Monday, 19 December 2016

The Rise and Rise of a Northern Star

I have been meaning to get this down for some time – in fact it’s nearly four weeks ago – and many things have happened in between – but so it goes. I don't write for the NME - I write for me. Anyway - sometime back I ventured to Camden Dublin Castle to see The Stella Grundy Band.  You remember Stella don’t cha?

Stella is a legend. Simple as that really.

Previously and still part of the Manchester ‘scene’  - heady on the music scene. She was part of Intastella. That sudden burst of ‘new pop and soul’ that Manchester is wont to do when it suits. You know just be that little bit ahead. There’s always something going on those cobbled streets.

Now I was a fan of Intastella and The Twist. If you ever had the inclination to read half of my writing on here – you’d know about me and Tony O. You know how that story goes. But I don’t think I’ve written about Intastella – I probably first heard them through a recommendation from my brother Paul – it normally starts there – but it could also have been through those Goldsmiths’ student union days ( daze) all mixed up mates and swapped music. I think there was a lad in the year below – he was in Ariel – they were from Manchester – some of them went off to be The Chemical Brothers – it may have been through conversations – I can’t quite recall – but what I can recall is being struck by the psychedelic shuffles and squelches and this floating honey sound – this sort of lilting voice - all soft yet  - well I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But they looked great – Stella was a force to be reckoned with – I remember listening in to a BBC Radio One live show and back then technology could or most likely would let you down – Stella was having none of it – and let the BBC sound engineers know what she thought. It was great listening for the anarchist in me – not so great for the BBC.  Stella’s still got that steel.

She’s open and honest. Yet you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. I imagine it’s fairly difficult to make it in the ‘business’ as a woman. 

As a star.

As a Northern Star.

And now here she was again. Full on and ready to take on a crowd who didn’t quite know what to expect. A mixture of beards and bomber jackets – hipsters and those who might need hips replacing in a few years. We were a good crowd. A crowd willing to be entertained.  Stella was taking the stage before the ‘headline’ act – Unknown Pleasures – a Joy Division tribute band – we are clearly living in post-modern times maaaaaan.

Saying that Stella’s already re–represented the pop star via her stage production of The Rise and Fall of a Northern Star. It’s quite difficult to disentangle Stella/ Tracy at times as the room bursts with sound collages from Tracy – snatched quotes and lines  - who’s up there on the stage?  Nonetheless what this show does – and it is a show – a show a strength – of resolution – of good times – of  groovy times – is allow Stella to play to her strengths – her skills as a performer. 

She’s has this magnetism  - she begins to command the room – to make them pay attention.

We are treated to selections from Stella’s wonderful album ‘The Rise ad Fall of a Northern Star’, tales of excess and longing – of being in a band – existing. They are delivered with fury and humour – Stella’s vocals mixing wonderfully with electronic grooves and bubbles and bass. Absolutely solid gone. There’s a direct dub lineage in all of this performance – the sound is wonderful – aggressive and loose. Throbbing and delightful.  Guitars screech and delay whilst electronics boil then simmer in this (insta)stella mix – and everything is held down by expert drumming – blending triggered samples and machine beats to the real – this band are incredibly tight – uptight – out of sight.  I hadn’t quite expected it to be this way – there’s pop floating through it all – but you can see the dark side – the excess within – taking the whole thing up a notch.  This is not nostalgia but it looks back at the  ride Stella’s been on. It’s not always been an easy one – sometimes she’s had to carry a heavy heavy weight.  They don’t play Heavyweight tonight – Stella said that it’s because they are working on a new version – I hope it harks back to the early incarnations of the tune – it’s a belter – and I’m definitely coming back to see it played live when Stella and her clan return. Finally we have an old Intastella tune in the mix ( for their No.1 fan) – Skyscraper – a towering dnb floor shaking fest as Stella and the band bring the crowd ever higher – write to the top of the tower block.

They only play for 30 minutes

Stella and her mighty,mighty,mighty band could have played for longer.  The crowd were in the palm of her hand and there for the taking. But you know the adage – keep them wanting more. They do want more. And I am certain Stella will continue to deliver.  

In some ways the whole night was an odd one – here we had new exciting sounds taking hold – a new Manchester excursion – demonstrating its roots –and growing new branches – whilst the final ‘turn’ of the night was a Joy Division covers band – they could probably get a slot on the ferries – it was old Manchester – well at least a vision of it – and don’t get me wrong they were alright – and I’m sure there’s a fan base – but it’s not Ian. It isn’t any of them. That happened in 1979. And then it came to an end. I listened to Joy Division in my bedroom – I was 11. It paved the way for this. For connecting with new sounds. 

Stella is making new sounds not treading old ground. 

She’s not just a Northern Star you know.

She’s simply a star.  

You can buy her album here

And you can listen to this right now.