From cover with love…

a3693503288_10.jpg

I love James Bond and I love indie-pop, so when I was sent a copy of the new compilation album Songs, Bond Songs – a 26-track collection of Bond songs covered by contemporary US indie-pop acts, I had a licence to be thrilled…

The brainchild of criminal mastermind and executive producer, Andrew Curry, it’s an exciting journey into the world of soundtrack songs from both official and unofficial 007 films.

Things get off to an explosive start with Lannie Flowers’ rip-roaring, ’60s-style garage rock-style version of the James Bond Theme; there’s an outrageous pop-punk take on Thunderball by Jaret Reddick; a gorgeous acoustic rendition of For Your Eyes Only by Freedy Johnston that’s better than Sheena Easton’s version; a funky, yacht rock Never Say Never Again by Minky Starshine and a cool, loungey The World Is Not Enough by Fountains of Wayne side-project Look Park.

I tracked down Andrew Curry to his secret underground lair and got the intel on his latest devious plan for world domination…

Q & A

How did the project come about? Why did you decide to put together a Bond songs tribute album?

Andrew Curry: I had done two compilations prior to Songs, Bond Songs. The first one – Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock – paid tribute to the soft hits that were so prominent on America’s AM radio stations in the late ‘70s.

The second – Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasion – focused on the early years of MTV, specifically the British bands that came to dominate the American charts for the first few years of the ‘80s.

For this compilation, I wanted to expand things a bit. Rather than focus on a brief period of pop music history, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find a concept that could cover a much wider time period. And so Bond music seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I can look at five or six decades of music rather than five or six years.

Are you a huge Bond fan? Which are your favourite Bond films and songs? And which are you least favourites?

AC: I am a Bond fan, though perhaps not quite as enthusiastic about it as I was in my youth. I grew up with Roger Moore as my Bond, and while I know it’s far cooler to choose the movies of Connery or Craig as one’s favourites, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Moore era. Not to mention that I think the songs from the Moore years are, as a group, the best of the franchise.

So while I’ll concede that some of Moore’s films haven’t aged well, I’ll sit down and watch Moonraker or For Your Eyes Only any time they come on. But as it happens, my least favourite Bond film also stars Roger Moore. In A View To A Kill, he just seems so completely disinterested.

As for the music, I’ve been so inundated with it while working on this project that I’m not sure I can pick favourites anymore. But as I said, the Moore years were formative for me, so songs like Live and Let Die, Nobody Does It Better, and For Your Eyes Only were biggies for me growing up. Of the more recent songs, I think Adele did a nice job recalling the Shirley Bassey era with Skyfall. My least favourites? Well, the less said about Madonna’s Die Another Day, the better.

12644651_10153923426779451_3384812392360203259_n
Andrew Curry

‘My least favourite Bond song? Well, the less said about Madonna’s Die Another Day, the better’

How did you choose which acts to work with and how did you get them involved?

AC: As with my previous projects, I made a list of musicians I wanted to work with, and went about contacting them. Social media makes things far easier than it might have been a decade or so ago.

As for the song assignments, I went to some musicians with definite ideas for which track I wanted them to do.

My wife insisted to me that Freedy Johnston had to do For Your Eyes Only. I loved the idea of hearing Jaret Reddick take a stab at Tom Jones. Having Lisa Mychols do a Lulu song seemed too perfect to pass up. But for the most part, once the musicians had signed on, I’d give them a list of available songs, and let them choose the ones they wanted. People who chose early got a far longer list of songs to choose from!

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

AC: I know I’ll sound dodgy saying this, but I really do like all the songs on the record. But I will say that there were songs that I wondered about when the assignments were being carried out.

Could someone take a song that I didn’t have much use for and turn it into something interesting? And I’m delighted to say that the answer is a resounding yes. A few examples (among many) –  the original Moonraker is the least of Shirley Bassey’s three Bond songs, but Gary Frenay has turned it into a terrific Travelling Wilburys-esque number, complete with Orbison-styled vocals.

I’ve already mentioned that Die Another Day, with its lame overuse of Auto-Tune, is my least favourite Bond song, but in the hands of Big-Box Store (aka Joe Seiders of The New Pornographers), it’s terrific.

Some of the acts have been pretty faithful to the original versions, but there are also some very different interpretations, aren’t there? It’s a very varied album….

AC: It is, and that’s always what I strive for. People ask how much input I have in the direction a musician takes with a song. I’m always emphatic that once musicians sign on, how they approach their songs is entirely up to them. And almost without fail, that has meant that I’ll get a handful of songs that stick closely to the original and another handful that completely re-invent the source material.

I prefer the Freedy Johnston acoustic version of For Your Eyes Only and Zach Jones’ dramatic take on All Time High to the original versions by Sheena Easton and Rita Coolidge. Do you agree? I think they’ve managed to reinvent some dull, MOR ballads into something that’s much more interesting…

AC: I really love those two versions. And you’re right about the originals. They were released at a time when softer ballads were more in fashion. Freedy’s For Your Eyes Only is stripped-down, just an acoustic guitar and his vocals, and the world-weary way he approaches the song just works. It sounds like a track that would fit comfortably on some of Freedy’s early records. Zach went in a different direction than Freedy, in that his version has a full band. He hasn’t really altered the melody all that much, but he’s given it a soulful quality that Rita Coolidge’s original version couldn’t possibly approach.

I think that in recent years, the quality of Bond songwriting has gone downhill. As the films have improved, the theme songs have got worse. Would you agree?

AC: I think some of the recent songs are decent. I already mentioned Adele’s Skyfall as one example. I always thought of that song as a conscious effort to return to the lush, orchestral Bond songs of the Connery years.

I will say that I was pretty surprised that Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre actually won an Oscar. But I’ll also concede that nostalgia will always play a role in which tracks are my favourites. So it’s unlikely that any of the newer ones will ever hold the same place in my mind as, say, Live and Let Die. But if my kids decide to make the follow up to this record 30 years from now, they might just say, “You know, these new songs can’t hold a candle to Sam Smith.”

‘I was pretty surprised that Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre actually won an Oscar’

Any plans to do a live show with some of the acts doing the Bond songs?

AC: It’s a far-flung group, so there are no plans at the moment. It would be terrific fun, though.

James_Bond_(Roger_Moore)_-_ProfileWith the recent death of Roger Moore, it’s rather timely – and poignant – to be talking about Bond….

AC: Moore was always my Bond, and he’s who I always think of when I picture the character. He added a bit of camp to the part, which I know some people can’t stand, but which I always appreciated. The opening helicopter sequence in For Your Eyes Only has always been a favourite. It’s silly and over the top, but also completely entertaining. Just like Roger Moore.

Which contemporary artist – UK or US – do you think should write and record the next official Bond song?

AC: This is always a fun game to play. I have a dear friend who is a bigger Bond fan than I am – he even designed the album art.

As I started putting this together, we talked about all the musicians we were surprised never did a Bond song. Sade seems like she was built in a lab with the express purpose of recording a James Bond theme song. Seal had to have written Kiss From A Rose with hopes that it would be in a Bond film, don’t you think? It’s all I hear when I listen to that song.

‘Does Harry Styles have the gravitas to pull off a Bond song? Doubtful’

As for contemporary musicians, I’m pretty ignorant of the most popular acts these days, but I hope they’ll stay away from guys like Ed Sheeran. Does Harry Styles have the gravitas to pull it off? Doubtful. It’s a shame we’ll never hear what Amy Winehouse might have done with a Bond song. Good or bad, it probably would have been pretty interesting.

Any plans for another project? 

AC: I’m in the very early stages of planning for the next one. It’s merely a concept at the moment. I can’t reveal it here just yet, but I will say that it won’t be nearly as many songs as my previous compilations, each of which had more than two dozen songs. A nice album of 10-12 tracks sounds like heaven right about now.

Andrew Curry will return…  

To stream, download and buy Songs, Bond Songs, please visit https://currycuts.bandcamp.com/ .

Best Albums of 2015

 

minesweeping

As we approach the end of the year and overindulge in festive celebrations, hangovers are a daily occurrence.

They also played a major part in the making of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of 2015 – Minesweeping by O’Connell & Love.

One of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of recent times, it’s a collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell.

As Larry told me when I interviewed him about the making of the record: “What was interesting with Minesweeping was the use of hangovers in the recording process. Brendan was financing the project and, basically, at the end of the night, we’d chuck some drunken ideas down, but the most important stuff was done in the morning after. I knew that unless I did some songs in the morning, Brendan wouldn’t buy me a pint in the afternoon.”

Reviewing it earlier this year, I described it as, ‘a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.’

The record opens with the moody, Cash-like, acoustic death row ballad, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock, visits Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood territory for the drunken, playful duet Hangover Me (feat. Rumer), travels across Europe for the sublime, blissed-out, Stonesy country-soul of  It Was The Sweetest Thing,hangs out by the riverside for the gorgeous pastoral folk of Shake Off Your Shoes (feat.Rumer) and heads out to the ocean for the Celtic sea shanty-inspired Where Silence Meets The Sea.

Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

It’s an album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt – it’s like rifling through a record collection of classic rock and roll, folk, blues, country and soul.

There are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone – feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy – feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).

I’m really looking forward to seeing O’Connell & Love play this record live in 2016 – according to Larry, there are plans for a UK tour.

In the meantime, I’m going to pour myself a large glass of something dark and strong and lose myself in Minesweeping.

One for the road, anyone?

As albums of the year go, singer-songwriters, alt.country, power-pop and Americana dominate my list.

Richard Hawley turned in a classic with Hollow Meadows, which was less psychedelic than its predecessor, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, and largely rooted in country, folk and the lush, late-night, ‘50s-tinged melancholy ballads that dominated his earlier albums. Although there was still room for some bluesy-garage rock (Which Way) and anthemic, widescreen guitar pop (Heart of Oak).

I was lucky enough to meet Richard after one of his gigs this year and when I told him that I preferred his new album to the one before, he simply said, ‘Well – you can’t please everyone, Sean…’

Other singer-songwriters who released great albums this year included Manchester’s Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun sounded like Lee Hazlewood on a spacewalk – and Vinny Peculiar, whose Down The Bright Stream was a witty, funny and moving collection of brilliantly observed pop songs, steeped in childhood nostalgia, teenage memories and wry social commentary.

Nev Cottee
Nev Cottee

John Howard’s new project – John Howard & The Night Mail – was a wonderful record, full of quirky, witty, intelligent, theatrical and nostalgic songs, from Zombies-like psych-pop to slinky retro mod-soul, glam-rock and observational Ray Davies-style tales of people’s everyday lives.

Detroit’s Nick Piunti – a Say It With Garage Flowers favourite – returned in a blaze of glory with Beyond The Static, which was the follow-up to his critically acclaimed power-pop record 13 In My Head, while Dublin-born singer-songwriter Marc Carroll’s latest album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, was his most political record yet.

Dead Flowers – who topped Say It With Garage Flowers’ album of the year list back in 2013 with their debut, Midnight At The Wheel Club, didn’t disappoint with their new record – Minor & Grand, which was often louder and much more electrified than their first album.

Manchester band Last Harbour made Caul – a brooding, cinematic masterpiece that recalled Bowie’s Berlin period, the industrial, electronic atmosphere of Joy Division and the gothic splendour of Scott Walker and Nick Cave.

Steelism

Instrumental duo Steelism, with their spy film guitar licks and surf-rock riffs, came up with a record (615 To FAME) that harked back to the glory days of ’60s instrumental rock & roll, but also threw in country, soul and blues – and even a touch of krautrock – to create their own dramatic soundtracks.

UK Americana label Clubhouse Records had a great year in 2015, releasing superb albums by alt.country band Case Hardin (Colours Simple), whose singer-songwriter Pete Gow played a solo show that I promoted back in October, and The Dreaming Spires (Searching For The Supertruth)– Oxford’s prime exponents of ‘60s-style jangle-pop.

I must declare a vested interest in one of my favourite records of 2015 – The Other Half, a collaboration between top UK crime writer Mark Billingham and country duo My Darling Clementine.

Mark discovered My Darling Clementine by first reading about them on my blog, so, I’d like to think that I set the wheels in motion that led them to record their story of love, loss and murder that’s told in words and music and set in a rundown Memphis bar.

Sadly, not everyone who released superb albums in 2015 lived to tell the tale. Gifted, but troubled, singer-songwriter Gavin Clark (Sunhouse, Clayhill) died in February, but he left behind Evangelist – a project that was completed by James Griffith and Pablo Clements, members of UNKLE/Toydrum and the owners of the Toy Room Studios in Brighton.

Loosely based on Gavin’s life, it was a dark, edgy, atmospheric and psychedelic-tinged trip that made for uneasy – yet essential – listening.

And finally, here are some nods to acts who didn’t release studio albums this year, but put out some records that I loved.

I’m not normally a huge fan of live albums, but Johnny Marr’s Adrenalin Baby was brilliant and really captured the feel and atmosphere of his gigs – it’s worth it just to hear his outstanding, europhic version of Electronic’s Getting Away With It.

And talking of live shows, UK folk duo The Rails gave away a seven-track acoustic EP called Australia at their gigs this year.

It served as a good stopgap until their next album and featured a killer, stripped-down cover of Edwyn Collins’ Low Expectations.

Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Steve Roberts followed up his 2013 concept record Cold Wars Part 1 EP with the five-track sequel – What Would You Die For? [Cold Wars Part Two].

The standout track This Is A Cold War was a stately, Beatlesesque piano-led ballad. Lennon and McCarthy?

And while we’re on the subject of spies, being a huge James Bond fan, I really enjoyed A Girl And A Guna 34-track tribute album of 007 songs and soundtracks by artists including Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge.

Say It With Garage Flowers will return in 2016…

Here’s a list of my favourite albums of 2015 and a Spotify playlist to accompany it:

  1. O’Connell & Love – Minesweeping
  2. Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows
  3. Vinny Peculiar – Down The Bright Stream
  4. John Howard & The Night Mail – John Howard & The Night Mail
  5. Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun
  6. The Dreaming Spires – Searching For The Supertruth
  7. Dead Flowers – Minor & Grand
  8. Evangelist [Gavin Clark & Toydrum] – Evangelist
  9. Duke Garwood – Heavy Love
  10. Mark Billingham & My Darling Clementine – The Other Half
  11. Nick Piunti – Beyond The Static
  12. Case Hardin – Colours Simple
  13. Last Harbour – Caul
  14. Steelism – 615 To FAME
  15. Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night
  16. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  17. Marc Carroll – Love Is All or Not At All
  18. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
  19. Gaz Coombes – Matador
  20. Wilco – Star Wars
  21. The Sopranistas – Cutting Down The Bird Hotel
  22. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
  23. New Order – Music Complete
  24. GospelBeacH – Pacific Surf Line
  25. Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite
  26. Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth
  27. Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
  28. Hurricane #1 – Find What You Love And Let It Kill You
  29. Jacob Golden – The Invisible Record
  30. Ian Webber – Year of the Horse
  31. Bill Fay – Who Is The Sender?

‘I don’t even know if I’ve seen any of the Bond films all the way through’

With the new Bond blockbuster Spectre around the corner, indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are (wiaiwya) is releasing a James Bond tribute album called A Girl And A Gun, featuring covers of 007 songs and soundtracks by contemporary acts including Papernut Cambridge, Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer and Ralegh Long. 

I asked Ian Button from Papernut Cambridge about his groovy garage-rock take on Lulu’s The Man With The Golden Gun…

Ian Button

How did you get involved with the A Girl And A Gun project?

Ian Button: I can’t quite remember when I first heard Jerv (wiaiwya) mention the idea – I think it might have been when we were all at The Union Chapel when Papernut Cambridge played a Daylight Music show at the end of 2014.

I probably muscled in just as much as I was invited. The idea fitted in really well with our ‘lost year of cover versions’ – the Nutlets album and our soon to be released EP of John Sullivan theme songs – so I just said yes without thinking.

Jerv is a great friend, and was also a great advisor to us when we started the Gare Du Nord label – the links between all the bands and players on the labels in our little circle are too complex to go into – but suffice to say I’m involved on a couple of other tracks on the album too – drumming, recording etc on Ralegh’s and Darren’s tracks…..and the Papernuts are going to be a sort of ‘house band’ for some of the show on November 7th at The Union Chapel.

(Papernut Cambridge)

Why did you choose to cover The Man With The Golden Gun? What were you trying to achieve with your version?

IB: I went for it because I thought I knew no one else would. It’s one of the real underdog themes. But of course Mark Williamson (Crock Oss) went and chose it as well, and did a brilliant electronic/location recordings version of it too. At the show on Nov 7th we’re going to do a kind of amalgamation of both our versions, which is going to be great fun.

(Crock Oss)

I remember Lulu doing The Man Who Sold The World and being in a sort of Bowie phase in the early/mid ’70s, and The Man With The Golden Gun was definitely the same kind of thing/look/era.

When I got to grips with the music I realised how cool it is – not really any chords, just dark monophonic lines and dischords etc…it took me a while to work out those really Bond machine gun cluster notes at the start. They are very clever!

Like all our covers, I wanted to try and make it sound sort of like the original – not an oblique post-ironic re-work – but I also liked the idea of a bloke singing it instead of Lulu.

It was recorded the way pretty much all of the Papernut Cambridge tracks are formed – I start at home with a basic structure, in this case a sort of synth bass line, a couple of guitar lines and a drum machine.

I used Mellotron sounds (M-Tron Pro) to layer up the brass/strings/harp etc. Then I went to a little rehearsal room to do the vocals and real drums. The drums were recorded with just one mic, but there are three takes all playing at once.

The next step normally is to send the track to the rest of the Nuts so they can add bits – but in this case it didn’t quite happen as usual.

Robert Halcrow was the only one who sent anything back by Jerv’s deadline (bass, real horns, and backing vocals) – everyone else just said they couldn’t add anything – even though I meant for them to replace the programmed parts with real guitars/keys etc. So it’s really ended up just me and Rob Halcrow on this one. But Ralegh Long came up with something maybe better than any music – the video, which is taken from a spoof Bond movie that he and his mates made when they were at school – Blackeye. It’s genius.

Are you a Bond fan?

IB: Not really, I must confess. I kind of liked the ‘60s and ‘70s ones because they were a bit light hearted. Christmas afternoon fodder.

I haven’t seen the Daniel Craig films, but I hear about torture scenes and I kind of don’t really like the idea of them being dark or too scary.

What’s your favourite Bond film and song – and why?

IB: I couldn’t name a movie that’s my favourite, unfortunately. I actually don’t even know if I’ve seen any all the way through – but my favourite song is You Only Live Twice. That strings riff is the cold suburban sunshine of the 1960s, bottled. I also especially like the reggae bit in Live and Let Die.

Who is your favourite actor to have played Bond?

IB: Roger Moore – not least because he and Dorothy Squires used to live near me in Bexley…

What do you think of Sam Smith’s song for Spectre – Writing’s On The Wall?

IB:I had a listen and it didn’t really grab me. But then neither did the Spectres one [Bristol band] that got a lot of attention in that stupid mix up of reviews. I usually don’t like music that tries to be all dramatic, minor key and portentous, although I do make exceptions!

I’m going to use Sam Smith’s lyrics in a university lecture next week, to see if people recognise them by reading a verse in isolation. They sort of don’t say anything about the movie really do they? Not like Lulu, who actually said what’s in the film, totally!

A Girl And A Gun is released digitally on October 23 (wiaiwya).

https://wiaiwya.bandcamp.com/album/a-girl-and-a-gun

http://www.wiaiwya.com

For more on A Girl And A Gun, read my interviews with wiawya founder John Jervis  and musician Robert Rotifer