Grant McLennan poster

Tribute gig poster

Friday, 19 August 2016

Hockey Dad – Boronia

The exuberance! This is joyous powerpop like the Raspberries, The Go-Go’s and Teenage Fanclub in 1991. It’s a journey with the windows wound down and elbows in the breeze. It’s classic power chords, big bass lines and songs about girls, or more accurately the absence of them.

This is a very, very good album. I don’t know yet if it’s a classic – sometimes, like with recent records by Foley! and The Eversons, the bubblegum flavour wears off after a while. But Boronia sounds bigger than those albums.

It sounds fresh like The White Wires' WWIII and youthfully innocent like The Undertones’ Hypnotised. What’s that line from More Songs About Chocolate and Girls? “Relax and cancel all other engagements, it’s never too late to enjoy dumb entertainment.” Good advice. Stop what you’re doing and listen to Boronia.


The Cannanes - A Love Affair With Nature reissue

Which Cannanes album would you reissue if you had the chance? It shouldn’t really matter. None of them are perfect. They’re not meant to be. The Cannanes make imperfect pop. Sometimes – quite often, really – they play out of tune. And now you mention it the singing’s not always that great.



That’s the whole point. The Cannanes make scratchy pop music that jangles,  stumbles and threatens to fall apart any second. Like Beat Happening or The Pastels.

A Love Affair With Nature was recorded “at a secret location” in 1988. It sounds like that location was a garage or a basement or a bedroom. Maybe the band set up in all those rooms in the same shared house and set the tape running.

It’s experimental outsider art. When it works, nothing can touch it. This album works better than any other Cannanes album. It’s the one I’d reissue if I had the chance. Let’s not be too romantic here – sometimes The Cannanes’ experiments don’t work (the album before this, African Man’s Tomato, is pretty terrible).

But this album is an absolute gem. The reissue gives you an extra album of material. I only know the two singles, Cardboard and I Think The Weather’s Affected Your Brain, both ace. The other songs? No idea. You take your chances with The Cannanes. It’s usually worth it. That’s the real romance.


Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Hello Strangers

The Hello Strangers made one album, Goodbye, in 1987. It's a minor lost classic, trading on an intimate knowledge of Big Star and the Car label discography, with a side order of country melancholy, along similar lines to REM.

Its footnote in pop's annals is largely due to Miracle Legion's Mark Mulcahy playing drums, although it stands up just fine on its own. Don't take my word for it. Listen to Last Year's Wings

I mention this album for 3 reasons:

  • Miracle Legion are playing in London next Saturday (20 August) and I can't go. You should.
  • The Hello Strangers were originally Spike Priggen and Nicole Willis (yes, that Nicole Willis). This song from their debut gig is amazing.
  • Before Spike and Nicole were The Hello Strangers they were The Blue Period. Over to Spike:

The music was minimal pop influenced by Young Marble Giants/Weekend/early Everything But the Girl and Getz/Gilberto.The Blue Period turned into The Hello Strangers which initially was just Nicole and I, me playing guitar, both of us singing.Later we added Jean Caffeine (solo artist and former Pulsallama member) on drums and then Mark Mulcahy became the second drummer. I have a tape of the Blue Period rehearsing, recorded on my trusty old JVC box and will maybe put some files up at some point if there's any interest.
There is interest! If there's a 20-year reissue of Goodbye, pair it with The Blue Period recordings. Or even better release The Blue Period songs separately. I'm desperate to hear them.

Okay, Spike's site gives you all the details, including fascinating information about other great acts he's beeen involved in (Malcolm Ross, The Streams, The Caroline Know) and some great photographs

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Prophet Hens - The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys

Some albums have a song so good, so powerful, that it overshadows the rest of the album. There are variations on this theme. There’s the one brilliant song where all the other songs are lesser versions of it (Tonight on Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green).


Then there’s the band who write their best song ever and stick it on as the first track. No matter how good the rest of the album is - and American Water by Silver Jews is very good - it’s a downhill journey after Random Rules.


And then there are the calling cards. New bands who release one of the best songs of the year on an album. This has happened a few times in recent years -  Money by Lady, Archie, Marry Me by Alvvays, All Over The World by The Prophet Hens.


All Over The World didn’t quite overshadow the rest of Popular People Do Popular People, but it worked better when it was streaming before the album's release as a standalone statement of intent: ‘Here we are, this is a song as good as Heavenly Pop Hit. We’re from New Zealand, so you can forget about The Chills’ comeback because they’re not going to have a song as amazing as this.’


Roxy Music left Virginia Plain - their hit single and 3 minutes of music that’s better than many other bands’ entire careers - off their first album because it would have been a distraction. Maybe you’ve got a reissue of the first Roxy Music album with Virginia Plain on it. Its impetuous ardour might have made you miss the other songs’ ultra-styled grace. You might never have formed a band called Ladytron.


I’d put good money on The Prophet Hens knowing that first Roxy Music album. And Broadcast’s kitchen sink electronica and Stereolab’s cool detachment and Kraftwerk’s primitive robo-pop.


The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys is a better album than The Prophet Hens’ very fine debut. There are big pop songs alongside baroque misery. It’s 11 songs organised as a unified whole. Yes, there are highlights. Eleven of them.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Fortuna POP! memories

Indiepop matchmaking
It's early 1997. Sean asks me if I can introduce him to my friend who also puts on gigs and has a label. I set up a date with Sean and John Jervis of WIAIWYA at Holborn's Ship Inn after work. They agree to help each other put on gigs.

There is an air of promise, of resuscitating London's indiepop scene. What actually happens is that Sean organises most things "in association with" WIAIWYA, while John spends every evening in the pub not organising things. John does get to spend a lot of time behind merch desks in the following 19 years selling Fortuna POP! records, though.

Almost 20 years later, John still hasn't forgiven me for that meeting.

The Butterflies of Love
The label's first classic band. After Wild, their second single in 1998, it's obvious (to me, if not very many other people) that The Butterflies of Love are serious contenders. Sean gives me a tape of their third single, It's Different Now.

I was then absolutely convinced that they were among the most exciting new groups anywhere. Sean gives me a test pressing. It's been mispressed. He gets it redone.

Me and Sean used to play football on a Monday night (by the way, he's got a dodgy right knee, so if he's ever pissed you off, you know where to strike). He hands me the new test pressing and asks me to check it when I get home.

I get a panicked text from Sean 10 minutes after I get home asking me if it plays okay. I've already played it 3 times. It sounds perfect. For a brief moment I feel like Marvin Gaye telling Berry Gordy that What's Going On is actually a pretty good record and should be released.

NME give it single of the week, and Time Out and The Times go crazy for it. The label seems to be taking off.

The Lucksmiths
Regular readers of this blog will know of my enthusiasm for Australian indie. In 1998 my current Australian favourites The Lucksmiths visit the UK for the first time.

They'd got to support Belle and Sebastian on some European dates just by writing to them. Yes, email did exist but The Lucksmiths might not have known that.

Singer Tali stays in London after that tour. I'm the only British person he knows so one Saturday he suggests we have a drink. As if in anticipation of forthcoming Anglo-Australian relations, Sean's having a barbecue. I invite Tali to it. I also suggest he gives Sean a copy of The Lucksmiths' A Good Kind of Nervous album.

Tali's unsure about giving away any of his preciously small stock, but I convince him. Or maybe he wanted to make some friends. Whatever, The Lucksmiths become Fortuna POP! superstars.

Mick Travis
Let me disabuse you of the notion that Fortuna POP! was full of polite Australian bands, indie millksops or a retirement home for Amelia Fletcher. Reader, there were drugs.

Tompaulin were riding a wave of popularity. Sean put out an offshoot band called Mick Travis. At the launch gig for their only single, their singer went AWOL for over an hour. He was scouring East London for drugs.

In 2001 it wasn't difficult to find drugs around Commercial Street. But he certainly took his time. He returned after Mick Travis were meant to have finished their gig. They played late, so there may have been some travel or accommodation issues. I invited them to stay at my flat. What was I thinking?

An hour later, I'm asleep and the singer bursts into my bedroom and climbs into bed. My girlfriend asks me to intervene. What was he thinking? I let him out alive. Mick Travis aren't heard of again.

The Candy Darlings
Weekly football has moved on. I'm now playing with Sean's colleagues (he's got a real job, this isn't a game starring Pete "The Cat" Astor, Emma "The Gazelle" Kupa and Wesley "Patrick" Gonzalez). After the game one of his colleagues tells me he was in a short-lived indie band.

You're ahead of me here, I can tell. Yes, he was in The Candy Darlings. Sean is unaware of their one single in 1989, That's Where Caroline Lives. Mike Slumberland claims it as one of his all-time favourites. And that's why Slumberland is still going and Fortuna POP! isn't.

No, of course it isn't. Thanks for the gigs and the records, Sean.

Oh, those Butterflies of Love test pressings. Value? Fuck all. It's about the memories.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Personal Best - I Go Quiet

There's a lot of this punky DIY sound around right now. We live in golden times. A friend tipped me off about Personal Best last year, but I initially dismissed them.

I was wrong. I played them again - still not there, but we are spoiled with a lot of exciting DIY bands - but then I saw them live. It made sense.

They reminded me of Sourpatch's breakneck speed and infectious noise, and the early 90s American scene that inspired them. Bands like Black Tambourine and Small Factory. Reader, I bought their records at the gig.

Just as I bought their new single. No surprise that they cover Tiger Trap's My Broken Heart on the flip. Personal Best's closest contemporary cousins are Muncie Girls. Have they been on the same bill? If not, do it. They'll blow the doors off the venue.

Dora Maar - Flights

Two years ago this blog (yeah, I know, who the fuck does this blog think it is) said if Dora Maar would light up the charts if they could transcend their influences.

Flights is a stronger, more urgent collection than their debut tape. Walking With Heather really nails matching skinny funk guitars with agitated post-punk sharpness. 

You know what? So does Towering Greyness. They've not really moved away from the Josef K/Orange Juice axis, but they're better at it. In the gap between their tapes, Spinning Coin have stolen a march on Dora Maar's sonic ambitions, but these songs are strong enough to make room for both bands on the radio.

Maybe there'll be a 7" some time and the time will be Dora Maar's. I really hope so.