Kula Shaker talk K.20

Twenty years ago, Kula Shaker were one of the biggest bands in Britain, fresh after the success of debut album ‘K’, a heady brew of Indian mysticism, Brit-pop and 60’s sounds; one which spawned classic songs such as ‘Hey Dude’, ‘Govinda’ and ‘Tattva’.

Fast forward two decades and the band are currently four dates into an extensive worldwide tour in support of their fifth studio album, K.20. And after the band arrived in Scotland for a date at Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms, charismatic frontman Crispian Mills spoke to me about longevity, Neil Young, eastern influences and Glasgow ballroom floors.

“The whole thing is a strange sort of whirlwind of nostalgia and also with playing new songs as well it’s been quite an interesting mix,” says Crispian.

“The thing about the band is that we were never like a sort of U2 size band we were not just a little pop band either, we are sort of in a strange Kula Shaker with its own strange sort of beast and its very familiar. It’s always surprising to us you go round the world people have heard of us and come to our gigs”, he adds.

Crispian admits that the band had been caught unawares with the attention received since K.20’s release, with the band’s live dates more than anything else a chance for them to get out and just do what they love most – playing concerts.

Well you know you when you get into the pop business you can get very precious about your career and that’s completely understandable but there’s some fun in just playing for shits and giggles. It’s nice to be spontaneous about where you play and how you make records and I think that the crowds have responded to that.”

He also considers that, further to this,  it’s both the bands wide arrange of influences musically and focus on honing a sound geared towards the live setting has contributed towards their longevity and resonated most with their loyal fan base.

“By some kind of miracle blessing or some kind of higher force we’ve never lost our ‘mojo’. We were always a live band and that’s how we built our reputation and that’s how we won fans. Our songs have always been a mixture of sort of classic old school song writing with choruses and romance like the Beatles and folks songs you know, and this kind of love of Prog and psychedelic bands.”

“I don’t think you really get the whole picture till you see it live and we don’t either. We don’t understand the songs properly until we’ve played them through and then they take on a whole other life of their own.”

With regards to influences, Neil Young’s name pops into the conversation in reference to the song ‘High Noon’ off the new album, one that could have easily come from the icon’s own repertoire.

“We once played Glastonbury twice in one year and we headlined on the Saturday night and it was like the apex of our pop career and then Neil Young cut his finger making a ham sandwich the next day. There was no one else to come on and we went on in his place on the Sunday afternoon after Michael Eavis asked us to play,” he reveals.

“At first there was a bit of resentment from the crowd at first and we slaughtered one of his songs, ‘Out On The Weekend’ (from the album Harvest). It was a gallant attempt and I think the audience warmed to us after that. It was a great gig the Sunday afternoon was even better than the Saturday night.”

The band are no doubt best known for  their interest in traditional Indian music, culture and traditions, alongside their use of instruments such as the sitar to give their music a sound that sets them far apart from other bands that became popular during the Britpop era.

“I don’t think people think of us as a British band in that typical kind of way, I think Kula Shaker is a kind of a bit of a pop anomaly and we are very proud of that, we are the misfits. And the whole spiritual, psychedelic, Krishna thing has always been the defining element,” says Crispian.

Before he adds, “It’s a universal spiritual identity and that is always going to be something that’s fun to express sin music and in arts and in cooking and I think everybody gets it.  There’s a saying that ‘The sun rises in the East, does that make it an Eastern sun? When you get into the essence of any old culture you realize we all come from the same place and we all have the same ancestors.”

And, spiritual beliefs aside, while the band got ready to play in front of their Scottish fans in the capital; Crispian admitted that it was Glasgow that holds a special place in the band’s heart – for a number of reasons.

“Glasgow was always a very key date for us and one of the tipping points in our careers was selling out the Barrowlands. One of the most memorable gigs in Glasgow was in some ballroom I don’t know if it’s still going, they had a bouncy floor and it was packed and the whole crowd was jumping up and down and the crew were trying to trying to hold the whole of the sound rig up because they thought it was going to collapse and we all thought we were going to die. And, eh, that’s just a normal night in Glasgow.”

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Charles Bradley’s ‘Changes’

Rarely has the release of new material been so welcomed amidst the backdrop of such horror and violence at home and abroad. The man known endearingly as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” is back with ‘Changes’, his third studio album, an album which reinforces Charles Bradley’s world weary funk and soul holler as a true tonic of our times.

With long-time producer and co-songwriter Thomas Brenneck again at the helm, Bradley takes us on a musical journey from smoke-filled satin sheeted bedrooms to full blown race riots, such is his capacity to engineer a voice that deviates between Pentecostal preacher (to an already converted public) to that of sugar coated, silver tongued Casanova.

And while previous albums ‘No Time For Dreaming’ and ‘Victim Of Love’  were recorded with Dunham Records house band Menahan Street Band, ‘Changes’ sees Bradley collaborate and expand to perform with various different musicians, including members of Budos Band, the Dap-Kings and Charles’ touring band The Extraordinaires, alongside a number of renowned background vocalists (Sha La Das, Gospel Queens, Saun & Starr).

The result being that, although in many respects rooted in the heyday of 1960s/1970s R&B and soul ala Al Green and Otis Redding, and most importantly, James Brown , ‘Changes’ embodies a more modernist approach and feel, entrenched in familiar themes of suffering, strength and love, as evidenced in both ‘Change For The World’ and ‘Ain’t Gonna Give It Up’.

And with typical zeal and piety, as if kneeling at its altar, Bradley yields to the power of love more than ever on this album in comparison to its predecessors, as the buoyant ‘Things we do for love’, the poetic ‘Crazy for Love’ and the slow burning conclusion of ‘Slow Love’ suggest.

The presence of the aforementioned Godfather of Soul is none the more so visible in the outrageously funky ‘Good To Be Back Home’, a tribute to his homeland as patriotic an anthem as Brown’s own ‘Living in America’, coming hot on the heels of preamble ‘God Bless America’, in which Bradley confesses his love for his nation.

The fantastically broody ballad ‘Nobody But You’ sees whimpering horns wrap around Bradley’s soulful howl, while the gregarious ‘Aint It A Sin’ is a juggernaut of raw energy, backed by background hollers and claps to give it a visceral, almost unrefined feel.

With title track ‘Changes’ we see Bradley truly measure up to the level of the masters of his craft, delivering a cover full of lingering emotion and resonance that it penetrates deep into the soul, rendering the listener utterly in awe of the artist formerly known as James Brown tribute act ‘Black Velvet’. An instant classic, and fitting title to an album that magnetizes, charms and captivates in equal measure against a backdrop of Bradley’s timeless vocal purity the likes of which come along once in a blue moon.

Frightened Rabbit talk new album ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’

Scotland’s finest exporters of woolly jumper wearing indie rock, Frightened Rabbit, are back after a two year hiatus to clothe us with their signature brand of charming, heart-warming and spirited anthems that keep us the right mixture of warm and emotionally delicate.

With April’s release of their fifth studio album ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ fast approaching, the band are currently knuckled down in a Glasgow studio in rehearsals ahead of a short three date UK tour and subsequent mammoth 29 date North American jaunt.

Band members Andy Monaghan (guitars/keyboards) and Simon Liddell (guitars) took a bit of time out of their schedule to talk about the new album and their readiness to return to the live scene, alongside how Simon’s addition to the band – graduating from guitar tech and live musician to replace Gordon Skeene – has changed their dynamic.

“I guess it’s a combination of looking forward to playing some shows and anxious to play some shows. I mean the set-up has changed, it’s a bit of a new set up, new sounds, new songs, you never know how its gonna go down, as Andy begins.

While Simon adds, “That’s especially true of playing the new songs as well, for me, cause they are the first ones I’ve had involvement in part of the recording of those ones, as much as its fun playing the other ones.”

With the response so far to the release of new singles ‘Death Dream’ and ‘Get Out’ reaching fever pitch, both Andy and Simon seem in high spirits, as Andy mentions:

“We have put out two very different tracks out so far, so people have been reassured hopefully by the first one (Death Dream) and then saw that things are a bit different with the second one (Get Out).

Whereas Simon, in respect to the hauntingly beautiful ‘Death Dream’, says: It was not meant to be like a proper full on single but more like a ‘can u remember us’ thing. I’m sure some people think it’s a pile of shite but if they hate it they are keeping quiet about it.”

Talk then turns to the new record, produced in both Brooklyn and Upper State New York last year during a swelteringly hot heat wave last summer, that saw the band, in between lying down on floors to escape the heat, remove themselves fully from their distinctly Scottish-tinged overcast, drizzle inspired sound and embrace the flips flops, shorts, and bucket loads of ice-cream.

“The record is the same in that (lead singer) Scott’s narrative shines through but it’s a different band. The creation of the record was very different to any of the other records we’ve made and we were trying a few new things as well. So it sounds a bit different but at the same time it is rooted in Scott’s songs. Without that we wouldn’t be Frightened Rabbit,” says Andy.

As to the new things mentioned, Simon offers more: “There is probably a bit of a dip in the tone, a more electronic approach.  I mean it’s not by any means a dance record, there’s just a few more textures in there that would take it a wee bit further away from the normal.”

The addition of a certain ‘electro’ vibe is partly down to Andy, who lists Glasgow’s very own Optimo as one of his favourite musical influences.

“It’s my scene, I’m all about that. Owl John (Scott’s solo album released in August 2014) brought Scott more in line with that sort of approach. I think he felt a bit more comfortable using some synths on some of the demos he was sending over.  I was like, this sounds mental! This is great! This sounds nothing like the old Frightened Rabbit, but it still is to an extent.”

With Scott moving over to Los Angeles in the aftermath of touring Pedestrian Verse, both the distance from the rest of the band – who remained in Glasgow – and the arrival of Simon, brought with it new obstacles and different challenges to face up with. But both Andy and Simon see that as having an ultimately positive effect on the current (new) direction of the band.

It’s totally a 5 way street now,” says Andy.

“There’s like different approaches to different songs. Cause Scott was over living in the States with some songs he would come up with the main body of it himself, while there was others that me and Andy and Billy and Grant would have worked on in Glasgow and sent to him, and then he would kind of add to it. And then there was stuff we had from the writing sessions in a couple of studios in Wales and a bunch of songs came out of that, when we were all kind of the same room, so it was kinda different approaches that all yielded diferent results,” continues Simon.

And with all members of the band keen to step outside of their comfort zones and change things around a bit instrumentally, it made for a rewarding experience, as Andy details.

“There were points like when we were getting to rehearsals and we were like ‘who is playing what here’, maybe Billy wasn’t playing bass he was playing guitar or Simon was on keys, I was on keys, Scott played all the guitars but then It’s like Scott plays the keys and I’m playing the guitars…and it’s like nobody is playing what they wrote in the studio or like live on stage and it was all just like people throwing in ideas and seeing what worked.”

Simon agrees. “Everyone felt comfortable enough when we were writing the album to say they had an idea and put it down, and not be like “you’re not the bassist so don’t touch my bass”.

With that, Simon refers back to the importance Scott’s solo record had on the new Frightened Rabbit material.

“I guess it was like, I mean it was my first time in the studio with the full band but when we did Owl John that was the approach to that was so relaxed, we’d (himself, Andy and Scott) gone into that with nothing so it was a case of having to go into the room and record something, try something.  There were no nerves, so that sort of carried through onto this record.”

He continues, “I think the touring schedule (for Pedestrian Verse) had hit everyone pretty hard so for Scott it was like, I think it was a really positive thing for him u know.  He took all the pressure out of the creative process and it was brilliant.”

Interesting to note is that although ‘Paintings of a Panic Attack’ took the best part of a year and a half to write and record, with the band writing and recording in excess of 30 demos before whittling it down to the 12 that made it on the album, they started thinking about it as soon as they played what was their last show, at Laneways Festival in Australia on the 8th February 2014.

 “The first writing session happened straight away after a festival we played in 2014. We got in a van after the festival and went straight there – to the studio and got started. At that point event Scott didn’t have anything – ‘Lump St’ came from that, ‘I Wish I Was Sober’ was born there and ‘400 Bones’ also, Simon reveals.

Having formed a close bond with The National after touring with them throughout America, it seemed a natural fit that Aaron Dessner would take up production duties, although his methods took some getting used to by the band, as Andy explains.

“He (Aaron) is a very talented guy. It was good. I guess when u put so much energy into something and someone else does the same there is going to be a little bit of friction. We wouldn’t know where he was going with something and he would never reveal his cards and then we would be like ahhh we see, we can see where it’s going. There were moments when we were like hallway through the sessions and we were questioning things, what was going on. But I think it worked out in a positive way.”

On a personal note, the move from guitar tech to fully fledged Frabbit was one Simon speaks volumes about, with a real sense of appreciation as to how things came to be.

“It’s amazing. I mean it was obvious for me as a member as I already playing as a live musician for a few years, the first show being us  playing woodpile on BBC Hogmanay a few years ago with Jackie Bird.  I always felt like part of the group on a personal level. It was always an inclusive thing and it has always been that way so that made it creatively so easy to slot in.”

To which Andy adds, “The internal vibe is different I guess with Simon being around. He is so enthusiastic and on it. It was an easy transition as no one was like ‘who is this guy’. With all the directions the others pull in, Simon pulls us in a different direction.”

With Simon finishing, “I love my reverb”.

And with a hard day’s work in the studio beginning to take its effect on their ability to keep awake, Simon and Andy ended by advising me not to make plans for Tuesday of next week, and to keep my eyes peeled for a show being staged by a band using a name of one of the songs off ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’.

I wonder how long the secret remains a secret.

Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite talks ‘Atomic’

There’s a rumour that Kurt Cobain’s footprint is locked in a safe at the QMU music venue at Glasgow University, a venue which saw Nirvana play a near mythical gig there 25 years ago in 1991.

In attendance that night was a 15 year old Stuart Braithwaite, guitarist with Scottish post-rock aficionados Mogwai. After being grounded for returning home late the previous night, he managed to somehow sweet-talk his parents into allowing him to delay the punishment so he could go see Nirvana play, a memory he recalls freshly as we meet a stone’s throw away from the venue in Glasgow’s West End, 20 years and 9 months to the day since his band, Mogwai, met for their first rehearsal as a band.

Stuart sat down with us to speak about upcoming new release ‘Atomic’, the band’s ninth album of tracks, reconfigured and reworked from the score they crafted for nuclear age documentary ‘Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise’ by Marc Cousins.

In between having to deal with the racket of what looked like the world’s biggest hen party and the close proximity of an amorous elderly couple showing us that romance isn’t dead, Stuart spoke with delight about how the album – the band’s third soundtrack – turned out, before he embarks on a hectic schedule as he prepares to mix Mogwai duties and shows and a debut album release for his new band, Minor Victories.

“I’m gonna have to get some Valium,” his response to his upcoming heavy workload calendar.

“The first Mogwai Atomic gig is two days before the first Minor Victories gig but to be honest it’s pretty good because we (himself and drummer Martin Bulloch) are gonna rehearse with Minor Victories then rehearse with Mogwai, and then I’m doing Mogwai gig in Austria and then Minor Victories is gonna rehearse the night before our London gig.”

With regards to ‘Atomic’, Stuart feels that the work put in – adding muscle and scope to the original film score – has paid off.

“I’m really happy with it, I think it worked out well. The film itself has very separate themes in it. The start of the film is really optimistic and hopeful and inspiring then with certain bits, obviously with the nuclear war stuff is just…,” he says

“We just tried to mirror the mood of the images with the music. I think that maybe helps it work more a bit more like a record”.

He is also positive with initial response tracks like ‘U-235’, ‘Biterness Centrifuge’ and ‘Ether’ have received.

“I think people will like it. I mean I guess the way records come out now I’m sure people can probably hear it before it comes out and see if it’s their cup of tea. I notice its looking like, a lot of people are saying it’s gonna be seen just as another ‘record’. In a weird way maybe like when we’ve put records out that have changed things up a bit and that probably bothers people more you know than straight instrumental music.”

This record is unique in that it was the first not to involve guitarist John Cummings, who left in November last year to pursue other interests. Although he played on the original score, he had no involvement with the record. But according to Stuart, the 4 piece continued as normal.

“We just get on with it,” says Stuart. “Alex [Mackay] who plays with Zyna Hel (the musical moniker of Stuart’s partner Elizabeth Oswell) is playing with us.”

The albums strong subject matter made the recording process a thoroughly emotive one, one that Stuart agrees fed into the record, especially with the band having visited Hiroshima on a previous visit to Japan.

“Yeh defintely that experience plus proximity to the nuclear weapons here,” he says, referring to both the band’s visit to Japan alongside the Faslane Submarine base approximately 30 miles away to the west of Glasgow.

“When we were recording for the film the scene of the bombings in japan was brutal, I mean we were just sitting watching it and it was really emotional. And one of the reasons we did it was because we’d been to Hiroshima and we’d seen like the peace park and all the letters that the mayors written to different countries begging them not to have nuclear weapons. So yeh there’s a lot of real intensity there.”

Fittingly, the band will return to Hiroshima as one of the nine dates so far scheduled for the band to play, one that Stuart feels will take on extra resonance for the band even if he doesn’t expect it to be greeted with a lot of attention by the Japanese public.

“It actually won’t be a big deal we’ll probably play to the least amount of people we’ve played to in japan ever. I think only the real obsessive Mogwai fans will be there. It’s not like the whole town of Hiroshima will come out, but that’s fine. For us I think it’s an important thing to do. It will be really emotional.”

After previously recording the soundtracks to French zombie noir TV show Les Revenants and football biopic Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, the band are well schooled in the differences involved in writing and recording to accompany a visual spectacle.

“I think getting into the studio it’s the same. It’s just to try and make it sound as good as we can. But I think when you are writing the songs it’s different. When you are writing the songs for your own album it’s just a blank canvas, you just do whatever you want. You can be as daft or serious as you want. If it’s to go with someone else’s vision then you’ve got to keep that in mind.”

“I’d say generally the film soundtrack is generally more sparse. We did a lot more for the album. I think it’s also a bit different from our records too. It’s heavy.”

The band have announced nine ‘Atomic’ dates at the moment with more no doubt to come in the following months, but Stuart doesn’t see the band touring relentlessly due to the nature of the album, with the shows ones that he says will not see them dip into any material from their extensive catalogue.

“It’s a weird thing doing a gig that’s along to a film because it’s not quite a film showing and not quite a gig. I think doing other songs would seem a bit out of place. When we did Zidane we did it I think then we were unsure if the whole thing was gonna work so it was almost a safety net. To be totally honest it’s such a specialised thing there’s only so much you can do. I’ve also got Minor Victories is taking up quite a lot of my time. I think that’s gonna be like quite a lot.”

With that our attention turned to Stuart’s new ‘supergroup’ Minor Victories, in conjunction with Slowdive vocalist Rachel Goswell and brothers Justin (Editors) and James Lockey, one which allows him to focus purely on the music and avoid some of the behind the scenes work involved in being part of Mogwai.

“I am excited aye it’s gonna be fun everyone’s been really nice and it’s gonna be a bit different. I’m kinda used to being the guy that I kind of sort a lot of the things out for Mogwai. We don’t have a manager so we all chip in but I do a lot. So it’s quite good to like ‘uh what’s happening’ and turn up and play.”

Interesting to note was that of his three fellow band members, he’d only met one, something that for him was both new and unusual.

“I knew Rachel a little bit and it was Rachel that asked me but I’d never met James or Justin.”

And, even though the four piece only actually met together in March this year, there’s talk of a second album in the pipeline ahead of the release of the debut record on the 3rd June.

“We’ve talked about another record so it’s in the lap of the gods how it goes. I’d think we’d do another one even if it died on its arse to be totally honest but I think whether it grows arms and legs isn’t really up to us. It’s up to folk if they like it. But so far people are into it,” says Stuart.

As for Mogwai, fans will be more than pleased to hear that the band are already working on new material ahead of the release and subsequent tour of Atomic.

“We are getting the studio dates to do the new record just now. It’s think it’s gonna be the end of the year, maybe into next year. And we are starting to get tunes together. Me and Barry and Dominic have been sending each other tunes. We are getting into it.”

Over twenty years since a certain Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, then booker for Glasgow’s renowned 13 Note Café, put on Mogwai’s first show, Stuart is approaching another date on his calendar in the form of the big 4-0, one he mentions in retort to questions concerning his decision to tone down the band baiting.

“I’m getting old I’m 40 in 2 months so it [baiting other bands] doesn’t really look good. I’d rather talk about stuff I liked than what I don’t like.”

But any suggestions of a big party or a one off gig to celebrate it are quickly played down by Stuart.

“I don’t know, I don’t really like a fuss.”

As for bands he likes, Stuart was especially excited about tomorrow’s upcoming gig of fellow Glaswegian’s Primal Scream, in between mentioning what other stuff is on his musical radar.

“I’m into this piano player Lubomyr Melnyk and his Erased Tapes stuff, I’ve been listening to that a lot. I really like a lot of church recordings like gospel music and like the Gaelic psalms from the Hebrides and even like – I’m totally atheist as well which is actually hilarious – but I really love sacred music,” he admits.

“Oh and that guy Mdou Moctar – that’s probably the best gig I’ve seen in a while –at the Art school. The Glasgow gig was nuts, it was sold out and like he’s probably one of these guys that feeds off the crowd.”

Since the last time we met last year, out with spending time in the studio recording ‘Atomic’, Mogwai made their first visit to India, an experience that Stuart was keen to share, alongside a chance meeting with a certain spiritual leader.

“It was a brilliant experience. It was quite humbling to see how some people live but the people were into music and everyone was so nice I met the Dalai Lama. I just said ‘It’s nice to meet you’ and shook his hand. He was like that ‘Your Stuart from Mogwai’,” he says, laughing.

“He was in town speaking at a big event. It was like The Beatles were there, there was like 1000 people outside our hotel holding cameras. I went to the lift and he was just there with two guys. He was doing stuff but I didn’t want to not say hello to someone like that. There was no big chat.”

There was no ‘Your the Pope’ statement, mirroring his infamous ‘You’re Lionel Ritchie’ comment on meeting the artist in an airport a few years back, one which provided the inspiration for the name for the track on 2011’s ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.’ And on the subject of song titles, Stuart finished up our chat with reference to the nuclear -themed song titles that populate ‘Atomic’ and how, unlike on previous albums, the band have stayed clear of their usual wit and frivolity in naming their tracks.

“We certainly didn’t want to do anything flippant when we were dealing with such a theme.”

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

A sense of sweet deja-vu inhibits ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, Radiohead’s ninth studio album and first since 2011’s ‘A King Of Limbs’, both in the form of a welcome end to the musical poverty of their near five year hiatus, alongside the inclusion of re-contextualised songs from their live repertoire.

In what is without doubt their most fragile and tender album to date, nuanced orchestral arrangements break with the arithmetic electronica approach that defined Radiohead’s previous two releases, ‘A King of Limbs’ and ‘In Rainbows’.

The influence of Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack work takes precedence throughout, with his richly pastured compositions providing for the perfect landscape for Thom Yorke’s anxious falsetto to waltz and wander, provoking an impression that the two have reached their collaborative zenith musically.

It’s an album that – rather than challenge the sharp, abrasive deviations in energy, respires and glides gently, with occasional, heavier Krautrock flourishes. And although not a watershed albumin the same breath as 1997’s ‘OK Computer’ of 2000’s ‘Kid A’, it retains a distinct, homogeneous quality that immerses the listener fully into Radiohead’s unique universe of beauty and wonder.

A universe played out in the form of lush introspection, heart and intergalactic imagery, with a sonic gravitational pull fitting of the album’s title, replete with simple yet magnificently vivid structures that recall Pink Floyd at their peak.

With seven of the album’s 11 tracks having been heard in some shape or form previously, the album works to tie up these previous incarnations with added flesh and bone, none more so than with the majestic finale of live favourite ‘True Love Waits’.

‘Burn the Witch’ opens proceedings with Yorke’s vocal floating over arresting, staccato strings which, rather fortuitously give off an ever so slight James Bond theme vibe – a piece of spectral beauty in an album notable for the absence of Spectre – the song they recorded for the last 007 film.

‘Daydream’ is just that, a hypnotic lament of textured melodies and lush pianos, while ‘Decks Dark’ and its soaring, obscure chorus rolls wonderfully into the acoustic beauty of ‘Desert Island Disk’.

Abundant operatic flourishes are evident in the haunting ‘Glass Eyes’ while ‘The Numbers’ bursts with ideas and inventions in a kaleidoscopicstramash of acoustic guitar, strings and piano, before ‘Present Tense’ adds a surprising touch of Latin flair, before the slow burning electro feel of penultimate track ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’ leads us into the measured resplendence of ‘True Love Wait’.

‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ more than measures up to the yardstick Radiohead themselves have set over the years as one of the most influential and creative bands in rock history. An honest, orchestral expression of substance and splendour that shimmers with emotion from a band that – more relevant than ever – continuously place themselves a step of the head of the game.

First Gig special – Franz Ferdinand

Wednesday May 15th 2002. Glasgow. Something big happened in the city that night as the rain, characteristically, lashed down from the heavens. If you are a football fan then, as well as the rain falling, you may recall how so to did a ball from a Roberto Carlos lofted cross, onto the boot of a certain Zinedine Zidane.

In the south side of the city, Hampden Park witnessed one of the most exquisite goals in Champions League history, as the Frenchman’s volleyed strike sealed a 2-1 victory for Real Madrid against Bayern Leverkusen of Germany, and the title of European champions for the ninth time in the Spanish club’s history.

However, just over 4 miles north west of the city, in a small, two bedroom flat above Nice and Sleazy’s, one of Glasgow’s best loved and renowned bar and music venues, something other than 22 men running round a field chasing a ball was happening that was to change the face of British indie-pop music for ever.

Sauchiehall-street_995

Four young men, none of whom were actually from the city, arrived to perform together for the first time as group at a party arranged by two friends, both students at the famed Glasgow School of Art.

Their name, taken from an assassinated Archduke, was Franz Ferdinand.

The students in question were Celia Hempton, the London based artist famous for her paintings concerning the landscape of genitalia, alongside fellow artist Jo Roberston. They chose the Wednesday night to put on an exhibition to showcase their work, alongside that of fellow female students.

celia

The exhibition was entitled “Girl Art”, which, by Celia’s own omission, “was a kind of feminist joke in a way”. She continues; “The show was all female and the band all male. To be honest we didn’t think it through all that deeply. But I guess it worked though. It seemed like a fun, irreverent evening.”

My false understanding that it was only females in attendance was quickly shot down by Celia.

“It wasn’t only females, it was a mix. Although that would have been good, if we only allowed women in. Like it were a strip bar or some sort”, she says, laughing.

Jo’s bedroom was used as the exhibition space, while Celia’s bedroom used as the designated ‘performance’ space, from which Franz Ferdinand played.

“Bob (Hardy) was in our year doing the painting BA at GSA, while Manuela, Nick’s (McCarthy) girlfriend was in the year below us,” she recalls. “And we knew Paul (Thomson) from the previous band he was in, Pro Forma. And Alex (Kapranos), we would all hang out.”

Paul himself remembers the night with clarity.

Paul-Thomson-Franz-Ferdinand

“It was the Champions League final and people showed up late. Some friends of ours had organized an art showing in a flat, with the art in one bedroom and we played in the next. We only did 4 songs but because folk turned up late we played the same set twice. They all ended up on the first record. Michael, Auf Asche, Jacqueline and Tell Her Tonight.”

Before adding, “I was working in Directory Enquiries at the time so I came straight from work.”

To note, that record, 2004’s self-titled debut, sold a staggering 3.6million copies worldwide, including 1.27 million in the UK alone.

While around 50,000 people were in attendance at Hampden to witness Zidane’s moment of magic, around 50 lucky punters found themselves at the flat exhibition, with around 35 squeezing into the bedroom to see Franz take to the stage…carpet.

“We took all the furniture out and they played with their backs to the windows, which we had blacked out for the gig”, says Celia. “The vibe was very much – if you don’t have a venue for an exhibition – you find one, make one, and if you don’t have a venue for a concert, you find one, make one.”

The million dollar question was, how did the band perform?

“They were so good!”gushes Celia. “I kind of fell in love with them. It was great. All their gigs from that moment on were amazing, she finishes with a smile.

From that night forward, the band continued to put gigs on “for their pals”, without any hint or realization that they would achieve anywhere the success of which they have received since. For the band the focus was more on the day to day, as Paul confirms.

“We just knew it was a good band. I’d been doing it for years in bands like Pro Forma and The Yummy Fur. Usually what happens is you get someone to put your record out and go and tour for a week to promote it and try and get out of signing on (the dole) for that week. Go on tour and kip on floors and get drunk, and that’s your holiday basically.”

Certainly Celia could see the momentum that the band were gaining within the city, as the band went one better than play bedrooms, to play in abandoned prisons.

“The band were really instrumental in the energy that developed in both the music and art scene at that time in Glasgow, it was intertwined. There was a disused prison that we used for other art exhibitions and Franz would play with other bands and a place called ‘The Chateau’ which was a big building that the band got access to, for the same purpose.”

“I think there was something that took off in the scene that i was aware of, both in art and music in the early 2000’s in Glasgow, an energy and chemistry that happened because of various people’s drive and imagination… The band members were definitely part of that, instrumental in that i would say. Also the city itself, and the fact that it was possible to use these derelict spaces.”

With Paul adding; “I guess when people outside our social circle started coming to gigs then you’re sort of thinking that we might be onto something. With people who we don’t know hearing about us through not much effort on our part. We were just kinda doing it for our social group really because it’s what you do in Glasgow. Play shows and your friends come down.”

Paul goes on to credit Alex (Kapranos) with being the one who really motivated him and the rest of the band with the belief that something could happen.

“Alex taught IT to refugees and elderly people – teaching them how to work a computer. When we started out he had a proper job and a flat and a mortgage and all that. He had kind of given up on music because he didn’t think it was ever going to happen and then he really sort of pushed us when this came together. Whereas my life was, I was kind of living one day to the next, I was homeless and sleeping on Alex’s floor in the hall.”

“He was like, this was my last chance at this. Whereas I was so caught up in the now I didn’t have a long term plan. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for his determination and drive.”

And thanks, in no small part to Alex, Celia and Jo, and the rest of those in attendance that night, we are able to look back on a night some 14 years ago that, without doubt, ranks up there with one of the most important in the recent memory of the Glasgow music psyche.

What the budget means for Scottish/UK music.

For those of us who spend our free time at weekends packed into concert venues appreciating some live music or swanning around galleries as opposed to quiet nights in watching The Voice, last week’s Budget, in amongst the usual pomp and circumstance, raised an important question.

What does the budget mean on a cultural level for the UK’s music and arts sectors?

The general mood music emerging from the Treasury was sombre, but, within the statement from a Chancellor in George Osborne that rates NWA, Sufjan Stevens and St Vincent amongst his favourite acts, there are the one or two high notes.

£5m has been pledged towards the construction of one of Scotland’s newest cultural buildings, the new V&A museum in Dundee, while a new tax relief for museums and galleries will be introduced in April 2017, aiming to encourage them to invest in temporary and touring exhibitions across the country.

The government will also provide tax relief to orchestras from 1 April 2016, encouraging orchestras to perform across the whole of the UK.  However, this seems to be the only ‘positive’ announcement affecting musicians.

However, with the music industry contributing over £4 billion towards the £84 billion ‘worth’ of the creative industries to the UK economy – one which employs 17,000 people -it’s fair to say that those involved in it could have expected a better deal.

Firstly, what the budget highlights for many commentators is a clear disparity between what can be regarded as the ‘high’ and ‘low’ arts.

“I do worry that there may be an element of snobbishness in how money is allocated. Opera does very well, ballet does well, jazz does very well – but rock and roll doesn’t do so well,” Shadow culture minister Michael Dugher told the BBC.

“We have a real crisis in the system. We are haemorrhaging small music venues – not just in London, but across the whole of the country. We really need to wake up to that and do something about it. We are extremely concerned that local authorities will be hit by another major cut to their budgets when local arts provision is already under pressure,” he continued.

For music venues up and down the country, the chance to apply for arts funding from local arts bodies may represent a lifeline for them to continue their very existence, against a backdrop of closures that has seen 35% of small and medium size venues shut since 2007 in London alone.

Culture minister Ed Vaisey suggested some time before the budget that “a vibrant music venue which is breaking new acts has just as much right to be considered a cultural venue as a local or regional theatre,” at a conference on live music.

What the Budget seems to suggest is a certain ‘rehashed’ rhetoric that goes far wide of the target of increased support for music and the wider cultural industries in the UK problem.  A report by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) suggests that these often ‘familiar’ claims about the importance of arts and culture cannot always be substantiated due to the lack of thorough research into the impact of arts and in general.

The report, entitled ‘Understanding the values of art and culture’ concludes that the value derived from arts and cultural activity arises primarily at the individual level, but recognises that this can be a catalyst for wider benefits, like better civic engagement, stronger communities, economic benefits, good health and well-being, and positive educational outcomes.

One final consideration from a musical perspective concerns what is known as the “withholding tax”, which may have particular relevance for the worldwide music industry and connected creative sectors.

Transactions involving musical royalties between two companies, one being in the UK and the other abroad, are at the moment allowed to withhold tax at reduced rates (often zero percent) , to reduce the complexity of handling tax across different jurisdictions. However, from Thursday, 17th April the law changes so that tax will now be withheld at the full relevant UK tax rate.

This will no doubt have a knock on effect for the 69,000 registered musicians across the country. A country which represents the second-largest provider of recorded music in the world and accounts for 13.7% of global music sale, actually outperforming the UK economy in terms of growth.

Perhaps it’s time for the Government, and Chancellor Osborne, to show culture some love and appreciate the true benefit our music and wider cultural industries brings not just our pockets, but to our minds too.

Ulrika Spacek – your new favourite band

It’s a bit early in the year to be in full list-compiling mode but, after one listen of Ulrika Spacek’s debut release, ‘The Album Paranoid’, a landing point quickly opens up for the album to parachute into the list making up the top 5 best albums of 2016.

Featuring swirling, repetitive loops of Krautrock-esque distorted, fuzzy guitar and dreamy melodic harmonies, the London-based, Berlin-born five-piece have forged a sound reminiscent of the likes of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and even Radiohead, engineering in the process what is undoubtedly one of the surprise packages of the year.

Speaking to Tenement TV, singer/guitarist Rhys Williams describes the signature sound that is evident on their wonderfully diverse debut.

“In some ways you’d call it experimental rock music and I like that because I like the ‘gnarliness’ of like rock and roll, whatever you want to call that but just to do things in a clever way, with production and arrangements. Something that you can’t put your finger on, something you almost can’t keep up with and not know where it’s going. I like the idea of hiding a pop song within loops and stuff like that rather than a pop song up front.”

It’s an album full of different textures and concepts, ranging from heavy, alt-pysch grunge to subdued soundscapes. For Rhys, it’s a combination that reflects fully their intentions as a band.

“Yeh it kind of changes, I mean what we wanted with the first album was it to really sound like a schizophrenic record that the moment that u think as a listener you’ve worked it out it goes somewhere you never expected it go. So that’s always been, that’s always the type of music we want to make.”

After causing a stir in the capital with their own ‘Oysterland’  curated concert/exhibitions, a European tour at the start of the year saw them find themselves among the music list billings on the continent, something Rhys found pleasantly surprising.

“When we did our first European tour in February we really enjoyed playing in Europe. People seem to get it so we can’t argue with that. France has actually been the place where we done the best. We did a few features/interviews there and it seems to have struck a chord with people. We did quite well in the indie charts there.”

However, the recent cancellation of their 21-date UK and European support slot with DIIV seven dates in, due to health issues on the part of the Brooklyn-based band  is something that, although totally out of their hands, represents a frustration for Rhys and the band.

“The tour was all over the night after the Glasgow show although we didn’t know it at the time. We had done about seven dates so there was about two weeks to go and we were definitely looking forward to going over to Europe. It was a bit of a gutter. We really felt that we were hitting our stride to be honest. But DIIV weren’t having a good tour from the off.”

As for how Ulrika Spacek came about, Rhys fills us in on how he and guitarist Rhys Edwards formed the band one night in Berlin.

“I was living there, we were old school friends and he came over to visit me. And even though we never talked about it before we just humanly broke that barrier of asking each other whether we should make some music and I moved back to London quite soon after. In fact Rhys had sub-let my room and took my job when I moved to Berlin so it seemed like it was destined to happen in some weird way. And then once we started everything kind of fell into place. We fleshed out the rest of the band with people we know and finished the record.”

The organic, natural quality suggested in the band’s formation was also present in the making of their music, another element that Rhys finds rewarding.

“It’s been very nice, especially in the sense that when me and Rhys started recording we didn’t necessarily think we were making an album we were just recording for the sake of making music together and when we knew things were starting to go well we still had this notion that we were going to form a band and re-record the whole thing. Then it just came to a point when we were just like ‘no, this is the record,” he says.

The press, especially based in France, have championed the band as a mix between Tame Impala and Radiohead, something Rhys isn’t quite sure is an honest representation of their sound.

“I wouldn’t say Tame Impala are a band that we would reference to be honest. I have listened to their first two albums. I was surprised by that. But they seem to be the band that people see that open the door with regards to psychedelic music.  I mean with Radiohead we will always get that. They are a very important band for us and have been since each member of the band was like 13 or 14.They were really the band that opened  the door to listening to other music you know.so I’m sure they are in our sound. Something very deep rooted.”

And as far as influences are concerned, a wide array of artists have inspired the band and their sound.

“I think Television are a big one and just the type of guitar playing they have. I think Rhys has quite an interesting guitar style, it’s quite similar to like Graham Coxon in places so Television yeh, and I’d say Neil Young with his peculiar song writing. We’ve all been listening to him for years. Yo La Tengo are also a massive influence. We’ve always really loved how heavy they get in certain bits then also how delicate and subtle they can be so even through hi wouldn’t necessarily say that if u listened to our record it sounds like them, but they were certainly the blueprint for how we wanted our record to be.”

He then delves deeper into his lyricism to be found on the songs that make up ‘Album Paranoia’.

“This record has been very much a stream of consciousness. The way we record it was very much a case of pressing record as we were writing the songs and the lyrics were also like that. It was certainly not something that I had waited 6 months with my notepad.  Often singing gibberish and then the one line that I find out of it and then keeping that one line and then developing the rest of it over it. It’s all very much the intrusive thoughts I have in my head, the insecurities you know. And I think to be honest that’s not necessarily just going to be the first album I think I will always write like that.”

Setting up a home based studio –  a former art gallery which they call ‘Ken ‘ – instead of going down a normal, studio based recording route has had a big influence on shaping their sound, one which saw them play “for hours and hours while we lost our minds” while recording the record, to the detriment of their housemates.

“It’s something that for the second album we are going to keep in many ways. We’ve just got better equipment now, we’ve just invested in some nice microphones and hopefully there will be a development in terms of production in that way but not necessarily the way we write the record,” Rhys says.

And with regards to the band’s self-curated Oysterland nights, it represented a conscious decision by the band to avoid the usual support slot circuit.

“When we started playing lives shows we just wanted to do it on our terms, we didn’t want to come out and play on other peoples bills. We certainly wanted to come out all guns blazing in that sense. By curating the nights ourselves and having different things we just made a night that I would want to go to. Sometimes unless you do something yourself there’s never going to be something out there that’s perfect for you.

And their success has meant Rhys is looking to roll them out across the country.

 “We are going to carry on doing that. The aim is eventually to put on our own Oysterland shows in different cities where we have more control. That’s another thing Yo La Tengo do, they’ve always curated their own Hannukah bill which we always though was cool.”

Meanwhile, Rhys and the band are keen to get back over to the continent to play shows, in between being knuckled down in their home studio working on album number 2.

“We are preparing to record the second album. We’ve got demos for it, just about 10 tracks and then we have a few festival appearances coming up. Doing that allows us to record the album during the week and on the weekend go and play different festivals.”

Stag and Dagger review

This year’s Stag and Dagger bash offered music lovers in Glasgow the possibility of seeing some of the best live music from home and abroad, without the need for the wellies or the thought of returning to a half-submerged tent, and didn’t disappoint.

 With over 45 bands taking part in the annual all-dayer across 9 venues, the only tricky part was deciding where to go and when.

 London trio Kenneths served up an early treat, playing their turbo-charged brand of punk rock to a packed out Nice and Sleazy’s, with dedications to Travelodge and Glasgow banter aplenty.

 Next up, fresh-faced Glasgow band West Princes offered an antidote to the unwelcomed queue in the rain outside the Art School, as their hip, nonchalant, jazzy groove felt a perfect fit inside the Vic Bar, before the hotly anticipated Haelos blew everyone away with a remarkable performance upstairs in the Assembly Hall.

 With a trip-hop sound that recalls Massive Attack and Portishead, Haelos certainly lived up to the hype, with Lotti Bernadout’s spellbinding vocals on the terrific ‘Dust’ a festival highlight. Bigger stages await for sure.

 Following on from the Haelos high, We Are Scientists showed that, 11 years after the release of their debut ‘With Love and Squalor’ LP, they showed no signs of losing their trademark energy. Showcasing songs off new album ‘Helter Selzter’, the California based indie-rockers powered through a blistering set, with the capacity crowd in the ABC greeting old favourites ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ with rampant enthusiasm.

 From palm trees and sunny beaches to roundabouts, as downstairs in the ABC 2 East Kilbride five-piece The Lapelles put on a performance to continue the track record of the Glasgow suburb producing first-class music, in this case in the form of sweaty, indie-pop gems that had everyone dancing about.

 With Crash Club and The Duke Spirit following them up on the same stage, two reasons as good as any were found to stave off a Sauchiehall St wander and enjoy what was on offer, and neither disappointed.

 Latterly, with The Duke Spirit, singer Liela Moss was on form as the intimate surroundings played host to a mesmerising slice of alternative, garage-rock in support of new record ‘KIN’.

 Meanwhile, having built up a reputation in Glasgow as the crown princes of revelry, Crash Club made their preach to an already converted public with a high octane set that shimmered with raw energy, featuring impressive guest vocals by Ian Mackinnon of Medicine Men and Tony Costello of Tijuana Bibles.

 In the absence of a quiet night in a dark room to regain composure post Crash Club, Band of Skulls stadium-sized rock provided the perfect end to the day, as the Southampton trio a polished, raucous set that had the ABC 1 crowd in raptures, with Russell Marsden’s virtuoso guitar playing packing a pretty punch.

 

Shakspeare’s influence on modern music.

What does modern music owe to William Shakespeare? That’s a question that has been floating around my head this week, as we gear up to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his death.

We all know our Hamlet’s, our Macbeth’s, our Othello’s and our Romeo and Juliet’s, but how central a role did music play in the works of Shakespeare, and how, in turn, has this fed into, and still feeds into, our modern culture today, with regards to popular music? The answer is enormously.

You don’t have to look hard to see modern references to his work across musical genres, and these are only the obvious references.

From the ‘King Lear’ quoting ‘I Am The Walrus’ by the Beatles to Lou Reed’s ‘Romeo and Juliette’, to ‘Desolation Row’ by Bob Dylan and Morrissey quoting Richard III in The Smiths ‘Cemetery Gates’, to ‘Heart of Gold’ by Neil Young and ‘Exit Music (From a Film)’ by Radiohead, to ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ by Arctic Monkeys and Alex Turner’s assertion that ‘There ain’t no love, no Montagues or Capulets’, the list goes on and on.

For many, Shakespeare is the undisputed king of story-telling, having had an ability to do what the likes of Homer, Tolstoy and other famous writers couldn’t do – tell every kind of story. Whether it be tragedy, comedy, adventure, love, fairy tales – they are all present in his works, and central to these were music.

What is clear is that music played a key role in his understanding of the world around him, with songs and ballads integral to the stories he told, songs which fired the imagination of his audience, delighted them, and entertained and moved them in equal measure.

The most emotive lines in his plays; the expression of such extreme emotions of joy and introspection, have, as their subject, music.

Take ‘A Twelfth Night’ for example. The opening line of “If music be the food of love, play on” spoken by Duke Orsino, obsessed by love, as he orders his court musicians to play long enough to satisfy and dilute his desires.

Or the famous balcony scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which fully encapsulated what we know to be ‘teen angst’, which reads “How silver-sweet sounds lovers’ tongues by night, like softest music to attending ears.”

Of his 37 plays and 154 sonnets, the man from Stratford-upon-Avon made more than 2000 references to music, including over 100 songs and fragments of ballads.

It is clear that he had and sharp and astute ear for the music of his time, and his use of poetic language to give life to these sounds and rhythms has no doubt inspired musicians throughout the ages, music of every style and from every culture and background.

Out-with the musical references, let’s not forget language too, and the role Shakespeare played and continues to do so on the very words that we speak. His ability to use ‘neologizing’ – by expressing new ideas through the invention, borrowing or adopting words and phrases from other languages, means that over 1700 of the words we use today were created by him. 1700.

Words like ‘swagger’, ‘addiction’, ‘bedroom’, ‘lonely’, ‘majestic’, ‘numb’, and even ‘road’ can all find their first usage within Shakespeare’s plays, words that together may look like the ‘cold-turkey’ scene from Trainspotting but words which separately populate popular music lyrics.

And if something has ever vanished into thin air, if you’ve ever been tongue-tied, if you’ve wished someone good riddance, or had a heart of gold, broke the ice, not slept a wink, had too much of a good thing, seen better days, felt love is blind or wore your heart on your sleeve, you again have Shakespeare to thank for creating the expression.

So for what it’s worth, 400 hundred years later, it’s clear that those who love our music, we owe a curtain debt to the man. And to use another word Shakespeare created, if we were to translate his influence into a sound, that sound would be ‘deafening’.