Wednesday, December 20, 2006

hardnoise. untitled. suspect packages. 12"

now we definitely weren't going to bring you any more verbals until our 2006 round-ups, now due in the third quarter of 2007 (ish), but this single will not feature in those. not because it isn't brilliant (it is), but because it doesn't quite fit into any of the lists we were contemplating, being a welcome reissue of a classic from 1990, in the same brilliant sleeve, which jumped out at me from the record rack the other week. o happy day.

engineered by avuncular ukhh legend no sleep nigel, subject of one of hhc's excellent homestyle interviews early this year, "untitled" is a feast of untapped energy - the epitome of a debut single, in any genre. it's a strange beast in some ways, having no choruses or conventional hooks (both of which are the curse of modern rap music) and instead it flips between tight, fluttering instrumental passages and heavy, public enemy-inspired bursts of machine gun rapping. basically, it's a masterpiece of the sort of scratching and big beats of which zygote - to be bigged up within these pages anon - would heartily approve.

we've been dusting off all sorts recently - derek b, mc duke, caveman, "14 days in may" - but "untitled" still seems the least dated, most vital statement of uk hip-hop from that post-c86 era, and confirms that hardnoise are about the most aptly named band kind of ever. like other groups of the time (the mayfields spring to mind) they did nothing save release a couple of brilliant singles, but if their follow-up tune, "mice in the presence of lions" could also get a new pressing from the nice suspect packages peeps, that would be fab. then, can we can get on to the urgent need for hijack and son of noise retrospectives, given that their 12" singles are still going for upwards of twenty quid secondhand, even when you can find them. plus, as it's christmas, can we add our annual plea to santa for a bogshed comp ? cheers.

compliments of the season to you all. and now more than ever, peace.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

sportique. the inn on the green, ladbroke grove. 16th december 2006.

"i can't believe that love is all that remains / as i search the early hours for the secrets they contain"

while snugly ensconced in our spick and span new premises at in love with these times, in spite of these times mansions, london england, it is fair to say we still have plenty of vinyl lying around. amongst the gems which we're prone to trip over are three of our most treasured possessions: the "sad kaleidoscope" flexi, "sorry to embarrass you" 12" and "big pink cake" 7" - irreplaceable treats that continue to register in any sensible all time lists. but is it really so, really so strange to suggest (as we're about to) that sportique's legacy more than holds a candle to that of the great razorcuts ?

if you slide your memory forward to the grandiose but cosy creation albums, and then set those against both sportique's own spectacular run of gorgeous vulnera-pop early 7"s and the fact that their last two albums are amongst the best of the heady 00s, sportique do have a back catalogue (aah, witness "the kids are solid gold", "don't believe a word i say", "modern museums", "definition 79"...) which is quite formidable (that's french for formidable) and maintain their position in our eyes as still, frankly, the knees of bees. whisper it softly - not least to my 16 year old self, as you mess with kids' own favourite bands at your peril - but i think that, on balance, the sportsters may have outstripped even the razorcuts as gregory webster's finest popular music incarnation.

anyway. as we hid from the chill of this particular saturday night underneath the westway, our seditious conclusion was underlined when a reconstituted sportique mk. IV (rob pursey having vacated the office of bass guitarist, at least for the moment) kick off their parliament club slot with "if you ever change your mind", a reminder of the humour and self-deprecation that has crept increasingly into mr webster's writing over the years, while still sitting atop a lovable musical melee of melody and confusion, not least when it finishes with flapping drums in a very random manner. ("he's new", explains gregory of the drummer).

false endings aside, the set is as solid as ever, with at least a trio of unreleased songs - approximate titles "tables are turning", "invisible" and "big wide world" - to rub shoulders with the past, ably represented tonight by the driving guitar-pop of "anatomy of a fool" and, most smile-inducingly of all, the evergreen "love & remains". live, you lose the keyboards and the extra guitars which illuminate the songs in recorded form: but this is, as ever, aptly compensated by the superdistinctive vocal. let off the leash in the live environment, it is so perfectly, identifiably the same voice which helped propel "summer in yr heart" or "big pink cake" to legendary status. a bit like seeing yo rosehip at the glebe last month: such things are made to warm your soul. when sportique finish with a flourish with "other people's girlfriends" from 2003's "communique no. 9" set, they have been on stage for little more than twenty minutes, although to be fair that's longer than the entirety of that last album. even so, it is a little of a disappointment to have to regroup at the (friendly and not outrageously priced!) bar so soon after our involuntary foot-tapping had begun.

on sunday, i listened to sportique all day. they claim that there will be an album next year. if this is true, then such overdue product will make us very happy. for what it's worth, i still fervently believe that sportique have got at least one dub record in them, but i guess that may be a topic to pursue another time.

for now, this post is just a christmas card to say that yes, sportique are still out there. and they are, still, "getting closer..."

Friday, December 01, 2006

fucking rosehips. beatnik filmstars. horowitz. port vale fc. 18th november 2006.

as the world and his wife have been spending much of this mild autumn reflecting on the 20th anniversary of c86, with even the broadsheets commissioning bafflingly well-meaning yet super-uninformed pieces, it would be remiss of us not to join in. not least lest you get the impression from yr inky fingers that the significance of the anniversaire lies merely in it somehow having paved the way for all those "indie" bands who've recently "crossed over" from packed clubs of haircut-challenged apparatchiks to the supermarket shelves (much as nicky wire remains a devout worshipper at the temple of c86, arctic monkeys and franz ferdinand don't necessarily epitomise what the scene means to us… and while, to mr. caff corporation, bob stanley himself, "it lit the touch paper for the stone roses, then oasis and eventually all manner of million-selling acts"…. we're not - totally convinced of that either. or perhaps we just don't want to be…)

in the terms that now seem to demarcate whether a band is cool or not, i.e. the charts, it's hard to see quite why c86 has become so "celebrated". [warning: if you're not a certified trainspotter, please skip the next couple of paras...] some cursory interweb research informs me that of the 22 bands on the original tape, there were seven who managed to go on and net top 75 hits (i.e. the "proper" chart, where only weekly sales counted). indeed, a few went on to scale the heights, obviously with invariably worse material - who could have guessed that it was the soup dragons who would strike the highest chart position, a giddy no. 5 with "i'm free". fuzzbox and primal scream were equally unrecognisable from their mid-eighties vintage by the time they respectively scraped and dented the top ten. and the wedding present went on to a career of minor hits, rarely troubling the scorers, although at least when "come play with me" hit the top one-0 in '92, to the obvious chagrin of bruno brookes, they were still playing fairly shambling, self-conscious stuff, even if at about a quarter of their old pace. plus, it was a nod to the old-skool by being vinyl-only.

the chart impact of other bands on the cassette was negligible, to put it politely. age of chance and the mighty lemon drops mustered half a dozen hits between them, but without ever even breaching the top 50: and stump crept only up to number 72 with "charlton heston". having said that, slightly more excitingly, three other bands from the compilation managed some top 100-breaching in the immediate wake of c86 - the bodines' "therese" must be the best song ever to peak at number 76, the shoppies' "i don't wanna be friends with you" was surely too good for number 77, and half man half biscuit's "trumpton riots" ep was robbed to the tune of about 81 places when it peaked at er, no. 82. still more intriguing - thank you polyhex - both primal scream's elevation singles, "gentle tuesday" and "imperial" peaked at - you guessed it - no. 86... er, i'll get my anorak. keen mathematicians should now have deduced that the combined chart action of the pastels, a witness, wolfhounds, mccarthy, mackenzies, the shrubs, miaow, the servants, mighty mighty, bIG*fLAME, close lobsters and bogshed was nil.

so, if only four of the 22 bands properly hit the radar, and did so while sounding frankly nothing like they had in 1986, why the staying power of this monster that the n.m. express created, or, more accurately, collated ? well first, we know (even if the IoS and grauniad etc don't) that the c86 tape itself was just the label, the wrapper, "a thinly veiled excuse for something more". an excuse i eagerly latched on to, which i have never regretted (can you tell ?), because crystallising the scene itself achieved something - bringing the whole phenomenon in initially digestible form to just-teens like me, and allowing us to start our own forays into that brave new world.

and why did we want to ? because, to quote prolapse, the eighties were crap, and because even this boy could tell that c86 was about doing it for fun, for "enthusiasm over ambition" (as the nme itself belatedly recognised the other week, when joining in the spate of revisionism by hailing the original cassette as one of their "classic albums"), about picking instruments up and expressing yourself. memo to world (and wife): it was never about uniformity, never really about "twee", and was surely the polar opposite, rather than the precursor, of much recent, alleged "indie" tosh. surely babyshambles or the kooks are just the kind of thing that m.e.s. was getting at when he talked about all the new groups, you know, the ones that act like peasants with free milk ? (and i know that eyebrows have been raised concerning comparisons we've made between c86 and grime, but think about it... majors falling over themselves to sign young, new talent on the basis of rough and exciting vinyl singles, demos and mixtapes: followed by overcooked and underwhelming albums which manage to airbrush out all the elements that made the original records so great... a tale as old as the record industry itself… )

yet when it comes to producing evidence for why the movement was so important, words - especially our faltering ones - can't really do it justice. in reality, it's all about the music. we've posted over at our myspace blog what our cd86 would have been, if we coulda been bob stanley for a day... i honestly still adore every song mentioned, songs which not only lit up my '86 to '89 and bring back a frightening range of candy-apple memories, but which still give me righteous shudders even today. and if you played these, you'd get across the key to 1986's longevity far more than our inane blog ramble could ever do. note that our selection also seeks to address (confront) mr stanley's absurd sleevenote ramblings that "the mckenzies [sic], a witness, stump... were genuinely dire..." - since when did st. etienne come up with anything a scintilla as catchy as "mealy mouths" or "disposable razors" ? we haven't been so incensed since mark lawrenson dissed monsieur d. trezeguet as the "poor man's thierry henry" - much as we love thierry, could he cut it in serie a ?… NEGATIVE.

um. there are still many in fanzineland for whom c86 owes far more to mcguinn's original fringe, and the vulgar paisley fripperies of the summer of love, than 1976's own marvellous summer of hate. our views on that are well-known and well-rehearsed, and indeed have often been rehearsed (and broken up) on railway platforms or in pub car parks: namely that many of c86's finest exponents were at least equally informed by *PUNK*. "are you scared to get happy ?" and then sarah records certainly were, and in a way that modern indie-pop labels for the most part just aren't. back then, in so many cases, the template was still fairly clearly the sniffin' glue mantra from 10 years before i.e. "here's a chord. here's another one. here's another one. now start a band". and that reminds me... the reason for this reverie is that stoke-on-trent recently hosted its own "twenty years on" tribute - specifically, to the anniversary of the first ever rosehips gig, to their assumption of mark p.'s words: but the wider spirit of all things c86 was very much in evidence.

now strictly speaking, eleven-piece sports combo port vale f.c. were not actually part of the gig, but we felt able to treat their home game with swansea city f.c. (as popularised by teen anthems' lovable 7" tune of the same name) as a first taste of the conurbation, something to whet our appetite for the main course of post-subway org reminiscence that was yet to unfold. port vale are renowned as the only football team named after a place that doesn't exist, but a jaunt up to vale park is no exotic pseudo-narnian odyssey: while most lower div grounds are penned in by houses, vale park sits in a wasteland of its own, not unlike peterborough's london road, with huge embankments behind the stand that you can skulk in when the game is quiet or, as today, moribund. as we had been vociferously warned by certain insiders, vale's burslem home was a bitterly, bitterly cold theatre of shattered dreams, and hosted a fixture in which despite their tremendously unimpressive performance, the away side stole the points with two injury-time goals: by this time i could hardly feel my digits, so was grateful to be heated up by some champagne football from city's lee trundle as he engineered the theft of those three points with a lethal finish and then a casual feint, a tiptoe through the tulips as the latter were tended by statuesque defenders.

next up, albeit a slight distance later in time and space, were energetic indie-punkster trio horowitz. i choose my adjectives carefully, for once, as the thing about horowitz is that labelling them as "indie-pop" is the truth, but not the whole truth - for, especially live - or, indeed, when suspicions mount that one of their number may have o.d'd on the shandies - they can make a cracking, fuzzy racket. the way the boys throw themselves around during "sister" (as they did at the spiral scratch happening down in chalk farm not too long before) is testament to this. unlike their date in that london, they were unencumbered this time by portions of their audience missing the start of their set to watch southend beating manchester in an adjacent bar, and celebrated the punters' full attention by playing standouts from their lo-fi album "frosty cat songs", like the uruseish "i need a blanket" or the altogether rocky "amy acker and the curious paper tiger". in doing so horowitz helped restore my inner warmth with their combination of pavement's wryness and the futureheads' spryness. i could even feel my feet again by now.

the beatnik filmstars' set then reiterated why it's such a crying shame that "in great shape" has not been flying out of record stores. while we've been focussing our own listening on "barking", the new 'extras' collection which is gratifyingly full of strong recent tracks as well as alt. takes of things older (with the beatniks, their diverse range of styles and song lengths and production values has always been a major part of their rather major attraction, and if you were one of those who felt "in great shape" was a little too clean-lined in places, then "barking" will give you yer proper fix of militant lo-finess!) this was a reminder of the memorable manifold melodies strung across the last album proper: tonight's proceedings being bookended by the glowing, driving indie-pop of "the greatest of minds" and the current beatniks theme song, "really quite bizarre" (even without the scratching of the studio version, "RQB" is always an instant pick-me up, especially from the moment that the bassline appears and drills straight down to yr headnodding, foot-tapping core...) in between there is plenty to enjoy. so of modern beatniks' stuff, "i am a soul singer" rubs shoulders with "play that wonky music" - while there's a back catalogue surf too, in keeping with the night's happy saunter down memory lane: the ever-popular "now i'm a millionaire" and the unassailable "new boyfriend in black suit" accompanied by rarer outings of "wing off a plane", "tearing apart my world" and even, for a cockle-drying minute or so, the groove farm's "baby blue marine". while for us the real revelations of "barking" were actually found in the strength of the beautiful, curving, tearjerking ballads slipped in amongst the 31-track total ("clothes", "cold" and "coup de soleil", the latter two being brand new examples of the filmstars' serene side, the kind of (cough) *g-500ish* thing that the forest giants managed earlier this year with "namesakes" or "stars"), this evening was all about their big-hitting rock and roll, a rollicking reminder of their textbook semi-chaotic shout bonanzas.

if any of the living-room 'bands' i was once in had ever garnered any kind of momentum, or indeed made it out of the living-room, one of my keenest private fantasies was that we would promptly abuse our new-found fame by playing a live set that consisted solely of everything that bubblegum splash! ever released, in order. so we would have opened with "if only", rattled through the "splashdown!" ep and then delivered the coup de grace with the two tracks from the second subway comp. bam! pow! take that, reeling popkids.

we can enviously report that it appears a staffs-centric remix of this dream, in which the rosehips provide the relevant tunes, has been lived by the fucking rosehips of sheffield, england, even if they don't yet do the whole chronological back catalogue thing. the fact that the said fucking rosehips are probably in my humble estimation one of the best bands in the uk at the moment may be of concern to purists, particularly as it is not crystal c. to me whether they actually officially exist, but there you are. you could ask what kind of world we (well, i) live in if one of the best bands i've seen recently is a rosehips tribute band, but i would just say: my friend, it is a just world. half of their greatness is done for them, because as tonight rammed home again, the rosehips had the songs, they really did. still, most tribute bands have the comfort of knowing that the groups they are recreating are either dead, or living in ivory towers far removed even from the unique lustre of the likes of stoke on trent's glebe. the fucking rosehips, on the other hand, had the stakhanovite task of passing muster in front of an audience of the real rosehips. for that they need immense credit - we would have been petrified.

and they passed said muster with honours. an opening salvo of "middle of next week" and "room in your heart" showed that the offhand vox, the thrashing guitars and trampolening bass were all present and correct: the drumming, however, deserves special mention. the guy was just battering a snare, with insane glee in his eye. twas brilliant - it was if he was imagining the thing was one of his worst enemies. anyway, proceedings got progressively manic with a version of "something happened" that started off yet faster than the original, and then just accelerated into the middle distance before exploding, thus ending up outpacing even "dead end", the original rosehips' shortest, most punkcore tune, which followed it. better still, it wasn't long before the good ship f.r. was clambered aboard by original keyboardist rocker and pete rosehip on second guitar - this was now like a fantasy version of live aid (or, for younger viewers, live-8), especially when the six of them launched into a cut and shunt "sad as sunday" before rolling back the tides of time with "all mine", "shouldn't have to say" (avec most vigorous boy backing shouts), and "just another girl" which always was i think the point where the rosehips and bubblegum splash!'s music, dare i say it, most overlapped... and then, inevitably, "so naive", in surreal, artful remix medley form. meriel had the vocal absolutely, delectably pucker. ooh, and i must mention that they did "the last light" too, bringing back to mind the way that particular ballad (dare we say torch song ? no, best not) always just oozed lovely, gooey fuzz from the speakers. and that was, nearly, all.

but now. i must gather myself. for i have a feeling that yo rosehip then ascending the 'stage' to deliver the first verse of "designer greed" may be one of the greatest things i have ever witnessed. that feeling of heart scaling sky, like the one and only time i saw the fall strike up the opening bars of "the classical": or when marcus stewart equalised against huddersfield at wembley stadium and i accidentally broke the world high jump record. in a matter of moments, the feeling of listening to their songs as a youngster just came sprinting back to me, a rush that lasted right until yo then slipped back into the audience, visibly relieved it was over and leaving meriel fucking rosehip to do the "u2 cd / plays in my xr3" party piece. then it really was all over, and the room collapsed, dissolved and span in smiles, and spat at the toecurlingly freezing world outside.

and we come back to the reason why musical anniversaries and reappraisals aren't always so much wasted paper, or these days just wasted pixels. we can test the strength of the tricks that our minds play on us, when they tell us that old music was always better than new music, or vice versa. we can pontificate about "scenes" and "movements" and what they meant to us and whether they still mean it to us. and we can use it as a prompt to actually do things, to engage with like-minded people, to hop on a train to another city and make a day of it, to enjoy the music just because it's there and not care about chart positions or press labels and in doing so to feel a respect for the younger yourself again. and this must all seem spellbindingly obvious, i know, but it's an obviousness i haven't engaged with enough recently, and probably wouldn't have done had it not been for digging out all these old tunes again. say it loud: i'm c86 and, for once, i'm proud.