Now this is the kind of tune you want to be starting the weekend with, preferably chilling out in the sun with a cold one. The Floating Bridges are from Queensland and they’re a reggae-rock crossover with the emphasis on the rock; the guitars and vocals are very much rock, while there’s a bit of emphasis on the off beat, but not more than you would hear in a lot of mainstream radio songs. The clipped and punchy rhythm guitar and the wah-wahing lead fuse the two styles perfectly to lay down a backing for Cale Fisher’s rasping delivery of a deliciously catchy melody. This is the kind of tune that’s the soundtrack for a perfect summer’s day.
The very Australian dreamcatcher theme is echoed in the video, a surreal woodland combination of “Alice in Wonderland” and a dreadlocked Artful Dodger, but don’t just take my word for it, have a look for yourself:
Welcome to the weekend.
Did I ever mention that I’m Scottish? I mean the name’s a bit of a giveaway, but it explains why I might mention obscure Scottish bands and performers occasionally in print (and way too much in conversation). It also means that releases like the new Alan Mair single “Stairway to Hell” are an absolute gift for me. Not only was Alan a member of “the Scottish Beatles”, The Beatstalkers, but he’s also helped out on this single by former Tear Gas and Sensational Alex Harvey Band members Zal Cleminson (guitar) and Ted McKenna. You don’t know how good it felt to tell you that.
After the Beatstalkers proved slightly less successful than The Beatles, he moved to London and sold handmade boots in a shop in Kensington Market (where he employed a manager who went on to become an international superstar) before joining The Only Ones (you’ve probably heard of them, they were from London) in 1976 (don’t worry, this will all probably start to knit together in a moment).
Skip forward about thirty years from the breakup of The Only Ones and (after various reunions and festival gigs) Alan is releasing his own solo material. Following on from “Four Winds”, “Stairway to Hell” is the second single from the upcoming “Field of One” album. The pumping rhythm section of Alan’s bass and Ted McKenna’s drums combined with Zal Cleminson’s guitar create a dense and darkly menacing backdrop for Dave Smith’s tale of musicians seduced down the one-way street of substance misuse, which a group of musicians who have worked collectively with Alex Harvey and Peter Perrett must have seen way up close. The music perfectly complements the lyrical message of claustrophobia and impending doom and this is a song where every element reinforces the central message, including the video:
“Field of One” is released on August 24 on IKA Records.
Here’s one that’s already picking up plays on 6 Music. “Heroine” by Gengahr is from their upcoming album “A Dream Outside”.
The song builds up steadily from a quietly strummed riff and plaintive vocals to a thunderous climax before gently bringing us back down to earth again over the last few seconds cramming everything you want in a song into three minutes, including a raucous guitar solo. Two-thirds of the video is an almost-monochrome re-imagining of the ‘sleeping princess woken by a kiss from the questing knight’ broken up by some footage of the band in action. Have a look for yourself:
Is it Summer yet? No, another few weeks to go yet; I’m not sure if I can hold out that long. How about if we find the most summery song and video we can and try to push things along a bit. OK, here we go.
The band Cosby is from Richmond, Virginia. It consists of brothers Chip and Chris Cosby and drummer Mike Levinson and the sound is influenced by the synth and guitar bands of the eighties; imagine Duran Duran in a soundclash with Spandau Ballet and Wham and you won’t be far wide of the mark. The band has a new EP (“Summer Gold”) out soon and the lead song is “Overboard”. The song combines the manic energy of Jane Weidlin’s “Rush Hour” with Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” vocal delivery and has what it takes to become a summer classic. All we need is the weather to make it work.
The video looks like a three dollar remake of Wham’s “Club Tropicana” replacing the cocktails with JD and using deliberately cheesy and low-rent effects with seventies beach clips, but it works because it’s obvious that no-one’s taking it seriously. Anyway, have a look and make your own mind up:
Don’t you just love it when something really good appears complete unexpectedly; you go to a gig and see a really good support band or someone shares a song on Facebook, you listen to it and it’s brilliant. Well it’s just happened today; credit where it’s due, this was shared by Mal Crawford (cheers Mal) and it’s a superb song written and performed by Nicola Hardman and several incarnations of Dan Barker.
The song opens with layers of strummed and picked acoustic guitars backing Nicola’s restrained vocal and builds up by adding bass, drums and electric guitar and (towards the end of the song) multiple layers of Nicola’s voice to create a Spectoresque wall of sound that you just can’t ignore. Don’t take my word for it, have a look at this:
And before the big production, it still sounded good like this:
Now that’s a pretty good way to start your holiday weekend, isn’t it?
Another one of the albums we’ve been waiting for this year is the new one from Little Devils. That’s coming out in a few weeks but, until then, we’ve got a little taster for you. “My Perfect You”, the first single from the album, is blues in the classic tradition, featuring a stunningly powerful vocal from Yoka and some paint-stripping guitar work from Big Ray.
We’ll tell you all about the album as soon as we get our hands on a copy.
Here’s a little bit of a sneak preview for you. Gary Hilton and Steve Southern, or Modern Family Unit to you and me, are a Manchester-based duo with experience of the good and bad sides of the music biz. Like most smart musicians these days, they’ve decided to sidestep the system in favour of keeping control of the creative process. They take their inspiration from the first wave of early 80s synth bands like Tubeway Army and The Human League, combining the dirty, retro synth sounds from those groups with twenty-first century technical knowhow and a bit of cheeky theatricality to produce a sound they describe as ‘Burlesque Groove’.
We’ll be having a listen to their album (to be released on April 27th) for you in a couple of weeks but meanwhile, here’s a quick look at their single “Mmm mmm mm aah” which is released on Monday March 23rd.
Just out of interest, what do you think of the ‘burlesque’ element of the video? Light-hearted and innocent bit of fun, or just one step down from Page 3 in that newspaper we don’t like to mention? Let us know what you think.
Here’s someone we reviewed live a few weeks ago with his electric live band stripping things back down to basics with his acoustic version of the Mississippi John Hurt classic “Payday”.
What’s not to like about one man, a resonator and a stompbox?
It’s been a busy year for Stone Foundation. The album “To Find the Spirit”, released independently in March 2014, made a significant impact on the indie charts as the band’s live following increased with their own gigs in Europe and Japan and support slots with The Selecter and The Blow Monkeys. With radio support from Craig Charles on 6 Music and endorsement from the Modfather himself, things have been looking pretty good for the band this year. So, how do you keep that momentum going? Well, a few gigs with soul legend and SF collaborator, Nolan Porter, and a DVD as a more permanent memento, would probably do nicely. The gigs have come and gone and the DVD, “Finding the Spirit”, was released on 21 July.
So let’s just rewind a little bit here; Stone Foundation is a bunch of guys from the West Midlands (an area more renowned for heavy metal, to be honest) which formed around the nucleus of Neil Jones (guitar and vocals) and Neil Sheasby (bass and backing vocals) around ten years ago and developed into a classic soul/r’n’b lineup (and by r’n’b I mean Stax and Atlantic, not Jay-Z and Beyonce) with the addition of drums (Philip K Ford), Hammond organ (Ian Arnold), sax (Gary Rollins), trombone (Spencer Hague) and trumpet and latest recruits trumpet (Gareth John) and congas/percussion (Rob Newton). Stone Foundation operates completely outside what’s left of the mainstream music business. On the band’s website, the imagery of the biography is equal parts gang/team and an almost religious evangelism; if you’re thinking early Dexys and The Clash here, then you’re pretty much on the money. Personally, I’m more drawn to the idea of a collective than a gang; the band’s a very tight unit, but they find like-minded contributors outside the unit willing to help promote the manifesto, including writer Paolo Hewitt, Specials’ bass player Horace Panter (who contributed the artwork for “To Find the Spirit”), and videographer Lee Cogswell.
Lee has put together “Finding the Spirit” (described as “a collection of films”) which pulls together various strands of the band’s work over the last few years, combining music videos, a documentary of the 2012 collaboration with Nolan Porter (“Keep On Keepin’ On”), a track-by-track exploration of “To Find the Spirit” with Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby, and a record of Stone Foundation’s 2014 Japanese tour (“Tokyo 2014”).
“Keep On Keepin’ On” mixes interviews with the two Neils and Nolan Porter with live footage from The Musician in Leicester and London’s 100 Club and some lovely studio footage of the recording of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” featuring Nolan’s lead vocal; it’s a familiar (but still welcome) story of an artist whose career has been resurrected by the UK Northern Soul scene, but this time with some help from contemporary musicians. The film captures the relationship between Nolan, the band, and their collective audience perfectly, particularly in the footage from The 100 Club.
The track-by-track breakdown of “To Find the Spirit” is enlightening and informative; the interviews with Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby give a genuine insight into the way the album came together while emphasising the part played by fate or the collective spirit. The cameos played by Carleen Anderson and Andy Fairweather-Low were arranged through friends of friends, “Don’t Let the Rain” started with a bass riff and a string sound from Ian Arnold’s new keyboard, and the original inspiration for the album and the song “Child of Wonder” came from a prose piece by Paolo Hewitt. It’s surprising to hear that there were question marks over whether “Crazy Love” had a place on the album; thankfully, common sense prevailed there.
“Tokyo 2014” is a collage of impressions from the brief Stone Foundation Japanese tour earlier this year superimposing quick clips of the band meeting their fans over a live soundtrack which includes a particularly raw version of the Booker T and the MGs classic “Time is Tight” by a Japanese band called The Tramp. The technique of using quick cuts between short video clips conveys the feel of continuous motion while the entire piece emphasises the devotion of the band’s Japanese fans.
The final section of the DVD is a compilation of Lee Cogswell’s videos for the songs “To Find the Spirit”, “Bring Back the Happiness”, “That’s the Way I Want to Live my Life” and “Hold On”. “To Find the Spirit” opens with a quick reference to the Dexys debut album, “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels” as the lead character tunes across the static of a radio dial before leading into an aspirational story which is shot through with visual and audio Stone Foundation references. “Bring Back the Happiness” plays under a father/son reconciliation story featuring Andy Nyman (who featured in the hilarious Channel Four show “Campus” and “Peaky Blinders”) and newcomer Ben Finlay, who was spotted dancing at a Stone Foundation gig. “That’s the Way I Want to Live my Life” is a very clean black and white (and silhouette) video of the individual band members featuring multi-screen effects, and “Hold On” is a fairly straightforward studio piece featuring Andy Fairweather-Low guesting on backing vocals. You can have a look at the videos here.
By any standards, this is a very high quality piece of work; if you take into account the fact that this venture has no music business backing, then it’s absolutely exceptional. Lee Cogswell has worked across a variety of styles, including documentary, interviews, live footage, reportage and music video to produce a cohesive piece of work which enhances his own reputation while documenting the rise of a band with an absolute commitment to fulfilling its own agenda. It’s more than a just a souvenir, it’s a lovingly-crafted insight into the workings of a group of people who are making music for all the right reasons. The band is also appearing in a special session recorded for the Craig Charles funk and soul show on BBC 6 Music this Saturday (August 9).
This DVD is worth buying for its musical and visual quality, but also because the people responsible for the creative input actually see some financial reward for their efforts.
Out now. Available from Lee Cogswell.
How about this stripped-down version of a great John Fogerty song? Recorded live in Clerkenwell:
Looking forward to their “Tilt the Moon” EP at the end of August.