For a band that did so little, and in a very short space of time, it is remarkable that they are held in such high regard; the two-tone ska band that really meant something. Coming off the back of punk, the mixed-race Coventry band were a band deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of the UK for a couple of years; from the release of the Prince Buster-inspired ‘Gangsters’ to the epochal ‘Ghost Town’, which hit number one in the tumultuous summer of ’81, when the country was suffering from high unemployment, racial strife, and extensive rioting. ‘Ghost Town’ was to be the last song that founder members Terry Hall and Lynval Golding, were to be involved with. Immediately after appearing on the Top of the Pops stage to perform that hit, they, along with Neville Staple, told band leader Jerry Dammers that they were leaving, to form Fun Boy Three
Steve Mason has decidedly come out of the dark, and into the light. After years of cult acclaim with The Beta Band, and then years of debt, depression, and isolation, whilst living in Fife, Scotland, he’s found a new home in Brighton. He’s even got a three-year-old child to contend with, born and bred here, and he’s still making extraordinarily powerful, moving, and simply brilliant music. With the recent re-release of much of The Beta Band’s back catalogue last year, Mason’s already sizeable following continues to expand, in awe and/or in love with one of the best songwriters of recent times.
Brit band White Lies are one of those bands who have quietly achieved a lot of success. Their debut album made it to the top of the charts, back in 2009, and ten years later they are about to release their fifth album, Five. A classic sounding epic guitar-synth band, Charles Cave, Jack Lawrence-Brown, and Harry McVeigh met whist still at school, eventually forming Fear of Flying. Jack had set up the indie label Chess Club, and Fear of Flying achieved some early success, before they decided that they needed a new name, to reflect their maturation into adulthood. White Lies was the result. Harry took some time out to discuss the new album, San Francisco, the name change, and those early beginnings.
When The Specials first came to notice, they were a revelation, and for so many, an experience they were unlikely to ever experience again. Coming off the back of punk, and very integral to that profound movement, the Coventry band were of mixed race, a rare beast in the 70s, and a band seemingly everywhere for a few short and heady years.
Initially known as the Coventry Automators, the band came together in time honoured fashion. Jerry Dammers was looking for some help with a music project whilst at Lancaster Polytechnic. Horace Panter was at hand, and in those heady days where, hand-in-hand, the spirit of punk and a DIY ethic was alive and quickly evolving, a band were born, eventually coalescing around the classic line up of Dammers, Panter, Terry Hall, Neville Staple, Lynval Golding, Roddy Radiation, John Bradbury, and horn players Dick Cuthell and Rico Rodriguez.
Formed back in 1993, Low are now one of the prime treasures of alt-American rock. The foundation stones of the band remain Alan Sparhawk (guitar and vocals) and Mimi Parker (drums and vocals), who are also a couple. With a succession of bassists – the most recent recruit being Steve Garrington – they are the epitome of slow burn, musically, as well as critically. Often referred to as a ‘slowcore’ band in the early days, their sound has developed and broadened over the years. Last year’s Double Negative album was their 12th studio album, and represented a career high for them, earning outstanding reviews, as well as being named Resident Album of the Year. Jeff Hemmings spoke with Alan Sparhawk about this success, the album, and his Mormon faith.
A tale of two bands. Blood Red Shoes, Drill Festival, Brighton, December 2014, playing to a half empty room, looking a little unhappy, in a venue that was shortly to close (Bleach). They soon thereafter relegated the band to the back of the drawer, Laura-Mary Carter off to LA, in search of meaning, and songwriting jobs, Steven Ansell remaining in Brighton, running a label (Jazz Life), bashing the drums, and – according to Laura-Mary – partying a bit.
Australian music is on a high. They’ve always had something up their sleeves, ever since The Easybeats scored Australia’s first ever rock’n’roll hit back in ’66 with ‘Friday on My Mind’. However, in recent times there’s been a stream of high-quality stuff, across all genres; from the lo-fi punk of The Chats to the singer-songwriter indie-rock of Courtney Barnett, and from the guitar-based Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever to the quirky indie songs of Stella Donnelly. To misquote one of our long deceased Prime Ministers, Harold Macmillan, they’ve never had it so good.
When New Yorker Sharon Van Etten released the appropriately titled ‘Comeback Kid’, late last year, garnering huge acclaim and sighs of relief from the many who were worried they had heard the last of her, she reminded us, after a gap of nearly five years, why so many admired her work. Gentle and folksy on the surface, Etten wore her heart on her sleeve in displaying darker undertones, and human frailty. Now though, there is a heightened rock’n’roll grit to her music, ‘Comeback Kid’ containing a hint of the expressive Anna Calvi, with the muscularity of both New York’s LCD and The Strokes.
Australian four-piece Cub Sport are about to ride the high of a third album, following on from Bats, which was released to huge acclaim in 2017. Originally formed by singer-songwriter Tim Nelson in 2010 as a backing band for his solo songs, Cub Sport is also made up of bassist Zoe Davis, keyboardist Sam Netterfield, and drummer Dan Puusaari.
In the summer of 2107, the song ‘O Lord’ marked Nelson’s first song about his coming out, and declaring his love for bandmate Netterfield. The love had been mutual for quite some time, and they got married, allowable under Australia’s new same sex marriage laws. Producing music that combines an r’n’b feel with a pop sensibility, the combination of pop energy with a deeply personal take, has endeared them to a young audience of forward-thinking millennials and Generation Z’ers. While Bats chronicled Tim’s journey of coming out, the new self-titled album is both a confirmation of that coming out, and expressed love, as well as a confident and powerful statement.
What more is there to say about Steve Mason, the former Beta Band frontman, who continues to ride high in the affections of a fiercely loyal and musically literate fanbase? After suffering deep depression a few years back, Mason decamped to Brighton, where he still resides, seemingly in a better place, and continues to make remarkably, albeit more upbeat, soulful music: his craft as a songwriter second to none.