Sunday 18 December 2016

Destiny 3000

Dylan Thomas described Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two-Birds as "just the book to give your sister – if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl". Swap O'Brien's book for Destiny 3000's 7" ep and that quote is just as valid.

This is a loud, chaotic and gripping record. They sound like they're mining the same pre-grunge scene as Teenage Fanclub did on A Catholic Education, only with more Flying Nun than Dinosaur Jr. 

So these songs are sludgy and melodic, like The Courtneys. You could - I just did - play the sharply metallic 380D next to The Stones' Something New and Doublehappys' The Other's Way. 

This song - and maybe The Real Kim Deal, because what a title - would have made a 2016 best of if I'd done one. But the internet says this record came out in 2015. It's only just hit the UK's import racks. Get it while you can.

The ep was recorded in 2013, so maybe this is all we'll get from Destiny 3000. Their discography is perfect, then.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Rat Fancy

Once upon a time there was a band called Sweater Girls who debuted with a single called Do The Sweater. Diana from Sweater Girls is back with a new band who debut with a song about a...sweater. 

So Rat Fancy - no, I don't know why they chose that name, but I'm sure they have their reasons - aren't a million miles away from Sweater Girls. You Stole My Xmas Sweater is a seasonal jingle of trebly guitar and delayed fuzz with a sweet, light candyfloss tune. 

They continue the Christmas theme with a Ramones cover, which gets closer to the fuzzy blizzard Sweater Girls did. There's a proper single, Suck A Lemon, next year. 

Friday 9 December 2016

Vital Idles - The Garden

In 1987 The Vaselines announced themselves as "fun-lovin', normal, healthy, fuck-obsessed adolescents". Almost 30 years later, another Glasgow band introduce themselves with a single about fucking in the garden. There's nothing not to like.

This is sweetly melodic and darkly sombre like a Velvet Underground ballad. The stakes are raised by a stately violin and trumpet that snake through the slowly building, clanging chord changes.

And I feel quite certain that, like me, you'd enjoy a baroque ballad issuing the lines "would you feel uncomfortable with your bum facing the clean air/and the wind in your hair?"

It's an impressive, terrific start on vinyl for Vital Idles, and for new record label Not Unloved.

Sunday 4 December 2016

2016 - bangers and modern classics

This isn't a 'best of' because this blog isn't an awards ceremony or a magazine. This is 20 of the best songs, an overview and an introduction for friends. A reminder that new music is still the most exciting art form.

Most years there are one or two strong themes that run through the annual compilation. Maybe one scene has dominated, like last year's UK DIY. Not this year. It's coming from all angles and it's great.

Each year I concentrate on new acts. But Lee Fields (b. 1951), after a relatively fallow few years, has in Special Night made what might be his best album.

And yes, that is a new Jonathan Richman song. Honestly, I think there are only 3 albums he's made in the last 20 years that could go toe to toe with his very best (Surrender To Jonathan, I'm So Confused, Her Mystery Not Of High Heels And Eye Shadow). But there are brilliant songs on every album. He's a treasure and so is this song.

I've got no idea what 2017 holds, but I'll listen to everything Big Crown Records puts out. And if there are debut albums by Spinning Coin, Charlene, Sheer Mag and Oslo House, it'll be another great year.

Oh, metadata fans - my itunes has been screwed up for 18 months, so I made the CD using Windows. No complaining now. Yes, I should probably just do a stream rather than make a CD. Next year, perhaps.

Albany - Spinning Coin
Such A Star - Unity Floors
Can't Stop Fighting - Sheer Mag
Sometimes - Chook Race
Strange Boy - El Michels Affair feat The Shacks
Hoodlove - Charlene
Dry Salt In Our Hair - Le Super Homard
Song About Me (feat Maddie Acid) - TV Girl
(Don't Wanna Be) One Of The Boys - Heavy Pockets
Outside O'Duffy's - Jonathan Richman
Plateau - Oslo House
Ultra Vivid - Ulrika Spacek
The Sweetest Feeling - The Perfect English Weather
Ode To Islands - The Tyde
A Man Of My Age - Arborist
Closed Eyes - Society
Best View Of Dean St - Backyard
Smiling - Lady Wray
The Inconsolable Jean-Claude - Lake Ruth
I'm Coming Home - Lee Fields & the Expressions

Friday 25 November 2016

The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening

"How the hell did this happen in a city of 120,000 people sitting at the bottom of the world?" Graeme Downes of The Verlaines asks in this book's foreword.

The essays and reflections on 17 Dunedin bands attempt in part to address this. Of course, no consensus is reached on what the Dunedin sound is but there's plenty of lively discussion on what it might be and how it came to be.

There are fascinating insights - producer Stephen Kilroy explains that any sonic similarity was partly down to shared equipment. Thanks to the "trade-substitution economy" most of the amplifiers were copies of well-known brands, made in New Zealand.

Like any artistic explosion, cheap rents and practice rooms helped fuel the initial boom. And at the bottom of the world there wasn't anything else to do.

This book is mainly a celebration of the Dunedin sound, telling "the bands' much by photographs, artwork and ephemera as by the written word". It's more than a New Zealand take on A Scene In Between, though. The visuals alone would make a great gallery exhibition.

However, The Dunedin Sound is no hagiography. It finds space for a tirade against Flying Nun and Dunedin bands, even if that essay exposes the author's mean spirit, personal grudges and dislike of jangling guitars more than it offers a coherently persuasive alternative view.

That critic, Gary Steel (the type of 'character', one imagines, who enjoys being talked about, but who really wouldn't worry what people thought about him if he knew how little they did), makes a fabulous misstep when he claims the Dunedin scene was "free of the usual competitiveness".

Wait just a minute. You've got The Clean's debut single Tally Ho!, a rallying cry to a scene as powerful as the Ramones' Blitzkreig Bop (hey ho let's go!). Then there's The Verlaines' debut single, Death and the Maiden, an intense punk symphony. Then there's the first 3 Chills singles, Rolling Moon, Pink Frost and Doledrums. I've tried to think of a stronger run of 3 first singles by any band and I just can't.

Now imagine being a band in that scene with that fusillade of records. How high the bar was set for newcomers. How much competitiveness there must have been just between those 3 bands.

The Dunedin sound is still going strong. The recent Fishrider compilation Temporary is testament to Dunedin's domestic jewels. The Dunedin sound itself may be at least as much in Christchurch in recent years. But equally it's in Brooklyn, Seattle, Vancouver and Melbourne.

This book is a fittingly well-crafted tribute to the Dunedin sound's foundations.

Monday 21 November 2016

Hangover Lounge by Hacia Dos Veranos

The only surprise is that it took so long for one of contemporary music's finest exponents to pen a pagan tribute to the sexy monkeyness of the Hangover Lounge's stewards.

After 8.5 years of selflessly dedicating our lives to providing a vital public service - soothing musical Sundays, free gigs - our efforts are immortalised in song.

True, the only English words are "Hangover Lounge, the  heroes of our lives", but I'm assured that the Spanish lyric effectively conveys the virility, generosity and towering intellectualism of Tim, Steve, John and yours truly.

Spanish speakers, don't feel free to disabuse me of this interpretation.

Saturday 12 November 2016

Hangover Lounge highlights

The last Hangover Lounge is on Sunday November 20 at the Betsey Trotwood. Six bands are playing that gig - full details announced on Monday. Time to revisit some of the last 8 years' highlights.

Some because there are so many. Some because I know what your attention span is like. Some because not everything is available.

All of these are wonderful

Robert Forster
Mark this one down as 'ambition fulfilled'. Robert was as urbane, gracious and charming as I'd expected. Our Tim pointed out afterwards that there was Robert, Pete Astor and David Westlake sat on a sofa chatting. I was sat there, too, but only when I wasn't getting them drinks.

Edwyn Collins
Many people - burly, grizzled, world-weary, grown men - were blubbing during this performance. After the gig I tried to give Edwyn money for the gig. He refused until he eventually realised I wasn't going until he took the money. He took it and immediately gave it to the support band to spend on beer for themselves.

Withered Hand
Dan Willson opened our Lost Weekend at the Lexington with this song, which starts "Me and you could maybe use a lost weekend". Nice touch.

Standard Fare
Emma Kupa's played for us a number of times, every one of them brilliantly, none more so than this time.

Darren Hayman
A Lounge regular and favourite.

Allo Darlin
Elizabeth played our very first gig 8 years ago as a solo artist. No footage of that exists. She was an eye-opener. Then she formed a band, who we were lucky enough to put on a few times.

The Papas and the Mamas
I've been on a personal yet futile crusade over the last 20 years to get East Village to reform. In 1996 Paul and Martin Kelly came to a club I ran then because I'd been badgering them to reform. They didn't reform. In 2015 they played an East Village song, which is as close as that reformation will get.

The Clientele
I know you're not meant to have favourites, but I think this is the best song we released.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Buildermash - Measly Love

Bill Direen is an enigma. He once thought it would be interesting to put a monkey at the control of the mixing desk to see what happens. It was. It "led to some fairly spontaneous mixing gestures".

His band The Builders released the first album on Flying Nun. He's made many records under different names in the last 35 years, many of them a variant of 'Builders'. Some of them I admire more for their spirit of adventure than I do for their music.

The records are mostly collaborations. The latest is a 4-track 7" ep under the name Buildermash. Of course it's experimental, careering from Hawkwind space rock to Moldy Peaches anti-folk. And that's just the title track. I don't know how much I like it. I do know how much I need it.

Yes, it does cost £15 unless you live in the US. There's no stream. You buy Builders records just because or just in case. Listen to Russian Rug instead. No monkeys were hurt in the making of this records, but they were involved in the mixing:

Friday 28 October 2016

Freschard - Sunday Night

Freschard writes songs with a longing and profound disquiet that ache. They're songs that worry about being stood up (Go Out), friendship (Me & The Boys) and, of course, drinking wine on Sunday Night.

You know that line in Fran├žoise Hardy's Tous les gar├žons et les filles? "All the guys and girls my age know how it feels to be happy, but I am lonely, when will I know how it feels to have someone?" That line. Freschard's mixture of being in the thick of things yet somehow outside reminds me of it.

More than anyone, she reminds me of Jonathan Richman, particularly the Having A Party With Jonathan Richman album. Not quite having a party but observing it and writing smart, gauche, wistful songs about it.

As part of the Hangover Lounge club, I put Freschard on at the Union Chapel almost 2 years ago. She was great. She got far more money than she was expecting. In the pub that afternoon, she was on a mission to spend it all.

She bought lots of rounds. With each round of drinks she also bought plates of cheesy chips. Maybe that's a French thing. It was a very welcome thing. We were drinking a lot.

A couple of weeks ago, Freschard played a bookshop in East London. She was great (there's a theme to her gigs - you must see her if you get the chance). In the pub afterwards I reminded her of this. After the pub shut, we went back to the bookshop.

Some time later - don't ask me when, a lot of beer was involved - Freschard sauntered up to our table with plates of cheesy chips. I've no idea where she got them from or how she managed it at that time in the morning.

Everyone has their price - mine is very low - and I can be bought for some chips when I'm drunk. But Sunday Night is a great record, chips arriving unbidden to me or not.

Lesser musical acts (that's most of you): I'll review your record positively for something more than cheesy chips. Apply for bribe levels by email.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Small World Experience

One of this year's crucial vinyl reissues is Small World Experience's Shelf-Life, originally a CD from 1994. Jangling discord and ragged garage rock as miniature masterpieces. Its closest contemporary was possibly Neil Young's Sleeps With Angels.

There was a much smarter album, Side Projects, on Chapter in the late 90s - stoned melodic charm, controlled chaos, roughhouse bass riffs and frazzled noise. And then fuck all.

Small World Experience are back and unsurprisingly they're on Tenth Court, Australia's most exciting and interesting label of the past few years. There's one song now and an album in 2017. It sounds like they've picked up where Side Projects left off. So it sounds great.

Friday 14 October 2016

Heavy Pockets - (Don't Wanna Be) One Of The Boys

(Don't Wanna Be) One Of The Boys is this year's Archie, Marry Me. A huge riff, crashing chords and a tune so big it will last as long as people are listening to pop music. If John Hughes were alive he'd be writing a screenplay just to have this song on the soundtrack.

Heavy Pockets are from New Hampshire but they sound like they're surfing the same wave as Philadelphia bands like Radiator Hospital and Little Big League.

There's an album due, Mopeless. Watch out if you buy this on bandcamp - you only get the one song (I thought I was getting the album). Yeah, it did cost a fiver. So does a pint of beer. I know which one makes me happier. And believe me, I fucking love beer.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Real Numbers - Wordless Wonder

You remember Real Numbers. In the US DIY garage rock scene which peaked around 5 years ago they were pretty much the only band doffing their caps to the Television Personalities. Yeah, most of those Brooklyn bands back then were paying the TVPs their dues, but the Real Numbers were in a different world.

A world of raw minimalism, Messthetics compilations, crash pop and chaos. I loved them and then forgot about them because they stopped making records and other things caught my eye. That's pop music.

What wasn't meant to happen is that Real Numbers are back and they've made their best record. Yes, score-keepers, better than the Tear It In Two/Pinckney St single.

Wordless Wonder isn't that different from Real Numbers' back catalogue, but it's that much better. There's hook-laden powerpop, chugging bass and new wave melodic smarts. There's slapdash pop-art pop. And there's a statement of intent in the first song, Frank Infatuation.

This is surely a celebration of the short-lived label that was home to the 14 Iced Bears and The McTells. The real influence - there's no escaping this, possibly because of the singer's adolescent adenoidal whine - is the Television Personalities.

How else do you explain a song called This Happy Sadness (surely a nod to the TVPs' This Angry Silence)? And Public Domain sounds like a close relative of the TVPs' King and Country.

I'm not complaining. The TVPs are one of my favourite ever bands. And Wordless Wonder has enough invention, vitality and immediate pop to be one of my favourite albums of 2016.

Saturday 1 October 2016

Unity Floors - Life Admin

This is more like it. Life Admin is Unity Floors getting closer to making an album that's end to end as strong, gutsy and brutally tuneful as their Womens Golf ep.

If their debut Exotic Goldfish Blues was too much too soon - they didn't quite have the songs for a whole album - then Life Admin is a band throwing everything they've got and daring you not to like it.

I love it. They open with Moving To Melbourne - we've always known that's these Sydneysiders' spiritual home - then they inject the slacker rock (are people still calling it dolewave?) with fresh pop and raw rock'n'roll.

This record is as much emphatic noise from the classic USA underground as it is Melbourne, though. Check the Sonic Youth style art rock in Cost Of Living and the furious Dinosaur Jr riff in Such A Star.

I can't let this post pass without mentioning that the title track has the year's worst lyrical pun in "I've been swimming in the river of denial". No small achievement if you've paid attention to The Goon Sax.

But this is Unity Floors freer and more confident. It suits them. They sound great.

Saturday 17 September 2016

Grant and I by Robert Forster

"I woke the morning after his death with him telling me two things. The first was that I must put to paper everything that had happened to us, write our adventures down, which was the moment this book was born."
The book's title is slightly misleading. It's as much a Robert Forster autobiography than it is a Go-Betweens biography.

This bias, though, isn't born of vanity. Yes, Forster has never projected any lack of self-confidence (exhibit A: I Love Myself and I Always Have from last year's Songs To Play) but in this book we learn that "Grant was emotionally constrained and had to be approached respectfully."

Forster approaches Grant's life respectfully, and with great admiration for his talents. If you're familiar with Forster's music journalism, you'll know how he measures his subjects with a musician's respect and a fan's heart. He does the same with his songwriting partner.

Forster was in a relationship with McLennan for almost 30 years: "We created the most romantic thing two heterosexual men can, a pop group." He makes many acute insights and observations about McLennan as a person - his music, relationships with women and his family, his lifestyle - with a gently wise understanding that only his closest friend can.

Grant and I is a much better Go-Betweens biography than David Nichols' book. Nichols, perhaps as an Australian or an author in Australia without the means in a pre-internet age to properly explore the band's time in London, devotes much of his book to The Go-Betweens' very early years.

This shortcoming left a 5-year hole, 1982-7, in the biography. Grant and I covers these years - all years, in fact - with a critic's eye and an insider's perspective. No matter the tumult, Forster is a steady hand on the tiller.

Even so, Forster offers a much more intriguing historical view than Nichols' sociological leanings. You want to know what 1984 was like? It was a "sunglasses-after-dark kinda scene...A time when you didn't consider one consequence of your deeds, a time so unusual Dylan was making bad albums."

There's - predictably, thrillingly - no modesty in declaring any Go-Betweens songs classics. Equally, he's candid about the band's studio failures and why they never crossed over to the big time.

Grant and I is an incredibly easy, enjoyable read. This is largely down to Forster's spry prose which can sparkle with luminous wit. After breaking up with Lindy he realises that he's 29, at his physical peak and single in London: "rock'n'roll ambitions had me thin, and swivel-hipped dangerous."

All that remains is the casting for the biopic.

Saturday 3 September 2016

Chook Race - Around the House

Four years ago Chook Race announced themselves with Pop Song, where pop song meant scrawny garage, trebly jangle and tribal tub thumping. I was hooked.

Around the House has more conventional pop songs than last year's About Time album, where conventional means brighter tunes, more harmonies and slightly higher production values. It's a better album for all that.

There's very little polish because this is is still a Melbourne album. So Sun in Eyes is luminous slacker rock with a sharp eye for detail, like Scott & Charlene's Wedding. And Lost the Ghost is a relative of Dick Diver's Interstate Forever, compulsive longing compressed into a pop song.

Around the House is on the always reliable Tenth Court in Australia and the USA's Trouble In Mind, who have also scooped the mighty Dick Diver and Beef Jerk for the Australian wing of their roster. Great company for an undeniably great record.

The Tyde - Darren 4

You know how a new record can trigger a connection that makes you dig out an old record by a different band you haven't thought about in years? Well, the last thing I expected to remind me about The Tyde was a new record by The Tyde themselves.

But here we are, 10 years after Three's Co., and time has barely changed The Tyde's footprint which starts with Dylan's Positively 4th Street and ends with Felt's Poem of the River. These songs are - predictably, comfortingly, brilliantly - romantically introvert and hauntingly melancholic.

Like their contemporaries the Pernice Brothers, The Tyde pretty much do one thing. Sometimes they do that thing better than other times. Darren 4 is absolutely one of the better times. They're wise enough to know that if it ain't broke there's no point trying to mix it.

Friday 26 August 2016

The Lilac Time - Astronauts

It was 25 years ago today that The Lilac Time released their best album. The world mostly didn't listen, but their press office thought they might so issued a press pack.

At least, my terrible filing system suggests they did, but some of the pages in this are from interviews years after, so I've mixed up pages from other albums somewhere. Some of this stuff must have been with a CD. Have you tried to keep A4 paper with CDs? It doesn't work.

Lilac Time devotees will enjoy these interviews, reviews and career overviews. Everyone will love this first interview for it speaks of kissing boys, punching record company execs, being in love and Nigel Kennedy ("I'd never record with him cos I'm better at playing the violin than him" - history would prove him wrong on at least one of these points).

A bonus mark to Stephen for saying he'd cover Stop That Girl by Subway Sect. Yes, I am still waiting for that.

"I got so depressed making this album [Astronauts] that I gave up before it was finished. I just stopped and split up the band. It came out six months later. Of course, this is the record everyone loves..."

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.

El Michels Affair feat The Shacks - Strange Boy

This is more accurately The Shacks featuring El Michels Affair because Strange Boy is an otherworldly step away from lazy NYC funk flow.

It's closer to the slo-mo fuzz of It'll Come Around by All Saints Day or Eux Autres' mix of twilight garage rock and sunshine pop. Most obviously, singer Shannon Wise's breathy noir sounds like Hope Sandoval, so add the Jesus and Mary Chain's Sometimes Always to the Strange Boy playlist.

Really, though, this captures the melodrama, poise and menace of The Shangri-Las. It's a moody, atmospheric modern classic. There's a 10" ep coming later this year. It can't come quickly enough.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Eccentric Soul: Sitting in the Park an alternate version

Bob Abrahamian is one of soul music's great collectors and enthusiasts. Until his death two years ago, he shared his passion on a brilliant radio show, Sitting in the Park.

Numero Group have honoured his legacy with a compilation album. Proceeds go to Bob's sister who's maintaining his archive.

I'd have chosen an almost completely different tracklist. Obviously, you've got to have Bob's radio theme tune, Otis Brown and the Delights' Southside Chicago. And then? Well, even though Numero admit that "Sitting in the Park isn't the strongest entry in the Eccentric Soul series", it's both a question of taste and availability.

Half of the songs I selected from Bob's shows aren't on YouTube. Maybe Numero couldn't licence all of their first choices. Whatever, the compilation's worth getting and Bob's shows are online. You listen and make your own playlist. There are so many great songs.

So here's my compilation: 

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Zona by Young Scum

Biff Bang Pow! scratched the legend "Jim Beattie you're my guitar hero" in the run-off groove to The Girl Who Runs The Beat Hotel. If Zona was out on vinyl instead of tape, you expect Young Scum might repeat that trick.

If You Say That is a fusillade of guitars like Primal Scream's It Happens, all Byrdsian melodic intent, the power of REM's Reckoning and instant gratification. 

Younger minds will surely hear on this 5-song tape  Allo Darlin's constant melody and mayhem or The Lucksmiths' Warmer Corners or Dream Boys' sun-soaked psychedelia.

Older minds might recall The Rainyard or Another Sunny Day or Razorcuts. Whatever way you look at it, Young Scum combine pop perfection with serious volume. These songs are dynamic, noisy and irresistible. No doubt we'll be hearing a lot more about them soon.

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.

Friday 13 May 2016

Buy the Grant McLennan tribute gig poster

Want a Grant McLennan tribute gig poster designed by film director Paul Kelly? You're in luck.

There are some left over from the gig. £10 gets you 2 copies of the poster, sent anywhere in the world.

If you're going to NYC popfest and want a poster, let me know and I'll bring some along. That also means I'm away for a week from Tuesday 17 May, so can't get to the post office for a while.

The posters are A2 and printed on high-quality stock.

Edit: now sold out. Thanks to everyone who bought one.

Friday 6 May 2016

Oslo House - Plateau

Omi Palone were the only band in the UK's DIY punk explosion of the last 5 years who knew the really exciting action was in Australia. And even if their sandpaper riffs and gritty approach sometimes leaned towards Eddy Current Suppression Ring - never my favourites - they tempered it with Feelies lugubrious jangle.

Philip Serfaty, lead Omi Palone, has broken out on his own as Oslo House and has taken The Feelies angle  -  more Here Before than post-punk jangle - via modern Americana. And it's magnificent.

Debut single Plateau is hazy psychedelia like Woods' Sun and Shade and soft pop like Belle Adair's most melancholy moments. More, please.

Monday 2 May 2016


As in "like peas" not "penis spelled wrong". Just to be on the safe side, I call them "Pinot" because their serious side - the delicious mauling of George Osborne dressed up as a poison-pen Dear John letter - shouldn't be lost in the smut.

Pinot's (yes, I'm sticking with that) jagged smash-and-grab riffs with simple and effective guitar solos suggests they owe as much to classic rock as punk pop. This is cut from the same cloth - same quality, too - as Mammoth Penguins.

Elsewhere, file them next to Colour Me Wednesday for politics, alienation, instant catchiness and sheer emotional force.

There's a tape. No sleeve, no download code. £5 at gigs. I'm not complaining. They're skint - thanks very much, George - and need the money.

TV Girl - Who Really Cares

TV Girl - Taking Whats Not Yours from Brad Petering on Vimeo.

Songs TV Girl haven't sampled but their brilliant Who Really Cares album of slacker rock, daisy age groove and Euro sleaze reminds me of:

Since I Left You - Avalanches
Loser - Beck
Cut Chemist Suite - Ozomatli
You Are The Light - Jens Lekman
Pumped Up Kicks - Foster The People
Hit - Sugarcubes
Melody - Serge Gainsbourg
Steal My Sunshine - Len

This isn't a list of songs for TV Girl to sample next time. They know what they're doing. And they're doing it really well. If I knew what I was doing I'd be making music not sitting in a bedroom blogging about it.

Bands they have sampled, who I'd never thought of sampling (which, again, is why I'm just listening and liking rather than making):
Frankie Cosmos

Frankie Cosmos is brilliant. I've not stopped listening to her latest album, Next Thing, just as I'll still be listening to Who Really Cares for a long time.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Boogaloo Assassins - One and Only

What kind of numbnuts pays £12 for a new 7" single?
That'll be me.

What kind of idiot pays that sort of money for a new 7" single on Record Store Day?
I dunno. Your dad, maybe.

So why this single and why so much?
I'll tell you why. Because this multi-limbed LA Latin funk band have recreated Joe Bataan's early 70s sound. And that's a sweet spot I can't resist. Even at £12.

I know, the price of new soul 7"s is over the top. Especially the reissues, many of which seem to be taking the piss. That overpricing is ingrained in soul vinyl collecting, unfortunately.

I've no idea who's got the sort of money or reckless abandon to pay £18+ for those new Japanese funk 7"s. Even if I got a big pay rise, I'd still balk at that.

Anyway, One and Only is a hit.Tell me I'm wrong if you like, but I won't believe you.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Pete Astor on Grant McLennan

The Go-Betweens and how they went about making music and being in a band were incredibly important to me. 

Post-punk was the music that I particularly loved, but artistically, for me, it ended up as a bit of a dead end; I remember (in 1979) playing a show with our group Damp Jungle (one release on Fuck Off tapes) with our DJ friend playing decks along with our lo-fi dub experiments: we were pushing boundaries but, apart from the fact that everybody hated us, in the end, the music wasn’t saying things that I wanted to say as a musician. 

What we were doing was all a bit too serious and rigid, like some kind of abstract Maoist tract, that ticked all the post-punk boxes but without enough life and soul. What I heard in The Go-Betweens was a melodic beauty and songwriting deftness that was totally cool and showed a way out of the post punk artistic cul-de-sac. 

I saw them first at the Rock Garden just after their first album, where I think they hadn’t quite got their sound, but just the feel of the show was lovely. I particularly remember Grant being very embarrassed and awkward about being up on stage but in the most charming and vulnerable way, like someone far younger than someone in their early twenties. I think this was because it really was very early days for them and they seemed a bit overwhelmed by being halfway across the world playing a show just down the road from the Roxy. 

In the 1980s there was a group of Australian musicians who relocated to London: most famously, The Birthday Party, also The Triffids, The Moodists and The Laughing Clowns and, most significantly, The Go-Betweens. 

Now, the 1980s was, in many ways, a dark time for music, and the Creation label, with its pure pop sensibility, stood in opposition to the prevailing, squeaky clean, shiny, pop wannabes. Think Johnny Hates Jazz, think Matt Bianco, etc - have a look on YouTube for further evidence of their crimes. 

The bands I was in – The Loft, The Weather Prophets - were on the Creation label, part of something like an opposition to this way of being and making music, and we all gravitated towards each other. So, this is how I got to know Grant, who was an immensely urbane, charming and cultured person. 

Indeed, along with all the expatriate Australian musicians we hung out with, they made sure that they showed us a version of being Australian that had nothing to do with the stereotypes that proliferated at the time.  It was Grant that I have to thank for innumerable recommendations, not least, poet C.K. Williams, whom I have remained a massive fan of since then.  

Grant’s politeness extended far beyond the call of duty – when playing in Paris together, he helped me with a somewhat unusual problem. After performing an instore outside Paris the day before, I had been gifted with a local cheese. It turned out that this cheese was of a famously evil-smelling variety. Clearly the fan who gave it me believed I would store it in the fridge in my tour bus! Needless to say, my rucksack on a hot train did not fulfil the same function. 

On telling Grant about this he very kindly offered to store it in the mini-fridge in his hotel room. When we met the following day, it transpired that the odour of the offending cheese had proved no match for any hotel room fridge and Grant had had to place it, wrapped in several plastic bags, on the balcony in an attempt to escape the smell. 

He then returned the cheese to me. Of course, I immediately went round the nearest corner, found a bin and dumped it. But, it was a measure of his kindness that it had never occurred to him to do the same. Not a very rock and roll story but somehow fitting, I feel. Good on you, Grant. 

Pete Astor and other brilliant artists including Teenage Fanclub's Gerry Love, The Wave Pictures, The Wolfhounds, Bill Botting, The Left Outsides and Stewart Lee are playing the Grant McLennan tribute gig on May 6.

Saturday 16 April 2016

City Yelps - Half Hour

City Yelps manage in half an hour on Half Hour to do what Comet Gain have been failing to do for 20 years - distilling theTelevision Personalites' slapdash psych pop and the Modern Lovers' dissonant proto-punk into today's essential sound.

Like Cause Co-Motion! before them, they know that not practising, using cheap, possibly broken down, equipment and sounding absolutely vital aren't mutually exclusive.

All these songs are short and dispensed with a minimum of fuss. Apart from The Corn, which weighs in at 7 minutes because wouldn't you want to hear what  the Modern Lovers' Girlfriend would sound like played by Sonic Youth? You would. And even that's ramshackle, out of tune and riotously bright and bold.

Extra marks for the packaging. The sleeves cost 28p to make. The record cost £10. It arrived in the post, direct from the label, today, Record Store Day. That might seem like a political statement., but it's sweet serendipity - small labels get their records made when the RSD farrago has finished at the pressing plants.

Half Hour is definitely a reminder that the best records come out any time of the year, that indie labels make sure their releases look good even on a budget and you don't have to pay through the nose for them.

Sunday 10 April 2016


If you think, correctly, that the most evocative - the most devastatingly effective - opening line in teen pop is "Well, he walked up to me and he asked me if I wanted to dance", and hold the Marine Girls close to your heart then the Culte record (6 songs on one 7") is where you need to be.

These songs are necesssarily lo-fi - they were recorded on an iphone in Western Australia's outback. They capture perfectly the tension between being able to see for miles while being trapped geographically, restricted by age and unrequited love. The sounds of the suburbs magnified.

Every sensitive song written by this teenage schoolgirl raises a ghostly chill. If you've forgotten the intensity of those feelings, if you can't remember what it was like to be blind to everything else, these songs will, wonderfully, remind you.

But if those feelings don't mean anything to you now, then you've forgotten some of the most valuable lessons pop music ever taught you.

Bill Botting on Grant McLennan and The Go-Betweens

I never saw The Go-Betweens live. When I began writing songs and playing in bands in high school in the mid 90s, no one much cared about The Go-Betweens, as far as I could tell. Grunge was finished, but in its wake there was a boom of new, young Australian bands who I (and all my guitar playing friends) would fall in love with.

It’s probably the nostalgia talking but I think of it as a kind of Golden age of Australian Indie Rock. From Perth in West Australia there was Jebediah, Fur and Beaverloop, from Melbourne there was Magic Dirt and Something For Kate, Sydney had You Am I. These are just the ones I can remember. But Brisbane had the holy trinity of Regurgitator, Powderfinger and Custard. Custard were my favourite. And it was because of Custard  that I first heard of The Go-Betweens.

In a 1997 Live at The Wireless broadcast, Custard performed a cover of The Go-Betweens song Draining The Pool For You. I loved it. I taught myself how to play it and went looking for more. I couldn’t find a single Go-Betweens CD, record or tape in any of the in any of the big record stores in town. As I mentioned earlier, no one cared much about The Go-Betweens as far as I could tell.

At this point it may have been nearly ten years since their last record. I turned to the internet – I think in these days it may have been Napster – and took what I could get. A handful of songs. All wonderful. I realised that some folks did care about The Go-Betweens and they were making all the music I loved. Dave McCormack of Custard seemed to mention Forster and McLennan in nearly every interview I read. 
And so I listened more and more. A nice thing about coming to a band late in their career, or even after it has finished, is there is a whole body of work you can discover piece by piece, in a context of your own choosing, rather than with the weight of expectation that comes with new releases. Many of the bands I loved when I was younger eventually made records I didn’t like. But I have grown to love The Go-Betweens more and more as I have gotten older – they tell me more about myself than I am prepared for and it catches me off guard.

The song Streets of Your Town, captures that city, Brisbane, so perfectly it plays tricks on my memory. It’s a city I have some resentment for – don’t we all do that for our hometown – but the song catches the light and eases the heat, the heat that dries your bedsheets on the line and makes you drink too much. If you know what I mean. I’m not sure I do.

I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I first heard the song Apology Accepted, but I remember how it made me feel. All the guilt I’ve ever felt, all the regret, and the shame, and there has been some, were laid out in this lyric, which seems so specific but all-encompassing at the same time. And as a performance, I have to say, Grant breaks my heart every time.

A few years after I had that first encounter with the music of The Go-Betweens, the band I was playing in was making our first record in a little studio in North Brisbane. At around the same time, Grant and Robert used the same studio to record some demos – I think perhaps for what would become Friends of Rachel Worth, but I’m not sure.

The engineer who was helping us make our record played some of our songs to them while they were there and Grant said some very encouraging things about the songs I had written. I don’t expect he ever thought about it much again, but it meant the world to me and it still does.
Bill Botting & the Two Drink Minimums play the Grant McLennan 10th anniversary gig at Bush Hall on May 6.

This is how good they were last year: