dimanche, février 27, 2005

Edwyn Collins

Singer seriously ill after brain haemorrhage

By Danielle Demetriou

Edwyn Collins, the singer and record producer who fronted the rock band Orange Juice, is seriously ill in hospital after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

The Scottish musician, a pioneer of the Glasgow indie pop scene with hit songs such as "Rip It Up", was taken to hospital six days ago after suddenly falling ill, it was revealed yesterday. Collins, 45, who lives in London, was working as a producer on the debut album from the blues-soul three-piece band Little Barrie when he suffered the haemorrhage.

His management team said: "Edwyn Collins suffered a cerebral haemorrhage on Sunday night and has been in hospital since, where doctors are trying to stabilise his condition."

Collins' wife, Grace, described her husband's condition yesterday on his website, which was inundated with messages from concerned friends and fans. "He is being well looked after in hospital," said Grace, with whom the musician has a son William. "When there is more to report I'll let you all know."

It was in 1976 that the Edinburgh-born singer and guitarist formed the Nu-Sonics, which was reformed three years later as Orange Juice. The band defined the neo-pop scene in Glasgow and acquired a devoted cult following, scoring a number three hit with "Rip It Up" in 1983.

The singer, who is famous for his trademark soulful baritone and quirky retro-rock sound, went on to launch a solo career and was briefly signed with Alan McGee's Elevation in 1986.

During the 1990s he signed with the small UK independent label Setanta. The track "A Girl Like You", which appeared on his album Gorgeous George, became a huge international hit in 1995. It entered the top 10 in seven countries, including Australia, France and the UK, and broke into the US Top 40, making it the most commercially successful single of his 15-year recording career.

Three years later, Collins confirmed his status as a fiercely independent mover in the music industry with the release of the album I'm Not Following You. After a lengthy break, Collins then turned his hand to attempting a new slick soul sound with the release of the album Doctor Syntax.

But his efforts have not been confined to performing. Six years ago, he created and starred in the Channel 4 sitcom West Heath Yard, which featured cameo performances from singers such as Jarvis Cocker and Natalie Imbruglia. He even recorded two tracks with Rolf Harris after the Animal Hospital presenter performed "A Girl Like You" during his live shows.More recently he has concentrated on producing other artists, including Sons and Daughters and The Cribs..

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

samedi, février 26, 2005


Jem: Don't call me the next Dido

The US loves Jem's blend of soul, pop and hip-hop. Now, Britain is waking up to the Cardiff singer-songwriter

By Fiona Sturges
Published : 25 February 2005

It's 11am on Saturday and the singer-songwriter Jemma Griffiths, aka Jem, has been up for hours. Later in the day, she will make her all-important debut on British television as she performs her new single for Channel 4's Sunday-afternoon youth strand T4. The recording will last no more than three minutes, but, as is the way in television, hours of tedious preparation are required. Every nanosecond of Jem's day is accounted for, from hair and make-up (11am-1pm) and the drive across London (1-1.30pm) to lunch and sound-check (2pm) followed by the performance itself (4pm). The schedule is implemented with military precision by her manager and older sister, Chloe. "I call her Simon Cowell," Jem giggles. "She's very honest, sometimes to the point of harshness. But I respect her opinions and I trust her, which I think is important."

You may not have heard of Jem yet, though the chances are that within a few months there'll be no escaping her. In a Dido-esque reversal of convention, this Cardiff-born singer is already a huge star in the United States, where she has sold nearly 250,000 copies of her debut album Finally Woken. There her fans include Ellen DeGeneres, on whose TV show she has appeared, and the influential LA DJ Jason Bentley who helped break Damien Rice and Coldplay.

With a combination of raw talent and a hefty promotional campaign, Jem and her record company hope to duplicate the success back home and turn her into a household name. Her face is already beginning to adorn the nation's billboards while her new single "They", a catchy blend of soul, pop and hip-hop, is on heavy rotation on Radio 1. When it comes to television, T4 is just the beginning. She's due to perform her single on Top of the Pops tonight and record an interview for MTV. One imagines it's only a matter of time before she gets the Parkinson stamp of approval.

There is possibly no one more excited at Jem's progression from law student to platinum-selling pop star than Jem herself. I'm booked in to talk to her during the hair and make-up session, though it soon becomes clear that two hours isn't nearly enough to get the full life-story. Ask her the most mundane question and she'll take a good 10 minutes to answer it.

She doesn't so much wander off the point as embark on a long hike in the opposite direction. What is clear amid the stream-of-consciousness rambling, however, is that Jem is having the time of her life. In the past 18 months she's shaken hands with Kiefer Sutherland (she's addicted to the show 24), met the brother of her all-time hero, the late comedian Bill Hicks, and contributed to the soundtrack of Desperate Housewives. She has also appeared as a wedding singer on the teen drama du jour The OC. When she was asked to do it she "nearly died laughing" but then decided, what the hell? After she had finished filming, she was amazed to find the actress Rachel Bilson, who plays Summer, queuing to get her autograph.

At 29, Jem is, compared with her peers, slightly long in the tooth to be starting a pop career. The record industry is notoriously phobic when it comes to women over the age of 25. For Jem, however, age has never posed a problem.

"I don't think anyone believed me when I said I was in my late twenties," she recalls. "I've always looked like a child. But I think my age is an advantage. Up until now I've had a normal life. It's not like I've been doing this since I was three. I've done a degree, I've done crap jobs and I've slept on friend's floors for two years. I've come to it all with my brain intact. This way around you don't have people moulding you, you make the music you want to make and you know exactly who you are. At 29 you're a lot harder to push around than when you're 19."

Jem's looks and personality are also a million miles from the stereotypical pop diva. I'd expected a glossy Joss Stone-type with wafty tresses and a 1000-watt smile, In fact, Jem is a pale, slightly goofy individual with a whimsical sense of humour and a fantastically dirty laugh.

The novelty of having a stylist and make-up artist on daily stand-by evidently hasn't worn off for Jem and, although photo-shoots don't agree with her (until last year she had never used make-up), she's learned to endure it with good humour. "Recently I've been trying to build up this Zen-like attitude where I make out like I genuinely don't care. I really think it's working. So what if I'm pulling a funny face and looking like a minger? I'm waiting for one of those photos in Heat where they catch you with sweaty armpits. Now that would be hideous."

Though Jem is quick to laugh off the trappings of celebrity, it's clear that she's fiercely ambitious. In her early twenties she set herself the goal of getting a record deal by the time she was 25 - "I knew Madonna and Sting had done it so why couldn't I? I was a few years late but I got there in the end." Three years ago, while searching for a deal, she wrote a letter to Stevie Wonder in braille asking him to listen to her demo (alas, he never replied). She also sent an e-mail to the the DJ Bentley which read "If you don't listen to my album I'm going to come in and handcuff you to your desk". Intrigued by her cheek, he got back to her within the hour. "I'm one of these people who will never give up when she wants something. I'm a bit like the Terminator. I won't go away. That's the reason I got my record deal. There was no question that it was going to happen for me. It was more a matter of 'when' than 'if'."

The youngest of three sisters, Jem was born and brought up in Cardiff. She vividly remembers the point at which she decided she would become a singer. She was sitting on a park bench in Cardiff, aged 11, when she had a run-in with some local boys. "They were on their bikes and they said something like 'Drop your drawers and ten bob's yours." It was quite funny really but, being 11, I wasn't able to think up something witty to shout back. I remember just sitting there thinking 'I'll show you.' How cheesy is that? But that feeling of wanting to be strong and do something important with my life really stayed with me."

When she was 18, Jem moved to Brighton to study law. She did it largely to please her father, who is a lawyer, and had no intention of turning it into a career. After university, she stayed in Sussex and started up the dance label Marine Parade with her friend the DJ Adam Freedland. By 1999 she had decided it was time to get her singing career started. "This is going to sound really stupid but I had this strange moment where I suddenly remembered back to the time on the park bench. It was as if I'd forgotten what I was going to do with my life. So I dropped everything and moved back to Wales to write some songs. I didn't tell anyone what I was doing, not even my family. They all thought I'd gone completely mad."

She joined the New Deal For Musicians programme, earning £50 a week, and made some demos at a community recording studio outside Cardiff. Eighteen months later she moved to London, sleeping on friends' floors and sofas, and went in search of a record deal. The next two years, she says, were "frustrating in the extreme. I had all these A&R people getting me in for meetings and building up my hopes and then doing nothing. For some reason I thought I could get a record deal in six months, which obviously wasn't the case. It turned out to be a good thing, though, because I thought I was ready and I wasn't." The next year brought a series of false starts. Annie Nightingale made the song "Finally Woken" the single of the week, though the record companies remained unmoved. Jem recorded a track with Groove Armada, which was scrapped at the last minute. Frustrated by the lack of interest, she moved to New York where she rented a room from a family in Brooklyn.

"The father really loved music so we really bonded over that. Three days later it was September 11 and he was killed in the south tower. I was with these lovely people that I hardly knew and suddenly I had become a nanny to two children who had lost their dad. I stayed for another couple of weeks and then came home. I was quite traumatised for a while."

The real turning point came when she worked with the producer Guy Sigsworth, who had just written and co-produced Madonna's single "What It Feels Like for a Girl". "What's cool about him is that he isn't all about the money," she says. "He could have worked with anyone he wanted. We couldn't pay him but he said he liked my music and decided to help me out." Indeed, Sigsworth was so impressed with "Nothing Fails" that he played it to Madonna, who promptly recorded it for her American Life album. It raised her stock considerably. Soon afterward, she decamped to Los Angeles where she finally signed a deal with Dave Matthews' ATO label.

"I have never been so happy. Chloe and I went in to play the A&R guy the album. During the first few songs song he was rubbing his face and not looking at us and then he started rocking out in his chair. In the middle of the last song he got out his wallet and handed me his gold American Express card. He said later that he was panicking that I would leave the room without signing the deal."

Jem now calls Los Angeles home though work dictates that she make frequent visits to London. She's delighted that Britain is finally waking up to her talent. "I got a text last week from a friend telling me that my face was all over the Tube," she says. "It's been going well in America for a while, though my family have been quite removed from it. But now it's happening over here they can really feel it, especially now that I'm doing Top of the Pops." She's rather less impressed that critics are hailing her the next Dido. "Don't get me wrong. She's amazing and lovely and if all of her fans want to buy my album then that's really great. I used to think 'Yeah I get it, we've both got soft voices'. But, you know, I actually watched her video last night for the first time and I was, like, 'What? I'm nothing like her'."

At this point, Chloe calls time on the interview as the car has arrived to take us to Channel 4. Three hours later, after more buffing from the hair and make-up people and lots of loitering, Jem finally has her three minutes in front of the camera. Then, as quickly as it started, it's all over. "Can you believe it?" she cries, back in her dressing room. "All that bloody fuss for just for a few seconds on the telly. Not that I'm bitter or anything." Then she gives me a nudge. "Nah, I don't mind really. If it means that more people will hear my music then it's all good, isn't it?"

'Finally Woken' is released on 21 March on ATO. The single 'They' is out on 14 March

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

vendredi, février 25, 2005

Gentleman Sam

Fiona Sturges meets Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, a folk artist on the archetypal US grunge label

Published : 25 February 2005

You can tell that the 30-year-old singer-songwriter Sam Beam - otherwise known as Iron & Wine - isn't used to being interviewed. When he comes to pick me up from my hotel, just a few miles away from his house in Miami's Coconut Grove neighbourhood, he brings the whole family with him. "They're not in my band but they're part of the package," he smiles, introducing me to his two daughters - Ruth, five, and Arden, two - and his heavily pregnant wife Kim. Since this is my first time in Miami, he says, the Beams are taking me to dinner.

They have chosen a restaurant on Ocean Drive, the palm-tree-lined coastal road that runs parallel to South Beach. After some close encounters with scantily-clad roller-skaters and a sinister man carrying a python, we finally sit down to eat. To Arden's delight, the woman on the next table has two chihuahuas tucked into her handbag. Another man is talking so loudly on his mobile phone that we can barely make ourselves heard. "This place is full of crazy people," says Beam, smiling. "We only come here when we've got guests. Living where we do, you kind of forget that all this is here."

It's true that America doesn't get much more one-dimensional than the Sunshine State though, as Beam points out: "What you might see on TV only represents a small portion of the place. The rest is all small neighbourhoods with an immigrant population and people with all different kinds of backgrounds. I like it here because it's so different from the rest of the country. Geographically it's very isolated. I find you can get a lot of work done when you're separate from what you're accustomed to."

Certainly, Beam's music seems a million miles from the bright lights and bustle of South Beach. A simple blend of bluegrass and alt.country, his compositions have a contemplative, pastoral feel, bringing with them echoes of Nick Drake, Elliot Smith and Sparklehorse. His new EP Woman King, replete with acoustic and slide guitar, banjo and violins, is an articulate paean to womankind. Along with the understated arrangements, the songs draw their power from Beam's vivid lyrical imagery, which treads a fine line between the gentle and the macabre. The title track is an ode to female empowerment ("Hundred years, hundred more/ Some day we may see a woman king/ Sword in hand, swing at some evil and bleed") while "My Lady's House" is a tender celebration of domestic life ("Thank God you see me the way you do/ Strange as you are to me").

Until two years ago, Beam's main source of income was his job lecturing on cinematography at Florida State University, and music was just a hobby. He had been writing songs for more than seven years but he never dreamed that anyone else might want to hear them. It wasn't until a friend lent him a 4-track recorder, allowing him to record and play back the songs he had written, that he began to wonder if he should turn his extra-curricular activities into a proper job.

"I always had a mistrust of the entertainment industry, and in particular the music industry, and I've never been particularly ambitious, " he reflects. "But as someone who has a guitar and likes to play music, you always think, 'Wouldn't it be fun to make a living out of this?' It's like the impossible dream."

Beam couldn't believe his luck when Sub Pop, the record label best known for signing Nirvana, called him up. A friend from the band Carissa's Weird passed on a tape of Beam's songs, prompting the label owner Jonathan Poneman to get on the phone and arrange a meeting. Within two months Beam found himself touring the country with the likes of Ugly Casanova, Broadcast and James Mercer of The Shins. "It was incredible," says Beam. "So many bands spend years knocking on record company doors and never get heard, and there I was with a contract that had landed in my lap. I always had this Protestant work ethic where you have to earn what you deserve. When my first record came out I had this feeling that I hadn't paid my dues. It took me a while to realise that I'd put my work in in other ways."

Beam still has to get to grips with the idea of a journalist flying four-and-a-half thousand miles to have a conversation with him. His wife Kim is equally nonplussed. "I can't imagine what you're going to write about," she says. "How much can you say about a few albums?" She was similarly astonished when she discovered her husband had sold 65,000 copies of his last album, Our Endless Numbered Days. "That means there's 65,000 people out there with his words and the sound of his voice in their homes. It's great but it's also pretty weird."

Beam was born and brought up on the outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina. His father worked in land management while his mother was a schoolteacher. When he was a child the family would take regular trips to the country, where his grandfather ran a farm. His lyrics, he says, are derived partly from experience, but also from people he's known and books. "People assume my lyrics are like diary entries, but they're not. I grew up in the Carolinas, so the imagery is part of who I am, part of where I grew up, but I would still say it's 90 per cent fiction."

When he was 17, Beam went to art college in Richmond, Virginia, where he met Kim. As an undergraduate he took a degree in graphic design and photography, and later did a masters in cinema at Florida State. From there he got some production work on commercials and independent movies. Teaching was a means to an end. Kim had given birth and Beam. wanted a job with better hours.

Even with his film career behind him now, Beam notes that screenwriting still informs the way he composes songs. "I've definitely adopted a lot of the stuff I learned, but the songs are not scripts, so there's a lot of poetic licence. Screenwriting is a discipline where you learn to describe an action rather than explain it. Everything is on a visual basis. You have to see what characters are dealing with. I would say it brings about a very visual writing style." Fittingly, Beam's music is proving popular among film-makers - his songs feature on the soundtracks to Garden State and the forthcoming Scarlett Johanssen picture In Good Company.

Categorising his music isn't easy, says Beam. "I never really thought about it before I started doing interviews. I suppose I'm happy with the 'folk' tag. I've come to realise folk music is everything except classical music. I don't think about myself as the next Fairport Convention or anything. Folk is the people's music, whether its rap or rock'n'roll."

Still, it was more through necessity than design that Beam happened upon such a sparse musical style. For years he didn't have any instruments, let alone a band, and found himself creating sounds purely through his voice and guitar. "I guess I was just making the best of what I had. Plus, the subject matter I was interested in writing about doesn't lend itself to anything too radical and loud."

Now he has a full band that includes his friend Patrick McKinney on slide guitar and his sister Sarah on backing vocals. Iron & Wine may not have set the charts alight but they are carving quite a reputation for themselves on the live circuit.

You get the feeling, however, that Beam is at his happiest just picking away on his guitar at home. "Yeah, I guess that's true," he shrugs. "There's the reality of tours and all that, and at the end of the day I'm interested in the craft - I've come to enjoy being on stage more - but I'm not a performer. People get into movies either to be in front of the camera or behind the camera and I've always been a behind-the-camera sort of person. But you know, you can bitch about being on the road but it's great. I'm not doing it nine-to-five - it's a blessing to be able to do what you love. I don't take it lightly."

As if making up for lost time, Beam has been prolific since he signed his record deal. Since late 2002 he has released two albums and two EPs, and he assures me there's another album to come later this year. "I guess I'll keep churning them out as long as people want to listen to them," he says with a sigh. "It took me a long time to get started on this music thing so I reckon there's no point messing about now."

The 'Woman King' EP is out now on Sub Pop

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

jeudi, février 24, 2005

Juliette Lewis rocks

Juliette and The Licks, Barfly, London

By James McNair
Published : 24 February 2005

Traditionally, actors trying their hand at rock music can expect a critical backlash. Ask Keanu Reeves. Ask Vincent Gallo. Cognisant of that, Juliette Lewis comes to rock with a manifesto, no less. "My intention is for our music to serve as an antidote to the self-doubt, apathy and fear that has become rampant in society", the 31-year-old, who was Oscar-nominated for her role in Cape Fear, has said.

While that statement may smack of overreach, on the evidence of their forthcoming mini-album Like a Bolt of Lightning, Lewis and her four-piece band certainly can rock. The work's title says it all, its short, sharp shocks tipping the hat to the likes of the MC5 and Iggy & The Stooges.

Done and dusted in 40 minutes, the band's live show follows suit. Lewis takes the stage in an electric-blue catsuit with red, strategically placed zips, announcing: "I'm gonna waste you, tease you, and then leave you." Vocally, she comes on like the combative daughter of Patti Smith and Iggy Pop, but it's the latter that has most influenced the way Lewis moves on stage: like Iggy, she strikes prize-fighter poses, or thrashes around as though wired to the same plug that powers her band's amplifiers.

"This next song's about..."

"Sexual frustration!" shouts a girl in the crowd.

"That's right, bitch," replies Lewis, then she and The Licks pile into the taut, rapid-fire groove of "Coming Around". Able, tattooed and toned though Lewis's bandmates are, they quickly become as invisible as that bloke in The Corrs. All eyes are on Lewis, who, as an actress, knows exactly how to magnify her focused, fully lived-in performance.

"American Boy" takes the puerile frat-boy mentality to task. Like a sharper, much more animated Courtney Love, Lewis is convincing as woman-to-be-wronged-at-your-peril. Hecklers are quickly steamrollered, and the music is too dirty and barbed not to be real. Lewis is not the only Hollywood actress on the circuit in recent months, but Minnie Driver coyly strumming an acoustic guitar this is not.

The cover of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" is a welcome encore. Suddenly, as though to underscore further her debt to that veteran crowd-surfer Iggy Pop, Lewis launches herself into the Barfly audience, her head-first, horizontal posture, electric-blue attire and red leather boots making her look like rock's in-flight answer to Supergirl.

As a conveyor-belt of eager hands passes her overhead, Lewis fixes her determined gaze upon the back of the room. A hefty security guard is monitoring her progress, and as she reaches her target destination, the crowd roars its approval. When the lights come up, the two beaming twentysomething lads in front of me are already reminiscing about what has been a decidedly hands-on gig.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

mardi, février 22, 2005

Pete Doherty

Doherty allowed to play as curfew is relaxed

By Elisa Bray

Published : 22 February 2005

The rock singer Pete Doherty has been granted a one-off change in his bail conditions so he can perform with his band at a gig tonight.

A judge told the former singer with the Libertines, who faces charges of robbery and blackmail, that he could stay out until midnight, a two-hour extension on his curfew, to play a gig with his latest band, Babyshambles. Earlier this month, Doherty, 25, was arrested at the Rookery Hotel in Islington after an alleged dispute with the documentary maker Max Carlish, and spent five nights in a cell before being released on bail.

Alan Wass, 23, a guitarist with the band Left Hand, also appeared in court charged for the same offences, which both musicians have denied.

Doherty's lawyer, Eamonn Sherry QC, asked Judge David Radford at Snaresbrook Crown Court in London for the singer's 10pm to 7am curfew to be changed to midnight to 7am. Doherty plans to play tonight for 5,000 fans at the Brixton Academy ­ his biggest gig to date with his new band.

The judge agreed to a request from his lawyer to reduce Doherty's surety from £150,000 to £100,000, adding changes to bail conditions should not be a "too regular occurrence".

Doherty performed at a gig at the Garage, in Highbury, north London, last night but had to be home by 10pm.

Meanwhile Carl Barat, who founded the Libertines' with Doherty, signalled the end of the band after he announced that he was going solo. He also said he was forming a new band, which could include another member of the Libertines.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

dimanche, février 20, 2005

Kaiser Chiefs

All hail the Kaiser Chiefs: NME winners try to break America

By Elisa Bray

With a hit record and an NME award, the Kaiser Chiefs have already conquered Britain. But now the art-rock band from Leeds are set to achieve a goal that has eluded countless British acts before them: success in America.

The group, named after a South African football team, took the Philip Hall Radar award at the NME Awards show on Thursday night, and are being hailed as "the best new music-maker of the year" by US media.

Rolling Stone magazine included them in its hot list, and they have received glowing reviews for gigs in LA and New York this year. On Tuesday, two days after they had sold out the Mercury Lounge in New York, an article in the New York Post declared: "Say the name out loud, right now: Kaiser Chiefs. The Chiefs ... [will] ... show the United States what they've already shown the UK: that this band is the best new music-maker of the year."

Bill Werde, an associate editor at Rolling Stone said: "The Kaiser Chiefs have super-catchy songs. 'I Predict a Riot' is absolutely addictive. Live, they are just great in the tradition of lots of high-energy young bands. They seem to have a sense of humour and a personality that will appeal to a lot of people in the States."

The five-piece group's present success is a far cry from the struggle their debut single "Oh my God" had in reaching number 66 in the UK charts. But three months ago their second single, "I Predict a Riot", went to number 22, and success swiftly followed in the States - before they had even played there. When the single was added to the playlist of the influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ, they became one of only seven British bands to be given airtime there.

The band, who formed in 2003, made their US debut on 11 January in LA, before playing in New York and on the ShockWaves NME Awards Tour 2005. Their success comes as American bands such as The Killers, who won Best International Newcomer at this year's NME Awards, Interpol, and Bright Eyes are filling the UK with sell-out shows.

Other British bands scoring well in the States include the Glasgow group Franz Ferdinand. Straight after winning the Mercury Music Prize, the band left for New York to tour with The Futureheads and were tipped by the NME "to go supernova the same way Coldplay did last year".

Not big in the USA

By Alastair O'Dell


Oasis's dominance of the Britpop era could not prevent cancelled concerts and bitter feuding from shattering the band's US hopes.

The Smiths

Morrissey and Johnny Marr paved the way for the guitar rock bands that dominated the 1990s. US audiences were less impressed; the band never played there.

Take That

Despite album sales second only to the Beatles, Take That's expensive cereal-box ad campaign failed to sell records in America.

The Jam

The Mod rockers' utterly British sound won them few fans in the States.

samedi, février 19, 2005

New Order: New Wave

Suicide, rebirth, break-ups and comebacks: few bands have seen as much triumph and tragedy as New Order. But what has really shaken them is becoming fashionable after all these years.

Interview by Ben Thompson

Published : 19 February 2005

In 1974, teenage Salford scooter-boys Peter Hook and Bernard Dicken - who would later change his surname first to Albrecht, and finally to Sumner - went to see Deep Purple play at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. There's something rather unlikely about the idea of a pair of suedeheads ("We weren't thugs or anything; we didn't go around beating people up," Sumner insists, before embarking on a lengthy anecdote about a fellow Lambretta enthusiast called Lance, who was later sent to prison for stealing a double-decker bus) going to a heavy rock concert. Though they didn't know it then, it would be just such apparent contradictions that would sustain them through a career which incorporates as fine a balance of tragedy and fun as any other in the rock'n'roll pantheon.

Unfortunately, that particular evening was ruined when Bernard had to go home early because he had a headache. Three decades later, not much has changed. Sumner, who only the week before was laughing at his flu-ridden fellow bandmembers as they stood around in a muddy field having their photo taken for the NME, is now complaining of being "really ill" himself. It's not that they doubt his word or anything, but some of his colleagues suspect the proximity of a three-day German promo trip might have had something to do with his sudden turn for the worse.

There's a song on New Order's forthcoming album, Waiting For The Sirens' Call, which is called "I Told You So". It starts with a loping reggae backbeat picked up from a pirate radio station Sumner was listening to on his yacht in the Caribbean. The lyric contains the lines "It's an occupation I don't like/But it pays the rent and turns on the lights". The corrosive cynicism of this couplet did not raise as many eyebrows with the rest of the band as it might have been expected to.

"Bernard's always saying things like that," grimaces the more naturally enthusiastic Hook between sips of tea in the studio next to drummer Stephen Morris's farmhouse in the hills above Macclesfield . "He will never admit - God bless him - that he has a good time doing this. I remember sitting with him at the Montreux Jazz Festival while he had a conversation with Quincy Jones about how all he really wanted was 'a nice nine-to-five job in a bank'."

Hook - the 2004 Celebrity Big Brother producers' original choice for the place eventually taken by ultimate winner Bez - rolls his eyes at the thought of Sumner's perennial dissatisfaction. "He has a fantastic life. He gets everything he wants in the world - hops into f his sports car and heads off for four weeks sailing in St Lucia, then writes a song about how put-upon he is ... I think," the former leader of Mrs Merton's house band concludes, "it's just his way of being down to earth."

The quality of New Order's bickering is not strained: it droppeth like the acid rain from heaven. And Sumner can dish it out as well as take it. In a recent answer to a magazine questionnaire about Hook's trademark bass-playing technique - with the instrument held down low around his ankles - his lifelong friend suggested that this had developed "because he's got an extremely small penis and it covers the gap up so people don't notice".

There have been few bands with such an enduring (and endearing) commitment to undermining their own legend, but then again there have been few bands with more myths to debunk. If you're going to pluck your names from the grimmest abyss of human history - Joy Division, the group's earlier incarnation, comes from a book about prostitutes in a Nazi concentration camp, and New Order itself exudes similarly heinous connotations - cloak your records in the lustrously enigmatic imagery of designer Peter Saville, and hitch your fiscal destiny to the careening three-wheeled wagon of Tony Wilson's Factory Records, a dry sense of humour would seem to be a minimum requirement.

Surviving the suicide of their original (and unique) lead singer Ian Curtis was only the start of it. In leaving behind Joy Division's icy sonic wastes and frenzied desolation to have a number-one single with the world's first (and, arguably, last) socially acceptable football record, and later do Top of the Pops live from the set of Baywatch, New Order have given new meaning to the phrase "lightening up".

And now, just when they might be expecting to go gentle into that good night, they suddenly find themselves at the epicentre of a new musical upsurge. In fact, if you had to namecheck the two most current bands in the world at the moment, there would be a strong temptation to overlook the fresh-faced indie hopefuls and street-smart grime MCs, and plump for Joy Division and New Order.

The late Seventies and early Eighties are currently supplying the musical basis for a transatlantic uprising of jittery young guitar bands, in much the same way the mid-Sixties did for Britpop. Consequently, Sumner and Hook now find themselves almost as revered by the likes of Interpol, Bloc Party and The Killers (who take their name from the fictional group in the video for "Crystal" - the song which marked New Order's last reappearance in 2001) as The Beatles and The Kinks were by Oasis and Blur.

The idea that they should suddenly find themselves in possession of the keys to 2005's musical kingdom is as much of a surprise to New Order as it is to anyone else. "It seems rather cruel," admits mild-mannered family man and occasional collector of 1970s British military vehicles Stephen Morris, "that I had to wait till I got to this age to become fashionable." But someone with a couple of personnel carriers, an armoured car and a self-propelled gun in his barn should have no fear of the vicissitudes of history. And far from being intimidated by the rush of interest in their past which has followed its cinematic representation in Michael Winterbottom's riotous Manchester biopic 24 Hour Party People (another film is now planned, loosely based on Touching From A Distance, the anguished memoir of Ian Curtis's wife, Deborah), both he and Hook have decided to "take it as a compliment".

"Rob Gretton, our former manager, God rest his soul," Hook remembers fondly, "he used to tell us Joy Division would be really big. Whereas we - and quite rightly really, because of Ian's demise - looked upon it as something which was over: 'That'll go away and this is what we're doing now.' But he was always saying, 'You mark my words, Joy Division will be even bigger than The Doors were 10 years after Jim Morrison died.' And he was absolutely right. The thing is, we haven't done anything to perpetuate it - in fact, in the early days we were trying to get away from Joy Division. It's just the music, that's all there is."

With the haunting beauty of their classic albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer having proved magically impervious to the passage of time (the band's still-heartbreaking last single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was deservedly nominated as one of the best of the last 25 years at last week's Brit awards), it's no surprise that Joy Division should now be supplying other people with the same inspiration that they themselves once drew from Iggy Pop or The Velvet Underground. But talking to the ever-candid Sumner, it's clear that the roots of the band's celebrated sombre streak ran much deeper than their record collections.

"As a self-taught musician," he explains, "you're always going to be shaped to a certain degree by the records you listen to, but I think what really influenced Joy Division was what was going on in our personal lives. Speaking for myself," Sumner continues, "I had a pretty unhappy time in my late teens and early twenties, as there was suddenly a lot of ill-health in my family."

Sumner had been happily brought up by his mother and grandparents ("I never knew who my dad was: he buggered off before I was born, which was something I never had a problem with"), as the only child in a "Coronation Street-type" house in a rough part of Salford. But in the early Seventies this domestic idyll came to an end: "Basically, they all became ill, and I had to look after them, which I wasn't very good at." The deaths of first his step-dad ("he got cancer from smoking and died right in front of me when I was 17") and then his grandfather, left him "deeply affected".

Having moved out to a tower block "which I thought was great, at first", he soon began to experience the downside of urban renewal. "All the people living on my gran's street were moved out one by one, and each time someone left, their windows got boarded up, until she was the only person left. It was like some God-awful dream - in fact I still do dream f about it to this day. It was probably these events that gave birth to my bleaker aspect, but Hooky had personal problems within his family as well, which it's not down to me to go into, and obviously Ian [who suffered from grand mal epilepsy, among other things] had his troubles ... The strange thing is," Sumner continues, "we never studied his lyrics until after he died, because before that they seemed perfectly normal. Ian was just another jolly chap like the rest of us." He laughs at how improbable this sounds: "But when we were together, we actually were very happy, because being in the band was our solace."

"I think maybe something in the particular chemistry between us caught the spirit of that time," adds Hook, "which was a certain kind of darkness. My daughter sometimes says to me, 'Of course everything was black and white in your day' - but that is very much how I remember it."

In this context, New Order seem to represented a deliberate move from monochrome into Technicolor. After Ian Curtis's death - he was found, hanged, at his home in Macclesfield on 18 May 1980 - the band battled to build itself a new identity. Sumner was installed as reluctant frontman and lyricist, and Morris's wife-to-be Gillian Gilbert was drafted in to keep up the all-important Macclesfield/Salford equilibrium (now that she in turn has taken time out from the band to look after the younger of her two daughters, it's appropriate that her replacement - cheery guitarist Phil Cunningham - should have started out in Macclesfield's second biggest band, Britpop refugees Marion).

During this awkward formative period, New Order "found comfort", Sumner remembers, "not only in our music, but in travelling around the world and getting away from Manchester and all the bad memories". They ended up spending a lot of time in New York - "boozing and getting out of it" in the city's thriving club scene. And it was their decision to "see if they could make the kind of records that might get played in those clubs" that culminated in the global electronic dance-music phenomenon of "Blue Monday", the minimalist disco fantasia that became the world's biggest selling 12-inch single.

Some of the places New Order's music has ended up in - especially the ecstasy-fuelled euphoria of 1989's career highlight Technique - have been a long way from Joy Division's solemn point of origin. But with hindsight - and bearing in mind Closer's subliminal echoes of Donna Summer - the divide between the two incarnations was fuzzier than it seemed at the time. "In a way," Hook muses, "it was always one band ... I know we drew a very clear line, but that was for us - to enable us to move on. We were still the same people, just without Ian. And I'm not sure the music would have been all that different - apart from the vocals - if he'd still been there".

At an early playback of the new New Order album - in the lounge area of a swanky Barnes studio, in the late autumn of 2004 - there are candles and wine and someone is playing Brian Wilson's Smile in a doomed attempt to generate that elusive quality known as atmosphere. "We thought we'd put something shit on, so we would sound good by comparison," Stephen Morris notes drily.

Bernard Sumner is a truly impish presence tonight. "You'll never get a straight answer out of him," he warns, pointing at the famously taciturn Morris. At moments like this it's easy to see why, after headlining the Reading Festival in 1993, the band didn't really speak to each other for the next four years. But then Sumner leads everyone through to the mixing suite to hear a new song which is eventually going to have Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic on it, and tells a great story about the way the talismanic Rob Gretton would punish people for bad service, by tipping them really heavily.

In this band's company, you are never more than a couple of minutes away from a great story about someone who's no longer with us. But the amazing thing about New Order is, while their music ought to be hemmed in by memories and ghosts, it actually seems to draw energy from these departed spirits. It might even be that when Sumner's lyrics have a shadowy "you" in them - as they often do - that is who he's addressing.

Either way, Waiting For The Sirens' Call finds New Order miraculously re-energised. From the marshmallow kiss of the first single "Krafty" through the heady whirl of the title track to the improbable but uproarious Kinks-style garage- rock of "Working Overtime" (Sumner's bank- clerk fantasies resurfacing again, presumably), it turns out to be their best new record for more than 15 years.

"We've not had a boring career," says Sumner, "we've had a series of unfortunate events. But that's what's created what we are." He goes on to tell a final tale, by way of exposition. Making this album, the band were staying at Peter Gabriel's residential studios near Bath. One night, Sumner woke up hearing "a strange muffled sound, like fireworks underwater". He got out of bed, only to see the bleary form of Hook also emerging from his room ("Hooky's a really light sleeper - The Libertines were in another studio and he used to come down in his underpants and tell them to 'turn that fucking telly off' - so he's had a sleeping tablet and isn't really with it").

Looking up the hill, they could see 100-foot flames coming out of a burning farmhouse, so they decided they'd better drive up the track and have a look. Sumner dropped Hook off and followed on after parking the car in a field, only to see "Hooky being attacked by a maniac - this guy's swearing in yokel language and screaming that he's gonna kill him, and so Peter shouts: 'Leg it - he's a mad arsonist!' "

Having fled back down the hill, they realised they'd left the car behind. Sumner went back for it and got chased again: "This guy stops head-butting a tractor and starts coming after me with a big lump of wood, so I dive in the car, start the engine, do a sharp right turn, and I'm just heading off down the road, when there's this huge bang on the back of the car. I think it's the lunatic throwing something but it turns out a gas canister exploded in the fire."

Lifting up the rear of the vehicle - "like something out of a James Bond film" is how Hook describes it, corroborating the story afterwards - the blast left the two erstwhile scooter boys miraculously unharmed.

Just for good measure, I decide to check that the whole heavy-rock-fans-riding-Lambrettas thing is true too. "We had 'Santana - Abraxas' written across the fly-screen," Hook confirms delightedly. "I've got the photos to prove it ... It was only our second favourite album, but we couldn't spell [preferred Santana landmark] 'Caravanserai'."

'Krafty' by New Order is out on 7 March; 'Waiting For The Sirens' Call' follows on 28 March (both on London Records). The band will be playing the Glastonbury Festival in June

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

vendredi, février 18, 2005

The Kills: Fatal attraction

Fresh from taking no prisoners supporting Franz Ferdinand on tour, The Kills talk to Chris Mugan about their irresistible rise

Published : 18 February 2005

As Alison Mosshart peers out from behind her fringe and pulls a black shawl tighter around her, it is hard to imagine that she is on the brink of becoming a certifiable fashion icon. Yet one half of sleaze rockers The Kills is an hour late for our appointment because she was shopping for an outfit to wear to the Elle Style Awards. The singer is about to win the Levi Hot Look award ahead of The Zutons saxophonist Abi Harding, The Duke Spirit's frontwoman Leila Moss and a couple of models who presumably wear ripped jeans now and again.

"You don't have to write about that," she says wearily. "I just wake up and put on clothes that I like. If people say something, it's surprising, because I'm wearing the same T-shirt that I had when I was 15 and my mother's necklaces."

While Mosshart is surprisingly shy for a vocalist, guitarist Jamie Hince is the band's spokesman and he admits style is an important issue for any self-respecting counter culture-artiste. "All those bands that made a huge impact on music and culture, most of the bands that I would pinpoint to as being life-changing, you identify with the way those people look: beatniks, the Velvet Underground, punk. I don't think I'd like Roxy Music if they were, er..."

"Dressed like roadies," Mosshart finishes for him.

"But I do feel a bit of self-disgust," Hince continues, "about the fashion houses linking up with the music industry. I'm not comfortable with that side of things." He can't explain why he wears cowboy boots with shirt, tie and blazer, for while the duo talk a lot, they rely on instinct when they make, or avoid, decisions. It does seem, though, a perfect symbol of The Kills' Anglo-American collision of reserve and flamboyance.

We are sitting in the kitchen of their spacious flat in insalubrious Dalston, north London, a former pub converted into apartment/art studio by a wife of ex-Monkee Davy Jones, to talk not about fashion awards, but about the imminent release of their second album No Wow. The Kills emerged in 2003 in the wake of the US movement of raw rock'n'roll, notable for such primal acts as White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. While proving a competent UK-based version, the duo struggled to emerge from the shadow of their peer. Now, they seem to have cracked it with a record that is even more primitive than their debut Keep On Your Mean Side, as drum machines judder, guitars squeal in agony and Mosshart's half-cool, half-strained voice sashays across it all. Already this year The Kills have hit the Top 30 with the perky Janis Joplin-meets-Cabaret Voltaire single "The Good Ones"; and after weeks of Keane and Scissor Sisters, No Wow is set to bring the wow factor back to the album charts.

Both Kills grew up in constricting, insular communities, Mosshart in smalltown Florida, where skater boys were the only counter-cultural activity. Hince's teens, several years before, were spent between Andover and Newbury, Berkshire. "A really brilliant way for a kid to grow up," he explains drily. "You've got the hunting and horse-racing sets on one side, and Andover is just a squaddie town. If you're not in the army, you're in trouble." Hince found refuge in his first band, Electric Turkeyland, though his later outfit, Scarfo, were musical nearly-men of the late Nineties.

When Mosshart came to tour with her band, Discount, in 1999, she stayed in the flat below Hince in a London housing co-operative. At nights she listened to the unemployed guitarist as he played. "He was playing my dream guitar. Really weird-sounding, broken and strange. I was dissatisfied with the sound of our band, but I couldn't do a lot about it." They did not immediately hit it off, though, as Mosshart was too shy to speak to Hince. "We were in a bar, she came up and said "Hi," then went bright red and didn't talk," he says. "I was like, what's with that girl? She's a singer? Someone that can barely speak?"

Hince was intrigued enough to check out Discount and was blown away by what he saw. "I didn't like the music too much, but the performance, I hadn't seen anything that natural. She'd swing her mike stand around and the guitar player would get hit in the face. There was no control or choreography. She was exorcising her demons." Mosshart concurs, with much embarrassment. "I'm sorry, when it's a good show, you don't realise what you're doing. It's like I'm dreaming." This continues today, with a series of live shows that repel as much as entrance, as Mosshart confronts Hince, forcing his guitar between her legs.

They soon found they had much in common. Perhaps a good sign was that they were reading the same book, a biography of Andy Warhol's muse Edie Sedgwick. Both had rooms full of junk and broken tape recorders. Both were obsessive scribblers, of artwork and journal entries, as Hince explains. "There were shelves full of tapes never intended for anyone to hear, books of writing for no one to read and movies for no one to watch. We felt we had each found someone that had the same spirit. It is like we were living 4,000 miles apart from each other, but had been leading parallel lives.

"We over-romanticised art and harked back to some imaginary period when people were creative all the time, while everyone around us was more down to earth. They all fancied having a band in their lives, but no one was making their lives into a band."

Mosshart moved into Hince's flat and the intense period of creativity began that set the pattern for their modus operandi. "We built up these urban romantic ideas of protecting and controlling the direction. It all seemed a hit hypothetical at the time, because no one was interested," Hince says ruefully.

Yet people were interested, mainly, he admits, because with the influx of raw US bands, A&R men were desperately searching for a UK equivalent, which is why VV and Hotel (as Mosshart and Hince respectively called themselves) escaped to America. "Just from a couple of shows, we realised the result was bigger than the sum of its parts. And we started getting calls from labels and managers, not because were mindblowingly amazing, but because it was a lean time."

So they booked a series of gigs, hired a car and drove across the US. On the surface, it looks like a Beat movement ideal, something Mosshart denies. "We'd been in these four-piece bands where you get into a rhythm of recording and touring. This seemed like the most fun thing we could possibly do."

Hince, though, admits an admiration for the Beat writers. "I didn't really care too much about Kerouac and Ginsberg at the time. I liked being on the run and the whole thing being a road movie. That attracted me to that kind of art, rather than the other way round." Having recorded and toured their first album in relatively conventional circumstances, The Kills went straight back into the studio to record its follow up. Again, escape was on the agenda as they found a remote set-up in an obscure corner of Michigan. "It felt kinda similar," says Mosshart. "We didn't know what we heading into. We thought we were heading to Chicago."

They were on the trail of a semi-mythic mixing desk that reputedly drove Sly Stone mad and bankrupted the electronics company. Its owner, Dan Flickinger, never worked again, and the designer had a breakdown, Hince explains. "They delivered this desk to Sly's house and he held them hostage for a week at gunpoint, demanding that they make it levitate." They found the desk in Benton Harbour, Michigan, a settlement 90 miles from Chicago that became a ghost town after riots following the troubles in Detroit in the Sixties.

It all gave the studio an eerie air, Hince says. "Everything was thrown off balance by this desk and where we were, the environment outside and inside. The times of day were working at. Things were really claustrophobic." He wanted to imbue the studio with the same fear factor that performers feel before they go on stage. "Every band knows the importance of feeling terrified before you go on stage. It turns into adrenaline, but when people record, they tend to want comfort, verging on holiday. They want to know where the games room is."

By not allowing themselves time to think, The Kills emerged with a record true to themselves and less reliant on shared influences they are not ashamed to discuss: The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and the original sleaze-rock duo, Royal Trux.

"I'm totally proud ofKeep On Your Mean Side and there's nothing I'd change about it, but your first record is a statement of intent. So we wore our influences on our sleeves a little more. For this one, we didn't think about anything like that. We didn't listen to any music while we were making it. We wanted it to come from another place and be a gut-instinct record. All the favourite songs we'd written had spewed out of us without much thought, written in 15 minutes."

Mosshart adds, "I compare it to what it must feel like to be in jail, what your imagination goes through in a closed environment, and you get in touch with different sides of yourself that you are normally distracted from by normal life. Our imaginations were really overactive. We weren't trying to entertain ourselves."

This process also removed any self-consciousness, Hince says. "There's a paradox, because music is insignificant in the scheme of things, but also life-changing. The best music is always associated with life and death."

'No Wow' is out on Domino on Monday



BP's music may bristle with ambition, but the similarities with FF don't end there. The "next Franz Ferdinand" sport the same nervy guitars and uptight rhythms, if not the killer tunes of the Scottish quartet.


The Chiefs and FF have more than just Germanic monikers in common: the band's second gig was as support to Alex Kapranos and co, and in singer Ricky Wilson, a former art lecturer, they share an art school pedigree.


For an indication of just how far things have moved on from the Sixties-centric orthodoxy advanced by Britpop, check out the 'heads innovative take on Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love". It's like Be Here Now never happened.


And here's one that got away. The Fire Engines were part of the last golden age of Scottish pop, in the early Eighties. Chart success eluded them at the time, but they have recently been spotted supporting a starry-eyed FF.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

jeudi, février 17, 2005

Cocteau Twins Reform

Cocteau Twins, whose distinctly ethereal and gossamer sound virtually defined the enigmatic image of the record label 4AD, announce that they will play Coachella Valley Music Festival on Saturday, April 30, sharing the stage with Coldplay, Bauhaus, Weezer, and more. Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde will take the stage as Cocteau Twins for the first time since 1996.

While details of other shows are still being worked out, Cocteau Twins hope to play a series of festivals and other exclusive events beginning in June and continuing into the Fall.

Coachella promoter Paul Tollet, who was instrumental in booking Pixies for last year's festival said, "With Cocteau Twins, I just kept persevering. Their booking agent helped me with Pixies, and this year he helped me with Cocteau Twins."

"The Cocteau Twins' music has an infinite, timeless beauty, and their influence on so many of today's top artists is clearly evident," said the band's agent William Morris' Marc Geiger. "They were always one of my personal favorite bands, and I'm very excited about seeing them on stage in concert again."

The often mysterious, sometimes media-shy Cocteau Twins have been influential in not only defining the post-punk sound of the 1980s, but responsible for entire genres of music in the 1990s and beyond. Cocteau Twins have had such a cult following since disbanding in 1998 that cover bands and fans have gathered at the annual CocteauFest to play the band's music, watch their videos, and meet like-fans from all over the world.

In the last few years, each has been hugely active in many areas of music and film and has experienced individual success. Fraser is featured on the "Lord Of The Rings" soundtracks and has collaborated with artists such as Massive Attack, Peter Gabriel and most recently, the composer Yann Tiersen. Guthrie and Raymonde formed the record label Bella Union which Raymonde now runs (roster includes The Dears, Explosions In The Sky, Laura Veirs); Raymonde has also been quite active as a producer with two hot new UK bands, The Duke Spirit and The Open.

Guthrie released his first instrumental album "Imperial" in 2003, continues to create new music and tour with his band Violet Indiana, and is involved with music production and film scoring, and just completed the soundtrack album for the upcoming Gregg Araki film "Mysterious Skin," due out this summer.

Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2004

mercredi, février 16, 2005

The Dears, Concorde 2, Brighton

The Dears prove their true worth

By Fiona Sturges

Published : 16 February 2005

The Dears may not have the most arresting name in pop history, but musically they are full of promise. It's taken three albums and 10 years for them to get where they are today - that is, playing to packed venues - an achievement that is largely down to their current LP No Cities Left, a collection of darkly expressive, highly articulate pop songs that prompt immediate comparisons to Blur, Belle & Sebastian, Pink Floyd and The Smiths.

If you had to guess where The Dears came from, it would be a toss-up between London and Manchester, though they hail from Montreal. Their love of all things British is no secret ("Well, we do have the Queen on our money," they quipped during a recent interview), a fact that is borne out by the singer Murray Lightburn's admiration for Morrissey. His voice has a similar tremulous moan, while his lyrics come with a beguilingly poetic moroseness. The opening lines to the brilliant "Lost in the Plot" - "Take me for a drive to the coastline / Pull me to the depths of the sea", could seamlessly preface Morrissey's "Everyday is Like Sunday" ("This is the coastal town / That they forgot to close down").

But that's not to say Lightburn is merely a Stars in Their Eyes version of Morrissey. While Johnny Marr would be sure to recognise the jangly opening chords of "Don't Lose the Faith", you imagine even he would baulk at the psychedelic noodling that arrives at the end of "Expect the Worst". Put simply, The Dears can rock out with the best of them and they're too smart to get weighed down by their own emotional baggage.

Their enthusiasm is heart-warming. "Last time we played in this town, we had an audience of approximately 10," grins Lightburn, adding: "You seem to have multiplied." They'll keep growing, too, if they continue knocking out records like No Cities Left, though they're hard-rockin' approach doesn't always translate live.

Tonight, there are moments when the five band members seem to be battling against one another, in particular during the opener, "Postcards from Purgatory". Having kept the audience waiting for 45 minutes (forcing some to leave early in order to get the bus home), they begin with a feedback-filled psychedelic wig-out that would have been better off saved until later, if not wiped from the set. This is closely followed by "Never Destroy Us" - a soul-rock number that spills over with strings, flutes, horns and crashing guitars; basically everything including the kitchen sink.

It's on the simpler, more melodic numbers, when Lightburn's vocals are allowed to take centre stage; that The Dears show us what they're really made of. The Nico-esque keyboard player Natalia Yanchak (and, it transpires, Lightburn's missus) proves an impressive vocalist in her own right on the elegiac duet "22: the Death of All the Romance".

They say best things come to those who wait. After 10 years, it seems The Dears may at last be reaching their peak.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

Tori Amos

Tori Amos. The Beekeeper. Epic Records

Originally released: 2005

Tori Amos suffers from the same affliction as Prince and other freakishly talented musicians: Too smart and too foolish to take direction, she overreaches and ends up making music that's too abstract and oblique. On her eighth album, she does something much less expected: She squanders her gifts on a bland record. At its worst, The Beekeeper suggests a female John Mayer or Jack Johnson. Many of these underwritten, underproduced tunes sound as if Amos could have composed them in the supermarket express lane. Her duet with Irish folk singer Damien Rice, "The Power of Orange Knickers," is surprisingly direct and catchy, but the arrangement is startlingly sterile and dull.

Fortunately, Beekeeper rallies in the second half. The title track brings back the flattering electronic sounds we heard on 1998's From the Choirgirl Hotel, and "Original Sinsuality" hearkens back to the harrowing starkness of Little Earthquakes. The frustrating part: With some ruthless editing and remixing, this maddeningly uneven eighty-minute disc could have been her best in ages.

BARRY WALTERS (Posted Feb 24, 2005)

Track List

1 Parasol

2 Sweet The Sting

3 The Power Of Orange Kickers

4 Jamaica Inn

5 Barons Of Suburbia

6 Sleeps With Butterflies

7 General Joy

8 Mother Revolution

9 Ribbons Undone

10 Cars And Guitars

11 Witness

12 Origional Sinsuality

13 Ireland

14 The Beekeeper

15 Martha's Foolish Ginger

16 Hoochie Woman

17 Goodbye Pisces

18 Marys Of The Sea

19 Toast

20 Garland (Bonus Track)

mardi, février 15, 2005

Soulwax live

Soulwax, Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh

By David Pollock

Published : 15 February 2005

One can only guess how the brothers Stephen and David Dewaele feel about the bipartite nature of their existence in the public eye. On the one hand, they're respectively the singer and guitarist of Soulwax - certainly Belgium's biggest glam-rock electro band, yet not an outfit singled out for particular praise overseas. On the other, they're the faceless (or, rather, paper-bag-headed, as they appear in publicity shots) duo behind 2 Many DJs, under which pseudonym they arguably produced one of the defining LPs of the 21st century.

In between the glamorous, superstar DJing jobs, you would think that the situation may rankle a little. Sure, they're fêted for playing other people's tunes, but perhaps they feel the band - surely the project closer to their hearts - are left in the shade in comparison. After the success of 2 Many DJs, last year's Any Minute Now Soulwax album may have basked in a little extra critical goodwill, but not enough to overshadow their record-spinning achievements.

But on the evidence of this performance, it's hard to see why. For Soulwax clearly have done everything to - if not achieve unmitigated chart riches - deserve ravings from commentators and healthy cult success.

Their image is spot on to start with: the Dewaeles, bassist Stefaan Van Leuven, drummer Steve Slingeneyer and second guitarist Dave Martijn all dressed in black shirt and trousers against a strobe-flared backdrop of black and white vertical lines. It's eye-assaulting precision, perfectly in keeping with the metronomic funk of their music.

To write them off as simply a crunching, synthesised beat would be a disservice. The Dewaeles have obviously paid attention to what their club audience appreciates, and simple, bullishly catchy Kraftwerk-style synthesiser lines punctuate their songs to frequently air-punching effect. Yet David's raw Stooges guitar and Stephen's austere vocals cut across the top expertly, as if they're trying to manually recreate one of their own automated dancefloor mash-ups. Songs like "E Talking" and the expertly impersonal "Teachers" prove the point, while "Too Many DJs" is, ironically, possibly the most organically glam stomp of the evening.

The irony came when the Dewaeles played an aftershow DJ set at the City nightclub in the heart of Edinburgh. Where their Soulwax show had been a raw, sweaty club thrill, this was - perhaps in response to the nightclub's decor and atmosphere; the Studio 54 experience as sieved through two decades of non-ironic imitation - a distinctly commercial exercise.

Even "Pump Up the Jam" by Technotronic received a look-in, which seems our only hope may be that the next generation of bootleg innovators to appropriate 2 Many DJs' slipping crown recognise the place of Soulwax in rock'n'roll's underground pantheon.

Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, tonight; Concorde 2, Brighton, tomorrow; Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, Friday

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

lundi, février 14, 2005

Road to somewhere

The pop maverick David Byrne has built a label in his own image: quirky, intriguing - and very successful

By Phil Meadley

Published : 14 February 2005

The wonderfully eclectic world-music label Luaka Bop and the musical tastes of the former Talking Heads front man, David Byrne, are inextricably linked: Byrne has always been one of pop music's great eccentrics and has often harnessed the power of Latino and African rhythms in his music, so it's no surprise that Luaka Bop originated from that maelstrom of creative energy.

What is surprising, even to Byrne, is its success. Providing a decent alternative to Peter Gabriel's Real World imprint, Byrne and his co-conspirator, Yale Evelev, have carved out a classy, colourful and adventurous back-catalogue. Artists such as the alt-Americana singer-songwriter Jim White, the groove-merchants Zap Mama, the Afro-Peruvian songbird Susana Baca and the legendary psychedelic Brazilian trio Os Mutantes have been given a new lease of life through the off-kilter vision of Byrne and Evelev - and the musical landscape would look a lot less colourful without them.

The idea for Luaka Bop formulated in the late Eighties, when Byrne was at the tail end of Talking Heads and about to embark on a successful solo career. "I'd been doing mix tapes of Brazilian and Cuban music for myself and for friends," he says from his office in New York. "When people make mix tapes, they spend ages annotating them and sequencing the tracks, so I realised that, with a little bit more graphic design and some legal work, I could put this stuff out. But I didn't realistically think they would reach a very large public, even though they were my personal favourites."

The first release of Brazilian classics from the Seventies and Eighties, Beleza Tropical, exceeded expectations."It did really well; better than my own record, in fact," he says. "And I think from the beginning, part of the idea was to present this music, not as if it was ethnic recordings for the academic musicologist, but that it was cool, hip music. As cool as anything else you might be hearing in New York or wherever. So through the graphic design, the label notes and the choice of material, I think that's what we managed to achieve."

Releases such as the Brazilian Classics series, and subsequent albums from the likes of Brazilian avant-garde Tropicalista Tom Zé, and Venezuelan funk combo Los Amigos Invisibles, gave Luaka Bop a particular Latin American feel. "It came from me living in New York," he says. "A good percentage of the town is Latin American. Like other major cities, the former colonies are present. I'd been going to Latin clubs and seeing a lot of Latin rock bands, but it never got mentioned in the mainstream press, even though the audiences would often be huge. So, it was a natural step to represent these kinds of artists on our label."

Los Amigos's José Luis Pardo remembers how the band came to the attention of Byrne. "We came here in '95 to do some gigs, and luckily left five copies of our first record with a Venezuelan friend, who was manager of Tower Records in New York," he says. "David picked up one of these and I guess he was really impressed with it because, a month later, he sent Yale to check us out. It was flattering to be picked up by David."

Luaka Bop's most celebrated artist, Baca, whose career spiralled after her self-titled album was released by the label. "I met David through the children of some friends who loaned me Rei Momo, on which he sang with Celia Cruz," she says. "When he came to Peru with Yale, his all-seeing eyes sparkled with energy and interest. I love to cook, so we decided to have them over to the house. We invited a friend who spoke English and had the most wonderful time."

"Although Luaka Bop isn't a very big recording company, it's a daring one. It has the audacity of presenting very creative music, made by honest musicians, and I think it is this that marks the difference from other companies. It has a special sensibility when receiving new material, and is respectful of your music and creation. My relationship with Luaka Bop is full of anecdotes and magic, and I love David very much."

Sérgio Dias, of Os Mutantes, believes that their best-of compilation was the end result of renewed interest in the band. "The Luaka deal was a consequence of our music and ideas having already reached out to people," he says. "I think our approach of pushing the envelope inspired many people, and I know that Mutantes had already played an important role on the alternative scene, and that guys such as Beck, Nirvana, L7, The Bangles, Sean Lennon and many others were drinking from our waters." The compilation gave many people the chance to hear Os Mutantes for the first time, and gave Dias the impetus to plan a series of reunion concerts in Brazil.

White, on the other hand, was an example of Byrne's wish to nurture new talent, even when it wasn't recognised elsewhere. "I'd recorded this demo with a dodgy four-track, and it was possibly the worst tape ever," says White. "All the major record labels rejected it, and I thought my friend was joking when she rang me to say that Luaka Bop was interested. When I walked into the office, David came running up and said that it was an honour to meet such a great songwriter. Then, the next thing I knew, he asked his assistant if there was any interesting post today and started opening it up in front of me. So, I'd gone from feeling this thrill of adulation to wondering what I should do next? When he eventually looked up, he asked if I was going to be using any pedal steel guitar on the album? I came away not really knowing if I had a record label or not." His debut album, The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus!, became one of the labels biggest critical successes.

Byrne says that its approach to signing artists is a mixture of liking the music and seeing whether it's financially feasible to sign a particular act. "We do have to be realistic and think what kind of artist we can connect with on the ground level," he says. "Hopefully we'll be able to nurture their talent and give them a chance for their careers to blow up. But you never know. We heard an early demo on Nelly Furtado and it was quite different from her album - quite raw and sung in Portuguese and English. We really liked it, but didn't realise there was a bidding war for her. In a situation like that, you congratulate yourself for having the same tastes as a million other people and take sustenance in the fact that your taste isn't completely on the fringe.

"I always feel the same way about everything, whether it's my own stuff, Talking Heads or Luaka Bop. Every so often something clicks, and you can't predict what it's going to be. I can't make it happen, but occasionally it does. And other stuff will have a smaller audience, but that's OK because as long as its got longevity, you can survive - and so can the artist."

Eight classic Luaka Bop albums have just been reissued by V2

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

Rammstein & Rooster

Subtle as a battering ram, camp as a row of tents

By Simon Price

Published : 13 February 2005

Rammstein, Arena, Nottingham. Rooster, The Crypt, Middlesbrough

When is a Nazi not a Nazi? When he's got a guitar around his neck? Countless rock artists, from David Bowie via Siouxsie Sioux, Joy Division and Laibach to Marilyn Manson have flirted with the imagery of the Third Reich, with varying degrees of dodginess or righteousness, satire or sincerity.

Enter Rammstein (double entendre intentional, but more of that later). Formed in east Berlin in 1995, Rammstein - the name means "ramming stone" or "battering ram" - are now arguably the world's foremost exponents of industrial metal. I first encountered their music on a dancefloor, watching trenchcoated goths stomping around to their 1997 single, "Du Hast". Now, my German's about as good as that of Peter O'Hanrahanrahan, the hapless stringer from The Day Today ("Ich... nichten lichten..."), but I'm told that Rammstein's lyrics rarely betray any political leanings, and are largely about love, sex and heartbreak. "We're all living in Amerika, Amerika, it's wunderbar..." is about as contentious as it gets.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help finding something unsettling about watching a bunch of black-clad buffoons cathartically releasing their pent-up male aggression to this strident, martial marching beat and the sound of a man bellowing in a deep Teutonic voice in the language of the Führer. What's more, the Rammstein logo is consciously fashioned to resemble an Iron Cross. The song "Heirate Mich" ("Marry Me"), familiar to David Lynch fans from the soundtrack of The Lost Highway, contains a deliberate aural pun: the refrain "Hei-Hei-Hei ... rate Mich!" echoes the chant "Heil! Heil! Heil!" There was also a minor furore when the video to accompany Rammstein's cover of Depeche Mode's "Stripped" included clips from Leni Riefenstahl's film of Hitler's 1936 Olympics. And Rammstein are hugely - and, for them, very lucratively - popular among young German neo-Nazis, have never made any statement to disassociate themselves (unlike Laibach, who have made it clear that their intention is satirical). The case against is building.

So, tonight, when Till Lindemann stomps out of a giant rubber vagina (no kidding) and does what can only be described as a goose step towards the microphone stand, why am I not immediately phoning 118 for Searchlight magazine, and instead rocking helplessly with laughter? The answer won't be any mystery to the generation of comedians who survived the war. The likes of Spike Milligan and Mel Brooks knew that the best way to neutralise the power of the Nazis is to make them look ridiculous. In fact, perhaps I'm being too pompous on Milligan and Brooks's behalf. The bottom line is simpler than that: "Nazis are funny".

Rammstein are one of the funniest bands I've ever seen, and for that I thank them from the bottom of mein herz. They're also one of the most camp. I mean this partly in the primary sense of blatant gayness. We're talking, after all, about a bunch of borderline-musclebound men, mostly topless, mostly oiled-up, some of them in lederhosen, some of them in those little Bavarian hats, whose debut album Herzeleid portrays them naked in front of a giant flower, and whose stage show involves scooting about the stage on those two-wheeled people-movers beloved of US presidents, and inviting us to "come wiss me into ze trees" like a Deutsch Duncan Norvelle.

But I also mean it in the secondary sense. If camp can be defined as the gap between the seriousness of the delivery and the silliness of the end result, then Rammstein's gap is an absolute abyss.

There are no smiles onstage tonight. Only the simplest, curt "sank you". If Rammstein are joking, they disguise it well. But they do have one clear and self-evident belief: they believe in putting on a show. Pyrotechnics in rock shows are nothing new, but Rammstein are raising the bar. At one point, Lindemann - who looks like he's stepped straight from the engine room of Das Boot - emerges from that rubber vagina wearing two steel robo-arms, which he points at the roof. Suddenly, it becomes clear that they are flamethrowers, and he shoots pretty plaited towers of fire into the sky. At another point, he literally takes a shower under a cascade of Roman Candle sparks. It's difficult not to be impressed.

Giving your band a name like Rooster is asking for trouble. The "turkey" gags, and the comparisons to calamity-prone cartoon chicken Foghorn Leghorn, write themselves. It's already clear, however, that Rooster are going to be huger than Alan Partridge's putative 20ft-tall chicken, looking down at all the other chickens thinking, "Why am I so massive?" With Busted busted, and McFly taking a breather, there's something of an interregnum in the kiddiepunk market at the moment, and pop abhors a vacuum. If Rooster hadn't invented themselves - and conspiracy theories on that will abound - someone would surely have invented them: a band of four reasonably clean, reasonably pretty boys who won't tell CD:UK to naff off, who won't get caught snorting charlie off a Hollyoaks actress's breasts (well, not for a couple of years anyway, when it's a strategically useful career move), and - here's a novelty - who can actually play their instruments, meaning that they can tour tiny venues without the need for an expensive backing band (or an unreliable DAT machine).

This London-based quartet, you see, can do Rock Clichés blindfold. They're deeply indebted to Aerosmith, Free, Rage Against The Machine and Pearl Jam, but they're playing to a crowd too young to recognise the steals from "Love in an Elevator", "Alright Now", "Bullet in the Head" and "Alive".

The whole thing has the feel of a talent night at the local church hall, with an 80 per cent female audience who are unmistakeably gig virgins (they scream and cheer during the quiet bits written into all modern rock songs to allow you to get your breath back, thinking it's the end).

Singer Nick Atkinson has enough of a Jagger pout and puts in enough sweat (his T-shirt starts the night bright blue, and ends up dark navy) to send their hormones haywire, and it's starting to pay off: last Sunday, the debut album flew from nowhere to number three.

Whether I like it or not - and I think you can probably guess - the omens are good: tonight is the eve of the Chinese Year of the Rooster.

s.price@ independent.co.uk

Rooster: Glasgow Uni (0141 339 9784), tonight; UEA, Norwich (01603 632717), Tue; Manchester Uni (0161 275 2930), Wed; Academy, Liverpool (0870 771 2000), Thur; Leadmill, Sheffield (0114 221 2828), Fri; tour continues

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

dimanche, février 13, 2005

Doves and the devil

You're doomy. You're cool. Your record company reckons you're the next Coldplay. Trouble is - hell's bells! - you're the Doves and you just don't do that kind of thing. Nick Duerden goes on set and gets down to brass tacks and face fungus...

Published : 13 February 2005

The tedium of the TV studio is not, it must be said, easily diminished, but Doves give it a go nevertheless. In a green room within the bowels of Channel 4, while waiting to film a 30-minute T4 special on the band, the interminable small talk presently turns to the significance of colour in olives. If, goes the logic of frontman Jimi Goodwin, the young ones are green and the old ones black, then what do the pink and purple ones denote? And what about the altogether rarer yellow ones? Do they even exist at all, he wonders, or are they just urban myth? His bandmates, unidentical twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams (guitarist and drummer respectively), exchange glances, yawn laboriously and shrug shoulders. It is now four o'clock in the afternoon. They have been here since 11, and will be here for another three hours yet. They are restless and hungry. The mini- fridge has been liberated of its alcohol content, and packets of crisps have been consumed. Goodwin, who is suffering from flu, chainsmokes incessantly and scowls, his misery palpable. Only Andy Williams, by far the most ebullient of the three, makes any discernible effort at raising spirits. "Hey," he says, "you know, needs must..."

Needs must indeed. Doves have a new album out, Some Cities, and it requires promoting. T4 is a regular stop on the campaign trail for pop acts, and this particular studio has been visited in the past few weeks by the likes of McFly, Rooster and Westlife. Doves' presence is actually rather incongruous because, strictly speaking, beards don't go down well on a show whose core audience is 14 year-old girls. But this half-hour special is testament to the band's critical standing these days. Like its predecessors, Some Cities is a dense, richly rewarding record, an album still beleaguered with their trademark melancholy but infused, this time, with an optimism that is quite thrilling. The suggestion, then, is that Doves are about to do a Coldplay, or at the very least a Snow Patrol, and finally transform cult acclaim into hard sales and proper fame.

The deal today, Channel 4 tell them, is this: four songs, which they will be permitted to play live (an honour not bestowed upon McFly), and an interview on the sofa with presenter Edith Bowman. Given the band's general stance on promotion - they hate it - their record company has very strongly urged them to comply, explaining that the live performance will subsequently be shown throughout Europe. After some thinning of lips, they grudgingly consent.

The songs, including new single "Black And White Town" and 2002's "There Goes The Fear", are great, both dispatched with a bruising belligerence, Goodwin sounding like rock's own chief Womble, a Great Uncle Bulgaria figure whose lugubrious croak sounds ancient and, therefore, imbued with all kinds of wisdom.

But then it's time for the interview, and the interview proves agonising.

Bowman greets them noddingly, the best way to greet a band as serious as Doves, and laughs much less than she would with, say, Natasha Bedingfield. She asks about their creative process, the songs on the new album, and the fact that they recorded the mis-spelled "Snowden" in the shadow of Snowdon, and "Ambition" in a disused monastery. But while she does her best to put them at ease, Doves, a band with no discernible image and no desire to procure one, thrum with anxiety. Each member fidgets incessantly, and rarely is an answer proffered without a sweaty hand passing first across the jaw, then eyes, then hair (and Jimi Goodwin has an awful lot of hair). Their responses are stuttered, strictly unilluminating and so, soon, Bowman is struggling. In between takes, Goodwin runs back to the green room to smoke a very necessary cigarette, and neck another beer. A vein pulses in his right temple.

The following day, at an upmarket restaurant in west London, he groans at the recollection.

"There was an awful lot of hand-wringing, wasn't there?" he concedes. "I just couldn't get to grips with it, probably because of the flu rather than nerves. I was completely spaced out. But," he says, optimism rising, "we got better as we went along, didn't we?"

Not particularly, I tell him, no.

"Oh, oh. Well, never mind. We've always been portrayed as miserable bastards, so I guess that won't change in a hurry. And that's fine by us, because we don't do gimmicks, unless you count the music as a gimmick, and to be honest, I'd rather you didn't."

A waiter arrives. "Another beer?" he asks.

Goodwin smiles, relieved. "Good idea."

Though they have been making music together for close on 20 years now, Some Cities is only Doves' third album. They have been critical darlings since the release of 2000's Lost Souls, while 2002's The Last Broadcast, a hugely evocative slice of northern melancholy that Ken Loach could well have turned into a film, confirmed them as one of the country's more intriguing guitar bands. In their hands, misery sounds quietly wondrous, their every melody aching with some unspecified pain and an overriding sense of sadness. Goodwin, however, remains adamant that his songs are ultimately optimistic, even when dealing with depression and alcoholism and death.

After much pressing, the 34-year-old will concede that if they do deal in the maudlin, there may just be a reason. Trouble is, he is loath to draw further attention to it.

"We have had ups and downs, yes, sure, but then so has everybody else. We're hardly unique in that respect. Our past just happens to sound pretty bleak in print, that's all, and people - well, journalists - like to make a meal of it."

But what a three-course feast it is, with indigestion to follow.

Immersed in Manchester's club culture at the turn of the 1990s, the trio initially set out to create a soundtrack to take drugs to. They were quickly snapped up by Virgin as Sub Sub, a dance act that would operate with a succession of guest singers. After being unceremoniously dropped before actually releasing anything, they were subsequently rescued by New Order's manager Rob Gretton, who signed them to his own label, Rob's Records. Within six months, alongside friend Melanie Williams on vocals, they had a Top Three hit with "Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)".

"To be honest," Goodwin says, "that song was something of an anomaly for us. By that stage, we were already experimenting with more leftfield, cinematic stuff. 'Ain't No Love' was just something pure and simple to dance to, but our ambition was to make a much bigger musical statement."

After 1994's debut album, Full Fathom Five, which Jez Williams today describes as, "a disaster, totally dreadful," Goodwin suffered a breakdown, something he initially ascribed to the pressures of success but now to a relationship ending. Back in the studio, meanwhile, they were working on new material with other vocalists, among them Tricky and New Order's Bernard Sumner. As the project was nearing its completion, their studio burned to the ground. Everything - equipment, master tapes, morale - was destroyed. A year of disillusion followed, the band occasionally playing with good friend Damon Gough's Badly Drawn Boy, before re-christening themselves Doves and establishing Goodwin as the sole singer. Things, at last, were going well. And then Glastonbury 1997 happened.

Andy Williams smiles ruefully. "Basically, we'd tanned it too much over five days of rain, mud and misery. Too many bad drugs, too many bad vibes."

"It wasn't just the drugs, though," Goodwin adds, "it was a build-up of so many other things. See, we're not ones for getting emotional with one another, and so we kept on burying everything, not addressing things... It was all tension, strain, fatigue, tiredness and depression. Glastonbury was just the breaking point."

A week later, they called a meeting in a miserable pub in the south of the city where, uncharacteristically close to tears, crisis talks ensued. They decided to give it one last Herculean effort, and went on to complete what would become the Mercury-nominated Lost Souls. A few weeks before its release, their manager Rob Gretton suffered a fatal stroke.

"Okay," says Goodwin now, as the waiter arrives with his beer, "our story is perhaps a miserable one, but personally, I'd say we're three pretty well-adjusted blokes. Sure, we've lived through some shit, but that's all in the past, hopefully." He checks to see what the table is made out of before adding, "Touch wood."

While the band is undoubtedly a thriving unit these days - their first two albums have now shifted half a million copies - Andy Williams tells me, over espresso, that they have yet to make a single penny from record sales. They've never been motivated by money, of course, but now that they are all in their mid-thirties - Goodwin remains single, the twins settled in long-term relationships - a little financial security, he admits, wouldn't go amiss.

"We are massively in debt to the record company, our tours cost a fortune, the only money we do make is from PRS, and we're nowhere near breaking America." He catches himself, and changes tack. "We're not grumbling, though, and things could be worse, but if Some Cities sold millions, I think we'd be really quite happy."

One avenue for potential riches, his brother mentions, is to license their songs to films, but while Hollywood has yet to come calling, offers from TV ads have. This brings with it a very pronounced ethical dilemma for the three-piece. They consider it virtual prostitution.

"It's blurring the lines between art and commerce, isn't it?" Goodwin says. "That's why we'd never do it. Well, okay, we did do it, once [in America, "Words", from The Last Broadcast, was used to sell Volvos], but that was hypocritical of us, and a big mistake. I don't think our fans would appreciate it if we went down that road again."

He lights up a cigarette, looking doleful.

"You know, last year we turned down something like $750,000 in advertising. We must be insane."

One of the more incongruous offers came from Gap.

"At first, we just thought they wanted one of our songs," says Andy Williams, "but it turned out they actually wanted the three of us. As models." His face is a picture of pure incredulity. "I don't want to put us down, but... why?"

Were they not, I ask them, even slightly tempted to jive alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Lenny Kravitz, immortalised forever more in competitively priced denim?

It's Jimi Goodwin who answers this one, Goodwin sat there wrapped up in his coat and scarf, smoking compulsively, and taking himself, as ever, perhaps just a little too seriously. This is what he says.

"Tempted? Are you serious? No, of course we weren't fucking tempted. We're from Manchester. Mancunians don't do that type of thing."

And so we change the subject.

'Some Cities' is released on 21 February on Heavenly. The single, 'Black and White Town', is out now

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd

samedi, février 12, 2005

Bloc Party

Album: Bloc Party. Silent Alarm, WICHITA

By Andy Gill

Published : 11 February 2005

Though they are erroneously lumped in with the London nu-punk scene, there's a world of difference between the hotly tipped Bloc Party and the likes of The Others or The Libertines. Their music bristles with ambition, rather than simply being a medium for the transmission of nihilist diary notes. The Franz Ferdinand comparisons are less easily denied, Silent Alarm resounding to a comparable brand of relentless, itchy guitar interplay and stern, upright rhythms, although there's nothing here with quite the nagging charm of "Matinee" or "Take Me Out".

But there's New Wave brio aplenty in tracks such as the singles "She's Hearing Voices" and "Helicopter", and a sense of overriding determination coursing through the songs in sentiments such as "We're gonna win this", "Nothing ever comes for free" and the guiding principle from "The Pioneers", "If it can be broke, then it can be fixed/ If it can be lost, then it can be won."

On the downside, the sense of relentless, methodical industry can grow tiresome over the course of an album, and there's a touch too much of Robert Smith's plaintive stridency in Kele Okereke's voice for my taste; but Bloc Party have the desire, intelligence and energy to become a formidable pop power.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

vendredi, février 11, 2005

White Brits...

All-white Brit winners spark fury over lack of diversity

By Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent

Published : 11 February 2005

With a roll-call of winners as varied as The Streets, Robbie Williams and Franz Ferdinand, the diversity of this year's Brits, the biggest night in British rock and pop, looked beyond dispute.

But the diversity celebrated at Wednesday night's awards ceremony stopped at the array of musical styles on show.

Best male solo artist, The Streets (real name Mike Skinner) may have taken his inspiration from the rap music pioneered by black musicians, but Skinner is white. Soul diva Joss Stone, who took away twin Brits for best female artist and best urban act, may be acclaimed as the new Aretha Franklin, but she is a blonde-haired teenager from Devon.

With Stone pipping the hotly-tipped R&B star Jamelia in the urban category, the 25th anniversary of the Brits was not black music's night. All the winners were white.

The only question yesterday was whether this amounts to a genuine problem for an industry that, from the earliest days of rock 'n' roll, has not always treated its black stars well.

Gennaro Castaldo, of the retain chain HMV, thought the absence of black winners was a one-off this year and not a trend which was likely to be repeated in subsequent awards.

"There have been other years when R&B has been well-represented. I think it clearly reflected the prominence this year of guitar-based indie rock bands which, culturally, tend to be white artists."

However, it had been an "injustice" that Jamelia had lost out in the British urban act award, he said. "I think she deserved it. Joss Stone deserved the British female solo artist award but [winning urban act] does make you question what an award for urban music means. If it's a general term for a metropolitan lifestyle then you can include everything in there."

Mark Ellen, of Word magazine, said the real problem was that there were too many awards. "You should have best singer, best band, best single, best album - the general things that anybody could win," he said. "Once you decide to create lots of categories it's crass and reductive as a way of trying to evaluate things.

"But if they're going to have an urban category, it's extraordinary they have given it to a white teenager from Devon. It's like saying, 'We have a category for black music but we're not even going to allow a black music act to win it'."

He is not alone in being perplexed by what "urban" means these days. The Turner Prize-winning artist Chris Ofili, objects to the term and has launched his own music nights, under the title Freeness, where people can submit their unreleased songs, tracks and remixes.

"Now is an exciting time to open up and look beyond the margins of what the music industry terms as 'urban music' - a collective term for hip-hop, soul, garage and R&B where the musicians have to fit into categories. To be creative may mean to fall outside these categories and Freeness is aimed at these artists," he said.

The organisers of Mobo, the Music of Black Origin Awards, said it showed their own ceremony was "as relevant today" as when founded 10 years ago because the impact of black music on the music industry was not being recognised.

But a Brits spokesman said the awards had promoted and honoured black music for years - and the duet between Jamelia and Lemar had been one of the highlights of Wednesday evening, even if neither artist won an award. Previous ceremonies have featured performances from Dizzee Rascal and Beyoncé.

Neither was Joss Stone's winning of best urban act the choice of white male music industry executives, he added. The Brits asked appropriate people to vote in key categories so MTV Base viewers chose best urban act just as Kerrang! readers were asked to vote for best rock act.

So if Jamelia was robbed, it is the MTV generation which should take the blame.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd