Monday, 5 March 2018

Birdie - Bowling Green: the truth revealed

Bowling Green was originally scheduled for release as a split single with The Clientele’s On A Summer Trail in 2014 on a label I co-ran, the Hangover Lounge.

At the last minute, Birdie pulled it, saying they weren’t happy with the mix. It would have been perfect for the label because it’s a hymn to Clerkenwell and environs, namechecking the Hangover Lounge’s venue, The Lexington, and its final resting place, the Betsey Trotwood.

Instead, we got Spiral Staircase, which they’d released 14 years earlier on their debut single. I didn’t think this was right and wanted to pull the release, or just have it as a one-sided Clientele record.

My colleagues disagreed. One of those colleagues, John Jervis, runs WIAIWYA, who are releasing Bowling Green. It’s only fair, then, to give everyone who bought a copy of Spiral Staircase/On A Summer Trail a free download. Right John? “Fuck off.”

Okay then. Paul Kelly of Birdie, how about I upload the demo to appease the masses? “Away with you, satan's dark messenger.”

Righto. Truthfully, Bowling Green is perfect for any label interested in releasing the very best popular music, especially if by ‘best’ you mean ‘Laura Nyro transplanting her Stoned Soul Picnic from Central Park to central London’.

A few years before we’d released Birdie’s first new material in 10 years, A Message To The Sun. Just before we sent that to be mastered Paul asked us not to release it. I managed to talk the perfectionist down that time. The label decided quickly and unanimously to use A Message To The Sun as the lead track on the second Hangover Lounge ep.

Like A Message To The Sun, Bowling Green was one of the songs Birdie recorded in 2002 for a planned third album. I’ve spent the best part of a decade trying to get them to finish that album.

It might yet happen. I started cajoling Paul and Martin Kelly into reforming East Village in 1996. A mere 19 (NINETEEN) years of browbeating, flattery and begging later, they played one song, Shipwrecked.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Harlem Gospel Travelers - He's On Time

He’s On Time, Colemine Records correctly point out, is “old-school, get up and shout southern gospel!”

It’s the label’s Devotional Series follow up to last year’s all-conquering hit, My God Has A Telephone by The Flying Stars of Brooklyn, NY. He’s On Time features lead Flying Star Aaron Frazer but it takes many hands to make a record this good.

Eli Paperboy Reed formed The Harlem Gospel Travelers from talented students in a gospel class he was mentoring. I’m not going to claim divine intervention - it's as funky as a goat in the summertime so must be unholy - but God this is good. Here, listen:

Thursday, 22 February 2018


These songs overspill with untutored trebly guitars, bubbling bass lines and enthusiasm over expertise. They probably spent more of their tiny budget on tambourines than studio time. Obviously, they’re glorious.

The demos sound like the best songs on a British indie fanzine compilation from 1988. I’d bet my house that they number The Siddeleys and Heavenly among their favourite bands.

Indiepop has been dead for a few years - sure, name some bands you like and I’ll tell you the reason it’s dead is because of those Subway Records historical reenactment society chancers. But with Jeanines and Tinsel Heart and The BV’s we might be looking at the start of something exciting kicking off in the underground.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Thigh Master versus Dag

Thigh Master's debut ep Head of the Witch was one of 2014's standout records. None of their subsequent records have come close. These 2 new songs, though, match their debut for snarl, vim and snap. I can imagine Exodus being used as the walk-on music for an executioner.

Dag's Benefits of Solitude album last year had very few rivals. These new songs are countrified maudlin, the soundtrack to a party where no one was invited. Possibly because you've got no friends. Warning: the delicate desolation of Comfort Zone might ruin you.

If this is a fight, then it's a split decision. I'm leaning towards Thigh Master now because it's the more immediate, but maybe Dag will last longer. These things don't matter. 4 songs, all great, 1 7". You know what to do.

Friday, 16 February 2018

The Estimations - Let Me Go/Can’t Do This To Me

This is the business, both sides. Don’t ask ‘which is the a-side?’ Pick your own favourite. They're both modern classics.

Can’t Do This To Me is a strut on the soul side through Spanish Harlem in 1968. If you cherish those Big City Soul Sounds albums on Kent, then this down-on-your-knees pleading is just what you need.

Let Me Go pulls out the church organ, reaches for the gospel songbook and quite rightly elevates heartbreak to religious martyrdom. These smooth and gritty 4 minutes take the listener back to the USA, 1964. Sam Cooke is still alive.

This is the first release on Kimberlite Records of Canada.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Salad Boys - This Is Glue

This is Glue doesn’t exactly hide the fact that the Salad Boys have listened to The Clean. This in itself isn’t odd - a lot of bands in the last decade have set their compass by The Clean - but given that their debut Metalmania looked to the psychedelic folk rock of Real Estate and Twerps, it seems an odd leap.

What’s really happening, I think, is Salad Boys are aiming higher and that means going back to the source, rather than looking to where the Dunedin Sound has travelled to in recent years.

They open with Blown Up, powerful waves of krautrock by way of Peter Gutterridge. Then there’s Hatred, which really does sound like The Clean, or more accurately David Kilgour - trebly, sharp, clanging.

By aiming higher, Salad Boys’ reference points are broader. Sure, they sound a bit like The Clean at times, but there’s a lot more going on.

Right Time is a trip to 1967 - hazy like the West Coast Pop Art Experimental band and addictive like The Mamas & the Papas. Then there’s Dogged Out, which blinks bewildering at pyschedelia’s possibilities and grabs its chance, like Teardrop Explodes did.

Salad Boys now hit harder. They make better songs that they used to. And I really like the songs they used to make.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Traffic Island Sound with P.P. Rebel - All Aboard

All Aboard is library music where the library is stocked with Slavic fairy tales and the music is inspired by Eastern Bloc animation. It's the sound of The Go! Team trying not to have a hit and Whyte Horses deciding their arcane influences aren't quite obscure enough.

Traffic Island Sound is Zak Olsen from the Hierophants, but the true genius may come from P.P. Rebel because whatever magic dust they sprinkle on All Aboard makes it an out-there, eccentric, ghoulish wonder. Can someone release a P.P. Rebel record? It's genuinely amazing music.

In the meantime, there are 100 copies of this 7". The packaging is beautiful. Buy it.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Hit Parade - Oh Honey I...

This blog prides itself on its integrity and prescience. Eight weeks ago it blew its research budget (£9 inc postage) on the new single by Acton's Tycoons of Teen, The Hit Parade.

Today, another copy of the single arrived, telling me it's released on 19 January with a note from The Hit Parade's nom de normale, Julian Henry, suggesting, correctly as it turns out, that I might like it.

Oh Honey I... sees The Hit Parade switch on their home recording studio after listening to Phil Spector's Back To Mono, waiting until all the needles are on red and then increasing the emotions to breaking point.

This 7" represents no stylistic or lyrical leap. The song might be inspired by Shelagh Delaney's A Taste Of Honey, but really, after our Jules sings "If love has all the answers then how did I become so hopelessly lopsided and helplessly undone" it's clear the old milksop is singing from his own romantic misadventures.

Maybe after 34 years in the game Julian's right to acknowledge ruefully: "As Edwyn said I'm simply thrilled to play my guitar and talk to you through a dead medium like this."

There's a new album called Still Julian (of course it's called that) coming later this year.

Any friends in London want a copy? I don't need 2 copies. And I don't want to go to the post office.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Bill Direen & The Bilders ‎– Chrysanthemum Storm

One of the upsides of the vinyl revival is reissues of rare underground records. Bill Direen's releases in various guises - Bill Direen & Friends, Bill Direen & The HAT, Builders, Six Impossible Things, Vacuum, an album under his own name which was Flying Nun's first long player - have been prised from under the floorboards. They're all worth your time, none more so than 2008's Chrysanthemum Storm, originally a CD only, which I rate as among his finest works.

Even though Direen is a true one-off, the influences here are most obviously Lou Reed's Transformer (two of these songs aren't far off Perfect Day) and Bowie's Berlin trilogy. But imagine, if you will, mixing those with Roxy Music busking on second-hand electronic equipment, Tom Waits' mongrel blues and the tormented rage of those early Microdisney singles.

The lyrics, too, are a joy, not least if you take pleasure in bleakness and black humour. There's life and death in Try Again In Ten Minutes, which is a dismal rumble through the queues at the maternity ward and the cemetery, and the elliptical "he was unfocused, she was into hocus pocus".