Ok, has this happened to any of you recently?  You turn up to a gig to see a band that you really like.  You know that there’s a support band and you’ve checked them out online.  The videos on YouTube are dire but what do you expect? The lens on the cameraphone has been rubbed up against the greasy pocket lining of someone’s unwashed 501s for several months and the microphone’s about the size of a pinhead.  And they keep waving the damn thing around.  Come to think of it, it’s really annoying when you’re at a gig as well; why don’t you just put the camera away and enjoy the gig?

Where were we? Oh yeah, support bands.  So you get to the gig and find out that there’s an extra support band.  It’s great for the venue because the punter thinks they’re getting something extra.  The only thing Milton Friedman ever said that I agree with is “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”; it’s particularly true here.  You know why those extra bands are there, don’t you?  They’re either playing for nothing, or, even worse, they’re paying to get the gig. Why would they do that?  They do it because they’re desperate to be on stage; they’re the same kind of delusional wannabes that live music fans get so smug about when they talk about X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.  They do it for nothing because they aren’t good enough to get paid for it.

So why do venues put on crap bands; that doesn’t make any sense, does it?  Well, people don’t get that delusional without an extensive support network and all the family and friends who are bigging them up will go along to watch them.  Admit it, it sounds cool at work to say “I went to watch my mate’s band last night”, doesn’t it?  Next time someone says that to you make them squirm by asking if they were any good and watch them check who can hear before they answer. Anyway, to get back to the point, the venues get all of these hangers-on coming along to support their mates.  They make the gig look busy and, more importantly, they buy drinks at the bar; makes sense now doesn’t it?

And these bands come in different flavours as well.  I’ll give you two for starters.  How about a young, good-looking (male or female) leader who couldn’t carry a tune in a rucksack, surrounded by reasonably good musicians who should know better? They sound great until the lead vocal comes in with all the sonic beauty of polystyrene being scraped down a patio door.  It’s even more worrying when you know that you’re going to get a brave but foolhardy attempt at vocal harmonies from the rest of the band when you reach the chorus.  But at least they’re young and they’ll probably grow out of it.

What’s even worse is the band made up of middle-aged men who are lawyers or bankers or middle managers who have enough money to buy really good kit and enough time on their hands to meet up to practise blues standards once a month.  They wanted to be rock stars when they were young but they weren’t good enough.  Guess what guys; a Les Paul and a Marshall stack with a dozen stomp-boxes and a pair of tastefully ripped jeans doesn’t change that. But they bring the entourage along with them and they all get enthusiastic and cheer and whoop for their band.  And that’s another thing, this rent-a-mob only listen to their band.  As soon as their (hopefully short) set finishes they either ignore the rest of the bands or try to out-shout them.

And they get away with this because we’re all too polite.  We clap at the end of each song that they’ve ritually disembowelled instead of showing how we really feel.  That’s the mistake we make; these people have the hide of a titanium-plated rhinoceros and absolutely no self-awareness; the only way to make them stop is extensive and repeated humiliation.  Next time you see one of these bands and their posse of braying followers, boo them, hiss at them, wince visibly when they play or sing out of tune, turn your back on them, go to the toilet but, whatever you do, don’t encourage them.  Go on, you know you want to.

Stoneface TravellersStoneface Travellers are a three-piece outfit in the power trio tradition comprising Andrew Thornley (bass), Micah Woulfe (drums) and Emile Gerber (guitar and lead vocals).  Apart from a change of drummer, it’s the Emile Gerber Band as reviewed here 3 months ago live at The Finsbury.  The band have been spending some time in the studio with highly-respected producer Brad Kohn, who has produced a set of tracks which will form the basis of an EP to be released later in the year.  The lovely people at Bandhouse Promotions have given us an exclusive sneak preview of 1 track from the sessions, “I Don’t Really Love You”, which you can hear on Soundcloud .

The song opens with an overdriven slide riff and harmonica (played by the drummer even) before the rhythm section kicks in to drive the song along with a loping swamp-blues feel.  Emile is a very good blues guitar player (I think I might have just said that before) but what makes him such a unique performer is the quality of his voice.  It’s an unusual delivery in that he sings in the same sort of range as Neil Young with a little bit of vibrato at the top of the range, which emphasises the emotion of the vocal.  The solo towards the end sounded just like mid-70s vintage Rory Gallagher and I really don’t know if that makes me feel old or young; maybe both.

This is a great little sample of what Stoneface Travellers are capable of in the studio but, until they get the EP and then the album together, you really should try to get out and see them live; you won’t regret it.

Keep an eye out for exclusive news on this one coming very, very soon.

It’s hard to believe that this is the debut Lilygun album because it’s so self-assured. It stands up to repeated listening, and even rewards it.  The band has released 2 singles so far this year and both feature on this first album, but more about both of those later.  This is a set of songs written by the band’s dynamic and charismatic singer, Anna-Christina,  demonstrating  such variety that it’s difficult to pin the sound down to 1 genre; there are elements of punk, metal, riot grrrl, Goth and even hints of early English folk.  We’ve had it on constant repeat here at Riot Towers for a couple of weeks now and it still sounds great.

I love it when an album blows you away from the first notes of the first song and the Lilygun debut does exactly that.  “Sunlight Dream” (an “Inception” reference, perhaps) blasts in with drums, big grungy guitar chords and howling lead guitar slipping into nice clean, strummed chords underpinned by drums and a rhythmic bass figure before a multi-tracked vocal refrain leads up to the first verse; and that’s just the intro.

This is an album that rewards you for listening to the tracks in the right order.  The songs are all strong enough to stand alone, but hearing them in sequence creates a clear narrative flow.  The first pair of songs introduces us to the powerless outsider with “Peace of Mind” building from a tribal drum pattern through a couple of verses to a blazing chorus and a typically blistering guitar solo.

“My Ways” moves the narrative on to insight into the loner’s situation before “Moonlight” starts to reveal a glimmer of a positive outcome.  “Excuses” is the first sign of a reaction to the loner’s situation and a clear message about taking responsibility for our actions.  “Conversations” takes a step backwards into negative emotions before the 2 songs which bring the album and the narrative to a positive conclusion.

Scum” was the first song from the album to be released this year and it’s a huge anthem, playing to the group’s strengths with quiet verses interspersed with a huge chorus which is built around a massive descending guitar run and the song’s big message :”There’s no need to be a victim of negativity”.  The final song “Diamonds” brings the journey to its end with the beginning of a relationship and another very clear lyrical message:  “Don’t let your past decide who you are”.

It’s all very well telling a good story but the music has to enhance the story as well and this is where Lilygun have absolutely aced it.  You won’t find a one-dimensional or one-idea song here; they all fizz with musical ideas and great playing.  The arrangements squeeze every last drop out of a fairly traditional line-up of 2 guitars, bass and drums (with the odd touch of strings and multi-tracked vocals) and create a huge dynamic range across the album.  I know it’s unfair to single out any particular contribution but James Ford’s guitar work is really powerful and took me back to the early days of Skunk Anansie and the brilliant Ace.

This is a great first album from an original and inventive band and I haven’t heard anything else this year to surpass this in terms of raw power and dynamic range; they’ve been on the horizon for a while now and this should be the breakthrough.  This is a great album. Buy the CD and listen to all the tracks in the right order; I can’t wait to see them live.

Release date 10/09/12 on A Line Records/Cargo.

 

Product DetailsLet’s just start this with a little bit of background.  By the mid-70s Ian Matthews had been a member of Fairport Convention, had a UK number 1 with a Joni Mitchell cover and then disappeared from the UK mainstream scene.  The name, and the odd single, could still be heard occasionally in the background as punk and new wave barged and elbowed everything else out of the way but you had to be listening carefully.  So I listened carefully in 1979 and I heard “Gimme an Inch Girl”, an Ian Matthews cover of a Robert Palmer song which got a bit of radio play but did nothing chartwise.

During the summer of the following year I was visiting the first love of my life in that wicked London place and I had a bit of time to kill on the way home.  The first Virgin megastore had just opened at Marble Arch and that had to be worth a look; there were so many records I didn’t know where to start.

The only album I picked up that day was a cut-out import copy (on blue vinyl) of “Stealing Home” by Ian Matthews.  I recognised the single “Gimme an Inch Girl” and thought it was worth a couple of quid for that even if everything else was unlistenable, which was pretty unlikely.  I never thought for a second that it would be an album I would love instantly and forever; the first time I listened to “Stealing Home” from beginning to end was a musical epiphany.

The album was recorded in Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire but was aimed squarely at the American market; you can hear it in the lyrics and the arrangements and you can see it in the sleeve design.  There wasn’t a chance that it would sell significant amounts in the UK in the aftermath of punk, but that was never the objective.  An album with great session players, tasteful (bordering on minimal) FM radio-friendly arrangements and lyrics dealing with American themes was never a commercial proposition in post-punk UK; throw in a singer with a plaintive high tenor voice and, in 1978, USA becomes the target market.

Ian Matthews didn’t really have a reputation as a great songwriter at the time, but he was already known as an interesting interpreter of other people’s songs.  He had already scored a UK No.1 in 1970 with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and had a stab at Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” which, unbelievably, made no impact on the charts.  Nothing I’d heard before prepared me for the beauty of “Stealing Home”.

The album opens with the 1 track I’d already heard, “Gimme an Inch Girl”, which sounded better on my hi-fi than on the radio (no FM in 1979), so I knew I was on to a winner straight away.  There isn’t a track on the album that I don’t love, even now.  I have to be honest and admit that I’m fairly partial to a melancholy song and this album is full of them.

I admit that I didn’t realise in 1979 that the theme running through the album was the failure of the American dream (and it should have been obvious because I loved “American Graffiti” and “The Last Picture Show”).  Ian Matthews picked out songs about the party set, car fanatics and sports groupies to form the backbone of this album.  It’s a melancholy album because it looks back at the unfulfilled promise of American lives in the same way that Bob Seger did with songs like “Hollywood Nights” and “Night Moves” and Jackson Browne did with “The Pretender”.

Don’t Hang Up your Dancing Shoes” is a Terry Boylan song about an attempt to persuade the Homecoming Queen to take one last chance a former beau and sets the tone for the rest of the album, musically and lyrically.  “King of the Night” is a poignant ballad written by Jeffrey Comanor (a cult figure at the time who also collaborated with Shel Silverstein on the Dr Hook song “Makin’ it Natural”), which focuses on the plight of the forgotten former street racer and is followed by Matthews’ funky version of the great John Martyn song “Man in the Station”.  Side 1 of the album (I bought it on vinyl, so I’m sticking with that format) ends with a fairly rare (at that time) Matthews composition, “Let There be Blues” which keeps the melancholy mood nicely on track.

And then I turned over to Side 2 for the real revelations.  The first track, “Carefully Taught”, is a perfect example of Matthews’ ability to completely remake an existing song.  The original is a workmanlike Rogers & Hammerstein song from “South Pacific” with very good intentions, played as a fast show song, which Matthews strips back to a half-tempo a cappella version while editing the lyrics to fit everything in to an extraordinary 60 second masterpiece; if you don’t appreciate this, you have no soul.  Listen to the original “Carefully Taught” and decide for yourself.

This is followed by a strong Matthews original, the title song, “Stealing Home”, another melancholy song which deals with a disintegrating relationship.  The most commercially successful song on the album, “Shake It”, is next, moving the tempo up a few notches while keeping up the theme of nostalgia for a happier era.  It’s one of Terry Boylan’s finest moments and was a deserved American chart success.

Next up is another of the album’s revelations and a great example of Matthews’ ability to fit songs to his own mould. “Yank and Mary(Smile)” is a medley which combines the verses from a Richard Stekol song about two ingénues moving to California with the chorus from the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile”.  It’s a perfect mix because the two songs blend seamlessly into a beautiful whole.

The two songs which round off the album, “Slip Away” and “Sail my Soul” , are both co-written with Bill Lamb.  The first is a mid-tempo song aimed at the same market as “Shake It” and the second is a soulful ballad with some lovely slide guitar which finishes off the album with a positive message that relationships can work sometimes.

If you love great songs, great singers and great arrangements, you should listen to this album.  It may be really unfashionable in the current musical climate but this is a beautiful album and it’s one of my closet classics.   If you want to find out more about Iain Matthews (as he’s known again now) have a look on his website.

We always welcome feedback at Riot Towers so let us know if you listened to the album and liked (or hated) it.  Even better, send us your feelings about your own closet classic and there’s a good chance that we’ll use it on the site.

Also, let us know what you think of using Spotify links to featured songs and albums.  How quickly did the links work?  If you downloaded Spotify from the link provided, how quickly did it download?  Do you like the idea of having instant access to the songs being reviewed? Your feedback will help us to give you a better and more responsive site.

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If you’ve been checking out Music Riot for a while you’ll probably realise that we don’t just tell you about one type of music.  If it comes in for review we cover it, whichever genre it belongs to.  If you like that approach, then watch out for our new feature “Closet Classics”.

It’s all about those albums in our collections that we love but everyone else hates or no-one else has ever heard of.  The albums that we loved the first time we heard them, the albums that we play when we’re trying to impress with our musical eclecticism or just to show that we know more about music than everyone else.  Those albums usually have a story to accompany them and we’re going to reveal the innermost depths of our music collections to you; but it’s not just a one-way street.

As an added bonus, we’re also going interactive with this one.  First of all, we’re giving you links to the featured albums so that one click takes you to the featured songs.  We’re doing this through Spotify, which you can download free here:

https://www.spotify.com/uk/.

The second bit of interactivity is that we want you to tell us about your own closet classics.  Send us your thoughts about your guilty pleasure on CD or vinyl and we’ll publish as many of them as we can on MusicRiot with links to live streaming from Spotify.  We want to hear about the music, but it would be great to know about any personal associations that the album has for you as well.

Watch out for more details on how to tell the world about your closet classics.

Why not let MusicRiot sort out your last-minute Christmas presents for the musichead in your life?  We asked some of our contributors to recommend a few stocking fillers from the world of music for you.  Our only conditions were that it was music-related and reasonably affordable.  Here’s what they came up with (in no particular order apart from the old cantankerous curmudgeon who always insists on having the last word).  If you’ve got any better ideas then let us know; there’s still plenty of time.

Lou Anderson

Queen:
2011 was Queen’s 40th anniversary and they did not let it go unnoticed! With remastered versions of all their studio albums, each including a bonus EP of outtakes, live material and alternate recordings, any Queen fan, casual or die-hard is sure to be more than satisfied. As well as this, they’ve released “40 Years of Queen” a book detailing their entire career and more, full of stunning photos. The legendary Wembley Stadium concert has also received a 25th anniversary reissue in double CD and DVD format. If there’s not enough there please then you’re just plain greedy.

Brucie/Clarence:
With the passing of Clarence Clemons this June, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band have remained surprisingly resilient and optimistic with a world tour and studio album planned for next year. While no new material exists right now, an EP of Christmas songs recorded by Clarence in 1981 has surfaced and stands as a perfect gift for any Springsteen fan this year. From last year remains a box set of Bruce’s first eight albums in very pretty miniature record sleeves for a startingly generous price: you’re getting nine discs for around £15!

Lady Gaga:

Gaga is especially known for having such a strong connection with her fans and so has not left them longing for anything this Christmas (except for any announcements about her next tour). The Born This Way album became more of an event than a record upon release and since then every track has received countless remixes, enough to constitue a whole album. On top of this, a film of her Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Gardens has been given a DVD release and so has a book filled with 450 magnificent photos of the woman herself in collaboration with photographer Terry Richardson. Featuring a surprisingly personal account of the last year or so of Gaga’s career it’s something any Little Monster would die for.


John Preston

Nicola Roberts ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’.
Cheryl Cole may be in it for the L’Oreal ads, r’n’b guest spots and Stateside fame (good luck with that one Cheryl) but ex Girls Aloud Nicola Roberts’ startlingly fresh, odd, sad, euphoric debut (try the Metronomy produced ‘Fish Out of Water’ and tell me you’re not instantly captivated) is about the music and has a British pop sensibility that goes way back. Open your heart.

Bjork ‘Biophilia’.
Forget about the apps, the specially commissioned instruments, the orange afro wig and the David Attenborough narrated live performances and just listen to the music. This is a wondrous album, an album that can move and disturb and, on at least 4 songs, sing along to. ‘Mutual Core’ is an unruly rave anthem ‘Hollow’ terrifies and ‘Cosmogony’ is so completely gorgeous it’ll hurt your chest. Bjork’s influence on contemporary music over the last 20 years has been profound and Biophilia is her most accessible and cohesive album in over a decade.

St Vincent ‘Strange Mercy’.
Annie Clark’s third album is her most satisfying so far. Guitars take the place of strings and the Disneyesque sound stages which over ran St Vincent’s previous long player with tremendous success. Cheerleader and Northern Lights buzz and snarl so tightly you can only imagine that this is what Courtney Love always wanted to sound like but never quite managed to. The vocal performance on the closing track ‘Year of The Tiger’ has seduced me like no other this year.

Cocknbullkid ‘Adulthood’
Anita Blay’s sound has changed considerably since her early electronic East London hipster demos (marvellous by the way) but her knack for writing the perfect 3 and  a half minute pop song  has not. Put it on and wonder why Cocknbullkid and her perfectly realised debut isn’t number one.

Cat’s Eye’s ‘Cat’s Eye’s’
David Lynch released his debut album this year and this is what is should have sounded like. 60’s girl group melancholia, woozy and narcotic with asteroids falling in slow motion from the sky. An amazing record that takes you into another world that you won’t ever want to leave. Beware.

Allan McKay

40 Year Anniversary set – Alligator Records
Alligator Records is a blues label which reached 40 years in the business this year and released a double CD compilation as a celebration.  This is a great present for anyone who thinks that all blues tunes are the same; they’ll never say that again after listening to this because the variety is incredible.  The selection ranges from acoustic country blues through boogie-woogie and soulful blues (Mavis Staples, no less) to the flash and trash of Lonnie Mack and Stevie Ray Vaughan and, unusually, features many female blues artists including the wonderfully-named Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women.  If you’re into blues already, it’s still a great buy because you might know the songs and the artists but not necessarily in the combination that they appear here.  You can find it on the Alligator Records website http://www.alligator.com/albums/Alligator-Records-40th-Anniversary-Collection/ .

The Life Equation – Akira the Don
This was a 5 star review when it was released and it’s still 5 stars now.  This is a great album and anyone who’s into music should hear it and pass it on to everyone they know as an example of genuinely creative music and lyrics which acknowledges all of its reference points from the 60s onwards.  If you ignore all the other recommendations, you should listen to this.  There are at least 2 kitchen sinks thrown in here but it’s an absolutely glorious noise and I don’t understand why he’s not huge.  Check out the website http://www.akirathedon.com .  And I have to admit it was Plus One who recommended this in the first place.

Ska’d for Life – Horace Panter
Published in 2007, this is an inside view of the rise and fall of The Specials written by Horace Panter (aka Sir Horace Gentleman), the former Specials bass player.  This is a genuine “fly on the wall” view of The Specials but it stands out from other insider books because Horace Panter is a genuinely nice bloke.  There are plenty of opportunities to dish the dirt on the other band members, but none are taken as Horace gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, however bad their behaviour; it’s not difficult to see why his band name was Sir Horace Gentleman.  It’s refreshing to read a music biography which isn’t trying to sensationalise events or cover up the indiscretions of the subjects and that’s why this is such a great read.

Reelin’ in the Years – Mark Radcliffe
Damn, that’s another book idea that I’ve been beaten to.  If you used to listen to Mark and Lard on Radio 1 or listen now to Radcliffe and Maconie on 6 Music, then you’ll probably like this.  It’s written in the Mark Radcliffe radio presentation style and the theme is a single representing each year between 1958 and 2010.  The twist is that they aren’t the songs you would expect and you get a lot of wordplay and music trivia built around them.  It’s a bit of light-hearted entertainment although it does feel a bit hurried towards the end.  You might want to check out anything written by Stuart Maconie as well.
 

Isitjustme


Post-Everything – Luke Haines
I’m totally sick of reading these biographies and autobiographies (usually ghost-written) which try to convince you that the subject is a cross between Mother Theresa and Paul McCartney when you already know that  they spent 10 years buying up the entire output of Colombia (and I don’t mean coffee) and used their road crew as mules at Customs.  This is a proper music memoir by someone who’s been there and wants to tell us all about it while settling old scores for good measure.  It’s funny, it’s vicious and it’s authentic; what more do you want.  If it’s for someone you really like, you could even buy them his first book “Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall”.

The Nightfly – Donald Fagen
None of your X Factor nonsense here.  This is an album (that’s a load of songs put together in some sort of order that makes sense when you listen to it); it came out in the 1982 and it was nominated for 7 Grammys .  This is how we used to do it when we made proper music with real instruments and people wrote songs themselves instead of relying on someone who churns them out to order so they sound like everything else in the charts.  It’s even a concept album; it’s about the experiences of an American teenager in the period from the mid-50s to the mid-60s.  Don’t do any of that download nonsense with this; buy the CD and get all the artwork and information that goes with it. If you don’t like this, you don’t like music.  And remember; Jessie J has probably never heard of Donald Fagen.