They’re Gonna Be Big (Joe Brown 2019)

It’s a long-established loosehandlebars tradition that around this time of the year my good friend Joe Brown, bassist of Bam Bam & the Calling & the Gatefolds, points us in the direction of some fine, fine music made in the past 12 months. Joe has a serious family issue on his mind at the moment & while these are his choices the words are mostly mine. If I going to be in a double act then there’s no finer partner than Mr Brown.

 

 

Image result for fontaines dc dogrelFirst up it’s got to be “Dogrel” by Dublin’s Fontaines DC, an instant classic. I  haven’t been as impressed & delighted by a debut album by an Irish band since my hometown boys the Undertones & That Petrol Emotion’s “Manic Pop Thrill” hit the racks. I know more than a little about thoughtful young Irishmen, there are three of them cluttering up my house this Christmas. To hear a group articulate what it is to be young & Irish so excitingly & eloquently is something to take pride in. It’s not so long ago that the members of Fontaines DC were cool, cool kids on the curbstone scene. United by their love of poetry, conversation & US garage-punk music of the 60’s they’re touring the world & raising a ruckus wherever they play.

Related imageComplemented by propulsive yet still melodic guitars the assertive, repetitive Beat poetry lyrics are delivered in declamatory shout-speak by born frontman Grian Chatten. “He spits out, Brits out, only smokes Carrolls” (an Irish brand of ciggie) from “Boys in the Better Land”, everybody in Ireland knows that guy & an atmosphere of “ready steady violence” (Liberty Belle) is a perfect description of a young man’s night out in any city. It was a memorable evening when I saw them play in Belfast, a night when a stinking majority turned England blue. A set encompassing gentrification, greed, hope & hopelessness was the perfect soundtrack. It will be interesting to see where Fontaines DC go from here. I’m waiting & “Dogrel” will be at the front of the stack for a long, long time.

 

 

Image result for murder capital sandinosIt’s been a fine year for music from Dublin. The return of the influential Girl Band after four years away with the uncompromising, tumultuous “The Talkies” was always going to be noteworthy. It was another five-piece group with another debut that really caught my ear. The Murder Capital’s “When I Have Fears” wears its Post-Punk influences proudly. Joy Division, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds & sometimes Echo & the Bunnymen. Why not?

Whether sombre (“How the Streets Adore Me”) or raging (“Feeling Fades”) the album is always dramatic often epic. The raw, personal lyrics accompanied by strange, surprising sounds. This year the M.C. came to my hometown, Derry, to my bar of choice, Sandinos, to promote the launch of the album. It was the Summer, a lunchtime gig. The contrast between this deep, dark, truthful music & the sunlight streaming through the windows made for a unique, affecting experience.

 

 

 

Image result for sleaford mods eton aliveEarlier in the year there was a new Sleaford Mods LP & that’s been a big deal for a while now. “Eton Alive” is the duo’s fifth studio record & things are changing. Andrew Fearn’s sonic designs remain minimalist while certainly incorporating more diversity into the loops (Talking Heads…anyone?). Jason Williamson still does the best line in social super-realism, angry even nihilistic & accurate about life at the sharp end of Austerity Britain. This time around the rants have slowed a little, as a man approaching 50, in a successful band, his concerns are different to those he had 5 years ago. There are songs about consumerism, emotional as well as economic repression, questioning just where the hedonism of his generation has gotten them. “Two lines on the table at a fucking funeral for somebody who got sick of two lines on the table” (“Top It Up”) Boom!

 

More contemplative even anxious (see “Subtraction”) perhaps but the personal is still political & Jason can still turn a disdainful phrase that is concise, often funny & hits exactly where it’s aimed. “Eton Alive” is a damned fine piece of kit. It’s still a world I recognise & live in, it’s a voice we need to hear. In an interview Jason said, “I’m still of the opinion that it’s going to get really bad before it gets better – if it ever gets better.” I was having that conversation just yesterday.

 

Er…is this on? I think that I can safely say that Joe & myself are hardly experts on the British Grime scene. However when I hear Slowthai’s “Doorman”, spitting lyrics over an insistent backing, I hear the influence of Sleaford Mods. Nominated, like Idles & Fontaines DC, for the meaningless Mercury Prize, he delivered the televised performance of the year. The BBC couldn’t blank the “Fuck Boris” tee shirt, chose to ignore Slowthai swinging a dummy severed head of our soon to be Prime Minister, then the vapid host, Lauren Laverne, immediately distanced her employer from such shenanigans. Too late, he’d made his point.

 

Random Notes (March 2017)

Is it Spring yet ? Can I leave the house again ? The clocks have been changed, back or forward, I’m never sure, the nights are lighter, well a lighter shade of grey, so why am I so flipping cold ? Any road up, March has been a fine musical month so I have been happy to huddle up to my nice warm speakers. Here are 3 of the best.

 

 

The month got off to a flying start with the arrival, on the 3rd, of the new, much anticipated (well, by me) LP by Sleaford Mods. On “English Tapas” (half a scotch egg, a cup of chips, pickle and a mini pork pie…mate, if only I was joking) Jason Williamson continues to spit, snarl & swear at life in modern Britain. Anger & disdain are his default settings, “Moptop” begins with an attack on Boris Johnson, the Tory liar & fool, before getting in the face of modern music & internet attention spans. It may seem that this is more of the same, the Smods formula, but things have changed in the two years since “Key Markets” & these Brex-City Rollers have something to say about it, something that deserves to be heard & that I want to hear.

 

Image result for sleaford mods english tapasSome feel that a laptop, a beer, a fag & a cool T-shirt (“Still Hate Thatcher”…yes please) doesn’t make a “real” musician. Beatmaster Andrew Fearn obviously puts a lot of thought & talent into complementing Jason’s lyrics. On this record he has, I think, done his best work yet, ominous & urgent. He has every right to share the credit & if he kicks back on stage then so fucking what ! This time around Jason rails against gym culture, weekends of crap cocaine, “pint cans of imported shit” beer in places where the “music’s shit but the queue…is getting big”. A generation that has been abandoned & disdained (One of Jason’s tweets got him expelled from the opposition Labour Party) by the political class which make decisions that makes a life with nothing much even less. I’ve said before that I live around people like the Sleaford Mods & the people they write about. Jason Williamson is not the voice of the people but he is the voice of some of the people & I’m glad that he’s around to take snapshots of life in 2017.

 

 

It took a couple of weeks for “Freedom is Free” by Chicano Batman to come around. I thought that I was on to something new & into something good but it turns out that the Batmen have already featured on loosehandlebars when Gigi Mac, our rarely seen (lazy 🙂 ) American correspondent, put us on to them in January 2016. Gigi wrote…”nattily attired in tuxes, ruffled shirts & bowties [clearly break-away or infused with spandex, considering the stage athleticism]. Their sound?  think Prince with less ‘Revolution’ meets trippy, late 70s Mexican surfer. A  hint of jazz, but definitely able to seriously ROCK– blisteringly hot & focused bass, charming & flirty front man on keyboard and rhythm guitar with luxurious flowing curls & a killer falsetto”. I could not put it better myself so I’m not going to try.

 

Image result for chicano batman“Freedom…” is their 3rd LP. It is produced by Leon Michaels who has a pretty cool track record as an instrumentalist with various groups, an arranger & producer with his Truth & Soul Records. Leon has worked with Sharon Jones & “Friendship (is a Small Boat in a Storm)” is the most Daptonic track here. Other cuts reflect influences from early 70s Funk but this is no retro Soul record, CB get loose & a little out there as the album progresses, it’s always involving & interesting. I guess that because of the Spanish lyrics & Latin rhythms, the psychedelic touches, that the word Tropicalia, an artistic movement from late 1960’s Brazil, is dropped into reviews. Cumbia, a rhythm from Colombia & Panama gets a mention too. Chicano Batman are neither of those, what they are, Gigi Mac knows this, we know & now you all know too, is “trippy, late 70s Mexican surf music” & bloody good it is too.

 

 

Meanwhile, back in the UK, Idles released their first LP this month.It’s been 5 years since the 5 piece band, formed in Bristol, made an EP then retreated until they were lean & mean, at their best fighting weight, ready to take on all contenders. “Brutalism” is a collection of short, sharp shocks, a barrage of guitars (with the quieter “Slow Savage” at the end) & the angry snarl of  Joe Talbot’s vocals. Joe, bullish in a china shop in the video for “Mother”, is combative & aggressive with things to say about misogyny, the N.H.S, Tories, philistinism & a couple of TV chefs.

 

Image result for idles band“Anger is an energy” said someone (now a mad, old butter salesman) but Idles are about more than shouting & pointing. They charge around but they still hit their targets with accuracy & humour. The  video for “Stendhal System”, bassist Dev Devonshire hamming it up around the gallery, is laugh out loud funny while the song makes its point about the power of Art & willful ignorance of it. Is it Punk Rock or Post-Punk ? I don’t care, it’s a glorious noise. Take this record round to friends’ houses, play it loud & get asked, as I was, to turn it down. Idles are on to something & could be headed for bigger things. Remember “the best way to scare a Tory is to read & get rich”. “Well Done”.

Joe Brown Puts You Right (His Best of 2015)

Joe Brown, bass player of the Gatefolds, is the OG (Original Guest) contributor to loosehandlebars. We were friends from way back when, reconnected by the wonders of the electronic age.  This year I was able to take up an invitation for a Friday night round the Browns’ place & the time passed since we had last met meant nothing. When Joe talks about music & many other things it’s good to listen.
“Sometimes I Sit & Think, Sometimes I Just Sit” is a great title for a record & “Elevator Operator” a top notch opening track. Melbourne singer/songwriter/guitarist  Courtney Barnett took her time before releasing her fine debut LP. She’s spent time in a grunge band & made some psych-country (sounds good). Her own songs are sung with sweet vocals & contain sharp, smart lyrics . Musically  there’s a drive & focus that brings a fresh energy to punchy guitar rock. Check “Dead Fox” with its take on the Velvet’s “Rock & Roll” riff. Courtney Barnett, one to listen to & to watch out for.
(If the editor may interrupt, it has been a good year for the Melbourne music scene. Dick Diver’s LP “Melbourne Florida” has a post-punk feel that checks for some good bands & brings to mind the early Go-Betweens. “Waste the Alphabet” is a top track of 2015.)
Next up has to be Moon Duo & the ” Shadow of the Sun” LP. “Slow Down Low” was the feelgood hit of the summer, an anthem for some of us in Derry. What started as a Ripley Johnson side project is 5 albums along, has a real drummer & has got it going on. We got to see them earlier in the year at a psychedelic arts/music festival about 20 miles outta town, a great night where we teamed up with some friends from the past, Bernard Griffin and Mickey Rooney who was our driver for the night. He kindly volunteered & will remember more of the journey home than I will though hopefully not everything ! Now we have to see Wooden Shjips, the psych-drone mothershjip that Moon Duo call home.
  No apologies for selecting the Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods..the Marmitemen (seems you either love ’em or hate ’em). The voice of some of the people. There’s a place for Manic Expression. It’s not always on the High St, outside the charity shops, the betting shops & that place that used to be Woolworth’s. Like Mark E Smith & John Cooper Clarke before him Jason Williamson’s rants hit the nail on the head about some stuff that needs to be said. “Key Markets” is their 8th LP, the beats go on. Who knows what shelf life is in these lads. That bloke shouting as security escorts him from the Jobcentre makes some sense but if he’s there every time…A couple of years ago my friend Kevin  Magee promoted a Mods’ gig which was missed by Derry’s entire population minus eight. If there is to be a next time then I’ll be one of the Jolly Fuckers down the front.
Thanks Joe. There will be more to follow about the man & his music in my own highlights of the year. Personally I can’t wait.

Its Anyone’s Guess How I Got Here (Sleaford Mods)

The Sleaford Mods are releasing some new music this week. 2013’s “Austerity Dogs” made a big impression, possibly the biggest of any of last year’s records. A collection of snarling, choleric slices of life in the bus lane, an emphatic voice from my side of town. The underclass created by Thatcherite scorched-earth  industrial policies have been around for a generation now. We are expendable, an embarrassment, abandoned by Blair’s New Labour who pursued the votes of the aspirant & the affluent. Now we are, apparently, to blame for all that money being too tight to mention hoo-ha. Capitalism’s safety valve, social mobility, has been shown to be a terminological inexactitude. The ladder has been pulled up &  the safety net of the Welfare State is being dismantled. Times are tough. When I listen to the Sleaford Mods I hear a voice that is not often heard…& about fucking time.

The Mods are from Nottingham (Nottz), the legatees of  a fine tradition of Social Realism. Alan Sillitoe’s novels captured young working-class heroes as the fifties became the sixties. The films of Shane Meadows collar the towns that time forgot, youth who are not sure what they want, less sure how to get it. The Sleaford Mods roll with the same lack of compromise, hitting their targets just as accurately. Round here they say what they like & they like what they say. Protest songs, remember them ?

“Tied Up In Nottz” is the first video from the new record “Divide & Exit”. “People’s poetry on public transport.” (Thank you Danny McCahon).

Jason Williamson does the rhymes, Andrew Fearn creates the beats. The pair are obviously not on a gap year before returning to education. Man, those hapless hipster Hugos have almost killed British music. These two have been around a little longer, have more to say for themselves. When you have done your time on the production line of the local chicken factory. (2 shifts, 2 months, 2 years, everyone has their limit). When the Jobcentre has got you jumping through hoops but you are biting it because one wrong word  your benefits are stopped & the bureaucracy becomes a proper mindfuck, then you have stories to tell, things that need saying. Your sense of self, of your place in the world needs a little more nourishment than that provided by the crumbs from the tables of the bosses & the politicians. The Sleaford Mods are a masculine voice that knows life in low-income England is a bitch, ain’t no mistaking it, just don’t expect them to be happy about it.

In post-industrial Britain the manufacturing industries, offering jobs for life, have disappeared, supplanted by zero-hour contract, minimum wage McJobs. If you are unlucky enough to be unemployed, sick or disabled then watch your back. The Tory government only needs the slightest excuse to set its pitbulls on to you. Their running dog lackeys in the media produce “poverty porn”, an exploitation & demonization of  that part of society denied access to the only thing that matters…money. “Skint”, a tawdry low in sub-standard TV, was filmed just a mile away from my home. I could be a tour guide on a “squalor safari”. Cheap holidays in other people’s misery. I could…I won’t.

The Sleaford Mods testify about life on these estates, cheap booze from the corner shop, “the bus stop’s a youth club”, steroidal skunk grown in somebody’s spare bedroom. Cocaine (chisel) stepped on so hard that it has only the vaguest memory of  having ever been in Colombia. Whatever the intoxication you choose, it maybe doesn’t always make a bad situation better. (Huh ! Get me !). “Whad’ya think I’m gonna sing abaht…my endless love ? Fucking freak” (Armitage Shanks). When he gets it right, as in “Some Of These Plants Are Burnt “, it’s a rough diamond low-life vignette of the illegal, drug-driven, black economy. “I could mek a small fortune selling the crap on these scissors”…funny… I’ve heard that said.

Both Jason & Alan have served their time in music. They have been in bands, released their tunes under other names. They are now ready to do it right & show little patience, even mercy, for musicians they consider to be time-wasters or bullshitters. “You are not obsessed with music you are obsessed with the idea of being…” you get him. Sleaford Mods are not always sniping from the gutter, there are plenty of sharp observations about popular culture, fashion, haircuts, all that nonsense. Stuff I hear on a Saturday night when we get together for “Match of the Day” except without the New World Order paranoia.

That’s a lot of politics. I don’t want to ignore the quality of the music. “Jobseeker” is included here over some very good alternatives not just because of a brilliant lyric. I’m on double secret probation at my office for saying much the same thing Williamson does here. The  cracking sample of the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” riff  drives the song along. Alan’s bass-heavy stripped down beats lay a foundation for the words & allows them to be heard. The music bloke does more than press “start” on the laptop, nod along & suck on his e-cig. Vaping…it’s a thing round here…on the bus, in cinemas & pubs, places where smoking is banned…funny.

The last guy to chat this sort of sense was 10 years ago, from the East Midlands too. The acceptable (to me), mucky face of British rap, MC Pitman from the Leicestershire coalfields, sneering about fat cat wankers, celebrity culture & biscuits. The People’s Poet Laureate, John Cooper Clarke, spits his acerbic, hilarious rhymes with an outsider’s perspective. Jason Williamson is more serious & more angry than both of these men. His snapshots of the moral impoverishment which accompanies economic distress are unadorned reminders that capitalism’s casualties do think about this shit & that sometimes, just sometimes it is only right that this voice is heard. The Sleaford Mods are doing a great job for British hip-hop &, I think, are the best band around. They make me jump about like punk rock is supposed to do. OK, back to it, those plants won’t water themselves.