jeudi, septembre 30, 2004

Kristin Hersh

Waving, Not Drowning

Ex-Throwing Muses front woman Kristin Hersh is back with power trio 50 Foot Wave. She discusses doing things on her own terms, as well as the wisdom learned from getting her gear ripped off at 17.

By Charles Hodgkins. Associate Editor. September 30, 2004

Kristin Hersh is not your run-of-the-mill wife and mother of four. Now 38, Hersh's disarmingly affable demeanor masks an intense work ethic that is responsible for a discography as extensive as it is varied. Hersh formed Throwing Muses as a teenager in 1983 and signed with the highly influential English label 4AD a few years later. With her probingly personal lyrics, forceful voice, and jangly guitar, Hersh became a major figure in the college rock scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The radar of mainstream success may have never picked up Throwing Muses, but the band's standing as one of the more important groups of the pre-alternative era remains firmly in place.

Throwing Muses continued in fits and starts and even called it quits in 1997, only to reform for 2003's solid, self-titled swan song. Along the way, the ever-prolific Hersh released a half-dozen albums under her own name and even scored a modest hit with the 1994 single "Your Ghost," a duet with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe.

20 years after starting Throwing Muses with stepsister Tanya Donelly in New England, Hersh formed a new band in 2003 with Throwing Muses bassist Bernard Georges and new drummer Rob Ahlers. Christened 50 Foot Wave, the threesome is a power trio in every sense of the term--and unapologetically so. Hersh's guitar scree and deep caterwaul careen over Georges' gurgling bass and Ahlers' ham-fisted yet precise pounding. A debut EP appeared in March 2004, and the band's intention is to release an EP every nine months, in addition to maintaining a rigorous touring schedule.

With seemingly half of her comments punctuated by bursts of laughter, Hersh continues to maintain an honest, fresh outlook on the music business, family life, staying connected with her fans, and the rigors and joys of playing in a band for a living. As she packed for 50 Foot Wave's first European tour, Hersh juggled her youngest son, along with questions about her new band, her contemporaries,, and the true meaning of "punishing." Last year, you started a band for the first time in two decades. How's it been going?

Kristin Hersh: It's great. At first, I thought, "Ah, so this is why only teenagers start bands." (laughs) Because when I started the Muses, I was going to high school in the daytime and then college in the afternoon. Then I would drive to the practice space, take the gear up and down three flights of stairs--amps, drums, [and] everything--and drive the band to Boston, New York, Providence, or wherever we were playing. Then I'd try to collect our money, and I'd get guns pulled on me, we'd get our gear stolen, [and] stuff like that. Then I'd get everybody home by 4:00am and get up and go to high school again, which I didn't have to deal with this time. I just have four children now. (laughs)

It's been great to start it in the right way--in the right frame of mind.

MP3: You must feel a certain wisdom coming on by this point in your career.

KH: Absolutely. And the face of the music business is changing as well, which works for our philosophy. The music-sharing and the fact that we earn our money by touring means that we don't have to play the game. We don't have to be stupid enough to pretend that people are going to buy us radio airplay or hire stylists so as to fool preteens into liking us. So it's nice that we can offer our music to people who share our philosophy.

I tend to not trust anybody playing music who doesn't have a normal life. (laughs) I don't want any rock stars telling me right from wrong. The music should have a lot more to say than that. Being pretentious really sells. (laughs) So does being larger than life. It's the music that's supposed to be larger than life--not the people playing it.

MP3: You're extraordinarily busy and productive these days, and you're making some of your most vibrant music ever. What drives you at this stage of your career?

KH: I guess I feel lucky to be doing it at all. But that's always been the case. I started out not giving a s*** about anything but music, and you just get pushed and pulled in so many directions--from critics to labels to management. Literally, [former Sire Records chairman] Seymour Stein said to me, "Stop being so Kristin Hersh!" (laughs) And I knew what he meant...and I still know what he means. And it makes sense. But I shouldn't have tried to stop. I should've just stayed honest. And now I know--I'm right back to my desert-island self, and I'm never going anywhere else.

MP3: When did you stop being Kristin Hersh?

KH: Hunkpapa...that's where the Muses just went (imitates sound of diving plane)...just downhill. And it took breaking up the band and starting it again...

MP3: Which was a long time later, because the Muses didn't officially disband until about eight years after that.

KH: Yep. By the time we made Red Heaven, we knew that we were never going to give a s*** about the music business again. And that's a great place to be. But that said, Throwing Muses couldn't afford to be a band for more than three records. And that's OK. We were lucky to play at all.

But this time, I think the business model reflects where our aesthetics lie. It keeps us honest. It's not that I'm anti-success at all. In fact, we're trying to tap into what I consider to be a huge audience of discerning listeners. I don't want shows full of frat boys ever again. (laughs)

MP3: You had that once before?

KH: Yeah, whenever the Muses were played on the radio, audiences changed completely.

MP3: launched in 1996, and you've always maintained a very active presence on the site. Talk about its importance to you and your fans.

KH: [Manager] Billy [O'Connell]'s really the one who decided that's how we were going to find our people. He knew that that's where the people who don't turn to Top 40 radio, Spin, Rolling Stone, and MTV were going to turn for their information. And we have a great, little community going.

MP3: It seems as if the site is a huge part of your business unit as well.

KH: As much as we say music is a right, good people want to support good music, and they turn out to buy a fistful of CDs, even though they can download whatever they want.

People who know what happened to Throwing Muses--they don't want the same thing to happen to 50 Foot Wave. So they support us any way they can. We actually had fans get together and offer to be our "record company"--more of a sugar daddy than a record company, actually. They wanted to fund future projects.

MP3: Wow. That says a lot.

KH: It certainly does. They did it because they didn't want us to become mired in the record company swamp. So we had to explain that that plan sounded just as evil as if we decided to go the record company route. (laughs) We said the better way is to record cheaply and offer the CDs for cheap.

MP3: Tour, tour, tour. Merch, merch, merch.

KH: Yeah, just to turn people on to the stuff. I'm not actually anti-major label like a lot of musicians are. I'm more anti-lazy musicians. (laughs) A lot of musicians would like to keep their cushy lifestyles going--to record in the studio and be paid for that. But really, that costs money. It's working that makes money. And it's hard to call playing music work.

I spent close to a decade on Warner Brothers. And I was impressed, on one hand, that there are companies that will give musicians money to make records. It was then my understanding that they would turn around and try to sell those records. (laughs) But it's such a big mess that they gamble on signings and then only work a few of the records. And if you're considered to be difficult or cultish, then they can't afford to turn on their marketing machine to sell your product. But that was alright. We got to make records.

MP3: You seem to have grown into a position of being considered a role model. Have you had any musical role models of your own over the years?

KH: I started so young that I was able to find my own voice before I could really be influenced by others--which I kind of wish hadn't been the case. It made me very strange. I didn't come from a background where I could take pieces of other people's musical vocabulary and put it together in a new way, which tends to be much more palatable for the listener.

But I did feel a kinship with bands like the Violent Femmes, X, Hüsker Dü, and the Meat Puppets. And that hasn't really changed.

Now I think I would add Howe Gelb and Vic Chesnutt to that list. I think Vic is a very similar songwriter to me. Even though we don't sound the same, I think there are very few songwriters who...(pause)...go to that place to get their songs. It's a place that really freaked me out when I was younger, and I would have done anything to never have it happen to me again. Vic taught me some good lessons about appreciating that. Vic would jump off a cliff, if he could. And that's what he considers the songwriting world to be. It's disturbing to him, too, but it didn't disturb the crap out of him the way it did with me.

MP3: Are you comfortable being considered a leading woman--first in college rock back in the '80s and now as a veteran performer and songwriter?

KH: I don't feel like a woman (laughs). I tend to reject that. As much as I like women, I only like 'em 'cause they're people. And I feel like more of a person than a woman.

I said no to Lilith Fair over and over and over again, because I don't believe that if you're fighting for equality, you should be into isolating yourself. I don't get that at all. There are great women out there and crappy women out there. And that's their prerogative, just like men.

I just hate the idea that men are people and women are women. And I hope that, as a songwriter, I don't come off as a woman. I hope that anyone of any shape, size, color, or age could listen to it and find something about themselves in it. Maybe that sounds goofy.

I read this great preview in the Village Voice about a solo show of mine that said, "You should go to this show if only to appreciate the cross section of humanity that will turn out for a Kristin Hersh show." (laughs)

MP3: Who do you see as your contemporaries? You started Throwing Muses so early on, and you've been playing so long now, it would be understood if you're a party of one.

KH: (pause) I guess Charles from the Pixies. I like his solo records and what he's doing by recording to two-track. It's a really good idea. I think X is great and still going strong. They all still make solo records.

My sister is also making great solo records. The new one is really pretty. I love what Tanya's doing right now. It's very stripped-down. It's great.

MP3: I just reviewed Whiskey Tango Ghosts and really liked it a lot.

KH: We played together in Vermont when she was trying that stuff out. I was really excited and was hoping it wouldn't turn into something else in the studio. And it didn't. It's real pure-sounding.

MP3: You two also have something else in common in that you both work with your husbands.

KH: I like that we have kind of a family business. Billy was my manager before I married him. He was a label manager at Sire and left to manage the Muses and the Pixies. But what he's done...he's just created business after business around what I do, which I would just do in the garage if left to my own devices. The Virtuous ticketing company, the Web site, Throwing Music as an entity, and Throwing Management as an entity... I'm just braggin' about my man. (laughs)

MP3: Did you ever expect someone would describe your songs as "punishing"?

KH: Well, yeah, actually. (laughs) I've heard something like that before. (laughs)

MP3: Musically, I mean. The 50 Foot Wave EP is pretty aggressive.

KH: It is--and that feels so great. So positive and, of all things. The band grew up around the songs themselves. That's the way the songs were coming out. I knew that they weren't meant to be played solo acoustic, certainly, and I knew they weren't even Throwing Muses songs. So Bernie and I kind of came upon Rob, and whatever we did together seemed to match these songs perfectly.

There's certainly release in what we do, but it doesn't seem cathartic to me. It seems more like emotional intensity rather than having to spew bile. It feels so positive, and people react in a positive manner. We're not dark, and the crowds aren't dark. It's interesting. I don't know why I'd associate aggression with darkness or negativity, but that's what I naturally do. And that's not how this band comes across at all.

MP3: When's the next 50 Foot Wave EP coming out?

KH: It's kind of up to 4AD and when they can clear their schedule. But it's planned for January right now. We just mastered it. It's really great. (laughs) I shouldn't say that, I'm sorry. But it's unusual to come away from a studio experience not wishing for more time. And this one just sounds great to me. It was essentially recorded live. There aren't even any overdubs, other than vocals. It's even harder than the last one. The last one sounds sort of poppy.

MP3: You mentioned you're waiting on 4AD. They're putting out this next EP?

KH: Just for the overseas release. We're on 4AD and its licensees everywhere outside the US. Right now, doing things ourselves here is the best way to survive. (laughs) We may sign with someone in the future, but right now there's nothing that anyone can offer us that we can't do ourselves.

MP3: Any plans to do another solo or Throwing Muses record, or are you just seeing what transpires?

KH: There's a solo record in the works, but it won't be recorded until the spring, and I don't know what that means as far as a release date. But I think the plan is to do three 50 Foot Wave releases and then compile them into an actual long-play release--then a solo acoustic release again.

MP3: What have you been listening to lately?

KH: Uhhhhh...I don't listen to music. I don't like music.

MP3: It's got too many notes?

KH: (laughs) If it's good, then it moves me, and I don't feel like being moved. And if it's bad, then it just makes me angry.

MP3: You don't feel like being moved.

KH: Well, yeah. I'd rather just...hang out. Be with the kids, walk the dog. I have enough intensity on the inside without it being on the outside, too. (laughs)

MP3: Beatles or Stones?

KH: Beatles.

MP3: Why?

KH: 'Cause I'm a girl! (laughs)

MP3: Lots of girls like the Stones.

KH: Really? I thought it was like the way that women like the Marx Brothers and men like the Three Stooges. Mick Jagger's a show-off.

Aside from his work for, Charles Hodgkins also writes thrilling accounts of the San Francisco taqueria scene. His previous story was about Ambulance Ltd. and Elefant.

mardi, septembre 28, 2004

The Clash: A teenage love story

1977 was punk's Year Zero, the year Joe Strummer and chums made their call to arms to the nation's youth. Martin James heard the call, cheeked his mum and ran away to join the 'White Riot' tour. 27 years on, he sits down with Messrs Jones and Simonon to reminisce

It's August 2004. I'm sitting in a private members bar on Portobello Road in west London with Paul Simonon and Mick Jones, both former members of The Clash. Mick is slumped in a voluminous sofa, his skeletal frame on the brink of being swallowed whole by the combination of an oversized pinstripe suit and generous soft furnishings. His receding hair is greased back and his sallow skin appears to shrink around his cheekbones and teeth. He reminds me of Dustin Hoffman's Ratso character in Midnight Cowboy, but with added London cool.

Paul's roguish good looks and sinewy frame have filled out with age. A hat hides his thinning hair and where once he came over as the band's gun-wielding thug, he now has the air of amiable barrow boy-turned-art dealer. He continually leans forward, apparently revelling in the interview limelight. "People only ever wanted the singer or the guitarist in the old days," he complains while tucking into a bowl of chips.

We're here to discuss the reissue of the 1979 album London Calling, the record that saw The Clash flirting with rhythm and blues, reggae, ska and rock - in effect transcending their purist punk-rock origins. It's a record that they're both fiercely proud of. Jones declares it to be "the sound of a real band really in tune with each other" while Simonon talks about "breaking free from what people expected of us."

The story behind the album has been endlessly recounted in the years since it was first released. However, as the beers flow, talk comes round to the impact the band had on so many people. Jones's conversation gradually descends into sniggers and quips while Simonon becomes ever more animated, talking with hazy-eyed nostalgia about the days when The Clash inspired kids to pack up their possessions and leave home in pursuit of the band.

"It's true we connected with so many people in a very meaningful way," says Paul. "What's really nice is that I'll meet people and they'll chat to me like I've known them for ages - but they'll be Clash fans. It's like having this extended network of friends."

Mick chips in: "Ultimately, though, we were just doing what we liked doing, playing the music that we liked - never thought about the effect we were having too much. We never had time to think about it."

So what would you do if your kids ran away from home to follow a band? "I'd probably say 'good for you - go for it,'" says Paul. "But only if it's the Libertines," adds Mick, who is their producer.

I was 14 when I first left home to follow The Clash. It was early 1977 and the impact of punk rock was just beginning to be felt in the nation's classrooms. Like so many kids of my generation the cocktail of punk's apparent unbridled anger and my own hormones proved too potent to contain. In the course of what seemed like only a few weeks my voice broke, I gave my mum cheek, I cut my hair short, converted my flared jeans to drainpipes, acquired baseball boots and a ripped T-shirt, and got beaten up. This was for being "a punk", setting a pattern that was to define the next few years of my life.

My first Clash gig was at the Harlesden Coliseum in 1977. I told my parents I was staying at a friend's house. My friend did the same and we duly "left home". For two kids from the middle-class town of Marlow-on-Thames it seemed like the punk-rock thing to do.

Harlesden Coliseum was decrepit. The fake alabaster decor was in an advanced state of decomposition, the flecked wallpaper peeling off in strips to reveal disintegrating walls. The carpet was sticky underfoot, the air dense with the smell of damp, stale cigarettes and body odour. It constituted the perfect setting for my first encounter with the London punk scene. It also seemed the perfect venue for The Clash, who took the stage to taunts about their newly signed deal with Sony Records. The band's reaction was to deliver a set of all-consuming ferocity.

The picture is still clear in my head: Joe Strummer screwing his face up to snarl at - rather than into - the microphone, his leg pumping uncontrollably like a piston; Mick Jones attacking his guitar and his amp as if he hated them (they kept packing up, as if they hated him); peroxide-blond bassist Paul Simonon swinging his instrument low like a weapon, a slow-burning cigarette hung constantly from his bottom lip in defiance of the laws of physics. It doesn't go away, that kind of imagery, not when you encounter it for the first time.

After the gig I worked up the courage to approach Joe Strummer. He was holding court at a makeshift bar, enjoying a couple of beers and praise for the show. I waited until the crowd thinned, wandered over to him and said hello. He seemed to me to be the epitome of cool in his Clash uniform of heavily stencilled combat gear. But it was his teeth that really compelled my attention. They appeared to be decaying in front of my eyes, ravaged, presumably, by a combination of negligence, bad dentistry and cheap speed. As he spoke a continuous stream of spittle flew from his mouth.

I attempted to make intelligent conversation. I asked him why he sang a song called "White Riot" while the DJ played reggae all night - did it, I wondered, annoy him at all? The spittle turned to froth. Did I not understand that "White Riot" was all about his respect for black people and their stand against oppression? Had I not listened to the lyrics, in which he sang that he wished white people would take the same positive position?

Well, no actually. First of all The Clash hadn't actually released a record at this point so there was no way I could have analysed his lyrics. Secondly, I hadn't grown up in multi-racial Notting Hill Gate. And, despite going to gigs in the multi-racial town High Wycombe, I had never previously been forced to face up to my own inherent racism. It was an attitude that had been born from the simple fact that there were no black people in Marlow. I was ten when I met my first black kid. Some nice white middle-class family had adopted him. I can still remember being told in the playground that if the black kid touched me his colour would rub off on me. Even as a 14-year-old, race riots - or indeed the very concept of "racism" - meant little to me.

So Strummer forced my eyes open. And to confirm my new-found awareness I started drinking Red Stripe in High Wycombe's Rasta pub, The Red Cross Knight, and, when The Clash hit the road again in May 1977, skanked enthusiastically to the band's version of Junior Murvin's roots-rocking classic "Police and Thieves". I became a vocal supporter of the Rock Against Racism movement. And when, in April 1978, The Clash played the RAR Carnival at Victoria Park in Hackney, there I was handing out badges, unquestioningly.

Back in Harlesden, however, the tongue-lashing Strummer meted out went on and on and left me reeling. This was not what one expected of narcissistic rock stars. But he did stop eventually, at which point he put his arm round my shoulders and told me to "piss off 'ome". I stumbled into the Harlesden streets feeling like I'd just been pulled up by a teacher. It was while I reflected sombrely on this that I was knocked cold by another punk and robbed of the £1.20 I had to get home with. It wouldn't have happened, of course, if my attacker had realised that I was now a close friend of Joe Strummer's.

So how exactly did a middle-class kid from a middle-class town come to follow The Clash around? Well, as a young teenager it certainly wasn't their political stance that excited me. At that time the dole meant nothing to me and, as I've already mentioned, I was completely ignorant of any concept of racism.

In retrospect I think I was drawn to the macho air that surrounded the band. It may not appeal much now, but as a teenage boy their tough-guy, outlaw image was something to aspire to. The Clash, far more than the Sex Pistols or the Damned, were a gang. And, more to the point, they made us - their hormonally challenged disciples - feel like we were also part of the same gang. They were, they argued, the same as us and everything about them portrayed an us-against-them attitude. It comes as no surprise to hear, more than 25 years later, Simonon still talking about his "network of friends".

That gang vibe was a key component of the punk "stance". Kids like me were never hard enough to be skinheads. In fact, like most punks, I was happier to write poetry than fight. But like it or not, aggro attended punk wherever it went. The media waged a daily war on us; complete strangers adopted the blood sport of "punk hunting". We just took it on the chin, or wherever else the blows landed, because we had a cause. We were martyrs, the beatings a right of passage. We would show our wounds to younger, aspiring punks. The cuts and bruises were much, much more meaningful than button badges. And we got great stories out of it: I remember bragging about being jumped on by a gang of Teds when in reality a single Elvis impersonator had punched me for spitting at him. We were only reducing ourselves to type. I was a punk: spitting is what we did. He was a Teddy Boy: hitting punks is what they did. He probably told his friends that he'd taken on a gang of us. The fact that we sat next to each other in double-English on a Tuesday afternoon would certainly have been left out of the narrative.

Punk offered the chance of reinvention. We were all keenly downwardly mobile, throwing away what we saw as the entrapments of middle-class life in favour of what we perceived to be working-class attributes. This meant swearing a lot, chewing imaginary gum and sneering at "the straights".

The mad rush to punk self-reinvention was especially notable in the generation about to head off for university. Virtually every 18-year-old went off as a hippy, only to return at Christmas quoting the first Ramones album, hair shortened (side bits still over ears though), styled by Oxfam.

My own three-strong gang comprised Nutty (the son of a toilet-roll salesman), Gerrard (who later became briefly famous for finding an original painting by John Lennon in a skip) and myself. But by the summer of '77 our number had swelled considerably. Among the future DJs, movers and shakers of the late 20th century, Roald Dahl's grandson used to hang out with us. Can't remember his name. He was at Eton at the time. And one of the girls started to bring along her boyfriend. His name was Steve Redgrave, a huge, quiet fellow. He wore a torn school shirt with the names of his favourite punk bands written in ballpoint all over it. But that was as far as he went. He had other interests. He amiably put up with us giving him stick for not being punk enough and puffing up and down the Thames in a rowing boat when he could be going to gigs and changing society.

At the time, the most uncool thing you could be was a "weekend punk". It's what the London cognoscenti called us Thames Valley youngsters, and that's exactly what we were. Correspondingly, in time-honoured anthropological fashion, we would sneer "weekend punk" at anyone who didn't measure up to our exacting standards: wearing the right clothes, buying the right records or being seen at the right gigs. Steve Redgrave was a full day short of qualifying as a weekend punk.

In May 1977 I "left home" on a number of occasions to follow the Clash's "White Riot" tour around the country. These adventures were funded by savings from odd jobs and, of course, Christmas, birthday and pocket money. I even started dealing in second-hand records at school and later, in a particularly enterprising move, selling such bootleg classics as the Sex Pistols' Spunk.

We got to the gigs on a mix of naïvety and bravado. We often hitched and relied heavily on punks in other places for food. We sometimes even managed to grab a sandwich from the band and their entourage. Obviously, there was also a degree of subterfuge involved. In fact, you could say that The Clash taught me to lie convincingly to my parents and, on occasion, to my friends. My entire family were oblivious to what I was up to. Even today my parents refuse to accept that this episode in my life ever took place. At the launch for my most recent book my dad picked up a copy of my biographical blurb and, after reading about my Clash adventures, declared at the top of his voice that "this man is a liar!"

But I was never gone long enough for them to become suspicious. I was, however, now spending enough time in the band's orbit to be on nodding terms with them. Joe I'd come to see less as a pedagogical figure and more as a cool older brother. Paul was always the one I most wanted to be like - he seemed street-tough but indefatigably concerned with the welfare of other people. Mick I was less sure of. His sneer was always unsettling. He had no inhibitions about showing his dislike for us juvenile weekend punks.

But I was having the time of my life. I'd been to Eric's Club in Liverpool and the Electric Circus in Manchester. I'd joined in with my fellows and ripped up chairs at The Rainbow in London (an act that we repeated a year later for Siouxsie and the Banshees) and talked my way backstage on numerous occasions, to chat with Clash iconographer, film-maker and Roxy Club DJ Don Letts. I even blagged my way, blind drunk, into sleeping on the floor of one of the band's hotel rooms in Leicester. To this day I've no idea whose.

In the year that followed I took in a few one-off dates around the country. Each time "leaving home" only to return early the next morning. It was in June, on the 1978 "Clash On Parole Tour", that I decided to bite the bullet and actually run away to follow the band on a permanent basis. The first date was at Aylesbury Friars. I was wearing white jeans, red military jacket (both embellished with home-sewn zips) and ripped Clash T-shirt.

After the gig one of the hangers-on (who I now realise was Ray Gange who starred in the Clash film Rude Boy - although I was studiously indifferent to the ever-present cameras at the time) handed me a button badge giving me backstage access. The dressing room was a whitewashed breezeblock box with mirrors on every wall. The floor was a rubble of beer cans, empty amphetamine wraps and comatose punks. I went straight up to Joe and told him I was coming on the road with the band. He told me to "piss off 'ome" again. Undaunted, I turned up the following night at Queen's Hall in Leeds. This time Joe told me I was an idiot. So I spent the night on the floor of Mick's room, along with a horde of stranded fans eking out their own space among the cans, wraps and guitar cases.

This wasn't the greatest fun in the world and the following day I decided to go home. Paul rather sweetly did offer his floor on future dates if I decided to continue with the tour. However, by now I'd made the discovery that the romance was better than the reality. My bed at home in Marlow was preferable to Mick Jones's hotel-room floor in Leicester and the illusion of being a part of The Clash's extended family had somehow just dissolved. It had never figured in my fantasy that I'd actually have to share the experience with other fans.

In September 1999, at a party to celebrate the release of the posthumously released Clash live album From Here to Eternity, I reminded Joe about the time he stopped me from leaving home. He stared at me, obviously not believing his ears. I went on to explain how that experience had changed my life. His reply was typically direct: "Don't blame me for your life - I don't want that on my shoulders."

"Like Joe said, we were just a band, we didn't want the pressure of everyone else's expectations on us," says Paul Simonon, back again in the Portobello bar in 2004. But I have to leave, to catch the last train home. I make my excuses and a quick exit.

As I reach the door Paul comes running after me with his phone number. "If you've missed it, give me a call and you can kip at ours." I feel like I'm 14 again - but I go home anyway.

'London Calling, the 25th Anniversary Edition' is out now on Columbia records

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

lundi, septembre 27, 2004

Steve Earle: Rocking the vote

Steve Earle, musician and firebrand of the left, is doing all he can to put John Kerry in the White House. That's only the start, he tells Tim Cummings - if America is to rediscover its soul

27 September 2004

Country singer, political activist, Texan rocker, and pariah to the shock-jock Right, Steve Earle is hitting the campaign trail of swing states right up to the American election, bringing his show to the heart of the US political process. His aim is to help put John Kerry into the White House, though it's unlikely that Kerry will be joining him on the stage at CBGBs, the legendary New York club, when the results start to roll in on the night of 2 November - better known south of Texas as the Day of the Dead.

Talking in his record company's office in New York, it's political process and the revitalising of American democracy that is uppermost in his mind and his latest music. "People's attitude out there a couple of years ago was that their vote didn't really count," he says, "because the last election was stolen. It's that we have to overcome if we don't overcome anything else."

His new album, The Revolution Starts Now, has just been released, and over the next few months he'll be pounding battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan with his band The Dukes, and hosting his own radio show, preaching to the unconverted on the dangers of opting out of the democratic process and the perils of a second dose of George Bush. "Right now," he says, "the revolution is about not losing any more ground. We're going through a period - it's not the first, but it's one of the worst in the constitution's history. We have to get back to square one."

He joins REM, Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt, who have been part of the Vote for Change concerts across America. "I think now the tide's turning," he says, "people are starting to wake up." America's rock musicians are finally finding their public voice, with or without the approval of the industry conglomerates that virtually own their careers. "Nobody cared when I walked on with a T-shirt saying Fuck the War," he says, "because everyone knows I'm a pinko. When Natalie from The Dixie Chicks did it, it really threatened people, and the people it threatened have a whole lot of power, such as the group which owns Clear Channel." Armed with its power to pull the plug on artists who spoke out, until recently Clear Channel's brand of commercial censorship proved as effective as any strong-arm junta's.

"The other part of revolution right now," Earle says, putting a context to his album's title, "is waking up to what happened. It's not about 'Them'," he says, gleefully spitting out the word. "There's always a 'Them'. It's part of the natural balance of things." It is, he says, all about "Us". "I think we went to sleep. The very same people who stopped the Vietnam War stopped being involved. America has become a different country, going in a completely different direction from when I was growing up. And I think we have to take responsibility for that. It is a very, very scary world we're in right now." He sees a country that has always needed something to be afraid of thrashing blindly in its own state of fear with an enemy it doesn't understand. "I grew up being taken to bomb shelters during the Cuban missile crisis, and I find this much more frightening."

The title track, a stripped-down rocker bolted and riveted to a hardline riff, opens and closes the album, and in between are rhetorical, topical songs addressed as much to the flag-waving conscripts to Bush's endless war as to his own constituency. For Earle, Revolution is an anti-war record from the perspective of people on the front lines, whether they're truck drivers or soldiers.

"I had two songs I really wanted heard before the election; 'Rich Man's War' and 'The Revolution Starts Now'." With a strict deadline to ensure the record's timely release, Earle wrote and recorded at breakneck speed. "I literally was waking up with a blank piece of paper and going home 13 or 14 hours later with a finished track," he explains. "I've never made a record that way before and I don't think I want to do it again, if I can help it. But I'm really proud of it; there's a sort of immediacy to the whole thing. There's a vibe to it, that kind of urgency throughout the record." Nevertheless, Revolution is an album with fixed co-ordinates, and its topicality risks becoming outdated in a way that the likes of his earlier classics Copperhead Road or Transcendental Blues do not.

"Warrior", one of the album's more oblique tracks, began as a Doors-influenced riff hammered out during sound checks. It also betrays the influence of his extra-curricular activities. "I never would have written 'Warrior' without my involvement in the theatre," he says. His play, Karla, about the executed Texas murderer Karla Faye Tucker, is due to run at New York's Bleeker Street Theatre, following its premiere in Nashville, and the excellent short-story collection Doghouse Roses will be followed in 2006 by his first novel. These days, the onetime hellraiser who learnt his songwriting trade and the lifestyle to go with it from the late Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, is more polymath than sociopath.

"I was lucky," he says of his musical influences. "I met Townes when I was 17, and believe me, he was pretty much at the height of his powers." A real good influence and a real bad role model, he would later describe him. "It's an impressive thing if you're 17 and want to be a songwriter."

For "Warrior", the starting point was the prologue from Henry V. "I got an actor friend who was staying with me to come in and read it, and then I went back using that as a template, with the same number of lines, all iambic pentameters, and wrote 'Warrior'. I did it," he says, "the way I made The Mountain. I was using muscles I had never used before." He adds: "I would like for Townes to have heard 'Warrior' because Townes thought in iambic pentameter. He was a very poetic songwriter; he dealt in poetics all the time. Guy Clark is more of a story songwriter who writes prose that happens to rhyme. And I really come from that school most of the time, but I'm much prouder of the stuff in Townes's direction."

Only a couple of songs transcend the election-year topicality of the album. They include a bittersweet duet with Emmylou Harris for the forthcoming Robert Redford film, Unfinished Lives, and the world-weary "I Thought You Ought to Know". This tale of fleeting mutual seduction from one who's been this way one too many times and still can't get enough, is among the album's strongest tracks, perhaps because, emotionally, it cuts the deepest.

"It's more about sex than love. It's not normal for me," he admits. "I think it's because I'm single. My girlfriend baled out, and I've just kind of given up for the time being on cohabiting with people. So I'm living by myself, and I'm kind of digging it. I wouldn't live with me. I'm gone all the time. I'm absolutely allergic to being within the city limits of one municipality for longer than 30 days. And I always have been."

If proof be needed that Earle's nomadic drive goes hand in hand with his guitar, the day after the election, he and The Dukes set out for Holland and a lengthy European tour that reaches Britain in December. And if Bush wins a second term? "I can't bring myself even to think about that," he says, and thinks even a Kerry victory is only the beginning of the real work to come.

"After September 11, everyone was on our side, and we've scuppered that in an amazingly short period of time," he says. "We all know that saying something and doing it in politics are two different things, but the one thing Kerry can do is to start repairing this country's relationships with the world. And if we can do that, then we're back in the game." It also gives Steve Earle the chance to sing about all that other stuff again. "We gotta win this election," he confirms, "so that I can go back to writing chick songs."

'The Revolution Starts Now' is on Artemis Records/Rykodisc. BBC4 screens a Steve Earle profile on 8 October

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

dimanche, septembre 26, 2004

Jimi Hendrix...

Hendrix estate cuts off rock star's brother

By Severin Carrell

26 September 2004

A bitter family feud over the estate of the rock legend Jimi Hendrix has ended after a judge ruled that the guitarist's brother has no right to a share of the star's royalties.

The surviving members of Hendrix's family have been fighting over the legality of a will worth some $80m (£45m) written by the guitarist's father, Al, who inherited the star's lucrative back catalogue and vast reservoir of unreleased material.

Hendrix died, aged 27, at the height of his fame and powers on 18 September 1970 after collapsing at the home of his girlfriend, Monika Danneman, in a flat off Ladbroke Grove, west London.

Since then, the company set up to market the guitarist's catalogue, Experience Hendrix, has re-released "authorised", remastered versions of his most famous albums, including Electric Ladyland and Axis: Bold as Love, as well as compilations of material left unpublished when Hendrix died.

The frequently vicious feud erupted when Hendrix Snr died in 2002, leaving everything to his adopted daughter, Janie, and cutting his other son, Leon, out of his will.

Leon Hendrix had claimed that his father had been influenced by Janie into rewriting an earlier will but was too old and senile to realise. The earlier version of the will, written in 1996, would have seen Leon inherit 24 per cent of the estate. But on Friday, Leon's long battle to overturn his father's will ended when a judge in Seattle ruled that the document was legal and binding.

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

samedi, septembre 25, 2004

Cat Stevens...

Yusuf Islam: From pop idol to Islamic star

By John Walsh

25 September 2004

Why did the FBI put Yusuf Islam, the well-known British Muslim, on their "no-fly" list and call him a threat to American security? Was it his slightly too Islamic name? His offensively sharia-tastic beard? Or was it because they'd examined the songs he once sang as Cat Stevens, and discovered numerous lyrics that are oddly suggestive of violence? "Oh I can't keep it in/ I can't keep it in, I gotta let it out" - what's that all about, if not some kind of explosion? In "Moonshadow", amid all the sappy optimism, he sings, "And if I ever lose my legs/ I won't moan and I won't beg" - an obvious insight into the mind of a (frankly rather hopeful) suicide bomber. And hang on a goddam moment, what was the chorus of his second hit back in the Sixties? "I'm gonna get me a gun/ I'm gonna get me a gun/ And all the people who put me down/ Had better get ready to run..." Phew. No wonder they kicked him out.

The official reason was more alarming, if frustratingly short on detail. The FBI had sent the plane a computerised list of banned persons, a list apparently containing "old data, stuff from years back". It therefore included the occasion in 2000 when he was refused entry into Jerusalem, because he was suspected of giving money to a "charity" that steered it into the coffers of Hamas. This suspicion has been around for at least 10 years. Alarmingly, the US authorities repeated the allegations on Wednesday and said they had fresh evidence about Islam's links with terrorism. "The particular criteria under which he was refused entry to the US specifically relate to people having financial links to known terrorist groups... This was not what you might call historical information. It was gathered very recently and relates to events which have taken place in 2004."

As the world now knows, Yusuf Islam flew from Heathrow airport last Tuesday with his 21-year-old daughter. They were en route to Washington DC to have meetings with staff from his Small Kindness charity, after which Islam was off to visit Dolly Parton in Nashville to discuss peace projects. But the FBI ordered the captain to make a 600-mile detour to Bangor airport, Maine, where Islam and his daughter were marched off the plane and questioned. He was refused entry into the US and told he'd be put on a plane home to England.

It quickly became an international incident. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was in New York when the news broke; he told Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, "this action should not have been taken", a form of words that, in diplomatic circles, is a howling indictment. Back home, Islam said he was "totally shocked" by the deportation and threatened legal redress. The Muslim Council of Britain hit the roof. "Yusuf Islam," they said, "is one of most reasonable and moderate of Muslims, who does a lot of work for charity and campaigns for peace." The US Council on American-Islamic Relations harrumphed: "When internationally respected Islamic personalities like Yusuf Islam are denied entry to the United States, it sends the disturbing message that even moderate Muslims will be treated like terrorists."

And he is, of course, the most moderate of Muslims. Everyone knows that. The Independent recently claimed, "Mr Islam's whole career is testimony to the fact that he is about as averse to terrorism as it is possible to be." But there is an albatross around his neck that he has found it impossible to shake off - the suspicion that he is not quite the innocent visionary he's seemed since 1977, when he forswore the altar of pop-star fame and converted to Islam. A chronic British distrust of religiosity means that the former singer's conversion has always been viewed with a jaundiced eye. We preferred him when he was Cat Stevens, the beardy singer-songwriter, whose guttural, choppy voice issued from the speakers of a million bedsits in the 1970s and went down a storm with pallid girl students in Laura Ashley smocks. (Especially the line "Ooh baby baby it's a wild world,/ It's hard to get by just upon a smile", which made them shudder.)

More tuneful than Tim Buckley, more upbeat than Leonard Cohen, more spiritual than James Taylor or Neil Young, Cat Stevens was the singer-songwriter of the early 1970s. And he was our boy, born in London, Catholic-educated, growing up in a café in New Oxford Street and the seedy purlieus of 1950s Soho. With his swarthy good looks and his songs about spiritual journeying, he was the gypsy of English pop. He was too peculiar to be cool (those children's storybook scenes he painted for his album covers didn't help) and he had detractors. "At a rock festival, if you saw a man in flares carrying a copy of Tea for the Tillerman," said John Peel darkly, "you could be absolutely certain he was a member of the drugs squad." But he was the bohemian troubadour for a generation, and he was adored. So when he gave it all up, the British public's disappointment was a cut that turned septic.

He was born Steven Demetre Georgiou, son of a Greek Cypriot father, Stavros, and a Swedish mother, Ingrid. They ran the Moulin Rouge restaurant in New Oxford Street, where the young Steven waited on tables. His parents separated when he was eight, but were reunited as business partners. His early ambition was to be a painter, but he dropped out of Hammersmith Art College after a year, persuaded his father to buy him a guitar and wrote his first songs. One day he banged on the door of a showbiz manager called Mike Hurst, and offered to play some songs. Hurst approved, and asked his name. "Cat," said Cat. "It's because I had a girlfriend who thought I had eyes like a cat. But I'm going to change it." "Don't you dare," said Hurst, who could see a pop star in the making. Inside a year, Hurst had found him a producer (Paul Samwell-Smith) and his first two releases, "I Love My Dog" and "Matthew and Son", had hit the Top 20.

On his first major UK tour, still only 19, he shared the programme - unimaginably - with Jimi Hendrix, the wild man of the Stratocaster, and Engelbert Humperdinck, doyen of the frill-fronted cabaret shirt. More hits followed, and more touring; a lot of drinking and smoking and pop-star behaviour almost cost his life. In March 1968, he was diagnosed with TB. Cat Stevens retired to a hospital, brooded on the point of the life he'd come close to leaving, and began to write a new kind of songs - not pop nonsense any more, but a song cycle about personal discovery. He emerged from the hospital with 40 songs, which he gradually released over the next three albums, Mona Bone Jakon, Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat. Sales rocketed. A fourth album, Catch Bull at Four, went to No 1 in the charts.

It was clear from the outset that Stevens was preoccupied with alternative religions, spiritual growth and the wilder shores of belief. He threw himself, successively, into Zen Buddhism, astrology, numerology and the works of the English sage Paul Brunton. Like W B Yeats, mysticism was his university. His break from the material world came with an epiphany on Malibu beach in 1976. He went swimming before lunch, and found a strong current carrying him out to sea. Fearing he was going to drown, he prayed and said "God, if you save me, I will work for you" and found himself carried to shore on a gentle wave.

Soon afterwards, his brother and manager David gave him a copy of the Koran, and his life changed. He started to attend the Regent Street mosque and auctioned off his instruments. He changed his name to Yusuf Islam and in 1977 gave his last concert, in Sarajevo. On 23 December that year, he announced that his new record, Back to Earth, would be his last. He told the thunderstruck press that he was entering into an arranged marriage (with Fauzia Mubarak Ali, daughter of a Surbiton accountant) and was selling off all his possessions to devote himself to the Muslim faith.

And he has remained true to his word. He has become a kind of secular mullah. He lives off the royalties from his songs, but gives half the money to charity each year. The only records he has produced in 25 years have been spoken-word versions of Islamic texts, with snappy titles like Welcome to the Qu'ran: Gateway to Faith. He lives in a modest semi-detached house. His arranged marriage yielded five children. His money has gone into founding no fewer than four Muslim "Islamia" schools, which regularly come top of the local academic tables. He has invited Prince Charles to his schools and has lobbied such political heavyweights as Tony Blair and David Blunkett for direct government funding. His saintly credentials are a mile high. He delivered aid to Bosnia, was the first pop star to be UN ambassador. He has even been a peace envoy to Iraq, where he performed "Peace Train" in a one-off concert.

The only trouble lies in the question of just how extreme are his beliefs. As a card-carrying Muslim believer, he is on a dangerous line that separates the zealot from the fanatic. He has never lived down a shocking episode in February 1989, when, after a speech in Kingston-on-Thames, he was asked by an incognito reporter how, as a Muslim, he responded to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Whatever he said, it was transformed into the Today headline, "Kill Rushdie Says Cat". When asked if he would intervene were he to see a knife-wielding Muslim heading for Rushdie, he replied, "I might stick a foot out and trip him up..."

Nobody, in other words, knows how far this former romantic Englishman would go in pursuit of his faith. Is he a pacifist first or a Muslim first? Is he a fundamentalist? Does he wish English society would conform to sharia law? Is he safe to leave standing beside the heir to the throne, and the executive head of state?

The answers to these questions are a) a Muslim, b) we don't know, c) probably not and d) yes it is. But the questions remain. Has this passionate convert and philanthropist knowingly made charitable offerings to militant Palestinians? Has his charity been exploited by wily Muslim hardliners? Is his educational initiative a way of ghettoising Muslim children away from the infidels? Is the man who sings "Peace Train" actually heading for the edge of darkness?



Steven Demetre Georgiou, 21 July 1948, in London, to a Swedish mother and a Greek Cypriot father, who ran a restaurant in London's Soho.


Married, in 1977, to Fauzia. They have five children.


Left school at the age of 16 with an 'A' grade O-level in art; entered Hammersmith Art College but did not complete his degree.


As Cat Stevens, in 1966, he recorded his first single, "I Love My Dog". Following hits included "Matthew and Son", "Here Comes My Baby", "Wild World", "Morning Has Broken", "Moonshadow" and "Peace Train", selling 35 million records. Stopped recording in 1977.


Converted to Islam in 1977, and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Founded the Islamia Schools' Trust in 1982 to run Muslim schools in the UK.

He says...

"Crimes against innocent bystanders taken hostage in any circumstance have no foundation whatsoever in the life of Islam."

They say...

"His only work, his only mind-set, is humanitarian causes. He just wants to be an ambassador for peace."

- David Gordon, brother and business manager

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved


Album: Elvis Costello & The Imposters
The Delivery Man, LOST HIGHWAY

By Andy Gill

As he strives to become modern pop's Renaissance man, one has to approach Elvis Costello albums with care, even trepidation, so diverse are they in style and aptitude. Thankfully, The Delivery Man captures him at the point of his creative cycle that involves The Attractions - or as the updated version is known, The Imposters - rather than some foray into jazz, opera, dance, or any of the other tangents that secure fawning coverage in the Sunday broadsheets but little affection among fans. As such, it's probably best regarded as the follow-up to 2002's When I Was Cruel, rather than last year's painful torch-song collection North.

As ever, there's a substantial complement of reproach in these 14 songs, as couples fall out and fall apart, or wonder what they've let themselves in for. "I wish I could be a little more like a saint is/ Forgiving those who trespass against us," he reflects, over the rough-hewn Tom Waits-style R&B of "Needle Time". But it's not his natural character to be so forgiving, so his protagonists generally get short-ish shrift, which is about what they deserve. His misanthropy is probably best summed up in "Monkey to Man", a gloss on Dave Bartholomew's trenchant comic song "The Monkey Speaks Its Mind": "It's been headed this way since the world began," laments the monkey of mankind's globe-ravaging ways, "When a vicious creature took the jump from monkey to man." It's presented as a sort of Tex-Mex R&B groove in the Doug Sahm style, with Steve Nieve doing a sharp impression of Augie Meyer's distinctive organ style.

Elsewhere, Nieve is on top form interjecting little quotes from Bernstein's "America" into the opening "Button My Lip", a bubbling jazz gumbo whose absurd time-signature is pumped along calmly by Davey Farragher's sinuous double bass and Pete Thomas's commanding drums. "Bedlam", an allegorical number about Bush's Crusade, has a similarly bustling manner, while elsewhere a crepuscular melancholy tone hangs like fog around the ponderous soul ballad "Either Side of the Same Town".

As always, Costello dissects his characters with the steady scalpel of an anatomist, peeling back the veneer of respectability to bare the cruelties and incompetences that wreck our best intentions. The results can be quite startling, as in "She's Pulling out the Pin", in which the protagonist "... slipping off the hook/ Unbuttoning her dress/ There's just enough to make some man a mess" is depicted as a suicide bomber set to detonate one's emotions. It's typical of a mature, accomplished work that successfully accommodates Costello's discontents and trepidations within the comforting security of roots-based rock'n'roll.

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

vendredi, septembre 24, 2004

Album: Marianne Faithfull

Marianne Faithfull. Before the Poison, NAIVE

By Andy Gill

24 September 2004

For the second album in a row, Marianne Faithfull opts to collaborate with a younger generation of musicians. But the guests in question are rather more appropriate than on the patchy Kissin' Time, the likes of Nick Cave and Polly Harvey being cut from similarly rebellious, mordant cloth as the grande dame of rock'n'roll debauchery. Indeed, the weary fin-de-siècle resignation she brings to Harvey's songs lends them an authentically worldly tone, which Harvey herself sometimes struggles to achieve. It's not simply that Faithfull is old enough to carry off the role of the mother casting her son out into the world in "No Child of Mine"; it's the way she makes the impending loneliness in "The Mystery of Love" seem more like a return to her natural state than a threatening prospect.

Apart from the ill-advised rap about "the language of despair" in "Desperanto", the songs co-written with Cave are better still, profiting as they do from Hal Willner's production skills and the diverse talents of The Bad Seeds. There's a thrilling sibilance, for instance, to the strings that swarm, wasp-like, around the wracked elegance of her voice on "There Is a Ghost", and Warren Ellis's lachrymose violin solo on "Crazy Love" effortlessly evokes the impression of a rootless personality worn to a smooth acceptance of life's vicissitudes.

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

The Zutons

'We've never known what we're doing'

The Zutons have a Mercury nomination and a hit album. They tell Alexia Loundras why it's all just a happy accident

24 September 2004

Set back from the busy streets of Liverpool's city centre, Café Tabac is a quietly buzzing place dotted with cool, arty types lingering over their late lunches. Until, that is, the doors are flung open and in troop The Zutons, trailing a rush of cartoon commotion in their wake. There's just five of them and yet their bustling entrance fills the room. The Zutons are in their home city, enjoying a welcome few days off, before heading back out on the road, first supporting The Thrills in America then returning to play to the home crowds on their own 18-date headline UK tour.

As they shrug off their coats - and, in the case of the petite saxophonist Abi Harding, peel off the brightest of cherry-red French berets - these Liverpudlians flood the place with primary-coloured energy. Only the singer Dave McCabe, The Zutons' bleary-eyed leader, looks a little washed out. "In Liverpool, there are either good days or bad days," he explains with a weary half-smile. "And today I'm hung over, so obviously it's a bad day." Happily for The Zutons, a "bad day" isn't anything that a hot bacon sarnie won't fix, and the colour returns to McCabe's cheeks as he ravenously consumes his lunch.

Lately, it must be said, the band have had very little to complain about. Their ever-growing popularity over the past 12 months have seen them propelled beyond the obligatory new band "toilet" gig circuit and on to the international festival circuit, making flying visits to venues around the UK, Europe, America and Japan. In the process, The Zutons have built themselves a reputation as a ferocious live act, with their exhilarating performances winning them fans everywhere.

Bunched round the cafe's small tables, talking over each other like giddy teenagers, their exuberance is infect- ious. Put them on a stage and the effect is magnified tenfold. At Glastonbury this summer, the more romantic souls in the audience might have been tempted to believe that the band were drawing the sun from behind the clouds when they took to the stage in matching canary-yellow boiler suits and proceeded to blast away the rain with their spiky blues-rock.

But The Zutons are more than just a live act. Their feverish debut album, Who Killed The Zutons? was deservedly shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize. Though the band lost out to art-rockers Franz Ferdinand, just being nominated was enough for The Zutons. "I'm dead happy about it," says McCabe. "Until then only thing we'd ever won were fans at gigs - just being nominated was where we won really. If we'd actually won, it would have been too big a thing - there'd be too much pressure on us."

McCabe is not being disingenuous; he appears to mean every word: for The Zutons, winning is unnecessary. Thanks to both their association with the Mercury Prize and their phenomenal festival shows, since its April release Who Killed The Zutons? has become one of the year's smouldering hits, scoring three Top 40 singles - the frantic "Pressure Point", the electrified, blues-ridden "You Will You Won't", and "Remember Me", a heartfelt plea to a love-struck best mate. And, to top it off, thanks to heavy rotation on TV the sweetly lolloping break-up song "Confusion" is becoming to Citroëns what Aqualung's "Strange and Beautiful" was to the VW Beetle.

But while 2004 has undoubtedly seen a steady and impressive rise to prominence for The Zutons, they're certainly not a band who were always on a fast track to the top. Having garnered press attention within months of forming (on the back of the Coral-led explosion of Liverpool bands), their progress has been more of a meandering stroll than a heads-down sprint. In fact, they only bothered to get themselves a manager at the beginning of this year, when they needed help keeping track of their growing calendar of live commitments.

"I met our drummer Sean [Payne] in a chippy," says McCabe brightly, outling his band's haphazard genesis. Liverpool, say The Zutons, is a small place, and while only Payne and the bass-player Russell Pritchard had actually known each other before forming The Zutons (they played together in a band called The Big Kids), the remaining members had seen each other around town for years. Mutual appreciation brought them together: "We liked the way each other played," says Payne.

" We were all a bit different," says McCabe. "We stood out." The guitarist Boyan Chowdhury, the band's quietest member, probably stood out the most - thanks to his smouldering indie-heart-throb looks and his penchant for carrying his sitar around Liverpool with him. He says nothing while my tape-recorder's rolling, but will later explain candidly how, as a boy, he sacrificed a cow as part of a religious ceremony while staying with his family in rural Bangladesh.

The addition of drama-and-dance student Harding, who is also Payne's girlfriend, to the band was something of an afterthought. The Zutons had already been a gigging entity on the Liverpool scene for a fair few months - they'd even played a few dates supporting The Coral - before the then four-piece decided they needed some new blood: "We wanted someone else, who wasn't already in a band and who could play an instrument that we couldn't," says Payne. "It wasn't planned - it could have been someone with a piano - but we knew Abi and we thought a bit of sax would be good." Theirs was an entirely organic union, insists McCabe: "No one wanted to say, 'join my band'," he says. "That would make it look as though one was pushing the others. It was more like: 'Come and help us,' " he says, laughing. "Now that's an old trick, isn't it?"

Appetites sated, we wander around Liverpool's quiet side-streets, heading for Harding's cosy flat and taking in the local sights which often served as inspirations for the larger-than-life lyrical snapshots that pepper The Zutons' album. We spot the neighbourhood transvestite, today decked out in a fuchsia dress and orange pumps, and an old man given to waltzing down streets in the manner of Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain.

"We're going to write our next album based solely on that lot," says McCabe, settling himself onto Harding's sofa. "That's what Lou Reed did with Transformer. He managed a whole album writing about such characters and Liverpool's a good place for that. We've got some great characters here."

The Zutons hail from the same thriving, Liverpool DIY music scene that spawned their fellow Mercury Prize-nominees and Deltasonic label-mates The Coral. Both bands played at the legendary Bandwagon club nights run by fellow Scouse band The Bandits, and both are influenced by their city's colour and heritage. Though early comparisons to their Hoylake cousins - "That Coral thing," sighs McCabe, exasperated - have rubbed The Zutons up the wrong way. But it has to be said that back then - before the arrival of Harding - those comparisons were not unfounded. And the band know it, too. "When people were writing those things, they weren't totally wrong," admits Payne today. The Coral's success opened doors for many Liverpool bands, but with the spotlight poised on the city's music scene, the pressure was on to get some music out. "Liverpool bands like The Coral, The Stands and The Bandits were all getting on and we weren't," says McCabe. "We felt we were at the bottom of the pile. We had to do something."

Just as the band formed without any plan - on a whim really - their music, too, lacked direction. In September 2002, they rushed out their debut single, the psychedelic, sea-shanty-flavoured, Devil's Deal EP. Though it received favourable reviews, Devils Deal was influenced a little too much by the Bandwagon scene and failed to mark The Zutons out as anything other than a second-rate Coral. "It was a bad thing to do," says McCabe, with the wisdom of hindsight. "We just weren't ready," agrees Payne. "I think we thought we were ready - at the time you always think you are - but after we released the EP we realised our songs weren't there yet. We made the mistake of stepping out when we were still finding our sound."

Drastic measures were called for. The band started again from scratch. They stripped down their sound and concentrated on their songwriting, flooding the music with their own boisterous character. With the addition of Harding's signature frazzled sax, The Zutons found themselves becoming a band with a distinctive identity. "We wanted something different in our band," says McCabe on the decision to bring Harding in. It was a decision that proved to be the turning point. "It was then we started to feel like we were represent-ing our band." It'd taken them a little while but The Zutons had found their stride - and their sound.

Who Killed The Zutons? is a gloriously bracing debut. Inspired by classic B-movies such as Walter Hill's The Warriors, and, says McCabe, "that Singin' in the Rain fellow and the things people say in pubs", it's an album that has allowed the band to finally transcend the pesky "Coral wannabes" comparisons that blighted their early existence.

Hints of the music of Captain Beefheart, Johnny Cash, The Doors and The La's still permeate The Zutons' music, but subtle references to the likes of Talking Heads, Devo and Kraftwerk set them apart from their Liverpool rivals. This maelstrom of influences makes for a wonderfully textured album, where sax-punctured sounds swoon and jackknife mischievously from fiery squalls and swampy blues to sweet, countrified rhythms and smile-inducing Merseybeat. The album blazes with life: where The Coral hide behind their masks of psychedelic contrariness, The Zutons' songs are laced with compulsive, first- person tales of Technicolor riots, ("Havana Gang Brawl"), nights out on the town ("Dirty Dancehall"), rainy-day melancholia ("Not a Lot to Do") and poignant accounts of eclipsed friendships ("Remember Me"). Who Killed The Zutons? is an ambitious album that undeniably wears its influences in on its sleeve - but to The Zutons' credit, the final mash of sounds is uniquely theirs: "I don't feel like Gerry and The Pacemakers to The Coral's Beatles anymore," says McCabe. "I feel the way Julian Cope would have done in relation to Ian McCulloch and that's not such a bad thing."

McCabe has, in the past, described his band's customised clash of sounds and stories as "zombie soul": dark, almost voodoo-esque. But although his own definition of his music still stands, he doesn't like his music being labelled. "I just see our band as being a modern kind of soul band." After some dissenting groans from Payne, he continues: "I don't mean like Otis Redding, it's just that it's got soul. That's what I see it as. The fact that it sounds fun - that to me makes it soul music."

The Zutons' music does sound fun. And this exuberance floods through their off-kilter songs, and radiates from them when they perform live. "When we're playing our songs, we're not blagging when you see us smiling," says Payne, his sincerity gleaming brighter than Tom Cruise's teeth.

"To be honest," says McCabe, "I don't even care what our music does for other people - I just care what it does for me. It makes me feel like dancing and singing - it makes me feel excited. What we do - our music - is innocent in what it is. It's like a happy mistake and I think that's what people like about it."

McCabe is spot-on. It's exactly this honesty, this unashamed emotion, that defines his band and has helped them their own distinctive twist on the music they make. But despite chiselling a special niche in the landscape of Liverpool's band, The Zutons are still very much a work in progress. "We're still finding ourselves," continues McCabe, hangover long forgotten. "And that really is the fun part. We don't know what we're doing - we've never known what we're doing - and we don't want to know what we're doing. But," he says, flashing a wicked smile, "it looks like we're doing something right."

The single, 'Don't Ever Think', is out on 18 October on Deltasonic. The Zutons play The Leadmill, Sheffield on Monday; Corn Exchange Theatre, Brighton on 4 October, then touring (;

�2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

Client: Schooled uniforms

Client's immaculately tailored electro-pop is irresistible, writes Alexia Loundras

24 September 2004

Friday afternoon in a London pub, and the sun is streaming in. But squirrelled away in a corner is something much less ordinary.

Lounging on sofas are two immaculately dressed women, one blonde, one brunette. This is the electro-pop duo Client, purveyors of driving beats and soaring synths. Their steely composure is seductive and detached, alluring and enigmatic. Until one speaks. "We're a bit sweaty now," says the blonde one. "We wore these clothes to DJ at Sonar in Barcelona, and we haven't had them cleaned yet."

Client - Sarah Blackwood (blonde) and Kate Holmes (brunette) - turn out to be unguarded, chatty and fond of anecdotes. Until recently, they preferred to be known simply as Client A and Client B, and released last year's lauded eponymous debut from behind a veil of anonymity. Pictures - including on the album - shielded their faces or focused (suggestively) on body parts. The artwork for the second album, City, is similarly evocative; it features the women's skirt hems, their legs in towering glossy heels and a glimpse of black PVC gloves.

Client had their reasons. "We didn't want to be judged on what we'd done before," says Blackwood, once vocalist for the indie-dance types Dubstar. "It was too distracting. We wanted to be known for the music."

While Blackwood was busy on Top of the Pops with Dubstar, Holmes was playing keyboards with Frazier Chorus and, more recently, Technique. She's married to the ex-Creation boss Alan McGee, and in the past - when signed to his label - their relationship led to the dismissal of her band as McGee's vanity project.

But it was Technique that brought them together. On the eve of the band's 2001 European dates with Depeche Mode, their singer left. But the tour was too good a chance to miss. Hearing that Dubstar's ex-singer was unemployed, Holmes called Blackwood.

Her offer was perfectly timed after the demise of Dubstar in 2000. "There I was, wondering what the hell to do with my life," Blackwood says. "The next thing, I'm on tour with Depeche Mode!" But Blackwood pulled it off. She and Holmes clicked, started writing and making music together - and Client was born.

Depeche Mode's Andy Fletcher commissioned some demos. "Then we didn't hear from him for three months," Blackwood says. When he did get back, he offered a deal with his label, Toast Hawaii.

Client may have been born of convenience - synth player/ knob-twiddler Holmes needed a singer, Blackwood needed a musician - but they are more than that. "We balance each other really well," Holmes says. Grounded, sensible, she's a good foil for Blackwood. Prone to insecurity and depression, Blackwood admits her Dubstar days, with no female support, weren't her happiest. "Touring was hard. We're two girls together now, and it's nice."

By dressing suggestively rather than overtly sexy, they hope to entice people to look past the surface. Client make electronic music, but delve beneath that cold, robotic exterior and a lush pop heart emerges, glistening with warmth, wit and surging hooks. "We've always wanted to write pop music," Holmes says. "But we also wanted our music to sound dirty."

Groaning with scuzzy electronica, their new album is moody and atmospheric, powered by Joy Division-esque darkness, heady with melancholy. But it's also soaring, driven by compulsive rhythms and infectious melody.

Depeche Mode's Martin Gore sings on the stalking, mechanic "Overdrive". More unexpectedly, The Libertines' front men, Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, both appear. Doherty adds his jousting vocals to "Down To The Underground" and Barat sings on the kinky ode to monogamy, "Pornography".

With Client, Blackwood has found self-confidence and Holmes has earned artistic credibility. "We're not glitzy and polished, but we put out records that we're proud of," Blackwood says. Holmes agrees: "Success for us is not about chart hits, it's about being respected. That's a real, honest achievement."

The single 'City' is out on Monday on Toast Hawaii

�2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

jeudi, septembre 23, 2004

Charlotte Hatherley

Charlotte Hatherley live

King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow

James Smart, The Guardian

Ash were the classic boys' group, full of testosterone and wishful thinking, before Charlotte Hatherley arrived. The guitarist managed not only to thicken the Northern Irish three-piece's sound and compete with the lads at their own drinking games, but also to add a touch of glamour. Where once the only focal point for fans was the endlessly cheerful Tim Wheeler, now pre-ironic axe duels and a range of costumes (including skirts!) were also on show.

Hatherley is still a full-time member of Ash, but her solo album - the extremely able Grey Will Fade - suggests she has the talent to go it alone, mixing bubblegum pop, twisted ballads and riff-laden alternative rock in a rather dreamy package.

This, Hatherley acknowledges, is her first solo show, and she seems uncomfortable as the centre of attention. Rarely lifting her eyes, she keeps her stage announcements to a minimum and strips the guitar theatrics down to an occasional frowning shuffle. She looks as if she's aching for Wheeler to rush on stage, make a few self-deprecating remarks and set the crowd pogoing. Her backing band - including Idlewild bassist Gavin Fox - shoe-gaze throughout.

Some of the songs fall just as flat. Down, which drifts by pleasantly enough on record, becomes a listless drone. Elsewhere, Hatherley's floaty pop develops a muscular undercarriage: Summer's simple melodics are backed with a toe-tapping throb that unexpectedly recalls the Jesus and Mary Chain, while Bastardo, a vengeful note to a boy who stole Hatherley's guitar, is punchy and lithe, its harmonies touched with a hint of desperation.

Set-closer Ressurrect comes like a fierce rumble of thunder, shot through with the vigour that has been lacking from the rest of the evening - even Hatherley looks as if she's enjoying herself. Given time to loosen up, her solo career might be one worth relishing.

· At the Leadmill, Sheffield, tonight (0114-221 2828). Then touring.

lundi, septembre 20, 2004

The Wonderstuff

Live at The Monarch, London

Betty Clarke, The Guardian

Mention of the Wonderstuff provokes a smirk in anyone over the age of 30. First, there was the grebo scene that spawned them, all long hair and hyper guitar rhythms. Then singer Miles Hunt's Tourette-like compulsion for verbally abusing his peers, poetically expressed in 1988's Stock, Aitken and Waterman-baiting, Astley in the Noose. Hit singles Size of a Cow and Dizzy - and the addition of a fiddler to the band - didn't help. Turning from revered, snotty upstarts to reviled caricatures, when the band split up in 1994, buffoonery and caustic cattiness seemed their likely legacy.

Yet live shows in 2000 proved that, however bittersweet the memories, the band's gift for clever pop still held a pull. Now there's a new album, Escape From Rubbish Island.

But founder member Martin Gilks and longstanding bass-player Martin Bell have said that they have "nothing whatsoever" to do with the album, referring to it as a "re-branded" Miles Hunt solo effort. Only Hunt and original member Malcolm Treece remain.

Hunt appears unconcerned, referring to replacement band members as "Wonder Brothers", boisterous as ever, even when lost for between-song banter. "I'm not the cynically prepared bastard you all think I am," he claims.

It's not just perceptions of himself he's challenging. The Wonderstuff were never about maturity but their new direction - big rock chords and gurning - points to a mid-life crisis-crush on Sheryl Crow. Yet they chose the old songs with a careful, revisionist, eye. No big hits, just the power pop of Piece of Sky and indie disco exuberance of first single Unbearable. The Animals and Me with its crunchy bass line is a reminder that the Wonderstuff pre-empted baggy. But it's the 1987 B-side Ten Trenches Deep that surprises. Closer to the Futureheads than anything involving Vic Reeves, Hunt snarls, yells and shrieks through the jagged punk, turning to Treece with a smug smile, reclaiming his past on his own terms.

· At Leeds Metropolitan University (0113-244 4600) on September 30, then touring.

Hendrix, 1969


Original footage of a JIMI HENDRIX concert, thought to have been destroyed after broadcast, has been unearthed in Sweden.

The 56-minute recording of the concert in Stockholm from 1969, was found by technicians in the archives of public television channel SVT.

Part of the unmarked tape was broadcast on the channel in 1969, but the whole concert has never been shown on air.

The black and white footage was found as the station transferred their tape and film archives onto digital format.

SVT spokeswoman Catarina said: "They looked through the tape and found it had some Jimi Hendrix.

"Then they saw it had a lot of Jimi Hendrix - the entire concert, which is what makes this tape unique."

The tape should have been destroyed after it was broadcast as raw footage was too expensive to keep in 1969. It is thought that a worker at the station hid the tape on the shelf where it remained for 35 years, reports the BBC.

SVT will find out shortly if they still have the rights to broadcast the footage, with Ms Wilson adding: "This is great material that we would love to show."

dimanche, septembre 19, 2004

Johnny wasn't good...

As another punk icon dies, what became of rock's angry brigade?

Johnny Ramone, founder and guitarist of The Ramones, died of cancer on Wednesday, aged 55. He is the latest of the key players in punk to have died at a relatively early age. Report by Terry Kirby

The Clash

Who were they? Joe Strummer, vocals, Mick Jones, guitar, Paul Simenon, bass, Topper Headon, drums.

Those who fell by the wayside: Strummer died in December 2002 from a heart condition; he had suffered from hepatitis, contracted, he claimed, from phlegm spat at him by fans during the band's peak.

The whole gory story: The west London squatters were, in the view of many, the best thing to emerge from the era. Guided by Bernie Rhodes, a strong visual image - stencilled slogans and urban guerilla chic - was matched with three minutes blasts of pure energy. Less anarchic and more political than the Pistols, their best early songs - "White Riot", "London's Burning", reflected the times. Despite the street image, Strummer was a boarding school boy and the band signed with CBS, seen as a sell-out.

The highs: As the Pistols imploded, a series of critically acclaimed singles and albums, culminating in 1979's double London Calling made the Clash the key band of the late 1970s. By then, they had moved on from pure punk and began to incorporate reggae.

The lows: The triple album Sandinista was criticised by purists for its sprawling self-indulgence. However they returned to form with Combat Rock and had a hit with "Rock the Casbah". The band fell apart in 1983 after Strummer fired Headon due to his heroin problem and then Jones amid personality clashes.

Where are they now? They never reformed, despite a belated UK No 1 hit "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" in 1991. Jones formed Big Audio Dynamite and is producer of The Libertines as well as performing in a group; Simenon concentrates on his painting;Headon, thought to have overcome his heroin addiction, became a taxi driver; Strummer worked with the Pogues before The Mescaleros.

The Sex Pistols

Who were they? Johnny Rotten (Lydon), vocals, Paul Cook, drums, Glen Matlock, bass, (later Sid Vicious), Steve Jones, guitar.

Those who fell by the wayside: October 1978, Vicious was accused of killing his girlfriend Nancy Spungen; released on bail, he overdosed in February 1979.

The whole gory story: Moulded by Malcolm McClaren from the youths hanging around the King's Road, they were part of a movement that tore apart what they considered to be the complacent and bloated nature of rock 'n' roll. McClaren put them on in small clubs and they spawned a fan base. While their ultimate musical influence is debatable, there is no doubt they created a pivotal moment in popular music..

The highs: For a short career, there are so many to choose from: swearing on television when being interviewed by Bill Grundy made them household names; the chaotic Anarchy in the UK tour, with only three dates not cancelled, signing for and then being sacked by EMI, "God Save the Queen" being played everywhere except the BBC during the Silver Jubilee summer of 1977.

The lows: Matlock, a musician and the key songwriter, was fired and replaced by Vicious, who was neither. Vicious descended into heroin addiction, recorded the appalling "My Way" and Rotten left in the middle of the first US tour.

Where are they now? Rotten made several records withPublic Image Limited. Since 1996, the Pistols have made several "reunion" tours, playing to more people than they did in the 1970s.

The New York Dolls

Who were they? Johnny Thunders, guitar, Rick Rivets, guitar, (later Syl Sylvain) Arthur Kane, bass, Billy Murcia, drums, (later Jerry Nolan) David Johansen, vocals.

Those who fell by the wayside: During their tour of England in 1972, Murcia died from drug and alcohol abuse. Thunders died from a heroin overdose in 1991 and Nolan from a stroke the next year.

The whole gory story: Formed in 1971, they were, for some, the original punk band and their influence, particularly in Britain, went far beyond their recorded work. Their style owed more to the glitter rock movement of the early 70s - David Bowie, T-Rex , Sweet - coupled with Rolling Stones raunch, drug abuse, cross-dressing and make-up.

The highs: Despite a cult following, record companies were wary. After being signed by Mercury, both their albums were well-received but failed to sell. Dropped, they linked up with pre-Pistols Malcolm McClaren, who made them dress in red leather and perform in front of the hammer and sickle.

The lows: Thunders and Nolan left in 1975 and Johansen and Sylvain struggled on for a couple of years before calling it a day in 1977 - just at the point punk exploded into mainstream.

Where are they now? Their albums and compilations and live recordings continue to sell well. Thunders and Nolan enjoyed success with The Heartbreakers in the 80s. Johansen went solo, calling himself Buster Poindexter.

The Ramones

Who were they? Johnny Ramone, guitar; Dee Dee Ramone, bass; Tommy Ramone, drums; Joey Ramone, vocals.

Those who fell by the wayside: Joey died from lymphatic cancer in 2001, Dee Dee was found dead from a drugs overdose in 2002. Johnny died on Wednesday, having had prostate cancer for five years.

The highs: The Ramones, their first album, a relentless assault of buzzsaw guitars and machine-gun vocals confined to three or four chords - was released in July 1976 and gave new meaning to the word minimalist. It became a huge influence on the British punk scene. But the ironic lyrics, pop culture references and sense of self parody, suggested greater depths. The second album Leave Home which included "Suzy is a Headbanger" and "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment", repeated that.

The lows: By the third album Rocket to Russia, the joke had worn thin and their appeal waned; many were uneasy about the album's title and some of the more right-wing references. However, "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" gave them their first UK hit..

Where are they now? They continued to record and tour until 1996 but, by that time, Tommy had left to go into production and Dee Dee departed to become a rap singer. Two years ago, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After Road to Ruin and the Spector-produced End of the Century, bigger success continued to elude them. Only with 1984's Too Tough to Die produced by Tommy Erdelyi, the former Tommy Ramone and the following year's single, "Bonzo goes to Bitburg", an attack on President Ronald Reagan was credibility regained. But they fell into the trough again. Dee Dee's attempt at rap failed and he then formed a band called Chinese Dragons. By the early 1990s, Joey and Marky who had replaced Tommy, had treatment for alcoholism. They kept their vow to split after their final album Adios Amigos spent only two weeks in the charts.

The Pretenders

Who were they? Chrissie Hynde, vocals, James Honeyman-Scott, guitarist, Pete Farndon, bass, Martin Chambers, drummer.

Those who fell by the wayside: In June 1982, Honeyman-Scott died from an overdose of heroin and cocaine; in 1983, Farndon also died from a drugs overdose.

The highs: In 1978, their version of "Stop Your Sobbing" made it into the top 40 and "Kid" and "Brass in Pocket", were also successful.

The lows: Hynde was beset by personal problems, which included the breakdown of her relationships with Ray Davies of the Kinks and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds.

Where are they now? Versions of the band under Hynde have continued to record and tour, although her music no longer has the impact it once had.The Last of the Independents in 1994 was viewed as a comeback and then there was a live album, working mainly with session musicians. Another period of quiet was followed by Viva el Amor in 1999 and Loose Screw in 2002.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Who were they? Dury was an art student turned singer/writer, firstly with the pub band Kilburn and the High Roads and then the Blockheads. Chaz Jankel, guitar, Charley Charles, drums, Norman Watt-Roy, bass, Davey Payne, sax.

Those who fell by the wayside: Charley Charles died from cancer in 1990. Dury toured into the 1990s despite stomach cancer. He died in March 2000.

The highs: The Blockheads, particularly with his new writing partner Jankel, gave Dury the rhythmic background for a series of lyrically clever songs peopled with characters such as "Billericay Dicky" and "Clever Trevor" which had their roots in a mixture of music hall, East End humour and 50s rock. On New Boots and Panties, Dury's first Stiff album, the mixture worked brilliantly. And the partnership also gave the rock movement its ultimate anthem: "Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll".

The lows: Jankel left in 1980 and although there were many good songs still to come, it was many years before Dury repeated the artistic and critical success.

Where are they now? Dury acted and wrote for the stage. He reunited with the Blockheads for Mr LovePants in 1998. The Blockheads continue to perform.

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

samedi, septembre 18, 2004

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, MUTE

By Andy Gill

18 September 2004

When is a double album not a double album? The not entirely persuasive answer is, apparently, when it's two separate albums that are only available for purchase together. Well, that's cleared that up. Taken together, though, Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus may be Nick Cave's best work, in which his liberal use of gospel choir and the apocalyptic tone of songs such as "Get Ready For Love", "Hiding All Away" and "Abattoir Blues" are balanced on the second disc by the salvatory power of love in "Carry Me", the elegiac, anthemic closer "O Children", and "Babe You Turn Me On". On the latter, the delicate interplay of piano and guitar colours Cave's desire to escape a time when: "Everything is collapsing, dear/ All moral sense has gone/ It's just history repeating itself".

Not that it's entirely mired in last-days religious fervour: the epic gospel-rock sweep of "There She Goes, My Beautiful World" finds a blocked Cave contemplating the methods other artists employ to trigger inspiration.

Compared to the meagre offerings of most contemporary songwriters, this is a 10-course banquet: Cave's fund of classical, poetic and religious reference is fully stocked, and the Bad Seeds haven't played with quite this fire for many an album.

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

REM live

REM, St James's Church, Piccadilly, London

Finding my religion

By Andy Gill

REM are no strangers to the "secret" show, having pioneered them back in the Eighties, when they would appear at places such as the tiny Borderline Club under amusing pseudonyms such as Bingo Hand Job. Tonight, however, the locale is the some- what more sedate surroundings of St James Church in Piccadilly, and the ClearChannel passes and the BBC pantechnicon parked round the back attest to the grander scheme in which they operate these days.

Tonight's show is being recorded for a BBC Radio 2 transmission as part of the promotional push for the forthcoming album Around the Sun, and accordingly features mainly tracks that few of the invitation-only audience can have heard yet. You might imagine they would ease us gently into the show with a few well-known numbers, but they opt to open with "Animal", a song only available on the In Time hits compilation, and one whose psychedelic-Beatles texture sounds a little muddy in these surroundings. But things improve rapidly with the brooding "Boy in the Well" and the pop-tastic bounce of "Wanderlust", one of the catchier new songs.

During "She Just Wants to Be", the nattily white-suited Michael Stipe appears to salute the audience, in some hangover from the days when his stage act involved many such hand gestures; but then you realise he's just shading his eyes to gaze around the packed balcony pews, as if searching for friends. The new tracks "Final Straw" and "I Wanted to be Wrong" recall an earlier, folk-rock REM, before Thom Yorke is invited up onstage to sing the Patti Smith part of "E-Bow the Letter". Unfortunately, Yorke fluffs his lines and they have to start the song over, Stipe asking the audience to help their guest by putting their hands up when he should come in. The second run through, Yorke nails it, wailing like a banshee.

"Around the Sun" itself cleaves to the eternal REM verities of arpeggiated chords and intriguing harmonies, with the organ adding an echo of early Traffic. "Aftermath" is less distinguished, but "Losing my Religion" brings a community-singalong mood to the church. A neat, short-haired Peter Buck laces an e-bow guitar line through "Walk Unafraid", which closes the set, before the band return for encores of "Leaving New York" - the strongest song on the new album, and its first single - and old favourites "Imitation of Life" and "Man on the Moon".

Despite the staid surroundings and Stipe's lectern, the mood throughout was less like a concert than a party with a few friends, Stipe screwing up his lyric sheets after each song and throwing them out to the crowd, personal souvenirs greedily snatched by punters like home-run baseballs. REM will be back over here in February for a full-blown arena tour, and on the strength of this show, their energies appear more focused now than they have been for some time.

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved

vendredi, septembre 17, 2004

Velvet Revolver: A pair of guns for hire

Velvet Revolver are better than Guns N' Roses. Who says? Slash and Duff McKagan, for starters. They talk to Fiona Sturges

17 September 2004

Three battle-scarred veterans of the Eighties rock group Guns N' Roses, an ex-Stone Temple Pilot and a former member of Suicidal Tendencies, now known to a whole new generation of fans as Velvet Revolver, are standing outside the Athenaeum Hotel, in Piccadilly, central London, flanked by an ever-expanding retinue of wives, girlfriends, managers and photographers.

The singer Scott Weiland, the drummer Matt Sorum, the bassist Duff McKagan and the guitarists Slash and Dave Kushner are running 45 minutes late for their hotly awaited appearance at the Kerrang! awards, where they are due to pick up a prize for the best international act. As passing tourists pull out cameras and autograph-hunters go in for the kill, the band strike the kind of rock'n'roll poses that would make Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel blush. It takes another 15 minutes for their manager to drag them into the gleaming-white Rolls-Royces that will take them to the show.

They seem every inch debauched rock stars, although in the past decade the members of Velvet Revolver have undergone some radical lifestyle-changes. After long periods in rehab, the ex-Gunners Sorum, McKagan and Slash have kicked their drug habits (of the band, Slash is the only one who still drinks) and, with two children each, are avowed family men. Only Weiland, who walked out of the 25 million-selling Stone Temple Pilots after a backstage scrap two years ago, remains a potential cause for concern. His heroin addiction has already led to five arrests and a spell in jail; a more recent charge of driving under the influence led a Los Angeles judge to sentence him to six months of drug counselling and three years' probation.

Perhaps understandably, Weiland has taken a vow of silence when it comes to journalists (the only time he speaks in my presence is to ask if anyone has seen his eyeliner). So it's left to Slash and McKagan to speak for the band, which they do with a kindliness and warmth rare among musicians, particularly the leather-clad, hard-rocking, millionaire kind.

Blond and hollow-cheeked, with pipe-cleaner legs, the 40-year-old McKagan looks like a cartoonist's idea of a rock star. The dark circles under his eyes speak of the years of abuse that culminated in his pancreas "exploding" on 10 May 1994. "That was not a good day," he says, swigging non-alcoholic lager. "I came very close to dying and I saw the things you see when that happens. I was floating above my body, looking down at myself in hospital. My mom, who had Parkinson's, was there with me. To see her sitting there in a wheelchair and seeing all these tubes coming out of me, it was like, 'What the hell have you done?' I felt ashamed. The doctors said to me, 'If you drink or take drugs again, you're going to die.'"

In contrast, the 39-year-old Slash is the picture of health - something of a miracle, given that he has been taken to hospital to be revived on at least three occasions. He, too, is disarmingly forthcoming about his past. "Sure, I died," he shrugs. "It was pretty stupid. I've done a lot of stupid things, but I've gotten away with a lot, too. Whatever's happened, I always wake up, so I figure someone's up there looking out for me.

"Obviously I'm a lot more aware of the consequences of my actions now, especially now I've got kids. You won't find me down in the basement with a needle hanging out of my arm any more. I'm prepared to admit I'm still a heavy drinker, but it's nothing compared with what I used to be."

Velvet Revolver came together in 2002 after Slash, Sorum and McKagan were asked to appear at a tribute concert at the Key Club in Hollywood for the recently deceased Mötley Crüe drummer Randy Castillo. When news of their brief reunion got out, the gig sold out in minutes.

On stage, the chemistry was "too powerful to ignore", McKagan says. The trio decided to start a band. Having been hired to write the song "Set Me Free" for the film The Hulk, they embarked on a search for a singer. After eight months of auditions, Slash says, he had all but given up. "Perhaps naively, we were waiting for that magical moment when the right person just walks in the door. At that point, Scott showed up. I hadn't met him before but, ridiculous as it sounds, I knew immediately he was what was missing. He was the first person we saw who had that genuine rock'n'roll voice."

Slash accepts that, to outsiders, Weiland seemed like a liability to a group of rehabilitated addicts. "We had to go through a lot with Scott. He was in the worst period of his life when this thing started, and he needed support from all of us. He was at a point where he'd lost his wife, he'd lost his kids, and he was completely strung out. But he managed to get through it. He was dedicated to writing and rehearsing and, on top of that, getting clean. When the dust cleared, we'd established a solid vibe. I don't see Scott going off the deep end. Right now he's doing really well and he's accomplished so much. He's also got a lot of things depending on his being present."

Certainly, Weiland brings an element of danger to a band that might have been viewed as a group of middle-aged rockers dining out on past glories. In true self-mythologising fashion, the video to "Falling to Pieces" documents Weiland's spectacular fall from grace and presents the band as his path to salvation.

"This band is salvation for all of us," Slash says. "I hate to sound clichéd, but we're the kind of people who sold our souls to this thing a long time ago, and there's no giving up. It's rare to have a chemistry like this. What we have is hard to find once, let alone a second time. We're very appreciative of that now, particularly after all the shit we've been through."

Both McKagan and Slash reject the notion that Velvet Revolver will always be compared with Guns N' Roses. "If we are, that's cool, because that's where we come from," Slash says. "But so far we've been standing up on our own pretty well. The more we've played live, the less we suffer from that. We've discovered from the guy that sells our T-shirts that our fans are pretty young; he says 95 per cent are kids who would never have seen Guns N' Roses. One bunch of kids I was signing autographs for didn't even know what Guns N' Roses was. Much as I'm proud of what we did before, that is pretty cool."

In the late Eighties, Guns N' Roses, led by the irascible singer Axl Rose, ruled rock. Their swaggering debut, Appetite for Destruction, confirmed them as the most deadly, dissolute band since the Stones. Riots often broke out at stadium shows, while the legends of their extracurricular activities were rivalled only by those of their fellow LA rockers Mötley Crüe in depravity.

The controlling and increasingly paranoid Rose proved the band's undoing. By 1996, he'd fired Sorum, Slash, McKagan and the guitarist Izzy Stradlin. Although Rose still tours under the Guns N' Roses moniker, with an ever-changing cast, and is reported to have spent millions on recording a third album, there has been no new material for a decade. Slash is reluctant to discuss his current relationship with Rose, although he will describe him as "irretrievably impossible. A lot of drinking ensued because of the way he behaved, especially during tours."

McKagan, who once subsisted on two litres of vodka a day, looks back at his years with Rose and company with a mix of pride and regret. "It was an amazing experience and I wouldn't have missed it for the world, but, let me tell you, the drugs is a sad goddam story. Your main focus besides the gig is calling some sleazeball in the next city, to make sure he scores for you.

"And you have to keep that up or you're gonna get sick. That's the position I was in for the last few years of Guns. Just panicking to get enough dope to get me through. I went into some fucked-up places. Here I was, in this band about to play a giant stadium in New York, and I was up in Harlem by myself scoring smack from some guy who, for all I knew, was getting ready to kill me."

In the mid-Nineties, Slash started his own band, Slash's Snakepit, in which he revealed his love of the Seventies rock bands Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. McKagan made two solo albums: the first was released on Geffen, but the second was shelved in a record-company merger. In 1998, he and his wife moved to Seattle, where - to everyone's surprise, not least his own - he took a degree in finance.

"After I finished rehab, I needed to find ways to fill my time, so I started going through the financial statements of Guns from the previous four years," McKagan says. "I couldn't make sense of them, so I thought it might be a good idea to go back to school and learn how it all worked."

Then Microsoft offered McKagan a job. Was he tempted? "Sure I was," he replies. "You always want what you don't have, and I thought that would be very interesting. But then I got another opportunity, to be in a killer band with a bunch of old friends. In the end, it was no contest."

There were, of course, the naysayers who predicted that lightning couldn't strike twice, and that this collection of ex-junkies were too old and damaged to begin all over again. Certainly, few could have predicted that Velvet Revolver would have sold 250,000 copies of their album Contraband in its first week in the States, overtaking the combined sales of the recently released Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots greatest-hits compilations. The band have now sold two million worldwide, and their forthcoming single "Fall to Pieces" is predicted to top the UK charts despite little radio play.

"Since the day this thing started, we've heard a lot of people saying it wouldn't work. But they're falling by the wayside pretty quickly," McKagan says. "We didn't have these huge ambitions. It wasn't about trying to top what we did before. Nobody can top Guns N' Roses.

"That was an anomaly, it was a freakish thing that happened and the whole world caught on. It's a more talented band that we have now, much more talented than Guns ever was. There were Guns nights where it was magic, but we were fucked up half the time. No, 99 per cent of the time. As players we weren't really maximising our potential. So, as far as aggression and talent are concerned, this is a much better band. I don't know if another band will ever achieve the kind of world domination Guns N' Roses managed. But if they do, it's going to be us."

The album 'Contraband' is out now on BMG. The single 'Falling to Pieces' is out on 11 October

©2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved