‘We haven’t got the budget for playing in full, late ‘60s West Coast regalia and Roger McGuinn wigs!’

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The Raving Beauties – photograph by John Morgan

Late last year, jangle-pop project The Raving Beauties, the brainchild of Belfast writer Brian Bell, who is now based in Brighton, teamed up with Oxford band The Dreaming Spires to release Raving For Bap, a 10in limited vinyl EP dedicated to singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy, who died in late 2016.

The record features five of Bap’s songs, which The Raving Beauties have made their own. The opening track, Walk In Love, is a joyous, chiming guitar anthem that’s befitting of The Byrds, while Moriarty’s Blues is a gorgeous, folky shuffle. The Way I Love Her is infectious, organ-driven power-pop, Hard Street is a down and out ballad with a country feel and Lonesome Lullaby is another Byrdsian belter – 12-string guitars, heavenly harmonies and a life-affirming chorus.

I spoke to Brian to find out more about the EP and to clear up some confusion over how the mysterious ‘fictitious’ band, The Raving Beauties, came into being…

Q & A

Let’s talk about your recent five-track EP, Raving For Bap, which was a tribute to Belfast singer-songwriter, Bap Kennedy (Energy Orchard), who died from cancer in 2016. Proceeds from the record are being donated to Belfast’s Marie Curie Hospice. How did the EP come about?

Brian Bell: I’d known Bap since the early Noughties, when a mutual friend, James Walbourne [The Rails, The Pretenders] introduced us on the basis that because we both came from Belfast, we’d probably get on, which we did, very much so. Aside from being such a talented guy, Bap was a very genuine, kind person and great company – his self-deprecating wit and killer one-liners were something to behold.

Before meeting him, I’d been aware of his music and really admired it. I really loved and connected with songs like Sailortown and Sweet Irish Rose, off the first Energy Orchard album, and I’d bought his Domestic Blues album when it first came out.

In the years that I was seeing Bap most regularly, I’ve fond memories of his legendary Sunday gigs at the Boogaloo in Highgate, North London, where he’d be mixing up his own stuff with Elvis and Hank Williams covers. Everybody would be lapping it up and the craic was tremendous.

In more recent years, I’d kept in touch with Bap when he moved back to Holywood in Northern Ireland and always looked forward to meeting up with him whenever I was back home visiting family.

‘I’ve fond memories of Bap’s legendary Sunday gigs at the Boogaloo in Highgate, where he’d be mixing up his own stuff with Elvis and Hank Williams covers’

When we lost Bap to cancer, in November 2016, it was obviously a very upsetting and difficult time for everyone who knew and loved him. In the months after his passing, he was on my mind a lot and I guess my appreciation of his songs had deepened, which is probably when the idea for a tribute record started hatching. Bap’s widow Brenda has been doing an amazing job of looking after his legacy and continuing to share and celebrate his music, so I hope we can add to that in some way. It was also important from the outset that the record would be a fundraiser for the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast, as Bap’s family think the world of the staff there for the care they gave Bap towards the end of his life.

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The EP is a collaboration between The Raving Beauties and Oxford band The Dreaming Spires. What’s your relationship? How did you end up working together? 

BB: In 2016, The Dreaming Spires included The Raving Beauties track Arrows on the guest artist side of their Paisley Overground 12in mini album and we were on the same label – At The Helm – at the time. We did a launch gig for the record together in Brighton, which went really well.

My friendship with the guys started there and we ended up doing another gig together as The Raving Beauties at Truck Festival in 2016, which was a lot of fun. I’d chatted with Joe Bennett [from The Dreaming Spires] about recording some new songs together, but with Bap being on my mind so much, I felt a tribute EP was what we should do next.

Luckily, Joe and the rest of the guys – Robin Bennett, Tom Collison and Fin Kenny – were well up for it, so we all got together at Joe’s studio in Oxford last Spring to start working on it, with Joe producing. There was a great vibe and a lovely spirit of camaraderie, which I hope comes across on the record.

With the EP, you and The Dreaming Spires have put your own spin on Bap’s songs – there’s a US West Coast, ‘60s jangle-pop feel to some of the songs. How did you approach the tracks and how did you decide which ones to cover?

BB: Joe, wisely I think, didn’t want to get too swayed by listening to Bap’s originals – he just wanted me to turn up with the chords and lyrics, so we could try to put our own stamp on them. You’re right about the American West Coast influence, and I suppose the idea was broadly along the lines of imagining how Bap’s songs might have been interpreted by a Californian guitar band in the late ‘60s. I can’t be too coy about the likes of Spirit, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Monkees, Love and The Youngbloods all being an influence.

In terms of choosing songs, it was a case of picking songs I particularly loved that I imagined could also lend themselves to being done in a different way. There are other Bap songs that I love just as much, but I don’t feel would necessarily suit being re-worked in that style.

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I want to ask you about the origins of The Raving Beauties. I’ve heard a rumour that the band doesn’t really exist – it’s fictitious… Can you clear this up?

BB: In the last 10 years, I’ve got into writing fiction – I did a Creative Writing MA and had a pulp fiction novella – Die Hard Mod – published under the pen name Charlie McQuaker.

One of my short stories that I’d read at spoken word nights in Brighton was called The Unsung Classic, which was about an ill-fated retro band of the ‘90s called The Raving Beauties. I remember a lot of ‘60s time warp guys hanging around Brighton, who’d based their whole image on Gene Clark circa 1967 – that scene inspired the story. I then had the idea to make an EP of what this fictitious band might have sounded like and managed to convince Gordon Grahame – an incredibly gifted Scottish singer-songwriter/producer – to collaborate with me on some recordings.

‘I remember a lot of ‘60s time warp guys hanging around Brighton, who’d based their whole image on Gene Clark circa 1967’

In 2015, The Raving Beauties released their debut album of ‘60s-inspired guitar pop….

BB: The original plan was to put a vinyl EP out as a ‘benign hoax’, purporting to be the lost recordings of some long-forgotten retro band called The Raving Beauties, but when I sent the tracks to Jim Walker, after his At The Helm label had just been launched, he said he loved the songs, but would only release something if we made a full album.

That gave myself and Gordon the impetus to go back into his home studio and, in a relatively short time, we came up with something that I’m still pretty proud of.

The finished album was a mix of my songs, Gordon’s songs and a few co-writes that came together really quickly. My abiding memory is of it being a huge buzz, like being a teenager again. We had this in-joke when something was going particularly well, when we’d just look at each other, do the double thumbs-up and say ”Brilliant!” in a comedy Scottish accent.

I knew at the time that Gordon was doing me a big favour by indulging me with this strange project and it was always pretty much with the understanding that it would be a one-off for him, but we’re still mates and it’s totally got his blessing that I’m keeping the project going. The plan is to make another album this year with the musicians from Raving For Bap and other collaborators.

The Raving Beauties have a gig coming up. You’re playing the Ramblin’ Roots Revue festival in April (6-8, Bucks Students Union, High Wycombe). What can we expect?

BB: The plan is to do the Raving For Bap EP, plus some songs from the first album – The ‘Spires boys have kindly signed up to be honorary Raving Beauties.

I wish I could say we’ll be doing the set in full, late ‘60s West Coast regalia and we’ll all be sporting Roger McGuinn wigs, but, unfortunately, we haven’t budgeted for that!

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The Raving Beauties – photograph by John Morgan

Any plans to hold a tribute gig for Bap?

BB: Yes – we’re hatching a plan and hopefully will be able to confirm something soon. Fundraising-wise, we’ve joined forces with Bap’s sister, Marian, who has already raised over £2,000 for the hospice, and we’ve set ourselves the target of raising a grand total of £5,600 by June 17,when Bap would have been 56

What does the rest of 2018 hold for The Raving Beauties?

BB: Some Girls from The Raving Beauties’ first album is getting another lease of life thanks to You Are The Cosmos including it on their next 12 String High vinyl compilation. which is due out in April/May. I always felt that song could make an impact if it reached the right ears, so fingers crossed, it will happen this time around… I’ll also soon be starting work with the guys on the new Raving Beauties album. We want to retain some of the jangle, but get a lot more adventurous, too.

Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently digging?

BB: I tend to mainly listen to instrumental stuff, particularly ‘50s jazz, so the likes of John Coltrane, Oliver Nelson, Miles Davis and Chet Baker are on the stereo a lot. For anyone who likes that kind of thing, I’d recommend the soundtrack to Listen Up Philip by Keegan DeWitt.

‘We want to retain some of the jangle, but get a lot more adventurous, too’

Another soundtrack that I keep coming back to is The Hired Hand by Bruce Langhorne, which is such a sparse, haunting and beautiful piece of music.

I’m always hoping to hear a new killer pop song on the radio, but, to be honest, the last one that really jumped out at me was Mean Streets by Tennis from a few year back.

I think Fleet Foxes are probably the band that has impressed me most in recent years, closely followed by Temples. I’ve loved Nick Drake and John Martyn since I was a teenager and that’s something I’ve been coming back to a lot recently too.

Bap’s album The Sailor’s Revenge has been another constant. It’s his masterpiece and deserves to be in any ‘Top 10 Greatest Irish Albums of All Time’ list.

 

Raving For Bap by The Raving Beauties is out now on Farm Music – more info here.

The band’s self-titled debut album is currently available from At The Helm Records. 

The Raving Beauties will be playing at The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe: April 6-8.

More information here:  https://www.bucksstudentsunion.org/ramblinrootsrevue/ 

 

 

From cover with love…

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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.

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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/ .

The power of good

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Things may be seriously amiss in the corridors of power, but, thankfully, all is well in the world of power pop. In fact, it’s in rude health.

If you need proof, look no further than some of the latest releases on UK vinyl-only label Sugarbush Records and Spain’s You Are The Cosmos.

If you’re unfamiliar with Sugarbush’s output, then a good place to start is the new compilation album, A Spoonful of Sugarbush – a 13-track sampler LP that brings together a whole bunch of tracks by various artists that are otherwise unavailable on vinyl.

Limited to only 300 copies – 150 on green vinyl and 150 on red – this is an essential collection of hook-laden, retro guitar pop.

There’s no messing about – things get off to a great start with the jangly Stormy Skies and Starry Nights by Caddy from Norway, which reminds me of classic Teenage Fanclub.

It’s hard to pick out highlights, but here are a few: Algernon by Detroit’s The Hangabouts – essentially, Fountains of Wayne doing psych-pop; Ticket With No Return, by English act The Orgone Box – think Revolver-era Beatles – and the irresistible Take It From Me by US singer-songwriter Chris Richards.

Sugarbush Records’ head honcho, Markus Holler, has even included one of his own tracks on the album – a perk of the job, eh? – and it’s a belter – the Cotton Mather-esque Little Pretender.

And all of those songs are only on side one… Flip it over and you get the swirling, psychedelic sounds of Maladantive Solution and Green Pajamas, and the Future Harmonies’ faithful rendition of the theme tune from ‘70s sitcom Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?

There’s no doubt about it – A Spoonful of Sugarbush is just the thing to help the medicine go down.

And as if that’s not [Matthew] sweet enough, Spanish label You Are The Cosmos has also recently served up some delicious power pop treats.

King Without A Throne by David Brookings is a 12-track Best Of collection on vinyl that includes material from all seven of the US singer-songwriter’s albums released between 2000-2016.

Opener Time To Go is hugely hummable and high on harmonies, the title track is a big, mid-paced, radio-friendly ballad about being dumped – it sounds like it should be on the soundtrack of a romcom or a teen angst movie – the country-tinged Tough Crowd is an ode to playing to unreceptive audiences, and The Greatest Songwriter No One Ever Heard is an anthem for frustrated, undiscovered musicians everywhere.

Funnily enough, Ronnie D’Addario – whose Best Of 1976-1983 LP is also out now on You Are The Cosmos – could be the greatest songwriter no one ever heard.

He’s the dad of brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario, from New York hipsters The Lemon Twigs, and sublime Beachboys and Beatles-inspired pop is his specialty. And there’s plenty of it on offer on this classy 12-track compilation.

The piano-led I’m On To Something is pure McCartney and the gorgeous Falling For Love is a ballad that sounds like it was found buried in Brian Wilson’s sandbox.

Ronnie’s three studio albums – Take In A Show (1976), Falling For Love (1981) and Good For You (1983) are also available in a three CD box set on You Are The Cosmos.

Finally, also out in power-pop land this month – on Buchipluma Records – is Fear The Summer – the third album from one-man band Colman Gota, the former member of Madrid-based act Insanity Wave.

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Colman Gota

The record is co-engineered by Mitch Easter (R.E.M and Velvet Crush), and as someone who suffers from a fear of summer, I was particularly drawn to the superb title track, which kicks off the album with a howl of guitar, before letting loose with a chugging rhythm, spacey New Wave sounds and some serious organ, like Elvis Costello and The Attractions doing fuzz-pop. It’s going to be my anti-summer soundtrack.

Call It Quits, What You Want Me To Be and Make A Stand – which is driven by a cool bass groove – are gloriously defiant, power-pop anthems.

In the press release that accompanies the album, Colman says: “Should you still be rocking in your forties? Yes, you should.”

He adds: “These days you have the feeling, that society condemns you to solitary confinement if you are not young and beautiful and if you don’t comply with some unwritten rules. Well it’s time to rebel against all that…. or write a great song about it.”

With Fear The Summer, he’s written a whole bunch of ‘em. More power to him.

 

For more information on all of these records – which are out now – please visit:

http://www.sugarbushrecords.com/

http://www.youarethecosmos.com/

https://www.facebook.com/colmantheband/

 

 

 

Best albums of 2016

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Uneasy listening was the musical genre that defined 2016.

The spectre of death loomed large over several of the year’s best albums, namely David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker – both artists died in 2016, shortly after releasing their records – and Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, which, in places, dealt with the grief and sadness he felt following the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015.

All three albums were masterpieces and highlights in their creators’ impressive back catalogues, but were difficult to listen to.

Songs such as Bowie’s vulnerable, jazzy Dollar Days – my favourite track on Blackstar – and Cohen’s twangy, twilight ballad, Leaving The Table, were undeniably beautiful, but eerily prescient.

I defy anyone not to shed a tear while hearing Bowie croon “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me”, or Laughing Len intone, “I’m leaving the table – I’m out of the game.”

When Danish soprano Else Torp duets with Cave on Distant Sky, her beautiful vocals could break even the hardest of hearts.

On a personal note, I had a difficult 2016, having to cope with illness, anxiety and family bereavements, so these three albums often suited my mood, but, strangely, I haven’t chosen any of them as my favourite record of the year.

I so nearly opted for another dark album as my top choice – Richmond Fontaine’s brilliant You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To – the final long-player from Willy Vlautin’s Portland-based, alt-country band who’ve now split up – but I didn’t.

Instead, I went for a record that always made me smile and cheered me up whenever I listened to it, thanks to its wonderful arrangements, sublime melodies and unashamedly retro vibe. 

My favourite album of 2016 is Over The Silvery Lake – the debut record from London’s The Hanging Stars. 

Released in March, Over The Silvery Lake was recorded in LA, Nashville and Walthamstow. It’s a gorgeous psych-folk-pop-country-rock record that owes a debt to The Byrds and the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons, but also Fairport Convention’s pastoral ’60s English tune-smithery.

It’s laced with pedal steel guitar and shot through with blissed-out harmonies. There are songs where willows weep and ships set sail on the sea, hazy, lazy, shimmering summer sounds  (I’m No Good Without You and Crippled Shining Blues), as well as brooding desert-rock (The House On The Hill], trippy mystical adventures (Golden Vanity) and, on the closing track, the beautiful Running Waters Wide, rippling piano is accompanied by bursts of groovy flute. 

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The Hanging Stars

Earlier this year, I interviewed The Hanging Stars about the writing and recording of the album – you can read the article here.

The band have just finished making the follow-up and it will be released next year. I’ve already reserved a place for it in my Best Albums of 2017 list… 

Here’s a list of my favourite 35 albums from this year and a Spotify playlist to accompany it, where possible – some of the albums aren’t available to stream.

This year, I interviewed several of the artists featured, so I’ve linked to the articles below. Happy Christmas – all the best for 2017 and I’ll see you on the other side…

  1. The Hanging Stars Over The Silvery Lake
  2. Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
  3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Key
  4. Peter BruntnellNos Da Comrade
  5. Vinny PeculiarSilver Meadows
  6. David Bowie – Blackstar
  7. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
  8. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
  9. Ben Watt – Fever Dream
  10. Quiet Loner – The Battle For The Ballot
  11. Britta Phillips Luck Or Magic
  12. Nick Piunti Trust Your Instincts 
  13. Cotton MatherDeath of The Cool
  14. Robert Rotifer Not Your Door
  15. Papernut Cambridge – Love The Things Your Lover Loves
  16. Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
  17. The Senior Service – The Girl In The Glass Case
  18. Cat’s Eyes – Treasure House
  19. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr Proust
  20. Teenage Fanclub – Here
  21. Wilco – Schmilco 
  22. Dr Robert Out There
  23. The Explorers Club – Together
  24. Cool Ghouls – Animal Races
  25. John HowardAcross The Door Sill
  26. The Junipers – Red Bouquet Fair
  27. 8 X 8 – Inflorescence 
  28. Ryan Allen & His Extra ArmsBasement Punk
  29. Primal Scream – Chaosmosis
  30. The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect
  31. Paul McClure Songs For Anyone 
  32. The Monkees Good Times!
  33. The Coral – Distance Inbetween
  34. Hurricane #1 – Melodic Rainbows [Japan only release]
  35. The Hosts – Moon

Power pop to the people

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Here at Say It With Garage Flowers we’re massive power pop fans and we always get excited when we get to hear new releases by UK-based label Sugarbush Records, which specialises in rare and limited edition vinyl, including power pop, psych and cool ‘60s stuff.

Over the last few weeks, Sugarbush has really been spoiling us, so we thought we’d do a quick roundup of some of its latest records.

Detroit singer-songwriter Nick Piunti’s superb 2015 album, Beyond The Static, has been issued on vinyl for the first time – it’s limited to only 250 copies on blue vinyl.

We interviewed Nick when the record was first released last year and you can read all about the making of it here.

Beyond The Static was the follow-up to Nick’s critically acclaimed album 13 In My Head, which we described as ‘an instant power pop classic’.

Fans of 13 In My Head will definitely love Beyond The Static. As we said when it first came out, it’s more of the same – infectious power pop songs with big guitars, harmonies and strong melodies.

There’s also a country influence on the song Six Bands and some vintage New Wave synth on Heart Stops Beating. Nick’s been compared to singer-songwriters such as Matthew Sweet, Tom Petty and Paul Westerberg.

Don’t forget to check out Nick’s latest album, Trust Your Instincts, which is currently available on CD. We’re hoping for a vinyl release of it on Sugarbush sometime soon…

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If you like Nick Piunti, you’ll also dig Dom Mariani’s Homespun Blues & Greens. Out on Sugarbush, this ‘lost’ album by the former frontman of Australian garage rock band The Stems is released on vinyl for the first time.

Limited to 300 ‘deep blue’ copies worldwide, it was recorded over a two-year period in the early noughties, but slipped under the radar when it came out in 2004.

Mixed by Mitch Easter (R.E.M and Velvet Crush) it’s top-notch power pop, with fuzzy riffs, crunching chords and some great hooks.

The title track has a brilliant soulful brass arrangement, gorgeous ballad Prove has cool ’60s-style backing vocals and tinges of country rock, thanks to its Faces-style guitar licks, while space-themed Yuri is, er, out of this world, and Bus Ride is power pop perfection.

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Finally this month, Sugarbush has another vinyl first – Irish band Pugwash’s second album, Almanac. Originally released in 2002, it’s now available on orange or white vinyl – there are 250 copies of each.

Pugwash’s main man, Thomas Walsh, is clearly a man who’s in love with vintage pop music – even  Almanac’s title is a nod to The Kinks.

For the most part, Walsh channels mid-to late ’60s Beatles and ELO – Everything We Need sounds like George Harrison meets Jeff Lynne, while the lovely acoustic ballad Sunrise Sunset could’ve come off  The White Album.

Keep Movin’ On reminds us of The Hollies and Apples sounds like English eccentrics XTC – it’s no surprise that, in 2002, XTC’s Andy Partridge said it was the most exciting track he’d heard all year.

Almanac is a Fab album and Pugwash are plundering pop pirates. Ahoy there, me hearties…

For more information on all of these albums – and to order them –  please visit http://www.sugarbushrecords.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the jangle

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The sound of the 12-string guitar is celebrated on a great new compilation album – Twelve String High – which includes 23 jangle pop acts from all over the world, who share a love of Rickenbacker riffs and heavenly harmonies…

From The Byrds to Big Star and The Raspberries to REM, the 12-string guitar has always played an important part in rock and roll history.

The distinctive Rickenbacker jingle-jangle can be heard in folk rock, ‘60s beat, garage, power pop, the psychedelic Paisley Underground scene in ‘80s L.A and the British indie tunes of The Smiths.

There are also a huge number of current bands that owe a large debt to that classic 12-string guitar sound and the best of them are gathered together on an excellent new compilation album, Twelve String High, from Spanish label You Are The Cosmos.

Available on double vinyl, single CD and download, it rounds up 23 acts from all over the world that are known for their love of 12-string guitars and heavenly harmonies.

Things get off to a great start with the brilliant opening track by US singer-songwriter Erik Voeks – the entirely apt and wonderfully euphoric She Loved Her Jangle Pop.

And, if, like the female protagonist in Erik’s song, you love your jangle pop, then Twelve String High is an essential collection. In fact, we’d go as far to say that it’s one of the best compilation albums we’ve ever heard.

The UK is represented by Say It With Garage Flowers favourites The Dreaming Spires (If I Didn’t Know You), as well as Kontiki Suite, Dropkick, The Carousels, The Junipers, The Higher State and The Hanging Stars – whose debut album Over The Silvery Lake is one of the finest records of 2016.

Some of these bands were already on the Say It With Garage Flowers radar, but listening to Twelve String High has opened our ears to a whole lot more acts that we’d love to find out more about.

Who are US band The Parson Red Heads, whose gorgeous ballad It’s Hard For Me To Say is included on the album? And what about Australia’s Wade Jackson, who pitches in with Coming Back, Elvyn from Canada, whose Lotta Lies is one of the highlights, or Sweden’s Arvidson & Butterflies, with their marvellous, organ-heavy Tired of Running?

It’s a jangle out there…

Twelve String High is available now from You Are The Cosmos and the vinyl version can also be bought on import from Sugarbush Records.

Basement Instinct

 

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Michigan-based singer-songwriter Ryan Allen is back with this third solo album Basement Punk – an explosive collection of power pop songs about love, life and rock and roll that are influenced by Teenage Fanclub, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr, Sugar and early R.E.M.

I lured Ryan out of his basement for a chat about the new record and to find out what’s the most punk thing he’s ever done…

 

Let’s cut to the chase and talk about your brand new record – Basement Punk. It’s your third solo album. The title was inspired by the large amount of time you’ve spent in your basement. Should we be worried? What do you get up to down there?

Ryan Allen: Ha ha. Yeah, I guess the title does give the impression that I’m some kind of underground-dwelling troll or something.

In reality, I write songs in all sorts of places. My front porch, my living room, my wife’s home office…shit, sometimes melodies or even fully-formed compositions hit me when I’m out running, or in the shower. But once I bring a song down to the basement to start demoing, it’s really then that I get serious about making some commitments to all the elements that end up on the finished version.

I have my little corner in the basement with a little bit of recording gear, a drum kit, a few mics…it’s nothing special, but it gets the job done, and I feel like I’ve come up with some really good stuff down there.

What were you aiming for with this record? Did you approach it differently from its predecessor, 2015’s Heart String Soul? What sound did you want for the new album?

You’ve said you were listening to albums by Buffalo Tom, Slowdive, R.E.M and Sugar while you were making it…

RA: Ultimately I think this record is as much “me” as the last two. The big difference is that I didn’t have as many rules as the last one – like not using effects pedals, or recording the drums in a very “muted” style). This time, I really just cranked it all up and made the kind of album I’d want to hear in 1995 (and now pretty much, too).

The songs are still personal – about my life, my opinions, etc, but I wanted to tweak the sonic elements a little bit to pay homage to a certain sound that I really connected with growing up. That loud, jangly, melody-driven alternative rock sound that the aforementioned bands did really well.

 

 

One of the tracks on the record is called Chasing A Song. Did the songs for this album come easily to you?

RA: Yeah. For the most part, they really just started pouring out. I think once I figured out exactly what I wanted to do, a big chunk of the tunes seemed to appear almost out of thin air.

One reason why is that I was so encouraged and inspired after the positive reaction to my last solo record, that I wanted to really continue the streak.

It was so humbling to learn that there were actually people out there that were excited about what I was doing, and it really gave me that extra push to want to keep it going. So much love to all the power pop blogs and radio shows out there for giving a shit about this music that I’m making.

What was the songwriting and recording process like?

RA: Songwriting and demoing-wise, the biggest difference between this new one and Heart String Soul from last year is that I got a drum kit. So a lot of the songs I was writing, I would start working on a little riff and hear a drum part in my head; eventually I’d sit down on the drums and kind of bash out a part.

A lot of the faster, more aggressive songs were a result of thinking more about what the drums were going to be doing, and then sitting down and actually figuring it out.

I also didn’t really stop writing songs for the record once I hit 10 or 11 tunes. I kept going and ended up with 17 or so songs for the record. I demoed all of them, and then settled on 14 or so to go and record. From there I whittled it down to 11 (there are three or so tunes that didn’t make the record, that I might put out before the end of the year).

So that was kind of new for me, as opposed to just going in to record the album with the same amount of songs that end up on it. I wasn’t as precious about things this time around, and it gave me a chance to be more strategic about what I wanted on the album.

I recorded a chunk of the album – all the drums, most of the guitars and most of the vocals – at Big Sky in Ann Arbor with Geoff Michael and then took the rest to my dad’s [Brad Allen] studio and finished there.

Recording in a legit studio gave the songs a chance to be as big as I thought they should be in my head, and working with Geoff was wonderful. Then reconnecting with my dad and laying down bass, percussion and other bells and whistles was great because it’s just so easy and we get in there and get shit done.

Andy Reed mixed and mastered it, and he’s got such a great ear for things and already knows exactly where I was coming from, so, all in all, it was a perfect match each time.

 

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You played all the instruments yourself on this album. How challenging was that?

RA: I guess it would be challenging if I went into the studio and had no idea what I wanted to do. But my demo process is to basically make the entire record in my basement, and then go and make it again in a studio. That way I don’t waste time, money and energy trying to come up with stuff on the spot.

I’m pretty meticulous when I go in, and my plan is always to knock things out as quickly as possible. I don’t like to dick around.

The only thing that is maybe a bit of a challenge is the drums, as I think I’m a pretty good drummer, but nailing things in a full take can be tough sometimes when you don’t play drums as your main instrument. Thank goodness for Pro Tools.

You’ve said the songs on the new record are “deeply personal”. Can you elaborate on that? Can you tell us what inspired some of the songs?

RA: For songs to be considered for a solo album, there has to be some personal connection there.

Usually it’s either about somebody or something specific, or opinionated enough that I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing it into a band, for fear they might not feel the same way, which has never happened, but it’s just what goes through my head.

The songs on this one tend to either revolve around nostalgic things that happened in my past that sort of inform either who I am or who the people around me are (Basement Punks, Mal n’ Ange) or just ruminations on my perspective on certain things (Gimme Sum More, Without A Doubt). Love, life, and rock and roll. Those are the things I tend to write about, and there’s a lot of that going on here.

 

 

The track Alex Whiz sounds like it could be about someone you knew when you were growing up. Where did that song come from? Musically, it reminds me of the Manic Street Preachers – it sounds like it could’ve come from one of their late ’90s album. Do you agree?

RA: Yeah, it’s about a real person that I grew up knowing; he lived next-door to my best friend as a kid and was just a really unique person. He was eccentric before I really understood what that was, and I wanted to sort of pay homage to him as a person who was totally 100% himself from an early age.

Musically, it’s definitely indebted to Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and things like that, maybe with a little bit of early Radiohead and Superdrag thrown in. I never really got into the Manic Street Preachers, but now that you mention it, I’ll go back and check them out.

People Factory is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track?

RA: That was one of the first songs I wrote where I felt like, “OK, I’ve got something really good going here for album number three.”

Weirdly, it ended up being a little bit ‘out there’ on the album, as it’s more moody and vibey than some of the ‘bash it out’ punk songs.

At one point I considered maybe not putting it on the record, but I really love how it came out. I definitely wanted to do something in a sort of R.E.M. vein, and I think I achieved it…there’s a bit of a Spoon thing going on there as well.

Overall, I’m glad I put it on the record because I think it adds an extra dynamic to the thing that it really needed. I love albums that have left turns and weird moments; ones that divert from what might be seen as a clear path. Those are the most interesting to me and they continue to be the ones I come back to over and over again.

Lyrically, it’s a song about just being yourself. I feel like people are so afraid of embracing their inner weirdo, and instead would just rather blend in.

The idea that people would just be churned out factory-style is, of course, a bit absurd, but sometimes it really feels like that. Individuality needs to be embraced more in our society, and I feel like the song is kind of a commentary on that.

The final song on the album is called Everything (In Moderation). Is that advice that you agree with?

RA: Yeah, it’s advice I have had to pretty much begrudgingly agree with as I get older. I used to think I was invincible and could eat and drink whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it.

I thought I could just come and go as I pleased without any regard to anybody else’s feelings. I made some mistakes in that regard, and now take great joy in having a bit more regimented thing going on. I need it, as otherwise I’d probably lose my mind.

I run four times a week, I go to bed early and I eat healthier. I have a little bit of fun on the weekends, but don’t over do it during the week. It’s helped me get a clearer head and become a happier person, that’s for sure.

What music are you currently listening to you and enjoying – old and new?

RA: I’m kinda always listening to the same stuff, really. Lots of R.E.M., Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Sugar, Husker Du, Superchunk, the Replacements, Slowdive, Sloan, Big Star, Buffalo Tom… I just bought an original copy of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation and man does that thing still kill.

Some newer stuff I’ve been digging is the new Beach Slang record, as well as a band called Smile from San Francisco that have a short EP I stumbled upon online that is really great, the new Teenage Fanclub and Bob Mould records…

I like this band from Philly called Hurry that are nice and jangly. The new Nada Surf album is excellent and I’ve recently rediscovered a band from Canada called Doughboys – I’ve been listening to their 1994 album Crush a lot.

I think the new Dinosaur Jr album is really good, as well as the new one from TUNS, which is like a ‘90s Canadian rock supergroup, featuring members of Sloan, Superfriendz and The Inbreds. I like a band from Minneapolis called Fury Things – they are another recent discovery that I’m happy to have found.

The new Lees of Memory album is great and I’ve been jamming that all year long. So yeah, lots of stuff.

What are your plans for the rest of 2016?  Will you be playing in the UK anytime soon?

RA: My plans are just to play shows when I can and keep getting the word out about the record. I would love to play the UK again – I have played there three or four times with an old band of mine – but don’t really have a means to make it happen. But if there are any promoters out there who want to pay for some plane tickets and help book some shows, well, I’m all ears!

Finally, what’s the most punk thing you’ve ever done?

RA: The most punk thing I’ve done is never stop making music and releasing albums. Some people just peter out at a certain point; they give up and check out. But that is something I will never do. I’m here to stay, man.

 

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Basement Punk by Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms is released on September 30 on Save Your Generation Records.

https://extraarms.bandcamp.com/