People Powered – Concert for Corbyn

People Powered – Concerts for Corbyn – Brighton Dome – Friday 16th December 2016

Politics and music have not always seen eye to eye, but their intimately intermingled relationship has, to a greater or lesser degree, always been there. However, political protest via the medium of music had all but been submerged within the commercial airwaves by the first decade of the 21st century. Thankfully though, their spirit has driven much of contemporary alternative music. Indeed, folk music has always had social and political issues at its heart, folk music in essence reflecting the creativity of working people, who have consistently used it as a political voice, and not just one for the purposes of ‘entertaining’.

But, in the wrong hands, politics and music have often been uneasy bedfellows. Certainly, no one likes to be pummelled into submission via political sloganeering.

Take John Lennon, for instance. Songs such as ‘I Am The Walrus’, ‘Revolution’ (in particular, the anti-revolution album version), and ‘Come Together’ are all, to varying degrees, songs with oblique socio-political-cultural references. They are shrouded in cryptic allusions to political events and scenes, which nevertheless resonated with listeners. These songs, and others, were open to interpretation, and didn’t attempt to force a point of view on anyone. That’s why they are liked. Loved even (of course, the melodies and harmonies have to be there as well!). Conversely, when Lennon went nakedly political for his almost universally derided Some Time in New York City album, his table thumping, extreme political posturing resulted in by far the worst, and least popular music of his career. Such direct lyricism in the political arena almost always goes hand-in-hand with sledgehammers for melodies. From ‘Imagine’ to ‘Woman Is The Nigger of the World’ in the space of little more than a year. From sublime and nuanced poetry, that at least attempts to understand and communicate the complexities of life, to obnoxious generalisations that only dictatorial regimes could sign up to.

Of course, when it comes to issues like racism, it was relatively easy to rally the forces. Rock Against Racism of the late 70s was a no-brainer (apart from for racists), an easy wagon to jump on to and believe in. However, the Red Wedge campaign of the mid-80s was a more difficult sell. In essence, its purpose was to sell the politics and ideology of the Labour Party. The likes of Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Jerry Dammers, Madness, The Communards, Elvis Costello, The The and many other alternative and mainstream stars of the day took sides with the Labour Party of headed by Neil Kinnock, as the 1987 general election loomed. The Tories, under Margaret Thatcher, comfortably won that election, and indeed the subsequent one under John Major in 1992. But, in ’97, Labour finally won back power, and for a short moment, it seemed most of the country’s musicians partied with the politicians; everyone from Oasis to Peter Gabriel believed big changes were a-coming. But, instead of poetic outpourings we instead got ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. Alas, it was not quite to be for many of those initially star-struck stars. And from then on, the country glacially shifted to the centre ground. Recent shockwaves however, have opened up a Pandora’s box of ‘whatever next’. These are, to say the least, interesting and volatile times we live in.

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Kate Tempest – Interview – 2016

Brighton will get to see plenty of Kate Tempest next May. She has been named Guest Artistic Director for next year’s Brighton Festival. A hands-on job, it will enable her to curate artists and acts she believes in, and hopefully we’ll get to see her perform too. She’ll also be, by some distance, the youngest Guest Artistic Director the Brighton Festival has ever seen. Only 30, Tempest’s list of achievements are already extraordinary; Mercury Prize nominee for her debut album Everybody Down, Ted Hughes award winner for Brand New Ancients, shortlisted for the 2016 Costa poetry award, writer of several plays including Wasted, Glasshouse and Hopelessly; and acclaimed novelist with the multi-generational tale of drugs, desire and belonging, The Bricks That Built The Houses.

But it is her music that she is best known for. She has a long history of performing at open mics, spoken word events and with bands, all of which prepared her for Everybody Down, her first official album release. It was a brilliantly conceived collection of narrative tracks that married her traditional poetry craft, her skilful and resonating spoken metre, with the kinetic agitation of hip-hop and urban electro beats courtesy of Dan Carey. With that album she spoke from the heart and with a great deal of courage about everyday tales of poverty, class, consumerism and even simple everyday living – at times drawing on mythology and holistic philosophy to tie the individual narratives into a cohesive whole. Socio-political issues were being subtly woven into the fabric of her characters’ lives. She was a much needed socio-political voice in a sea of trite and trivial pop and rock. But she was also sharp and funny with it.

A couple of months ago, she released her second album, Let Them Eat Chaos, also made with Dan Carey. A continuation of Everybody Down, Tempest delved deeper into her thoughts on the universe and everything: each individual’s place within it and the interconnectivity between them and all things. It’s a collection of songs centred around an apocalyptic storm, that ultimately pulls together the lives of seven seemingly unconnected individuals, living on the same anonymous street in London. It details their lives at 4.18am, perhaps the deepest part of the night, a time when humans are perhaps least physically connected.

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Jack Garratt – Interview – 2016

A lot was pinned on this young man. Expectations had gone through the roof. That maybe here was another Ed Sheehan or Sam Smith on their hands. Someone who could shift records en masse in this day and age of declining sales.

He has’t quite got to that point and it’s unlikely he ever will. Not because he isn’t any good. It’s just that expectations were way too high to begin with and because he’s Jack Garratt: a self-described “musical sponge,” growing up on the likes of Stevie Wonder, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Tom Waits. A man so in love with music and the craft of music making that he’d probably be doing it anyway, whether anyone was listening or not.

At the beginning of the year he won the BBC Sound Poll, a hugely significant award for many artists down the years. The annual award aims to predict the artists who are likely to have a fruitful 12 months ahead of them. Adele, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J and the aforementioned Sam Smith have been previous winners and now Garratt. He’s also won the Brit critics’ choice award, hence the anticipation that things might go stratospheric. Certainly, as far the business side of the industry was concerned, there might be a little disappointment that his debut album, Phase, ‘only’ made it to number three, and that some of his tour dates didn’t sell out. But, by any measure of success, for one so early in his career, this has been a good year. Moreover, Phase is a remarkable album, a stunningly inventive electro-pop creation that has, rather bewilderingly, not been given the reviews I think it deserves. There might be a little snobbery here. Garratt is not particularly cool in the eyes of some tastemakers; there is a discernible geekiness about him; he’s from the very Middle England village of Little Chalfont in Buckinghamshire and he can come across as uber-eager, a little irritatingly so!

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The Damned – Interview – 2016

The Big Four: Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Clash and The Damned. The Pistols had all the notoriety, the headlines in the press, and the archetypal punk rockers in Johnny Rotten and, later on, Sid Vicious. Buzzcocks had the tunes, the energy and were (almost) there first. The Clash had the politics, the ire, the songs too. Then there was the Damned. They were the first in may ways. Perhaps closest allied to the Pistols in terms of dress sense, and the ever-so-slightly cartoonish quality they brought to an era. But they had it all. They had the songs, the raucousness, the image and indeed the musicianship.

Whilst punk rockers like to say that music was in dire need of a kick up the arse in 1976, this is only partly true. As always, there was great music being released. Some true rock’n’roll beauties as well, but almost all from abroad; The Ramones, AC/DC, Patti Smith, The Modern Lovers, and Blondie (via their debut ‘X Offender’ single), were all making a big mark. Their back-to basics, no frills rock’n’roll, with more than a hint of embedded DIY, was obviously sending waves across the Atlantic to a nascent punk scene that was forming in small pockets around the country, particularly in London and Manchester.

Yes, there was an impetus to create simple, no-nonsense music as an antidote to the increasingly bombastic and lightweight pop and rock worlds of the time. Artists such as Yes, Camel, Camel, Genesis, Peter Frampton, Steely Dan, Jean-Michel Jarre, Wings, 10cc, and Led Zeppelin were in the firing line for these brewing punks, who were out to question the status quo; the way these things were done (major labels, huge expenses, slow moving, etc) and the way music was supposed to be. Not that these acts were bad per se, it was just that they were getting tired and over reaching themselves. For instance Led Zeppelin, a band who in their day were ferocious, loud, and most definitely raw, like punks in fact, were over reaching by 1976, the release of Presence, was simply blunted, a little overblown and a little… old.

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Passenger – Interview 2016

Many of you will know the story by now. Brighton based Mike Rosenberg and his band had a fair bit of development money thrown at them in the mid 2000s, but to little avail. Despite a well received album, Wicked Man's Rest, the money ran out and in 2009 Mike aborted the project and decided to live a life on the road, as a solo acoustic singer songwriter. He would get on the train, rock up here and there, busk on the streets, do some gigs and he started spending half of his time in Australia, which became a second home. The consummate songwriter and performer, he was making a living, and was releasing his own music, independently, including three albums that did particularly well in Australia.

Sometime in 2010/11 he re-kindled his friendship with Ed Sheeran, whom he had first known when Sheeran was just 15, performing together in a small Cambridge venue. Over the years they played together on occasion, while both were in effect struggling musicians trying to carve out their respective careers. By 2011 Sheeran's popularity was going through the roof and he invited Mike to tour with him as a support act and joining him onstage for duets. In mid 2012, Mike's ‘Let Her Go’ was released as a single. From the All The Little Lights album, it was eventually picked up by a Dutch radio station, who ran with it, helping to turn it into a number two hit in Holland. The dominoes quickly fell after this point, the song reaching number one in 18 countries in 2013, as well as number two in the UK and number five in the USA.

Although he hasn't replicated the success of that hit since, his popularity continues to rise. Not only has he two back-to-back sold out shows at the Dome in Brighton to look forward to, his recent album, Young As the Morning Old As The Sea made it to the top of the UK album charts.

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Kristin Hersh – Interview 2016

A bona-fide cult indie legend, since the age of 14 Kristin Hersh has spent her life making music, following her ’accidental’ creative calling. She started her first band, Throwing Muses, soon after sustaining injuries in a bicycle accident, at the age of 16, an accident that saw her possessed by sounds she heard in her head. Sounds that she was able to turn into song at a prolific rate. Sounds that she can’t actually do anything about. They came to her and she seemed to have no other option but to put them down as songs. This continued right up to only a couple of years ago when she was finally properly diagnosed and a treatment was found. Whilst she was able to channel these sounds into a career as a songwriter and musician, she was also periodically suffering from this ‘malaise’, that had alternately enabled and inhibited her. “It’s a blessing,” she says whilst on the road for another tour of the UK. “It’s very quiet now.”

In her recent memoir, Paradoxical Undressing, she described the sound in her head as, "a metallic whining, like industrial noise, layered with humming tones and wind chimes.” There were shapes, too. "I watched and listened," she wrote, "bewildered and enthralled as sound and colour filled my empty hospital room.” She’s also described her songwriting method as, “Lyrics puke themselves out, for me. I hear them as an instrument, of phonetic melody. When I try and sing lyrics that are wrong they stick in my throat. I feel that I am lying and it’s not until they spill out that I know they are telling the truth.”

She also says she has no memory of having written any song. “I had no memories of any of the traumas in my life. I had no emotional attachment to any of them. I didn’t know what my songs were about. So what it released was a barrage of trauma. Your whole psyche is geared towards avoiding those traumas. I thought it would kill me. I thought the pain would kill me.

“I was a very nice lady who would scream and yell for a living. I am a little frustrated that there isn’t a single professional in all these audiences for thirty years that could see me shifting personalities, where I would start to shiver and freeze and go glassy-eyed and not be present. In-between songs I would be me. It was classic dissociative (behaviour). My drummer said he knew. Journalists, I think, must have thought I was speaking metaphorically when I said I had no idea what was going on when I play. I’m not there, I disappear.”

Such is the extraordinary conditions that Kristin Hersh has had to endure since that childhood accident, conditions that have had her diagnosed as bi-polar, and schizophrenic. Not that it was all bad. She’s survived, and she’s had plenty of fun and good times on the way. But her peculiar condition was one she had to learn very hard to cope with along the way. “The dissociative issue is one of those terrible secrets,” she says. “Your form, your psychology, your physiology. I don’t want to say it ruined my life, but my goodness! When I went through EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitisation, Reproducing), I lost about 100 pounds of history.”

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Toy – Interview – 2016

A London-based band ("who looked like they had crawled out of a German squat in the mid-70s") with strong Brighton connections, the five-piece Toy have just released their third album, it’s another great slice of psychedelic rock, indie-pop infused with elements of the cinematic, krautrock and shoegaze. "We’re just shooting a video in our mate’s house for ‘Another Dimension’ which will be the next single off the record," says Tom Dougal, frontman and guitarist.

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Fujiya & Miyagi – Interview – 2016

One of Brighton's best kept secrets, Fujiya & Miyagi's fusion of expansive, experimental and multi-faceted krautrock, electro-pop, Italo-disco, and post-punk music has seen them find fanbases around the globe, particularly in Europe and America. Formed in the late 90s by David Best and Steve Lewis, it wasn't until they released their first record in 2002 that people started to hear about them. Since then they have released five albums, and are currently in the middle of releasing a set of three EPs, which will be put on one record in the spring of 2017. The founder members and core of Fujiya & Miyagi are Steve Lewis and David Best.

The vinyl packaging for the first EP is a custom made triple gatefold sleeve, so that the other two EPs can be slotted in. And in March of next year, the EPs will be released as one, for CD and download.

Steve: The third EP will be out about March, along with the album. At the moment the EPs are only on vinyl, and can be streamed. Not CD or downloading.

David: The idea was to encourage people to collect the records and have all three together, on vinyl, which we both love.

Steve: Similar things are happening in the music technology world that I love. Synthesisers went digital, went VST in computers. There's loads of them. They're all really great. But now loads of manufacturers are doing hardware synths again, doing newer versions of what there was in the 70s. Everyone wants those, because they are tactile. It's the same as vinyl.

David: It makes things a little bit wonky sometimes. You don't want everything to be too precise.

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Crystal Fighters – Interview – 2016

You want your music energetic and embracing both the traditional with the modern, right? Crystal Fighters are a band with a global aesthetic, who learn from some of humanity’s ancient folk traditions, and combine that with modern technology to make music that sounds like the here and now, and that emits an obvious lust for life. They like to party, to give out the good vibes. But recent events dictate that there is sadness and introspection along the way, following the death of their close friend and drummer Andrea Marongiu.

The core trio of singer Sebastian ‘Bast’ Pringle, guitar and txalaparta player Graham Dickson and multi-instrumentalist Gilbert Vierich have spent the last couple of years exploring the planet, reconnecting with nature and learning to play more traditional instruments, and this, along with the sudden passing away of Marongiu, larger informs their third album, Everything Is My Family.

“We travelled a lot more, writing for it (the new album), took time off when we could to go on longer trips,” says Sebastian Pringle, on a break whilst rehearsing for the upcoming tour. “I went to research in the jungles of Central America, and Graham went to live up in a mountain up in Maine, and then Peru.

“We had spent a lot of time together on the road, and we felt we needed some time to experience life a bit, separate from the band, and then come back and record together. Last time (for 2013’s Cave Rave) was quite concentrated writing together. I lived in the Basque Country for six months, and then later that year went to Central America and Mexico for six months. We lived in a tent or little huts and sat around a campfire writing songs, learning traditional songs from many cultures, which was a new approach for me. Normally I would be making beats on computers and adding little riffs. This was more learning this body of work I had never heard before: Bolivian folk songs, Brazilian lambada, African songs. This was very influential in terms of the melodies and singing.

“I had been to Mexico for shows, but I’m a vegan and I’m interested in the fruits and vegetables that are grown out there. Initially that was one of the reasons to go. And I like Spanish the language, and wanted to learn the language. And I like tropical climates! It was definitely worth it, an amazing experience, living in a much simpler way. It feels very complete.”

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Joan As Police Woman – Interview – 2016

The French have a word for it. Dilettante. In the past the British would sometimes sneer at the mention of a dilettante. Possibly because it is a French word (there are many here who will never quite understand or see eye-to-eye with our cousins across the water) but also to them, it suggests ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Now, we generally embrace one who has a well-rounded portfolio of skills and abilities, that can often inform and enhance each other. Someone like Joan Wasser. Someone who can not only play a mean violin, but also guitars and piano. She can write songs, too, can sing like a veritable bird, and knows her way around a studio to the extent that she produced Scottish folk band Lau’s album of 2015, The Bell That Never Rang. That part of her CV should tell you everything. Not in the least known for playing folk music, Wasser nevertheless has, throughout her musical life, embraced a keen musical curiosity, that allied to a seemingly insatiable lust for life, has seen her form countless collaborations, try out new things, and test the overlapping waters of musical genres and cross-fertilisations.

Indeed, she started out as a classical performer, picking up the piano and violin at an early age, eventually going to Boston University to study music, and performing with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra. “I was very interested in studying classically”, explains Wasser. "I love the music and needed to see if I could really excel. Excel I did but I wasn’t interested in making classical music all my life. I learned that while in school. It felt very limiting. I was never the student who wanted to learn the Beethoven concerto, I was the one who wanted to play the chamber music that had just been written by the composition students at my school; I wanted to play the new stuff, not pieces that have, in my opinion, already been perfected by the masters. When I was in school I took every gig I could and began making pop music, playing with all kinds of ensembles, improvising. I started playing in bands and with artists that I would learn so much from and play with for years like Mary Timony (who now fronts Ex-Hex) and The Dambuilders.” In short, Wasser wanted to “bridge the gap between the guitar and the bass and play the violin really loud.”

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