Friday, 19 April 2019

Straight Arrows & Oh! Gunquit - Photos & Videos from a stunning night at The Lexington, Sunday April 14th

Straight Arrows at The Lexington - photo by Retro Man Blog
I must admit I'd never heard of the Australian band Straight Arrows before it was announced that one of Retro Man Blog's favourite bands Oh! Gunquit would be supporting them at The Lexington. I had to have my fix of Oh! Gunquit so decided to check out the main band before buying tickets and I'm glad I did, I was immediately blown away by what I heard! The Sydney based Straight Arrows were over in Europe to promote their latest LP "On Top!" which is a superb collection of fuzzed up melodic Garage Punk. They burst onto the stage, all four band members wearing army fatique jumpsuits and the front three also sported matching sparkling guitars too. 

Straight Arrows at The Lexington - photo by Retro Man Blog
Straight Arrows at The Lexington - photo by Retro Man Blog
Their unbridled manic energy hit you in the face straight away, raw and ragged, the songs bursting at the seams with reverb and fuzz. Cymbal stands, drums and mic stands all went flying as they leapt about the stage, even the drummer couldn't sit down for long! The visceral force of Straight Arrows reminded me of the first time I saw Black Flag back in 1981, that no bullshit, take it or leave it Punk attitude, totally committed to the music. And what great music it is! The songs are packed with melodies and memorable choruses and tracks like "21st Century" and "Out & Down" are surefire Garage Rock classics of any era. I checked out a bit more info on the band after the show and wasn't really surpised to find out that Henry Rollins is a big fan and has been playing them on his radio show. Great band and I'd thoroughly recommended seeing them play live if you get chance. Check out their three albums too, they are all well worth getting hold of and in particular the latest one "On Top!" promises they are getting better with each release so the future's looking promising. 

Straight Arrows at The Lexington - photo by Retro Man Blog

It was lucky that Straight Arrows were such as great live act as they had the almost impossible task of following the support act Oh! Gunquit and admittedly, they did pass the test with flying colours. Oh! Gunquit never cease to amaze me with their mind-blowing performances, I know I am lucky enough to have seen many great live acts over the years, and I must say that Oh! Gunquit are up there with the very best of them. They really do have everything you want in a favourite band. First of all they boast a truly unique frontwoman in the high-kicking Tina with her amazing voice and moves, she's the only person I've ever seen playing the trumpet and hula-hooping at the same time.

Oh! Gunquit at The Lexington - photo by Retro Man Blog
Oh! Gunquit at The Lexington - photo by Retro Man Blog
Tina's bandmates are all superb too, all strong individual characters in their own right. There's Simon Wild and his deliciously sleazy guitar riffs, the blur of energy Chuchi on sax, super cool bassist Veronica and taking the place of regular drummer Alex tonight, it's Ergi powering things along behind his kit. Their perfectly paced and plotted set is packed full of many highlights, "Nomads of the Lost", "Fireballs", "Pony Boy", the great songs keep on coming. They channel all that is great in raw Rock 'n' Soul music from full-on Garage Punk to the Voodoo swamp music of The Cramps and Gun Club, to spiky Post-Punk dance music. I just can't speak highly enough of Oh! Gunquit.

Oh! Gunquit at The Lexington - photo by Retro Man Blog

For more information on Straight Arrows please check out their official Facebook page here. Oh! Gunquit can be found here. There are more photos from the show at our Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and more videos at the Retro Man Blog YouTube channel here.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Budstock - A Celebration of Buddy Ascott's 60th Birthday at The 100 Club April 6th

Buddy Ascott on stage at The 100 Club - photo Retro Man Blog
Budstock “One ginormous ego-trip” to celebrate the 60th birthday of Brett ‘Buddy’ Ascott (his words, not mine I hasten to add…) was an idea 10 years in the making. Originally mooted for his 50th birthday, the plan was to get together some of the bands he had drummed with over the years for a one-off gig. Unfortunately, for various reasons, it never got off the ground at the time but the idea remained dormant until it came round to the planning for Buddy’s 60th birthday. The plan was rekindled, he would gather together six acts - The Rage, The Way Out, Speakeasy, The Moment, his current employers The Fallen Leaves and of course the band for which he is best known, The Chords, or The Chords OK as they were dubbed on the night.

Birthday Boy Buddy Ascott at The 100 Club - photo Retro Man Blog
So, on April 6th we gathered at London’s iconic 100 Club to pay tribute to one of “the nicest men in Rock” (they may also be his words…) and witness the ceremonial handing over of the bus pass to our hero. He’s a popular chap is Buddy, selling out The 100 Club quicker than most bands is no mean feat and the demand for tickets would have freaked out even the most hardened black market ticket tout. Drummer with numerous bands, wearer of silly hats and connoisseur of exotic shirts, Buddy is indeed a man of many talents and all three were on display tonight. He took his place behind the drum kit wearing a different hat and a different shirt for each of the six bands performing for our pleasure. Six bands in one night is tiring enough even if you’re just there watching but to drum with six bands in one night is madness, surely! I probably wasn’t the only person to tell him he was crazy when I heard about the idea. He would be exhausted, I told him, he wouldn’t have time to talk to anyone or enjoy the party I moaned. He’d have to start early in the afternoon to fit everything in, and I warned, you’re not 50 anymore you know etc. etc.

The Way Out at The 100 Club - photo Retro Man Blog
Speakeasy at The 100 Club - photo Retro Man Blog
However, I’m bloody glad he didn’t listen to the advice as it turned out to be one of those special one-off events that will be talked about for years to come. Although, it was Buddy’s birthday, we were the ones getting all the treats. In addition to the six bands there were free exclusive CD’s featuring rare tracks from his various bands, Budstock badges and birthday cake. The Rage opened proceedings, then The Way Out who impressed with their catchy Power Pop. There was the Mod Revival ‘super group’ Speakeasy and then we had the excellent Moment.

The Moment  at The 100 Club - photo Retro Man Blog
The Fallen Leaves at The 100 Club - photo Retro Man Blog
Buddy’s current employers, and Retro Man Blog regulars The Fallen Leaves were next with their two bassists line-up. Current bass player Matthew Karas playing harmonica before taking over the bass from his predecessor Gaz Evans. The Leaves put in their usual entertaining set of Pop Punk perfection, or was it Punk Pop perfection? To top it all there were the headliners The Chords OK. The excellent guitarist Simon Stebbing from The Purple Hearts joined Buddy, Kip and Martin from The Chords and they crashed through a selection of their classic tracks such as “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Something’s Missing”. Just before their set, I bumped into Damian O’Neill from The Undertones and The Everlasting Yeah, strangely enough in exactly the same spot as when I last saw him at The Limiñanas 100 Club gig back in February. “Are you getting on stage as a special Guest?” I asked him, adding “It would have been great if Billy had come over from Japan for this” and I noticed something in Damian’s eyes that told me this might not just be an idle dream.

The Chords OK at The 100 Club - photo Retro Man Blog
The Chords OK at The 100 Club - photo Retro Man Blog
Damian then made his way to the stage for the encore and was joined by another familiar face. Yes! It was indeed Billy Hassett, original singer with The Chords, what a great surprise! They kicked into The Undertones classic “Teenage Kicks” and the crowd went nuts. An awesome blast of The Chords debut 1979 single “Now It’s Gone” raised the roof with the added volume of the crowd singing along. Unfortunately, Buddy was exhausted, out on his feet and signalled that he just couldn’t do any more encores otherwise we would have kept him there drumming all night. It was a bit of a shame that Billy couldn’t have done a couple more numbers but everyone understood that Buddy needed a well-deserved break, after all, he is 60! Huge congratulations to Buddy and his team of helpers behind the scenes who made this a unique and special night for all of us lucky to be there, it will not be forgotten. They also raised a lot of money for Buddy’s various chosen charities Battersea Dog's Home, The Samaritans, St. Christopher's Hospice, Crisis and Roll Out The Barrel Trust and it’s still not too late to donate if you feel inclined.

Some more videos can be found at our YouTube channel here and there are more photos at the Retro Man Facebook page here. I spoke to Buddy a few weeks before the gig in Episode 33 of Retrosonic Podcast, which you can listen to/download at our Soundcloud site here. Don’t forget he also has his very own special Retrosonic Episode in which he takes us on thoroughly entertaining romp through his musical career and you check this out below.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Hipsville Soho-A-Go!-Go! Bank Holiday Weekend May 3rd, 4th & 5th Margate - Full Details Announced!

Hipsville, always Retro Man Blog's event of the year, is back in Margate over the May 3rd-5th Bank Holiday weekend and this time they are taking the mean streets of Soho to the seaside town. Check out the Hipsville web-site here for full details on the line-up of bands, DJ's, Go-Go dancers and happenings over the weekend along with info on tickets and venues. Let's hand you over to organisers Alex, Mr A and Ade for the lowdown on what you can expect. "Shady ladies! Spivs! After-hours nightclubs! Neon! All-night coffee drinking! Underground drinking dens! Dirty magazines! Held in the magical, old-school seaside town of Margate, the UK’s biggest trash party is set to celebrate seven years of mayhem by channeling the spirit of London’s seediest neighbourhood – this year’s theme is SOHO! Join us in the dark, neon-lit streets for a bold, brazen, bizarre and wild weekend amid the gangsters and good time girls that frequent the area’s late night clubs and coffee shops. ‘Ello darlin’! Garage, titty twisting' rock’n’roll, tiki, punk and hot slop! fans descend annually on the south east of the UK for a wild, riotous weekend of bands, Go-Go girls, gorillas and DJs for 3 days of crazed partying through the night and into the morning. Each year Hipsville has a theme; previous years have seen partygoers dress up for jungle, space, horror and carny parties, and this year’s Soho theme is set to be sleazier than ever – our guests really do put the world’s most jaw-dropping costumes together! This year’s travelling revue will take in Margate’s most incredible venues and showcase some of the world’s finest rock and roll bands, just look what we've got planned for you!"

This year one of our favourite bands Autoramas will be returning to Hipsville and they will be joined by a top selection of international Garage Psych Trash Tiki Punk bands such as Das Clamps, The Jack Cades, The Night Times, The Scaners, The Stags, MFC Chicken, Mighty Tsar, The Deadly Spirits and The Anomalys and more - check out the Hipsville event page here for links and info. Check the Blog archive for Hipsville and you can uncover features on previous Hipsville weekends over the years including loads of reviews and photos. The Retro Man Blog YouTube channel has loads of original 'down the front' action packed videos and various episodes of our Retrosonic Podcast include a host of Hipsville and Weirdsville related bands and too. Here's an episode from 2018.

It's going to be tough to beat last year's mind-blowing Hipsville (read our feature here) but every year I say that and they always do manage it! Here's the superb Schizophoncs from last year's show.

Get your advance tickets now, see you there!

Friday, 5 April 2019

This Day In Music's Guide To The Clash by Malcolm Wyatt - One of the most essential and rewarding books published on The Clash so far

If I were going to be stranded on a desert island and had to take one book on The Clash with me then I would grab my copy of Malcolm Wyatt's superb new book This Day In Music’s Guide To The Clash. In fact, thinking about it, if I was going to be stranded on a desert island and had to choose between a box of matches, a machete, a how-to-build-a-raft manual, Bear Grylls or a copy of "This Day In Music" then I'd still reach for the latter any day. Don’t be put off by the slightly disappointing choice of cover photo or the title that hints at one of those lazy day-by-day chronologies of the band, as I feel they both do the content a disservice. Get past these admittedly minor gripes and you will discover one of the most essential and rewarding books published on The Clash so far. This is a masterclass in research from a fan who wanted to collate all the disparate, and often contradictory, stories about The Clash together in one place. Malcolm makes his intentions clear from the start and although there are no new interviews with surviving band members, you are constantly being surprised by some snippet of information or other. Did Robin Crocker really knock out the producer Sandy Pearlman when he tried to get backstage after a gig? Why did the band never record a John Peel session and was it true that Vince White was forced to change his name, as Paul couldn't face being in a band with someone called Greg!

Paul Simonon and my Retro Man Blog colleague, photographer Paul Slattery at the Black Market Clash opening night - Photo by Retro Man Blog
Malcolm’s writing comes into its own in the excellent retrospective reviews of each of the albums, where it is his own voice and opinions that are being heard. He writes with an infectious enthusiasm that will have you constantly putting the book down to reach for all those classic records. Personally, I can identify with Malcolm’s relationship with The Clash, as we are both just too young (how nice to be able to say that...) to have been there from the start. Our entry point was the band's second LP "Give 'em Enough Rope", which was one of the very first albums I bought with my own pocket money and, like Malcolm, I never understood the critical bashing it took. In fact when I bought the debut album shortly after being blown away by "Rope", I remember being disappointed as I thought it sounded pretty weak and tinny in comparison to the full-on power of Sandy Pearlman’s guitar heavy production. I was also especially pleased that Malcolm highlighted a small but crucial moment that left an indelible mark on me. That moment was seeing the band play “Complete Control” in the movie “Rude Boy”. The way the audience sings along almost as one with the band causes goose bumps even to this day and I must have watched it 100 times or more.

Clash memorabilia at the Joe Strummer 001 exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
The book is split into different sections which cover all the bases from the pre-Clash days right up to last year’s stunning Joe Strummer 001 retrospective box set. It all kicks off with a thoroughly entertaining foreword by Damian O'Neill who gleefully recounts his experiences with The Undertones who were special guests on The Clash's Take The Fifth US tour. The book can be read cover to cover but is also a perfect reference book that you can dip into at any time. It is especially refreshing to see the healthy nod to the pre-Clash years too, in particular the importance and influence of The 101'ers. The second section “Classic Clash” takes us on the journey from the band’s formation to the bitter end and the book doesn’t ignore their often contradictory and confused politics. In hindsight, some of the self-mythologizing backfired, after all, stealing pillows from a Hotel, shooting pigeons with air rifles or trying (and failing) to set light to a car during the Notting Hill riots were not exactly going to cause the authorities any sleepless nights. Yes, Joe’s well-intentioned but naïve political statements could be contradictory but the band were inquisitive and most of all they cared so you can understand why they had such a huge impact on people’s lives.

Clash memorabilia at the Joe Strummer 001 exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
The Clash’s open-minded attitude to multi-culturalism and willingness to embrace outside influences, in particular the importance of Reggae on their music is highlighted. This also leads on to an interesting feature about the legendary Rock Against Racism festival and the background to the organisation itself, inspired as it was by Eric Clapton’s mindless on-stage racist rant and the worrying rise of the National Front. The book does not shy away from the rather messy and dispiriting ending of The Clash and Malcolm isn’t afraid to tackle the much-maligned final Clash LP “Cut The Crap”, which is often airbrushed out of books and documentaries completely. The thought of Joe, the guy who wrote "Complete Control", ceding so much artistic control to Bernie Rhodes at this point in their career is baffling and somewhat depressing. With Mick sacked from the band prior to the album’s release, it seemed that Joe and Paul had just lost all enthusiasm for The Clash and I think the results were probably worthy of the airbrush treatment after all.

Joe's mix-tapes at the Joe Strummer 001 exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
The later sections of the book boast an excellent in-depth look at all the post-Clash music too including Big Audio Dynamite and The Mescaleros. In the chapter “The Clash’s 50 finest” Malcolm eloquently argues the case for his 50 favourite Clash songs and I’m sure that this will cause some debate among fellow Clash fans. There is a comprehensive Discography and a Clash Timeline, which lists notable dates throughout the band’s career and beyond including birthdays, gigs, record releases and events right up to the release of last year’s “Joe Strummer 001” box set. Next up is a chapter that highlights the impressive legacy and the various bands and artists that have been influenced by The Clash over the years. Then there is a look at selected key London locations, which is handy if you want to set off on your own Clash related sightseeing tour. Through Malcolm's excellent writewyatt web site and his work for The Lancashire Post, he has interviewed many other musicians and The Clash often seem to pop up in conversation. This has enabled him to collate some fascinating first-hand tributes and stories about the band from artists such as Belinda Carlisle, Richard Jobson, Roland Gift and Peter Hook for the chapter “Still Talking about the Clash”.

Mick Jones at the Joe Strummer mural unveiling - Photo by Retro Man Blog
There’s also a selection of the best quotes from the mouths of the band themselves and from various high-profile fans. In one of the only completely new and unpublished sections of the book, Malcolm includes an original interview he conducted last year with Joe’s widow Lucinda and Clash archivist Robert Gordon McHarg. The chapter “They Also Served: Clash Conspirators” features potted biographies on all the additional musicians who played with The Clash over the years. From the more familiar early band members such as Terry Chimes and Keith Levene to the final “Cut The Crap” era line-up along with other contributors including Mikey Dread, Norman Watt-Roy, Ellen Foley and more. There’s also detailed information on the various movers and shakers behind the scenes such as the management, roadies, moviemakers and notable producers and engineers.

Clash memorabilia at The Black Market Clash exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
I hope this feature gives you an idea of the depth of material crammed into This Day In Music’s Guide To The Clash, the book is bursting with as much energy and passion as The Clash themselves and I can’t say fairer than that. I am sincerely hoping that if he's not still too exhausted from all this research, Malcolm can turn his hand at a completely new subject in the near future; maybe he can tackle another of our shared passions, The Undertones for example!

Clash memorabilia at The Black Market Clash exhibition - Photo by Retro Man Blog
You can check out Malcolm's thoroughly recommended writewyatt web-site here. If you'd like a personalised, signed copy of the book at £12.00 plus £3 p&p (UK), you can send the author a private message via the WriteWyattUK page on Facebook, his writewyatt website or by email at The book can also be ordered from Amazon here or from other bookstores with good taste. Damian O'Neill is still touring with The Undertones as well as playing guitar with his former That Petrol Emotion colleagues in the superb band The Everlasting Yeah and has recently released an excellent debut solo album "Refit Revise Reprise".

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex - New Book "Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story" by Celeste Bell & Zoë Howe, Paris Exhibition & Forthcoming Documentary "I Am A Cliché"

Following last year’s 40th anniversary of the seminal X-Ray Spex album "Germfree Adolescents", an update from the Poly Styrene front includes a new book, exhibition and further news regarding the film "I Am A Cliché". Singer songwriter, lyricist, artist, free thinker, postmodern style pioneer and lifelong spiritual seeker, Poly Styrene was a true punk icon. This rebel queen with the cheeky grin was also a latter day pop artist with a wickedly perceptive gift for satirising the world around her, and her brightly coloured playful aesthetic was sharply at odds with the stark monochrome style and nihilism of punk. In "Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story" published by Omnibus Press on 28th March, the vibrant jigsaw of Poly’s inspiring and often moving story has been lovingly pieced together by her daughter - singer songwriter Celeste Bell - and acclaimed writer Zoë Howe who's other works include biographies on The Slits, Wilko Johnson, The Jesus & Mary Chain and Lee Brilleaux. "Dayglo" tells Poly’s story as an oral history together in one place for the first time, and includes testimonies from Vivienne Westwood, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, Jonathan Ross, Neneh Cherry, The Slits’ Tessa Pollitt, Thurston Moore, Jon Savage, and many others. "Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story" honestly and openly explores Poly’s exceptional life right up to her untimely passing in 2011. Growing up mixed-race in Brixton in the 1960s and being at the forefront of the emerging punk scene with X-Ray Spex in the 1970s, Poly balanced single motherhood and sometimes debilitating mental health issues with a solo music career. She went on to find faith with the Hare Krishna movement. "Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story" is fully illustrated with personal photos from Poly’s family collection, handwritten lyrics, hand drawn artwork and band logos, short stories and entries from her diary. The book beautifully captures Poly Styrene’s creative and personal legacy, reminding us that if anyone had the power to turn our worlds dayglo, it was her.

In further news, items from the Poly Styrene archive will be included in an exhibition titled the "Paris-London Music Collection 1962 -1989" looking at the parallel music scenes that emerged as a result of immigration in both Paris and London in the mid to late 20th centuries at the Palais de la Portee, Paris. The exhibition will open on the 12th of March.

Also the hugely anticipated film "Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché" is slated for a 2020 release. In this feature-length documentary, the jigsaw pieces of Poly’s life will be brought together for the first time. Original interviews, new research and previously unseen archive material are combined to present a thrilling, poetic and at times impressionistic portrait. Underscored with Poly’s music from throughout her career, "I Am A Cliché" celebrates one of punk’s most uncompromising icons as well as an intimate look at the relationship between mother and daughter.

Words by Debra Geddes at Great Northern PR. With thanks to Zoë Howe and Debra Geddes. Zoë & Celeste will be appearing at Rough Trade East on March 28th for a talk and book-signing, details of the event can be found here. Keep an eye on Zoë's Facebook page for announcements of other events, along with info on her other books of course. "Dayglo" can be ordered via Amazon or Omnibus Press. Book photo cover by Falcon Stuart.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Taking Candy From a Dog - An Evocative & Heartwarming Autobiographical Novel by Vic Templar

Vic Templar, the author of "Taking Candy From A Dog" might be better known to music fans as Ian Greensmith. Ian is a Writer, Drummer, Vibraphonist, Gardener and retired Cricketer whose favourite writers include Alan Silitoe, Graham Greene and Keith Waterhouse. This is his sixth book since the first was published in 1987 and Billy Childish’s Hangman Books have published three of them. Ian was a mainstay of the Medway 'scene', drumming with The Dentists and then Armitage Shanks and Ye Ascoyne D’Ascoynes along with Bob Collins. More recently he has played with The Sine Waves and the superb Nuevo Ramon 5 (the story of which is well worth checking out) and has just released a debut single with The Dirty Contacts on State Records. He now lives near Hastings where he runs the regular Fratcave club events and the yearly Beatwave Weekenders with Justin Ellis. 

The book opens in the present day with our hero rummaging around in his Dad’s loft searching in vain for Luke, a long-lost monkey sock puppet. The search evokes memories of a contented childhood and we are spirited away back in time to Chatham, Kent in the late 60's and placed right in the heart of the Smith family. Is this an autobiography, a novel or a metaphorical tale of a man searching for those idyllic days of childhood? I guess it is a bit of each. What I do know is that "Taking Candy From A Dog" is a heart-warming portrait of a ‘normal’ family from the late 60's to the mid-70’s. I put normal in inverted commas there as I can really relate to this book and I always considered myself fairly normal! There are no great dramas or hardships in the young Ian Smith's life but the beauty in the writing is to keep us entertained by the evocative vignettes and lovingly described characters that surround him. So, where does Luke the monkey come in? Luke is a well travelled woollen sock puppet with a nice line in sardonic humour. Each chapter is interrupted by his sarcastic take on events as seen through his (button) eyes and this adds a nice touch of world-weary cynicism to Ian's cheerful reminiscing. Luke explains about his creation and early life in San Francisco and how he ended up in a family home in the Medway. Along the way he drops in some withering put-downs and observations on his new English owners. These owners are Ian and his younger sister Kes. Ian's world revolves around Football, particularly Chatham, Gillingham and George Best. He loves Sure Shot Hockey, Subbuteo, Airfix Models and I-Spy books. 

The writing style perfectly encapsulates the era and many familiar brand names from my own youth spring from the pages. The Six Million Dollar Man on TV, drinking Tizer and R. White’s Lemonade and reading Sweeney annuals. There’s celery and Primula and paste sandwiches for tea. Ian observes all the adults around him, his family and their various friends. The men wear beige slacks and tan shoes and drink beer. “Lager is seen as Continental and treated with suspicion”. They have tattoos of “hearts, anchors, snakes or the bust of a raven-haired woman” and their cars “smell of leather and cigars”. The women wear Crimplene and nylon and discuss whether Pontins in Bognor Regis is better than Butlins. Throughout the book there are amusing Billy Liar style fantasy sequences in which Ian sets off on a road trip to Manchester for tea with George Best and later appears on the Michael Parkinson chat show. We move on to 1977, it’s the Queen’s Jubilee and the seismic rumblings of Punk Rock start to make waves in Ian's world. Suddenly, his older cousin Lee cuts his hair short and gets hold of a copy of the Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen”. Ian is desperate to hear what all the fuss is about but Lee makes him wait until one day when the whole family are sitting around together having their tea. Lee puts the black shiny plastic disc on the Ferguson record player, places the needle down and unleashes all that venomous sound and fury. Finally, the wait is over for Ian. “This is it. The record begins. The guitars and drums and then Johnny Rotten starts screaming. My life changes. It sounds like the Charge of The Light Brigade. It sounds like World War I. It sounds like Krakatoa. It sounds wonderful. Grandad says “Bloody Hellfire”, Nan says “What’s he singing?” and Mum says “What a load of bollocks!” Jack and Kes start singing “No fuchsias, no fuchsias, no fuchsias for you”. Life will never be the same again. 

Indeed, there are after-school fisticuffs, girls and parties and attempts at forming bands. There is a superb chapter on a quest of Holy Grail proportions trying to track down a copy of Buzzcocks “Spiral Scratch” on the day of release as advertised in the NME. Those were the days when buying records involved an actual physical journey and Ian traipses from record store to record store in vain. Hastings, Tunbridge Wells, Margate, Maidstone, no luck. Finally, it takes an elderly and unlikely shop assistant in Hythe to tell him that the release date had actually been delayed. Ian struggles with the various fashions and youth cults of the time and tries to cultivate his own ‘look’. Inspired somewhat by The Fall’s Mark E Smith he decides on ‘eccentric’ but ends up looking like Percy Thrower with Tweed jackets, bri-nylon shirts and woollen cardigans with leather buttons. There is a bittersweet tone to the last few chapters but I guess that just reflects the reality of getting older. Family bereavements, leaving school and having to deal with becoming an adult. Thatcher closing down the Dockyard. “400 years of Chatham history flushed down the pan overnight”. Jobs are either lost or people are relocated to start new careers. Close-knit communities drift apart. There is a big clear out for the move. It’s time to say goodbye to childhood trivialities as once loved toys are consigned to the local Cub Scout jumble sale. It is a poignant moment. His sister’s dolls and teddy bears are next and she picks up Luke and hesitates, looking at the black plastic bag destined for the sale and then back again at Luke… So what happened to Luke? Did the adult Ian ever find it up in his Dad’s loft or did the tatty sock puppet end up on a trestle table at the Cub Scout’s hut. Maybe it was picked up for a few pence and spirited away on another adventure. I am not telling. You will just have to buy the book to find out.

The Author (2nd left) with the Nuevo Ramon 5 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Taking Candy From a Dog by Vic Templar is published by Blackheath Books and available from their web-site. For more information on this year's Beatwave Weekender please check out their Facebook page. You can read a report on last year's Beatwave in the Blog archive here and a review of The Dirty Contacts at the Lexington here. Please click on the highlighted links throughout the feature for more info on the mentioned events and bands.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Jan Martens "Voices - Part 1" New Solo LP from the Nymphet Noodlers & Free Fall Bassist

Jan Martens with Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala 2017 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Jan Martens originally made his name as the bassist with the Karlstad based Nymphet Noodlers who, according to our in-depth Retro Man Blog retrospective, would go on to become one of the most underrated yet influential bands in Sweden. After all, Jan and his band-mates, vocalist Mattias Hellberg, guitarist Mattias Bärjed, keyboard player Martin Hederos and drummer Jesper Karlsson certainly had a lasting impact on the Swedish music scene. The Hellacopters, Nicolai Dunger, A Camp, The Solution, Stefan Sundström, Dundertåget, Henrik Berggren, Diamond Dogs, Refused, Tonbruket, Sofia Karlsson, Anna Ternheim, Nationalteatern, Håkan Hellström and of course The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Free Fall…the list of bands, artists and projects that each has been involved with in some way or another over the years could be longer than a telephone directory!

Jan, whose inventive and thunderous bass playing has seen him compared to John Entwhistle, has just released a brand new solo LP entitled "Voices – Part 1". The seven track album starts off with the stomping fuzzed up robotic sound of "Big Muff Strikes Again" and then takes us on an eclectic journey that encompasses the catchy guitar driven Pop of "Reaching Out" to the free-form jazz of "U&I" and the atmospheric Pink Floyd influenced dreamy Psychedelia of "Coming Down/Below". So, let us speak to Jan and get a bit more background information on his journey from Nymphet Noodlers right up to the present day and the release of this intriguing new album.

Jan & Martin Hederos, Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala 2017 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Q: Jan, Nymphet Noodlers called it a day rather unexpectedly after releasing just the one full length LP "Going Abroad", what did you do after the split?

JM: Well, I joined up with ex-Noodlers’ guitarist Mattias Bärjed in the band Mindjive for about six months. We toured Sweden and Germany (with Refused). Then I moved to Stockholm and got into Rocket 99 with Jesper, another ex-Nymphet Noodler and Andreas Byhlin from Singer. We made one album in 1999 but then that ended so I formed The Jan Martens Frustration, also with Jesper. At the same time I toured with Text, a very loose, improvisational band/project started by, among others, David Sandström from Refused. I was also a member of David’s backing band when he toured his first solo album after Refused. I’d recommend “Om det inte händer något innan imorgon, så kommer jag”. An entire album about his grandfather, a farmer in northern Sweden. It’s a fantastic record, really unique.

Q: I love The Jan Martens Frustration album, especially the track "Pole Position" which has such a superb bass line. It was a shame that this project was also short-lived. What happened?

JM: The recording of the JMF album was very troubled, mostly due to a conflict regarding the financial deal between the record company and the producer. It led to huge delays in the recording, which was horrible. This was a time when the whole music industry went through major changes and things were very insecure. Also one member, Olof, got very ill in 2002. Jesper started playing with Diamond Dogs and I started thinking of getting an education. I got me one in psychology. JMF grew into my next band, Convolutions.

Q: Did you stop music while you were studying?

JM: For a while I was in Thomas Rusiak’s touring band along with Christian Gabel on drums and Free Fall Producer, Martin "Konie" Ehrencrona on guitar. During this period I also rehearsed and recorded with The Plan although that material was never released. During my university years I rehearsed and recorded with Convolutions, a duo featuring Olof Korlén, Jesper’s younger cousin. He had also played guitar solos on four songs on the JMF album and played live at most of our shows, sometimes with Robert 'Strings' Dahlqvist on second guitar. Unfortunately, they both died within less than four months of each other, not long ago…Olof very sadly killed himself in late 2016. He suffered from a severe mental illness, with psychotic episodes, that first broke out when we were playing in JMF. The song "x7009" on the new album is about him.

Q: Of course we know about Martin Hederos and Mattias Bärjed joining The Soundtrack of Our Lives, but you have also had some association with them too haven’t you?

JM: Yes, I also played on some songs on Mattias Bärjed’s soundtrack to the TV series "Upp Till Kamp" and the movie "Call Girl" and was a member of the fictitious dance band "Marzipan" in the "Gentlemen" movie and TV series. I also stood in for Kalle for some Soundtrack of Our Lives shows in 2011 and 2012. This year, in addition to "Voices – Part 1" I’ve also done some sessions for Daniel Haeggström’s Haertz Arkestra. He’s not performing himself, he’s producing and he likes to get different people together to see what happens. He has chosen and rearranged several songs from Björn Olsson’s "Shellfish" albums… When we were mixing the NN album in '94 me, Mattias and Mattias stayed in Björn's apartment. He then played us some of his peculiar home recordings that later came to be TSOOL songs. Also, Ebbot produced the NN album.

Jan with Free Fall, Paris 2012 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
Q: You released a critically acclaimed classic Heavy Rock album with Free Fall in 2013 with Mattias Bärjed, vocalist Kim Franson and drummer Ludwig Dahlberg and many people have been waiting for a follow up. When did the idea for a solo album come about? After all, it’s been 14 years since the last album to bear your name (Jan Martens Frustration) was released.

JM: Well, I began working on this album sometime in the summer of 2014 when it had become clear that the motivation was not where it ought to be for every member of Free Fall. I decided that this time round I didn’t want to try to form a new band again as it is very difficult to find the right chemistry. However, I definitely didn’t want to give up playing - not at all - as during the Free Fall years I found myself getting more into music again after studying psychology for half a decade. I wanted to try a bunch of ideas that I found interesting and original but that had either been rejected or met with disinterest or just didn’t work out well in earlier bands. "Voices – Part 1" is much more of a solo project than the Jan Martens Frustration, which was after all, meant to be a band. I’ve never really been interested in being a solo artist, for the most part I simply prefer bands. Always saw myself as a band person. Had to change that, though.

Jan & Ludwig Dahlberg, Free Fall, backstage London 2013 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Q: You’re not only playing bass on the album are you, you’re also playing guitar and singing?

JM: Yes, and piano and percussion and drum programming… I thought I should try to do as much as possible by myself this time which meant that I needed to get better at playing guitar. I mean I really had to learn to play the guitar the way that I wanted it to be played on these songs. I’m very keen on improvisation, I want a loose, spontaneous, jazzy feel. To me that’s the highest art, most of my favourite bands improvised a lot, especially live. And I think in rock music that part of it since has been lost, to a large extent. So, for 3-4 years I’ve been annoying my family with hours and hours of noisy guitar, practicing at home using Marshall and Hiwatt amps.. Listening to someone practicing controlling guitar feedback can’t be too rewarding…

Q: Were you nervous about singing?

JM: Yes. I needed to improve my singing. In fact, I ended up singing more than I first intended as originally I was thinking of asking people to sing guest vocals quite a bit. But as time went by I came to decide that it would probably be necessary to also try to do that myself. There was lots of trial and error with what keys the songs should be played and sung in, as my vocal range is quite limited.

Jan Martens, Free Fall, London 2013 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Q: You said you had a clear idea of how you wanted the album to sound, how did you go about making it happen?

JM: Quite clear at least. One more thing that I needed to do was get the right gear to be able to record and produce the music at home, to make it sound the way I wanted it to. I have never been satisfied with the production on anything I’ve played on before, especially not with the bass guitar sounds. So I began searching and trying out guitars, microphones, guitar and bass speakers and even different strings that actually can make huge differences in sounds and playability. I also tried and learned to control various fuzz pedals and other stomp boxes and different methods of recording too. I love fuzz boxes, they’re like instruments in themselves. Extremely dynamic and sensitive to touch and guitar volume and tone controls. I ended up with a basic set-up of one small guitar speaker, one small bass speaker and three not so small amp heads - I must use an attenuator to avoid me and my family getting evicted! I recorded everything in a room in our house using three different microphones, always just one at a time, and all the editing and mixing was done on my laptop.

Q: There’s a 'real' drum sound on the LP; did you play and record the drums at home yourself? 

JM: At first I thought I might record everything with MIDI drums or drum loops but it didn’t take long until I felt the need of a real drummer on several songs. So I asked a childhood friend that I thought could fit well. For this we needed to record in a real studio so I booked Studio Cobra, where Free Fall recorded everything we did. It went well and he has since come to Stockholm from Karlstad once more, playing on nine songs so far. He played along to the tracks that were already recorded with drum loops, which were then deleted afterwards. That’s not too easy to do, but he did well and was really quick. I also asked another friend to play trumpet on one song and synthesizer on two, and asked my wife, stepdaughter and Kim Franson from Free Fall to sing backing vocals.

Jan & Kim Franson, Free Fall, London 2013 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Q: Lyrically, what sort of subjects do you tackle on "Voices – Part 1" and do you enjoy this part of song writing?

JM: Lyrics are always slow, and quite painful, work for me and I tend to write them late in the process. Subjects this time range from pretty nonsensical stuff to my close friend’s mental illness and suicide. Most songs turned out pretty relationship-focused although that wasn’t my plan, that’s just where they ended up…I always let the atmosphere 'decide' where the lyrics may go.

Q: So, are you already thinking of a "Voices – Part 2"?

JM: Yes, I recorded more songs than those that ended up on the album. I chose these seven to get the right length for a vinyl album and so they would work OK together. So Part 2 might not take too long to finish since there’s quite a lot more material that has already been worked on…

Jan & Mattias Hellberg, Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala 2017 - Photo Retro Man Blog
With many thanks to Jan for his time. For more information on how to order "Voices - Part 1" please check out the official Jan Martens Facebook page. LP cover art by Hans Selander at SelanderArt. For our in-depth feature on the story of the influential Nymphet Noodlers including a feature on their reunion showin December 2017 please check the Blog archive here.