Fischer-Z / John Watts

Arriving at a point where punk, new wave, and reggae crossed over, Fischer-Z secured a record deal with the major label United Artists in 1978, alongside the likes of Buzzcocks and The Stranglers, releasing three albums and enjoying considerable success here and in Europe. Although they never quite reached the commercial heights of those label mates, this was during a golden period of big record sales, and appearances on Top of the Pops, and the Old Grey Whistle Test, as well as support from the legendary John Peel, and the heavy rotation of their So Long song on fledgling MTV, all helped to give the band a high profile.

Founder member, songwriter, singer and guitarist John Watts has an impressive CV. He's performed to over 150,000 along with James Brown in East Berlin, toured with the likes of The Police and Dire Straits, was on the bill for the final European festival dates of Bob Marley, and continues to be a creative force of nature, turning his hand to not only music and song, but also multi-media and playwriting. He may not be a household name, but you are very likely to have heard one of his songs, from a deeply impressive repertoire that invariably displays his natural warmth, humanity, and gift for narrative.

One of life's natural born entertainers, the highly chatty and effervescent Watts is a performer, first and foremost, combining music with art and poetry. His ability to combine worldly political issues in narrative songs has struck a chord with millions around the globe.  "I like to tell a story, and provide a map for a good way of living," he says. He's been performing for nearly 40 years and has played over 3000 concerts. And there seems to be no stopping him, as he readies himself for another renaissance, that includes a brilliant new album This is My Universe, and the re-release of much of his extensive back catalogue. "I'm doing some shows in Paris, as part of an exhibition, Pirates of the Mediterranean," he says. "It's five or six artists I know who are doing an exhibition in one of those arts squats that has been converted into a nice gallery. A lot of my media mates and painter friends are down there."

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Catfish & The Bottlemen

Hard work and self belief. Two essential ingredients in making it in the world of music. It seems that the four piece – named after a busker in Australia where frontman Van McCann was living at the time – have this in spades, as they continue on their upward trajectory, and a long sold out tour of the UK coming up, as well as new material including the current single 'Soundcheck', and an album later in the year

"Just graft, man," says frontman Van McCann, in explaining their success. "We played a couple of hundred shows a year before we had a deal. When bands like Stereophonics played at Echo Arena, we'd put a CD on every single car in the car park. We went to a Kasabian gig once and when everyone came out we revved up a generator in the rain in the carpark, and played to all the people coming out. Got loads of CDs out. We used to turn up at universities with a generator, and played."

Sounds old fashioned, doesn't it? By playing constantly, and with few inhibitions (plus some great songs and a welcoming personality) it's heartening to hear such stories. There’s been a spate of these type of musicians who, through a combination of the sheer joy of playing, and a truly hard work ethic, have developed fan-bases above and beyond the usual tortuous playing of ‘normal’ gigs. We’re talking busking here, and setting up wherever the rewards look promising. Solo artists such as Passenger and James Bay have developed audiences in this way, and so have the Bottlemen. “We’ve lived in the van the first seven years,” he says, playing everywhere, living off £5 a day.” It's all paid off very handsomely for these superb indie-rockers, first by signing with Communion and then with its much older and bigger brother, Island Records. "It appealed to us at the time," says Van, about signing to Communion. "'We love you as you are', they said. ‘We don't want to change anything'.

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Brightonsfinest Compilation Volume 1

Here at Brightonsfinest HQ we are proud to announce the first in a series of vinyl compilation records we will be releasing through our newly established label wing Brightonsfinest Presents, showcasing all of the wonderful talent we come across on the site. Volume 1 is going to be a high quality (180gram) double-vinyl release with 21 tracks, exclusively for this year's Record Store Day (April 16th 2016) – an annual celebration of our fantastic independent record shops. As it is our first compilation we thought we’d be doing our name a disservice if we didn’t try to make this a Brighton-centric collection, and to that end we’ve worked our little socks off over the last few months and brought together a fantastic collection of tracks we couldn’t be prouder of releasing.

The tracks include top selling artists such as Royal Blood, Bat For Lashes, Gaz Coombes, Passenger, British Sea Power, The Levellers and Blood Red Shoes, to name a few, representing some of the greats who’ve launched their careers in our fine city (or at least spent some quality years living here), most of whom have been interviewed or reviewed in our magazine. Alongside these fantastic names we’ve peppered the four sides with plenty of exciting emerging talent, artists we predict will be Brighton’s proud stars of the future – Ocean Wisdom, Demob Happy, The Magic Gang, The Fiction Aisle and, signed to our label, Fragile Creatures. These artists are only just bringing out their first releases but the quality they display leads us to believe they’ll be entertaining us for years to come. Let me take you through the compilation track by track to give you a little background on the acts and songs we’ve chosen, just in case you needed any more convincing to get yourself down to your local Record Store on April 16th and snap up a copy before they all fly off the shelves!

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The Invisible Invasion: The rising cult status of The Coral and their significant return

The status of Liverpool’s darlings, The Coral has drifted in and out of popular music over the years, it has often been enigmatic despite its exceptionally bright start but now, they are set to make their significant return. Critics and press have often turned their back on the group, leaving the band to be unfortunately taken for granted at times, known as a one-hit wonder sort of group for those who were yet to dedicate themselves. A select few have stuck their noses up and sniffed out the potential of their back catalogue though and this is what I want to get at in this piece. I believe the status of The Coral as a band rests upon a notion of seminal cultism, it is one that generates itself through the years as they have stuck about for the long haul. They have proven their worth as now, eight albums in and 15 years since their first release, they are still functioning as a band albeit losing one member. Partly, this is down to their birthplace, Liverpool.

Liverpool I argue, is unlike many cities in the way that it uniquely packs its own identity into a basket that is so self-supportive and self-celebrating — rather than the universal push to London for many creatives – generally speaking Liverpool-based musicians often find solace in remaining put. What this in turn generates is a family of musicians, all exceptionally talented and all exceptionally supportive of one another. After living there for three years personally, you get the sense that there is always an older brother or sister to look at who has been there and done that in order to guide you. It doesn’t take a genius to regurgitate the history of music from the area, you can look into the 80s and soon find the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen and A Flock of Seagulls, the 90s comes and goes with The La’s, The Farm and The Boo Radleys, oh, and there was that band kicking around in the 60s and early 70s but we won’t go into them here. The 00s erupted and who was to be the starlets? Well, The Zutons came and went, regardless of their unique take on blues, jazz and soul and The Coral came, and well, stayed, and that is just the start of it.

Deltasonic Records was the brainchild of Alan Wills, a man who had a dream for a label and ultimately, this was something that matched The Coral’s dream to be on a label. So the story goes that they fell hand in hand. I believe this falls in line with the romantic story that surrounds the Liverpool music scene, two dreams coming together as if some collision of planets ultimately sparked one another. Deltasonic has since gone on to sign many local musicians in the area, The Coral being the first but since, The Zutons, Miles Kane’s former group. The Little Flames and the current ones to watch, The Vryll Society. There’s beauty in this story that leads back to the growing cult status of The Coral; this is a band that have ultimately helped influence an exceptionally influential label from the off. They have generated a following of musicians that support that label in their own way, vibrating off of one another and pushing one another in equal measure. In the years between 2010’s Butterfly House and 2016’s Distance Inbetween (discounting the release of 2014’s The Curse of Love as it was an album that was shelved from a previous time) James Skelly has gone on to coin his own record label, ‘Skeleton Key Records’. Skeleton Key Records has gone on and furthered Deltasonic’s work in the sense it revels in and unites the glory of Liverpool’s latest musical starlets, Serpent Power, Sundowners and his own group, James Skelly and The Intenders.

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Turin Brakes

Back at the turn of the millennium a pair of school friends turned up at the legendary Freebutt venue in Brighton for their first ever public gig. Accompanied by just acoustic guitars and their voices, they beguiled a small audience with their angelic music, consisting of pure harmonies and strumming guitars….

Olly Knight and Gale Paridjanian, aka Turin Brakes, were at the forefront of what was called Quiet is the New Loud, and also the New Acoustic Movement, a response to the electric guitar driven Britpop epoch which was then fast running out of steam. Like the aftermath of an all-night party, Turin Brakes were the antidote to all that raucousness, when the after-party required something a little more chilled, and with more finesse.

"Phil Passera sort of discovered us and was responsible for us coming into existence in some ways," says Olly. "He was a Brighton boy for a long time, and he had his label, Anvil, through which we released our first record," That record, The Door EP, was a limited vinyl-only release, back in the day when vinyl was really on its last legs. But with a new sound in the air and acts such as Kings of Convenience, Coldplay, Travis, David Gray and Starsailor starting to make their mark, there was a scramble to sign Turin Brakes, with Source winning out. Two well-received EPs were then released, followed by their debut album, The Optimist LP in 2001. A quintessential 'New Acoustic Movement' release, the album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, and stardom beckoned for the band. And for a while, they were indeed scoring minor hits, touring the world and making front covers. Their follow up album Ether Song went top five and contained their biggest ever hit, Painkiller, which also made the top five.

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Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Interview – 2016

It can be overstated that musical development is something that belongs to a bygone era. That you really only get one chance these days to make your mark, and if it doesn't work out, well there is always Plan B. Whatever that may be. But, it usually doesn't involve playing music. However, Nathaniel Rateliff is one artist who comprehensively debunks that old chestnut. He's been making music and been on the scene, as it were, for over a decade. Firstly with his alt-indie Born In The Flood band, which made a decent name for itself in the Denver area of the USA, before embarking on a solo career that saw him release two critically acclaimed folk/americana albums, and garner a decent audience here in Europe. But, it was only with the formation of his new band, the swinging soul and steaming r'n'b infused Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats in 2013 that things really took off. For many newcomers to the Nathaniel Rateliff name, it appears as if he has come out of nowhere. The reality is that he has developed his songwriting craft, changed course a few times, and worked hard and persevered despite the many ups and downs (of which there were many) over the years.

Five years ago, Rateliff appeared on Jools Holland, accompanied by just an acoustic guitar and a singer, performing one of his many folk-based numbers. Standing still, but delivering the song in alternatively hushed tones and mighty growls, Rateliff looked and sounded hugely impressive, a tattooed bear of a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. But things weren't working out the way he hoped them to, despite the fact that he could hold an audience in quiet rapture. He had released In Memory of Loss the year before, which had won many great reviews, but by the time of the follow up, Falling Faster Than You Can Run in 2013, he had been dropped by his label, and he had to independently release the album, which only gained a limited release here in the UK.

Though Amazon named In Memory of Loss the year’s “No 1 album you might have missed”, and Rateliff had acquired a following in Europe, he fell short of the success he had hoped for. “In the industry, there are always people saying: ‘This is going to be so huge, this is going to be the biggest thing ever!’” he said. “And then, when it’s not, everybody’s like: ‘Oh well, sorry!’ and you’re thinking: ‘Wait, I just ruined my marriage for this!’"

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Savages – Interview – 2016

Anyone who has seen Savages live and up close, will have witnessed a band that perfectly encapsulates the often misused cliché 'greater than the sum of their parts’. Not only in what the band members individually contribute to the overall sound, but how purposefully and meaningfully they carry our their tasks. On their own, they are individually Ay?e Hassan (bass), Fay Milton (drums), Gemma Thompson (guitar), and Jehnny Beth (lyrics, vocals). Together they are Savages, one of the most remarkable 'indie' bands to have emerged in recent years, a proper band in that they are very tight as a unit, work very hard for each other, and take what they do very seriously.

“I remember the day she (Gemma) came to my house and she said 'I have finally found the name for the band. It will be Savages',” says Jehnny, “and that straight away resonated. There is so much imagery, so much metaphors that you can play with that band name.”

“It came from a quote,” says Gemma. “’Savagery is within us all’.” Partly inspired by the Lord of the Flies novel, which is about a group of young boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern themselves, it also refers to the dialectical relationship between beauty and destruction. The name is an apt metaphor for the tendency of human nature to resort to savagery in order to pursue individual goals. But, of course, this is a primal version of humans, that has to be subdued and subordinated for the common good. “Sometimes you have to dig it out and use it,” says Gemma. “It's this idea of looking inside yourself. It’s about control as well, trying to control the physicality, the volume and the space. It's (as much) about control as it is about primal instinct.”

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Songs of Innocence and Experience: revisiting the Arctic Monkeys debut ten years later

My town is nowhere you have been, but you know its ilk. – Colin Barrett, Young Skins

To be honest, The Strokes were really a big deal for us. That was a gateway to a lot of other music for me. There is always that one band that comes along when you are 14 or 15 years old that manages to hit you in just the right way and changes your whole perception of things. – Alex Turner

Alex Turner should be commemorated for being such a humble dude in the above quote, when you consider that for many of a certain age, Arctic Monkeys were exactly that band. Something it seems unlikely, he would be completely oblivious to. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was an early example of a band translating Internet hype into commercial success, becoming the fastest selling British debut ever. But in a way, it was also one of the last albums to do so. Arctic Monkeys arrived in that very short-lived period of time where both forms of musical consumption existed simultaneously. A band's Internet exposure could almost be directly translated into real world sales. Ten years on, there’s a rather large dissonance between what’s being hyped online and the music topping the charts.

It wasn’t just the impact on the music industry that makes Whatever People Say I Am… a significant release. It was responsible for producing a voice that hadn’t really been heard before in British guitar music and in turn, went on to produce a whole wave of imitators. Much in the same way The Strokes re-ignited rock music in the USA in 2001, with Julian Casablanca channelling the boredom and restlessness a new millennium brought with it. Super-trendy Brooklyn however, had been replaced by the outer-reaches of Sheffield as the battleground where a new generation was trying to find its voice. At the tender age of 13, what was instantly appealing about Whatever People Say I Am… was its sardonic streak; Alex Turner kept the outside world at bay with a sharp tongue and an impeccable eye for observation. It was incredibly appealing and an empowering tool for navigating the obstacles of puberty. But returning to the album a decade later, there is more to it than just detached irony. There is an affection for the world it is describing and the characters that inhabit it.

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Steve Mason

The loved and much missed The Beta Band left a big hole for many when they called it a day in 2004 after three albums, the last of which Heroes to Zeroes was their third consecutive top twenty effort. This much loved and deeply admired group left on a high it seems, and with a virtually untarnished record, a band that always turned down the big money for commercials, further endearing them to their fanbase. "I don't really regret turning these things down because it left the Beta Band intact as a beautiful psychedelic, punk rock art thing, which is untouched by anyone other than us," says Steve Mason, the singer and guitarist with the Scottish group. "When I was in The Beta Band the attitude towards doing any advert was seen as selling out. But now it's completely different. It's seen now as a legitimate way of promoting your album. The music industry is so different now, nobody sells product anymore; you have to think of alternative ways of pushing what you do… there's not that much money in adverts anymore. The money we used to get offered in the Beta Band was huge. Nobody wanted to do it back then. Let's say I did an IKEA advert; the money won't change your life, but the promotion of it being on television… Or maybe I am just telling you this, and i'm just trying to kid myself that it's not selling out," he laughs. "A lot of people don't really realise what is going on the music industry. Don't understand how fucked it is. They think it's still all champagne, caviar and bubblebath, but it hasn't been like that for a long time, believe me," he laughs again. "Well, maybe a little bit of Matey every now and then…"

Mason is chipper and a great talker. I'm not sure if he has always been a great talker, but he certainly hasn't been chipper for much of his adult life. However, his well documented battle with depression seems to be over. A move to Brighton in May 2014 helped clear the air, as it were. He seems to be enjoying what Brighton has to offer, "I was living in the woods in Fife. I don't know if you have ever lived on your own in the woods in Fife," he asks me even though he knows the answer. "It's great for a bit, but then it gets a bit much. I had enough. The album title says it: I wanted to meet the humans, re-introduce myself into polite society," he laughs.

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The Beatles

The music industry at the moment sometimes feels like one of those photos from the end of the Vietnam War, people dangling off helicopters, as there’s a massive scramble to escape. Adele has been choppered out and pulled the rope ladder up behind her, Taylor Swift might be able to haul herself in, but everyone else is loosing their grip and about to plummet into the sea. But the Nielsen U.S. Year-End Report on the industry points to another potential getaway vehicle: Streaming! Percentage wise it's up rather a lot, audio streams in 2015 increased a whopping 83% on their 2014 numbers.

The Beatles, probably the most celebrated discography in the entire history of popular music, suddenly becoming available on all of these platforms seems to also point towards this as the industry’s next hope. As a catalogue, its resisted modern forms of music consumption at every turn, in fact it wasn’t until 2010 that their albums became available on iTunes. This is the direction music listening is heading, and to resist seems like a form of Luddite stubbornness. Ignoring streaming risks the danger of alienating the ever-allusive ‘millennial market’ (hint: the reason why its so hard to get us to buy anything is because we’re all broke).

But not everyone is happy about the future. In 2015 Taylor Swift pulled her catalogue from services such as Spotify, and Tidal was launched in opposition to the unfair royalties paid to artists. A seemingly well-intentioned venture that was marred by being fronted by a bunch of really, really rich people, making it look like a conspiracy of some new world order. Whether streaming in its current form is a viable source of income for artists is another debate. But seems an odd target when you consider these artists happily feature their songs on Youtube, a website with an abysmal record for paying royalties, whilst absolutely dwarfing pretty much every audio streaming service combined when you look the number of users and songs listened to on the website.

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