One More Time With Feeling (a line from one of the songs featured, and a playful musical clique often invoked by musicians in trying to capture the essence of a song) has at its centre the death of Arthur Cave, with Nick Cave airing his raw grief, sometimes in the back of a cab, sometimes off-camera, and at other times sitting at his desk, whilst there are studio-based performances of almost all the tracks on Skeleton Tree, an album that inevitably became to mean something very different from the original premise.
Long gone are the days when The Horrors’ cartoonish fancy dress aesthetic met head-on with a goth-garage hybrid that evoked The Cramps, Edward Scissorhands, The Birthday Party, Bauhaus and, er, Screaming Lord Sutch, bringing a dose of much needed dark glamour to the world of indie. But, there were many who wanted to write them off, not able to see past the arrogance of youth, or appreciate an obvious ability to write cracking songs, and to take their 'art' seriously.
"Oh, yeah," confirms The Horrors’ Joe Spurgeon. "There was a time when people thought we were fashionista wankers, who didn't produce any music, just a racket. That's fine, because there's half-truths in that. But at the end of the day we were in it for a pure reason, just wanting to put out a record. That was our main game. If anything, the negatives that were coming out of people just spurred us on, to do it even more extreme."
Their early gigs were raw, aggressive affairs, often fuelled by amphetamines, and sometimes lasting no more than 15 minutes. As bassist Rhys Webb has said, “We were kind of making it up as we went along, but, at every gig we played, someone would book us for a follow-up show so we just went with it. It hasn’t really stopped since. We only had a handful of songs, including two or three covers but that was fine. We thought 15 minutes was the perfect time for a burst of horrible noise. It still is."
“There's definitely been some insane gigs," says Joe. "I remember when we supported Arctic Monkeys, and as you can imagine the crowd between them and us on our first album was quite different, but it made us be a bit more wild and insane. Some people in the crowd would heat up pound coins and thrown them at us, thinking that would hurts us. Anyone who knows anything about physics would know that by the time they did that and threw them at us. We made a thing of it; Faris brought out a plastic cup and egged people on to throw money. We loved and lapped up that kind of stuff."
As the lead singer Faris Badwan has put it, regarding those early shows, "It was a primal release driven by adrenaline and there’s nothing like letting yourself cross the line like that."
It is now a half century since the release of Pet Sounds, one of three albums released in 1966, that irrevocably changed the course of popular music; when combined together they helped to make that year arguably the most important one for music ever. Along with Revolver and Blonde on Blonde, Pet Sounds marked the moment when artists finally and collectively kicked down the door whilst shining a bright light into each creator's soul. This allowed the album to become a piece of art in itself; becoming an equal, more or less, with more traditional art forms such as theatre, literature and cinema.
The beauty of Brian Wilson's creation though, is that he didn't necessarily rip up the rulebook – although there is an element of that – he simply modified it. Retaining pop's songcraft ethos, its essential reliance was on melody, harmony and structural flow, but decidedly pushing the parameters, the boundaries of what was permissible and possible, as well as mining a much deeper emotional and literate depth via the lyrics. In 1965 The Beach Boys were still singing trite such as: “Get around round round I get around / From town to town / Get around round round I get around / I'm a real cool head / Get around round round I get around / I'm makin' real good bread." It was brilliantly simplistic pop music, but for kids. A year later, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys were making brilliantly sophisticated pop music, but for adults.
“Just got myself a cup of tea, woke up a half an hour ago and feeling pretty good. A lovely morning here in KItchener, an hour west of Toronto, named after Lord Kitchener (it was called town of Berlin up till 1916)". We're in the middle of a heatwave at the moment; this is the calm before the storm. Right now it's quite nice, but it will get crazy hot.”
This is Norman Blake I am talking to, an honorary member of the C-86 generation, who along with the likes of The Wedding Present, The Soup Dragons, and long forgotten gems such as Stump, The Mackenzies, The Shrubs and Age of Chance, spearheaded this much-loved indie guitar scene that generally didn't take itself too seriously. While Teenage Fanclub came along a little too late for the legendary C86 cassette compilation, Blake was very much part of that ‘scene’, having been in a band with The Soup Dragon’s Sean Dickson, pre-C86, called The Faith Healers, the pre-Teenage Fanclub Boy and Hairdressers group, as well as joining and writing for BMX Bandits, remaining with them as a member until 1991. With such luminaries as Kurt Cobain calling the band the best in the world, and Noel Gallagher saying they were the second best (after Oasis, of course), only helping their cause, Teenage Fanclub developed a large fanbase, won acres of press coverage, and released critically lauded and commercially successful albums, culminating in Songs From Northern Britain, which reached number three in 1997. Good memories run long and deep it seems, for it was only last year that Dave Grohl, ex-Nirvana, asked the band to support his Foo Fighters at Old Trafford, eulogising about them on stage, too. Indeed, Teenage Fanclub's 1991 album Bandwagonesque was voted best album of the year by Spin magazine, beating Nirvana's Never Mind in the process.
Blake has been a resident in Canada for the last seven years, living with his Canadian-born wife, and dealing with the alternately harsh winters and hot summers; one minute shovelling snow, the next wilting in the harshly humid heat. "The winters can be horrendous. The last two have been full on. We live in a corner house, so we are responsible for clearing the snow off the sidewalks next to our house. You can wake up in the morning, possibly with a hangover, you have to clear four feet of snow and a channel around the house. I feel myself cursing us making the move on those occasions. But, I call the folks every weekend, who live in Scotland. 'What's it like today? 'It's pretty grey today. It's been raining'. It's nice to have the definitive seasons here. A total change of wardrobe."
Congratulations to Skepta for winning the 2016 Hyundai Mercury Music Prize!
The Mercury Prize, this year sponsored by Hyundai, has been the staple of what defines the British and Irish music industry by shining a light on the acts that are shaping modern music. Renowned around the world, a spot on the shortlist can drastically move an act form being on the periphery of a glistening career to the very forefront. Not only do you get to be on an exclusive list which acknowledges your musical merit, you have the chance to multiply your income (in an industry which we all know is getting harder and harder to make a living in) through the subsequent album sales and extended tours, which arise from purely receiving a nomination. Then if you clinch the top spot you get a £25,000 cheque, as well as the acknowledgement of being the very best in British and Irish music for the year.
For the first time in its 24 years, the format of the awards has been changed. In past times a panel of musicians, music presenters, producers, journalists, festival organisers and other figures in the music industry put together a list of six albums that have been put forward by labels, which are then judged by the respective panel on the day of the awards. This year the panel have put forward twelve albums that will be whittled done to six via an online vote, which will then be judged by the panel on the day of the awards. Whether this will have a profound effect on the end result is yet to be seen, as worries that the acts with the biggest fan bases taking rule in the inaugural vote are already being voiced.
As per usual, a diverse and eclectic mix of music has been nominated – electropop, art rock, baroque pop, electronic R&B, grime, soul, post punk, pop and jazz. This year’s list is one of the more commercially successful in Mercury Prize’s history with the majority of albums having taken the UK number one spot or held itself in the Top 10. Only two acts have debut albums featured and, incredibly, half of the nominations have appeared on the shortlist before.
Here is a brief look at the albums up for the this years Mercury Prize award:
"Back to being pissed off," is how bassist Tom Fleming put it, in describing Boy King, the fifth album from this Cumbria-to-London alt-electro-indie band. "What I think he means by that," says Chris Talbot, drummer with the band, "is this is album number five and although we're not getting on a bit just yet, we're thirty years old and I suppose it's the next bench mark after you've turned 18 and 21. It feels like the end of your youth. But I think if you want to still be creative and making music and art you have to have fire in your belly. I think that's what he means by being pissed off."
And they've got their guitars back out for this one, in creating a bigger, more snarling and funked up sound. "I think Boy King is an apocalyptic record," says singer and lyricist Hayden Thorpe. “It's about swimming in the abyss. When you think about sex, you've got to think about death, they're one and the same.”
Indeed. Sex and death are continuing themes for the aptly named band, one who has never shone away from describing our basest desires in sometimes, frankly, lurid ways, but always with a touch of poetry to soften the, er, blow.
Meanwhile, Chris has been spending a fair amount time in France, watching England getting battered in the Euros, as he explains to me while he is briefly back in England, in-between games, promotional duties calling. “You’ve caught me at an end of a long day,” he says. “We've had a couple of photoshoots, couple of interviews, and I've just come back form France this morning, from the football. I'm heading back out there today.
“I missed the Wales game but I was at that Marseilles (versus Russia) and the St. Etienne game (versus Slovakia). The football has been mixed,” he laughs. “I imagine the violence aspect of it has been getting a lot of coverage, but I haven't seen that. It’s difficult to portray the actual spirit of the places I've been in. It's so big. There have been pockets of disruption, but a lot more people are just chilling out and enjoying a sporting event. I'm having a fun time!
“I’ve been with a few friends from back home; it may be the last chance they get to enjoy something like this without the girlfriends, before life gets more serious,” he laughs.
It was almost 40 years ago that the founding members of Killing Joke staged a fire ritual that burnt down their London flat; an aptly chaotic birth for a band that would spend the next four decades tearing through conventions both musical and spiritual. It also provided one of the big laughs of Geordie's life in watching Jaz Coleman run down the street naked.
"We've used Killing Joke as one enormous experiment in manifesting each one of our personal dreams."
Eleven years in the making, already delayed by a year or so, The Death and Resurrection Show finally gets to see the light of day this summer, although it has been shown at the odd film festival, including Brighton's Cine City. But that was back in late 2014. I'm not sure why it's been delayed, beyond issues of finance, legal problems and notions of perfectionism but it'll be worth the long wait. Not only for Killing Joke fans in particular, but the wider public, who may in turn be repulsed and fascinated by this extraordinary story and the characters who inhabit it. It's an epic, clocking in at just under two-and-a-half hours, a fairly thorough documentary of one of the greatest, most uncompromising bands of the post-punk era. A band unbelievably still going strong, who still feature the original four members, one who have only ever recorded one cover song in their whole history (Sex Pistols' 'Bodies'), and who musically have remained true to the paranoid/visionary outlook of Jaz Coleman, the main protagonist.
The Death and Resurrection Show (TDARS) goes some way to explaining their durability but, thankfully, it doesn't get too dewey-eyed. Like the fact Killing Joke have never written a love song, TDARS avoids asking too many questions about friendship, comradeship and love. But, it's obvious there is an uncommon bond between Jaz Coleman, 'Big' Paul Ferguson, Martin 'Youth' Glover and Kevin 'Geordie' Walker, one that has survived many disruptions as well as the heightened intensity as only being in a band can do. Their 2015 album Pylon was their third highest ever chart placing (16), and the first Top 20 since Pandemonium in 1994, such is their unlikely durability.
But despite their legendary status, they've always been a cult band, albeit one who had a brush with fame in the mid-80s with the hit single ‘Love Like Blood’. However, their sometimes ‘us and them’ outlook, antagonist posturing and their tribalistic bearing has had the effect of turning some people off, as has their uncompromising music (unlike, say, the similarly independently-minded, durable and politically savvy The Levellers, who were and still are a much more fan-friendly unit, musically and personality-wise), a music that fused the raw energy of punk with a metal sheen, and a funk-dance rhythm set off by the explosive drumming of Ferguson and the grungey-meets-metallic guitar work of Walker. Beautifully dark rhythmically for those who got it, demonically noisy for those who didn't. Moreover, on stage the tone was always set by Jaz, his dark features creasing with fury, that thousand yard stare looking for all the world like a man possessed. Frankly, it’s understandably not everyone's cup of tea.
But for those who got it, indeed rejoiced in it, Killing Joke became more than just a band, but a metaphor for the world, and all its growing problems, its alienating propensities, and its tendency to self-destruct.
We are halfway through 2016 but you'd be forgiven for thinking that we're further in – it has been a roller-coaster of a year so far. In amongst the non-stop throttle of crazy news stories and a seemingly endless supply of celebrity deaths to mourn, we've actually had a phenomenal dose of new music to gorge upon. We invited our writers to offer us a shortlist – a favourite album of 2016 that they have reviewed for us, a favourite live show in Brighton they have attended and a favourite album that we somehow missed! Here's what they had to say…
Metronomy aka Joseph Mount, is a former Brighton resident who went about making music on an old computer in his bedroom whilst a teenager living with his parents in the alternative living utopia that is Totnes in Devon. Seemingly without any ideas of taking his music out on the road, Metronomy has risen the ranks to become a cult star, a maker of extraordinarily bitter-sweet 'dance' sounds like no other.
Aided by a clamour to employ his services as a remixer he started to develop a name for himself, shaping his early love of alternative techno, electro, hip hop and new wave into a music all his own. His first album (Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe Me)), released in 2005 while Mount was living in Brighton following a stint at Brighton University, was almost entirely instrumental. But by the time of Nights Out in 2008, and partly thanks to his remixing work where he would sometimes employ his own voice in shaping these remixes, Joseph Mount had discovered his singing voice, and with a new deal with the Because label, the demand for gigging and touring had become so great that music was suddenly becoming a career, and a way of life. And, instead of being a laptop DJ act, he wanted to have a band. "I was doing some shows on my own, which were pretty crap, so I thought it would be better to get a band thing going on," he has said. With an endearing playfulness on stage (including super cheap push-lights to wear on stage, to dressing up in funky looking suits), Metronomy have over the years gradually developed into a popular act around the globe.
Roll on 2016, and he's about to release his fifth studio album, Summer 08, the follow-up to the Top 10 album Love Letters, and which included the title song and brilliantly inventive accompanying video, an infectious Motown-soul inspired stomp that helped to raise their profile even further.
American Kacey Underwood met Brit Alice Costelloe whilst living in London in 2010, teaching her some songs on the guitar. Not only did love blossom but so did Big Deal, the band they formed as a duo. They quickly released the lo-fi acoustic/electric grunge-pop Lights Out the following year, followed by June Gloom, released on the legendary Mute label in 2013. Around this time they expanded to a four-piece, bringing in drums and more guitars, with Jessica Bator on drums and Jesse Wong on bass. But, despite touring with Depeche Mode and winning critical and popular acclaim, Mute, in an ever-challenging financial world, decided not to renew their contract. This, however, only gave them the impetus to move forward.
“We parted with our label, Mute,” says Kacey, speaking on the phone while the band make their way to Leeds for the first date of a UK tour. “Our contract was up, and we didn't want to wait around. We just went back in and made a record. We generally try and take things in our hands. The only way we could do that was fund it ourselves and then shop it around to labels afterwards, which is what we did. It was nice. We didn't have people from the label coming down to check on us, and giving us any deadlines that created any extra stress. Funding it ourselves gave us a bit more freedom.”
How did you raise the money? “We thought about raising the money publicly, doing the whole crowd-sourcing, social media thing. But that gives us the heebee jeebies. So, we borrowed the money from our parents, and luckily our parents are fans.”