Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘music review’

Today I Stumbled Upon: 1.2.3…..

Three 2017 releases, which have brought a smile to my face.

One: The No Action debut album finally arrived.  Originating from Australia, No Action have delivered an Intense, lo-fi album reminiscent of a vintage 4 track deck cassette recording of a rehearsal held in a vacated industrial estate. A thing of beauty, which collects material from over a five year period and is limited to 250 pressing, or download.

Two: While we take stock of the dangerous clown occupying the Whitehouse helping to restore a bit of confidence in the land of the free this December we had a further mini-release from Mouth Reader. Eyes Sink adds to their conveyor belt of catchy punk releases. A glorious racket delivered in just under 3 minutes. Perfectly formed.

Three: Martha properly the best pop/punk band to emerge from my native North East for many a long cold night continue to set a high bar. 2014s Courting Strong and 2016s Blisters in the Pit of my Heart album releases are still subject to heavy rotation. Mini-release The Winter Fuel Allowance arrived in November. The 7″ limited release may be sold out, but you can still snatch a download.

Enjoy the noise.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Punk Albums 40 Years On

My top 10 so called “punk” albums, which I was listening too in the 1970s that have remained influential to this date.

1. Pink Flag – Wire

2. Entertainment! – Gang of Four 

3. Rattus Norvegicus – The Stranglers 

4. Fun House – The Stooges

5. The Clash

6. Never Mind the Bollocks – Sex Pistols

7. The Ramones 

8. The Undertones 

9. Germfree Adolescents – X-Ray Spex

10. Singles Going Steady – The Buzzcocks

Woebegone

sam-smith

Don’t worry son the bus will turn up soon

During a recent interview warbler Sam Smith explained the naming of his debut album (In the Lonely Hour) and he could not have not sounded more pitiful, “I wrote about being sad. Hopefully I’ll be happier soon and I’ll write about that.”  Colin Vearncombe who briefly enjoyed mainstream success under the moniker Black was equally despondent with his miserably infused 1987 hit single Wonderful Life, but unlike Smith, Vearncombe was making a not so subtle reflection of the times he found himself in where yuppies scoured the earth like apologetic zombies swigging champagne from Berluti handmade shoes. The Welsh band Racing Cars plunged the depths of misery in 1977 with their one and only hitThey Shot Horses Don’t They.’  The song, which is  based on the film of the same name concerns itself with a man who in his youth saw a horse break its leg, after which it was shot and put out of its misery. Arguably the accolade for most miserable song ever recorded would properly go to Buddy Holly for his 1959 effort ‘Raining in my Heart.’  The Beatles paraphrased ‘Raining in my Heart’ in their song ‘Dear Prudence’ as “The sun is up [instead of “out”]; the sky is blue.”  In 1978 self styled sad clown Leo Sayer had a hit with ‘Raining in my Heart’ and to cement the songs claim Robert Wyatt included a piano based instrumental version on his 2003 album, Cuckooland.

Recorded in 1990 and initially hidden away on the box set Tracks (1998) the Bruce Springsteen song ‘Sad Eyes’ takes some beating. The song was produced at a time when Springsteen was apparently re-evaluating his life. Enrique Iglesias covered ‘Sad Eyes’ in 2000. Sadly, Inglesias’ video for the track failed to capture Springsteen’s original intent. The video was shelved due to its sexual content. It depicts Iglesias alone in a motel room indulging in erotic fantasies about a girl he sees in a phone-sex ad. If you have just ended a relationship and you are surrounded in downcast misery I suggest you avoid at any cost Dusty Springfield’s version of “I Just Don’t know what to do with myself.”  First recorded by Tommy Hunt in 1962 Springfield recorded her version two years later with heart shattering effect Springfield delivered misery that has not often been matched, “I just don’t know what to do with my time, I’m so lonesome for you it’s a crime, going to a movie only makes me sad, parties make me feel as bad. When I’m not with you I just don’t know what to do.” The song reached number 3 in the summer of 1964 and remained Springfield’s highest charting UK hit until she reached Number 1 in 1966 with “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”  

clown_468x582The point being made is the maze of love, hate, loss and fear we humans are required to navigate has and will always continue to provide creative output. It is the story of our fragile existence. It has been played out in classical operas, Shakespearean plays, sugar coated pop hits, movies and novels. Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave have cultivated misery into an art form, but unlike the phoney sadness often portrayed in today’s onslaught of manufactured pop stars Cohen and Cave have dragged the essence of misery from the bowels of their human frailty into carefully crafted stories and songs.  This is in contrast to the pity seeking artist feeding an equally self pitying audience, which we can increasingly witness today via disposable pop stars. The result is an overflowing eco-system of self flagellation between artist and audience, although there is of course benefits to an artist being in this predicament given they expect nothing good to happen in their miserable lives they will never feel disappointed or disillusioned by criticism.  It is not the art of creating a carefully crafted song of heartache that should be of worry, but the sheer quantity of banal misery based entertainment currently being manufactured and pumped out to an absorbing audience that should be of concern.  At the point of writing this blog of the top 25 chart singles 15 of the songs listed concern themselves with failed relationships, heartache and lost love with titles such as ‘me and my broken heart, love runs out and only love can hurt like this’.  

Fear in particular is a powerful and primitive human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger and was critical in keeping our ancestors alive. Fear can actually be divided into two stages, biochemical response and emotional response. The biochemical response is universal and the emotional response is highly individualised.  Whilst the majority of people will avoid situations in which there is a high risk of actual injury the experience of being scared in an environment that is actually safe has enabled an entire industry to be built. Horror films and violent video games are examples of this phenomenon, but repeated exposure to similar situations leads to familiarity. In turn this greatly reduces the resulting elation, leading people to seek out new and bigger responses to satisfy their needs. Sound familiar? Well, if you reflect upon the entertainment business over the past 30 years it tells its own story.

By the 1970s the tone towards more realism in motion pictures started to produce some harrowing films. Solider Blue was the third most popular movie at the British box office in 1971. Directed by Ralph Nelson and inspired by events of the 1864Sand Creek massacre in the Colorado Territory,USA. Released during the Vietnam War, shortly after public disclosure of the My Lai massacre, the film was controversial at the time not only for its subject matter, but also for its graphic depictions of violence. Nelson pushed the depiction of violence to explicit levels, showing nudity during rape scenes, as well as realistic close-up shots of bullets ripping into flesh. By 1992 Quieten Tarantino was shocking cinema goers with his debut film Reservoir Dog. The film received substantial criticism for its strong violence and language. One scene that viewers found particularly unnerving was the ear-cutting scene. It was reported that the actor Michael Madsen, who carried out the scene reportedly had great difficulty finishing it, especially after Kirk Baltz (playing the victim) ad-libbed the desperate plea “I’ve got a little kid at home.”  Meanwhile It took several complaints before a poster campaign advertising the film The Last Exorcism, which featured an image of a girl in a blood-soaked dress to be removed because it was deemed unsuitable to be seen by children. The adverts were posted on bus stops and on the sides of buses. Optimum Releasing, which ran the ads, said that the campaign was designed to target a broad, mass-market audience and intended to position the movie as a mainstream horror release with imagery “within the fictional context of this genre”. Once it learned of the complaints the company instructed its media buying agency to remove any ads displayed near schools. Last  year was a bumper year for horror films with the release of sequels, remakes and original materials with such titles as Dead before Dawn, Nothing Left to Fear, I Spit on your Grave 2, No One Lives, You’re Next, Evil Dead, etc.

Atari set the whole videogame craze in motion with its 1972 coin-operated arcade game Pong. During the arcade years that followed, Atari made several coin-operated hits: Breakout, Atari Football, Asteroids, Battlezone, Missile Command, Centipede, Dig Dug, Pole Position, Marble Madness, Gauntlet, and even a Star Wars arcade game. While the graphics seem rudimentary by today’s near photo-realistic 3D gaming standards, when consoles were first released in the late 1970s it was revolutionary to be able to interact with your TV set in such a way. The simple aim of the game Pong is to defeat an opponent in a simulated table-tennis game by earning a higher score. Allan Alcorn created Ponga as a training exercise assigned to him by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell based the idea on an electronic ping-pong game included in the Magnavox Odyssey, which later resulted in a lawsuit against Atari. Surprised by the quality of Alcorn’s work, Bushnell decided to manufacture the game. Pong quickly became a success and is recognised as the the first commercially successful arcade video game machine, which helped to establish the video game industry along with the first home console. The violence in the 1997 Carmegeddon video game comes from the sheer ability to run people down in the most imaginatively brutal ways possible with a multi-purposed road hog reminiscent of those seen in the 1975 film Death Race 2000.  What separated 2000s Soldier of Fortune from the others in the field of violent video games was the use of the GHOUL System, a physics-based game engine that enables the player, for a lack of a better term,torture and brutalise enemies at your most sadistic desires. By 2001 the video game Grand Theft Auto 3 was offering gamers the opportunity to be entertained by barbecuing prostitutes with flamethrowers. The top selling video games last year included Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin’s Creed V and the Last of Us.  

‘A Child Called It’ was published in 1995. Written by Dave Pelzer it is a brutal book concerning his childhood of being beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother. As one review highlighted, “Dave’s bed was an old army cot in the basement, and his clothes were torn and raunchy. When his mother allowed him the luxury of food, it was nothing more than spoiled scraps that even the dogs refused to eat.”  Dave went on to pen:

  • The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family,
  • A Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness,
  • Help Yourself: The Privilege of Youth, Help Yourself for Teens.

By 2009 Dave seemed to have addressed his demons in his book, Moving Forward.  Richard Pelzer (Dave’s brother) shared his demons with ‘A Brother’s Journey’ detailing his experiences of witnessing and participating in the abuse of his older brother. He also penned A Teenager’s Journey. Both Dave and Richard are available for hire as motivational speakers. The tortures of human existence expressed through the medium of book shows little sign of slowing down with anybody who has managed to garnish 15 minutes of fame and willing to share their unique sadness. The top selling 2013 book on the Amazon website were The Fast Diet. Whilst real life “tragedy” biographies were dominated by the author Cathy Glass and her offerings,

  • Cut: The true story of an abandoned, abused little girl who was desperate to be part of a family. 
  • Damaged: The Heartbreaking True Story of a Forgotten Child and
  • Another Forgotten Child. 

Whilst an epidemic of similar books sold in their millions including cheerful titles like,

  • No One Wants You: A true story of a child forced into prostitution.
  • Shattered Lives: Children Who Live with Courage and Dignity.
  • Nobody Came: The appalling true story of brothers cruelly abused in a Jersey care home
  • Handstands In The Dark: A True Story of Growing Up and Survival. 

On the opposite shelving from the ‘truth life stories’ the would be customer can also find an array of ‘self help books’ too. Should we even be bothered about the entertainment industry funding and commissioning such a high supply of  doom ladened, miserable, violent, emotionally heartbreaking material? After all would it be to sinister to suggest the entertainment industry is seeking to manipulate your emotions……….

Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site faced a storm of protest after it revealed it had discovered how to make its users feel happier or sadder with a few computer key strokes.  In effect what Facebook did secretly, involved a study involving 689,000 users in which friends’ postings were moved to influence moods. Facebook were caught redhanded conducting a mass experiment in emotional manipulation. If government had been caught in the same way the outcry would properly have caused far more angry reaction. If manipulating our emotions is as simple as changing a few postings on our Facebook page what impact is the collective onslaught of misery based entertainment having on the populous in general? The key worry about the Facebook story is just how quickly it disappeared from the headlines and our subconscious.  When did we become comfortable and accepting of big business holding so much personal information, which we have given up voluntarily and then enables them to utilise this information to manipulate our emotions?

Culture is of course the manifestation of what we do, think and feel. It is vital because it enables us  to function with one another. Our culture is a way of life. It concerns itself with our behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, values, and symbols that we accept, generally without thinking about them, and this culture is passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Whilst violent force may win wars those who can influence a culture are more likely to have a bigger and more sustainable impact.  Manipulating culture for a defined end, or to secure an interest is nothing new. Hermann Wilhelm Göring was a German politician, military leader, and leading member of the Nazi Party. He founded the Gestapo in 1933, and later gave command of it to Heinrich Himmler who was the psychopath behind the final solution. In 1941 Adolf Hitler designated Göring as his successor and deputy in all his offices. So altogether not a vey nice guy. Goring made the following observation, “Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America nor, for that matter, in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”  

The sheer quantity of misery induced products being consumed may represent a race to the bottom of the entertainment barrel, whilst its creative producers are desperately mining  our sensitivities trying to discover new ways of stimulating our increasing fatigue. Certain trends in society, which run alongside the increased level of misery induced products being consumed are interesting to read:

  • Research in the USA provided data indicate that the percentage of people treated for depression tripled in the early 1990s with a more modest increase in the early 2000 era. About 75% of the patients who were treated for depression received antidepressant medications. (Eugene Rubin MD, PhD and Charles Zorumski MD, Phycology Today)
  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s. (Office for National Statistics (1997): Psychiatric morbidity among young offenders in England and Wales).
  • The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999, (Nuffield Foundation 2013 Social trends and mental health).
  • 39,518 suicides were reported in the US in 2011, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.
  • Suicide is a significant national social issue in the UK; 6,045, 5,608 and 5,675 people aged 15 and over committed suicide in 2011, 2010 and 2009 respectively.The number of male suicides in 2011 was the highest since 2002.

There is of course no scientific evidence linking the onslaught of misery produced entertainment with the statistics set out above. Our ignorance will be our ultimate downfall.

Today I Stumbled Upon: No Action

No Action in action

No Action in action

A sense of deja vu awaits as I leave the  summer drizzle descending from the clouds hovering over Glasgow and the a 24 hour flight to reach Adelaide, Australia. Yet here I am in the capital city of South Australia, the country’s fifth-largest city with a resident population of 1.29 million and the next stop on my virtual Old Man Adventure in Bandcamp. Adelaide is city with many stories emerging from its humble history. Prior to 1836 Adelaide was inhabited by the indigenous Kaurna Aboriginal nation. Today it is another ‘modern’ industrialised city dealing with its aspirations and tensions, which provide the perfect conditions for creative forces. Adelaide is also home to the joyous No Action.

Patti Smith once said, “punk rock is just another word for freedom” which I can relate too and is reflected in the reinvigorating army of small, independent, lo-fi, do it yourself bands beavering away in towns and cities across the globe. I get jaundice with people, normally men my age, who have deluded themselves with romantic memories of the 1977 punk scene as some type of musical year zero. This was not the case. The DIY garage band ethic has always been a feature in modern music with artists swimming against the tide, challenging convention and giving the middle finger to the corporations. My enduring memory from this period is not the bands who swore and spat their way into the headlines, but the small regional bands. The bands consisting of the neighbourhood shy boy who had secretly been scribbling down lyrics and the kid who had managed to achieve a 3rd chord.  A few weeks later they were to be found playing in a local pub, youth club or garage gig. The crap posters that seemed to look cool and the limited cassette run for your small group of fans. The results were often messy, but strangely beautiful given music ultimately is about people, having fun, celebration, connection and expression. No where is this reinvigoration more evident than through the band  No Action a self titled soul punk rock group. I like the injection of soul given this creative tension sums up the band perfectly.

Bandcamp comes into its own when you stumble across bands like No Action, who are an absolute gem to discover. Unlike most bands of this genre you never quite know what you are going to get with No Action be it 3 minutes of punk, a reflective acoustic number or indeed a mixture of both in a single track.  In an era of mass produced and corporately manufactured music No Action are a shining beacon of integrity. There blistering and brilliant  7″ vinyl Never Close/Riding in the Whirlwind is testament to this. Riding in the Whirlwind is a melancholic and bittersweet acoustic affair, “got a record no one wants to buy and a t shirt no one seems to fit. had a date with an empty bar” chronicling the struggles of a band and relationships. “Call me ungrateful, call me broke, call me when you’ve got the credit.”  

Never Close is a different kettle of fish altogether, which opens up with pounding drums followed by a grinding bass. As Nick Godfrey (bassist with the band) explained to me,The main influence on the Never Close song would be Silkworm and maybe Archers of Loaf but it sounds more like U2, the main influence on the Ride in the Whirlwind song was Comet Gain but it sounds more like You Am I or the Lucksmiths. The important lesson here is to BE YOURSELF and let your true creative voice shine through.” Personally, my observation would be the guitar work on Never Close is more aligned to Keith Levene (Public Image Limited) a quick search for PIL’s glorious Albatross track will confirm where U2’s The Edge stole his licks from.

IMG_0174A further No Action release I managed to obtain is the spilt cassette tape release (yes you heard me right a cassette tape), which paired No Action with UK band Plaids from Nottingham. Plaids provide a punchy angular punk/emo rock approach played out in frenetic pace against No Actions more subtle and gritty lo-fi tracks. So what where the influences behind the two tracks provided by No Action on the spilt release I asked Nick,  “The tape is a funny story so I’ll start with that. The acoustic song was one we originally wrote when we found out we were going to do a split release with Roger King from Bakersfield California, home of Korn and Merle Haggard. Up until that point Roger King’s solo output had been acoustic stuff, so we wrote and recorded an acoustic song that would match that. Then he sent his track to us and he’d done a rockin’ plugged in track! So we ended up palming our acoustic song off to the Plaids split.”  

The two No Action tracks, which appear on the cassette, Nick rates the second track Solar Steps, as his personal favourite by the band to date, “It’s the most fun to play on the bass. It was the second song we wrote and we probably haven’t got any better since then. The rockin’ plugged in version of the Solar Steps song which will appear on our one-day-to-be-relased debut album is good too” And the IMG_0176obligatory Old Man question, If the band had the opportunity to collaborate with any other artist or band who would it be Nick, “John, this is a really tough question that I’ve been puzzling over all weekend. I like the Mars to Stay band and what they’re all about, so I’m going to say them.” 

No Action are a very coherent and exciting band who in many ways defy logic. Bands like this tend to take a single approach when facing  their musical crossroads. It is refreshing to hear a mix of influences as a platform rather than a band simply trying to replicate something they’ve heard elsewhere. So we end up with creative tensions.  Grinding punk, which is not simply trying to get as much noise and lyrics stuffed into the required 3 minutes as possible, alongside subtle acoustic offerings. The lo-fi recordings just add the imperfections that make these recordings stand out from the crowd. I can’t wait for the album when it does finally appear.

You can also enjoy further No Action tracks on their Soundcloud site and keep up with their journey via their Facebook page. Enjoy and respect.

https://www.facebook.com/theresnoaction?fref=ts

 

They Only Wanted To Be Loved

No Fun

The Sex Pistols No Fun

14th January 1978, The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, USA and the Sex Pistols have just brought their set to an end with a version of the classic Stooges song No Fun.  As the final traces of feedback belch from the amplifiers and over the heads of the assembled audience Johnny Rotten is poised, crouched down and defiantly staring at the crowd. He utters the immortal words, which  are etched on the toilet walls of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, “ha, ha ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated.”  

No sooner had the band left the stage the disintegration started and within days the Sex Pistols crumbled into dust. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook went on to prostitute what dignity remained of the band. The ex manager (Malcolm McClaren) desperately cobbled together an embarrassing film called The Great Rock n Roll Swindle with a very dubious narrative. By February 1979 Sid Vicious (bass player) died a lonely and squalid death from a heroin overdose whilst being under investigation for the murder of his girlfriend. Meanwhile  former frontman John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) had jetted off to Jamaica with no other than Richard Branson to scout reggae bands for Branson’s Virgin record label. The Sex Pistols were to leave behind a maze of legal wrangles and bad taste. The punk scene sunk into wall to wall leather jackets and mohican haircuts.

In the hands of McClaren The Sex Pistols legacy was to become a parody, although what emerged from the ashes was to be much more musically interesting. By May 1978 John Lydon was already assembling his new band and later that year under the name Public Image Ltd they released their self titled single ‘Public Image’  The record was well received and reached No.9 in the UK charts.

As a teenage fan of Lydon I recall dashing down town on release day to scour local record stores and seek out a copy that also featured a limited edition newspaper insert. At the time the single with its insert were considered the holy grail and from small independent record shops to the high street dealers I ventured, bus journey’s to the neighbouring town (Middlesbrough) my crusade continued through the day and occasionally bumping into fellow fans on the same crusade. The song written by Lydon whilst still a member of the Sex Pistols bares the hallmarks of a Pistols track with its sneering lyrics directly aimed at his ex band mates. The A-side of the single was not a major departure and as such held little surprise. It was the singles B-side the aptly entitled The Cowboy Song that was to provided a glimpse of where the band were heading. The Cowboy Song sounded like a rambling assortment of studio outtakes and random noises all mashed together in no particular order. Uponfirst listening it was easily forgettable. Lydon himself viewed the track, “it cost us approximately £1 to make. It’s just a jolly good disco record and it came about cos we were bored and couldn’t think of a b-side.”  It was not until the first album appeared that the creative manifesto for the band started to be exposed to their fans.

A beautiful mess

A beautiful mess

Public Image, First Edition was released in December 1978 is now considered groundbreaking, but at the time of its release the record polarised fans and was met with outright hostility from music critics. The earlier single release had provided a false sense of expectation for those fans seeking solace in Public Image Ltd becoming The Sex Pistols mark 2. The album was in effect pulling in two different directions. A type of confused halfway half way house between looking backwards and pointing forward.

Dub baselines, traditional rock/pop tracks, screeching guitar work, a poem left many fans confused given the albums lack of focus and mixing seemed disjointed. This was no doubt a consequence of the band running out of money during its production, which necessitated recording sessions to be concluded hastily. The album to this day remains one of experimentation, a band findings its way with mixed results from the sublime ‘Low Life’ assault on the personality Sid Vicious had became towards the end of his life and through to the amusing, but largely forgettable ‘Fodderstompf’.  Record boss Richard Branson who commissioned the LP was reported to be less then impressed. Whilst the record was a moderate success in the UK staying in the album charts for 11 weeks and peaking at 22. It would take until 2013 before the album received its full American release given it was deemed to be far too uncommercial for American ears by record executives.  Love or hate this album its importance cannot be disputed given it laid down the blueprint for what many would call the post punk period.

The results were far from pretty, but to the credit of Lydon and his fellow bandmates they had decided upon a route away from the commercial mainstream, which at the time was an open door beckoning for Lydon after the demise of the Sex Pistols.With the first album completed PIL ventured out into the world to perform live. Playing 4 concerts in late 1978, Brussels Theatre Belgium on 20th December, Paris Le Stadium 22nd December and Christmas Day and Boxing Day at the Rainbow Theatre, London. By early 1979 PIL were left with the challenge that often demolishes many bands – the fatal 2nd album.

Its all in a tin

Its all in a tin

The glorious Metal Box/Second Edition LP arrived in November 1979 and is generally considered to be one of the most influential albums of all time. In many ways the album was a radical departure from the first album and ventured more towards avant-garde territory. With its cryptic lyrics, brooding baselines, tribal drum patterns, metallic guitar, synthesised drones and random noises the album was unlike anything before in sound or presentation. The original album packaging consisted of a 16mm film canister tin embossed with the bands logo, which contained three 12″ singles. The album drew from several influences including deep-dub-raggae in particular the early work of dub pioneer Keith Hudson known as the “dark prince off reggae” and bands like Can. The opening track Albatross sets the standard. Recorded in free form the track gathers  a life of its own as it weaves along. The songs structure is reminisce of the interplay between Jim Morrison and the Doors when their performed live.

Check the line up

Check the line up

Metal Box/Second Edition was a far more focused effort, which unlike its predecessor  was received with critical acclaim and considered a classic of its genre sitting alongside the likes of Can and Captain Beefheart. The albums influence cannot be emphasised enough, Sonic Youth, The Strokes, Simple Minds, REM, Joy Division, Portishead, Manic Street Preachers, Massive Attack, Radiohead have all drawn influence from the album.

In 2001 Thom Yorke during an interview with The Wire Magazine said, “We could never do a record on a par with Metal Box.'”  The Rolling Stone Magazine listed Metal Box in the top 500 albums of all time. With album literally in the tin PIL started to increasingly perform live, although  like their studio output the norm was not to be expected. In New York the band decided to perform behind large screens creating a physical barrier between them and a bewildered audience who had come to see the band perform a more traditional rock show. The resulting disturbances required the concert to be cancelled mid way through as the crowd throw items at the screen and started to dismantle the stage equipment.

In Leeds the band were met with hostility when the audience became bored with the new material and demanded Sex Pistols songs. PIL ignored the audience, often turn their backs against them and carried on until they simply walked off stage.

The 1980 live album ‘Paris au Printemps’ offered little to nothing in terms of creative output. In fact Lydon reputedly advised fans not to buy it because the band only got involved in the project to earn enough money to pay for Metal Box. By 1981 and the bands 3rd album The Flowers of Romance” the wheels had already started to fall off the first incarnation of the band. Jah Wobble who provided the brooding bass on the first two albums had been sacked for allegedly using PIL material as backing tracks for his solo work. The name ‘The Flowers of Romance’ was taken from an early band Sid Vicious and Jah Wobble were members,  as well as it being the title of a very early Sex Pistols track, which was never studio recorded and released.

Not for the faint hearted

Not for the faint hearted

The stark, severe and minimum style of the album is in contrast with the bass heavy influences of Metal Box. A variety of sources were deployed and used to generate sounds for the album including amplified wristwatches, reversed piano, televised opera. John Lydon played violin and saxophone, although he was not know to be trained to play any particular instrument. Keith Levane the groups pioneering guitarist played through reversed tapes, treble distortion and synthesisers drones.

Interviewed at the time Levene pointed out that, “AII it amounts to is that we don’t like any music at the moment.” John Lydon added,  “well it ain’t rock & roll, that’s for sure.”  The album quickly gained  a reputation for being the most uncommercial LP to have been made and presented to a mainstream record company.

The Flowers Of Romance entered the UK Charts where it stayed for 5 weeks and reached No. 11 in April 1981. The album spawned a minor hit single in the same year that reached No. 24 and stayed in the charts for 4 weeks. The third studio album for many concluded PIL’s pioneering period. Similar to Jah Wobble original guitarist Keith Levene left the band acrimoniously shortly afterwards. John Lydon then shifted the sound and structure of the band towards a more commercially friendly zone with differing results given the creative challenges were not putting the breaks, or shaping some of Lydon’s ideas. By the late 80s PIL effectively Lydon and an assortment of musicians were touring America extensively, including a support slot for the Australian band  INXS on their Kick tour.

The end for PIL was more a damp fizzle than bang. By 1992 and with a lack of interest from the general public Lydon put PIL into hiatus whilst he concentrated on other projects, including his autobiography, TV work and ultimately regrouping with the original Sex Pistols line up for a number of lucrative tours, which properly provided the only real opportunity for the original  4 members to earn any significant cash from their legacy. In September 2009 Lydon announced that PiL would reform for five UK shows, their first live appearance in 17 years.  The regrouping of PIL was financed via the money Lydon earned through a UK television commercial, “The money that I earned from that has now gone completely – lock stock and barrel – into reforming PiL” The pursuing concerts were warmly received and the band has continued to perform live since, as well as releasing new material.

36 years later

Like father like daughter

As one review of the first 3 PIL albums states,  “PIL managed to avoid boundaries for the first four years of their existence, and Metal Box is undoubtedly the apex it hardly sounds like anything of the past, present, or future”.   These first 3 albums, including the glorious Metal Box/Second Edition alone has secured my enduring respect for Lydon.

30th June 2013 and 35 years after buying the first Public Image Ltd single (with the limited edition newspaper insert) I find myself with my 14 year old daughter walking aimlessly through the Glastonbury Festival site.  We have not paid much attention to the running list on the various stages. We are just soaking up the atmosphere, floating along with the crowd and just stopping to watch whatever emerges before us. Its a glorious summers days and in the near distance I hear driving base of PIL’s Death Disco vibrating through the air.  We quickly make our way to the Other Stage and sure enough we find John Lydon and co.

I look to my daughter and ask if she is enjoying it? She relies, “yes.”  I turn my attention back to the stage, feel the sun on the back of my neck, scan the large crowd and look back at my daughter – we smile at each other. Sometimes things just fall into place for all the right reason.

Today I Stumbled Upon: Clearance

There are many mysteries in this world that continue to perplex, puzzle and confound scholars and intellectuals alike. What influenced the 71 year old Harrison Ford to suddenly pierce his left ear? The ever eccentric Mr T from the 1980s trash TV show The A Team simply begs the question why? And If there is a god, why did she/he take the legendary Curtis Mayfield from us at such an early age? Into the void of the great unknown these questions must remain. But one fact is undisputed Ford, Mr T and Mayfield all originate from Chicago, Illinois, USA.  And it’s here in the great windy city where I come across the magnificent Clearance who have just released their third offering on Bandcamp “Carte Blanche” plus one .

Harvest for the world

Good things come out of Chicago

In 1833, the Town of Chicago had a population of around 200. Today it is the 3rd most populous city in the United States with 2.7 million residents. It is also home to the annual Lollapalooza and PitchFork music festivals. The city has a vibrant and creative cocktail of rock, punk, soul, jazz, hiphop, house and rave music all pitching for their adoring audiences.

In the midst of Chicago’s musical tapestry Clearance find themselves in this vast scene that is broadly described as rock. Clearance are in the space of garage and  LoFi band land, which has given us The Stooges, Danny Adler, The Fall, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth to but  name a few. Its a hard place to work and achieve stardom from given today’s X-Factor route to riches would be counterintuitive to the art form.

I have a live Sex Pistols bootleg from 1977 and as the drums kick-in to the Pistols version of the Stooges No Fun Johnny Rotten mutters to the audience, “I bet you thought I came here to entertain you rather than you entertain me.”  A classic chicken and egg metaphor, but one that sums up those bands who decide to follow a path of integrity and credibility to themselves. Musically it is this space that I personally find Clearance. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan a city renowned for its progressive politics the founding members of Clearance Mike Bellis and Arthur Velez relocated to Chicago and have since released two 7″ EP’s Dixie Motel Two-Step (April 2013) and Greensleeve (January 2014) on their own Microluxe imprint.

On the 29th March 2014 the band released their 3rd Bandcamp offering “Carte Blanche’ plus one

The sign of a great band lies in their ability to evolve and expand their musical horizons with each new release. Based on the evidence to date Clearance are an embodiment of this notion. There are plenty of bands around who are more than capable of churning out medico material and with the help of a few production twitches and the ad man’s expertise quickly find their faces on anxiety ridden teenage T-shirts. With Clearance you get a real sense of a hard working band seeking to secure appreciation for their art form through a dedication to maintaining independent integrity. This of course is admirable and is worth the ticket price alone, but in reality this means little if the material is not consistent in quality.

Clearance seem to have any ability to toss out brilliant, catchy and intelligent songs. This all bolds well for the future given the solid platform they are building for themselves. The songs are built around clever lyrical structures and offset by guitar textures. Their songs can initially deceive the listener, but lurking beneath a few listens is a revealing depth and intelligence.

Carte Blanche plus one (March 2014)

I’ve listened to Carte Blanche on repeat loop and its one of them songs that never seems to get stale. Looking through the eye of life via a narrative of a road trip the track bounces about gleefully with amazing drum work underscoring the building guitar textures and the eloquent lyrics,  “Darling don’t you dwell upon the exit sign and know that time is going to wound the heals.” The second track is a blend of Misdirection Prize/TV Exhaust is my personal favourite of this release and a supreme piece of work. The fade out and fade into TV Exhaust is at first a little baffling, but ends up providing a rye smile.

I managed to catch up with Mike Bellis from Clearance for a few Old Man questions about the new material:

JK:  What you guys up to at the moment?
MBLaundry, and continuing to waste our money on padding our record collections.
JK: The feel, sound and production on these two tracks demonstrate another step up. How do they feel to you and what feed back have you had?
MB: They feel fine to us – like the last two records they were also recorded in a basement, though this time it was in a different one. We had the luxury of using our friend’s tape machine this time, which always makes things sound better.
JKWhen were the tracks written and what were the main influences at the time?
MB: The tracks were written in January, and when we weren’t listening to friends bands it was probably just the Velvet Underground in ’69 or Danny Kirwan-era Fleetwood Mac. Maybe some Faust too.
JK: Will we get to see a full album release soon?
MB: Yes, eventually.
JK: Any live gigs planned? (UK maybe)?
MB: Only stateside so far, but if we can find anyone willing to pony up the change to send us across the pond we’d be delighted to meet the Queen’s acquaintance.
JK: What are you guys listening to at the moment?
MB: Older stuff mostly- Beefheart, Minutemen, Teenage Fanclub, glam-era Eno, Faust, John Cale (“Fear”), kosmische stuff. But also newer bands like Parquet Courts, Protomartyr, and The Courtneys.
JK: I hear you have a soft spot for Mark E Smith and The Fall?
MB: Who doesn’t?

Back to the Future

Clearance’s back catalogue is also available from Bandcamp – you will do music and the world a favour by purchasing them immediately.

Greensleeve 

Full of amazing hooks and skewed observations this glorious 5 track EP is a little gem. Lo-fi maybe, but high quality throughout. My stand out track: Face the Frontier. 

Dixie Motel Two – Step 

The opening track Walking Papers is simply a classic and would not have gone a miss on an early Sonic Youth album. The EP is again full of hooks and heart warming riffs. In many ways the LoFi production of this early material make it so good.

I demand an LP and I want it now!

%d bloggers like this: