Grant McLennan poster

Tribute gig poster

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Kylie Auldist

Sometimes the good guys win. This Girl by Cookin' on 3 Burners with Kylie Auldist is one of the last decade's best revival tunes. A remix of the 2009 original is currently all over European radio and charts.

I check out anything with Auldist on it, because all the best Bamboos tracks feature her. The Bamboos knew that, so lead guitarist Lance Ferguson wrote an album with her in 2008, Just Say.

Rawville's a good place to start. This song particularly.

Martha High - Singing for the Good Times

An album by James Brown's longest serving backing vocalist? Yes, please. All originals? Now you're talking. By the woman who was in The Jewels, whose single Opportunity is one of the greatest 60s girl group soul snappers? Bring it on!

Italian producer Luca Sapio has produced and arranged the album to meet at the points of southern soul and gospel just so. No doubt Luca loaded up on Dan Penn, Tony Joe White and Eddie Floyd records before making this.

This isn't a retro album, though, because it sounds so fresh. It veers into pastiche once - The Hardest Working Woman in Town's gutbucket R&B - and sometimes the lyrics creak ("I was blind and now I see" - that line again?) but Singing for the Good Times should, rightly, carry a good chunk of Charles Bradley's fans to the Martha High cause.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Citizen Helene - How Can You Find Someone To Love

Imagine if Laura Nyro crowned her 4-album suite by working with Karen Dalton rather than with Patti Labelle. And instead of covering 60s soul they listened to The Girl From Ipanema for inspiration.

If those textures are too sophisticated for you, please yourself with the 6-minute plus throbbing disco banger (#notaeuphemism) remix on the download. Because very pleasingly that sounds like Bilingual-era Pet Shop Boys. It inspired me to - carefully, slowly, I'm a bit creaky these days - unfurl my TUNE! banner.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

In Love With These Times by Roger Shepherd

“It’s not a plotted history but a highly personal memoir....a book about how the hothouse of punk and post punk affected me in Christchurch and like-minded characters in Dunedin.”

Flying Nun is one of the greatest independent labels ever. Many of today’s hippest and most popular indies are influenced by its ambition and conglomeration of styles. This story - or interpretation of the stories - by label founder Roger Shepherd is essential reading for anyone who’s loved Flying Nun, anyone who’s thinking of starting a label and anyone who moans about a label doing something they don’t like.

Before this book’s publication last week, the best book about Flying Nun was Positively George Street by Matthew Bannister of the Sneaky Feelings. Don’t let the fact that it was then the only book about Flying Nun put you off.

However, where Bannister used his book to settle personal scores and concentrate on his role in the soi-disant only Dunedin band that “wanted mainstream success”, Shepherd describes the chaos and craziness of a fan “who had let his enthusiasms get the better of him.”

Shepherd is generous in his recollections. He knows very well that Matthew Bannister was “especially frank about his relationship with Flying Nun and me” in Positively George Street, but leaves it at that. His enthusiasm for Sneaky Feelings’ back catalogue is undimmed.

Equally, he’s gentlemanly recalling the circumstances around Shayne Carter leaving Flying Nun for a succession of bigger labels: “Major changes had happened and there was a dispute over his publishing contract. So things didn’t end well, but I still think Shayne P Carter is one of the smartest and most talented people I’ve ever worked with.”

In Love With These Times is especially good on the high-wire balancing act of releasing records on a shoestring budget and the initial triumphs of naivety over experience, all the while knowing that “no one was going to get rich, but some great records would get made”.

Its strongest when looking at growing an indie from a South Pacific island to a global concern. When New Zealand’s vinyl pressing plants closed down in the late 80s, deals were done to keep Flying Nun going at a price to their boutique releases:

“When we had been handling our own distribution we could generally break even on a minimum initial pressing of about 300 to 500 copies. This made most of the smaller or one-off projects possible. With WEA...many of these releases had gone from marginal to hopelessly unprofitable.”

Shepherd describes the paradox of the Flying Nun phenomenon very well: “The very isolation that had created the conditions for the music to develop the way it did - exactly what made it special and unique - was also the main barrier to communicating and selling that music internationally.”

However, he’s on less surer footing when claiming that The Bats were a victim of bad timing when major label money got them a big name producer for 1991’s Fear of God just as Flying Nun’s core values, bands “being themselves, doing their own thing, cutting back on excessive recording budgets”, became compatible with radio play and chart placings.

No amount of money or luck would have transferred The Bats into the premier league. If anything, radio and fans opening their minds to the noisy underground happened at least a year later and would have more suited Flying Nun’s Straitjacket Fits and Jean-Paul Sartre Experience. Except all three bands toured the USA in 1993 and didn’t break through.

The Flying Nun story is not one of failure, though. JPSE and Straitjacket Fits were equal to any of the post-grunge generation’s hitmakers. Just as The Gordons and Bailter Space, for example, were equal to Sonic Youth’s art rock experimentation in the 1980s.

Naturally - justly - Shepherd knows that many Flying Nun bands deserved much greater acclaim and sales than they saw. Even when the background is a 21-year-old kid working out to run a record label as he did it. He also suggests that the essence of Flying Nun was best captured on its first surges before business got involved:

“That’s the great thing about a release on an independent label. The ideas can be fragmented and strange, and the execution variable. But there is a tolerance of what is being offered up creatively…”

This memoir is in part a recognition of the author’s manic depression, only latterly diagnosed:
“The symptoms - extreme focus, increased  energy, increased productivity, grandiose ideas, reckless behaviour and poor judgment - summed things up pretty well. A normally functioning person would have thrown the whole FN exercise away very early on. My slightly altered perspective had helped start the thing up and, crucially, ensured the thing kept going.”
Read this personal, entertaining account of one of the world’s greatest labels if you want to know more about some of the most crucial bands of the post-punk period, the co-operative approach needed to develop and sustain a label, and the struggles and compromises needed to keep an indie afloat when it becomes more successful than anyone imagined. This is very much more than the story of  a “guy who happened to be there at the right place and time”.

It might not satisfy you if you want a release-by-release account. Don’t worry. There’s a forthcoming book that will meet those needs. There will surely be more books - a Clean biography, anyone? - in the future. But this is where all future authors will start their research.

Saturday, 28 May 2016


Scottish pop famously takes a chunk of its inspiration from America's west coast. Sometimes the traffic goes the other way. Which is where Smiles' debut 7" comes in -  Black Hearts is ringing guitars and punchy powerpop just like Teenage Fanclub's God Knows It's True:

They play a similar trick on Cold Cold Heart - sludgy riffs and loose-limbed solos, like how the Fannies hopped on Dinosaur Jr's, um, bandwagon early on. But these pop songs were made in California - like The Beach Boys (which the clever money says they got their name from), they're sad songs that sound happy.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Grant McLennan gig - some thanks

That went well, didn't it. Huge thanks to all the bands for playing - they were all brilliant, great musicians who each paid tribute to Grant, differently, distinctly, equally engaging and uplifting. And thanks to everyone who came - I know a lot of you travelled a long way. I spoke to many of you after the gig and know you had as good a time as I did.

I've had a lot of thanks personally and on social media, but there were many hands in this. The very least I could do is publicly thank them here.

John Jervis - he designed the flyer, gave me advice on promoting a gig of this scale and ran the merch stall.

Jonathan Turner of The Go-Betweens site who I relied on from the start for his contacts, suggestions and general wisdom. He also has a car and brought the rider to the venue.

Amos Memon for his expert stage management. Everything ran on time thanks to him. He was calm where I would have been flustered.

Bob Johnson, who's managed The Go-Betweens, and Robert and Grant since 1984. He brought old t-shirts and records, put them on the merch desk and then, very generously, said I could keep any proceeds and give them to the bands.  I did just that. And if there were any t-shirts left over I could give them to the bands. I did that, too.

Paul Kelly for designing the very stylish gig poster. Some are still available.

Kris Gillespie of Domino Records for his enthusiasm and contacts book.

My Hangover Lounge colleagues, Tim, Steve and John, who've contributed enormously to the successful running of our tribute gigs the 5 years previously.

That's all, folks
Within 24 hours people were already asking me about next year's event. I'm not doing one.

I started this annual tribute 6 years ago because it seemed remiss no one else was doing one. This event - the biggest by far, on the exact 10-year anniversary of Grant's death - is the right place to stop.

I loved every part of every McLennan gig we've put on. It was the least we could do.

But just because I've stopped doesn't mean you can't start. If you want to host a Grant McLennan tribute gig in, say, Brisbane, Glasgow or New York, please do. Get in touch and I'll put you in contact with anyone I know who can help you. I'll definitely come to any gig you put on.

Maybe I'll do something for the 15th or 20th anniversary. But now, over to you.

Thanks again.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

How to do Record Store Day

I didn't do Record Store Day on 16 April 2016. That day I was on a stag do - the groom used to own a record shop. He didn't even know it was RSD. A lot of people really into records aren't that interested in RSD.

You'll have heard a lot of complaints about pressing plant delays in the run-up to RSD, choking supply of new records. The weeks after are no better. I get a lot of emails from record shops about their new stock. Sure enough, the weeks after RSD their 'new stock' is unsold RSD stock. Which is how I find out what I would have wanted if I'd bothered with the farrago.

And which is how I buy what I want at the retail price weeks after the event.

The Hope Sandoval single? Yes, please, I'll have that for £6.99.  You know, that 7" people were paying £30 for on ebay.

Come on, you must remember the Mazzy Star 7" from RSD 2014 that didn't sell out. People were paying £25 for it on ebay, but unsold stock was in the racks a week later for £7.

I've no idea why people were panicking about the Hope Sandoval 7". If the Mazzy Star 7" didn't sell, then there'd definitely be copies of the Hope Sandoval 7" left.

Most RSD 'specials' are released more in hope than expectation. The whole day is really just a bunfight for a few releases by major acts. The rest of it is smaller acts trying to get attention and a lot of heritage acts getting their back catalogue reissued on coloured vinyl. Good luck selling those.

Unless RSD imposes some quality control on its releases and reduces the volume of its output, it's hard to see it carrying on.

You know those pressing plant delays RSD causes? Well, serendipitously this year, two of 2016's best records landed on my doormat  on RSD - Albany by Spinning Coin and Half Hour by City Yelps. Nothing to do with RSD.

Now, if RSD wants what makes records exciting - the thrill of the new, the possibility of future glory, the hunt for the prize - then it should have a long, hard look at its business model.