Sunday, 17 November 2013

That's love. Heaven's Above. Here come The Pastels again.

It’s taken far too long to write this….but the euphoria hasn’t diminished. I was in the company of The Pastels last week. And I missed The Fall this weekend but you can’t have all your heroes in one week – you know things could just implode with that kind of excitement. So here I am tonight – at home – with the incessant drone of charity ringing in my ears – you know the only time I wear my pyjamas is in my bed maaaaan. I’m old like that. You don’t want give anyone a shock. McCartney’s on in the background all wrong sounding strings, and Yesterday played in glittering jackets – like rock and roll has been wrung out of it all.

But rock n roll was alive last week in the Scala. I’ve told this tale many times before – but The Pastels are my Velvets. Art for the outsider. Now you know I’m part of the (main) stream –but I like to think that no one really listens to Sister Ray like I do. Well The Pastels – do that for me – that difference – but sincerity and fragility and noise and melody- just like Lou did – a band to fall into when the going gets tough and you just need a friend. We’re not freaks – we speak the same language – it’s just you lot out there that hate. Here - we're up for mutual respect and laughs and jokes – smiles and glances and late night chances.

It was good to have The Pastels back in London (although who was minding monorail was anyone’s guess) It was good to go to a Pastels show. It was an early start this one – doors were opened at 6.30 – and closed by 10.30. It was my kind of  night.  So I arrived with the strains of Bill Ryder Jones echoing through the labyrinth that is the Scala. You seem to be endlessly ascending stairs and opening doors in the hope of finding the band – kind of a Yellow Submarine scene without the psychedelic sights. Bill’s from Liverpool see –used to be The Coral and had the room hushed in wonder at his paeans to love lost and found. There's a deep rooted melancholy to his songs. You can tell he's lived it. A much more superior Jake Bugg - if you know what I'm getting at.

And the room was filling up. A friendly crowd. Waves and glances and nods and hellos – we’ve stood together in rooms across this city before. We like the same things. We all like The Pastels. It’s been 24 years since I last saw the Pastels – that was way back at the ULU. A four band bill – finishing with the kings of independent pop, before we them we had pale saints, Teenage Fanclub and the first London gig by Ride. I still have the poster. I didn’t get one from this gig. There was a part of me that wished I had. Funnily enough that ULU show had been populated by a mighty presence of Showsec security guards – this had that feel to - as my bag was searched and pockets were patted down. We’re a rowdy bunch us Pastel fans – I keep my blade tucked deep inside my anorak.

And on the bill this evening was another reference to the past – Lightships are Gerry Love’s extra curricular outfit – a Fannies for the future shall we say. I didn’t know that at the time – so it was a pleasure to suddenly see Love stepping out of the shadows to play a set of acid folk rock explosions (I’m trademarking that by the way) with a band that looked both glam rock and tinged with a Danish detective sartorial style. Gerry’s voice was in fine form – as harmonies and merged with delayed guitars and suddenly we had lift off (do you see what I did there?) I mean it when I say it had a folk attitude – authenticity again – I couldn’t quite make out the words but I got sense of it being about home. There was that familiar Fanclub feel to it but the sonics where doing something else. There was a guy making lovely squelches and producing shards of sound that took it away from what I was expecting and made it all the better for it. I really should look up his name – he’s in the Pastels aswell (so’s Gerry). There was a time – I’d know all the names – but when you get to my age it’s hard just remembering the names of your neighbours – let alone line-ups.  I need to go and listen a little more to Lightships – I like Lightships – I like their style.

And from one style to another – super style icon Stephen Pastel (as seen in A Scene in Between) and his band – except as I said before – this isn’t about leaders – this is a collective – a gang.  Always understated – but never overrated – The Pastels emerge to warm cheers and claps and whoops – and that was just me. Once again finding myself positioned at the front - this wasn’t intentional – I wasn’t jostling for position I just happened to be standing stage left –  where Stephen was singing. There’s no front with this group. As I said they were/ are my Velvets from the 1980s. A super Scottish crew – making tunes for the few – that’s what it felt like back then. A few pictures - got to base your look on something – like those few photos we had of The Byrds and The Velvets – MC5 and The Small Faces – The Pastels were in there too – we were carving style out of sound. And the Songs for Children EP on a bootleg blue vinyl and random purchases from record shops dotted across the North. Each and every one of their songs holding something special for me. I was rocking a quiff at the gig – but inwardly I was shaking my bowlhead all night. I’m done with the anoraks. But without The Pastels in my teenage years – I might not have made it.

It doesn’t seem like twenty four years have passed – Stephen and Katrina still feel the same – this duo manning the helm of the good ship Pastel. From the opening mariachi melodies of Slow Summits we were ready for our adventure to higher plains. Moving from new to old – this all too short set encapsulated all that’s often missed about the Pastels – this is a band with a whole heap of perfect pop (corn) tunes – and references that take in far more styles than the ‘shambling and twee’ bands they supposedly inspired. This is Miles Davies meets Lou Reed downtown with a twist of the Shrangi La’s and Can. It’s experimental and sentimental – which is good thing in my eye and sounds even better in my head. So we were tripping through the old and the new and everything sounded divine. If you haven’t got the latest Pastels tunes – and come on – this is their first ‘proper’ long player in 16 years – then buy it.  And in the flesh this beautiful album came alive – with a band of players augmenting those well-crafted words of Katrina and Stephen. From Wrong Light to Check your Heart (surely the BHF’s next song of choice for any health campaign) with Nothing to be Done , Different Drum and Summer Rain in the mix -  the interplay of the two singers was perfect in every sense. I guess when you’ve known each other that long things are going to kind of click. It doesn’t just click with the group though – as I’ve said before there’s no front with Stephen – the conversation is flowing back and forth with an awestruck audience but Stephen never plays the star. He’s humble and appreciative that we’ve even bothered to come to.

We wouldn’t have missed it though. Even though I had to go home to fetch my ticket at the start of the evening when I realised I’d left it at home.

All of this was leading to a final blistering onslaught of one-chord feedback drones in the shape of Baby Honey. With a temperamental pedal and six members locking down into a six minute odyssey to love. You couldn’t ask for anything else. But understandably we wanted more. So we were treated to even more wonders from this brilliant bunch of outsiders – who it seems have been spending their time becoming the wedding band to book if you’re getting married in the West of Scotland. Well not really but Katrina treated us to a rendition of an old soul tune (someone please tell me it’s title – my mind is not what it was) given the Pastels treatment and recently aired at a friend’s wedding (Pastels tune update - Stephen tweeted to tell me it was Love (It's getting better) and was actually released on the Worlds of Possibility EP - so thanks for that) and Daniel Johnson’s Speeding Motorcycle was revved up and run out.

And then after a lovely gentle downbeat ending (And once again I can’t name that tune – I thought I could but it seems to escape me now) – The Pastels were gone. It was 10pm and I was going to  be back home by 11pm with the biggest smile across my face since the last time I saw them.

It won’t be another 24 years. I’ll be seeing you soon. 

Here's Baby Honey from Glasgow a few years back - I'm hoping that a video will surface from The Scala gig but it's not there yet.Although I am reliably informed that there's footage out there - and i'll update this page as soon as it's available.  So thanks to mudonthedoor for posting this. 

Oh and it's Tom Crossley - the wonderful noise wizard in Lightships and The Pastels. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

I love it when the roogie boogie band comes to town

It had been brewing for weeks - the inevitable time that I'd be back with Euros Childs again - and as it turns out The Wellgreen and Laura J Martin. You know I'd done my research - listening to the new album in the car and watching the last great situation comedy ‘dinnerladies’ on DVD – melding the two together. It had been a new engagement - this Euros Childs’ album - it took a little longer to work with me - possible because the leaked track to Mojo (the music magazine) and the associations with Macca (it was that issue with Paul on the front) and the writing in character - all eleven songs in the vein of.....I mean it's not as if Euros hasn't done a concept album before (although this isn’t a concept album – it’s just a good album)  but I was in that frame of mind - careful rather than simply expecting the goods.

And why should I have it my way - he's the songwriter.

And what a songwriter. He just gets better and better.

So where to begin? At the start I guess. Don't look for the laughs here - oh it's comic - but not necessarily laugh out loud. Originally I was going with my other half - she's had to put up with me since I started extolling the virtues of Chops (the album  - not the meat) way back after a Concretes concert. Instead it was the solitary forty something at the front – I was meant to be meeting a dear friend - except he didn't come - I met another Richard though - he'd been drinking since 12 noon - we shared our ways of the world with a pint in the bar next to the venue. I left him there – he should have come next door for a little bit of Euros but I feel he was already swaying too much for an evening of boogie woogie.

Then I sold my ticket to an entertaining mod with a sideline in insurance. All characters you see.

And our first characters of the night were The Wellgreen. I simply love The Wellgreen –their harmony inflected pop music should be playing out of transistor radios up and down the land. I’m not going to spend too long on this far too brief but absorbing set – it was early doors for these two Scottish lads – but they set the tone for the evening. Soul music. So I just grin throughout. I don’t need to bear it. It’s a pleasure. Opening with the Bacharach meets The Zombies structure of ‘Maybe it’s the pressure of the City Life that’s tearing us apart’ the ever growing crowd (arriving at The Boston Arms) are treated to simplicity served up with a slice of the Scottish Everly brothers. Except things have changed – it might have been that time spent with Errol Brown in the prison cells – but the harmonies are evoking Brian Wilson at his finest. Stu and Marco compliment each other so well – building harmony and melody into clouds of beauty (oh come on – I’m feeling over the top) I know I
reference the sixties when I write about The Wellgreen – but there a modernist slant – as if The La’s had bothered to keep writing tunes. It seems so effortless – but that’s the craft you see – make it seem easy – Cantona style. Suffice to say – I bought their new album. I am getting ready to weave a review into a post – it’s coming soon – so grin and bear with me. I then proceeded to harangue Stuart Kidd and did my best to appear like a stalker for the rest of the night (Brides in the Bath – back home)  He was as affable and interesting as ever  - it turns out The Wellgreen teach music out in the villages up their way – now that’s a music lesson I’d love to be in.

Laura J Martin still has this bewitching effect on audiences – and rightly so – you don’t expect the sounds to emerge from her slight frame all fraught yet formidable. I saw her first at a Jonny concert (oh you know I’m stalking Euros – you just have to accept it) and she blew me away – this repetition in the music  (and we’re never gonna lose it) built from loops of flute and bangs and chants. Well she was at it again on Friday – her set was fierce. I couldn’t quite get the words this time – I think the soundperson couldn’t quite get his and her levels – so we had treble flutes and ever expanding reverb – but her charm and ingenuity shone through a muddied mix. The addition of the bouncy Adam Stearn on bass and Stuart and Marco from The Wellgreen with harmonies and drums and guitar gave her new songs that different dimension. Sublime.  I won’t talk about Kate Bush and all that - but I will say she has this PJ Harvey way about her -you know with a flute – she has this enthralling way of telling a tale. You should buy her record to – you probably did – after the gig – from her – that’s how it works.

Sing and sell. Simple.

Euros’s new long player – and it is a long player all four sides and counting takes a different trajectory to the Summer Special of last year – there’s possibly a more intricate take on the pop song on this album. These are crafted tales of worry, woe, misery, love and bitterness written with a quirk and an aside. You’d cry if you weren’t smiling. And that’s what always comes out in a live performance with Euros manning the helm of the good ship Roogie Boogie – a smile – well a laugh if I’m being honest.

Euros performs with a kind of kinetic energy – all twists and flails – bends and turns. Not exactly a man possessed – more poised than that – but you can tell there’s a music coursing through them there bones. And a humour to. There’s nothing contrived about this band – about this man – no symbolism through sub culture – just good tunes and top times. I mean Marco is wearing shorts – perhaps these final dates had depleted the wardrobe – I don’t know - there might have been a mishap on the A1 or M4?

But it’s never been about fashion.

Euros has probably written some of the finest songs of the decade and for us lucky souls he lifts them from their CD cases into new spaces of sound and fury (signifying everything) Opening with Bore Da – eventually – after Euros was reminded of the actually chords he needed to play and issues with his microphone - you could easily see the connections between these early sounds and styles and this new long player. There’s no pause for breath as we hit Second Home Blues – and characters come alive in The Boston Arms.  All frets, regrets and tete a tetes.  Euros is weaving a picture of a bored Britain through Avon Ladies and second mortgages, motorway services and emerging romances. (It’s all economics to me.)

It’s warm inside and there’s a warmth on the stage and it radiates around. We have smiles on our faces because we are happy – even when he’s singing Brides in the Bath – all howls and menace. I was worried about Brides in the Bath – I couldn’t warm to it on the album – it rankled me for some reason – but here receiving the full strength assault of the band in full swing – all discordant and descending - it made sense to me. A killer tune (aha).

An expectant hush greets Parents’ Place – and I’ve said it before – but it brings me to my knees – slays me every time. Backed by the band and still part of the set  from last year  - you see the tragedy mined on Situation Comedy started a long time back on Ends, or The Miracle Inn and even Bora da – there’s a back catalogue there. If you haven’t got it then order it now – from the National Elf himself.

It’s worth every penny. And it funds the next release.

Cottage industries making worldwide music. It’s how it should be – not tainted by the execs and excess of corporate label management – don’t get me wrong I’d love it if Euros was even more widely known than he is – but there’s an integrity about doing it the way that he does. One rehearsal and then get on the road – no leather jackets and Aerosmith entrances for this band. Just Twitter feeds, photos and thank yous – simple connections in digital times. Although to see the Roogie Boogie band dressed in leather with a firework finale could be something worth saving up for. 

And then with the melancholy high in the room – we get that cheery and cheeky little number – Be Be High and then That’s Better. And it was – Euros Childs is simply on it. And number after pop number gets played. And here I am secretly waiting for Tina Said (I also wanted the first two parts of Miracle Inn – but I kind of knew I wasn’t going to get it) because that’s the one that does it for me on Situation Comedy. That driving melody wedded to a folk tradition that stretches way, way back to when I was younger. When we were younger. It’s another one for my children – we had it on a loop in the days before the concert. I like the fact my children sing Euros Childs numbers and ask about Lou Reed when their mum and I are mouthing disbelief at him dying. They’re not hip kids – they’re just good at listening. Open and honest. Which is what I get from Euros – he looks – he sees the minutiae – the odd glance, a glint in the eye, a beauty in the banal – ‘with her suitcase full she’s out of the door on the B13 to Teddlymore’  (Listen to Avon Lady)

And the set continues to confound and please – new songs and old ones. There was a chance to win a prize – because anything goes at a Euros gig maaaaaaan. And all the while it was leading to a blistering psychedelic romp through ‘Like This Then Try This’. A genuine aural assault. You know it’s going to go off when the Casio is deployed. Three hundred people dressed as cheese all dancing to the rhythm of the beat – you had to be there. If you weren’t – then why not?

Encoring with Spin that Girl Around with extra flute from Laura – this man in the audience is wearing a grin as long as ‘your’ arm and as always I had to buy something.  Having already received my copy of Situation Comedy through the post – you’ll have to decide what I bought by visiting Euros’ site and checking out the back catalogue.

So off I rolled into the cold November night. Happy again. So roll on next year.

I’ll be there. Dressed as cheese. Will you?

There's lots to watch and listen to in this post - Here's Euros from The Boston Arms last Friday, and then Laura J Martin and finally there's a video of Ants from a Glasgow gig by The Wellgreen. (Thanks to Ruth for putting these up amd Mike Watts for the Laura J Martin one and Geomck for The Wellies)