lundi, février 26, 2007

Shaun Ryder

Interview: Shaun Ryder.

It's great when you're straight.

With the help of aliens, he's off the methadone. Now the ex-Happy Mondays' singer wants to find his kids. By Miranda Sawyer

Sunday February 25, 2007

The Observer

Like Keith Richards or Shane MacGowan, Shaun Ryder is revered by those who believe that rock'n'roll should be lived as well as recorded. 'I still get five offers a day off the biggest nutcases around,' he tells me, 'asking me who I want murdered.'

For Shaun, this isn't weird. These nutcases are his fans. Though his heyday was in the early Nineties, when he and his harem-scarem band, Happy Mondays, led the Madchester scene that ushered in Britpop and rave, Shaun's star still shines brightly enough for him to be the subject of films (Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People) and documentaries (BBC 3's The Agony and the Ecstasy). And to have bullets sent to him in the post. 'Oh, aye, yeah. I get them all the time. Them and photographs. Snatch shots, mucky Polaroids.' He laughs his filthy, cig-rattled laugh.

You can't imagine James Blunt getting such heartfelt gifts, but then Blunt doesn't have Shaun's reputation. Straight out of Salford, Happy Mondays' loping, scuzzy groove was soon drowned out by their escapades, most of which involved heavy drug-use and thieving. They could be scary, but Shaun and Bez, the Mondays' dancer, were blessed with enough charm to become cartoons, Madchester versions of Shaggy and Scooby.

But that was then. Shaun is 44 now, and he has new management, new teeth, new music and a new attitude. Not that's he turned into Gillian McKeith, but he's slimmer, his eyes glint with mischief and his mad chat, the most engaging part of Shaun's talent, is back.

Our rendezvous is a London bar. Last time we met, about three years ago, Shaun wasn't at his best. Overweight, with rotten teeth and thickened speech, he was living in a small end-of-terrace house in Derbyshire with his then-girlfriend Felicia and their toddler, Joseph. When I say that he seems much better today, he takes this as a comment on his weight. 'Well, with methadone, you get that big pile-on,' Shaun explains, seriously. 'All that sugar.'

Finally, Shaun is opiate-free. A heroin addict by the age of 18, he came off smack several years ago, but found it harder to stop taking methadone, the heroin substitute, perhaps because he used to take both drugs together. For the past 14 years, he's tried everything: naltrexone implants, cold turkey, extreme rehab. Nothing worked. Which makes his current health all the more remarkable. How did he manage it? 'Exercise,' he says. 'Exercise and Hail Marys.'

Every day, Shaun gets up early and cycles, runs, skips, trains like a boxer, 'from about half past nine in the morning, until 10 at night'. He's not working at the moment, so it's just non-stop exercise for this all-new fitness freak. What's it like being straight?

'It's great. But it is freaky. I don't know whether it's all the rearranged molecules cos of the methadone, but I went through some kind of godly experience. It was pretty mental. It should have been on the Discovery Channel.'

Before we discuss Shaun's other-worldly encounters, however, it's time to take stock of what's really going on. Which is both not a lot and a shed-load. The dominant story is legal. No surprise there: the rock industry is about law and cash, as anyone who's ever been to the Brits will know.

The situation is this. In the mid-Nineties, Shaun signed a contract with his then-managers without reading it, when he was stoned. Since then, they've all been locked in legal dispute, with Shaun giving his ex-managers and solicitors several hundred thousand pounds, and still owing a huge amount. (The court deemed the contract unenforceable, and yet also enforced, because they all worked together for some time after it was signed.)

Anyway, he still owes them money. Most pop stars, other than Mick Jagger, are not natural accountants, and if there isn't someone close to them paying the bills, those bills go unpaid and debts go haywire. Shaun has had a series of conscientious girlfriends by his side, but when Felicia, his last partner, left him last year, his payments to his ex-managers lapsed, which violated a court order.

Since last month, all his assets have been frozen. Every penny he earns must go straight to the receivers. So, naturally enough, Shaun doesn't want to work.

'No, I do want to work,' he says. 'But if I do a [recording] deal, they'll just wipe it all up. They take everything. It's doing my head in. The amount of work you turn down ... this is the first time I've sat on my arse since I was 17. I was DJing for a bit, but I can't do that now. Everything gets taken off me. I can't stay in my house cos I can't pay the rent. I can't pay money for my kids. When Damon [Albarn] wanted to give me writing royalties for the Gorillaz stuff [Shaun sang on the 'Dare' single], I said, "Keep it. Have it, keep it, fuck it. There's no point."'

Shaun's current management tell me they're trying to negotiate a final settlement with his old managers. While he waits for this, Shaun has written several new songs with the re-formed Happy Mondays (of the original line-up, only Shaun and drummer Gaz remain, with Bez continuing as dancemeister). The songs sound promising, funky and woozy like all the best Mondays tunes, top-spun by Shaun's threatening growl. (Despite his new lifestyle, the subjects are the same as ever. 'Deviant' has a rapper asking him: 'Yo Shaun, you got the number for the guy with some?'). But no deal can be signed until Shaun's legal monkey is off his back, though the band are playing the Coachella festival next month.

That's not all he's got to worry about, however. Shaun's other pressing problem is his children. He has three with three different women. Jael, 16, lives in New York with mum Trish; Coco, 10, in Majorca, with her mother, Oriole; and Joseph, now four, is somewhere in Manchester with Felicia. The truth is, Shaun says, that he doesn't know their exact whereabouts, because their mothers, for various reasons, haven't kept him informed. He recently found out that Jael has been put into a residential school, but he's not allowed to phone or email her (he's written her a letter). He's negotiating to see Coco; he shows me some angry texts from Oriole that don't seem promising. And Joseph?

'Ah, that's the worst. Felicia's disappeared, moved address, not telling us where she is. She's not playing ball at all. I feel terrible; I haven't seen him since last April. Joseph loves me and I can imagine him going, "Where's Daddy? Where's Daddy?" and it's doing me in.'

Now Shaun's off the gear, he's finding it hard to cope with his emotions. 'I never had any feelings from 18 years old; now I feel like a ball in a pinball machine. I've only just grieved for my nan and she died in 1989. I've got a photograph of Joseph and I just look at it and tears come out. And Jael too - I could cry myself to sleep every night; it's terrible.'

There's a short pause. 'But,' insists Shaun, 'no way am I a preacher. People who want to take drink and drugs, let 'em do it.'

You're hardly an advert, Shaun.

'I'm all right. I'm positive.'

He is, too. He tells me, with glee, about the event that caused him to quit methadone. Shaun was, he announces, 'kidnapped by aliens'. He isn't joking. Shaun saw a UFO when he was 15 ('And once they see you, they do keep a check on you'), and it was after a Happy Mondays gig in Denmark last year that he and two other band members, Kav and Johnny, had out-of-body experiences.

I spend quite some time insisting to Shaun that he, Kav and Johnny must have been out of it, that someone must have spiked their drink, until Shaun just shouts: 'Or we was visited by aliens! I've had all sorts, I've had stuff from the Amazonian rain forest, but that doesn't explain the telepathy!' So I stop. Anyway, they asked the aliens some questions - 'they was a bit shady about Jael' - and the whole experience got him off methadone, so well done to the ETs.

Since then, Shaun's mood hasn't really dropped, despite his money and family troubles. He's moved in with a new girlfriend, Joanne, who he used to date 20 years ago, and they seem very happy. She has a 13-year-old son, Oliver.

He displays his new teeth, a present from his dentist, with great delight, too. 'Since I've had them done, I can do all sorts of impersonations,' he says, unprompted. 'Like, here's a cat [he gives a little miaow], here's my dog [woof] ... they're actually industrial diamonds, like what they stuck the tiles on the space shuttle with. They're worth about 25 grand.'

So if the worst came to the worst, you could sell your teeth.

'Or become a registered charity.'

Shaun would like to buy a house, which seems optimistic - he's even picked the area: Greengate, in Salford. He tells me that Sitting Bull and his braves disappeared into Greengate when they were travelling round Britain. They were wanted by the US government, says Shaun, 'and Sitting Bull and his braves say, "Fuck that" and they walk down Market Street, under the arches at Greengate and they disappear. The people of Salford hid them; they had lots of children, and now we all know why Salford's great!'

He grins. The man is ridiculously cheerful for someone whose future is uncertain, to say the least.

'Well, I feel all right,' he says. 'Most people would have hanged themselves in my position but you know you have a group of kids when you're seven, eight, nine, 10, your gang? Well, all the kids I grew up with, they're all dead. Shot. Dead, dumped in Tesco's pond. Dead. Or they've just got out of an 18-year sentence or an 11-year. I'm really lucky to be in the music business.'

I can't decide if he's right or wrong. Rock'n'roll goes with sex and drugs because both those vices are distractions; while your head's turned and your mind spun, there will always be someone rummaging through your pockets. Despite Shaun's street savvy, his heavy presence and scary connections, he still got done, didn't he? His life today is no kind of life. Someone should warn Pete Doherty.

Shaun's life so far

Born 23 August 1962, in Salford, Greater Manchester, eldest son of a postman and a nursery nurse. One brother, Paul.

Early Life Left school at 15 and, until the age of 28, could not get past the letter H in the alphabet. Sacked for stealing credit cards from his first and only non-music job as a messenger for the Post Office. Heroin-user since 18; moved on to crack but is now clean.

Career 1981 Formed Happy Mondays, a band at the forefront of the Madchester scene notorious for their heavy drug use.

1992 Happy Mondays split after four albums.

1995 Formed Black Grape with Mondays sidekick Bez and rapper Kermit.

1998 Black Grape split.

1999 Happy Mondays re-formed for one year.

2005 Co-wrote, with Damon Albarn, and rapped on Gorillaz' single 'DARE'.

Family Three children by three different women.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

vendredi, février 23, 2007

Joan as Police Woman

Joan Wasser played violin for Lou Reed and Nick Cave, but now she's a singing star in her own right.

By Charlotte Cripps.

One difficult moment for the cool New York singer/songwriter Joan Wasser (aka
Joan as Police Woman) was when she had to choose between being in two bands: Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright's.

A close buddy of Antony Hegarty's, of Antony and the Johnsons, whom she describes as her "spiritual guide", she considered his band home for years, until Wainwright asked her to join his band and also be his support act, opening his world tour in 2004.

This meant she could take the solo plunge as Joan as Police Woman, the indie art rock outfit she had formed in 2002, to sing her own chamber pop soul while touring with Wainwright.

For years, Wasser, 36 - who is reclining on a lush, red sofa in a bright café boudoir in Brighton wearing white tassled cowboy boots - has hidden herself from the spotlight. While summoning her own creative courage to go it alone, she was quietly notching up a reputation inside the music industry. As a classically trained musician - she took violin lessons as a child and went to Boston University to study music - she was drafted in to studio sessions to play violin with the Scissor Sisters, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Sheryl Crow and Sparklehorse. So what has taken her so long to take the reigns of her own career?

"I had to learn how to relax. It was a strange catch-22 because when you are physically relaxed in your voice, the beauty can come through you. But the more I thought about singing, the more freaked out I felt," Wasser says. "It just takes time. The violin had been my voice for ages. You have to learn it for yourself. You can't be there until you're there."

Wasser's touring schedule as Joan as Police Woman has been relentless since last March, when she left her Brooklyn brownstone on a tree-lined street, as seen on the American TV programme The Cosby Show. She couldn't be happier with her life right now on the road, which has also included a stint touring with hot newcomers the Guillemots, in May.

Her debut album, Real Life, released last June, has a hauntingly beautiful duet with her old boss Hegarty, titled "I Defy". "I was playing piano at Antony's Manhattan apartment, when I confronted his habit of undermining himself. It was like stop putting yourself down!" she shrieks. "The song is about what we were telling each other. It happened in a few hours." Her new, hypnotic single, "The Ride", also taken from her album, is re-released on 15 January.

The grounded but manic singer, who sporadically laughs out loud and says "awesome" and "are you crazy?" a lot while trying to work out her own chronology, has certainly lived a rock 'n' roll life. From 1994 she was Jeff Buckley's partner, until he drowned while swimming in Wolf River, Tennessee, in 1997. Around this time Wasser first picked up a guitar, straying from her violin. She was in her first band, the Dambuilders from 1990 until 1997 but, after Buckley's death, she spent some time singing and learning how to write songs, for the first time, in Black Beetle. This was the band she had put together with two of Buckley's band mates - Michael Tighe and Parker Kindred - as a way to get through the ordeal, having already performed with the band Those Bastard Souls, with Grifters guitarist David Shouse, Steven Drozd from the Flaming Lips and Fred Armisen of Trenchmouth. Wasser made a record with Black Beetle, which never came out because the band split right after recording it.

"It was incredibly difficult to grieve privately for those close to him - everybody wanted a piece of him - we were a very private couple," she says. "It took a while to get through that period, honestly. I never would want it to happen any other way because the fact that I survived it has made me such a strong person. It has actually really made me more compassionate."

After Black Beetle split, Wasser formed her own band, Joan as Police Woman. She was later joined by Ben Perowsky on drums and percussion, who has played for Elysian Fields and John Cale, while Rainy Orteca on bass has played with Lloyd Cole and Lou Reed; both of them sing backing vocals for Wasser. The band self-released recordings before they were signed in December 2005 by the tiny British indie label Reveal Records, which released a seven-inch single "My Gurl", as well as re-releasing Wasser's debut EP - followed by a smattering of singles including "Eternal Flame" and "Christobel". The debut album, Real Life, was also released in Europe, Asia and Australia by the record label Play It Again Sam. "It turns out the only place my album is not available is my home country. America is just horrifying for music. That's why I did a deal in the UK." The name Joan as Police Woman was suggested by a friend, who saw a similarity in Wasser to Angie Dickinson, who played the central character of Seventies television show Police Woman.

Born in 1970, Wasser grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut, with a younger brother, Dan. She was born in a home for unmarried teenager mothers and put up for adoption. She says she found solace in playing a violin. "I just always loved music. I was the girl with a mohawk playing the violin in high school. Everybody thought I was a freak. And guess what? I am."

She feels that her music is the "melding of the two styles" she loves the most: soul (Al Green, Nina Simone and Isaac Hayes) and punk (the Smiths, the Grifters and Siouxsie Sioux). She recalls that, after Buckley's death, when she first started singing, "it was terrifying" and her first bout of songwriting "was poetic and complicated". "I just kept trying to make my songs simpler and to get more to the point and be more honest. I was really trying to learn who I was as a person. I had no way of dealing with the trauma of Jeff's death and I needed to learn how to express myself. I thought if something [singing] scared me so much, I needed to learn something from it."

But to begin with, words seemed so secondary to Wasser. "For a while I just didn't know what I wanted to put out there lyrically. I had never used words before. Suddenly there was this whole new world of words. 'What have words got to do with music? Well - they are the lyrics, Joan!'" she yells, recalling when the penny dropped.

It was during Wainwright's tour that Tom Rose, of Reveal Records, asked Wasser if her debut EP could be his first release on his new record label. He had seen her singing, playing violin, electric and acoustic guitar and mandolin with Wainwright's band, as well as singing her own material. "He asked me to send him a box of 30 copies of the EP [Joan as Police Woman] that I was manufacturing myself - 30! I thought: 'Are you crazy?' Then he called me a week later. He wanted another box. Then he wanted to release it on his record label. It is what you hope will happen: that somebody real who is a lover of music wants to try to make it work with you."

Wasser's decision to go quieter, rather than loud - "I played violin through distortion pedals and huge amps" - was consolidated when she met the operatic pop diva Hegarty. "When I joined Antony's band in late 1999, I was surrounded by gentle people who became my family," she says. "Antony is very nurturing. That safety allowed me to continue making a surveillance of my life and learning who I was - ultimately becoming healthier and more able to be creative," she says.

"It reinforced the importance of making really quiet and caring music because I witnessed how Antony's music affected me. It helped me feel safe enough to heal."

She says that she gave up anger because she needed a change. "Anger is so easy," she says. "It only stems from other feelings you're not dealing with. I'm trying to get deeper. You've got to learn just to give anger up. What's going to happen is going to happen. Feel comfortable with the fact that you'll be able to deal with it, whatever it is."

Although Wasser happens to describe her own music as "the wind rushing through the forest" - there is nothing flaky about her. She sings about love and loss, as though she is born of Cat Power and Antony and the Johnsons. " I realise it is so more sexy to know yourself," she says, while her dark eyes dance beneath glittery eyeshadow. "Growing up and becoming adult is not boring. It means being responsible and connected to yourself. I learnt how to do this through music." The album Real Life, she says, " is about finding a way to be truthful with myself, after a real long time running away". It has taken her "a lot of patience to admit how I'm feeling - rather than to suppress it - until it comes out as a rage attack. This record is about learning to be real."

When Wasser finally took the solo plunge - she faced one of her worst fears, she says - "It was that nothing beautiful would come out of me and that people would throw tomatoes at me on stage." These days, the sultry Wasser who plays on Antony and the Johnsons' acclaimed album I Am a Bird Now is tipped to be the hottest new act of 2007.

Wasser has had to lay down her violin for her throaty and hauntingly beautiful voice - "because singing and playing violin, well, I've done it but it's not fun. I mean, it looks like the violin is growing out of your neck" - but she has added piano to her repertoire. To have studied classically - "I love learning discipline. It is a gift. You can use it in all areas of your life" - has helped Wasser.

But she says: "I think a lot of classical musicians do have a problem with not having the music in front of them on paper. I always had crazy shit going through my head, so improvising comes naturally to me."

Despite bouts of self-doubt along the way, she has never looked back. "I had to push myself to feel more comfortable and to not have to rely on anybody else," says Wasser. "That was the test. I had to decide to put myself first and actually give myself the opportunity to try with my own music, solely made with the purpose of being beautiful."

The single 'The Ride' is released on 15 January; the album 'Real Life' is available on Reveal Records;

vendredi, février 16, 2007

2007 Soundtrack

Zach Braff's long-time indie favourites, we're-not-new-ravers, Brum guitar heroes, backpack hip-hop revivalists - these are the 10 bands ready to step up to the big stage during the course of the coming year.

The Guardian

New bands: The Shins, Art Brut, The Kidz in the Hall and Findlay Brown

Lend them your ears... (clockwise from left) The Shins, Art Brut, The Kidz in the Hall and Findlay Brown

The Shins
In short: sensitive indie-poppers poised for the breakthrough

James Mercer, singer and songwriter with the Shins is skinny, sweet and slight, as regulations require for leaders of indie bands; as gentle in appearance as a long-eyelashed lamb and as polite as a church verger. He looks like his music sounds. But over two albums, his band have carved themselves a sizable niche within US alternative music: you've probably heard them, even if you don't realise it. Perhaps you saw the movie Garden State, in which Natalie Portman played the Shins' wistful ballad New Slang to Zach Braff in a doctor's waiting room ("You've got to hear this one song," she said, handing over her headphones, "it'll change your life").

The pre-release buzz for their third album, Wincing the Night Away (it was leaked to the internet in October), suggests the Shins have the opportunity to cross from cult concern - their first two albums sold around half a million copies each around the world - to major band. That said, the album's closing track, A Comet Appears, suggests a bleak outlook: "Let's carve my ageing face off/Fetch us a knife/Start with my eyes, down so the lines/Form a grimacing smile." The song ends with this cheering thought: "There is a numbness in your heart, and it's growing."

"That makes us sound emo," Mercer laughs when the lyric is read back to him. "Well, we were called emo, you know, when the term was used to describe Fugazi, and in a way, it made sense. They played emotive punk; we played emotional songs. Emotionally tough stuff. But then, suddenly, I was hearing this emo, candy-ass bullshit." He smiles and shakes his head. "But I guess the last three years of my life have been very emo."

Three years ago, Mercer says, "I'd just bought my first house, the dream of my life. I found out one night at two in the morning that next door was a crack house. So much hope ... So much hope was there, and suddenly that was gone." He'd also come to the end of a destructive personal relationship and was falling out with friends who'd helped the band out financially before the cult success of Oh! Inverted World in 2001 and Chutes Too Narrow in 2003. "I was all, 'Hey, I need help. My neighbours, these gangsters, are threatening me.' Late at night, when you can't fucking sleep, obsessing about these negative things, you go places you never would go." He shudders. "So there was a lot to write about."

Songwriting to Mercer is therapy, pure and simple, then? "It's catharsis. You get this chaos and cut it to bits and suture it together and then go, 'Yes, done.' I wanted to get rid of this bitterness, resentment, this darkness. I wanted to fucking expel something." Suddenly, Mercer is interrupted by a power ballad coming through the speakers in the west London hotel where we meet; a silky-knickers kind of baritone bellowing a lovelorn "Woaahhhh!" Mercer crumbles into laughter and addresses the bar. "Jesus, hear me here, man! I'm trying to turn this shit into something polished." He shakes his head. "This happens all the time. It's impossible for me to appear ever manly or," he laughs, "masculine when I'm trying to get my point across, without something embarrassing happening." His raises his eyebrows. "I live a very Woody Allen kind of existence."

It's useful to think of Mercer of the Woody Allen of indie: literate, self-deprecating, witty. And, he says, he prizes intelligence in songwriting more than anything else. "The most enjoyable part of this all is the craft. The trying to be clever - the 'math' of pop music."

English pop music has always driven him, making him care for cleverness and catchiness in equal amounts. He fell in love with the Beatles as a child, "the really sentimental, soft-hearted stuff like Yesterday", then landed in the middle of British indie's golden age when his air force father moved the Mercers to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk in 1985. "1985 to 1989 - 15 to 19 years old. What luck, man. The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure." He didn't find those bands depressing; they were, to him, uplifting. "It was like: wow, I feel right at home here with this music. It's so powerful. It made me feel like I was connecting with somebody, this person singing, turning your shitty life into something beautiful. It's such fucking validation."

When he got back home, "here I was with my curtain haircut, into the Stone Roses" and his friends were head-banging to Poison and Mötley Crüe. But as the 90s wore on and the American indie scene kicked off, Albuquerque, New Mexico became a good place to be. It was the only stop-off city between Texas and Phoenix, Arizona: "You had to play Albuquerque to get gas money to keep going." So Mercer's band opened up for Rocket from the Crypt, Polvo and Tsunami, bands that he reasons "really changed us, and really changed the music scene of the States. We felt really part of that American indie scene." But now in 2006, with the Shins long since uprooted to Portland, Oregon, where do they fit in? Mercer has no idea. "It's actually unnerving. What kind of person would like us? We've come from nowhere. I feel like we don't fit in anywhere. But everything's going so well with us, so we're giving this a go. People love us. People do. And I have no reason why." Surely Garden State was part of it? "For sure. Zach did an amazing thing for us. And what was great was that he did it as a fan. Zach gave a little band a platform. He introduced us to people who may never have known us otherwise." Mercer shakes his head and returns to his earlier fears. "I guess the doubts are more to do with my damn personality."

These doubts are a throwback to the old James Mercer. The new one is much brighter. Some time ago, he moved out of the house with the crack dealers next door, and two years ago met a woman who recently became his wife. "And the positive side is that I really went through all that shit, and this record came from it. I'm happier now than I've ever been." But can you make a good record again, if you've got nothing to be mad about? Mercer swigs his beer. "I still have a dark side, you know. I can go there on demand." And suddenly something makes him laugh: "You know, I planned ahead anyway. I saved some of the hard shit for the next record just in case."
Jude Rogers

Hear them: Wincing the Night Away is out on Transgressive on Jan 29;

New Young Pony Club
In short: partying like its 1988, with squiggly synths and glowsticks

Tahita Bulmer's voice takes on a pained tone. "What," she demands rather haughtily, "does new rave actually mean?" It's a fair enough question. Despite a lot of music press hyperventilation about a new movement headed up by the Klaxons and apparently primed to irrevocably alter the musical landscape in 2007, no one seems to know precisely what new rave is supposed to entail, apart from the consumption of ecstasy and the waving of glowsticks. Neverthless, it's slightly disappointing to hear it coming from the lips of a woman recently proclaimed the Queen Of New Rave by the NME, which also bestowed upon her the hotly-contested title of 15th Coolest Person in the World: reward for her band New Young Pony Club's ascent from minority interest with "quite a big following in Scandanavia" to hotly-tipped indie-dance act (equal parts Stranglers, Tom Tom Club and the DFA, according to their website). You might know them from their recent single, the aloofly funky Ice Cream, which ended up soundtracking an advert for Intel Core 2 Duo processors, a curious fate for a track that examines food as a metaphor for oral sex more thoroughly than any record since Serge Gainsbourg's Les Succettes. "I suppose we can sketchily use the term new rave," she continues, "but I think it's best to say 'bands with songs with a dance influence underpinning them'."

That is not the snappiest title ever devised for a nascent musical genre, but in her defence, Bulmer doesn't seem much like the Queen of New Rave. Rather than the saucer-eyed, platitude-spouting flower-child the title implies, she sounds eminently sensible and rather head-girlish. She abandoned her previous band, who specialised in chill-out, because "they wanted me to stand still on stage, which was anathema to me, it just wasn't the visceral thrill I signed up for." She dismisses indie music as "four skinny boys in leather jackets singing songs that don't really mean anything about their ex-girlfriend that they don't like anymore and ripping off bits of William Blake", but is far more clear-eyed about the chances of imminent new rave musical revolution - or, rather an imminent bands-with-songs-with-a-dance-influence-underpinning-them revolution - than anyone at the centre of a storm of hype has any right to be.

"You get people writing oh, new rave is taking over the world and it isn't, it so isn't," she says. "The kids don't give a shit. You do kind of worry that there's all this hype and everybody is going to expect one of these bands to cross over and do really well and to be honest, I don't think the overall musical palette of this country is ready for it. It's just not going to happen and the idea that it's going to happen is ridiculous. Almost any band, regardless of how underground they want to be, has one song that could potentially be a hit single. But that doesn't mean that their album is not going to be something sonically challenging that a lot of people won't be able to get their head around."

But then she brightens, perhaps bolstered by the thought of New Young Pony Club's eagerly-anticipated debut album, or their forthcoming tour with the Klaxons and Brazillian electro-rockers CSS. "There's loads of potential in this scene. People seem to be developing a sort of supermarket of style ethic in their music taste, they're quite happy to have a Prodigy record next to an old Rolling Stones record. It's ripe time for things to be changing, because how many more Libertines-like bands do we need?"
Alexis Petridis

Hear them:

The Twang
In short: either the new Happy Mondays or the new Flowered Up, according to preference

It has been, Phil Etheridge is happy to concede, a surprising few months for the Twang, the band he fronts. First, Radio 1's Edith Bowman turned up at a gig in their hometown of Birmingham. Thrilled by the Twang's admittedly impressive collision of loose-limbed dance beats, echoing guitar lines and Streets-like sung-spoken vocals that unexpectedly erupt into terrace-rousing choruses, Bowman began enthusing about the unsigned quintet on her show, which was, says Etheridge "a mad compliment". Then the music press began not merely taking an interest, but calling them the best new band in Britain, about which Etheridge doesn't "want to give it the fuckin' big one ... I don't want to sound really boring, but if we get a record out, we've achieved more than most fuckers do, innit?" Next, the Twang signed with record label B-Unique, home of Kaiser Chiefs. The label teamed the band up with Steve Osbourne, co-producer of the Happy Mondays' Pills'n'Thrills and Bellyaches, and packed them off to Peter Gabriel's plush Real World Studios. "You get en suite bathrooms," marvels Etheridge, "and three meals a day. They do a great chicken."

But perhaps the most striking thing Etheridge has noticed is a sudden change in attitude towards the Twang among Birmingham's rock venues. "We've been fucking banned from everywhere for about three years," he says, "but now they're all asking us to play." The problem, Etheridge is quick to point out, is "never the band", but "the lads playing up". "The lads", it transpires, are the Twang's local following, who display what a recent press release tactfully described as "a tendency to squeeze as much fun out of every show as possible". Etheridge sighs in a slightly exasperated manner. "No. Well, yeah. It's bollocks though. Most venues, right, you've got no doorman and one student on the bar and if 50 lads turn up, you know, they're going to play up, aren't they?" He brightens up. "It's getting good now, though. Most people are starting to get it and enjoy it and have a dance. It's not pogo music, you know. That's more of a riot," he huffs, "people bouncing around and fucking jumping on each other."

Despite his protestations, a certain reputation for misbehaviour has already firmly attached itself to the Twang. If, as Etheridge complains, this sort of thing has nothing to do with their music it seems unlikely to do their public profile any harm: in a rock world populated by decent blokes Making Trade Fair, there's clearly a vacancy for a band who can generate juicy copy. But mention of it brings on another weary sigh. "There seems to be a lot of concentration on the fact that we're mad lads or hooligans. But we're not mad lads, man, we're just mischievous. They're dying for a bunch of lads who are writing good tunes, though, ain't they? I'm not knocking them, because we've met a few of them and they're top lads, but most bands start at uni, don't they? And they write songs about ..." - he searches for the right word - "rivers, man. And because we don't, they fucking love us. But they said we pulled out a samurai sword in the middle of a club! I mean, where would you hide the fucker to get into the first place? I weigh 10-stone-eight mate, I ain't built for fucking rowing. It's all about your tunes, it ain't about your jeans." He emits a filthy cackle. "Even though I do wear really fucking good jeans."
Alexis Petridis

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In short: the new wave of Parisian hip-hop

Though the history of French hip-hop is far from bare, with acts such as MC Solaar and Saïan Supa Crew having achieved domestic success, its presence on the international stage has been limited. So it's a surprise that Paris's TTC could be one of this year's breakthrough hip-hop acts.

Tido Berman, Téki Latex and Cuizinier - the three MCs who comprise TTC; the letters also stands for toutes taxes comprises, the "all taxes included" stamp found on most French price tags - are smart and literate, but never let that get in the way of the more important issues - namely rapid-fire wit and chat about how great Paris, girls, parties, girls at parties in Paris, and TTC themselves are. Set over beats that take their cues from European electro (Parisian dance producer Para One is responsible for over half the cuts on their album 3615ttc , and the trio have worked with Berlin techno pranksters Modeselektor) as well as American hip-hop (tongue-twister raps and squealing crunk synths), the result is irresistibly bouncy music destined to set dancefloors alight throughout 2007. And - pay attention, hip gunslinging French teachers - it could well be a way to enliven those écoutez exercises as well.
Alex Macpherson

Hear them: 3615ttc is released on Big Dada on Monday;

Findlay Brown
In short: the interesting James Blunt

Don't judge Findlay Brown by his new song, Come Home, which is currently serving as the tastefully strummy "soundbed" to a MasterCard TV ad. It's a deceptive introduction to a songwriter whose true metier is haunting, indigo-hued acid-folk. But if MasterCard helps point the way to Brown's more sensual work, it will have been worth it.

Growing up in the countryside near York, Brown was going to join the army, until, at a teenage party, he encountered both LSD and Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland album. It was a pivotal experience that inspired him to buy a guitar (paid for by selling off a set of Beatles autographs that had belonged to his grandfather), and start making his own lysergically twisty music.

A limited-edition single, Losing the Will to Survive, got repeat Radio 1 airplay a few months ago, so he's in the right place to edge out the two Jameses (Blunt and Morrison) who dominate this corner of pop.
Caroline Sullivan

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Last Gang
In short: the Yorkshire Clash

What's in a name? Wakefield's upstart punks were originally called Last Gang in Town, after Marcus Gray's biography of the Clash. The trouble was, everyone they knew shortened it to Last Gang, and so the band followed suit. The result? Major labels sniffing around.

The four members - Kristian Walker (vocals, guitar), Maff Smith (bass, vocals), Ritchie Townend (guitar, vocals) and Matt Knee (drums) - do have the gang mentality of bands such as the Clash and the Who, getting involved in endless scrapes and immortalising them in song. October's debut single Beat of Blue (on the small Leeds label 48 Crash) saw them crying out: "You're going home in the back of a police van" over a ridiculously catchy melody, which saw them hurriedly snapped up by Sony, the label that owns the Clash back catalogue.

Comparisons are not inappropriate. Like Strummer and co, Last Gang specialise in head-rushing harmonies and are more than capable of experimenting with reggae; the Rock Against Racism logo features prominently on their myspace site. However, their sound has a poppier edge, referencing other British pop hallmarks such as Madness, the Housemartins and Buzzcocks. Stepping up into major-label territory is a quantum leap from their feverish gigs in pubs, but the band has some killer tunes and a bittersweet northern effervescence that may take them from Wakefield to the world.
Dave Simpson

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The View
In short: the Libertines, the Fratellis, the View

While Pete Doherty barely bothers with his own career, it's him that the View have to thank for kick-starting theirs. In September 2005, bassist Keiren Webster thrust a demo tape by the View into Doherty's hands before Babyshambles played a gig in the quartet's hometown of Dundee. After listening to the songs - and perhaps hearing echoes of the exhilarating life, humour and charm of his former self - Doherty offered the band a support slot for that night's gig and recommended the View to the man who discovered the Libertines, James Endeacott. The View are now signed to Endeacott's 1965 label and following the success of singles Wasted Little DJs and Superstar Tradesmen, the band are releasing a debut album, Hats Off to the Buskers, which should see them enjoy the kind of success the Libs squandered.

They share a similar spirit too, though the View have softer hearts. "I don't want money, I want the thing called happiness," sings Kyle Falconer, "I don't want cash, no, I quite like memories." Blessed with Falconer's adroit vocals, which shift from angelic to depraved at toddler tantrum speed, their adrenalised punk and boozy pop celebrates the Dryburgh housing estate they grew up on and eulogises the local heroes hanging around outside the corner shop. Always exciting, if sometimes unintelligible, the View are set to become the new favourite band of those who those who snapped up albums by the Kooks and the Fratellis last year. As Falconer sings: "You'd be amazed at what you can achieve in a year."
Betty Clarke

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The Kidz in the Hall
In short: graduates take hip-hop back to the source

Despite hip-hop being in the commercial doldrums - the genre that has dominated US record sales for over a decade produced only one album, TI's King, that shifted more than 1.6m copies in 2006 - there may be some benefits if the music stops pandering to the lowest common denominator. If so, the Kidz in the Hall - Chicago rapper Naledge and New Jersey DJ Double O - will clean up.

The pair met at university in Philadelphia, and after various guest spots and mixtapes, their debut album proper was released in the US in October on a resuscitated Rawkus, the imprint synonymous with the rise of the "backpack hip-hop" of Company Flow, Mos Def and Talib Kweli in the mid-1990s. School Was My Hustle is released in the UK in February, and has already been hailed by Hip-Hop Connection as "by far the best LP" the label has ever released.

A succinct 12 tracks, the album is a classic: eschewing the flab and flam of today's bloated rap LPs, it concentrates on lyrical firepower and cohesive musical muscle. Like fellow Chicagoans Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, Naledge leavens his street talk with words of consciousness and wisdom, while the production pays exciting, enticing homage to hip-hop's sampled roots. Set it alongside albums from the golden age hip-hop duos - Gang Starr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, even Eric B & Rakim - and it more than holds its own.
Angus Batey

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Art Brut
In short: they're not jokey, they're quirky

Dismissed as a novelty band when they bounded out of south-east London back in 2003 - despite acclaim overseas - Art Brut have spent the past year proving they're anything but a lame gag. They've been on the cover of German Rolling Stone, toured the world and have been lauded by the tastemaking Pitchfork media website; now they intend to be taken seriously at home.

Frontman Eddie Argos is both the point of Art Brut and the reason some have dismissed them: he's a fiendishly arch budget amalgam of Morrissey, Mark E Smith and David Niven. He is the anti-Johnny Borrell, a man with wit, bucketloads of charm and a bit of a tummy. The band's second album is set to be released in June 2007, and, says Argos, "it's a pop album." He smirks. "I dunno if it'll be popular, though."

That's because, even as he strives to be taken seriously, he can't help treating things as a joke. Art Brut's first album featured a song called My Little Brother, so, he says, "I've been joking with people about writing My Little Sister for a while, but I've actually gone and written it now. I see her and she's having loads of fun and I'm just jealous of her and of being 16."
Leonie Cooper

Hear them: Art Brut's first album, Bang Bang Rock'n'Roll is available on Fierce Panda;

Pull Tiger Tail
In short: it might be pop, it might be punk

They look a little like a chiselled boy band, but Pull Tiger Tail have already served their apprenticeship in the nether reaches of indiedom. The trio previously made up three-quarters of John Peel favourites Antihero, and before signing to B-Unique, the label of choice for indie crossover success (Kaiser Chiefs, Ordinary Boys), had released a limited-edition single, Animator. The style - cemented on follow-up Mr 100 Percent - is punchy, catchy and ever so slightly off-centre guitar rock, harking back to new wave.

Too shiny to be in the grotty indie bracket, but too hard-edged to be purely pop, the group stands out from their indie peers, and frontman Marcus Ratcliff has the looks to appeal to fans not normally found in scuzzy pub venues. A new single is due in March and a debut album in the summer, so expect PTT to be one of the sounds of this year's festival season.
Leonie Cooper

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Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

samedi, février 10, 2007

Luke Haines

Luke Haines

Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop

(Degenerate Music)

Alexis Petridis

The Guardian

Luke Haines
It seems almost spiteful to bring up Luke Haines' name at a time when music journalists are impelled to write articles predicting what new artists are going to be big next year. Casting the bones of rock and pop is a thankless enough task without being reminded of previous disasters in musical forecasting, and musical forecasts come no more disastrous than that emblazoned on the cover of a now-defunct weekly 14 years ago. There was Luke Haines, glowering above a headline that claimed his band the Auteurs were about to achieve untold commercial success.

In fairness, Haines didn't disappear in quite the same way as, say, Terris, a gobby Welsh band who were supposed to take over the world in 2000, then vanished off the face of it so completely one began to suspect the involvement of the Chilean secret police. Nevertheless, it swiftly became apparent that the music weekly's prediction had perhaps erred on the side of rashness. Within a couple of years, all talk of untold commercial success had ceased. Haines threw himself off a 15ft wall while on tour in Spain, breaking both his ankles.

The British public proved curiously resistance to the idea of making a Christmas hit out of an Auteurs single called Unsolved Child Murder. There was a moment in 2000 when it looked like the prediction might belatedly come true - his post-Auteurs band Black Box Recorder had a Top 20 hit with a single called The Facts of Life - but the moment swiftly passed, hurried along by Haines' decision to give an interview in which he called the band's record label "fucking cunts".

Six years on, with no sign of his intriguing-sounding projected stage musical about notorious property tycoon Nicholas Van Hoogstraten, even the musicians who collaborate with him seem to view Haines as synonymous with commercial failure on such a scale that thinking about it too much can bring about a pronounced case of existential despair. A few weeks ago, on the Guardian website, you could find John Moore, his former Black Box Recorder cohort, blogging about meeting an old friend while touring with Haines. "She is now a highly successful solicitor," he lamented. "I, on the other hand, am playing saw with a man who sings about Gary Glitter, Peter Sutcliffe and Sir Oswald Mosley."

It would be a sad story, were it not for the fact that Luke Haines is such an extravagantly talented songwriter, both unique and, one suspects, uniquely unsuited to mainstream success. It's a fact underlined by the title track and lead single from his 11th album: for Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop, Haines called upon the services of sometime Sugababes and Rachel Stevens producer Richard X, then put him to work remixing a song that references transgressive performance artists the Viennese Aktionists, the 1914 Vorticist art journal Blast, Hungarian photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Nazi anthem The Horst Wessel Song. Despite the producer's ministrations, the charts remained mysteriously un-busted.

It sets the tone for the rest of the album, which manages to be both accessible and deeply unsettling, matching crunching glam-rock guitar riffs and huge choruses to subject matter most songwriters would steer well clear of. The Walton Hop makes blackly comic capital from the topic of the teenage disco frequented by convicted child sex offenders including Jonathan King.

Pop-related paedophilia crops up again on the closing Bad Reputation, which retells the story of Gary Glitter's downfall from the perspective of a member of his backing group, aghast at the effect The Leader's sexual proclivities are having on his own standing. It offers perhaps the most improbable singalong chorus of the year: "Gary Glitter - he's a dirty old man, ruining the reputation of the Glitter Band." Leeds United is both naggingly catchy and about the Yorkshire Ripper murders. In the same way that the topics explored on Haines' remarkable terrorism-obsessed 1996 album Baader Meinhof suddenly seemed far less esoteric five years after its release, it makes for pretty queasy listening in light of current events: "In the House of Lords, the Chamber of Horrors at Madam Tussauds, out with the old, we've got to make room for them all."

Occasionally, Haines' desire to provoke verges on the suicidal. That Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop was released to a response muted even by Haines' standards may have less to do with its quality than with the presence of Heritage Rock, a viciously funny satire apparently aimed at the handful of magazines that usually champion him. Then again, one of the artists lovingly alluded to on the title track is Wyndham Lewis, the brilliant painter and sculptor whose belligerence effectively scuppered his own career, leaving him, as one contemporary put it, a "lonely old volcano".

It's a description that fits Luke Haines pretty well, but as Off My Rocker proves, when he erupts, it's still pretty spectacular.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

samedi, février 03, 2007

Snow Patrol live

Scottish softies turn snow to slush.

They made the biggest-selling album in Britain this year, but Snow Patrol are as joyless live as on record. Maybe it's time they took a holiday in Mali ...

Kitty Empire

The Observer

Snow Patrol G-Mex, Manchester

Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody staggers around the stage, eyes screwed shut. Scotland's most eligible bachelor (source: Scotland on Sunday) shakes and gangles and spasms, all musicianly joy. Backlit, his enormous shadow falls on the lovely Victorian walls and graceful arched ceiling of this former railway shed in the centre of Manchester. The song is 'It's Beginning to Get to Me', from Snow Patrol's fourth album, Eyes Open

But the moves are at odds with the tunes. Lightbody's strutting and fretting suggests he's at the helm of some bucking Viking ship of rock. He is, in fact, in charge of a giant train set of a song, one that goes round and round and round on one riff, and which, depending on the brand of battery used, could go on indefinitely. It's the kind of song whose calculated tension really doesn't warrant split trousers and auto-erotic rock whiplash.

Snow Patrol have many songs like this, that build and build and build to something slightly damp with regret. They have carefully constructed a very successful latterday career on them. 'Run' the breakout hit from their pivotal album, 2003's Final Straw (received ecstatically tonight) set the template.

'Chasing Cars', the gateway single from Eyes Open - a song recently nominated for a Grammy, thanks in part to TV airplay on Grey's Anatomy in the States - does it too. Some of these songs get to a climax. Some of them - like sing-song ballad 'How to be Dead' - craftily withdraw, just before the moment of rock jouissance. The trick, once spotted, is hard to ignore. Over the course of a long gig the cumulative effect is of a giant disembodied hand, drumming its fingers, wiping a tear now and again.

Wow, can tension be dull. Snow Patrol's concatenation of rueful builds is relieved, if that's the right word, by a smattering of songs from the vaults. The first is 'Starfighter Pilot' the band's first single, from nearly a decade ago. They were called Polar Bear then, and sounded, at times, like a baggy version of Sonic Youth. They were signed to Jeepster, home of Belle & Sebastian, and they were very, very indie.

How times change. Now they are supersized, indie gone grand. Let's call it 'grandie'. In late November Eyes Open overtook Arctic Monkeys and became the biggest-selling album of 2006 in the UK. Phew: for a while there it was looking like a great record brimming with wit, vigour and originality might actually scoop the top sales prize.

Thankfully, good sense has prevailed. Britain can pat itself on the back, having embraced an album with all the texture and edge of a security blanket doused with fabric softener. The commercial honours of the last few years - Blunt, Keane, Dido, even the distinctly classier Coldplay - tell a sorry tale. We see bands as things with which to wipe our tears, where once they were, properly, rabble-rousers, Pied Pipers and volatile party kindling.

That said, it is hard to actually hate Snow Patrol. That's because it is hard to summon up any strong feelings at all about a band cast, tonight, in heroic dimensions by small player-cams that project their antics on to a jigsaw of screens behind the stage. They are affable Northern Irish and Scottish guys, who put in many years in the rock mines. You'd rather be stuck in a lift with them than Kasabian. Lightbody says dutifully rude things about George Bush. The singer's side project, the Reindeer Section, provided work for many a musician down on their luck. A Section song is reprised tonight, with guests Iain Archer on guitar and Declan O'Rourke on trumpet. And Snow Patrol have one claim to genuine greatness, current single 'Set the Fire to the Third Bar', the tension of which bears fruit: actual goosebumps. Martha Wainwright's ghostly vocal is taken by Miriam Kaufmann tonight, but the song's enchantment is intact.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006