Thursday 31 May 2012

The Soundtrack of Our Lives at La Gaîté Lyrique Paris May 13th

...(continued)...Suddenly Martin appears at the side of the stage, makes his way round behind drummer Fredrik Sandsten and takes his place behind the keyboards. It's business as usual, the band relax and off we go. A 5pm start is probably not the ideal time for The Soundtrack of Our Lives full-on Rock & Roll juggernaut of a performance. In fact I was expecting one of their successful acoustic sets, especially as this has been a very civilised weekend held in the beautiful setting of La Gaîté Lyrique, an old theatre now converted into a venue and exhibition hall. But no, although Ebbot brandishes an acoustic guitar for the first few lines of opening number "Throw It To The Universe", it's discarded pretty quickly and there followed a blistering set that plundered their extensive back catalogue. They took the rather laid back Sunday afternoon crowd by the scruff of the neck and shook them out of their slumber. On the new album, "Throw It To The Universe", the title track and tonight's opening number, is on the surface a self referencing number full of bravado, but there is a twist as the realisation dawns on you that this is actually a "say hello to say goodbye" message as the band have announced they will split at the end of this year. It also cleverly incorporates the riff to early single "Firmament Vacation" as it fades out and they repeat the trick tonight seguing into their classic anthem. "Firmament" was their original statement of intent, a line in the lyrics gave the band their name and it fits in well with the theme of "Throw It To The Universe".

Next up is "Where's The Rock?" (ironically retitled "Where's The Hits?" on the set-list), starting off with a flamenco style riff then it's into the wonderful "Still Aging", from the band's breakthrough 2001 album "Behind The Music". "When We Fall", carries a hint of melancholy and after the show I notice that it has also been  re-named on the set-list, this time as "When We Fail". It's a bit disheartening, sure the band are being playful, but when you take in the songs' lyrics, with lines such as, "somebody told me we're like strings in a chord made to carry on, with the same old song", you wonder if they have just got disillusioned with the music scene and just want to finish it all before things get too stale. The melancholic mood is quickly shattered though as the huge riffs from raucous "should-have-been-number-One-single-around-the-world "Big Time", ring out around the venue.

That's followed by the shimmering "Freeride" and then the fan favourite "Galaxy Gramophone" with it's powerful psyched-out landscapes. "Grand Canaria", from debut album "Welcome To The Infant Freebase", proves that Fredrik Sandsten, is without doubt the best drummer in contemporary rock music. I sincerely hope that Fredrik can find a vehicle for his extraordinary drumming skills after Soundtrack call it a day. Sweden's unofficial national anthem is next, "Instant Repeater '99" then "Speed Of Light" which is in turn followed by the complex "Second Life Replay" from the double album "Communion". Probably their most well known single, "Sister Surround" ramps up the atmosphere even further and they close the set with the warm glow of "What's Your Story?". The band are called back for an encore and they storm through a superb version of "Mantra Slider".

Then it's all over, and I think sadly that this could be one of the last times I get to see the band in all its thrilling and vibrant live glory. But there are still six months to go, and maybe a chance to catch just one more fix of the greatest live band I have ever seen. Talking to the band after, it seems they are enjoying the recent gigs, guitarist Ian Person told me that the show in Copenhagen the night before was one of their best, that Ebbot reverted back to his wild and crazy Union Carbide Productions days and the gig was packed and steaming hot. Maybe the pressure is off a bit following their decision to call it a day and they can just enjoy each show as it comes. The impending split is sad news of course, but then if they end on a high with a great new album and the door being left slightly ajar to the hope of future collaborations, then that can only be a positive thing. In fact watching Martin over the weekend with his superb display of orchestral and acoustic arrangements, and playing, not only with Soundtrack, but Marie Mondiano and Peter von Poehl too, you are reminded that Soundtrack were always a band full of six extremely talented individuals.

Not only that, but Hederos is now also working with the Jazz super-group Tonbruket and has an impressive body of work with collaborative side-projects such as Hederos & Hellberg, with Mattias Hellberg, and also with Nina Ramsby. Mattias, as we saw the day before, has his new band Free Fall, and has already worked on the soundtrack of the Swedish TV series "Upp Till Kamp". Maybe a parting of the ways was inevitable, if only to free up some time for all this outpouring of individual ideas and talent. There's more - Ian Person has already released an excellent solo album as Diamonds In The Rough, and then there was his stunning soundtrack work on the IFK Gothenburg documentary movie, "Fotbollens Sista Proletärer" (you can read an interview with Ian about this on the Blog here). Kalle has his work as a Producer and running the Svenska Grammofon Studion. Ebbot is also much in demand as a Producer as well as running his own Club Revolution No. 9 in Särö outside Gothenburg.

Ebbot will also release his own solo album "There's Only One Of Us Here" on Kning Disk Records on June 06th. So, although The Soundtrack of Our Lives may end there will be plenty of exciting twists and turns to follow with each band member in the future.

All photos copyright Steve Worrall 2012. 
You can see more photos of the gig by "Liking" the Retro Man Blog Facebook page.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Free Fall + Peter von Poehl + Marie Modiano with Martin Hederos at ÅÄÖ! Swedish Music Festival La Gaîté Lyrique Paris May 12th & 13th

Mattias Bärjed - by Steve Worrall
This weekend special, curated by singer-songwriter Peter von Poehl, was part of the ÅÄÖ! Swedish Music Festival being held at La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris by "l’Institut Suédois". Although von Poehl was the main star of the show, he was almost over-shadowed by the astounding musical talents of Martin Hederos. Martin, not only carried out his main role as keyboard player with The Soundtrack of Our Lives, but also played with, and arranged the orchestration for both Marie Modiano and Peter von Poehl. In fact, the only break Martin had over the two days, was to watch from the sidelines as his Soundtrack of our Lives colleague, and ex-Nymphet Noodlers bandmate, Mattias Bärjed, took to the stage with his new side-project Free Fall. As Free Fall also include Nymphet Noodlers' bassist Jan Martens, I was half expecting Martin to join them on stage for a run through of "Beautiful Day", but he manages to catch a well deserved break.

There's a song on the new Soundtrack of Our Lives Album called "Where's The Rock", well I think Mattias might have taken it with him to Free Fall. With recent TSOOL albums concentrating more on lush orchestration, maybe Bärjed is using Free Fall to express his undoubted love for Classic and Heavy Rock. As Free Fall take the stage for their first appearance outside Sweden, it is clear that heavy riffs are the order of the day. They take the Bluesy Rock of Led Zeppelin to another level and Vocalist Kim Fransson, certainly has an impressive Robert Plant style of singing. Underpinning the relentless riffing is Jan Martens' wonderfully fluid bass playing, a style I've always admired. He was, after all responsible for one of the best bass riffs ever on "Pole Position" from the Jan Martens Frustration days.

Free Fall - Photo by Steve Worrall
Drummer Ludwig Dahlberg, who has previously played with The (International) Noise Conspiracy, actually runs Martin Hederos close for most appearances over the weekend. He proves his versatility by pounding out the beat with Free Fall, but then also showing a defter touch with the more laid back sounds of Marie Modiano and Peter von Poehl. The band storm through a selection of so far unreleased tracks, such as "Power & Volume" and "World Domination" and they leave to a rousing send-off from the crowd.

Following Free Fall is Peter von Poehl with Martin joining on piano and keyboards. I was not aware of von Poehl before this weekend but he is obviously very popular in France as he gathered a large and very respectful audience. Maybe the use of his song "The Story of The Impossible" in the 2010 Vanessa Paradis movie "L'arnacoeur" has helped. Dividing his time between Malmö, Berlin and Paris his music seems to reflect this nomadic lifestyle and Martin Hederos' lush arrangement of the assembled string and woodwind ensemble is perfect. Martin also appears on his new album "Big Issues Printed Small" and that should be well worth checking out. The Saturday night draws to a close with Peter being joined on stage by Kim from Free Fall, Marie Modiano and Ebbot from The Soundtrack of Our Lives for a chaotic but fun run through of Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'". Click the title and you can see a video of this on the Retro Man Blog YouTube page.

Peter von Poehl - Photo by Steve Worrall
It was Martin's work with another ex-Nymphet Noodler, vocalist Mattias Hellberg, that for me first highlighted his talents outside of Rock music. Their Hederos & Hellberg side-project consisted of stunningly effective, minimalist cover versions, stripped down totally to piano and voice with the occasional acoustic guitar and harmonica. The Stooges played in the style of Erik Satie if you like. And on the Sunday afternoon his beautiful piano playing is to the fore as he joins Peter for an acoustic set in the beautiful surroundings of the traditional main room. Peter is a very engaging performer and the audience pack the room, filling every possible space. At the end of the performance, still strumming his guitar Peter suddenly leaves the room and Pied Piper style, leads the audience through to the main venue where both him and Martin take the stage with Marie Modiano.

Peter, Marie, Kim & Ebbot - Photo by Steve Worrall
Whilst Marie Modiano is a French singer-songwriter she qualifies to appear at this Swedish festival due to her collaboration with von Poehl and also it ties in with the fact that her excellent second album "Outland" was recorded at The Soundtrack of Our Lives Svenska Grammofon Studion in Gothenburg. The ubiquitous Martin Hederos also plays on the album along with Soundtrack of Our Lives bassist Kalle Gustafsson Jerneholm. Again, Martin's superb orchestration and arrangements bring the songs to life especially on the numbers from "Outland". Marie's Jazz tinged folk music also has an almost Scandinavian melancholy that mixes well with the French chanson style of some of the songs. There's also a Bossa Nova feel that reminds me of Nouvelle Vague, another band who like Hederos & Hellberg, perform cover versions in a totally unexpected style. The Single "The Islands & The Skerries" is a beautifully swaying number and "Twilight Rhapsody" brings to mind the simple piano and voice arrangement of Hederos & Hellberg. However, the highlights of Marie's set for me are the run of three songs from "Outland". Starting with "Last Early Spring", (click title for video), leading into the wonderful "The Hunter" and followed by the stand-out track, the sublime "Searching For Pearl". It's a superb, enchanting performance, and I am hooked.

Marie Modiano & Martin - by Steve Worrall
Then it's over, and you realize that Martin now has to gear up for The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Amazing, three sets with three different Artists in one afternoon! A quite staggering feat and I was thinking he must be exhausted, surely he needs a rest. But it doesn't seem there will be any time. The lights dim and Ebbot takes the stage alone with an acoustic guitar and starts to strum the beginning of the title track of the new album "Throw It To The Universe". Then one by one the band take the stage and the song bursts into life. But hang on, something is missing, the keyboard riff...Ebbot looks around bemused, as do the rest of the band, they play on, looking at the empty seat by the keyboards, Martin is not to be seen...! (To be continued...)

You can see lots more photos of all the bands and artists over the Weekend by "Liking" the Retro Man Blog Facebook page.

Monday 21 May 2012

TV Smith & The Adverts "We Who Wait" Documentary BBC4 June 01st

BBC4 will be showing a one hour documentary about the life and career of singer-songwriter and Adverts frontman, TV Smith on June 1st at 11pm.
"We Who Wait" tells the story of punk band The Adverts and the continuing music career of their former frontman TV Smith; one of the most talented, literate and passionate - yet curiously overlooked - songwriters to emerge from London's vibrant '77 new wave scene. TV Smith formed The Adverts in late '76 with his girlfriend Gaye and press criticism of the band's alleged musical ineptitude was answered by a defiant and iconic debut single "One Chord Wonders". A couple of months later, they secured their first chart hit with the macabre punk classic, "Gary Gilmores Eyes". Gaye's status as reluctant punk icon ensured the band received a lot of press attention, and a promising future beckoned. However, after a well-received but underperforming debut LP and a critically-reviled follow-up, The Adverts suffered an acrimonious collapse.
Pushed to the margins of the music industry by shifting musical trends and a stubborn refusal to compromise, Smith nonetheless continued a dogged struggle to make a living as a singer and songwriter in the face of critical hostility and industry indifference. After years of bad luck, personal loss and failed bands, Smith's persistence is finally paying dividends. He has carved out a career as a solo artist and troubadour and painstakingly built a new audience through constant touring. To this day, he remains a fiercely inventive songwriter and an electrifying live performer - an enduring embodiment of punk's DIY ethos, passion and power. A thrilling testament to one of UK music's great outsiders, "We Who Wait" features a wealth of stills and archive footage and contributions from former band members, collaborators, critics and friends including Smith and Gaye Advert, Brian James, Richard Strange, John Robb, Greil Marcus, Miles, Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye and many others.

Gaye Advert & TV Smith November 2011 - Photo by Steve Worrall
Also, this ties in nicely with my TV Smith gig, in conjunction with Southend Punk web-site and Radio Podrophenia, at The Railway Hotel in Southend-on-Sea on Friday June 22nd, which promises to be a very special night indeed. Also on the bill will be Dick York performing a solo acoustic set. Dick used to be in locally based Mod Revival band, Sta-Prest, but is now playing in Cryssis alongside Vom Ritchie, drummer in German super-star Punk band Die Toten Hosen. Joining the party will be Andy J Gallagher playing his barbed, bitter-sweet yet tuneful songs, with a guest appearance by Roman Jugg of The Damned and Naz Nomad. If that is not enough, then the evening will be rounded off with a stomping selection of weird and wonderful covers, rare soul and psychedelic grooves from DJ's Mondo & Piley of Radio Podrophenia. Be there early as there is a lot to cram in and I wouldn't want you to miss any of the fun!

You can hear Rock Photographer, Paul Slattery, talking about his adventures in Punk Rock, which include The Adverts, in the Bonus Track of Episode 2 of the Retrosonic Podcast.
Click HERE to listen/download.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Retro Man Blog Night: The Len Price 3 + The Jetsonics + The Past Tense "Thank You!"

Welcome! - Photo by Steve Worrall
A big "Thank You!" to everyone who turned up to the The Half Moon in Putney for the Retro Man Blog Night, it was a big success with a great atmosphere and numbers up on last year and pretty close to capacity! Thanks for the support and I'm sure you'll agree that all three bands were on top form. I think all the bands benefited from the refurbished Half Moon's new sound and lighting system and played superb sets. Kicking things off were The Past Tense who previewed songs from their brand new album Take Three which has just been released on Paisley Archive. The album is great, packed full of top notch songs and on the night they came over really, really well. The ska-tinged ”Nervous” (click title for video) was probably the highlight of an extremely catchy, tight set.

The Past Tense - Photo by Paul Slattery
Tonight singer/guitarist Andy Norrie-Rolfe was excellent, hopefully the response to this gig and the new album will boost their self-belief even more. Bassist Ken shows some nifty footwork as he spins out some cool bass runs and Drummer "Nuts" would take the crown as the best of any new band I've seen. However, tonight he has some stiff competition from The Jetsonics Dave Lombardi and Neil Fromow, the Keith Moon lookalike from The Len Price 3. All three drummers are integral to each band's sound and identity. The Past Tense have that tightly wound danceable sound that flickers between late 70's/early 80's Mod Revival, 60's Garage Punk, Small Faces style psychedelia and on ”Jimmy’s Love Song” (click for video), the expansive chords of The Who.

The Jetsonics - Photo by Paul Slattery
Second band of the night, The Jetsonics mix the New Wave sound of the suburbs, and update it with a contemporary take on Power Pop. They throw in their West London reggae influences on "Somewhere Else", someone in the crowd told me this reminded him of The Ruts, high praise indeed. Just as Andy from The Past Tense is growing in confidence, then the same can be said of Jetsonics' vocalist Sam Day who is a charismatic, and very tall singer. Yes, very tall indeed...luckily I remembered last year's comedy gold moment, when I had to go on stage and introduce them beforehand I could barely reach the microphone even standing on tip-toes! Anyway, Sam has improved no end and has evolved into a much more compelling performer, there's more grit in his performance. His voice too, which sometimes used to crack on the high notes has got stronger and like him, his pals in The Jetsonics just get better all the time. Tonight they debut brand new song ”Debbie Harry” (click title for video) which sounds promising alongside other, as yet un-recorded numbers, such as "She Wolf", "White Capri" and my personal highlight "Chelsea Drugstore". The temperature rises but bassist Adam Donovan keeps his natty black jacket on regardless. The band are in the studio at the moment and will be releasing their third E.P. in the summer, something to look forward to!

Glenn Page, The Len Price 3 - Photo by Paul Slattery
Most other bands would find it very difficult to follow the superb sets from The Past Tense and The Jetsonics, most other bands except The Len Price 3 that is! Quite simply the most incendiary, mind-blowing live act I have seen in recent years. Probably only The Soundtrack of Our Lives have blown me away consistently on so many occasions and tonight The Len Price 3 just explode onto the stage! The set is a little less frenetic than usual and actually this works really well, helped by the excellent sound system, all their wonderful melodies and Drummer Neil Fromow's insanely catchy backing harmonies are loud and clear. Bassist Steve Huggins is on superb form, swinging his bass around and immersing himself in the music. They play a great selection of tracks from all three of their albums including ”Lai-Ha Lam”, ”Pictures” & “Girl Like You” and ”YouTell Lies”, (click song titles for videos) all instigating some frenetic dancing and jumping about! Singer and guitarist Glenn Page is his usual hyper-active self and on "Comanche!" leaps into the audience.

Steve Huggins, The Len Price 3 - Photo by Paul Slattery
They get two well deserves encores and on crowd favourite "Shirley Crabtree" the band are joined on stage by some eager members of the audience who help out on backing vocals. As the lights go up and I take the stage to say "thank you" it's clear from the huge smiles all round and generous applause that The Len Price 3 have again delivered another classic life-affirming gig. If you haven't seen them yet, I thoroughly recommend you do so at the next possible opportunity, you certainly won't regret it!

Neil Fromow, The Len Price 3 - Photo by Paul Slattery
Here's a little treat, a new and as yet, unreleased Len Price 3 number "No Escape" that I filmed on the evening. Enjoy! Steve.

Photo by Steve Worrall
I'd like to thank all the bands, Carrie and The Half Moon, Mayumi for the merchandise and Paul Slattery for the photographs. Special thanks to Paul Phillips, Alan May from Glory Boy Radio, Albert Cummings, Adam Donovan, Lee Rimmer, Simon Gulliford, David Kerr, plus all who helped me promote the show along the way! Thanks to all those who came along and made the night such a great one. "Take Three" the superb new album from The Past Tense can be ordered from Paisley Archive Records.

Next up is TV Smith, Dick York, and Andy J Gallagher at the Railway Southend on June 22nd. See you there...Cheers everyone! Steve.

For more photos of the night - ”Like” the Retro Man Blog Facebook page.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Lawrence Of Belgravia (Heavenly Films) + Felt Book

I recently attended the screening of Paul Kelly's excellent new documentary, Lawrence of Belgravia (Heavenly Films), at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. The film was immediately followed by a Q&A session with the Director and Lawrence himself. The documentary traces the trials and tribulations of ex-Felt and Denim singer Lawrence over an eight year period, as he tries to record a new album with his latest band Go-Kart Mozart. It's a refreshingly different music documentary, with Kelly steering away from many of the usual Rock movie cliches. The band's history is mainly told through recorded interviews with various journalists, most of whom are not really prepared for Lawrence's rather unconventional outlook on music and life in general.

Lawrence in 1980 - Photo by Paul Slattery
He doesn't seem interested in modern technology such as computers, "there are too many wires", or mobile phones. This is apparent when he looks dumbfounded at one web-site journalist and asks, "you don't make any money from the internet? I knew it was crap, the internet..."  The darker episodes are not really tackled in any depth though, the camera skims over various eviction notices, letters of debt, medical forms and prescriptions, hinting at Lawrence's drug and mental health problems. Director Kelly excels at using the city of London as an impressive backdrop as he follows Lawrence, whether it be moving into and decorating a new apartment or helping to roadie for a young band. In one scene you discover that underneath all the bravado lurks a self deprecating humour. He's in a clothes store looking for a replacement for his ever present baseball cap and is persuaded to try on some different styles for a change. When trying on a particularly baggy flat cap he says it makes him look like John Lennon New York 1975 but then admits it's actually more like "Bill Oddie, Ecky-Thump 1972".

One thing that is apparent is that Lawrence is seemingly desperate for fame and fortune, longing for the day that he can afford a private jet or Limo and be free from having to travel on the tube with the general public. He moans about Bobby Gillespie not introducing him to Kate Moss, as she was sure to have wanted to marry him. It's these sort of pronouncements that go against the grain in the music scene. It's rare to hear a musician openly and unashamedly say he would gladly write a Eurovision song or love to have a famous supermarket chain adopt one of his tracks to be used in a commercial.

Also, like a lot of innovators, they can sometimes find themselves left behind in the wake of copyists and plunderers who can go on to more, often un-deserved, commercial and critical success. This has certainly been the case with Felt, coupled with a huge slice of plain old bad luck. Like many Alternative bands, Lawrence sent a Felt single to John Peel hoping to get played on his hugely influential radio show. John Peel never played it so Lawrence sent another one, and this time Peel did play it but also made a comment that it was the worst title for a record he'd ever heard. Stung by this reaction Lawrence sent a really nasty letter demanding that Peel should send the records back immediately, which he did. Lawrence admits that without Peel it cost Felt a lot of valuable publicity and support. The release of Denim's impossibly catchy pop single "Summer Smash", what could have been a sure fire hit, happened to coincide with the breaking news of the car crash that killed Princess Diana. Of course, the two were totally unrelated but that did not stop the song being quietly banned from any Radio play in case it was "deemed inappropriate". 

Felt in 1980 - Photo by Paul Slattery
I must admit there was something slightly surreal about watching a documentary when suddenly the subject himself appears on stage as the end credits roll! There followed an interesting and lively discussion with questions from the audience, I asked Lawrence how he felt about giving up so much control to Paul Kelly considering his somewhat controlling nature. He admitted that although he trusted Paul, it was difficult at first and he had to "draw up a mental contract" with himself "not to interfere". At the end I had a little chat to Lawrence and he asked me to remind Paul Slattery to send him some prints of his early Felt photographs (some of which you can see here). "I hope he hasn't lost my address, I wrote it on a piece of paper, I haven't got an email or anything like that". I was about to say he could see some of the photos on the Blog but thought better of it...!

You can still catch the movie before the run ends, tonight May 17th, at the Glasgow Grosvenor, tomorrow May 18th, at Edinburgh Cameo and finally May 21st at the Hackney Playhouse, London.
Check the Heavenly Films web-site for further information and details of tickets and timings. 

Lawrence in 2012 - Photo by Paul Slattery
First Third Books have published an excellent 176 page book about Felt, featuring more than 140 rare photographs from 20 different photographers, including our very own Paul Slattery, who took some of the very first shots of the band. It's a beautifully presented cloth-bound embossed hardback book, limited to 1,000 individually numbered copies all signed by Lawrence. There's also an extensive illustrated discography, an introduction by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne and Lawrence's own annotations and quotes throughout.

Many thanks to Paul Slattery for the exclusive photos of Felt and Lawrence.

Monday 7 May 2012

The Monochrome Set live at Camden Dingwalls April 29th

The Monochrome Set live at Dingwalls - Photo by Steve Worrall
It felt a bit like returning to the scene of a crime, it was after all not even a year ago since I was at Dingwalls witnessing a Monochrome Set gig. At that time I'd only just started the Blog and the subsequent review was to teach me a swift lesson. If I was going to write and publish my thoughts then I'd better get my facts right, do my research and not forget that old maxim, "only write what you know about". The thing is, there are some bands you follow through thick and thin - you sign up to newsletters, collect records, join fan-clubs, know all the collaborations and off-shoots and even the side projects of the session guy who played the trombone on side two of the difficult third album. Unfortunately, I was never like that with The Monochrome Set, as with many bands I like, if I saw they were touring I'd go and see them and if they had a new album out I would buy it, but I didn't really keep up to date with their comings and goings. Anyway, I loved that show, which was full of old classics, but I did mention in the review that I would have liked to have heard more songs from their superb mid-period albums such as "Dante's Casino" and "Jack". I also bemoaned the fact that it was a shame that they hadn't played live for such a long time. I published the review and also posted a link in the band's Fan Forum as I thought it might be of interest.

Photo by Steve Worrall
I was somewhat surprised to receive a response from singer Bid himself, it was a charming message "You're quite right about the lack of "mid-period" songs. Most of the set had already been rehearsed as a 4-piece last Spring, before my stroke. Then, after I recovered, we decided to add keyboards (Jon), which would have given us the "width" to play this material - but I still wasn't up to rehearsing properly until the beginning of this year. With one thing and another, we had little time to properly rehearse any songs other than the ones we had chosen the previous Spring. But, we will be looking at these over this summer". A stroke...? Bloody hell, a stroke! That was when I learnt that little lesson, I felt a bit guilty about my minor gripes and vowed that if I was going to carry on with this Blog thing that I really needed to do a little bit more research. It turned out that in the summer of 2010 Bid suffered what is known as an "aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage" and had to endure a 5 hour operation. One of the processes of the treatment was to shoot platinum coils into the affected area, hence the title of the brand new album. 

Andy Warren - by Steve Speight
So, a year later and it's back to Dingwalls and The Monochrome Set and as we get our wrists stamped at the box office I see Bid standing in the doorway, maybe I was going to get my wrists slapped! But I've never met him before so I would be OK...however, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to introduce myself. I also wanted to say thank you for exclusive access to the new album as we were to play a track on the Retrosonic Podcast. In fact, I had to apologise about that as, due to some technical problems and what with the album release being brought forward, we were too late to claim an "exclusive". Ah, well I don't seem to have much luck when it comes to The Monochrome Set! Bid was charming, and the thing that struck me was that he looks so damn healthy, and after all he went through. It must take immense courage and determination, not to mention some fine work from the medical team, to be able to get to the stage when...well, when he can get up on a stage! The band appear to the familiar tribal drumming and drone guitar (with Lester using a rather novel implement in place of an E-Bow...) and it's into "The Monochrome Set (I Presume)". The band are on fire, now featuring be-Fez'd drummer Steve Brummell and violinist Helena Johansson - who also adds mandolin to great effect on some songs - alongside original members Bid, Andy Warren and Lester Square, they sound much more powerful and tight than I've ever seen before. The set list is a mix of early crowd favourites along with a good smattering of new tracks from the excellent "Platinum Coils". "Lighter Side of Dating" gives way to "Jet Set Junta" which is followed by one of my favourite tracks "Alphaville"'s a superb sequence. 

Photo by Steve Worrall
Then Bid announces they will play a few new songs, and with some bands that can lead to a mass exodus to the bar, not this time! For those in the crowd that had heard the new album would have been well aware that the new tracks are as strong as anything they have released it the past. The songs are also not so different in style to their faultless classic "Eligible Bachelors", a large chunk of which is played tonight, so there is a seamless and natural flow to the set, from old numbers to new. "Platinum Coils" in its entirety is already, to me feeling as strong an album as "Bachelors", it's one of those records that just works as a whole. From the overall sound and production, the superb songwriting with its host of catchy and memorable numbers right through to the fantastic packaging with the silver foil style, lyric poster and wonderful cover artwork from Lester. 

Photo by Steve Worrall
The aforementioned cover art, which shows a myriad of unusual objects emerging from Bid's head, along with the title's reference to "Platinum Coils", shows that Bid is tackling his life-threatening experience head on, if you pardon the expression...The lyrics are the usual wry and humorous observations, for example on "I Can't Control My Feet", you can imagine Bid's impatience with being confined to a hospital bed as he could be hallucinating, "I went to the party with my three friends, a nurse and a porter and a guy with no hands, but if I hear that Oxy-pump I'd have to jump and leave my seat". Tonight, it's a joyous number and one of the real highlights of the set for me. On "Waiting For Alberto", again that sense of boredom seeps out as he hopes that his next visitor will bring some pears or apples or exotic fruits, except bananas as "they make him ill", it's a perfect example of the self-deprecating wit in Bid's lyrics. The set comes to a close with a superb run through of "Eine Symphonie Des Grauens" which features one of the best bass lines ever, and then it's over all too soon! The crowd demand more and they return for two well deserved encores which included "He's Frank" and "The Mating Game", then it's over and the venue shuts the bar and kicks everyone out rather unceremoniously into the night! A bit of a shame as I could have done with a beer to relax a bit and take it all in. But what a night, and what a performance - certainly the best I have seen the band play, and judging from the huge smiles and extremely happy crowd piling past me to the exits, I guess I wasn't the only one to think so. So, now I have learnt my lesson, The Monochrome Set deserve far more from me than a passing interest and the odd gig and record purchase...I am hooked and won't make the mistake of missing out on their future adventures again!

Lester Square - Photo by Steve Speight

You can hear a track from the new Monochrome Set album on Episode 2 of Retrosonic Podcast
Thanks to Steve Speight for the photos of Lester & Andy, please check out more of Steve's excellent photos at his Flickr Site.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

U.K. Subs "Time & Matter" Archive Web-site + Paul Slack Tour Blog

Great news...the U.K. Subs immense historical archive web-site "Time & Matter", run with admirable dedication by Mark Chadderton & Rob Cook, is now back up on line following it's re-launch today! It has beaten the unbelievable act of mindless hacking from some extremely sad Internet nerd, and is now back and running at full steam! Any fan of any band would crave a site like this, it really is a huge and impressive labour of love, so it's more reason to be thankful that Mark & Paul could recover their work. "Time & Matter" features a wealth of excellent archive material and memorabilia, ranging from photos, press releases and old fanzine features to a full discography and up to date news on the band and it's various ex-members and off-shoots. Anyway, best of luck to Mark and Rob. 

U.K. Subs - Photo by Steve Worrall
Whilst the site was down, original Subs' bassist Paul Slack, now with Monica & The Explosion, moved his fantastic Tour Blog/Travelogue to a different site. You can catch up with Paul and Monica's adventures on the new "Access All Areas" Blog. Paul said when he was on tour back in the day, he went to some amazing places but it was just venue/backstage/tour bus/venue...but now he really wants to savour and experience the various places he plays (and eats...!) at. He writes and photographs very well, and I recommend his Blog whether you like Food, Travel, or Music...or all three for that is a thoroughly entertaining read!  
Monica & The Explosion - Photo by Steve Worrall
You can see Paul Slack in action with Monica & The Explosion at The Half Moon, Putney on June 30th as Part 2 of Retro Man Blog's "Punk Legends" nights. Also on the bill will be the original "Sound of The Suburbs" - The Members - with Rat Scabies from The Damned on drums. Part 1 will be at The Railway in Southend-on-Sea on June 22nd with TV Smith from The Adverts, Andy J Gallagher with Roman Jugg (The Damned, Naz Nomad) and Dick York (Cryssis).