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.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Limiñanas at The 100 Club London February 13th

The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
This was my first live experience of The Limiñanas and I was curious to find out how the Perpignan based duo of Lionel and Marie Limiñana would recreate their studio sound on stage. Each album features a somewhat bewildering cast of guest musicians and vocalists whose names have become more familiar as their reputation grows. Anton Newcombe from The Brian Jonestown Massacre guested on the excellent single “Istanbul Is Sleepy” and has gone on to produce their latest outstanding LP “Shadow People”. French actress Emmanuelle Seigner sings on that album’s title track and Joy Division and New Order’s Peter Hook adds his instantly recognisable trademark bass to "The Gift", following up his appearance on their last album "Malamore". The Limiñanas are the band that have everything, everything except cymbals that is. The first thing I see as I walk into the 100 Club is a huge bass drum resplendent with the band’s logo, pushed right to the front of the shallow stage. There’s also a floor tom and a snare drum but there's not a cymbal or Hi-Hat in sight, just a tambourine fixed to the floor tom for added percussion and that’s it. The Limiñanas sound is based on Marie’s pounding hypnotic Mo Tucker style. She is a remarkable drummer; how she can keep that rhythm up throughout the show without being exhausted, I just don’t know. 

The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
They are certainly an unorthodox band, Lionel attacks his guitar and cranks out some excellent riffs but doesn't sing at all during the show, his microphone is only used to say thank you every now and then. What Marie and Lionel have done is to assemble a quite superb band around them to realise their sound and vision perfectly. Each member has their own distinct character and personality and there's a great chemistry between all of the musicians on stage; this is certainly not just a bunch of session musicians thrown together to do a tour. Ivan Telefunken almost steals the show despite being set up behind Marie’s drums. He is a constant blur of motion. If he’s not swaying along to the music or adding backing harmonies, he’s playing a small keyboard or throwing his guitar and ukulele about with abandon. One minute he’s attacking his guitar violently with a bottleneck slide and the next it’s a violin bow. At one point, he even bangs it alarmingly with a large metal spoon. All the tools of his trade are brightly painted with multi-coloured polka dots and it makes a great visual contrast as the rest of the band are decked out all in black. Renaud Picard takes on the main male vocal parts and acoustic guitar and behind him is Alban Barate on guitars, ukulele and keyboards. The lead female vocals are handled by Nika Leeflang, who also bashes away on a tambourine, often half hidden behind her swirling hair. To her side, Bassist Mickey Malaga looks cool with his low-slung Fender Precision bass, Paul Simonon and JJ Burnel style, just as any good bassist should. 

The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
The Limiñanas are not only a visually impressive live band; their sound is also extremely cinematic. Throughout their albums and indeed tonight’s show, they drop in instrumental interludes such as “Tigre du Bengale” that mix exotic Eastern, Turkish and Moroccan motifs. Overall, their sound is infused with Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundscapes and John Barry’s Spy movie and TV theme tunes with twanging surf guitar riffs and an impressive sense of dynamics. Ivan coaxes weird feedback and noises out of a strange contraption and this adds layers of distortion and depth to the proceedings. This evocative approach is also to the fore in their spoken word vignettes such as “Dimanche”, which are obviously heavily influenced by Serge Gainsbourg’s classic “Histoire de Melody Nelson”. One of my favourite songs on the new album is the title track “Shadow People” which in the recorded version features vocals by the actress and musician Emmanuelle Seigner. It reminds me of The Soundtrack of Our Lives “Midnight Children” in which the Swedish Psych Rock legends invited Jane Birkin to duet with their singer Ebbot Lundberg. The good thing is that, rather like TSOOL, The Limiñanas take their varied influences and twist them into something totally unique. You can sense that they are enthusiastic music fans but they are certainly not trapped by their inspirations and do not fit easily into any particular genre. After all, Lionel has gone on record as saying that The Limiñanas basic rule is to “respect no dogma”. This is apparent in some of the cover versions they have recorded by acts as diverse as The Beach Boys, Jay Reatard, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Kinks and Lords of The New Church. Actually, I was disappointed they never played LOTN’s “Russian Roulette” even though it was down on the set-list as a possible encore. Nouvelle Vague have already recorded a Bossa Nova version of “Dance With Me” and with the new Stiv Bators documentary, maybe The Lords of The New Church will finally get a well-deserved reappraisal!

The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Two unfamiliar numbers really stand out, “Dreams” and “Last Picture Show” turn out to be unreleased songs from a new project called L'épée which features Lionel and Marie along with Anton Newcombe and Emmanuelle Seigner. I’ve been told they have an album’s worth of material already recorded and that will definitely be something to keep an eye on. Despite incorporating some challenging, discordant elements into their music, The Limiñanas never lose that all-important sense of melody, particularly on the fuzzed up riffs of their debut single “I’m Dead” and my personal favourite “Funeral Baby”, both of which, despite the rather morbid titles, are as catchy as hell. Nika’s voice really shines on these two numbers and her breathy, sultry style is the perfect match. It wasn’t a surprise to discover that she is also a singer songwriter in her own right with two excellent EP’s out under the name The Nika Leeflang Project. One of the highlights of the gig for me was “Crank” which was a blast of raw Garage Rock adrenaline. I didn’t know this song at all but after a bit of research found out it was from one of Lionel’s old bands, The Beach Bitches. Trying to track down more information led me to discover Renaud’s band Crank who were so inspired by The Beach Bitches song that they named themselves and their debut album after it as well as recording their own version. I must just add that the Crank album is superb and the fact that they mention The Prisoners as an influence earns them extra points. 

The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
The Limiñanas at The 100 Club - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog
One of the best things about having a “new favourite band”, especially one with such an eclectic musical palette, is that you can happily embark on a voyage of discovery, looking into what each member was up to before, along with any side projects, collaborations and unknown cover versions. For example, before The Limiñanas Lionel and Marie were in Les Bellas and they have an excellent compilation album of early releases called “Belladellic” which is well worth getting hold of. So I’m now on the trail of Pascal Comelade, Bertrand Belin, Ultra Orange, The Toxic Farmers and The Llamps and I’ve even managed to get hold of a compilation of Perpignan based Garage Rock bands. Oh, and I just noticed Hair & The Iotas too so it looks like I have a lot of listening to do. Anyway, back to the gig and a totally wired version of Can’s “Mother Sky” hints at yet another side of the band and that hypnotic driving rhythm certainly makes sense. By coincidence, I bump into The Undertones Damian O’Neill who also plays in the The Everlasting Yeah a band who merge Can’s motorik beat with Television's Richard Lloyd/Tom Verlaine entwined guitar style to great effect. Damian is as enthusiastic about the show as I am and it’s nice to see him shake hands and congratulate bassist Mickey at the end of their set. Up next is the excellent “Betty & Johnny” from their second album “Crystal Anis” and they encore with a raucous sing-along version of “Gloria”. This segues into a manic instrumental and as the song implodes and the set ends, the band look genuinely touched by the warmth of the reaction from the crowd. I am so pleased that I got the chance to be there, right down the front of the packed out 100 Club as I have a feeling that the band will be selling out a much larger venue next time they come to play in London. However, the most exciting thing of all is that musically The Limiñanas have not set themselves any boundaries, they can evolve in any way they choose. So as a fan, it will be fascinating to continue following them on the journey that lies ahead.

For more information on The Limiñanas please check out their official web-site or their Facebook page. Nika Leeflang's music can be found at her Nika Songs website. For more of our photos of the 100 Club gig please head on over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook and there are more videos at our YouTube channel.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Fay Hallam Group at the Retro Man Blog Night, Half Moon Putney with King Mojo & DJ Lee Grimshaw

The Fay Hallam Group at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
Huge thanks to all that came along to our latest Retro Man Blog Night at The Half Moon Putney last Saturday, we really appreciate the support from all who turned up and made it yet another very special evening. Headliners The Fay Hallam Group treated us to a superb set featuring songs from throughout Fay's musical career. From Makin' Time's Mod Soul classic "Feels Like It's Love" via Phaze's groovy instrumental "Sixty Six" right up to a brand new unreleased track from their forthcoming LP "Propellor". Along the way we had tracks from The Fay Hallam Trinity such as "1975" and a crunching "Always The Sky" rubbing shoulders with a selection of tunes from her collaboration with The Bongolian and a shimmering cover of "Spooky". They played some excellent songs from the current album "House of Now" and the classic Soul of the single "Now That It's Over" with Fay's son Josh taking over Magnus Carlson's vocal parts. The band, including Paul Weller collaborator Andy Lewis, were on top form and got called back for two well deserved encores. Opening the show we were delighted to welcome back King Mojo for their second appearance at a Retro Man Blog Night following their stunning support at out SolarFlares reunion shows a couple of years ago. They played most of the excellent debut LP "Do Not Feed The Dancing Bear" and their powerful Hammond driven songs went down really well with the crowd. Also impressing everyone with his customary cool music taste was DJ Lee Grimshaw from the Spinout Show and it was great to have him involved once again. Thanks to Lee, the bands and all the Staff at The Half Moon, and once again a big thank you to those who turned up - it really does make it worthwhile.

The Fay Hallam Group at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
The Fay Hallam Group at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
The Fay Hallam Group at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
The Fay Hallam Group at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
King Mojo at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
King Mojo at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
King Mojo at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
King Mojo at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
King Mojo at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
The Fay Hallam Group at The Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
For more pics of the gig please check out the Photo Album at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page. You can hear chat prior to the gig in our latest episode of Retrosonic Podcast with our special guest Brett Buddy Ascott, drummer with The Chords and The Fallen Leaves, who also played with Fay in Speakeasy. There are tracks featuring Fay with The Bongolian and Speakeasy and our favourite King Mojo song along with Lee Grimshaw's latest release on his own Spinout Nuggets label.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Alvin Gibbs & The Disobedient Servants "Your Disobedient Servant" - Debut Solo LP From U.K. Subs & Iggy Pop Bassist

Alvin Gibbs, the current U.K. Subs & former Iggy Pop bassist is due to release his debut solo album "Your Disobedient Servant" on the excellent Time & Matter Recordings label at the end of January. It will be released on limited edition red and white splatter coloured vinyl packaged with a double-sided full colour insert along with a CD of the album and a download code that you can redeem via Bandcamp. Throughout the album Alvin handles lead and backing vocals, bass and rhythm guitar and has assembled an impressive star-studded band, entitled The Disobedient Servants, to back him up. There are some legendary names from the worlds of Punk, Trash and Alternative Rock including Brian James from The Damned and Lords of The New Church, Leigh Heggarty from Ruts DC, James Stevenson from Chelsea and Generation X and Alvin's U.K. Subs colleague Jamie Oliver on drums and percussion. The good thing is that despite the many special guests, "Your Disobedient Servant" still retains a cohesive sound that feels like it's a been produced by a 'real' band. This is mainly down to Alvin's impressive vocals that hold everything together along with a great powerful production. It's also a varied album that runs through some of the musical styles that Alvin has been involved with over the years from sleazy Glam-tinged Rock'n'Roll to a full-on Punk Rock and fans of the U.K. Subs, Hanoi Rocks and Iggy Pop in particular are going to love this record.

Alvin on stage with U.K. Subs - Photo by Paul Slattery
Lyrically, the album could be seen as a soundtrack to Alvin's candid autobiography "Some Weird Sin: On Tour With Iggy Pop", in particular the revised edition which replaced the earlier, and slightly more restrained "Neighbourhood Threat". The book is packed full of often brutally honest confessional tales of a Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle on the road with Iggy Pop when he was touring the world to promote the back to basics album "Instinct". I was lucky enough to see a couple of the shows on this tour and it was definitely one of the best line-ups that Iggy had assembled. His band also included Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks on guitar and Paul Garisto from The Psychedelic Furs on drums and they were absolutely mind-blowing gigs. "Your Disobedient Servant" opens with the short sharp shock of "Arterial Pressure" a crunching 2 minute tribute to Joey Ramone and the scene is set for the thoroughly satisfactory listen that is to follow. The album includes both sides of the recent limited edition 7" Single "Ghost Train" & "Clumsy Fingers" which had cover artwork designed by another legendary Punk bassist, Gaye Black from The Adverts. "Ghost Train" features Leigh Heggarty from Ruts DC on guitars and has Alvin in great voice, booming out an impressive Iggy style baritone. The flip-side "Clumsy Fingers" is an absolute belter of a song, rocket fuelled by Brian James from The Damned and Lords of The New Church. It recalls the tale of an 'amorous duel' and starts off with a great drum beat before a killer bass riff comes in. You can hear "Clumsy Fingers" in Episode 32 of our Retrosonic Podcast where my colleague Paul Slattery chats about his time photographing the U.K. Subs for various weekly music papers such as Sounds. Some of his photos were used on the back cover of the "Warhead" 7" single and the front of the compilation "Original Punks Original Hits".

Alvin Gibbs - Photo by Aleksander Korobczuk
"Dumb" is another highlight, driven along on an irresistible hand-clap rhythm and a great guitar motif. "Camden Town Gigolo" featuring the guitar talents of James Stevenson from Chelsea and Generation X, slows the pace a bit and is built around a circular bass riff as it tells the tale of a fading Rock'n'Roll casualty coming to terms with the ageing process. "Back to Mayhem" with Steve Crittall from The Godfathers on lead and rhythm guitars is a full-on Hardcore Punk rush that will certainly appeal to fans of the current U.K. Subs line-up. Here, Alvin admits that he struggles with dealing with the come-down following a long period of life on the road and having to face reality, he craves the excitement and danger. "When life is good, confidence high, I need a dose of chaos, some poison with the wine, back to mayhem, I’m in too straight a place, comfort is a curse". The brooding "Polemic" is one of my favourites on the album with slide guitar by Leigh Heggarty from Ruts DC, it chronicles the impact of seeing his very first live bands in the Seventies and how they "conditioned my ambition and set me free, it’s the blood that fuels my guitar". "I’m Not Crying Now" features Barrington Francis from The Saints on lead and rhythm guitar and it's a candid vignette of a relationship that turns sour when one person finds out the other is maybe not quite as famous and wealthy as was hoped. "Deep As Our Skin" closes the album in some style, it's a classic slice of sleazy New York Dolls Rock 'n' Roll courtsey of Mick Rossi from Slaughter & The Dogs that aptly soundtracks the songs subject matter of a raucous night in CBGB's and Manhattan.

Alvin Gibbs & The Disobedient Servants will be playing some shows in 2019, including this year’s Rebellion Festival in Blackpool and other dates are being announced now. Check out the official U.K. Subs web-site for further details. The album can be ordered from Time & Matter Recordings or downloaded at the Bandcamp site. Alvin's superb book "Some Weird Sin" can be ordered here. With thanks to Mark and Rob at Time & Matter, please check out their excellent and official U.K. Subs web-site and archive here.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Embrooks "We Who Are" New LP & State Records Launch Party with Les Grys Grys and The Dirty Contacts at The Lexington January 5th

The Embrooks - "We Who Are" LP cover
The Embrooks celebrated the release of their brand new LP "We Who Are" with a cracking value for money State Records showcase and launch party at The Lexington featuring special guests Les Grys Grys and The Dirty Contacts. Of course Mole and Lois of The Embrooks are the brains behind the fabulous State Records who have recently completed work on their very own recording studio North Down Sound in the grounds of their HQ in Folkestone, which is certainly paying dividends.

The Dirty Contacts at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
The Dirty Contacts at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
Opening the show after an excellent selection of songs from DJ Suzy ScreamCheese, the Hastings based Dirty Contacts were also celebrating a new release. Their debut single "The World's End" was recorded at North Down Sound and is out now as a heavyweight gatefold sleeved 7" vinyl single. They played a great set of scuzzy Garage Punk with some promising original songs rubbing shoulders with some familiar cover versions such as Wimple Winch’s "Save My Soul" and a superb take on The Wailers "Out of Our Tree". I recognised the Fratcave and Beatwave weekender organisers Ian Greensmith from The Dentists on drums and Justin from The Sine Waves on keyboards. In fact, Justin's futuristic keyboards add another dimension to their sound and give The Dirty Contacts a welcome and original angle that sets them apart from many of their contemporaries.

Les Grys Grys at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
Les Grys Grys at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
The fantastic Les Grys Grys have been over from Montpellier to visit North Down Sound to continue work on their forthcoming album. They took time out between recording sessions to headline a riotous New Year show at Weirdsville which featured crowd-surfing, PA climbing, Go-Go dancing full-on mayhem. Tonight they put in a rather more sedate performance that is as tight and rocking as the Weirdsville show was chaotic. They really are one of the best live acts on the circuit and tonight’s set promises that the new LP will be a sure-fire classic, can't wait to hear it.

The Embrooks at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
The Embrooks take the stage and tonight, with his striped trousers and tasselled hat, frontman Mole reminds me of the Psychedelic shopkeeper in the Mr Ben cartoon, promising us a fantastical adventure ahead. Indeed, there is an element of the unknown to come as Mole announces that they will only be playing songs from their brand new release “We Who Are". I thought it was a brave move by the band to play the album in sequence from side one, track one, however, it all worked out perfectly in the end. This was mainly down to the fact that “We Who Are” is expertly sequenced with each song capable of being released as a stand-alone single in its own right. In fact, I found myself singing along to numbers as though I'd listened to them for years rather than just a couple of weeks. I noticed there were a fair number of people around me doing likewise. You see, “We Who Are” is one of those rare albums where everything just clicks. From the beautifully packaged limited edition 180-gram vinyl LP with its lavish gatefold sleeve and accompanying CD, right through to the production and the sheer quality of the song writing, it’s all here.

The Embrooks at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
Only one song breaks the three and a half minute barrier but they still manage to cram in loads of intriguing twists and turns into each number, which gives the album a thoroughly satisfying depth. Drummer Lois kicks things off with the snake hipped groove of “Going But Not Gone” and Mole's elastic bass riff is bubbling away nicely underneath. The previously released State Records single "Nightmare" was the only familiar song in the main set and it has a great stinging guitar riff intro from Alex. "Don't Look At Me" is one of my highlights on the album, it starts off as a Garage Punk stomper before shooting off at an unexpectedly pastoral tangent with some wicked flute played brilliantly on the album and at the gig by Tom Hodges. Suddenly a mighty bass riff slaps us back on track and then it all goes off with a crunching guitar riff and the flute going haywire.

The Embrooks at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
For me the album's centrepiece is the magnificent "Human Living Vampire" and on this track in particular, you really get the feeling that the band are definitely utilising their own studio to its full potential as the multi-layered guitar work from Alex blew my mind. It starts with a beautifully intricate twelve-string motif and then in comes some furiously strummed, almost flamenco styled acoustic. There is so much going on that your ears won't know which way to turn. “We Who Are” certainly distils all of The Embrooks many and varied influences perfectly. From the quintessentially British 60’s Freakbeat era of bands such as The Sorrows and The Attack, they cross the Atlantic to embark on a mammoth Psychedelic road-trip. The journey takes in the dirty waters of the East Coast Garage Punk scene to the Texan Psych of the 13th Floor Elevators and then onto California and the sun-kissed harmonies of The Byrds and "Mr Soul" period Buffalo Springfield.

The Embrooks at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
There’s some superb Fuzz guitar on "I'm Coming Home" with a melody reminiscent of The Brian Jonestown Massacre's classic "Not If You Were The Last Dandy..." Next up it's "Baby From The South" which has a nice upbeat rhythm and a touch of The Equals Rock'n'Soul about it. A cover of The Lost Souls "Peace of Mind" based on a hypnotic slightly sinister riff, fits in seamlessly among the original material. The excellent "Hang Up" features some classic stabbing organ chords and a great guitar break. "You Can If You Want" closes the album and the main set with Kevin CK Smith joining the band to play some astounding harmonica. I remember seeing Kevin's very first appearance in London when he guested with The Dustaphonics to play harmonica and he blew everyone away. Since then he has gone from strength to strength, joining The Baron Four and The Voo-Dooms as well as DJ’ing.

The Embrooks with CK Smith at The Lexington - Photo Retro Man Blog
The Embrooks encore with a couple of oldies including a vicious version of “Jack” which goes down a storm and then it's over way too soon. The only downside of the Lexington show is that for some reason they omit their superb cover of The Hollies "Have You Ever Loved Somebody" which was a shame as they managed to transform it into the embodiment of a perfect Embrooks song on the album. To be honest, I don’t think they did themselves any favours by officially releasing the album just before Xmas as it was too late in the year to feature in many of the “Best of 2018” lists. Anyway, I'm going to cheat and consider the LP was released on the day of the Lexington launch party as that was the first time I nabbed my very own copy and in that case, this is already a nailed-on “Best LP of 2019”. Now, I know it’s only January but I really can't imagine a better album will be released this year. If it is, I am very much looking forward to hearing it as it's going to have to be something pretty damn special to beat “We Who Are”!

For more photos of the night please check out the album in the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and you'll find videos of all three bands at our YouTube channel here. Please click on the highlighted links above to access more info on the bands. Finally, "We Who Are" and The Dirty Contacts new single can be ordered from State Records here along with many more of their releases.