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 approached this record like it would be my last’

Marc Carroll

Dublin-born singer-songwriter Marc Carroll’s latest album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, is his most political record yet.

A collection of songs that ruminate on how love can triumph over adversity, it includes haunting, atmospheric ballads, a spoken word collaboration with Crass’s Penny Rimbaud and joyous, jangly power-pop.

I asked Marc about love, life and living in Los Angeles…

 

 

I’m really enjoying the new album. Several of the tracks are protest songs – the opener No Hallelujah Here is about four young boys who were killed while playing football on a beach in Gaza last year, while Ball and Chain is a call for unity and harmony in the world. Why did it feel the right time to make a record with a more political message than some of your previous albums?

Marc Carroll: I think at the moment there is a sense of possibility for change – a telling of truth to power. This is going on all over the world. People everywhere are saying enough is enough. This record is of its time and that hope and sense of protest is the zeitgeist of the time.

Recent events in the British political system also reflect this. I believe the tide is possibly turning and the few may well become the many.

Like all sane people, I was horrified by the killing of those little boys. I could barely move for several days. but we must remember that it is not an isolated incident. This happens to men, women and children all over the world on a daily basis – we just don’t see it and the media certainly don’t report it.

But I don’t equate politics with empathy, and essentially, this record – and some of the songs – is a calling for empathy and compassion.

From the title track, to some of the other lyrics on the album, it feels like you’re trying to say that love can conquer all – it can overcome adversity. This feels like a positive, hopeful record. Would you agree?  How did you approach this album? What frame of mind were you in when you wrote it?

MC: The title of the song and the album is almost a blanket of protection. Who would possibly argue against it?

I certainly hope it is perceived as a positive record, but we live in very cynical times. I suspect any negativity aimed at this record will inevitably reflect back on the critic, so they should choose their words very carefully. I approached this record like it would be my last.

As for the frame of mind I was in, well, it was the same frame of mind I always have when I make a record  – is it any good? Will anyone listen? Will anyone care?

But those concerns were duly trumped when I realised that does it actually matter. Is there a cure for cancer?

There are some very atmospheric, haunting and widescreen/ panoramic songs on the record – it has a big, epic sound in places. What were you aiming for with tracks like No Hallelujah Here and Oh, Death, Don’t Yet Call Me Home?

MC: That panoramic, almost filmic, quality came naturally to many of the songs. I love drones and other atmospherics in any music.

I am particularly drawn to the music of Florian Fricke from Popol Vuh – imaginative soundscapes. That was something of a conscious approach to the record.

Apart from that, I’m never sure of what I want to hear when I record my songs, but I do have a relatively good idea of what I don’t want to hear. I really don’t plan anything out or have a grand plan of how things should be. The songs themselves dictate the way forward.

Both the songs you mention were sung in one take. I knew what they were about and how they should be expressed. The music and title for No Hallelujah Here actually goes back to 2005 for the World On A Wire album, but only realised itself as an actual song of substance with this new record.

On the songs I just mentioned, there are also traces of your Irish roots. There’s a slight Celtic mood or atmosphere…

MC: Being Irish and using a minor chord every now and then means I am never far from the aesthetics of that music whatever actual style the song might be.

I have a strong, and natural, gravitation towards melancholy. It’s a very big part of the Irish DNA. Although I don’t think melancholy is specifically an Irish trait.

Ball and Chain and Lost and Lonely – my favourite song on the album – return to the power-pop sound of some of your earlier records…

MC: Ball and Chain was page after page of dialogue with myself. The lyrics simply followed the melody, which to me anyway, seemed very uplifting, and I wanted the words to reflect that and I believe they do. They came from a very internal place because I don’t watch the television or read the daily horror from the print media.

Lost and Lonely – that’s simply back to the previous melancholic reference, but minus the minor chords.

To be honest, I had never heard of the term ‘power- pop’ until quite recently. It always confused me as to why I would be associated with it. I’m still not sure. Is it powerful pop?

Jody Stephens from Big Star plays drums on Lost and Lonely. How was it working with him?

Like me, are you a huge Big Star fan? Did they influence you – especially early on in your career, with your band The Hormones?

MC: Jody is a lovely man. I met him at the opening of the Big Star documentary in Los Angeles a few years ago.

It was one song that I thought he would be perfect for, and, of course, he was. I have always loved Big Star and I suppose their influence comes through on several songs over the years.

Let’s talk about the title track of the new record, which is a departure for you. It features a spoken word part from Penny Rimbaud of the punk band Crass.

How did you come to work with him? Are you a Crass fan?

MC: It started off as an instrumental piece, which is something I do every now and then. I’d actually like to make an instrumental record.

I’ve known Crass for 30 years of my life. They were – and still are – a huge influence on the minds of millions of people around the world, including mine. I asked Penny would he like to contribute to the record and maybe read one of his poems over the piece of music. He agreed and he delivered something spectacularly beautiful.

He is one of the great poets and writers of our time and one day will be recognised for that I am certain. Gee Vaucher [Crass designer] also designed the artwork for the album. They are very kind, generous, warm-hearted people to be around and I love them dearly.

In the early days, you used to play in punk bands in Dublin? What you can remember about those times? 

MC: Punk is the best place to start.

What was the writing and recording process for the new album like? Where did you make it and did you have all the songs written before you entered the studio? 

MC: The writing process is as it always has been – part joy, part anxiety but mainly mind-crushing frustration.

The recording process was initially problematic – the record was recorded twice. The first sessions in Los Angeles ended up sounding like some dreadful American FM dirge. It was recorded by somebody whose only cultural reference was that fool, Howard Stern. All I heard were things like ‘Hell yeah, Pink Floyd, dude’. Needless to say, his services were no longer required.

In the end, you co-produced the album with Graham Sutton (Bark Psychosis, These New Puritans). How was that?

MC: Graham mixed a record of mine back in 2009 and he was the first person I called when things went so badly wrong in America.

Graham is the type of producer/musician that wants to help you make the record you want to make, as opposed to thinking it is his record, his vision and his opinion that counts.

That is the problem with most so called ‘record producers’. How could any of these people possibly know more about the songs than the person who wrote them? Having said that, I care only about serving the songs.

marc new size

There are guest appearances on the record from drummer Pete Thomas (The Attractions), jazz trumpeter Noel Langley (Bill Fay) and keyboardist Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket), who played on your last album. How did these collaborations come about?

MC: Again, I try and work with people that I think will serve the songs. Pete could provide that full on, powerful repetition and machine gun precision that was essential for Ball and Chain. He was in Los Angeles when I started this record, so the schedules worked out.

Bo is someone I worked with before – a good fellow. I wanted the keyboards to have the sensitive, melancholic quality that he provides.

Working with Noel was most fortuitous. I heard some of his work on the recent Bill Fay record, which I love, and knew it was the sound we were looking for on the particular songs. He was fun to work with, very creative and completely understood what was needed for the songs he played on.

You now live in L.A. Do you like it there? Do you miss the UK?

MC: I have spent the majority of my time – the last seven years anyway – in Los Angeles. It’s full of narcissistic, self-obsessed, dangerous, psychotic lunatics, and that’s just the police!

I like it a lot. It’s a fascinating place and a very beautiful city. I find most of the people to be open and extremely trusting, but if you are white, living in Silver Lake and doing yoga 29 times a day, then I’m sure life must be wonderful. If you are Mexican and washing the yoga mats, it may be a different story…

I spend enough time in London not to miss it. It’s one of the great cities of the world. I haven’t lived in Dublin for over 20 years, but it’s still in my heart, somewhere…

 

Love_Is_Artwork new

This is your seventh solo album. How does it feel to be seven albums into your solo career and how do you feel about the new album now it’s (almost) out there? It’s released on November 6…

MC: I don’t think about it too much to be honest. It’s what I do and I feel no different about this record coming out than any of the previous one…other than time to move on.

Throughout your career, you’ve had great critical acclaim, but not broken through into the mainstream? Why do you think that is? Does it bother you?

MC: I don’t really look at music or creativity in that way. I removed myself from the industry of music a long time ago.

There are some very good people in it, but most operate in a way I can’t relate to. I like to communicate with people, not the business of people … hence, perhaps, my anonymity. The music on the other hand, speaks for itself.

I first came across you in The Hormones, back in the late ‘90s. Do you have fond memories of those days? Any good stories?

MC: We toured a lot – the Japanese loved it.

And, finally, Marc: what is love?

MC: Something that defies ownership.

 

Marc Carroll’s new album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, is released on One Little Indian on November 6. 

http://www.marccarroll.com/

‘We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring’

I speak to songwriting duo O’Connell & Love to find out how a stormy winter week in Hastings, afternoon drinking, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and some serious hangovers all helped to create one of the best albums of the year…

 

Larry Love and Brendan O'Connell
Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

 

Minesweeping – the new record by O’Connell & Love – is one of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of 2015.

A collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell, it’s 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.

It 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.

An album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt, 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).

MID cover

The essence of the album came together when you were holed up in the Sussex seaside town of Hastings, writing songs one stormy week in winter. Can you tell me more about that time? What was the writing and recording process for the record like?

Larry Love: 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.

We’re pretty quick at getting ideas down. We’re too long in the tooth to fuck around, in terms of working out structures and the basic platforms of rock and roll.

We’re not meandering around like 17-year-olds, listening to fucking Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Ann Peebles records, trying to work out what the formula is. We have our formula very organised.

If anything, we had too many ideas – the challenge was to get them to coalesce. Hopefully that comes across on the record. It has a certain homogenous quality to it.

It does – it feels like a complete album, from start to finish. 

You’ve said that the album was seven years in the making, due to other commitments… Were all of the songs written during that week you spent in Hastings?

Brendan O’Connell: A couple came after that and some had been hanging around for years.

You might recycle an idea that you tried to write 25 years ago, but that never really came to anything. You leave it and then come back to it years later, use it with someone else’s idea and it suddenly gets finished.

You might have an idea where the verse is really good, but you can’t get the next bit together… Then one day it suddenly comes from somewhere and you know it’s right.

LL: It was a bit like a pit bull that gets impregnated by a breeder. Eight little puppies come out and you think all the litter has been delivered. Then another five arrive two weeks later, in the ectoplasm!

So, Brendan, do you bring your musical ideas to Larry?

BO’C: Yes – some chords and a melody.

LL: A lot of them he might find in a charity shop. Sometimes the clothes don’t fit on that particular day – especially as you get older…

Lyrically, the album has a recurring nautical theme running through it…

BO’C: That must’ve come from Hastings.

The record was produced by Greg Fleming – aka Wizard – who’s worked with the Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal and Chase & Status.Why did you choose to use a dance music producer on a country, blues and folk album?

LL: I really liked Rick Rubin’s recordings with Johnny Cash.

What did Greg Fleming bring to the record?

LL: He brought cynicism, pessimism and downright depressiveness to it because he’s generally used to doing this: (Larry suddenly makes loud, squelching dance music noises with his mouth!)

Any good stories from the recording sessions?

LL: Far too many – they generally involved me having rows with Brendan, who said I was irresponsible for staying up all night drunk. But, over the years, he has accepted that me getting drunk does add to the joie de vivre.

There are quite a few special guests on the album, including Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Doherty and Rumer. How did you come to work with them?

LL: Whatever technology has taken away from us as musicians in terms of revenue, it’s also opened up many doors for collaborations – it’s not like you have to have a long, drawn-out scenario where you have to have everyone together in the same studio.

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album – Power In The Blood – was named after a song I wrote. I went to see her when Morrissey was curating Meltdown at the South Bank [in 2004] and I got invited backstage. I asked her if she fancied doing a song.

I’ve known Pete Doherty for years – he used to come and see Alabama 3 gigs back in the day. I got hold of his manager and said, ‘He fucking owes us one, so Pete, get down here.’

B’OC: We knew Rumer from Brixton, but she disappeared off to America and became a big star. My brother bumped into her in the street – she was a fan of the album we did before this one [Ghost Flight – released in 2006, under the name Robert Love] and she was keen to come and sing on a few songs.

 

Let’s talk about some of the songs from the new record. The opener, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds like Johnny Cash…

LL: I thought you said Clash! Yeah – what Rick Rubin did at the end of Johnny Cash’s career was very inspiring. It’s the same as when Bob Dylan worked with Daniel Lanois. Grizzled voices and ‘hip-hop’ production.

BO’C: To me, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds Spanish, rather than country, but Larry’s voice sounds like Cash.

LL: It has a ‘you’re on death row’ kind of vibe – I used to know someone who was on death row and I got quite involved with the campaign to release Albert Woodfox, who was from the Angola Three. He was one of the longest incarcerated members of The Black Panthers. It was around that time that I wrote the song. He was waiting on death row for years, but he’s now been reprieved.

 

 

One of my favourite songs on the album is Hangover Me, featuring Rumer. It has a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood feel to it…

LL: Yeah – it ended up that way. We wrote it with Seggs Jennings (The Ruts DC), with hangovers. It nails our colours to the mast. We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring.

It was originally called The Ballad of Martin Lambert and was written about a friend of ours who died from a morphine overdose on Christmas Day at his mother’s. It was a tragic way to go. I sang at his funeral. We surround ourselves with people who are on the edge – they’re not living comfortable lives and selling houses to fucking yuppies.

 

 

The track It Was The Sweetest Thing has a great Stonesy country-soul swagger… It’s a good story song – a tale of lovers embarking on a European adventure…

LL: Lyrically, it’s about the inevitable nostalgia that comes from when you’ve lost something that you realise you should’ve held on to. I like to think that I’ve lost a lot of things I should never have lost and found things I should never have found…

BO’C: Or that you never deserved to have in the first place.

LL: Exactly. I had an Italian girlfriend, but things didn’t work out. I’d never been to Europe before – I flew to Bologna with a pocketful of Ecstasy! I didn’t know you couldn’t take it on the plane. It was inspired by that – as lovers, you can traverse continents.

In this day and age, with the refugee crisis, love does transcend boundaries. The nature of the song implies that we went everywhere, looking for love, but, ultimately, we found it nowhere.

The Man Inside The Mask, which started out as a very long poem, reminds me of late ‘70s Dylan…

BO’C: When I first played it on my own and sang some of the words from the poem, I thought it was going to end up sounding like Leonard Cohen, but it turned out quite Dylanish…

Let’s go back to your roots. How did you meet and start writing songs together?

LL: About 20 years ago, I was a recovering heroin addict. I haven’t done it since – touch wood. Brendan was in a band called Past Caring – I thought they were very innovative. If you’re familiar with narcotic withdrawal, it’s quite highly sensitised. I was in an Irish bar called Brady’s and I was really impressed by the strength and the quality of Brendan and the band’s performance. I used to sing Uncertain Harbour [the penultimate song on Minesweeping] as a guest vocalist. We were both habitués of South Londonwe knew the same pubs and the same problems.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

LL: We’re letting the album gestate in people’s minds. I’m busy – I’ve got an Alabama 3 tour in October/November. We’re looking at doing an O’Connell & Love tour in January/February – up and down the country, with some skirmishes in-between. We’re definitely taking the band out on the road.

BO’C: And we’re writing some more songs.

LL: We’re going to do the next album in seven days – like the Lord. Doing Minesweeping has given us more confidence for the next phase. I don’t think it will have a nautical theme – it will be rain and Northern towns.

So, finally, what’s the secret of writing a great country song?

LL: Get a bad woman and a good hangover.

MID o connell and love band

 

Minesweeping is out now on Mountmellick Music.

http://www.oconnellandlove.com

‘I’m a Methodist atheist lesbian trapped in a man’s body!’

 

Vinny Peculiar
Vinny Peculiar

 

Down The Bright Stream – the new album from Manchester singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar – is a witty, funny and moving collection of brilliantly observed pop songs, steeped in childhood nostalgia, teenage memories and wry social commentary. I asked him about growing up in an English village in the ’70s, catalogue trousers and poking fun at sculptor Antony Gormley.

The last time I interviewed you was in 2013, to promote your compilation record, The Root Mull Affect. At that time, you were also working on your new studio album – Down The Bright Stream. Now it’s finished and it’s out in March. How do you feel about the new record?

Vinny Peculiar: It feels really good to have finished it – a sense of relief even. I ended up using a few studios in the never-ending quest for sonic perfection…

It’s a fantastic album – wry, amusing and very moving at times. The record is steeped in nostalgia and memories – several of the songs deal with your childhood and growing up in the ’70s. The opening song English Village, which reminds me of  The Kinks, is all about the place where you spent your early years. Where did you grow up?

VP: I grew up in a little place called Catshill – an English village in north Worcestershire. Well, it was more of a village back then, but it’s acquired a new estate since and an Indian takeaway, so it’s expanding.

My early childhood was based around church life  – my family are Methodists – granddad was a lay preacher, dad a church organist and my cousins taught at Sunday School. I was in the Boys’ Brigade and I did Bible studies. Hymns were the first music I really heard and took part in – I still really enjoy singing hymns. I’m an atheist who enjoys the rituals of religion, if that makes sense. I’m a Methodist atheist lesbian trapped in a man’s body!

Where did the title of the album come from?

VP: It’s from a lovely little book by B.B  – the story of the last gnomes in England. We had it read to us at primary school – happy days. I name check the book in English Village, along with Stig of the Dump, another school days classic…

There’s so much detail in your songs… Do you keep diaries, or do you just have a great memory for recalling experiences, people and places?

VP: I kept diaries as a teenager, but they were nothing to write home about, mostly just day to day activities – ‘I went to school, had a bath’ – that kind of thing. I’m often writing from memory – my memory is fairly good, although not always as accurate as I imagine. Of course, I have a propensity towards exaggeration. Don’t all writers?

As an observational singer-songwriter, you’re up there with Ray Davies. Are you a fan?

VP: Sure – yes. He’s such a great observer – still writing, still working and still believing. He’s truly inspiring and his newer stuff is great too, not just the classics. Have you heard Working Man’s Cafe? It’s wonderful.

Your song The King of Pop is a tribute to Michael Jackson – were you a fan of him, too?

VP: I was a fan of sorts – yes. Not a massive, full-on, love is blind kind of a fan, but more an appreciative, at a distance, respectful outsider fan – especially Off The Wall and Thriller.

The song The King of Pop is really a comment on the freak show that his life became and how we were all party to it – the public and the media. We killed him…

Who were your musical heroes when you were growing up?  You’ve always been a big Bowie fan, haven’t you? Do you like his new stuff?

VP: My first love was Simon & Garfunkel, then came Bowie, Slade and T.Rex.  Then I got into harder rock – Wishbone Ash and Black Sabbath. I then got into The Kinks and Joni Mitchell – Joni was a revelation.

The new Bowie stuff is great, although I wish he’d ditch those huge ‘80s drum sounds – they really annoy me. I love writers, too – Charles Bukowski, Keith Waterhouse, Richard Brautigan, Rick Moody, Alan Bennett, Henry Rollins… There are so many.

Your song Catalogue Trousers celebrates the mail order catalogue and name checks pianist entertainer Bobby Crush. The Internet has killed off the mail order catalogue, hasn’t it? Discuss…

VP: I wrote Catalogue Trousers after reading a piece on the demise of the mail order catalogue industry and the relentless march of the Internet. It just set me thinking about how important the catalogue was to our family, and to young boys’ emergent sexuality. Clothes, records and cameras – you could get anything from the catalogue. My grandma really did say I looked like Bobby Crush – she was a big fan of the crimplene crooner.

What has been your worst fashion faux pas?

VP: A cravat in bright orange, with a curtain ring neckpiece, circa 1974.

Your song Antony Gormley is a tongue-in-cheek, Pythonesque dig at the sculptor and his nude male statues on Crosby Beach, near Liverpool. Do you really hate his work? What do you think he’d make of the song?

VP: I think he’s an interesting artist. I don’t hate his work. I think the impact of the men on the beach is kind of spectacular. In the song, I’m just looking at it from a simplistic viewpoint, devoid of all artistry and cool. I’m sure he’d see the funny side…

Is Girl At The Bar – one of my favourite songs on the album – aimed at anyone in particular? Is it based on a real encounter?

VP: It’s loosely based on a night out I had a couple of years ago, when I met a girl with a lust for life – some way beyond by own limitations. I felt like Billy Fisher [from Billy Liar] loitering on the platform by the milk machine. I never saw her again…

Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted the new album to sound like and what its themes would be?

VP: I was unhappy with some of the initial recordings, so that impacted on newer songs being added. It started off as one collection of songs but morphed into another record over time – I think it’s stronger for that.

I Only Stole What I Needed, The Saddest Summer of Samuel S and Antony Gormley were recorded some time after the rest of the album, in a different studio. Three songs from the initial sessions didn’t make the cut. I ended up doing the production myself in collaboration with various engineers, so it took longer than expected.

Special thanks should go out to The Gadget  – aka Jonathan Hurst  – who played a blinder in the patience and fortitude department. I very nearly drove him over the edge. David Marsden mastered the album  – his attention to sonic detail is something else.

How was the recording process? Can you tell me more about making the record? 

VP: The drums [Che Beresford] and bass [Ollie Collins] were recorded at Eve Studios, Stockport and then I took the files away and I added guitars, keys and vocals at home and in various studios. Rob Steadman also added keys and a couple of tracks were recorded using my Liverpool band Paul Tsanos [drums] and Bobby Kewley [bass, cello].

The recording process was a bit disparate and the majority of the mixes I settled on were completed at Gadgets Lab, Manchester – three tracks were recorded mixed at Whitby Studios in Ellesmere Port, with resident engineer Ian Lewis.

Jah Wobble [PIL] plays bass on the last track The Doo Kum Inn. How did that collaboration come about? 

VP: Neil McDonald [ex-Puressence] plays on three tracks. He was adding guitar parts to his Roland machine at South City Music in Altrincham, when Jah Wobble came in the shop. Jah liked the track and ended up playing bass on it. I need to thank him properly…

So, what are your plans for the rest of this year?

VP: We’re doing a festival headline show in June at Fylde [FRRfest – Lytham, Lancashire – June 18-21: www.frrfest.com]. I’m excited about that – an extended band show. There will also be more gigs and recording.

The next album is written – it’s called Silver Meadows – Fables from the Institution. It was inspired by me working in learning disability and psychiatric hospitals in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I start recording soon and it should be finished by the summer.

I’m hopeful Silver Meadows will also become a stage play. I’ve drafted some basic script ideas and I’m looking around for collaborators/backers. It’s early days, but I’m excited by what I have so far, so we’ll see what transpires.

In 2013 you released an album with ex-Oasis guitarist Bonehead [Paul Arthurs] under the name Parlour Flames. Can we expect another Parlour Flames record in the future?

VP: Unlikely in the short-term, but you can never say never for sure. I did write several songs with a new Parlour Flames record in mind. One of them, which is called The End, made it into my solo shows for a while and will emerge on future Vinny Peculiar recordings, I’m sure.

Finally, are there any artists that you’d like to write and record with?

VP: I’d love to collaborate with John Cooper Clarke. He’s a bit of a hero of mine and he only lives down the road. I quite fancy myself as a bit of an Invisible Girl, if you follow…

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Down The Bright Stream by Vinny Peculiar is released on March 30 (Shadrack & Duxbury Records).

www.vinnypeculiar.com

 

Forthcoming Vinny Peculiar UK shows

Feb 18 – RMA Tavern, Portsmouth

Feb 27 – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Mar 21 – The Crescent, Salford (album launch)

Mar 25 – Death 2 Disco, Silver Bullet, Finsbury Park, London

Apr 10 – The Cinnamon Club, Bowden

May 2 – John Peel Centre, Stowmarket

June 19 – Macbeth, London 

June 20 – Fylde Rock ‘n’ Roots Festival 2015, Fylde Borough

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW- Lucette: “When I was little, I dreamt of being Shania Twain”

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Last year, I saw 21-year-old singer/songwriter Lucette play at The Ruby Lounge in Manchester, where she was supporting The Secret Sisters. 

I was knocked out by her gorgeous voice and the way in which she turned her hand to country, pop, folk and blues.

For someone so young, she has an impressive list of  influences, from Bobbie Gentry to Ryan Adams, Townes Van Zandt and traditional murder ballads.

Now she’s gearing up for the release of her debut album, which is due out later this year. I spoke to her recently to find out more about it.

It’s been a while since we met each other in Manchester. What have you been up to since then?

Quite a bit actually. I’ve written and recorded a brand new album. Just after I left the UK and Ireland last year, I flew down to Nashville and recorded six new songs. Also, in the summer of last year, I made a music video for my song Bobby Reid.

I was really impressed by your live performance. You reminded me of Bobbie Gentry, vocally. Is that a good comparison?

It’s funny you say that, as I’d actually cite her as one of my biggest influences, especially in my writing. Her Ode to Billie Joe record is one of my favourites and it’s a good clue as to what my album will sound like.

I liked your live cover version of Ryan Adams’s Sweet Carolina.  Are you a big fan of his?

I’d say he’s in my top five, if not my favourite. So I guess you could call me a fan. Heartbreaker is my favourite album.

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Mine, too. Your debut EP, Baby I Want You Home, came out last year. How was it working with producer Dave Cobb, who’s also worked with Waylon Jennings and The Secret Sisters?

Dave is unbelievable to work with. He’s really helped me to become the artist I’ve always wanted to be. I’d almost be inclined to call him a really cool, older brother, who leaves new records out for you and tags you around with his friends, or something. I think we are like family, too. We’ve gotten to know each other so well that I will literally fly into Nashville and we’ll take a song of mine, or write a new one, and record it within days. I think we just get each other.

Your debut EP  is really varied. The title track is ’60s pop, there’s country (Dream With Me Dream) and also a dark, haunting murder ballad – Bobby Reid. Who and what are your main influences as a songwriter? 

Two years ago, when I was writing a good portion of the album, I was really into ’60s country-pop artists like Skeeter Davis. While recording, I wrote the song River Rising, which sprouted into other folky, darker songs like Bobby Reid. There’s this really cool quote by Flannery O’Connor that says, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say”. I love that quote because I feel like I relate to it. The darkness and melancholy in my music comes from my most inner thoughts. I think these fictional stories like murder ballads, about dark characters, are a part of myself that I didn’t embrace until writing stories in song. I’d say Bobbie Gentry, Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch, Neil Young, and Irish ballads and traditional music have been the greatest influences on my writing.

What was it like recording in Nashville ?

As cheesy as it may sound, it was seriously a dream come true. I got to write with a cowboy called Brent Cobb. Within my first week of arriving it was like, okay, I’m actually recording in Nashville, and I’m writing with a cowboy with a dip in his lip. Dave really cares about making good, organic, and memorable music. Working with Dave and other musicians on my album reinforced that I was in the town where the best of the best recorded.  It altered the way I look at making records and changed the course of the rest of my career.

When can we expect to hear your new material? Will the album come out soon?

I’m hoping to release it sometime in the spring of 2013. I’m aiming for April.

What was it like growing up in Edmonton? What sort of music did you grow up with? Did you sing and play piano when you were a child?

Edmonton is probably the best place for a kid to grow up. Similar to Nashville, it has a small town/big city vibe. I went to Catholic church every Sunday, which I think had some sort of weird influence over the way I write.When I was little, I always dreamed of being like Shania Twain – I really wanted a denim-on-denim outfit like hers. I grew up mostly on country. Alberta is Canada’s cowboy country, and I loved that culture growing up. My grandmother introduced me to Elvis, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, who are still some of my favourite artists. Then I got into Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Cash, The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. I never sang in front of anyone, only in church when I was trying to behave. I started piano lessons at eight years old, but I quit after a couple of years. I picked it up again in junior high, putting speakers next to the piano and figuring out songs by ear.

What music are you currently into? Hmm. I really like Hem, Father John Misty, my good friend Meg Olsen (she just released her new EP), and The Carter Family. But then there are always my staples, which were mostly mentioned throughout this interview, but also include Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, the Everly and Louvin Brothers, Neil Young, Ray Lamontagne and, of course, The Secret Sisters.

What are your plans for the rest of 2013? Well, after this album and video are released, I hope to tour as much as I can. Everything is in the works right now though, and boy, am I excited.

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Lucette on Soundcloud

http://www.lucettemusic.com