‘I am nothing and should be everything’

March 26, 2009 at 1:54 pm (Music)

New Manic Street Preachers album and tour details revealed.

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Since revealing that their new album would feature lyrics bequeathed to them by the late (?) Richey Edwards, interest in the Manic Street Preachers 9th studio album has skyrocketed. While the band had already been enjoying somewhat of a renaissance following the release of ‘Send Away the Tigers‘ and a subsequent ‘God-like Genius‘ award from the NME, the prospect of some form of involvement from Richey has lead fans to believe they could be in for something truly special.

Now the Manics have released tour dates to accompany the album and revealed that they will be performing the new album, ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’, in its entirety in one half of the show before a selection from their now massive back catalogue in the second half.

The Manics, back in the day

The Manics, back in the day

Speaking about the decision to finally use Richey’s lyrics, Nicky Wire said ”The brilliance and intelligence of the lyrics dictated that we had to finally use them. The use of language is stunning and ‘La Grande Odalisque‘ by Ingre, Marlon Brando, Giant Haystacks, celebrity, consumerism and dysmorphia, all reiterating the genius and intellect of Richard James Edwards”

The album will be produced by Steve Albini, is due for release on May 18th and is described as having a ”classic Holy Bible sound, with elements of Nirvana’s ‘In Utero‘ as well as a delicate, beautiful acoustic side”.

In anticipation, here’s the band at its finest.

Tour Dates:

25 May            GLASGOW, Barrowlands 08444 999 990

26 May            LLANDUDNO, Venue Cymru Arena    0871 2200 260 / 01492 872 000

28/29/30 May  LONDON, Roundhouse                    0871 2200 260 / 0844 482 8008

1 June             WOLVERHAMPTION, Civic Hall         0871 2200 260 / 0870 320 7000

2 June             BRIGHTON, Dome                          0871 2200 260 / 01273 709 709

4 June             DUBLIN, Olympia 00353 818 719 300

6 June             BELFAST, Ulster Hall 0870 243 4455

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”From the posh flats….

March 21, 2009 at 10:47 am (Tracks) (, , , )

….down to the slums

And it aint top hats and it isn’t all guns,

And you wont get shanked if you go to a club,

But you might get spiked and you might get robbed…..”


Further signs of genius from Akira The Don.

Werewolves of London‘ features another inspired sample (this time from Warren Zevon’s 1977 track of the same name), coupled with Akira’s typically excellent lyrics about everyone’s favorite target of ire, unscrupulous landlords.  Tanat & Jones, we’re coming for you!

The track  is available on Akira’s ‘Thieving‘ mixtape, or in the playlist to the right of the website homepage, it’s track 7.

The Don is set to unleash Album no 2, ‘The Life Equation‘ soonish.

Rah!

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‘I heard it said you had come back from the dead……

March 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm (Gigs) (, , , , )

…and you were playing so fine, scooping up the soul of the wine’

Peter Doherty, Brighton Dome, 19/03/09

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It’s fair to say that there is still an element of uncertainty surrounding Peter Doherty.

While it would appear that 2009 may finally be the year in which he finally gains some semblance of control over his career, addictions, and life in general, we have all been here too many times before. There have been too many broken promises, squandered opportunities, no shows and downright lies from the wayward minstrel since The Libertines imploded in 2004 for even his most ardent fans to take any suggestions of a ‘new, cleaned up Pete finally ready to fulfil his promise’ with a fistful of salt.

So there is still a slight air of trepidation surrounding the Dome tonight, it may just be the relative majesty of the building confusing some very drunk minds, but the crowd milling at the bar look slightly nervous and, truth be told a little lost. Scenesters clad in Libs era military jackets rub shoulders uneasily with balding beer bellied dads, Hacket shirted lads, old school skins and, most alarmingly, a number of people wearing shellsuits, in what one can only hope is a gesture of irony.

'Love you Pete!'

'Love you Pete!'

Although it would be nice to think that such diverse clientele is symptomatic of Doherty’s ability to bring people together in a live environment, it is probably more indicative of the fact that for many, his career is now little more than a soap opera. It seems likely that many of tonight’s crowd have a first experience of the man through a tabloid headline involving some arrangement of the words ‘Smack’, ‘Kate’, ‘Insanity’, ‘Blackmail’, ‘Squalor’ and ‘Jail’, and are simply here to see the fireworks go off.

So we take our seats in the Dome’s plush balcony shortly before 9:30 when Doherty is meant to take to the stage, and anticipate a lengthy wait.

I’ve barely had time to point out some of the Dome’s more interesting archaeological features to my associate when the lights darken, the music stops, and Peter Doherty strolls confidently onstage lit from beneath by a sea of blue lit mobile phones. He looks in good shape. No longer quite so drawn out pallid and wide eyed, he gives a jovial wave to the audience, picks up a guitar, and launches into a seamless ‘Music When the Lights Go Out’ to a crowd now bathed in a kind of stunned rapture. From here a band slowly builds starting with the addition of Babyshambles drummer Adam Fieck for a Freewheelin’ Dylan-esq jaunt through the ramshackle ‘Arcady’, before the rest of his band, accompanied by a string section and a melodica emerge for new single ‘Last of the English Roses’.

The musicianship is tight, and though Doherty’s voice occasionally gets slightly lost when everyone is playing full bore, most of the time, such as a beautifully realised ‘1939 Returning’, the lush strings imbue the music with an air of grace and cohesion so often missing from Doherty’s shows. The decision to air large parts of the new album, technically only released a few days ago, from the start of the gig and at the expense of older fan favourites is a bold move.

It’s a move that works due to the strength of the songs, and the finesse with which Doherty is able to perform them with relatively little practice. ‘A Little Death Around the Eyes’ comes across as the theme song for a Bond movie sadly never to be made and featuring our hero as a doomed romantic, lost and heavily medicated somewhere in Algeria, while ‘Salome’ tips its hat to Syd Barrett before branching out into a biblically dramatic close. Doherty then goes electric for a brilliantly unexpected 60’s rock take on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ which breathes new life into the well known rarity in a manner reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘Never Ending Tour’ with its continued reinterpretation of well loved classics.

By this time the view of the massed hordes in the standing area is a little too tempting to ignore, and, in the interests of journalistic diligence, we head downstairs to try and talk our way in. After an initially unsuccessful attempt, it transpires that a couple are leaving never to return, on the basis that Doherty is ‘fucking awful’, which rather begs the question of what exactly it was that they were expecting to see. Still, never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, even when it comes in the guise of idiocy, we accept their tickets, and bounce down the steps into the sweaty masses just in time for an incendiary ‘Fuck Forever’, followed by a joyous ‘Baddies Boogie’. The fans at the front are in a state of swaying delirium, and with the crowd baying the ‘lousy life’ refrain back to him with menace, Doherty looks to have cracked it.

Even a full glass of water exploding onto his acoustic guitar during a tender ‘Lady Don’t Fall Backwards’ from some cretin at the front can’t deter him. A knowing ‘Hey, I’m trying to be professional here’ and mock angry waving of guitar at the first few rows is all the reaction this engenders before Doherty smoothly re-takes his seat and slips effortlessly back into the song’s chorus. This new more confident and polished rendering of his work is not only a welcome relief from the shambolic chaos of earlier gigs, whose notoriety threatened to overshadow the music into permanent darkness, but crucially, it does not detract from the air of unpredictability and charisma that made Doherty such a compelling performer in the first place.

He will never be the smoothest performer, and his lengthy extinguishing of a cigarette thrown on-stage (which mainly consists of smoking it down to the bone) suggests that he is still very much a law unto himself. However as a great man once said, ‘to live outside the law, you must be honest’, and it would seem that Doherty’s new found determination to let his songs stand for themselves without any of the attending distractions is his way of doing so. It’s only a start, and Peter Doherty may have seen more false dawns than most, but on this evidence it would appear that he may finally be ready to come out from the shadows for good.

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‘Knives’ Need Sharpening

March 19, 2009 at 2:06 pm (Gigs) (, , , , , )

Um, G?

Um, G?

The Young Knives, Brighton Coalition, 18/03/09

The Coalition isn’t exactly packed.

It isn’t a massive venue anyway, with around half the viewing space being taken up by massive stone pillars, but despite this, there is a strangely large amount of room for people to mill about in, and it’s actually quite easy to get to the bar.

It’s also not exactly what you would call ‘jumping’ either. The sort of manic energy one may expect at a gig from a band of The Young Knives stature seems suspiciously absent from proceedings and the audience look, if anything, almost awkwardly towards the stage. In some ways, this is hardly surprising.

A midweek gig, with the band onstage before the crowd have even had time for a pint in the middle of a recession, is hardly a sure-fire recipe for Dionysian debauchery, and if the audience is any reflection on the band itself, a touch of nerdish awkwardness in the crowd is hardly surprising.

This is a shame really, as The Knives’ seem to have been massively hamstrung by their image as jovial, almost buffoonish English eccentrics, with any mention of the band in the music press wilfully accompanied by references to ‘geography teachers’/ ‘charity shop Strokes’/’paedophiles’ (delete as appropriate). This, coupled with their dry on-stage banter with each other and the audience, has seen The Young Knives almost dismissed as a comedy band, or at least as a band not to be taken too seriously.

The group seem acutely aware of this (‘Jesus get on with it! People came for a music gig not a stand up routine!’ – House of Lords to his brother during a typically extended bit of audience banter), and ramp up the aggression and intensity in a bid at showcasing tracks from darker 2nd album ‘Superabundance’. However, this strange marriage of dark humour, spiky atonal punk and bleak, world weary lyricism seem to confuse the crowd even further, and with no less than four new songs on display here, it takes a while for the gig to really get going.

Thankfully there is a tipping point. Perhaps Henry Dartnall’s self deprecating on-stage comments (‘Don’t worry, this is our last new song, sorry they’re a bit shit’) have begun to engender feelings of protectiveness towards the band, or it could be an on-stage dig at Brighton pretension from House of Lords that guilt-trips the audience into a show of home town pride. It may be that by now everyone is a bit pissed and up for a spot of pogoing, or simply that The Knives start pulling out some of their better material, but a note perfect ‘Up All Night’ actually gets people moving for the first time in the night, the repeated ‘What’s the point?’ bridge challenging the crowd to get involved.

There follows a range of fan favourites, mainly from the first album, with ‘Tremblings of Trails’ and ‘Loughborough Suicide’ getting enthusiastic airings. ‘Current of the River’ is dispatched in all its fascistic Hammer horror glory, the kids at the front screaming back at the stage like Hitler youth, and, after frequent shouted requests a double act of ‘Weekends and Bleak Days’ and ‘Here Comes the Rumour Mill’ send the kids away happy and sweaty.

The Kids go wild.....

The Kids go wild.....

Note: I am in no way insinuating that the Young Knives are facists

Note: I am in no way insinuating that the Young Knives are facists

However, there does remain the feeling of an opportunity slightly wasted, which sadly applies to the bands career as a whole up to now. Bands may, understandably, dislike fans shouting for their favourites between the airing of new material or lesser known album tracks, but the sheer number of song names that were shouted from the audience when it became obvious that they would only have time for a couple more should tell the band a great deal. It wasn’t even as though the crowd were demanding the ‘hits’ (the band don’t really have any, in a conventional sense anyway), and the sheer variety of tracks requested during the gig proves that the band have a fine, and well loved back catalogue.

Yet cries for the idiosyncratic ‘Tailors’ were ignored (maybe the band hadn’t didn’t brought the requisite scissors for percussion). Similarly, there was no sign of the sublime ‘Another Hollow Line’, or ‘She’s Attracted To’, which not only features one of the best opening lines in modern music, but would have garnered a massive crowd reaction no matter where it was dropped into the set.

There’s no doubting the Young Knives are a talented and entertaining live band and all songs were delivered with technical panache, but the decision to play so many new tracks at the expense of better, more popular songs was one that failed to take advantage of the limited time they had on stage. That ‘Decision’, as the song goes, is theirs alone, but in a live context they could do a lot worse than to listen to their fans, confine some of that cynicism to record and try to have some fun. God knows we could do with some at the moment.

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England Expects

March 12, 2009 at 3:28 pm (Football) (, , , , , , , , )

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So, another round of Champions League games and another obstacle successfully navigated for all four English teams who began the competition.

Are we surprised by this? Not anymore.

The last four years has seen Premier League teams become the pre-eminent force in Europe’s biggest cup competition, with English teams providing nine of the last sixteen Champions League semi finalists, five of the finalists, and two winners. This year, the four remaining clubs appear to be in a stronger position than ever in terms of a Champions League assault, and in a first knock-out stage in which they all played against traditionally strong sides, they all progressed with few problems.

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Liverpool were most impressive in their 5-0 aggregate win over Real Madrid, a result that would have been unthinkable three years ago, with a solid performance away from home followed by a demolition of the Spanish champions at home that required Raul to publicly apologise to Madrid fans afterwards. Chelsea also looked pretty comfortable against another of European footballs powerhouses, Juventus. They may have faced a nervy few minutes in the away leg when Del Piero’s penalty put them within a goal of going out, but they always looked likely to score again, and Drogba’s goal less than 10 minutes later settled the tie.

Both Liverpool and Chelsea proved that English teams are no longer unduly troubled in playing in high profile games away in some of Europe’s most intimidating atmospheres. Time was when English teams appeared over-awed by a trip to the San Siro or the Bernabeu, and seemed unable to trust their ability in such illustrious stadia. Now however, there is a confidence and calmness about their performances, stemming partly from experience, and partly from the revelation that the intensity and directness that serves so well in the Premiership does not have to be tempered when playing in Europe. Indeed, it could be argued that Chelsea would have more to fear in travelling to Anfield than any ground outside England these days, and the same could be said for Manchester United (Emirates), Liverpool (Old Trafford) and Arsenal (Stamford Bridge).

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Manchester United also showed little fear in their first leg match away at Inter Milan, attacking from the off and ensuring their opponents barely had a meaningful touch of the ball for the majority of the first half. Although they were unable to score away from home, despite a string of chances, and were tested more by the Italians at Old Trafford, they never looked to be in trouble. In fact the only English side who did struggle was Arsenal, and even then, their tie with Roma should have been over after the first leg, with Nicklas Bendtner in particular squandering a hatful of chances. Despite going behind in the away leg, Arsenal still looked the more likely side to grab an aggregate winner, and while poor decision making let them down on the night, Roma looked tired, lacking in ideas, and appeared to be playing for penalties.

With four English teams still left in the competition there remains the possibility of two all English semi -finals and each of the four will believe that they have what it takes to beat any of the four remaining teams over two legs. Bayern’s 12-1 aggregate hammering of Sporting Lisbon was incredible, especially with Toni and Ribery being left out if the 2nd leg, but in truth Sporting were awful and were never mentally in the game for at least three quarters of the tie. Despite the result, doubts remain about whether the Germans are really up to the task of competing with Euope’s best as their current position in the Bundesliga will testify. Porto overcame dark horses Atletico Madrid on away goals, whilst Villarreal snuck past Panathinaikos, but in truth all the English sides will be hoping to draw either team in the quarter finals.

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This just leaves the small matter of Barcelona. Already six points clear at the top of a traditionally tight La Liga, 76 goals scored, home of the best player in the world, and looking at their dangerous best in the Champions League with a 5-2 demolition of perennial dark horses Lyon on the last round. English teams have fared well against the Catalans in recent years, but it has always been close. Manchester United edged past them in last year’s semi-finals, and it was even tighter the year before with Liverpool winning on away goals. Prior to this, Barcalona were involved in a Champions League tit for tat with Chelsea which ended up with the Blues knocking Barca out in 2004, with Barca returning the favour the following year. Arsenal’s most recent meeting with the Spaniards did not end so well, losing 2-1 to Barca in the 2006 final.

So it seems that the biggest threat to further English dominance in Europe (outside of each other) is a trip to the Spanish Champions, and while each of the four may feel they can beat Barca on their day, Lionel Messi may well feel that on his day he can beat any of them single handed.

messi

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Far from Leisurely, not quite Imperious

March 8, 2009 at 6:11 pm (Gigs) (, , )

Imperial Leisure – Brighton Coalition – 06/03/08

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I have to be honest and come right out and say it from the start.

I’m always a little wary of Ska bands. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Specials and have several Trojan Records compilations, but there was always something about the wave of Ska-punk bands that emerged in the late 90’s that left me cold.

For a start they always seemed to have a few too many members, several of which seemed to act as cheerleading peripheries to the overall attraction. Secondly, very few of them really seemed to have anything to say, the wit, verve and social consciousness of the 80’s bands giving way to lyrics chiefly concerned with partying, defying parental authority or pointlessly covering A-Ha songs.

Perhaps most crucially, it seemed that Ska had got to a similar point that the blues had by the early 60’s: appropriated by mainly white musicians and seamlessly incorporated into the mainstream by record labels who realised it could sell, and, as a result, suffering from a paucity of musical ideas. Indeed, on the odd occasion I did get out to see a bit of Ska, chiefly as a brief diversionary knees-up of no real substance, I would find myself gainfully skanking to 3 different tunes played on repeat with slightly different lyrics.

So it was with a little trepidation that I entered the Coalition on Friday night to see a band that had been making waves not only in the tight knit Ska community, but among mainstream palettes such as T4 and um, the ITN news.

From the very first beat of the opener ‘King of Kings’ however, the band show that they mean business. Yes, there are about 15 of them, (2 vocalists, guitarists, bassist, a few horns, drummer, DJ etc) and yes there were a fair amount of be-dreaded cider drinkers in attendance, but the energy and drive of the band mark them out from their peers almost immediately. Tracks like ‘The Beast’, ‘The Art of Saying Nothing’ and ‘Man in the Street’ brim with energy and the bands use of Beastie Boys style MCing, combined with more traditional Ska singing ensured the pace did not drop.

Most importantly though, the group are not short of tunes and have an excellent understanding of how to put them together. The use of simple horn lines in songs like ‘Great British Summertime’ helped to ensure that the melodies ingratiated themselves into young minds at the earliest opportunity, and despite the superfluity of band members, everything sounded tight and well rehearsed to the obvious delight of the mixed crowd.

However, the biggest problem the band faces remains their relative lack of progression from the new wave of Ska bands from the 90’s. While tracks such as ‘King of Kings’ sound excellent in isolation, repetition of their musical themes and vocal delivery does start to grate after a while as some of the flagging dancers will testify.

This is not to say that Imperial Leisure are without talent, and for the time being they look set to become a very good Ska band indeed. They have tunes, attitude, energy and a vibrant group dynamic, but it still feels as though they need to make better use of some of the myriad of musicians within the band if they are to progress further.

The lead guitarist, to my knowledge, only came forward for a solo once in the entire performance, but when he did, the entire song was transformed. Similarly, the DJ seemed under-used, almost as if he had been added in as an afterthought. It may have been that both were simply too far down in the mix, but the band will need to explore these facets further if they want to become more than just a party band.

For the time being, Imperial Leisure are an extremely entertaining and highly accomplished Ska band that you would bet on to get a crowd moving in almost any circumstances. Whether they have the desire to become anything more than that remains to be seen.

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