“The bigger the stage, the better it is. For me, as a vocalist, I see the stage as a playground. So, the bigger the stage, the more fun I have.” So says Anastasia ‘Stars’ Walker.
With an apparent administrative cock up with dates to deal with, The Great Escape was a week earlier than normal, very soon after Easter and the Labour Day Bank Holiday. Would this have an affect? Would there be less sun and less people? Well, when you’re living in a highly changeable climate, but with the dark clouds of Brexit looming larger than ever, you’d be forgiven in thinking the party might not get started.
The Australian singer songwriter Stella Donnelly has juts released her debut album Beware of the Dogs, following a number of singles and EPs, including the much talked about Thrush Metal! Part of a fantastic and growing Australian scene that includes the likes of Courtney Barnett and Cub Sport, Donnelly’s straight-to-the-point music is full of humour alongside tough topics such as racism and abuse. Here she talks to Jeff Hemmings about the album, her Great Escape shows last year, Australian politics and being half-Welsh
You hear of a lot of Brighton bands making good, but there is an even stronger strand of performers, who loosely cover the soul and urban genres, and are making huge strides. Most famously there is Rag’n’Bone Man, but Grace Carter is quickly making her mark, too.
Moving down from Newcastle around the turn of the decade, Demob Happy have slowly but surely stamped their mark, with two glorious progressive grunge-pop albums, Soda Dream and Holy Doom, under their belts. More recently they’ve been out supporting the likes of Jack White, Frank Turner & The Rattlesnakes, and Nothing But Thieves, expanding their fanbase both here in Europe, and in the US. Hungry for more, they’ve just released a new single ‘Less Is More’, with an album expected later in the year.
Considering herself to be an “Afro-progressive”, Traoré has made six albums, drawing on her Malian roots, but also incorporating sounds from around the globe. Bowmboï (2003) won the Critics Award category at the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music in 2004, and Tchamantché (2008) won Victoires de la Musique World Music Album of the Year in 2009. Traoré also won Best Artist in the Songlines Music Awards in 2009.
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.
The 1975 frontman Matt Healy is a very smart boy, albeit one caught up in the temptations of the human mind, exaggerated by the pleasures and pains of being a bit of a rock star. Yet, like all 20-somethings, he has energy, passion, and confidence in abundance. Along with the help of his childhood friends and bandmates, he also has the wherewithal to channel these qualities into artistic pursuits, that while having countless detractors, is pure and brilliant enough for The 1975 to become perhaps the biggest and most important indie band of the decade, a very rare beast of an alt-pop band to be still having top 40 single hits. If they can keep it together, there could be no stopping them becoming bigger still, perhaps the biggest 21st century band of them all.
The Vaccines’ Combat Sports was released in the spring of 2018. That it ever saw the light of day was a testament to the band’s inner belief, but a belief that had been badly dented by the departure of founding member Pete Robertson, in mid-2016, after the completion of their third album; the less-than well received English Graffiti. There had also been some well-publicised inter-band fighting, most notably between Freddie Cowan and Justin Hayward-Young.
Guitar music has had a bit of a rough time of late. The 00s represented its last great heyday, when the likes of The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand, The Zutons, Arctic Monkeys, and The Kooks et al, bestrode the world stage, guitars, drums and bass at its beating heart. The internet was young, smartphones did not exist, singles still mattered, Brtipop a fresh memory, and mainstream radio continued to shine a light on the classic pop-rock formula, via beat combos with six-strings at its epicentre. Johnny Borrell still loves his rock’n’roll, but he is under no illusions that the landscape has changed, and not for the best, in his opinion. “It’s not very fashionable at the moment. Every song in the charts is by Rita Ora, isn’t it?” he claims. “It sounds like it, I can’t really tell the difference. There’s no B or C list anymore. There’s A and D. A is absolute bullshit right now, bands pretending to be electro-pop or that millenial electro-pop thing which is the same fucking melody for every song, which is dog shit. Or you’ve got D, which is really underground, and alternative. I can see those things going on, but B and C is just being wiped out. I think the thing that was great ten years ago, even on mainstream radio, you would have some big Dre-produced thing, followed by Kaiser Chiefs, followed by Outkast, followed by Gnarls Barkley, followed by The Zutons or Razorlight or Libertines. There was much more variety. Some people send me links to stuff on YouTube. Too many bands use click tracks. Quite often, I can’t tell the difference between the advert, and when the song begins.”