charts. But if you’re a classical listener then I would say you might want to hear the tribute albums that I’ve done, six pieces of Bach or even A Midsummer Night’s Dream, original compositions and orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic. When I did Midsummer Night’s dream a number of years ago that started picking up a whole bunch of listeners who were listing to Classic FM and had no clue that I was a rock guitarist. Rock is only really part of it. Perhaps if you’re an actor you’re known as a character actor or you always play the villain or whatever. I think for musicians it’s perhaps the same; people think ‘oh, yes, he does prog rock’ so that means it’ll be difficult time signatures, lots of stabs, and all of that but I don’t think I’m really all about that. I don’t think that I’m typically progressive, other than lots of variety during the course of one song. With a lot of this I look to The Beatles, around about the time of The Magical Mystery Tour.”

I comment that no-one ever seemed to think of The Beatles as a prog band.

“No-one ever says that do they? The idea that occasional salvos of orchestra and shifting sands throughout the course of a song, and also the musical continuum that was part of Sergeant Pepper is now considered to be the mainstay of prog. And not only did The Beatles start that but they also are responsible for World Music as we know it, the idea of inviting in the rest of the world, mainly India in the Beatles case, but nonetheless, things were invited to the party that previously had been excluded; orchestral movements, the electronica and the ethnic instruments are what helped to broaden the appeal of The Beatles. I’ve always been aware since then, particularly from the 1980s onwards, that music really became narrower and people didn’t really come across like a Royal Variety Show, but nonetheless that’s where The Beatles pitched their tent, it was part George Formby and part Chuck Berry and somewhere between the two this sort of anglicised version of Rock and Roll was made possible; influenced of course by Dylan and Dylan’s stories about individuals. So if you were to ask me who I’m most influenced by I’d say The Beatles certainly and then every other guitarist on the planet, somewhere between Hendrix and Segovia, but beyond that, in terms of great songwriters, it’s Jimmy Webb who stands head and shoulders above the rest. Again I see that progressive link from MacArthur Park onwards. Progressive people love MacArthur Park, all the Genesis guys adored it and funnily enough I heard a version that Thijs van Leer of Focus did, just himself singing and piano, doing all the parts. It’s no accident I think that that song was all about the detail as much as anything else; interesting chord sequence, not just verse/chorus, but extra parts and an instrumental workout in the middle and you got the template straight away for masses of 70s genesis stuff.”

Originally published by

Read more in 'Writing About Music' available on Amazon Kindle and Google Play Books,

or you can meander with me through 130 classic (and not so classic) albums of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in 'The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy of Cassettes', also available on Amazon Kindle and Google Play Books

Monday, 4 July 2016

Archive interview - David Gedge of The Wedding Present (interviewed in October 2014)

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since the shiny guitar-driven nugget that is The Wedding Present’s Watusi landed with a crash into the drawers of our collective CD players? Two decades on it’s lost none of its considerable lustre and if you love it like I do, or even think you might, then you’re in luck because David Gedge and the gang have decided to tour the country playing the aforementioned album to eager crowds in its full 1994 entirety.

In anticipation of the band’s gig at The Cluny on 10 November we chatted to David about longevity, reissues, musical heroes and, of course, Watusi.

I started by asking David whether, given the impending Watusi tour and the reissue programme of Wedding Present albums, he had any inkling in the early days that he’d be an artist who enjoyed this kind of longevity

“It’s kind of a difficult question to answer because on the one hand no, I definitely didn’t, I never really planned more than the next 6 months so even when we started we never really had a long-term plan to do loads of tours and albums and carry on for thirty years, but at the same time, if I’m honest with you I’ve kind of always had nothing else that I wanted to do, kind of growing up from an early age I’ve always been obsessed with music and wanted to be in bands or be a DJ or something. I’m kind of driven to do this. It’s like any other thing, you can’t imagine yourself in 30 years, you just concentrate on what you’re doing at the time. I’ve always been obsessed with music and wanted to be in bands or be a DJ or something. I’m kind of driven to do this."

David explained that he’d recently given the album a run through at his ‘At the edge of the sea’ festival in Brighton, so I cheekily asked if he’d had to re-learn any of the tracks.

“Oh, Yeah,” (he chuckles) “I don’t really play my LPs. It’s kind of a weird thing, once you’ve done it you move on to the next thing. When we come to actually play something like this live we generally have to go back and try and work out what we did really, because it’s not written down or anything, there’s the odd note but it’s generally trying to piece it together from memory. It’s a funny thing to go back and re-analyze something from 20 years ago with a new line-up. It’s fascinating to be honest and it’s quite good fun.”

I ask David if he could see one artist play one of their albums live, who and what he would choose.

After a very deep breath, he responds “Blimey, there’s a question. While you’re asking I’ve already thought of three. One that would never happen now obviously is The Velvet Underground playing what’s actually a live album, The Velvet Underground 1969 Live, which is definitely my favourite live album of all time. I would definitely like to have seen that. Of studio albums I was definitely thinking of The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa or My Bloody Valentine playing Loveless.”

When I ask about influences, David goes on to tell me “In some ways I try not to be influenced, I never wanted to sound like any other artist. I don’t mind people who sound like other bands but I wanted The Wedding Present to have a unique sound really. Having said that, obviously everyone is influenced, so guitar bands from the ‘60s onwards really, starting with The Beatles, going through glam rock and punk and then I love The Velvet Underground and bands like that. The same as everyone else really, New Order, Pixies, Sonic Youth. I’d say my background is definitely guitar bands. And probably John Peel was my greatest influence, I used to listen to that programme all the time from being about 16 onwards all the way through school and university and being in a band myself. I think my main influence was the stuff that he used to play on the radio. Somebody said that we were very fortunate that John Peel liked the band and obviously I did feel very fortunate and I felt flattered, but at the same time I think it was a foregone conclusion because I knew we were going to be a John Peel band because of the fact that I absorbed all that stuff that he was giving me. That became The Wedding Present and we slotted in to that sort of band really. It would have been very disappointing had he not liked us.”

"I try not to be influenced, I never wanted to sound like any other artist. I don’t mind people who sound like other bands but I wanted The Wedding Present to have a unique sound."

When I turn thoughts back to the forthcoming Cluny gig, David explains that his only previous visit to the venue had been as a compere for a tour showcasing new bands. “I remember thinking at the time, great venue actually, nice kind of intimate size. It’s got the production values, a good PA and the lights, seemed like a really good place to play and at the same time it wasn’t too big. I’m really looking forward to playing there actually.”

Originally published by NE:MM (

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Album review - Great Raven - Magnetic Smoke

Daisy and Antronhy of Great Raven have become frustrated with songs that outstay their welcome. Across ten very brief tracks their album Magnetic Smoke seeks to document the summer solstice with a combination of sparingly used instruments, found sounds and genuinely unnerving vocal interludes.

In places it’s like Björk with fewer beats and more cowbells, a more nightmarish Laurie Anderson, or even the more experimental, ambient 1980s output of 1970s axe hero Bill Nelson. The pursuit of brevity serves the album well on most tracks, however others, like the sparse, double-bass driven ‘Yellow River Segue’ and the atmospheric, hypnotic ‘Dream Echo’ are much too good to be restricted to just a minute and a half. On the upside, the album’s 17-minute length means you can experience the whole thing all over again in virtually no time at all.

‘Cease & Desist’ has a moderately treated vocal, backed by a throb that almost becomes a heartbeat in places, and at its demise blends gloriously into the instrumental ‘Pipiano’ which, despite some competition, has become firmly lodged in my favourite track slot. ‘Pipiano’ and ‘Yellow River Segue’ flirt with the fringes of jazz, but never in such a way that they threaten to get into trouble. From ‘Pipiano’ onwards Magnetic Smoke doesn’t miss a beat, from the horror film undertones of ‘The Others’, to ‘Sea Sleep’, the closest Great Raven get to an actual ‘song’, and ‘Organ-I-Sing’ which appears to employ a small pipe organ to play a wordless, one-minute downbeat sea shanty to close the album in style.

Albums that defy easy characterisation often turn out to be the most interesting and enjoyable, and Magnetic Smoke manages comfortably to be both.

Available from 21st June 2016 at