Simon Raymonde lives and breathes music. It’s been around him all his life. His dad, Ivor, was a very noteworthy producer, arranger and musician. Simon played bass and helped produce the work of the Cocteau Twins, a relatively successful and influential indie band of the 80s and 90s. He’s run a record label, Bella Union, since the late 90s, produced and mixed bands such as Brighton’s Clearlake, James Yorkston, and Fionn Regan, and more recently opened a Bella Union shop in the heart of Brighton, selling almost exclusively Bella Union music (as well as his son’s fledgling label Opposite Number, some of Colin Newman’s – of Wire fame, who lives locally – recorded ouput, a few books, and some high quality screen-prints). He’s also taking to the stage again with Lost Horizons, a band he formed with former 4AD label-mate Ritchie Thomas, formerly of Dif Juz. Even though he’s well into his 50s, he’s more immersed than ever, and remains a massive fan of music, old and new.
On 11th July, 2005, The Kooks released 'Eddie's Gun'. The first fruits from their deal with Virgin, who had signed the band barely four months after coming together, on the basis of a strong look (skinny jeans and hats) and a handful of catchy songs that harked back to the classic pop period of the 60s, topped with influences from British new wave, The Libertines and Britpop.
Every now and then a band will turn up and simply blow almost everything out of the water. With its sheer vitality, its life affirming qualities, and its bravado. Idles are one of those. Taking their cue from what is almost universally regarded as an incredibly vibrant period of music making – the post-punk era – Bristol’s IDLES are fearless adventurers, and socio-political questioners, perfectly in tune with the chaotic and uncertain times we live in. They released their powerful debut album Brutalism in 2016 to high acclaim. The massively anticipated Joy As An Act Of Resistance is their follow up, with quickly sold out dates through the summer and autumn cementing their status as perhaps the most exciting band on the planet.
In 1987, Leeds band The Wedding Present, riding high on the buzz generated by a number of self-released singles and the support from the likes of Radio One DJ's John Peel and Andy Kershaw, released their debut album, George Best, also on their own label, Reception. It featured a now iconic image of that equally iconic footballer of the same name on the cover, and became a minor commercial success, scraping the top 50, and cementing the band's reputation as one of the best around, one who was spearheading the so-called 'indie' scene that had slowly grown out of post-punk, and which had been encapsulated by the legendary C86 cassette that the NME gave away with their weekly print edition. Dubbed 'the most indie thing to have ever existed', most of the bands on it subsequently faded away into semi-obscurity. Bands such as Might Mighty, The Bodines, Bogshed, and Close Lobsters. However, along with Primal Scream, The Wedding Present have, with the odd blip or two, stayed the course. In 2018 they are as highly revered as ever: they’re still releasing records, curate their own annual festival, At the Edge of the Sea, now in its 10th year, and even have a new film documenting their early years, Something Left Behind, to celebrate.
Glastonbury 2013. Chic are on the West Holts Stage, performing some of the greatest pop music ever made. 'Everybody Dance', 'Dance Dance Dance', 'I'm Coming Out', 'Upside Down', 'He's The Greatest Dancer' and 'We Are Family'. That was just for starters. It's relentless, the crowd growing somewhat delirious as Nile Rodgers digs deeper into his untouchable repertoire. 'Let's Dance', 'Like A Virgin', 'Lost in Music', 'Le Freak', ‘Notorious', ‘Good Times'. Sounds like a dream playlist, doesn't it? From artists as famous and diverse as Madonna, David Bowie, Sister Sledge, Duran Duran, Diana Ross, and of course Chic, what is the common factor? Nile Rodgers has had a big hand in all these songs, either with his band, Chic, or as a writer, and/or producer. His work in Chic and his writing and production work for artists like David Bowie, Diana Ross and Madonna has helped sell over an incredible 500 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide.
What is it about Brighton, and its fertile music landscape? Surely, there must be more musicians per head of population than anywhere else. Every other person is in a band it seems. Certainly BIMM has been a major factor, but so has The Great Escape, and Brighton's cultural history, a place invariably viewed as one to go to for the purposes of pleasure and entertainment. In particular, guitar-orientated music has been fruitful of late. Bands such as Tigercub, Black Honey, The Magic Gang, and Dream Wife all started here, a springboard to bigger things. There is definitely something in the water down here.
When she was just 17, Natalie Merchant was working in a health food store and was considering a career in special education whilst at college in her home city of Jamestown, which sits just below Lake Erie that straddles the border with Canada. Harbouring no more than your average desire to sing in a band, she was invited to do some vocals for a group called Still Life in 1981. They inexplicably decided to call itself Burn Victims, before settling on 10,000 Maniacs all in the same year, performing their fist gig under that name on September 7th. Named after the obscure 60s low-budget grindhouse splatter flick Two Thousand Maniacs!, and often cited as one of the worst band names in history, 10,000 Maniacs nevertheless became huge on the alternative college circuit, as well as finding an early fan in the shape of John Peel, who turned on his radio listeners to the band via their song 'My Mother The War'. "The only solid plan I had was to go to New York City to attend art school," says Natalie Merchant. "I wanted to be an artist and in the end achieved that goal."
"Bands are weird things, they have their ups and downs," says Mark Chadwick, lead singer of The Levellers, Brighton's veteran survivors of a ruthless music industry, and the most successful band to have ever come out of Brighton, with 11 albums under their belt (including a number one in 1995 with Zeitgeist) and 15 top 40 singles.
Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton are still only 19, and have just released their second album, I’m All Ears, the follow-up to their stunningly inventive debut I, Gemini, which was written when they were aged 13-15, and was finally released just over two years ago. Born and bred in Norwich they first got to know each other when aged just four. “We used to draw together,” laughs Rosa, “and do other creative stuff and make short films together.”
Ladies and gentlemen, in time honoured tradition, it’s time for the bi-annual Brightonsfinest Half Year review. Every six months we ask our writing team to look back over the past half a year in order to pick out some highlights and to identify some great music that we’d somehow managed to let slip between our fingers. Every writer is asked to pick out the best album and best live show we’ve reviewed in the last six months, as well as an album that we didn’t manage to write-up. 2018 is shaping up to be a pretty solid year for new music, so far. We’ve actually reviewed over 160 new albums so far this year and sent reviewers to over 120 live shows!
As we look back it’s worth reminding ourselves of all the good stuff we’ve been up to at Brightonsfinest HQ. Our radio show and website have continued to go from strength to strength while we also launched our first foray into print. Our Brightonsfinest Music Guide’s seventh issue has just hit the streets of Brighton, paired with the Latest Brighton lifestyle mag, and it’s been great getting some much needed music-focussed reading into the hands of Brighton people. We’ve also just had our most successful showcase for The Great Escape festival, taking over St Mary’s Church in Kemptown with a buzzy line-up, topped with a stunning set and light show from local heroes Phoria. Head over to our YouTube Channel for our highlights video of the show. As things finally start to chill-out for the summer it’s great to cast our eyes back over the past six months to remind ourselves of some of the best that new music has had to offer, while we start scheming our next steps for the rest of 2018 and beyond!