dimanche, janvier 28, 2007


Iceland: Notes from a small island.

Iceland's Sugarcubes spawned more than the global superstar Björk. They kick-started an entire industry, says Chris Mugan.

Icelanders have just witnessed the unexpected reunion of one of their country's biggest musical successes, The Sugarcubes. Björk joined her former bandmates in aid of their record label Smekkleysa (meaning, and known in the UK as, Bad Taste), to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of both the label and the group set up to make money for it.

Indeed, board member and Sugarcubes' deranged vocalist Einer Orn is as proud of the label as of his old band's achievements. "When we started to make money, we could put records out for our friends," he says. "There was no vehicle for classical or contemporary music here, so we could help those areas. We show a certain strand of Icelandic music because we don't go for Top 40 hits."

Yet The Sugarcubes enjoyed hits with "Birthday", "Deus" and "Hit" to show what Icelandic artists could achieve without compromise. "We simply showed aspiring musicians that anything is possible, but nothing happens if you don't do it. That is the idea that has been carried on by other artists."

Since The Sugarcubes, there has been a steady stream of groups that have ploughed weird furrows, most spectacularly the blissful Sigur Rós, but also the dance outfit Gus Gus and the post-rockers múm. Iceland has had a particular relationship with avant-garde music that all these bands have tapped into, as evidenced by this month's tour of the UK, a first, by the Kitchen Motors organisation. While Smekkleysa kick-started Iceland's indie record industry, this is a looser entity set up to provide a forum for collaborations across the music scene. Founded in 1999 by Johann Johannsson, the improvisatory guitarist Hilmar Jensson and the electronica artist Kristin Bjork Kristjansdottir, who records under the name Kira Kira, the group began by putting on events in disparate venues around Reykjavik, including at a lighthouse, a medieval castle and a disused cat shelter. Since then, the group has expanded its reach to release records that feature such artists as Barry Adamson and the Finnish duo Panasonic, as well as to organise international tours, much to Orn's delight. "They are another cell of creative people that has been able to work together at home and abroad. It wasn't like that when we started, because there were no bars, beer and our social interaction was limited to a close group of friends."

Johannsson has previously released records on Touch, though his latest album is out on 4AD. It mixes his interest in atmospheric strings with the sounds made by one of the first mass-produced computers to come to Iceland, which gives the album its title, IBM 1401: a User's Manual. Johannsson's father, a computer engineer, first played with its memory and programming to generate electromagnetic waves picked up by a radio receiver. He recorded these to tape and finally revealed them to his son six years ago.

Johannsson is better known here for the more jokey Apparat Organ Quartet, based on the premise that broken down keyboards would sound more interesting than brand new kit.

How has such a tiny island had such a global impact? When The Sugarcubes emerged in the late Eighties,Icelanders clearly felt isolated, even among themselves. Their capital city lacked the lively bar and club scene it boasts today, so it was no wonder every family seemed to have its own writer, film-maker or musician.

"We have the most of everything, given how few we are," is a popular saying that Orri Jonsson, from the influential duo Slowblow, repeats for me, adding the other popular theory that the island's long winters cause people to spend a lot of time indoors. In mid-November, the sun was rising at 10am and setting at 4.30pm. "And the day is pretty dusky. There's a gloom to everything," he adds. You can hear this in the melancholy tones of his band, Johannsson's work and Sigur Rós. So despite its now cosmopolitan nature, much of Iceland's music remains rarefied. Moreover, the size of its creative community means practitioners need to be close-knit and supportive.

"People working in more mainstream pop music know everyone and vice versa. The different communities are so small we have to work together. That's why there's no prejudice between the genres." Orn agrees. "People get the perception that we are inclined to be experimental, but I think we need to share our ideas with a relatively small group of people. We can't bring the same cake to the table every time we meet, so we offer new ideas and we get honest opinions back."

Both Slowblow and Johannsson started out in more mundane indie rock bands before they found their true paths. Slowblow's analogue hum has been a massive influence on younger bands such as múm, though their musical career has been put on hold since Jonsson's bandmate Dagur Kari Petursson directed the indie film hit Noi Albinoi. Now they are working on an English-language movie set in San Francisco, with Tom Waits, for which Jonsson is writing the music. It is a huge step up for the duo, though he insists their original ethos remains.

"It still hasn't evolved into a career-minded business. No one forms a band or starts collaborating in order to establish that. You sense it when you hear it that it's just a creative drive and the fun of playing with your fellow musicians."

It is different, then, to the UK scene, where bands come in waves that might be close knit themselves, though barely communicate with those that came before them. In Iceland, múm, Mugison and Sigur Rós's vocalist, Jonsi Birgisson, have all been involved in Kitchen Motors projects, as Johannsson attests.

"múm were around at the beginning of Kitchen Motors and the rest joined in later years. We are not all of the same age, with Kira younger me and I'm younger than Hilmar. But we've all been most active since the late Nineties onwards."

Johannsson's string sextet has toured with another string-led group headed by Skuli Sverrisson, along with solo artists cellist Hildur Gudnadottir and Kira Kira. Kira Kira has performed in a series of bands over the past decade and this year released her album on Smekkleysa, a selection of spectral sounds suited to the audio-visual experience Kitchen Motors envisage for this project.

"I was really focused on Kitchen Motors and happy to build it up, so slowly my music grew on board that," she explains. "Originally we wanted to make up for things that were missing in Iceland, to irrigate the dry parts, and that's always been our aim, even as we've grown. We want it to be a playground where you are allowed to take risks and make mistakes."

This playful outlook is important to Kira, what she calls the "prankster spirit", as if the Norse mischief-maker Loki still holds sway over these Viking descendants. "The people around me are very curious and have a lot of energy," she continues. "They stay awake at night and tinker with strange instruments."

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

mercredi, janvier 24, 2007

Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley, Shepherds Bush Empire, London.

By Luiza Sauma

There's a distinct family atmosphere in the Shepherd's Bush Empire tonight. From the balcony, the old music hall glitters with the shiny bald heads of Richard Hawley's devotees. People have come with their wives and husbands, their grown-up children; the man sitting in front of me has even brought his grandson, who looks all of seven years old. It's a far cry from Hawley's earlier incarnation as the guitarist of Nineties indie also-rans The Longpigs; or, indeed, of his days with Pulp. Because after he pulled 2005's Coles Corner out of the bag, Hawley is now the star of the show - and like his friend Jarvis Cocker, he's hit the big time at an age when most have long given up.

Hawley receives a thunderous reception as he takes to the stage in front of a giant, sparkling "RH" sign, dapper as ever in a casual suit and specs, and launches into the Roy Orbison-esque slow dance of "Born Under a Bad Sign". Two thousand or so heads bob in appreciation. Next up, a languorous B-side is aired: "If we fuck it up, I'm really sorry," he says - it's played to perfection. But it's between the songs that he really wins us over.

At one point, he verbalises the old cliché himself: you can take the man out of Sheffield, but you can't take Sheffield out of Richard Hawley. Pointing at the glistening initials behind him, he quips, "How fucking gay is that? We bought it off Rolf Harris." Without missing a beat, he follows with the lilting hula romance of "Hotel Room", complete with a Hawaiian guitar breakdown. The crowd laps it up. "You like that one?" asks Hawley. "I think it's crap!"

There are two sides to Richard Hawley. On the one hand, there's the romantic, bequiffed old fool who sings heart-breaking, nostalgic love songs; on the other, there's the no-nonsense, wise-cracking Yorkshireman who just wants to make you laugh. He knows it himself, when he introduces "The Ocean" in his inimitable manner: "I wrote this for my wife because I've officially gone soft as a bag of tits."

Either way, Hawley's a timeless songwriter and a natural showman. Bathed in blue and green light, he plays "Darling Wait For Me" as if the song had existed since the dawn of time (or at least since the 1950s). He's also a pretty incredible guitarist - a hangover from his days as a session player - and each time he plays a solo, he steps back from the microphone, blending into his backing band. Not that he ever forgets the team of seasoned musicians ("my friends") who stand behind him, even getting someone to bring out a birthday cake for guitarist Shez Sheridan. The audience starts to sing "Happy Birthday", and Hawley stops us short: "You daft buggers!"

There's a reason for his good mood: Coles Corner just received a gold disc. Ten years ago, when he was touring the world with The Longpigs, playing second fiddle to Crispin Hunt, nobody could have foreseen this - and he seems genuinely grateful: "I'll stop being a dick for just a minute, because we all really appreciate it." Sincerity and happiness spreads round the venue like wildfire; by the time the album's title track is aired, husbands are putting their arms around their wives, grandpas round grandsons.

The gig was a celebration of sorts. A celebration of the fact that sometimes people do make it on their own terms. It's taken years for Richard Hawley to come this far, but he's here to stay.

l.sauma@ independent.co.uk

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

dimanche, janvier 21, 2007

Babyshambles got signed

Parlophone signs Babyshambles.

Paul MacInnes

Pete Doherty
Saved by music ... Doherty. Photograph: PA.
At last, some stability in Pete Doherty's life. The troubadour/narco-enthusiast and his band Babyshambles have reportedly signed a three-album contract with Parlophone records for an also reported £1m. What will he do with all that money?

The big deal follows a brief liaison between band and label last year when Parlophone released The Blinding EP to critical acclaim if not sizeable sales. Parlophone execs certainly seemed happy with the new arrangement, however, when they made the announcement last night.

"We're extremely pleased to be welcoming such a vibrant and talented band into the Parlophone label", said Miles Leonard, Parlophone's managing director. "Babyshambles, justifiably, have a great reputation for crafting some of the most exciting music around today, and in Peter Doherty they have one of the best songwriters of his generation." He's a great songwriter, you see, so they use his full name.

Not surprisingly the band's management were also quite pleased and held forth on the matter. "Both management and the band are thrilled to have signed this deal and look forward to a long, fruitful, and creative relationship with Parlophone."

Let's just wait and see on that one, eh?

Related articles

11.01.2007: Thailand snoops sniff out Doherty ditty

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

vendredi, janvier 19, 2007

The Blue Nile

The Blue Nile: A band that likes to take its time.

In 25 years,
The Blue Nile have produced just four albums of melancholy perfection. Their low-key singer Paul Buchanan tells James McNair why you can't hurry love.

No eyes trail Paul Buchanan as he enters Booly Mardy's bar in Glasgow, but then he often goes unrecognised. Now 50, The Blue Nile's singer-songwriter has trodden a rather singular path, the flamboyance and commercial acuity of more calculating rock stars clearly not for him. He smiles often, and has no deceit in his deeply lined face. That he can be relied upon to make emotionally mature, heart-melting records about the stuff of everyday life makes sense.

"A four-wheel drive wouldn't bring me peace," he tells me. "My main goal is to try and express ineffable beauty and retain some credibility. I know that solace in life doesn't come from faking it, and hopefully there's an element of consolation about The Blue Nile records that is based on actual compassion for people. For us, it was always about that Walt Whitman thing of standing up for the stupid and the crazy, about the fat kid that nobody noticed. We thought art should be an expression of love."

Buchanan and I have ostensibly met to discuss his UK tour. Saying he's playing old and brand new songs pretty much covers it, so we're soon on to the glorious certainty of youth, and a Russian Army Choir CD that recently moved him to tears. We should mention, however, that while Blue Nile bassist Robert Bell is part of the tour, PJ Moore, the keyboard player who completed the original trio, is not.

The singer says that Moore is always welcome to return, but that the future of The Blue Nile is "very uncertain". Still, given that all three played a Blue Nile-billed concert in Ireland last year simply because a friend asked them to, Buchanan's claim that he and Moore are still good friends rings true.

The Blue Nile was formed in 1981 while the trio were at Glasgow University. Paradoxically, the kind of drum-machines and synthesizers that are associated with monochrome froideur became instruments of great warmth and colour chez The Blue Nile. Through subtle programming, judicious use of samples -and through Buchanan's plaintive, almost feral-sounding voice, of course - they were able to enthral and disarm listeners. The electronic backdrop, their singer says, was primarily a pragmatic rather than an aesthetic move.

"I wasn't much of a guitar player, and we were the only three people in the room. PJ had bought a tray from a waiter. It was made of zinc and it made a good noise when you hit it. We sampled it and PJ made a pad to trigger it from for £3. It was all very primitive back then - you had to hit it about two seconds before you wanted the sound to appear in the song.

"None of us were proper musicians," Buchanan says, "which is why I've always found it strange that people missed the 'punk' aspect of A Walk Across the Rooftops. We were living in a flat in Glasgow with no hot water. We barely knew what we were doing and that was very liberating."

Released in 1984, Rooftops was a richly cinematic album establishing themes Buchanan would revisit on later Blue Nile works: the highs and lows of romantic love; the smudged beauty of rainy, neon-lit cities; the dignity and courage with which ordinary people often live their lives. Unusually, the modest budget for Rooftops had come from the hi-fi manufacturer Linn. A further mark of Buchanan and co's singularity, though, was their failure to return Linn's initial call for nine months. Then, as on future projects, striking while the iron was hot didn't come into it.

It was five years, for example, before Hats emerged in 1989, another seven before 1996's gospel choir-imbued Peace At Last, and a further eight years before High was released in 2004. Along the way, the band moved from Linn Records to Virgin to Warner Brothers to Sanctuary, various businessmen enjoying the kudos of signing such a lauded act, then baulking at the lengthy gestation periods outlined above.

"You have to remember that we were just three panic-stricken guys," he says. "If we were full of confidence the records wouldn't have that ambivalence that attracts people. At times record companies would get exasperated, but there were issues for us, too. I'd be like, 'I asked you two years ago for a month off to re-write that song', but they'd go, 'No, we need it tomorrow.' The problem is inspiration doesn't always come tomorrow."

There is, of course, a relationship between the stringency of an artist's quality-control measures and the amount of admiration they gain from their peers. That's why The Blue Nile can count the likes of Isaac Hayes, Peter Gabriel and Robbie Robertson among their fans. Having sold far less records than any of them, though, Buchanan's longevity has partly depended on royalties from other artists covering his songs, including Rod Stewart and Annie Lennox.

Last year, he lent gravitas to fellow Scots act Texas when he duetted on "Sleep", while more recently, he penned a song for Shirley Manson's solo album. So the props and the plaudits keep coming, but might Buchanan's commitment to music have stopped him from having certain things? "Of course," he smiles. "You can't be in two places at once, and sometimes the energy and turmoil that propels you to do something artistic can make you negligent of relationships with your partner or your family. That's what happened when we got locked into making Hats, I think."

There is still the stoic comfort of his music, though - for one more album at least. "In terms of the arc that we always wanted to achieve, five albums always seemed about right," says Buchanan. "You don't want to outstay your welcome, but PJ used to say we were the consummate semi-professionals, and right now I'm keen to regain that 'gentlemen amateur' status.

"I honestly don't know if the last album will be a Paul Buchanan record or a Blue Nile one, and I'm sure there will be more explosions between now and the finishing line. If somebody somewhere puts on one of the new songs and says, 'Oh yeah baby - I feel that', it will all be worth it, though."

Touring the UK (www.the-blue-nile.com)

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

dimanche, janvier 14, 2007

Michael Brecker RIP

Saxophonist Michael Brecker succumbs to cancer.

NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Brecker, a versatile and much-studied jazz saxophonist who won 11 Grammys over a career that spanned more than three decades, died Saturday at age 57.

Brecker died in New York of leukemia, according to his longtime friend and agent, Darryl Pitt.

In recent years, the saxophonist had struggled myelodysplastic syndrome, a cancer in which the bone marrow stops producing enough healthy blood cells. The disease, known as MDS, often progresses to leukemia.

Becker, who had a home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, was born in 1949 in Philadelphia and had won 11 Grammys for his work as a tenor saxophonist. He was inspired to study the tenor saxophone by the work of jazz legend John Coltrane, according to his website.

He and his brothers led a successful jazz-rock fusion group called the Brecker Brothers. Throughout his career, he recorded and performed with numerous jazz and pop music leaders, including Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell, according to the site.

His technique on the saxophone was widely emulated and taught. Jazziz magazine once called him "inarguably the most influential tenor stylist of the last 25 years."

Though somewhat introverted, his struggle with the blood disease led him to publicly encourage people to enroll in marrow donor programs.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

vendredi, janvier 12, 2007

The Hours

Back from the brink.

The Hours have been through drugs, death and abandonment. But adversity has turned them into Britain's most powerful new band. Dave Simpson caught up with them

Friday January 12, 2007

The Guardian

The Hours
Martin Slattery and Antony Genn of the Hours.
Photograph: Martin Godwin

In 1995, the audience at Glastonbury were treated to an unexpected performance. Halfway through Elastica's set, the Britpop quartet were joined on stage by a naked man who proceeded to wave his arms - and other things besides - like a giant, freshly plucked bird.

Almost 12 years later, the "Elastica Glastonbury" incident is immortalised on YouTube and the streaker, who curiously enough later played keyboards with Elastica, is seated - clothed - in a London pub. "I'd been up for three days," sighs Antony Genn, before describing how he came to be naked in front of 100,000 people.

"I'd taken 14 Es, two tabs of LSD, maybe two or three grams of heroin, a lot of cocaine, vodka and a hell of a lot of cider." He claims he actually felt "pretty good", though his behaviour was caused more by "a long period of insanity" than by the usual festival madness.

In the intervening years, Genn lost his teeth and almost his life to drug addiction, so he's the last person you'd expect to find fronting one of 2007's most compelling bands. The Hours somehow combine the edgy intensity of the Only Ones with Echo and the Bunnymen's capacity for the uplifting and majestic. Their songs rollercoast along on jagged guitars and whipcracking snare drums, or beautiful, shimmering pianos. But their most arresting quality is a sense - not least in Genn's soul-baring lyrics - of musicians who have taken the knocks but are now putting every last emotion and sinew into a death-or-glory assault on pop's heavyweight title.

The first people to respond were their musician peers, who perhaps understand that a band this emotionally driven doesn't come along too often. In December, Bono sang the Hours' praises on Radio 1. Jarvis Cocker - who has known Genn since he was in an early Pulp incarnation aged 16 - says the Hours "understand what music is for, for human beings to communicate with other human beings".

Shortly before Christmas, the Hours' limited edition 7in single Ali in the Jungle - which uses the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman as a metaphor for Genn's return from the brink - started getting played on Radio 1. Zane Lowe and Jo Whiley both made the track their single of the week. The band have appeared on Later With Jools Holland. However, Genn insists their increasing profile is the result of the music, not the PR machine. "I know who the Klaxons are," he says, pointing out that other bands get it the wrong way round, "but I couldn't hum a song. The hype arrives before the music. We wanted it the other way round."

Initially, the only fanfare around Ali in the Jungle came from the band themselves. They used their MySpace site to craft exuberant, passionate manifestos ("We mean what we say. Every note. Every syllable.") that recall Kevin Rowland's Dexys Midnight Runners at their most intense. Genn is a Dexys fan, though he remains disturbed by Rowland's notorious 1999 Reading performance, when Genn and Cocker stood stageside watching the singer writhing in a dress. "I might end up wearing dresses," says Genn. "I have smoked a lot of crack, as has Kevin Rowland, so you never know."

Genn and his bandmate Martin Slattery were formerly in Joe Strummer's Mescaleros, before Genn went from being a "functioning drug addict" to a "degenerate" one, shooting up in toilets when he should have been on stage. At another point, he shared a flat with Robbie Williams after running out of friends who'd take him in and attempt to get him off narcotics. "He certainly didn't take me in to get me off drugs," he says of Williams, adding, "We had a laugh, for a while."

One of the Hours' most bittersweet songs, Icarus, in which Genn sings hauntingly about someone who had "a misanthrope for a dad, who crushed any hope he might have had, when he was just a boy", was written with Pete Doherty in mind. When he hit rock-bottom in 2001, Genn fled in tears to see an old friend at the Rough Trade label, Jeanette Lee, who got him into Narcotics Anonymous. A therapist told him he was between three and six months from death. In 2003, when Doherty - then on Rough Trade - hit similar trouble, Lee thought of Genn.

"She said, 'I think Peter's going to die,'" he remembers. "'He reminds me of you at the end. Can you talk to him?'" Genn spent an hour with Doherty, talking through the issues behind his addiction and convinced him to enter rehab, but it was fruitless. "He'll either be 35 and clean like me, or dead," says Genn. "Jimi Hendrix dead, Iggy Pop clean. There comes a point where the day has to become more important than the night."

Genn's speech reflects years of therapy, but he insists the all-consuming, excessive character traits that fuelled his drug abuse now fire his music. When the Hours wanted a disco beat on one song for their forthcoming album, for example, they sent for James Gadson, who played on Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive. They recruited Jack Ashford, who played on all the classic Motown singles and had them howling with tales of how "'Little Stevie Wonder wus always bumpin' into shit!'"

That all costs money. It turns out that the Hours' album was funded by Damien Hirst before they got a record contract - the completed album convinced Polydor to sign them and reactivate the dormant A&M imprint for them.

Genn first met the artist - whose own dalliance with drugs has been well-documented - at the same Glastonbury he streaked at; he was also introduced at the festival to Joe Strummer, whose autograph he had got as a 10-year-old outside Sheffield Top Rank. On impulse (and on drugs), Genn took it upon himself to get the then-retired Clash singer back on stage.

"I just said, 'You're Joe Strummer. Get that Telecaster back round your neck and get off your arse!'" Genn ended up producing Strummer's solo album before finding himself in the Mescaleros with Slattery, a multi-instrumentalist he first met at a recording session for Robbie Williams. The pair are polar opposites, though Slattery - a dry, taciturn Mancunian - is well-versed in dealing with music's more unconstrained characters. One of his first jobs was in Shaun Ryder's Black Grape. Slattery had never so much as smoked a joint but soon found "the guys, with the lights down, doing heroin or whatever". But he wasn't fazed, having the legacy of teenage years playing working men's clubs with his "jazzer" father and getting "tongued by old grannies". After Black Grape, Slattery became a committed stoner, and it took "personal strength" to haul himself out of that rut 18 months ago, but he points out there's a world of difference between "not getting out of bed a few mornings and almost dying".

Only a year after cleaning up, Genn had to face up to Strummer's death in 2002. "We were devastated. We had the wake in this very pub." He grew more determined to form a band with Slattery. They kicked around ideas until, Genn says, Hirst grew tired and told them: "Look, you cunts, I'll put you in the studio."

Progress was slow until Genn attended a Patti Smith gig, which made him decide his lyrics were rubbish in comparison. He wrote Ali in the Jungle, there and then, on his mobile phone. The rest followed.

The music reflects Genn's character: exuberance, tempered by a darker side. The essence of that divide, he says, is "the same as everybody else's: your parents fuck you up".

His father was a failed musician turned butcher - "a lovely bloke but an irresponsible parent" - who was kicked out by his mother when Genn was nine. But mention of his mother provokes an unsettling tirade: "Cunt. Violent, jealous, bitter, twisted." He says she beat him and threw him out of the family home when he was 14. According to Genn, his siblings have suffered addictions, and one had mental-health, problems and spent time in an institution. It's no surprise that some songs, such as the new single Back When You Were Good (a gigantic anthem that could fill stadiums with its anger - Genn will only say it refers to "a number of people") are unsparing in their vitriol.

Shortly before Genn formed the Hours, his father died in his arms. "He was an emaciated five-stone cancer victim, shitting and spewing blood all over me," he says. "It dawned on me then that that - or something like that - is going to happen to all of us. Taking heroin or just drifting is the avoidance of real life. There's no more time to waste. I want to rock till I fuckin' drop."

Back When You Were Good is released by A&M on January 22.

Useful links
The Hours website

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

mercredi, janvier 10, 2007

The View

The View: The outlook is brilliant

The View are young, gifted and relentlessly touring. They tell Nick Hasted they're in a hurry to get where they're going.

The View's fans have been down in London from Dundee since this morning, drinking steadily, like football fans down for the Cup. Come showtime at King's College's bar there's even hooliganism, a violent mêlée kicking off as the View play their new single, "Superstar Tradesman". Pints pour down on the band's equipment, creating a risk of electrocution. And through it all comes the supporters' steady chant: "The View, the View, the View are on fire!"

"Superstar Tradesman", the View's second single, has just followed "Wasted Little DJs" into the Top 20, confirming their rapid rise. It began when 19-year-old bassist Kieren Webster handed Pete Doherty their demo before his Dundee show last year. Doherty put them straight on the bill, then talked to James Endeacott, who signed the Libertines, and he made the View the first name on his 1965 Records roster.

Primal Scream took them on tour. Owen Morris has produced their debut album (due in the New Year), as he did for Oasis. Such faith is explained by the singles: yearning sunbursts of guitar pop, as optimistic and energetic as anything this year.

When I meet the View in their dressing room, they're midway through the sort of backbreaking 60-date tour rarely seen since the Seventies. "We're just trying to get where we're going as soon as possible," says guitarist Pete Reilly. "Last night, people were singing all the words to songs we haven't released. It's amazing how it's building."

The View (mop-haired singer Kyle Falconer and drummer Steve Morrison complete the quartet) met at school in Dryburgh, a small, isolated housing scheme on the edge of Dundee.

It says "Dryburgh Soul" on their tour T-shirts, and this close community peoples their songs. They started playing seriously at the town's Bayview Hotel, the pub that gave them their name (and banned them, when they started revving scooters through the bar). "Wasted Little DJs" is about two local female friends.

Touring so much hasn't cost them this bond. "It's weird," says Reilly, "because everybody in Dundee, from people who are 60 to people who are 10, know us now. It's like they're grabbing onto us, saying: 'Well done, boys. Keep going.'"

But their music, a joyful eruption of teenage frustration, shows why they were obliged to opt out from the regular jobs and futures on offer to them in Dryburgh. "Superstar Tradesman" is their manifesto, Falconer singing: "I don't want money, I want a thing called happiness. I don't want cash in hand, I quite like memories..." "You've only got one life, man," elaborates Webster. "What's the point in thinking: 'Oh, imagine if we did'?"

The View and their fans have a reputation for largely good-natured mayhem, with the police being called to their last single launch. The band certainly cause a stir as they stroll through King's College's sedate corridors, attracting nervous stares.

The band are banned by their management from London rock star hangout the K West Hotel, its 24-hour bar having tempted them too often. Falconer is pondering one day playing sober. "But I need that element of danger," he decides, demonstrating the Zebedee bounce to the stage's edge that drink induces.

When they retired to a farm outside Scarborough in May to record their album, Owen Morris, the veteran Welsh producer and wild man, proved a perfect foil. The record was finished in three weeks, Morris orchestrating the all-night sessions with instinct, alcohol and mind games. "He was ready to walk out the first morning," says Reilly. "Then in an hour he came back and we started recording, and it was: 'You're geniuses!' He does nae beat about the bush. There was no in between."

"Owen wouldn't work until he'd been to the pub," claims Falconer. " But at the recording desk, when he really put his foot down, he was right." They celebrated the record's completion by roaring round the fields in the producer's Jaguar, playing it full-blast to the cows.

While they wait for its release, the View keep touring. The band grab what sleep they can on the tour bus, young enough to keep going - and to show vulnerability, too. "I never realised there were places like Cambridge, with people in gowns," Webster says sweetly, of the sights he's seen. " I love Camden, too. That you can walk about and look like a freak, and people don't give you a second look. In Dundee, you'll get funny looks if you walk around dressed like this [in casual, faintly rock outfits]."

That night, the View tear through "Wasted Little DJs" while the Dryburgh girls who are the song's subject jig round them on stage, a kicking, screaming fan is rescued from a beating, and half their home town roar their name. Endeacott, sure that they are the Libertines reborn, hugs everyone in sight. Whether next year makes them stars or not, right now the View's youthful euphoria is hard to beat.

'Superstar Tradesman' is out now on 1965 Records; The View's UK tour continues to 6 December ( www.theviewareonfire.com)

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

samedi, janvier 06, 2007

Lily Allen, girl of the year

A year ago, she was another hopeful uploading songs on MySpace.

Today, even your parents know who Lily Allen is. Hermione Eyre charts the irresistible rise of the biggest - and mouthiest - pop star of 2006.

Imagine the past year as a pop parade, and what do we see? McFly dressed up as soldier boys marching at the front, perhaps; Ghostface Killah borne along on a float made out of a massive gold medallion; Joanna Newsom riding on a unicorn, preceded by elves strewing meadowsweet; Jarvis, looking glum, dressed as a skeleton, being cheered to the rooftops; Sandi Thom getting jovially pelted with old fruit. Last but not least, here comes 2006's official pop princess, riding on a candy-pink float, wearing a tatty tiara, glugging on a beer can and throwing sherbets at the crowd: it's Lily Allen.

She's had a heck of a year. In November 2005, she uploaded four of her songs on to MySpace, the yoof networking site. They were witty ska-lite numbers, and as catchy as nits. By May they had been downloaded 1.3m times, and she had 24,000 close personal friends - or rather, close personal MySpace cyberfriends. This was a fanbase you could build a career and possibly a small town on, so Parlophone rush-released her first single "Smile", which went to number one in the singles chart in July. Lily was at the T in the Park festival in Scotland when she found out. "I was hammered and going up to all these boys in bands who were all skinny jeans and haircuts and I was saying, 'I'm number one and none of you are!' They all fucking hated me! Like, who is this obnoxious girl in a ball gown?"

Lily, as you may have inferred from just that snippet, shares everything, especially stories which make her look silly. She can't help it. It all comes babbling out, the disses - "Carl Barat is obviously convinced he is God or something" - the trivial confessions - "I wanna eat spaghetti bolognese and not feel bad about it for days and days and days" - the insecurity - "[at the gig] it was very apparent from the looks on peoples' faces how rubbish I was" - the vivacious highs, the poor-me lows. She blabs, in other words. Either to journalists, or on her blog at MySpace, or, best of all, in her music. Here she writes things that ring true, not things that sound good. "We'd spend the whole weekend lying in our own dirt/I was so happy in your boxers and your T-shirt" is not what you would call a classic love lyric, but there it is on her wistful break-up song "The Littlest Things". Why? 'Cos "that's what life is like, isn't it?" she chirrups. "It's not 'Oh yeah, crazy baby, will you be my lady?'"

She brought a breath of freshness, then, to 2006, as Amy Winehouse and Miss Dynamite did to their first respective years of fame. But can we pause, please? Quickly, before she becomes a diva, produces a concept album, marries three times, gets her autobiography ghosted and turns 22, can we freeze her now in all her puppyish (im)perfection, just for a moment? And while she is suspended thus, let us consider, what is this thing called Lily Allen? Wherefore was it made?

The background: "Lily Allen - child of privilege" is a tag that has provoked pantomime levels of debate. Oh yes she is! Oh no she isn't! Her famous father helped her get a record deal! Oh no he didn't! Enough already. Let us calmly survey the known facts.

Lily Rose Beatrice Allen was born in 1985, the second of three, to film producer Alison Owen (whose credits include Elizabeth and Shaun of the Dead) and TV personality Keith Allen (actor, singer, football pundit, man of the people, whatever). When she was four her dad left, and her mum, then a lowly production assistant, was "always on the phone to him for support"; nevertheless, Lily attended the prep school Hill House, and public schools Millfield and Bedales, amongst 10 other educational establishments.

She was Trouble, expelled twice, asked to leave three times; she ran crying from all her exams. "Education is great for some people but for me it just wasn't," she told Jo Whiley on Radio 1. Aged 11, though, at a London Catholic girls' school, she had a breakthrough. She sang "Baby Mine" from Dumbo so sweetly that all the parents in the audience started crying. They had known her previously as Angry Little Lily, a problem kid, she says, but now they saw she was good at something. Crowbarred into the way she tells the story is also the mournful little phrase: "My mum didn't turn up to the concert but all the other parents did."

This poor little rich girl, then, had membership of the Groucho aged 17, but perhaps never quite as much attention as she needed. "It was middle class and everything was quite comfortable, but everyone was mental". Her parents may not have been very rich, or very nurturing, but they were spectacularly well-connected, which, to the modern blogger, is the most unfair of all. On YouTube, a looky-likey called "Trilly Talent" rips into her, warbling an altered version of "Littlest Things": "I'd tell you sad stories about my childhood/ Like when I couldn't ride my pony till I'd finished all my pud." To be fair, Lily can take the joke, describing herself as "crushed" but the lyrics as "GENIUS".

The look: Street Cinderella; prom queen goes mad in Ratners.

Lily favours a tulle ballgown, decorated with half a tonne of hastily-chosen jewellery and finished off with a pair of Nike trainers. You can't say it's not her own look. She has her father's "shit-eating grin" and "brown boobly eyes", according to one journalist; to another she is a Muppet with a Beatles haircut. Strangely no one pointed out how much she resembles a baby dinosaur, until she posted pictures of herself online dressed as one.

The drugs: How are you going to celebrate your number one, Lily, asked the NME in July. Her answer apparently contained the words "gak" and "lots of". She has since made it very clear it was "a sarcastic joke" that the NME took out of context, sensationalised, used to their own publicity advantage, etc etc. But then again, Lily took her first pill at Glastonbury aged 13, at 15 she spent a summer in Ibiza working in Plastic Fantastic "selling E's and being bad". The years 16 to 19 are a dope haze. The only real proof that the comment to NME was a joke is her song that lambasts a friend for taking coke. "You're just a waste of time, girl/Why don't you have another line, girl?"

The internet: The poster girl of MySpace, she records on her blog that she spends, like, an hour and a half every morning accepting MySpace friends. She now has 100,000 of them.

MySpace made Lily Allen, but it has also got her into trouble. Pete Doherty? "I do think he has to be exterminated." Victoria Beckham? "I don't care how much she says that's her natural weight, that's bull." Bob Geldof? "Sanctimonious prat." Oh well. Three down, 99,997 friends to go.

She can also hit back online, to bad reviews, to "haters", or to the NME (see Feminism, below). "Probably a lot of tastemakers and music journalists are getting pissed off with me writing on MySpace because it's essentially eliminating them... I'm allowed to have views, aren't I? Isn't that the point of living?" The online diary allows for unlimited amounts of unmediated public self-expression. It's enough to drive a stalker crazy. We hear how her tour bus caught fire, how her Nintendo almost broke... She burns her toast, we hear about it. Already, we know her better than we know most long-established stars. Cyber-accelerated fame syndrome? Check.

The Woman Thing: "Being in this industry has turned me into a feminist because it just angers me so much the lack of respect and how patronising especially male journalists can be." The NME got her goat when they photographed Lily, Beth Ditto and The Long Blondes' Kate Jackson for a cover celebrating women in music, but then decided to feature male indie band Muse instead.

Hell hath no fury like a cover star scorned and Lily wrote that the NME "should take their heads out of their arses" and "think about their responsibilities to youth culture and to women in general". When the editor soothingly commented that she, Ditto and Jackson "brought new energy to the music scene" and were "living proof that you can still rock a crowd when you're wearing stilettos", Lily blew a gasket. "I mean how fucking patronising. Is that all we are, stiletto-wearing people? Is that all he could say, that we brought a 'new energy' to the music scene? Don't make me sick, we've always been there."

The future: Big names are after her. Chanel (because Karl Lagerfeld digs her look). Pharrell Williams might be her record producer. Whatever happens, she is determined to play Glastonbury next year: "That would make me so, so happy". And as for getting complacent? "I still feel like I've blagged all of this."

For more information about Lily Allen: www.myspace.com/lilymusic.

vendredi, janvier 05, 2007

The Long Blondes

The Long Blondes: Blondes' ambition.

The latest sensation from Sheffield isn't actually from Sheffield - but that's a mere detail, The Long Blondes tell Chris Mugan

"I think in the Sixties it was used to make pornos. It's got loads of amazing decor still intact, shag pile carpets everywhere, even on some of the walls. There's actually a sauna." Dorian Cox, the chief songwriter and guitarist in The Long Blondes, is describing a penthouse flat that he is using in Brighton. Not for a dirty weekend, mind, the kind of thing he might describe in one of his tales of desperate romance or doomed lust, but to shoot the video for forthcoming single "Giddy Stratospheres".

A fitting location, then, for a band that have come to encapsulate charity shop chic and budget escapism. Not cognisant with the idiom of Sixties UK blue movies, I dredge my mind for memories of those dire Seventies sex comedies, the Confessions... series and, most bizarre, Ronnie Corbett in No Sex Please - We're British. "That's one of our favourite ever films," Cox replies excitedly. "There's a particular scene from that me and Kate [Jackson, singer] can recite verbatim."

It is always handy in an interview to find the way to a person's heart. With the Blondes, it is picking the right pop culture references, though it is the girls in the band that have so far gained most attention. Since their early missives were released on obscure indie labels up and down the country, this Sheffield-based outfit have cut a dash in today's more-than-ever laddish band scene. Three-fifths of the group are female, while the band as a whole have stood out thanks to their penchant for smart slacks (for the boys) and chiffon scarves (for the girls), in sharp contrast to a horde of sportswear-clad pseudo-ruffians. Even the bard of Albion, Pete Doherty, has cut a deal with scally label Gio Gio. And all this is encapsulated in Jackson's eye-catching presence.

Her bright, if slightly raw, vocal has made an impact just as immediate as her dashing visual sense, part-Fifties high school, part Georgie Girl. Second-hand aesthetics that show cheap can be stylish, if not exactly classy. It is a theme continued in the artwork for the album, designed by Jackson herself, that shows a fair representation of Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, posing beside a red Seventies Ford Cortina.

Almost forgotten in the rush to celebrate this nascent style icon has been the guy responsible for writing most of the tunes on debut album Someone to Drive You Home. At least Cox is happy with this state of affairs. "I'm a very placid character," he shrugs, and goes on to explain how Jackson is a natural frontwoman. Cox, the bassist Reenie Hollis and the guitarist/keyboardist Emma Chaplin all knew each other in a tight-knit community in Sheffield. Now, the drummer, Screech Louder, and Hollis are an item, as are Cox and Jackson. "We all knew each other because we went to the same gigs, charity shops and second-hand record stores," Cox explains. "We were the only people that looked like we did in Sheffield at the time and you can tell someone's on the same wavelength as you just by what they wear. I don't know how the band started. I think it was one of those pub ideas. I knew Kate just from seeing her around and we all decided that she would make a perfect singer, it didn't matter what her voice was like."

Similarly, they recruited Louder, who "would look good as a drummer". None of the band had played in bands before, nor had Cox written songs. "I was always interested in the art of songwriting and it was nice to meet people through which I could realise my passion."

It is hard to believe, but Cox insists the band learnt to play by performing his songs written quickly so they had something to aim for. Another thing in common is they all hail from outside the city - Cox is from York, while Jackson came via Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire. What attracted them to study there was a rich musical heritage that had given us The Human League, Heaven 17 and Pulp, as Jackson admits.

"Sheffield is like an eccentric aunt. There's a lot wrong with it, but you like it anyway. We came because of Jarvis Cocker - he's a role model to all of us and a hero of mine - but we decided to stay because of the city."

"The fact we all moved there makes us more of a Sheffield band, in a way," Cox adds. "We've been consciously influenced by it, as opposed to Arctic Monkeys, who could exist in any town. It's a northern, working-class thing. They are just doing the same thing HARD-Fi are doing, wherever they come from. We're more interested in bands where it's not just about the everyday, but about refracting that through different cultural references and doing it in a more poetic way."

Yet the city was not the Mecca for hip young things that its pop output promised. "There's not really a lot to do there. It's not been reinvented like Manchester or Leeds," Cox admits. "They look like proper places as opposed to some post-industrial wasteland. Because of that, people have formed bands as a means of escape from the city. We'd never run into the Arctic Monkeys until we saw them backstage at festivals. We never saw them in Sheffield because they were doing the same thing as us."

This explains why escapism is such a massive theme running through the album. Sometimes it is a yearning to move away, as in "Separated by Motorways". Sometimes it is fantasy as in "Lust in the Movies" and elsewhere it is through a relationship, which "Giddy Stratopsheres" warns against.

"We were all doing pretty boring jobs after university, so that's why we formed a band," Cox admits. "If one word sums up why we are doing this, it's escapism." So it is not a problem writing songs for Jackson to sing. "I didn't really set out to write songs from a woman's point of view. I'm more inspired by people like Dusty Springfield and Scott Walker, whom songwriters gave material to and they made it their own. I like to think we're carrying that on with Kate."

Not that this has been a major challenge for Cox, inspired as he is by films anyone could sing about. There are the obvious references to Warhol muse Edie Sedgewick and Anna Karina on "Lust", though Cox is most pleased when fans notice more obscure imagery, such as the line on "You Could Have Both": "I feel like C C Baxter in Wilder's Apartment", an allusion to the black comedy where Jack Lemmon lets his superiors at work use his home for extra-marital trysts.

"It's nice when people come up to us at gigs and pull us up on things, especially when we've forgotten about it ourselves. People like Morrissey have always alluded to these things and caused people to go and look deeper. It is not just about playing guitar and being influenced by The Beatles or The Velvet Underground, it is more important to project a whole different universe.

"That's one of the strengths pop music has, you can completely immerse yourself and films are part of that. Morrissey references a lot of things from popular culture. It's not just your standard 'baby, baby' platitudes. It makes you search out what he is referencing."

"You Could Have It Both" also stands out as it contains Cox's only vocal delivery, albeit a deadpan spoken-word interlude in the manner of Gang of Four's Andy Gill or, more germane, Cocker. Though it did take a while for the rest of the band to convince Cox. "Everyone else said 'keep it in' and I've grown to accept it now. It harks back to a certain Sheffield music heritage and the male and female vocal gives it a Human League thing. I don't think I'll be doing it in the future, though."

It is not only their sartorial views that bind the group together. Alongside those is an independence of spirit that means only in the week of their album's release are they finally looking to recruit a manager. Not that they have missed one until recently, Cox explains.

"A lot of it is just common sense and easy to do if you have got a brain between you. You see a lot of managers that just go round with pound signs in their heads. They're telling their bands they're brilliant and it's all a bit creepy really. It was only when I was checking e-mails at four in the morning that I thought it got a bit annoying." "We've never been frustrated, though, just needed to be patient at times," Jackson interjects. "We've always had a strong idea of what we wanted."

So despite forming in 2003, it was only earlier this year that they inked a deal with reborn indie staple Rough Trade. Despite their well-groomed looks, The Long Blondes carry a lot of punk spirit, as well as tipping a hat to their more obvious inspirations.

"First and foremost, what inspired us to start were The Slits and X-Ray Spex," Cox says. "People that picked up instruments with no knowledge of what they were doing yet somehow got great songs out of it. All our favourite bands projected a whole image and lifestyle through their videos, interviews, whatever. You could tell they had complete control."

Not only punks, though. The band have a deep respect for the likes of Roxy Music and David Bowie, something that sets them apart from the street-urchin outfits that have followed in the wake of Arctic Monkeys. It is telling that Cox's response begins with a description of the foreboding Park Hill estate

"Historically, they always used to get the most radical architectural ideas and stick them in Sheffield. When you come into the train station, Park Hill is just a concrete wall. It just looks like something out of Eastern Europe, though they were amazing avant-garde flats that didn't fit the surrounding aesthetic at all. And they kept doing the same thing throughout the Seventies and Eighties, so you end up with a mish-mash.

"I like to think that's what we're like with our music. We don't stick to one particular style, we have a lot of stuff we like independently. When we started we had more of a Fifties influence than we do now, girl groups like The Shangri-Las. Then we moved on to more of a Seventies disco thing. I am not a big fan of the Arctic Monkeys' derivatives and there's all them bands and us, so we really stand out."

So while on the surface, The Long Blondes may sound like another angular guitar band, all is not as it seems. Their debut album is merely the snapshot of a band's struggle to find their sound in the public eye. Indeed, Hollis and Chaplin have had stick in the past for their lack of musicianship, something that Cox considers unfair.

"That's not something we hide, and certainly it was true a year ago, writing down what chords we were supposed to play, but we've worked really hard and been on tour so it's not an issue any more. I'd like people to listen to us and think they could do it themselves."

Cox claims the album shows their breadth of taste, something disguised in reality by a limited palate, though in the future the band could take any number of directions. "The first album sounds very live and knockabout, as a debut record should, but we're definitely getting into a lot more Donna Summer- and Giorgio Moroder-type stuff, though by the time we come to record the next album, we might have changed our minds and started listening to prog rock."

Dorian may only be joking, but it goes to show that blondes do have more fun.

'Someone to Drive You Home' is out now on Rough Trade

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

mardi, janvier 02, 2007


Let Paul Lester guide you through the minefield of new bands, to find a bunch of brainy punk-funksters who specialise in music to make girls dance.

Guardian Unlimited

Where's the herb garden?... Foals

Hometown: They're from Oxford, but they've just moved to Brighton where they share a three-storey house - with its own herb garden, in case you wondered.

The line-up: Jimmy (guitar, keyboards), Yannic (guitar, vocals), Edwin (keyboards), Walter (bass) and Jack (drums) - apparently, like Madonna and Jarvis, they don't need surnames.

The background: Foals are no fools - in fact, they're undergraduates who have just dropped out of Oxford Uni after one year to pursue a career as the brainiest punk-funksters in Britain. Another band for whom the Rapture's House of Jealous Lovers was Year Zero, Foals have just signed to Transgressive Records, home of Battle, the Young Knives and Polytechnic. With nothing available to buy as yet on CD, it's the live gig where Foals are in their element: they take Franz Ferdinand's "music to make girls dance" credo to the max, using guitars, drums, voice, bass and keyboards to make a sort of manic, organic, polyrhythmic electronica. But they're not indie kids: they're bang into techno and labels like B-Pitch and Kompact. To see the crowds going mental at their gigs to the intricate crossplay of chants and beats, you'd think you were at a rave. A new rave! Nah, it'll never catch on...

The buzz: Foals' techno-played-on-guitars shtick is wowing the cognoscenti: "They're like an Afrobeat Don Caballero," gasped a member of Franz Ferdinand, while a journalist who caught them onstage recently frothed at the mouth about their "quivering electro ferocity, interweaving Cif-clean guitars that sound like stars falling from space onto great lakes and clinically sharp stop/start drumming", before passing out.

The truth: If you were around circa 1980-1, the first time white punks got funk, you might not experience the quasi-religious ecstasy of yer average Foals nut. Nevertheless, this is pretty exciting stuff.

Most likely to: Cause a new dance sensation to sweep the nation called The Foal.

Least likely to: Make a second album of ambient chilltronica full of little fluffy beats and sheep bleats.

File next to: The Pop Group, Pigbag, Fire Engines, Klaxons.

What to buy: Foals' debut single, as yet untitled, will be released by Transgressive on February 12, 2007.

Useful links: Their MySpace page

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006