Category Archives: Music

Grant McLennan tribute night at the Bush Hall

On the 6th May 2016, ten years to the day since he died, the Bush Hall hosted a fantastic night in tribute to the late Go Between, Grant McLennan. Featuring sets from the Left Outsides, Bill Botting and the 2 drink Minimums, the Wolfhounds (2 of them), the Wave Pictures, Pete Astor and band and Gerry Love for Teenage Fanclub with some friends in a great band put together for the night.  The whole night was MC-ed by Stewart Lee who admitted the problem of doing standup at a rock and roll gig, doubly compounded by the fact of commemorating someone he clearly admired and whose music he loved.

 

He did a great job and who knew he’d had a hand in writing one of the greatest songs of all time?  He closed the night with a great story about how he persuaded Grant to change the lyrics of Cattle and Cane for the better and switch to acoustic from punky electric to fit the mood of the song.  Sadly, he was let down by a lack of thanks on the sleeve when Before Hollywood actually came out.
It’s hard to pick highlights from the music. The award for most obscure cover goes to the Left Outsides who gave us the Civil War Lament from a Jack Frost album.  Stewart Lee threatened to top this later with the Tuff Monks single B side.  Each band manage to channel the spirit of the Go Betweens and there were a couple of Robert Forster covers too so that it was almost like an evening with them during the eighties.  Certainly, Bill Botting and the 2 Drink Minimums took me back to the Boston Arms in the mid-eighties in Tufnell Park.  That night the Go Betweens had played many of the songs that ended up on arguably their finest album, Libery Belle and the Black Diamond Express, including Apology Accepted, performed at Shepherds Bush by Bill and members of his family (and watched by them too!).  A great version.  In the Boston Arms Robert and Grant were on fine form having just been dropped by Sire Records (one of many typical such happenings to them) but then taken up by Beggars Banquet.  That night they gave us a stirring Bow Down and a magnificent Twin Layers of Lightning and encored with Jimmy Osmond’s Knock on Your Door…At the Bush Hall last night the Wave Pictures played a spellbinding set, including 8 pictures with epic drumming from Johnny.  David Tattersall is such a great guitar player and he introduced some Wave P magic to Magic in Here.  They conlcued with a raucous version of Karen, again reminding me of a night in the Town and Country Club when the original Go Betweens tore it up with an encore of epic proportions.  Some people assoicate them with quiet acoustic numbers but Lindy, as well as being a senstive player, was a ferocious drummer on occasion and they weren’t above improvising and stretching out the song about the librarian!  Anyway, respect to the Wave Pictures who are clearly big fans.  David’s own song about childhood, Before This Day, is at least the equal of the great Cattle and Cane for that mix of childhood moments and reflection!

All the bands were great (I loved the Wolfhounds belting through Unkind and Unwise; Pete Astor and friends doing Boundary Rider) but so that this doesn’t turn into a biblically long post I should just finish by mentioning Gerry Love and his friends who closed the whole thing beautifully with a joyous East Come Easy Go/ Mrs Morgan / Going Blind and an epic Bye Bye Pride.  As Gerry said from the stage, “Let’s hear it for the great man…”

Thanks to all the bands and Stewart Lee for their efforts in putting this together. And to the Bush Hall, a beautiful venue.

 

Chance is a fine thing: A version of the history of the Eleventh Hour, the unsigned, unknown semi-Croydon band of the eighties

Sarah at the demo recording 1982

Chance would be a fine thing. If it was ever to be released. But on the other hand, Chance is a fine thing anyway. Chance is one of a small number of short songs written and performed to a handful of people in the early eighties in Croydon (some people know this place only as a punchline, other people know better!)  The singer, in any case, was Sarah Quance from Sheffield, pictured above at the recording.  And here it is in partially restored fashion thanks to the expert care and attention of musician and producer, Jack Hayter:

Hopefully we’ll do even more and better with the musical archaeology if we can locate the master tapes. For now, though, we can make out at least that Chance was a simple song built around the pulse from a Korg synthesiser, some spacey guitar and bass strum and ethereal vocals. Extreme analogue. Not digital in any way (until now).

And so, to some history…
11th Hour recording the demo 1982
The Eleventh Hour was a semi-electronic, semi-Croydon band formed and disbanded in the early eighties in Croydon and Leeds. It comprised John Potter (me) , Peter Totterdell, Sarah Quance and Paul Dillon. It existed for almost two years during which time there was one recording session and one rejection/expression of interest from a record company, Cherry Red  (see below)
11th Hour Cherry Red records (partial) rejection
There was a vague promise of further interest, I always thought, but we never followed it up…doh!

Our musical roots and influences were in a mix of places. In addition to all the 70s and 80s pop and prog we were surrounded by, Peter and I had a shared musical love of electronic music, both the abstract shapes of early seventies Tangerine Dream and the precision and minimalist songs of Kraftwerk. But our imaginations were also increasingly fired by music coming out of Manchester (Factory, JD and New Order like everyone else it seemed), Sheffield (Cabaret Voltaire), Liverpool (Echo, Teardrops), Crawley (early Cure) and New York (Talking Heads). And we already knew people or friends of theirs at least in the Leeds scene around the Faversham (Sisters, Mekons, Three Johns, Age of Chance, Son of Sam).
John recording the 11th Hour demo

The one band who really encapsulated for us some kind of new possibility and musical touchstone in those days was the Young Marble Giants. From Cardiiff. They remain other-worldly even now; they set out on an original and largely unexplored musical path, managing to be influential but not copied, mysterious but affecting, and with submerged echoes of things we loved (Eno’s Another Green World is somewhere in there).  Basically, no one else sounded quite like them. No one else does even now. A rhythm box, an elastic bass, a tightly strummed electric guitar, Farfisa organ (which famously fell to bits the night I saw them play the Rock Garden) and the pure tones of Alison Statton.
11th Hour live (Peter) 31 July 1982
Peter and I both came from Croydon. I was from the Lower Addiscombe area and Peter from the badlands of Penge/Beckenham. Dangerously close to Bromley. But we were both at school together in Croydon. Many of my friends had been in bands and I had also played in other people’s – a prog one and a “new wave” one, both fronted and led by a friend of mine called Mark, who still writes songs under the name Mark Fox. And who’s still a friend.
11th Hour live (Sarah) 31 July 1982
Peter and I had already started writing bits and pieces of music together on keyboards, his Korg Synth, my DR-55 drum machine and we were ready for our own musical project by the time we both fetched up at university in Leeds. We put an ad on the union noticeboard and asked for a singer who sounded like Alison Statton and we found the wonderful Sarah Quance from Sheffield, another great city, full of music and pubs and great people. We were called Loaded Silence initially and brought a number of those songs with us but once Paul Dillon of Radlett, Herts joined us on bass, we had the complete line-up and, shortly before Channel 4 started and launched a show of the same name, we had the name Eleventh Hour and some new songs started to come together.
John plays guitar in Chance 11th Hour demo 1982

Songs were usually were brought to rehearsal by me and Peter with some words almost fully there, though by the end Sarah was writing great songs. But the actual music was always ultimately assembled together. We were aware of songwriting disputes in bands over out who did what, whether the arrangement was the thing or the chords that came in, or the melody the singer wrapped around the words. In our case, I think that the Eleventh Hour would not have sounded the way it did without everyone bringing something into the mix. Our sound was quiet, analogue, fuzzy, warm, partly synthetic, partly organic and woven together with real enthusiasm. If we’d signed to anyone, I like to think we would have said it was all written, performed and played by The Eleventh Hour.
11th Hour recording together demo 1982
What were the songs about? Given our musical influences and given where we were from, buildings at night featured heavily. “Hometown” is a tour through the Manhattan of South London (yes I do mean Croydon but the lyrics were anonymised from my first draft which was actually called “Croydon my Croydon”. Hi ho.). “Hotel” observes a massive neon hotel at night. “Chance” represents one of our most original sonic pieces with a distinctive pulse that Peter created on the Korg and some guitar in the distance and strummed bass with, I think to this day, Sarah’s loveliest singing. “Stress” saw us doing the whole instrument swapping thing in a piece which Peter brought almost fully formed. For some reason I moved to bass, Peter to guitar, Paul to keyboards and Sarah to electronic percussion. We all enjoyed it but live there was a bit of a hiatus while all this took place! “Midnight Special” was always my favourite to play because of the long keyboard outro with echoey, spacey piano. Here I was heavily influenced by the loveliest of all Kraftwerk songs, the original version of “Computer Love”. Well, you have to aim high. There were others, and more being written all the time and brought to rehearsal, including “From Where I’m Standing” which Sarah wrote the words and melody to.
Everything came to an end with a kind of future left unfound. There was no acrimony that I can recall. It just ended. I had most of my musical equipment stolen – along with about half my record collection. I guess the DR-55, Crumar, WEM, Peavey amp, Hondo guitar all passed throughout the back room of the Royal Park in Leeds 6. My records probably ended up back in the secondhand stores Gerol’s in the back of the Merrion Centre (from where they had come). It was a blow. And with finals approaching, we all packed it in for the time being which turned into “for all time”! I have played and recorded on and off in and around my day job (most recently some instrumental music made in my shed), Peter will come back to it one day I know, Sarah sang in other bands and wrote beautiful songs, Paul joined the Cassandra Complex and, later, Bazooka Joe. But I don’t know where he is now.
Sarah John and Paul Summer no 1 1982
How important was Croydon to the sound of the band? I don’t know about the others but, for me, I think it was the starting point. It was a suburb. It was also a city. It had affluence. It had poverty in equal measure. South was rich. North was inner city and poor (a microcosm of the simple rich-poor map of the UK). There were tower blocks which set it apart from anywhere else. It had Beano’s secondhand records, Bonaparte’s and Cloakes’s for new albums and singles. It had the Fairfield Halls but also alternative theatre at the Warehouse in Dingwall Road. It had a big gang of people who were all in different bands or looking to do something, anything different. Much maligned and lazily stereotyped, as people have only now begun to point out (thank you Bob Stanley, John Grindrod and Andy Miller), it was my home town. As Neil Young would say, writing about growing up in Canada in, “all of my changes were there”. In fact when he sings “big blue windows behind the stars…” I see Croydon, not the prairie. And I think often about writing and playing those tunes, when I was pinging between home and university and travelling towards whatever was coming up next.

Loney Dear, Bush Hall Feb 20th

About half way through a lovely set at the Bush Hall, Emil Svanangen, the founder and songwriter of Loney Dear, slips off his shoes. It’s not that he’s especially relaxed, simply that he needs more tactile and direct access to his array of bass pedals, loop station and sundry other pieces of sound altering equipment. Aided by these and a superb band (Susanna, Ole and Oscar) he takes us on a tour through some of the most recent album, Hall Music, and parts of his back catalogue. He’s in fine voice, and so is the audience, gamely singing parts or holding an F for the whole duration of one of his songs. Standout songs included “I was only going out” “Dear John” “Sinister in a state of hope” and, from the new one “Loney Blues” dispensed with early on but soaring on its lovely tune. He played a couple of songs on his own, throughout plucking away at a 12-string acoustic, treated in various ways. The songs are complex layers of sound with deceptively simple sounding melodies. Once in your head you can’t shake tunes like “I was only going out”. They begin softly and they end that way often; in the middle they are big epic melodies sung in a high keening voice. Orchestral, summery, multi-layered pop from Sweden with just enough hints of darkness and hurt to leaven what could otherwise sound whimsical. He is a major talent, a great songwriter and a skilled musician…
His well chosen support act, Young Dreams from Bergen, open the evening on a bright energetic note, playing 30 minutes to a nearly empty hall which gradually fills through their set. Lots of music has gone into their heady mix of beats and harmonies and they will go far I’m sure. Their enthusiasm is really infectious and I’m sure they’ve gained from travelling good company on this tour.
Ar the end of Loney Dear’s set Emil bids us farewell and promises to be back having finally enjoyed a London gig. There have been issues in the past apparently. But not tonight…
I think they’re off to the US next. So good luck with that Emil and co and yes come back soon…


Loney Dear, Bush Hall Feb 20th

Laura Veirs Queen Elizabeth Hall 30th January 2012

Laura Veirs was playing a short series of dates to promote Tumble Bee, the collection of children's songs she released last year, and to test a couple of new songs out and dip into the back catalogue. Some of the stops on the tour inlcude free concerts exclusively for children and carers; there's been some toddler moshpits around the bubble machine along the way, she informs us from the stage – like a miniature version of the punk bands she played in previously. But tonight the children's songs are limited to two – including one with full audience participation – through they fit seamlessly in and make sense, even in the formal QEH setting.  Most of the audience are here to see what she will do with the back catalogue again. Many are people, like us, who have seen her many times before.  And every time I think I might not be able to make it, afford it, should I see someone new…I always end up going and I always end up completely entranced. Every time is subtly different yet always effortlessly good.  She takes the song – form to some new places. She uses chords and riffs, time signatures and strange arrangements that you don't hear anywhere else. This is a performer who is really genuinely not easy to categorise. You could say "folk-Americana" and you wouldn't get it. You could say "singer-songwriter" and you wouldn't get it. Though with both you would be heading vaguely in the right direction. It's possible that whoever you are talking to would just mentally file LV under the same label as a thousand or more people who are currently standing there with an acoustic guitar and singing their songs.  It's possible they would be thinking, like most people do, of a particular template. They may even yawn. And yet what she does lyrically and musically is so much more. There's a way she has of wrapping music and word up in warmth (and steeliness too) that is unusual and hugely involving. Something to do with the concentration and focus and enthusiasm in there.  She looks like she is interested and that this is not just another gig but that it is a privilege to be making music of her own in these times and playing it for you.   LV live at QEH
Tonight she is really well served by musical collaborators Alex Guy (violins, loops, keyboards, vocals) and Tim Young (guitar and vocal). She's had some great bands down the years including the classic Tortured Souls line up with partner/producer Tucker Martine, Steve Moore and the Karl Blau. Alex and Tim provide a great mix of sensitive backing and playing, making these complex and beautiful songs and harmonies look easy.  Laura treated us to a dip and spin through some wonderful back catalogue moments (Riptide, Ether sings) a lovely Neil Young cover (Unknown Legend) and a selection from last year's great July Flame.  A couple of new songs (Shapeshifter, 10 Bridges) rounded out the evening, one of which written only the week before, both of which sounded like they could take their place alongside any of the back catalogue. LV SetlistShe got a rapturous response and seemed a little stunned, as she put it, to travel all that way and find an audience on the other side of the ocean.  She always will, I think.
Now on tour in the UK then some more dates in the US before settling down to write a new album.

The setlist was grabbed by a diehard fan who had seen Laura play many times. He allowed the picture – thank you!

When you give your heart
Sun is king
Carol Kaye
Life is good blues
Spelunking
Wide-eyed, legless
Shape shifter
Little lap dog
The fox
Lonely angel dust
Riptide
Ten bridges
Unknown legend
Jailhouse fire
Ether sings

Make something good
I can see your tracks

The Unthanks at St James Church Piccadilly, Dec 2nd 2011

To my shame I’d never seen the Unthanks play before (except on the tele) and this in spite of being quite awestruck by their music.  And the fact that in their album released this year, “Last” they have produced an extraordinary set of songs. The title track just haunts you and stays in your head long after the notes have died away.  They were great on Later in April doing that. But, but, but…it’s not the same as being in the presence of people singing right there for you, or indeed with you…

I had this feeling of having already missed out on many stupendous gigs featuring their own material down the years and I still don’t know how that happened when I do have folk on my musical radar (and I usually agree with Paul Morley who lavished such praise on the spine-tingling Bairns album and its even better follow-up Here’s the tender coming).  Anyway, that was the feeling as  I approached a sold out St James Church in Piccadilly last Friday night for the start of their tour singing the songs of Antony and the Johnsons and Robert Wyatt. And, as it turns out, a lovely New Year’s song written by Rachel and Becky’s dad.  I would like to hear their material but these cover versions might be quite good, I was thinking…

Unthanks St James

And I’m sure the purists would have preferred the things they usually do but…I needn’t have worried; the arrangements of these songs by other people (including Robert Wyatt, one of my heroes) were gorgeous and the sound of the sisters’ voices hung beautifully in the air.  Never mind the lack of beer or the very restricted view, this was great music from first to last, soothing our slightly weary souls.  Compelling music played by people with real heart.  It’s the sisters, for sure, but it is also the tremendous arrangements of Adrian and the sensitive playing of the whole band that it all comes together.  If you can get in anywhere to see them play these songs, you really should.  From the first songs, through the stories, the small snippets of clog dancing, the feeding of the baby (whilst the band played Alfie), the jokes, the childhood stories, the mentions of the fabulous sounding singing weekends ( I wish for one of those), the gorgeous playing, right up to the New Year’s singsong at the end, it was a healing evening, great company and great music.  They just create an atmosphere full of the warmth and mystery of great music and song.  We arrived in a bit of a state, after one of those weeks. We left much, much happier. 

Rickie Lee Jones revisits the past at the Festival Hall Nov 26 2011

Rickie Lee Jones is sometimes wrongly associated with a certain lazy, easy listening late 70s west coast sound – perhaps owing to the pristine nature of her first two immaculately produced albums, the eponymous first and the second, Pirates.  But dig deeper into these albums and you find songs which are little worlds in themselves, the slow drift along a night road of Last Chance Texaco,  the childhood memories of Saturday Afternoons in 1963 and so many others. Even the song which made her famous, Chuck E’s in Love, has a richness to the storytelling absent in many of its contemporaries on the atrophying LA scene of the time, a love of the details of dialogue and scene-setting. And in Night Train, she may have written one of the great songs of the late twentieth century, a portrait of a single mother threatened with losing her child to the social worker, set to the most beautiful, slight, almost not-there musical backing.

So here we were thirty years after the events at the Royal Festival Hall to see her perform the two first albums in their entirety, mixed in the running order as it turned out.  And there she was – now into her fifties performing these songs of her youth and recalling troubled times, break-ups and the long strange road to recovery from heroin abuse.  If this description makes you think the music itself was anything less than uplifting, then I’m sorry – that’s not at all what I mean. Backed by seven musicians of outstanding quality and sensitivity (showy solos were allowed sparingly only during those numbers which most approached the potentially indulgent jazz area), she gave a fantastic performance.  Whether it really was some kind of final exorcism of bad times long ago (As she hinted by the end) or not, there was an intensity to this singing and dancing by this strange un-categorisable performer which was moving in the extreme.  You simply don’t get this from the hundreds of hastily reformed acts from years gone by who are going through the motions.  Every line was delivered like it was written yesterday and not all that time ago…By the end she was tearful in the face of the standing ovation something really special in the way of live music had just happened. 

Sorry – no photos were allowed so heLights after RLJ Nov26re’s one I took on the phone from the bridge walking back from the Southbank to Charing Cross.

See www.rickieleejones.com too – there’s more than just the old songs going on for her

The Wave Pictures, 26th May 2011, The Scala

Wavepic2 I'm not sure who these fans are. How do you define a wave pictures fan?There's one in the picture taking a picture on her Blackberry.

Until last year I was only dimly aware of them. But my friend Neil dragged me along to see them at the Borderline. I've been hooked ever since. Darren from Hefner produced the new album Beer in the Breakers and he knew exactly what to do about that. Basically roll the tapes and let them play. This is a band who are completely simpatico and telepathic with one another. Maybe it's a feature of three-piece bands. But the playing, and the writing, and the performing find them all locked into their own little world. The guitar player and main songwriter David draws much of the attention. His playing is just beyond belief and his singing, and writing with lots of images of ordinary life sketched and held up for a closer look are just great. Allied to wonderful tunes and heartfelt playing. There's an atmosphere of celebration and warmth and you come out from a wave pictures show feeling better somehow. The drummer Johnny and the bass player Franic are just as good and deliver the spine of the music on which David Tattersall's words and playing dance. I do not understand how it is possible for this band not to be so much better known. Greatness beckons. Hopefully.