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 ūüôā ) 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.