Articles by Adam Kidd
I arrived just in time for Jerkin The Rat's set. I'd not seen these guys perform for so long I'd started to think the outfit was defunct, and the band revealed during the set that it had been over a year since their last outing. You might expect such a gap to dull their abilities but that was not the case, clearly JTR have found time to rehearse as this was a different band to the one I'd seen before – the same guys, although their bassist has managed to grow an impressive wizard-like long white hair and beard combo. The sound has morphed into more of a meaty, solid rock proposition than before. Only the band's signature tune, a story song about Jerkin' himself, reminds me of the band's past, but it's much, much tighter now.
Friday night brought an amazing opportunity to the centre of Brighton – reggae legend Toots Hibbert, lead singer of The Maytals, was bringing his reunion tour to town after a three years absence from the stage. Toots had suffered a severe head injury when an audience member lobbed a large bottle of spirits onto the stage – giving the ageing star what could only be described as a healthy dose of stage-fright. As the man who named reggae, for their 1968 single 'Do The Reggay', and went on to provide some of the most enduring hits in the 70s and early 80s heyday of the genre, I couldn't miss the chance to see him perform.
After a six year break which saw him compose an opera about Tolstoy, 'Sevastopol', for the Royal Opera House and an organ commission for Royal Festival Hall, Neil Hannon is back to the baroque pop majesty of The Divine Comedy. He has returned with their slavishly lavishly produced eleventh studio album, Foreverland, a concept album of sorts, if Hannon is to be trusted! He says it's, “about meeting your soul mate and living happily ever after… and then what comes after happily ever after. Get ready for the most historically inaccurate hit of the summer” – it's a love story, but with huge historical figures, such as Catherine The Great and Napoleon, thrown in for good measure. And it works. Hannon, who has written, arranged and produced the album himself, has thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, into this. There are dense strings, brass and percussion throughout the record, putting the orchestra back into orchestral pop. It's a musical backdrop that's so grandiose it makes sense that the love stories it contains are those of emperors and nations.
The album opens with the string flourishes of 'Napoleon Complex', reminding me a little of Yes's Time And A Word album, before tuned church bells come in and make things sound a little reminiscent of the Futurama title music, accompanied by string lines that would work in a Bond context. Add some off-beat backing vocals, that sound like something Kate Bush might go for, and you've got a veritable smorgasbord of influences vying for your attention, whilst Hannon takes the diminutive general down a peg or two with some witty rejoinders. The nautical title track 'Foreverland' is a bit of a sea-shanty about a ship's crew searching for land. Although there's a generous application of accordion in the mix, which make it sound like it could just as easily be set in a Parisian cafe, reminding me of 'Empty Chairs At Empty Tables' from Les Mis. Here though there's respite from the sadness in the narrative, as the crew spot some tropical birds of paradise and their search draws to a close. The lyric could be about Columbus stretching his crew to their limits to 'discover' the Americas, an event that certainly hits the epic scale of the albums other purported subject matter.
'Catherine The Great' was an excellent choice for lead single, full of baroque harpsichords that seem era-appropriate. The song sounds like Belle & Sebastian with military trumpets and a turn-around that could have been used to reveal a flash sports car on a sliding platform in a 70s TV gameshow. Hannon says his current girlfriend is called Catherine, and she is also great, so it seemed an appropriate piece to write. Next up is 'Funny Peculiar', one of my favourite tracks on the album, a Col Porter-esque duet with Cathy Davey, a lovely little ditty about lovers who fall for each other’s peculiarities.
'The Pact' sounds like a combination of Beirut and Jacques Brel, it's about lovers making their agreement to stick together, but it's full of the terminology of two nation states forming an alliance, with phrases like 'man the barricades together', 'entente cordial', and so on. The second single 'How Can You Leave Me Alone' actually sounds a bit like Blur at points, during the super-produced period of The Great Escape album. Its bluesy refrain is equally something that you wouldn't be surprised to hear amongst Bowie or Paul McCartney's 70s work. The music video depicts Hannon, dressed as various larger-than-life historical figures, a Napoleon-esque general and a Ceaser-esque emperor, getting bored to distraction when he's been left to his own devices in his vast mansion estate.
'I Joined The Foreign Legion (To Forget)' begins with an audience applauding and then a distant piano playing in what sounds like an empty auditorium. There's something particularly Noel Coward about this one, particularly the bridge passage. It's a lovely atmospheric number, which has male backing vocals that really remind me of some of PJ Harvey's recent work, although there's some harmonica playing that might make you think of Harry Nilsson's 'Midnight Cowboy', so, again this is no one-trick pony! 'My Happy Place' is perfect Divine Comedy, with it's contrasting sections, tension and strings in the minor verses give way to banjo, major chords and jollyness in the chorus. It's like The Beatles dropped a chorus from The Book of Mormon into one of their moodier, darker songs, like 'Eleanor Rigby' or 'The Fool On The Hill'. It's musically clever, lyrically witty and, most importantly I guess, simply a really good song.
'Other People' is another high point on the album, sounding like The Magnetic Fields, with a Scott Walker string arrangement, though the vocal has a peculiar quality to it. It turns out this is because Neil recorded the vocal into an answer-phone, as a quick fix for demoing a new idea. When he heard it back he decided it would be fun to just layer strings onto the actual phone recording. It works beautifully, there's a really interesting quality to the voice. It's dry and unadorned, sung into the tinny microphone of a mobile phone, and then, unexpectedly, the song ends abruptly with Hannon saying, “blah, blah, blah” as he comes to the end of the lyrics he had written for the song.
The album closes with the big bouncy love ballad of 'The One Who Loves You', which again utilises banjo to really make that chorus jolly. Here the sentiment seems quite genuine. It's hard finding someone who loves you, finding your soul mate, so you should treasure them when you get there. There's always comedy in The Divine Comedy's music, but at times it's just an irreverent turn of phrase or a clever little chord change that might make you chuckle in recognition. The production is pristine, so clean and clinical that you might find yourself wondering where the 'edge' is, it sounds like nothing else in contemporary rock and pop. Despite the fact this production lends itself more towards the sort of fare you might hear in a Disney film or the soundtrack to some grand stage musical, from time to time you hit some emotional resonance that can't be avoided – I'd say Hannon is becoming more sentimental as he gets on a bit! So yes, we're eleven studio albums in and, although he's taking a bit longer to put them together, Foreverland is certainly worth the wait. It's a very enjoyable listen indeed, as good and at times even better than their best known work from the mid 90s.
Glass Animals’ début album Zaba, released in 2014, has sold nearly half a million copies worldwide and gained over 200 million Spotify streams so far, exceeding all the initial expectations placed on the band. This unprecedented rise to popularity came primarily through keen fans who have been sharing the record primarily via word of mouth, rather than a souped-up PR campaign. Of course extensive touring across both hemispheres hasn't hurt either, maximising their opportunities to convert those all-important fans. By all accounts, Glass Animals are a captivating live band, and that live energy has been a prime inspiration for much of their highly-anticipated second album How To Be A Human Being, which will be released by Caroline International/Wolf Tone on 26th August, steering the band towards heavier beats and bigger bass: the sort of tracks that have been getting the crowd going.
The album has been foreshadowed by the single 'Life Itself', with its hip-hop-influenced tribal beats, exotic flavour and catchy hooks, it has been boosting their reputation to new heights. It sets the tone for the new record and has become a serious ear-worm for the summer – I've been hearing it everywhere! It tells the story of an outcast, living off his mum, making his own fun in his grandma's basement. Dave Bayley's distinctive breathy, and often American-accented vocal, might give you the impression this track belongs to the open highways of the States, but pay a little closer attention to the lyrics and you'll notice the tragic English heart to it all, especially when the song's outsider protagonist awakes in a pile of boxes outside Tesco: “Thought that I was northern Camden's own Flash Gordon”!
The juxtaposition of mundane, routine, real-life lyrical themes set against the exotic sweep of the musical backdrop, implies a spirit of adventure found in the most unlikely places. Apparently Bayley gained inspiration for the lyrics by recording hours of incidental conversations on his phone while the band were on their extensive tours, “I try to sneakily record people, and I have hours and hours of these amazing rants from taxi drivers, strange people we met outside of shows, people at parties. People say the strangest shit when they don’t think they’re ever gonna see you again.” Bayley's master-stroke is taking these snippets of conversation and crafting them into the narrative story-lines that work so well throughout the album, giving the whole record a sense of pace and purpose that takes you back to the road (and the drink) time and time again. I also suspect that some of these phone recordings may have been sampled and made it onto the album, in some of the seg-way sections between tracks. A great example is the pitched down rant of '[Premade Sandwiches]', which seems a good candidate for a real-life monologue that's been messed with in the studio to create an odd atmospheric interlude.
Second track, 'Youth', follows on from 'Life Itself' at a similar pace, up-beat but mid-tempo, with plenty of that tribal percussion. Dave delivers a softer, lilting melody for the verses and then the chorus kicks in sounding a little reminiscent of Outkast, with a densely layered vocal with playful synthetic flutes fluttering above. Changing the mode a little 'Season 2, Episode 3' has a luxuriously lavish gospel-tinged vocal intro before stripping down to a funky, soulful electric piano line, punctuated by what sound like computer game sounds. It's kind of a ballad and a nice let-up from the dense beats of the first two tunes, a great marriage of modern R’n’B with playful glitchy production. There are sinister overtones to the soft falsetto vocal lines though, as the lyrics sing about a washed-up lover who eats mayonnaise straight from the jar while getting wasted, “don't you need me, your baby boy? Cos I'm so happy without your noise.”
'Pork Soda' picks things up again, taking the same kind of debauchery that made 'Season 2…' seem melancholy and making it a little more celebratory. Although there's undoubtedly darkness here too, it's upbeat and lyrics about pineapples make it seem more fun than perhaps it is! 'Moma's Gun', an album highlight, takes things back down a step, with Dave back to his sinister hushed falsetto narrative style. The track opens with a near classical flute line, keeping things stripped while the vocal takes us on a journey, full of tinkling expectation. Weirdly it sounds like there's a synth cat mewling and a synth owl hooting in the distance at different points, which might give you a sense of the density of the production. It's a real builder of a track, and when it hits the final chorus there's a real buoyant fullness, as all the synth melodies they've introduced combine, playing off each other.
'Cane Shuga' starts with a synth line that sounds like it is half Outkast's 'Ms Jackson' and half Justin Timberlake's version of 'Cry Me A River'. The track takes a different angle when it kicks in though, they make it their own and have plenty of fun with vocoder sounds along the way. 'The Other Side Of Paradise' is a slow hip-hop builder, that reminds me a little of some of the textures of Unknown Mortal Orchestra's last record. Glass Animals made a point of avoiding listening to their contemporaries whilst working on this album, which apparently came together very quickly over an intense set of sessions towards the end of last year, but I can't help but notice a slight similarity in approach and feel to some of Multi-Love, particularly in that soulful vocal delivery and the embracing of electronics. Another unlikely band that I find myself thinking about for comparison is Prefab Sprout. On a track like 'The king of Rock'N'Roll' you have almost got an 80s prototype version of a lot of the key elements of the Glass Animals sound: a breathy, almost saccharine vocal delivering a darkly surreal narrative, against a musical backdrop that's shiny, poppy and fun.
'Agnes' has quite a different vibe to the rest of the album, there's a slightness to the percussion track in the verses, with layers of building, sweeping synth ambience. It all coalesces into a pleasing, uplifting chorus of 'oohs', with a shuffling beat, which comes back later with a catchy refrain. It's got more of a conventional pop feel to it than most of the album, although the idiosyncrasies that characterise the Glass Animals sound are there, they're dialled back a little here, allowing this track to achieve a bit of the epic-pop feel that someone like – dare I say it – Coldplay, do so regularly. Still there's a cool synthetic edge, the odd bluesy key-change, an unchecked tongue and other such devices that keep this from descending into the out and out cheese-fest it could have been.
So our next saviours of British guitar music sound like their heaviest influence has come from modern American music: hip hop, R’n’B and a touch of nu soul, and they seem to have barely touched a guitar whilst putting the record together. Sure the guitars are there, but they are buried beneath layers of synths, or often use effects that make them sound like synthetic instruments until they show up sounding a little more conventional on 'Take A Slice' and 'Poplar St', towards the end of the album. Maybe things have turned full circle since The Beatles started a UK pop revolution inspired by American blues greats like Chuck Berry? Maybe we're back to taking our cues from across the pond, and running with them, in order to reinvent the wheel. On the evidence of How To Be A Human Being, I'm fine with that! It's worth noting that Glass Animals are young, this is the first band these friends from Oxford ever formed and their first album was forged on the small stages of their local scene, playing to eager fans who just got what they were doing, excited to discover them, returning time and time again. How To Be A Human Being takes those humble origins and blows them up to giant-sized proportions. The world is their stage now, rather than just Oxfordshire, and the group seem to be taking it in their stride. They also seem to me to be a well-spring of bottomless potential, if these first two albums are anything to go by. I hope they continue in this vein, I hope they get weirder and stranger and continue to defy expectations by getting ever more popular at the same time (like another Oxford band who come to mind). The future is for the innovators and I believe that, on the strength of this second album, Glass Animals are going to be around interesting us for quite some time to come.
Brighton ska'n'soul legends The Meow Meows third album Go Boom! has an awful lot going for it: the songs are great and immaculately produced, with everything sitting in the right place and in the right frequency, whilst simultaneously preserving the energy they are famous for as a live band. It's their second time using Pledge Music to produce an album, three years ago they successfully funded the recording of Somehow We Met, spending a week in the studio of reggae legend Prince Fatty. This helped them step things up a gear, playing bigger festivals and shows further afield than before, with a growing following outside of England to post their records to.
For Go Boom! The Meow Meows recorded just outside of Brighton with King Glover at 811 Studios, in Cowfold. In our recent interview with keyboard player Alex he described Glover as a “disciplinarian with a wicked sense of humour” – apparently ideal for the band and something you can sense in the music, which is relentlessly tight and carefully orchestrated, whilst also buoyant and playful. Glover has worked with some greats from the world of ska and reggae, like The Skatalites, Easy Star All-Stars and Bad Manners, and he also produced Los Albertos' This Is A Serious Party, which we recently released on the Brightonsfinest label.
The album kicks off with the strong horn hooks of 'Kayley May' – it’s upbeat and storms along despite the darkness of the lyrics. Kayley May, we assume (as it's not spelled out), is a disabled person whose ability to integrate into society is challenged as the support she has previously received from the state, through social workers and therapists, is no longer paid for. It's quite a bleak and depressing potential outcome from the cutbacks imposed by recent times of austerity, but, much like The Specials in their day, this doesn't stop the band from partying and throwing out hooks left, right and centre. The dual lead voices of Danny Noble and Hanna Mawby are one of the unique aspects of the Meow’s sound that set them apart. Danny's voice is slighter, more laid-back, with the hint of an accent which lends it a slightly sultry air to my ears; Hanna's is stronger, more direct and unmistakably British. Both voices work very well together as they swap lines or join together and harmonise. They recall the new-wave spirit of singers who don't dress up their vocals with over-the-top drama, they sing as themselves, which is very effective and suits the honest lyrical content to a tee.
'Pretty If You Smile' opens with a bit of a 70s garage rock riff, before those dense horns come in again, a signature of the band’s sound. It's another upbeat number and this time there's an aggression driving it, annoyance at sexist men who heckle women in the street. There's a little respite from the drive, with a killer sax solo over a half-time section, before things kick back to full-tempo for the end. 'Get Off My Bench' is more guitar-driven, with bouncy keyboards playing the off-beats, providing tension. Lyrically it's a little more poetic, a little harder to interpret, but there's a sadness to the song which suggests it may be about a lost loved one.
'Young Blood' has been released ahead of the album with an animated music video as an early single and again takes aim at austerity Britain, “Cut, cut, cut when their ain't much left/Blame it on the peasants by convincing them it's theft”. This one has a mid-tempo stomp to it, it's almost a marching number, aimed at convincing the younger generation to keep focus on what's happening politically and resist. 'Off Again' has more of a Motown feel to it, with some lovely fluttery horn lines. 'IOU' continues with the upbeat soul feel, with driving bass and drums and some great soft organs in the backdrop of the verses, which make it come across like something The Band might have done at points.
'Put You Down' steps things up a gear, with a more obvious ska groove and insistent horn line, there's that lovely sense of mystery to the verses but then a real sing-a-long chorus that wouldn't sound out of place on a big Britpop number. 'Swipe Right' tells a great contemporary love story, about people who've met on a modern dating app like Tinder, opening with a suitably boozy-sounding horn line. This time we get a bit of a happy ending, as the swiper moves from simply using someone for their body, to actually falling for them. Driven by a tension-filled bouncy organ it's a great track. 'Walk Me Home' has a bit of The Specials 'Ghost Town' about it, slower and more dub-oriented, it has great dynamics and spooky, delay-soaked trumpet lines. There's a bit of a rap in this one too, although it's uncredited so I wouldn't want to guess who is behind it. 'We Fade Away' rolls nicely out of 'Walk Me Home', with a super mellow instrumental passage for the trumpet and piano that makes it sound like it's going to be an end-of-the record lull, before the full band kicks in with another infectious horn line. The lyrics are chock-full of David Bowie references, so this is clearly a tribute and homage. However, it’s the bitter-sweet kind that simultaneously celebrates the gifts the great man bestowed upon us, whilst also being seeped in the nostalgia and loss many of us experienced when a star who had soundtracked so much of our lives left us. As the band were recording in March and April this year this one must have been written very close to the sessions, but it's easily one of the strongest numbers on the album.
The album continues with the instrumental 'Jack Monroe', which is another flawlessly arranged and performed slice of easy-going ska, before closing with 'Friends On Benefits', a single released last year and produced by Prince Fatty. There are clear, if somewhat subtle, differences between Prince Fatty and King Glover's production – the horns, for example, seem a little more reverberated and in the distance on Fatty's track. I can see why they would stick this track on the end here, to separate it from the main body of the album because of the slight difference in vibe. I have to say though, to my ears, track nine and ten feel like the album closers, with the instrumental and single that come at the end not flowing as well. I would probably have stuck 'Jack Munroe' slap bang in the middle of the playlist and 'Friends On Benefits' in the first half, but these are slight criticisms for an otherwise excellent and consistent album.
Although it has been in the hands of those who helped back the Pledge Campaign for a month or so now, and others may have been able to pick up a copy through the band’s merch stand at a live show, the album gets its official release this Friday on the prestigious Jump Up Records. The home of “Jamaican music made the old fashioned way”, it is an exciting place for these Brighton ska-devotees to find themselves. Here's hoping it helps them ascend that little bit further and brings them the accolades and inspiration they need to keep producing such marvellous music.
For a while now Brightonsfinest have been discussing broadening our horizons, looking increasingly beyond the safe shelter of our seaside base to discover more of the great emerging musical talent on offer around the country. The first birthday of Secret Sessions Live seemed like an excellent opportunity to see some mystery live music up in London and find out a little bit more about Secret Sessions itself. Secret Sessions has, in fact, been going for five years, as a YouTube channel that films intimate live performances from touring acts. It started as a humble project in Brighton, that quickly started landing some really big names (Ben Howard, The Lumineers, Bastille and many more). Clearly they'd found a bit of a niche – people were eager to see artists perform in this stripped-back fashion and artists were keen for a chance to perform to a potentially huge online audience. Fast forward five years and Secret Sessions have developed into a real force in the discovery of new talent. For the past year they've been running these live shows in partnership with The Hospital Club and have also launched the Artist Accelerator programme. Over the course of a year they will be selecting six artists who will each receive £10,000's worth of investment in their musical careers.
The Meow Meow's have become something of a Brighton institution, packing out venues with sweaty fans eager to bop to their party-ready fusion of ska and soul. The band have been around for quite a while, but seem to have been on a particularly creative roll since the start of the decade, releasing three albums and an EP whilst remaining a constant live presence in Brighton and beyond. In fact they've only just released their third album Go Boom after running a successful Pledge Music campaign. This new record currently rests exclusively in the hands of those Pledgers, or people who've been able to pick up a copy at a live show, but fear not, we'll be on the case when it gets its full release on the prestigious Jump Up Records label on August 5th. I thrust a few questions in the Meow's general direction and keyboard player Alex D. Hay stepped up to the task…
Jinn Records, Brighton's newest label, brings out its first EP, Eyes Of A Gemini, which sees a collaboration between Sudanese rapper Mahdi Norie, aka MaMan and Brighton producer Abraham Moughrabi, aka Aaamouai over the course of four intense hip hop cuts. On the eve of the release we fired some questions over to MaMan in Khartoum, to get a little more insight into the origins of this unique hip hop collaboration and what life is like for a hip hop artist in Sudan.