Sunday, 30 June 2013

Music - Part 102 - An Interview With Martin Stephenson

Photo by Sugar D Photography

Last year, Martin Stephenson & The Daintees released quite possibly their best album to date, California Star which is now being re-released for 2013 with backing by Absolute Marketing/Universal.

The whole Stephenson back catalogue will now be available again for all those too young, (or too ignorant), to have not heard them the first time around to finally acquaint themselves with one of Britains greatest, yet most underrated, singer songwriters. 

For me, California Star was finally an album to at least rival the classic Boat To Bolivia.  It’s text book Martin Stephenson, the story-telling songs that no-one can fail to be enthralled by, and, the music that any serious music fan can do nothing but marvel at.

Coupled with that, Martin remains a busy live performer and one which, whether solo or with The Daintees, should never be missed.  As  ever, he remains one of the truly nice guys of music and he was only too pleased to share a few thoughts:

Q: How’s life in the Cromarty Firth?
A: Clean & serene pal, a good place to hide away and work

Q: What made you move up there?
A: Divorce, but earlier musical visits as far back as 89 formed an idea

Q: The last couple of years seem to have been a bit of a whirlwind. What’s it like to be back and widely accepted?
A: In honesty I don’t really see it like that, I just continue, I’m not really into
attention but enjoy making and sharing music, saying that, I feel blessed for the path I have been given

Q: It’s 27 years since Boat To Bolivia, how does that feel?
A: Timeless I suppose, as was the vision behind our first songs, to be timeless, as we found ourselves landed in the early 80’s, so our main objective was not to be shaped too much by the technology of the day, we were more fans of the 60’s recording process

Q: How were your thoughts when Kitchenware closed down last year?
A: Absolutely nothing

Q: You’ve worked a few times with Paul Handyside (of 80s guitar band Hurrah!, are you in touch with many other from the Kitchenware stable?
A: Ah now there is a different energy all together, Paul is a sacred brother to me, I love him, he is truthful and a very good artist, I’m a big fan of his guitar playing

Q: I recently reviewed last years California Star for Louder Than War and said it was possibly your finest work. Do you know when you’re recording something special?
A: No idea, probably the opposite, your songs are your children, so you simply try to be a good parent and do the best you can for each song, of course they all have different kinds of power

Q: You’ve publicly acknowledged your recovery for alcohol, what made you make the decision to stop?
A: Having daughters and seeing how unreal the whole drinking culture is, along with drugs in general, addiction, I got really tired of felling shit and not being straight, I love simplicity and being reliable, truthful, I enjoying being with folks like that, hate head games, bullshit, love is the one

Q: Cheese & Onion or Worcester Sauce?
A: Oooh that’s a tuff one, more WS these days if forced to make a choice, but originally always C&O

Q: I’m always fascinated how much time you spend with the audience before and after the show. How important is that to you?
A: Most important as I see the audience as the highest level, as my teacher, I am in service and love to entertain folks

Q: What do you think of Helen’s music (Helen McCookerybook – partner and Barbaraville label mate)? Voxpop Puella was/is stunning.
A: I adore Helen’s music, her whole journey, she is a beautiful gentle and very
eccentric soul, I have learned so much from Helen, the first thing I learned when I heard her was not to sound angry and cold, Helen & Jonathan Richman were my guides.

Q: Does song writing get any easier with time?
A: I think so, it’s only as hard as you wanna make it, I enjoy helping others with it, it’s great to help folks get through obstacles, I love songs, all kinds

Q: Eliza P is an interesting artist for you to work with. How did you meet each
other? Are there any new artists around that excite you?
A: Liz is a genius, satire is her gift, we met at a gig by chance, she was married to a comedian, her songs are so clever and beautiful, I am very excited to help her make her first album Ecclectic Kettle, would you review it for us?

Q: You invite me round for tea – what are you cooking?
A: We are going to the curry house, though I make a nice Russian beetroot soup

Q: You may not remember this, but, I feel I have to remind you. You played at the Burnley Mechanics Theatre around 1989, Paul Handyside was the support. You played for ages – the venue staff were getting twitchy and you even asked if the audience ‘hadn’t any f*cking homes to go to’! You jumped down to the front of the stage and beckoned to the audience who came and sat around you in a huge circle. Some yob started passing a spliff around the ring. Happy days.
A: I remember, Paul had been hurt very badly by a girl and was travelling with me to recover, his music healed him, I love Paul

                                                                                                        Photo by Juan Fitzgerald

Q: What’s your favourite own track?
A: ‘Me and my friend Cecil’ a bedroom recording from 1980

Q: You seem a genuinely nice bloke, is there anyone or anything that really gets your goat?
A: Well you know, Tories, thieves, liars yeah! Tories

Q: Are there any other musicians you’d like to work with? I’m thinking Ian McNabb would be a good partnership.
A: I like Ian, he is a good lad, maybe one day.  Chris Layhe, the bass player out the Icicle Works, is a great guy, I would work with him too!
Peter Coyle out of Lotus Eaters a great pal of mine, very special guy.  I like Nick Heyward, I would like to do something fun with him, like love conscious
trippy stuff along with Dubular out of the Transglobal Underground, John Cooper Clarke great fun, would love to produce a Rockabilly album for him!

Q: Barbaraville and llama’s – discuss.
A: Heed this advice for all that it’s worth! Steer clear of the village on the Cromarty Firth, named...Barbaraville!

Q: Did you know there was a Barbaraville Romany Gypsy camp near Hatfield that was set up by Barbara Cartland?
A: No man, that’s awesome!

Q: What’s the future hold for Martin Stephenson and The Daintees?
A: Future holds the past, “all we have is now” - Paul Handyside!  Blessed be, and, thanks.

I’d like to extend a very special personal thank you to Martin and Andy Cairns for their patience and generousity during the preparation of this artictle.  Restoring some of my faith in human kindess.

The 3 track California Star EP can be downloaded FREE here.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Music - Part 101 - Stally & The Breadwinners / Skinshape

Stally & The Breadwinners/Skinshape – Riddim Box Dub/Soul Groove (Horus Records)
Out Now

On 12/12/12, Al Redfern and his project The Breadwinners gave one good reason why we should never be too hasty in publishing our yearly Best Of lists with the Dubs Unlimited album being an absolute scorcher!

New Dorset label, Horus, promise to give us “music that deserves to be heard by a wider audience”, and, with their first release, you really can’t argue.  It’s a double A sided single featuring two great tracks.

First up is tenor saxophonist Stally who featured on The Breadwinners album as part of Redferns project.  The perfect single for a Monday morning – lazy and uplifting.  Stally’s sexy saxophone is super smooth (and other words beginning with ‘s’) and an absolute killer with dubs and more dubs galore.  Again using ¼ inch tape and conventional effects, Al has created yet more superb sounds.   Some of the dubs here are so long that they are still echoing out when new ones come in!  Slightly reminiscent of UB40’s One In Ten, but, don’t let that put you off!  Marvellous percussion to close as Redfern quickly moves up a gear to claim his title as Dub King for the twenty-first century.  The boy from Rochdale has done good.

Side A number two comes from Skinshape, or, Will Dorey to his Mother.  With a slow meandering soul/funk groove and some lovely vocals from guest Anina backed by a great reggae dub guitar, Soul Groove is exactly what it says.  A great bridge after a minute and a half when most of the instrumentation drops out and the drums and bass come to the front with some space-age electronic effects and stunning organ courtesy of second guest Jon Moody.  An incredibly polished production and another superb track.

If this is the shape of things to come from Horus, then we’re in for some very special stuff.



Published on Louder Than War 26/06/13 - here

Music - Part 100 - David Byrne and St Vincent

David Byrne and St Vincent – Brass Tactics EP (4AD)
Free DL
Out Now

You don’t get much for free in these times, and, when you do, you quickly realise why you didn’t have to pay.  It comes as a rather pleasant surprise then to be gifted a five track EP, of great quality, from two of modern times’ most original singers and performers.

Last years Love This Giant album by David Byrne and St Vincent was met with great critical acclaim for its ingenious brass band instrumentation and the Brass Tactics EP carries on that theme, cleverly released as a free download to entice more people back to the album. 

Opener, Cissus, which didn’t make it onto the album, is a beautiful waltz featuring the equally beautiful voice of  St Vincent’s Annie Clark.  Her voice is quite simply stunning and has echoes of Empress Of quite likely capable of making grown men swoon.  Her angelic tones float along with the curious backing of a Yorkshire Colliery brass band sound and a quite amazing glass harmonica.  How this ever avoided being included on any album is quite beyond belief.

We then have two remixes from the Giant album – I Should Watch TV and Lightning.  The former sees Byrne take lead on an electronic trip-hop adventure with a terrific stomp drumbeat.  Backing himself on lead vocals and interspersed funky brass section.  Lightning has a James Brown styled funk, again with Clark displaying a quite extraordinary vocal scale throughout.

Two live tracks, familiar to each individual artist, close the EP.  Marrow is a peculiar little number with an explosive frenetic brass interlude after a placid beginning.    Brilliant drums, bass and screeching guitar solo.  Closing is Road To Nowhere which is given a clever update with, amongst other things, trumpet, sousaphone and trombone.  A classic pop song given a new lease of life.

Download the EP in full here.

Great stuff.



Published on Louder Than War 26/06/13 - here 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Music - Part 99 - Eyes & No Eyes

Eyes & No Eyes – If No-one Else Saw It (Willkomen Records)
24 June 2013

I know very little about ex Brighton art school quartet Eyes & No Eyes, but, that may soon change after the release of a double-A sided single which is really rather entertaining.  Instruments guitar, drums and bass are joined by the unlikely cello to create sweeping,  part-atmospheric  tracks which demand several listens and weave their ways into your subconscious.

Starting with a lovely, clearly produced sound, If No One Else Saw It is part shoegaze, part alternative pop with a cutting percussive beat and vocals not unlike those of Sigur Ros’ Jon Por Birgission which wind beautifully alongside a sumptuous jangly guitar.  The rolling drums and precise cello also have hints of Bury boys Elbow, so there is clearly an audience in the waiting for the band.  It’s a full sound without being overcomplicated and is memorable and catchy even before the chorus appears, rising halfway through and soaring away before coming back down to land as the track closes.

There’s an album due later this year which Eyes & No Eyes have spent the last year recording together with touring throughout Europe and the UK.  Recorded live it promises to “capture the energetic interplay” of the band and there’s really no reason to not look forward to its release.  Also on the horizon is a conceptual electronic EP alluding to Matmos and Kraftwerk which sounds a mouth-watering prospect.

Flying Machine is probably the better of the two tracks here.  A mid-tempo track that breaks off a couple of times and is held together by the cello which underpins the melody.  The group do have a knack of writing a very good tune, not over commercial, but catchy enough to set your cd player to repeat several times.  A real grower that cleverly entwines a well written melody with subtle vocals. 

A very appealing sound and a group to keep an eye (or no eyes?) on.



Published on Louder Than War 24/06/13 - here

Music - Part 98 - Grandmaster Gareth

Grandmaster Gareth – Magical Sound Shower (GM Sounds)
24 June 2013

Grandmaster Gareth was once described by John Peel as ‘the new God’ and, if Peel’s statement is true, then this is certainly the album for the pop atheist.  There’s a hint of Grandmaster Flash and White Lines to I Am Garzuvius, indeed there so many sounds on this album it’s easy to see why it was seven years in the making.  Gareth, (or should we call him The Grandmaster?), takes influence from pulp sci-fi books and B-movies, amongst other things, and the result is an incredible trip through a musical Technicolor landscape.

An apple crunches, birds sing, children cry.

This album is fun, fun, fun, but, well constructed intelligent pop too.  It doesn’t drag on forever and ever, it gives short, sharp, sound bursts which is sometimes enough to keep a listener enthralled, and, that’s certainly what Magical Sound Shower does.  It’s well-timed and well executed.  It’s brilliantly done and borders on genius. 

There are different moods and different textures.  The Hoarder Of Moments is low key and subtle, and is followed by ten seconds of madness in the shape of Magical Cuts which is basically instruments made to sound out of tune.  There’s a childrens TV programme in a Blue Peter vain which provides sound bytes of what sounds like jelly making on Don’t Grumble Under Pressure sounding almost pornographic with the innuendo voiceover ‘wobbles’.  A Stephen Hawking styled voice says the words of the album title to close the track.

There are space age doom sound effects throughout with musical imagery of space-age comics.  Possible clips from Sega and Nintendo arcade games of the 80s bind together the Mario influenced The Bigger The Bass Line/The Bigger The Waistline over a crunching drum beat.

A dog barks and Stephen Hawking returns to tell us not to buy this album.

Track after track of weird and wonderful sounds, and, beautifully put together bits of music bouncing, crashing and making you think.  Absolutely glorious.  This is probably where all those great BBC Sound Effects albums were heading, the ones that as a teenager I played in their entirely like a conventional album.  Yeah, call me a weirdo for adding excerpts of them into my taped Top 40 compilations!

A machete being brandished.

Great percussion on the brash, in your face, The Nobelisk, which has distortion galore and certainly isn’t as poppy as its predecessors.  There’s even a viola chucked in somewhere and some great post dub effects which rival last years album from label mate D.E.A.D.    Slowly whirring and trickling along is Watch Your Step complete with childrens voice and a Sesame Street parody.  If there’s a downfall to the album, it’s that you really need to listen to it as a whole rather than individual tracks, it’s a project if you will, an epic extravaganza that deserves to be appreciated in its entirety. 

Cue voices of the Minions from the Despicable Me movie?

Freestyle jazz with frenetic percussion on I Eat Dogs, Why Not People? and CBeebies from grown-ups on The Dewormer.  Don’t be fooled, it’s not a twee album, it’s done in an incredibly original way. 

A scream, Big Ben chimes and a merry-go-round.

Angelic Church voices and a cartoon factory production line.

The title track tips a wink in the direction of Red River Rock by Johnny & The Hurricanes or early OMD before an untitled and unaccredited twentieth track (yes, count them!) merely exclaims “Did You Wobble?”.

You really should own this album.



Published on Louder Than War 24/06/13 - here

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Music - Part 97 - Sky Valley Mistress

Sky Valley Mistress – The Best Thing You’ve Never Heard
Out Now

I’m originally from Burnley Lancashire, so the prospect of reviewing a group from neighbours Blackburn shouldn’t really be something that I savour, but, given that their new and young and well, local, I said I’d give them a go.  Forgetting the rivalry between our towns, I actually really enjoyed their debut EP which has the great title of The Best Thing You’ve Never Heard.  Well, I’ve heard it now so it doesn’t really mean anything, other than it could have been.

Describing themselves as a rock’n’roll band, their influences are clearly Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin based.  This is slightly ironic as lead singer, Kayley Davies, has a voice very reminiscent of Sandy McKenzie, lead singer with 90s one hit wonders Goldbug, who had a hit with their fantastic version of Whole Lotta Love.  The irony doesn’t end there as their track My Time Has Come does have similarities to the track too, a track that starts calmly enough but soon builds into a colossus of a track complete with psychedelic interlude.

EP opener, The Day Of The Lion, is a great start.  Davies’ vocals are quite superb and her range and note longevity is very impressive.  The drums are loud and key to the track, and the guitars are aggressive.  If there’s a downside to the track, it’s the male backing vocals which aren’t conducive and don’t seem to compliment the lead vocals at all.  Complete with a DJ nightmare false ending, it’s rock meets metal meets pop and is exceptionally good.

Dirty Blonde Blues is as you’d maybe expect, blues based.  Again, Kayley’s vocal shine in a song that is particularly suited to her.  More blues oriented songs would be interesting from Sky Valley Mistress as it’s something that they do do very well.  It would also be nice to hear them tackle something slightly slower paced to see if their obvious talents extend even further.

The EP is well produced too where special mention should go to Sean Berry for his work where he has really brought out the rawness and power of the group.

It has to be said, that for a group of eighteen year olds, they show terrific maturity and have plenty of ideas and oomph.  They’ve obviously caught the eye of many people too – the inclusion in this years Download Festival endorsing the fact.



Published on Louder Than War 17/06/13 - here

Friday, 14 June 2013

Music - Part 96 - Mir

Mir – Secret (Barbaraville Records)
Out Now

You probably haven’t heard of Mir, which means you probably haven’t heard of Miriam Campbell.  Louder Than Wars Paul Scott-Bates explains why that’s a travesty and something that should be corrected post haste.

Miriam was born in Downpatrick in Northern Ireland, the daughter of musical parents who also guided a guitar playing brother.  It’s no surprise then that Miriam should herself be immersed in music from the tender age of 3.

With her band, which includes the likes of Allan Leckie, Jim Hornsby and one Martin Stephenson, Mir has created a wonderful album of refreshing uplifting songs.  It’s easy to see the influences too – if you were told that some songs were of Johnny Cash origin, you’d have no reason to doubt it.  It’s easy to imagine the Man In Black standing on the stage at Folsom Prison and belting out the wonderful  Soul.

There’s also Patsy Cline here, a huge influence,  and there’s black comedy on the lovely Old No. 7, a lament to the bottle of badness.  Where this album succeeds when others have failed is with its brutal passion and gutsy honesty.  Roses is simply lovely and is remarkable in the simplicity in which it blissfully whisps along.  Wind blowing through your hair as you walk across the fields, shielding your eyes from the sun and waiting patiently  for that special one to appear.

Anyone that doesn’t sing along to Rainbows after the first play needs to seek help.  It’s classic country/folk/pop and has one of those melodies that will not leave you.  It’s a simple song and a simple lesson in songwriting.

Made Me ventures into standard rock’n’roll from the early days of Mr Presley and Leckie’s piano in the background is marvellous.  The gospel organ on Love On The Wind is equally sublime as it backs another beautifully written track this time from the very underrated Helen McCookerybook formerly of The Chefs and Skat.

This is a collection of effortless and uncomplicated songs, and, any cd that starts and ends with the sound of a vinyl record crackling deserves to be heard.

Published on Louder Than War 14/06/13 - here

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Music - Part 95 - People Of The North

People Of The North – Sub Contra (Thrill Jockey)
10 June 2013

It’s always difficult to review an album when you can’t really stick the artist into any particular genre, and this is one of them.  Oneida members Kid Millions on drums and Bobby Matador on everything else make music which is particularly hard to define.  It’s also pretty hard on the ears in so much that some of the work doesn’t quite flow and lacks  some cohesive quality.

People Of The North should certainly be applauded for originality, but sometimes originality isn’t all that is required.  Album opener Drama Class is over nine minutes of improvised sounded percussion, in fact much of the album could almost be improvised, drums constantly merge with electronics which seem to act independently.  It’s almost psychedelic sounding and there’s an element of darkness and enforced horror.  At over nine minutes long is maybe just that little too much to be appreciated to any great degree.

Sub Contra parts 1 and 2 are again mind blowing, but, not necessarily in a positive way. It’s certainly different, and in parts very entertaining, but the album as a whole tends to stick in one placed and struggles to emerge out of it.  The fifth and final track, the opus that is Osange Orange, is again much percussion courtesy of Mr Millions and admittedly it’s powerful stuff.  The synthesizers fade in and out in an almost ambient way moving to and fro in a really interesting way.  It’s  by far the best track on the album, but, again at well over fourteen minutes long, it’s too much.

Not a bad album bad far, but equally not great.  Maybe as a soundtrack album it would find its strength, but, as listening pleasure, it isn’t really cutting it for me.



Published on Louder Than War 10/06/13 - here

Music - Part 94 - Jan St Werner

Jan St Werner – Blaze Colour Burn (Thrill Jockey)
10 June 2013

Electronic music pioneer, Jan St Werner releases his new album.  Louder Than Wars Paul Scott-Bates is on hand to review.

One half of Mouse On Mars, Jan St Werner has increased his profile as an avant garde artist not afraid to experiment with anything he so wishes.  There are no holds barred on this album which stretches from the bizarre, to the weird, to the downright mad on many occasions.  Whether it be called music or whether it be called compositions of sound, the stark originality cannot be denied and the genius (or the madman) is allowed to shine through for all to see.

Two tracks here, Spiazzacorale A and Spiazzacorale B are taken from an eight hour live performance in Umbria, Italy which included, amongst other things a brass band, church bells, coughing and recordings made in the cafes of the public piazza.  There may even be the sound of sheep in there too or maybe my mind is now playing tricks with me.  The freestyle jazz saxophone is certainly present and it’s a mammoth track.

Album opener, Cloud Diachroma, contains what may well be random sounds made up purely on the spur of the moment, but equally it could well be the work of an incredibly active musical mind viz a viz Scott Walker and Bish Bosch.  Does Sipian Organ contain excerpts of saws in a mill?  Quite possibly, and therein lies the beauty of something like this.  On first listen it’s just random sounds and someone playing the fool, but, on second listen it’s inspired, and, though it doesn’t make any sense (or does it?), it’s a true musical adventure.

Serra Beacon includes parts of guitar feedback sound and Feed Opener experiments with acoustic sounds.  There is a true beauty to this album, the complexity of some of the parts not interfering, but instead embracing each other.  An album of true inventiveness, and, if it had been the aforementioned Mr Walker, we would be talking about it for months.



Published on Louder Than War 10/06/13 - here

Music - Part 93 - Date Palms

Date Palms – The Dusted Sessions (Thrill Jockey)
10 June 2013

There seem to be more and more drone artists appearing in a music form that was previously sneered at, but, to be fair, the genre seems to be developing into something more than monotone ramblings.   Acts are layering and adding instrumentation to make it more interesting whilst maintaining the hypnotic appeal.

Take the Date Palms duo of Gregg Kowalsky and Marielle Jakobsons.  On The Dusted Sessions they’ve been joined by electric bass, electric guitar and tanpura, and the sound is something pretty good.  It’s minimalist, but has some great additions in the form of Country, jazz and the intriguing Indian Classical.  It all adds up to a very unique sound.

Apparently inspired by a visit to the Yuba River, three tracks reference its name – amplified violins create an eerie but calming sound in an almost Country style.  Imagine riders on horseback riding slowly along the riverbank, dust kicking up behind their hooves making their way into the sunset behind the inevitable clouds.  Yuba Source Part 1, Yuba Source Part 2 and Yuba Reprise carry on the same theme, the later of the three fading away calmly and beautifully.

Side two of the album is notably harder and darker.  Percussion and electric guitars make their mark on Night Riding The Skyline although the violin does make another appearance at the electronically effected close.  More electronic effects mark the start of Dusted Down which again starts slowly and soon rises into heavier territory, maintaining an element of calm and resisting the urge to go that little bit too far.  Analogue synthesizers move slowly behind an intermittent flute as the track closes a special album with serene and endless feel.

It’s all good stuff, and, if cult movie classic Westworld was to be remade for the twenty-first century, then The Dusted Sessions would be the perfect soundtrack. 

All stirring stuff.



Published on Louder Than War 10/06/13 - here