The Wendy James Band – Queen High Straight

OK, I’m gonna start with a disclaimer. Like many my age – specifically, many blokes my age – Wendy James always had a certain… quality beyond her musical talents that drew us in. If Transvision Vamp were appearing on Top Of The Pops, we’d be happy to suffer the bland cheese of Peter Powell or even La Edmonds, because we knew that soon we’d have the combined ear- and eye-candy that was the latest single from Wendy and the band. Anyone listing artists that typified their era had to include TVV in their coverage of the late 80s.

Fast forward… can it really be thirty years? Sadly for all of us, yes it is, and Wendy is back with a new album. And it’s a brilliant one.

Wendy has emerged from the troubled period post-Vamp, where numerous ventures didn’t quite live up to hopes. But it’s clear that the (I know – cliché time) journey has been worthwhile, because what we have now is a singer that knows herself, knows her voice, and certainly knows what her audience wants.

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Wendy and the band last year at The Roundhouse in London when she was supporting my good friends The Psychedelic Furs, and (after being mistaken for one of her VIPs!) chatted to her a few times before and after the gig. And it’s an absolute truth that Wendy, like so many of the artists on that quasi-retro scene, loves the thrill of performing just as much now as when she first started.

So what’s the new album like? I can sum it up in the following words.

Firstly, it’s diverse. Twenty tracks with so many different feels. The title track is smooth and sophisticated, and then you’re immediately into Perilous Beauty, a far darker and raw track, almost the mirror image of it’s predecessor. And as you move through the songs, you get these style clashes, as when you move from the sixties sound of Little Melvin through the Truffaut café scene of Marlene Et Fleur to the driving force of Chicken Street. From the acoustic harmonies of Testimonial, to the brashness of The Impression of Normalcy.

Second, it’s so memorable. So many of the tracks have those essential trigger lines that stick in the brain to the point where you suddenly find yourself thinking of them hours or days later.

Next – it’s highly professional. Not that I’m suggesting anything else was expected, but the combination of Nick Cave drummer James Sclavunos, guitarist James Sewards, bassist Harry Bohay, Alex Ward and Terry Edwards on horns, and accordionist Louis Vause comes together to deliver a full, tight sound.

And lastly – and this is possibly the best compliment I think I could give Wendy or any vocalist – there are a few tracks on the album when I honestly pictured the late and very great Kirsty McColl. To bring a sound that evokes her memory is an achievement indeed.

So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves me very happy to be listening, keen to get this virus thing behind us so I can get to another gig, and you clicking here to order your copy: https://thewendyjames.com/store/

Queen High Straight running order:

1. Queen High Straight (4.31)
2. Perilous Beauty (4.08)
3. Free Man Walk (3.39)
4. Stomp Down, Snuck Up (4.14)
5. Little Melvin (4.52)6. Marlene et Fleur (4.00)
7. A Heart Breaking Liar’s Promise (5.11)
8. Here Comes The Beautiful One (3.45)
9. Chicken Street (4.13)
10. Testimonial (4.18)11. Bar Room Brawl & Benzedrine Blues (4.07)
12. Ratfucking (2.35)
13. She Likes To Be (Underneath Somebody) (3.21)
14. Bliss Hotel (4.00)
15. Freak In (3.05)16. The Impression Of Normalcy (3.36)
17. I’ll Be Here When The Morning Comes (4.15)
18. Cancel It… I’ll See Him On Monday (3.37)
19. Sugar Boy (4.00)
20. Kill Some Time Blues (4.18)

Kevin Hewick – Driven By Love, Driven By Hate

Driven By Love, Driven By Hate is the latest album from Kevin Hewick on Botheration Records.

Kevin’s one of those musicians you really think you should know well. Hailing from Leicester, he’s been playing music for five decades, and in 1979 became the first ever acoustic artist signed to Factory Records, the label that brought us such esteemed acts as Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and a brief liaison with OMD and James.

Over the years he’s been associated with many different acts and labels, and has supported everyone from The Fall and Joy Division to Showaddywaddy, Fairport Convention and Lene Lovich. It’s fair to say his influences are varied and widespread.

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Kevin brings this background and his personal battles and demons into his music, and they are very apparent on Driven By Love, Driven By Hate.

The seventeen-track album takes you on – yes, I know – a journey, through distinct landscapes and emotions. You start by walking away from all the crap that weighs you down and holds you, a task that seems impossible to complete. You get dragged back into the morass of the world, with political lies and commercial necessities clashing and knocking you around. You realise that the escape is a myth, and that by confronting the demons and finding your own way, you become (as Kevin puts it) “the uneasy rider of the easy riding dream”. Then you arrive, at a place of child-like simplicity where the seemingly important becomes trivial, and the apparently meaningless becomes central.

Kevin’s vocals and melodies come through with clarity and strength, and his choice of supporting musicians bring every song to your ears as the next step on your trek. End to end, in order, is definitely the right way to listen to the album, but there are some stand-out tracks for me that condense the story into a little drabble.

Memory Coma evokes mellow hopelessness with longing for something more. Season 3 addresses the reality and the need to hang on to hope, and Jackson Pollock Pebbledash is altogether more upbeat, and positive, promising a potential future in the sun.

Kevin is a real storyteller, novelist, lyricist and – having had the pleasure of meeting him recently – a very cool bloke. If you want a soundtrack to your summer that challenges and enriches, you could do worse than popping over to his BANDCAMP site and buying the album.

Track listing:

  1. A Robe, a Razor and a Bowl
  2. Country Mile
  3. Life is Too Kind
  4. Driven by Love, Driven by Hate
  5. Memory Coma
  6. Watch and Learn
  7. My Friends the Rats
  8. The Inheritors
  9. Imaginary Victory
  10. Season 3
  11. Shattered Soul
  12. Arizona Highways
  13. Uneasy Rider
  14. Jackson Pollock Pebbledash
  15. Radcot Lawns
  16. Glen Parva Dogwalker
  17. Tinks

The Psychedelic Furs – Leicester, 2018

Tuesday, June 12, 2018. An epic day.

In simple facts, I drove 2 hours to Leicester, went to a gig, caught a few hours sleep in a B&B then drove back home the next day. The truth, however, is so much more…

First of all, when I arrived I had to locate another place to stay, as the first one stank as if someone had died there. Literally. A quick search on booking.com found a cheap, but clean alternative. after checking in, a short walk through the park bought me to the O2 Academy on the Leicester University campus.

It was there that the day turned awesome. I met up with my good friend Paul Garisto, who had invited me up for the day. For those who may not know, Paul is not only an excellent chap, but he’s one of the most solid, creative and brilliant drummers around, plying his trade with The Psychedelic Furs. More about them later.

Paul and I sat in the park for like an hour, just chatting. Music, family, drums, politics, drums again, (quite literally ‘All Of This And Nothing’) which is the way I like to be – doesn’t matter if you share earth-shattering philosophies or complete nonsense, it’s about spending time. Thanks, Paul – it meant a lot to me that you’d take time out for me.furs 3

 

Back inside at 4pm for sound-check, and I met others from the band and beyond. The lovely Amanda Kramer, the awesome saxophonist Mars Williams, and Rich Good, a really great, really cool guy who was also so nice in taking time to talk with me.

I also met a couple of other guys who were such great company and whom I enjoyed spending time with – Jude Rawlins ( former Angelhead and Subterraneans frontman and current guitarist with The Lene Lovich Band – see HERE) and Kevin Hewick, a great singer-songwriter in his own right who works with artists on labels such as Sorted, Pink Box, and Botheration.

Sound check over (it was a little strange stood in the middle of the venue listening to the band at full volume) we had a little time to hang around, swap stories, me to grab a burger, and then it was time for the gig and the arrival of my great mate Pete Galer, who drove up to meet me.

First up –  The Phenomenal Rise of Richard Strange.

Richard Strange

Richard’s stage show was more than a show, more than a collection of tunes. It was pure theatre at its best. His roots go back a long way to his first band, Doctors of Madness. To give you a hint, they were supported by The Sex Pistols, The Jam, and Joy Division. Yes – supported. The album he performed with his band was originally written in 1981, but has eerie connections to modern day US Politics.

Then…… it was time for the main act.

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I’ve said this before, but there’s something about this band, this group of brilliant musicians, that I really… get. There’s great songs, with lyrics that appear at once simple and then phenomenally deep. There are driving rhythms and haunting melodies, unbounded energy and vibe, and the whole thing is sewn together by the two Butler brothers, Tim on bass and Richard with his unique vocals. These are guys who know their art – and it is art – and you never get less than everything.

Starting off with the seminal Dumb Waiters from the great Talk Talk Talk album, through songs such as President Gas, Heartbreak Beat, India, Heaven, Mr Jones, Into You Like A Train, and finishing with the iconic Pretty In Pink, they held the audience in the palm of their hand all night long.

After the gig, I had the pleasure of catching up with Richard and Tim, along with their guest for the night, Roger Morris – an original member of the band way back in 1977. It’s true – hanging with your heroes is an awesome thing, and they are all just well-grounded, normal people. Although I had heard Richard’s joke about the hairdresser before – it just seemed polite to laugh…

They even signed my vinyl copy of Talk Talk Talk for me…

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Thanks guys – an excellent day, a brilliant gig, and a memory made for life. Until the next time, safe travels, my friends!

Music : Brandon Neal – Bird Song

Crossposted from A Sound Impression

The latest track to hit the Sound Impression inbox was a lovely little acoustic number from a chap called Brandon Neal.

Brandon hails from that epicenter of UK music, our very own Detroit or Nashville. Yep – Leicester. Which (and bear with me on this) isn’t quite as crazy a leap of the imagination that you might currently be thinking. After all, Leicester has provided us with Walkers Crisps, a burial site for Richard III, and the most unlikely Premier League winners fathomable. So great music? It’s a given!

And Brandon’s newest track proves that point.

Brandon1

Bird Song mixes a clear, well-balanced acoustic rhythm with a strong yet vulnerable vocal line from Brandon. There’s a great ebb and flow to the strength and intensity to both, which perfectly matches the wistful lyrics.

What really works well, and cuts through as a nice surprise, is the switch of vocal lead partway through. Lucy Moore has a beautiful voice, and the difference between her vocal and Brandons elevates the song to a whole new level, only bettered when they continue together with some lovely harmonies.

This was the first song of Brandon’s I’d heard (aside from his Facebook jaunt with Laurence Crow that you can read about here) and it certainly won’t be the last.

Check out his Facebook page for more about him, his music, and his excellently cultivated facial hair!

SEKADA – Easy Come, Easy Go

Crossposted from https://soundimpression.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/sekada-easy-come-easy-go/

The latest offering from Brighton-based electronic outfit SEKADA arrived in my inbox this week.

Now I’m not someone that usually reaches for this particular genre when I’m looking for something to listen to. In general, I tend to find electronic music either too poppy or too reminiscent of the Mediterranean club scene that I’ve always been that little too old to appreciate.

Sekada 2

Easy Come, Easy Go is different, however. Yes, there’s the familiarity that comes with the obvious drum-beats and synth fills, but this is an overall darker song, which appeals to my New Wave roots in a way that most modern songs of this type never do.

There’s also the hint of protest overlaying through the vocals and video that somehow belies a genre that most people would associate with youngsters simply trying to have a very good, very noisy time.

Hannah’s vocals provide a nice balance with the heavy chords and Emm’s rap section, and the melody has a habit of switching tempo at the drop of a hat – which in this case is a trick the band have pulled off well.

I guess if I had a slight criticism of the track, it’s that there’s not quite enough of Hannah’s unprocessed vocals. I’ve listened to a few of her solo tracks on YouTube and she’s got a voice of quality, depth and emotion that somehow struggles to come across when in the presented mix of the band’s synthetic sound-wall. I know that’s not necessarily the track or the band’s fault at all, I’d just like to hear some more of their stuff where they bring a slightly more natural element to the music to blend with the reconstructed and the commercial.

Overall? Easy Come, Easy Go surprised me. It wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, and that’s always a good thing. Nice one, guys…

For more on SEKADA, their website is http://www.sekadauk.com or they are on Facebook and YouTube.

Band line up:
Hannah Renton- Vocals
Emm Tyrokomakis- Vocals/producer
Ollie Dolling- Drums
George Kararizos- Bass

The Psychedelic Furs – London 2017

Crossposted from Riserdrummer.Wordpress.Com

Last Saturday was a date long-awaited in my calendar: the welcome return of The Psychedelic Furs to London after five long years. Their Singles tour has taken in nine UK cities, as well as dates in Europe, South America, and an extensive US road trip. Pretty much every date in the UK has sold out. and that’s without a new album to advertise or anything crassly commercial like that.

Nope – this was a tour for music fans, by music fans, delivering happiness, dancing, singing and memories both on-stage and off.

I’ll come to the headliners in a moment, but first, a few thoughts about the support.

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I want to know who booked Lene Lovich so I can shake their hand. As support, the choice of music’s maddest act was inspired. Lene and her band played a set of familiar and not-so-familiar tunes to an audience who literally lapped up every note. Just the same now as she was back in the early 80s, Lene Lovich still hits the highest of high notes with a style and a smile all her own. The audience loved her, and the platform for the main act was firmly set.

Then came the Furs. And boy, did they deliver.

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Rarely will you see a band so together. Fronted by the brilliantly eclectic Richard Butler, whose vocals and physical presence on stage mesmerises, The Psychedelic Furs are – in my eyes and ears at least – the very definition of the perfect gigging band. There’s the rock-solid rhythm section of Tim Butler on bass and my friend, the awesome Paul Garisto on drums. These two threw down a firm foundation for the three melodious ones, all of whom I could write paragraphs about. Rich Good‘s guitar work is effortless perfection, Amanda Kramer‘s keyboard work is so spot on that it hurts when she stops, and there’s very little I can say about Mars Williams‘ sax playing that could possibly do his genius enough justice.

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Starting with Dumb Waiter and running through to a second encore with President Gas, we called in at all the familiar stops, spanning a career that has seen their fan base grow and grow. All the favorites were there, including Mr Jones, Heartbreak Beat, Heaven, India, and – naturally – Pretty In Pink.

However, a mere track listing wouldn’t reflect the sheer exuberance and joy coming off the stage. The Psychedelic Furs really do have to be seen to be believed.

I attended the gig with my brother (to whom I introduced The Furs back in 2012) and an old friend Pete, who has actually written his memoirs around gigs he’s attended. Given there are many, many hundreds to measure against, when he turned to me at the end and simply mouthed “How awesome was THAT!”, you knew you’d been there at a special time.

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I managed to catch up with Paul and Richard after the gig, and both confirmed what I thought – they had had such a good time, and were still on a buzz from the show. Paul particularly was amazingly relaxed and happy, and said that he’d not felt so comfortable and chilled at a gig for ages. It certainly showed in his playing.

Next time I’ll bring my copy of Talk Talk Talk for Richard to sign. Thankfully – according to him – this will hopefully not be too far away, as they are already starting to discuss a return trip to the UK. When they do come back, get your tickets early, because The Psychedelic Furs really will be the hottest show in town.

 

The Blues Brothers

Year: 1980

Director: John Landis

Stars: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Carrie Fisher, James Brown, Cab Calloway, John Candy, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson

Joliet Jake Blues (John Belushi) is having a good day – he’s finally being released from prison.

He collects his stuff (“One Timex digital watch, broken. One unused prophylactic. One soiled…”) and steps out into the sunshine, to be met by his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) driving a new car – an Illinois Mount Prospect Police Patrol car! The old Bluesmobile it ain’t, but it’s got something….

Together they go back to the Chicago orphanage they grew up in, where they find out that the building is being repossessed – unless they can come up with enough money in time.

Under Cab Calloway’s guidance, they stop off at church to hear the Reverend Clepohus James (James Brown) where the brothers are hit with a revelation – their mission is to put the band back together for a benefit gig.

Thereby follows a riotous journey across country, gathering the band members together.  But there are two main issues – firstly the guys all have lives now; jobs, wives, responsibilities.

But that’s nothing compared to issue #2: the brothers are being pursued by just about everyone they meet, including a group of white supremist Nazi’s, Jake’s ex-fiancee (Carrie Fisher), the ‘Good Old Boys’, a country and western band that the brothers rip off in a big way, and last but not least the entire Illinois State Police Department.

Cue the biggest car chase and pileup in movie history, and loads and loads of laughs and great music along the way.

The Blues Brothers is the comedy musical of the 1980s. Sure there were others, and some great movies, but none hit quite the right note that The Blues Brothers did. There are great performances by established stars, and the mix of good music, great lines, and ‘just-right’ acting is great.

After all, many of the lines have passed into the English language, and this IS just about the most quoted movie of all time. After all, who hasn’t said “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses…. Hit it!”

Streets Of Fire

Year: 1984
Director: Walter Hill
Stars: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Richard Lawson, Rick Rossovich, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Mykelti Williamson, Robert Townsend, E.G. Daily, Lynne Thigpen, Ed Begley Jr

Streets Of Fire is a rare thing indeed. It has some of the best music ever to grace the big screen. It is full to the brim of guns, bikes, explosions, fast cars, tough women, and even tougher men. It has a hero that you’d love to hate, and a bad guy who you’d want to take home to Mom. And most surprisingly, it coaxes a good performance from Rick Moranis. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s a lovely guy (and you can tell his libel lawyers that if you meet them) but 10 minutes of Honey I Shrank My Brain is about a quarter hour too much for me. But in this, he’s not too bad.

Anyhoo, back to the movie…

Kids of all ages are streaming into the local theater for the return performance of Ellen Aim, the local girl who hit the big time with her band, The Attackers. The place is stomping. and the first song in the set is huge. In the wings, Ellen’s manager / boyfriend Billy Fish is cursing his decision to come back to this ‘two-bit neighborhood’. And his fears are proved right. There’s a surge from the rear of the hall, and The Bombers, a biker gang of immense numbers, storm the stage and carry off Ellen. It seems that Raven, the leader of the Bombers, has taken a shine to Ellen and this is the ideal opportunity, as he later says, to ‘have you love me for a week or two’. The Bombers trash the hall and beat up anyone who tries to resist them, before riding off into the night.

Reva, the owner of a local coffee shop, is the only one who seems to know what to do – call for Tom Cody. Her brother Tom and Ellen were an item for years, until her career took her away. Reva figures he’s the only one who would get her back. And so he arrives back in town, and almost immediately gets into a fight with some young punks who turn up after the excitement has ended looking for some action of their own. Tom gives them a good kicking, and they run off, leaving their car behind. Tom ‘appropriates’ the car, and sets off for a drink. In the bar, he meets McCoy, an ex-soldier who ran out of wars. She’s looking for a way to make some cash and a bed for the night. Tom provides both, when he agrees to go get Ellen back for Billy Fish, in return for $10,000.

But getting her back isn’t that easy, as they need to break into the Bomber’s clubhouse, a noisy, crowded drinking hole called Torchy’s, deep in The Battery, a dark, industrial complex full of mad bikers with guns. Cue many more explosions, much more great music, and some of the best one-liners ever quoted in a movie. Just as they are about to leave, Tom and Raven eyeball each other, and they know that whilst it doesn’t end here, it will end soon. Then Tom walks off, and their escape from The Battery is almost as eventful as their journey in, involving a meeting with the local police, a close-harmony group called The Sorels who were on route to a gig, and some kind of wierd 1980’s neon scene where everyone is dressed in garish parodies of fifties clothing. Bizarre.

But eventually they get back. And cue the only real poor bit of the movie, when Tom refuses to take Billy Fish’s money, and prompts a reunion with Ellen. But this moment of predictable sloppiness is cut short when the Bombers reappear, and the showdown begins. As the police chief says when his small force is faced down by around two hundred Bombers with guns: “Well Tom Cody, my plan went to shit. Lets see how you do. Kick his ass!“. The showdown involves a baying crowd, two real hard men, and ice-picks.

Nice.

The performances in the movie are superb, from Michael Paré (Tom Cody) and Willem Defoe (Raven) in particular, but also from Diane Lane and Amy Madigan as Ellen Aim and McCoy. There are some great minor roles for established stars such as Rick Rossovich, Bill Paxton and Ed Begley Jr., but it’s Rick Moranis that’s the revelation. Like I said, he’s actually good in this. And I can’t say that about many of his movies – Little Shop Of Horrors and My Blue Heaven are the only others I can really stand to watch.

But this movie isn’t about stars. It’s about the music, the moment, the action, and the feel. Catch it whenever you can.