Friday, May 20, 2016

I Know I'm An Alien : Still Alien Still Dreaming (I Am Hobo Shaman)



In the last post I mentioned a few things had got me posting again, I Know I’m An Alien is that other thing.  It was easy to like them straight away; as I worked my way through their recordings on Bandcamp the material just became more and more fascinating.  From what I can gather since 2015 Walter Weirdheadd, Freddy Finefinggers, Buster Bashkitt and Susie Spacebrainn have two self-released records.  ‘Still Alien Still Dreaming (I Am Hobo Shaman)’ is a continuation of the Londoner’s outsider lo-fi recordings, not so long ago ‘lo-fi’ felt like the most overused/misused description of bands,  and it’s albums like this that makes one want to reconsider the genre in modern terms entirely.  I Know I’m An Alien impresses on the listener a take on the world through the view of someone on the fringes, their songs invite one into their space looking at popular culture, boring culture, historical culture, drinking culture, work culture, digital culture through collaged sound bites set alongside the band’s synth/bass/drum/guitar experimentalism.  


Human’s imagining being aliens imagining to be humans has a proven track record of being a powerful thing …. Bowie and Sun Ra both established that when one is in charge of one’s own universe there’s room to concisely define parameters in order to communicate ideas.  I can’t tell if these 13 songs feel dysfunctional as a result of rebelling against or actually reflecting our everyday life in this city.  Could well be a bit of both.   I was drawn to this record because it so clearly gets this concept across; it conveys the sensation of having oneself mirrored back –part hilarity and part surprise.  With songs like ‘Hey Hi Tech Lover’, ‘Becoming Human’ and ‘Hare Hare Against Genetic Engineering’ I Know I’m An Alien captures both those things, the absurd side to being human and the shocking.


The distorted sound of these recordings reminds me of V/VM videos and even The Coneheads in places; it’s the manipulation of famous pieces of music and heavily effected vocals that suggest these parallels to me.  I don’t know if the songwriters even listen to that stuff but it came to mind.  Some tracks lock into a groove the way Excepter might do, especially on ‘I Am A Shaman Hobo’.  I know I’m An Alien strive to make a room in this world to take you into theirs with songs that resonate with all sorts of alchemy.  It’s exciting to catch a band like this at the start of their work, download their releases and keep them on your radar.

* Just announced, I Know I'm An Alien will be supporting Colin Self soon, tickets for the show are here

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Other Music



Had a little break from writing...recharging batteries, recharging everything I think.  I was unsure how I’d know when to start back up again and then a few things came about this week that lit a fire under me.  Firstly, the sad news of Other Music closing, I’m proud to say I got to work there during my time in New York.  It’s never nice to hear about an independent record shop closing down but this one particularly stung.  On a personal level working at Other pushed me to learn and appreciate more music just by trying to meet the high standard of the shop.  It’s the first place I’d contributed to a blog doing music reviews, I was in awe of all the other writers and those people were definitely an inspiration.   When I started living in NY I was bouncing around different temp jobs and Chris Vanderloo gave me a break – he’s one of the people who gave me steady work and more vitally somewhere I felt like I belonged in a city that I didn’t really know anyone yet (nods to Helen Rush, Dave Martin and Gavin Taylor too).  

On a wider scale the thing that’s amazing about the shop is a sense of community it created - from in stores, to regular friendly faces passing through and ace colleagues.   The remarkable thing I found from working there is how every Thursday once the weekly mailout had been sent, customers would come in with a list of stuff they wanted to buy based on reviews, stuff they hadn’t heard but either liked the way someone had described it – or a member of staff they knew and could count on their taste had raved about the record.   That’s what always made Other Music inimitable and will make it irreplaceable; all the people that brought the shop to life and all the connections made there, the customers, the staff and the bands.  To think it won’t be there is something that’s kind of strange to get my head around – I’m sure it is for everyone.   Other is at the heart of something really special, and whilst it’s knocked the wind out of a few sails by announcing its closure, what a fantastic legacy to leave behind. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

This Heat : Reissues



 

Marking the band’s 40th anniversary Light In The Attic has reissued 1979’s ‘This Heat’, 1980’s ‘Health and Efficiency’ and 1981’s ‘Deceit’.  The LP’s are in gatefold package including a booklet detailing not only the lyrics but sources of the songs and how they came together – a really nice touch.  This Heat’s timespan as a band was very short, but the impression the left was lasting.  What started as an experiment out of the heads of some kids in Camberwell with homemade recordings comprised of looped tapes, clarinets, violas, bass, keyboards and lots of manipulation became some of the most vital improvisation led recordings of its kind.  John Peel’s radio show was the yard stick to reach for when gauging the calibre of new underground bands, and when This Heat joined the esteemed list of artists who performed on ‘Peel Sessions’ their fate was sealed.  

A vast amount of ground got broken when This Heat started writing and playing music, going live almost immediately they wasted no time trying out and refining their ideas.  Despite the forward reaching approach This Heat were never popular, I’m not entirely sure ‘popularity’ is what they were even after, but you’d think this innovative kind of sound would turn more people on than it did at the time.   I don’t think they even set out to be revolutionary, the mindset focused on creating their own language – which would be teased out in eight hour rehearsals, documented in meat lockers and various other South London spaces.  This Heat abandoned technique for something they considered more important; using intuition to guide what was played and how to play it, crossing the line from inventive to radical.

Drummer Hayward had been playing in a prog group called Quiet Sun featuring Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera in 1970 but split up two years later, briefly reforming in 1975 to record ‘Mainstream’.  This recording featured Hayward’s first vocal track ‘Rongwrong’ revealing a Robert Wyatt/Soft Machine influence.  A Quiet Sun tour was scheduled but Manzanera had his hands full with Roxy Music.  A new line up was assembled of Hayward, Bill Mccormick and Charles Bullen who previously knew Hayward from playing in Dolphin Logic and Radar Favourites.   By the time the Quiet Sun London show came around only Hayward and Bullen were available to perform, they were joined by Radar Favourites manager Gareth Williams, and in Hampstead 1976 that was it, their first gig and they were called This Heat.  

Gradually moving away from Quiet Sun’s sound and eschewing punk and prog which was booming at the time, This Heat took on something more isolated and avant garde.  Williams - not being particularly musical, was the spark plug that initiated all the unusual elements of This Heat’s song-writing, he had the advantage of following gut instinct completely uninhibited.    In their lifetime as a band they released three records, the first a self-titled album, the second a superbly experimental piece with one long track on each side of the LP, and the band’s best known and universally loved ‘Deceit’ is where they ended.  Hayward continues to play in Camberwell now as Massacre, The About Group and as a solo artist; Bullen performed in Lifetones and Circadian Rhythms whilst he's active today in Ground.  This Heat did reassemble in 2001 but Williams became terminally ill with cancer and they wouldn’t perform again together again.  

These reissues were produced along with the surviving members of the band.  Not only are these available now but a cassette (made in collaboration with Mario Boyer Diekuuroh) will be on sale at the Not This Heat show at CafĂ© Oto later in the week. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ty Segall : Emotional Mugger


A collective “where does he find the time” is gasped it seems every time a Ty Segall record comes out. ‘Emotional Mugger’ clocks in at his 10th solo record so we should be used to it by now, right?  But let’s face it this kind of output in 8 years alongside various other projects is astounding.  ‘Emotional Mugger’ shifts things yet again into a new domain by manipulating homemade recordings and reshapping the glam in rock'n' roll.   

American detritus, love, soup, diversions, candy and late night drives all appear in Segall's lyrics - delivered in a voice with two personalities; the high and softly spoken type versus the low growls emanating from a different beast entirely.  You can expect the psychedelic, blown out guitars that Segall is known for handling so brilliantly, solos that will take you to another dimension and delicious pop hooks.  Whistling and handclaps makes ‘Emotional Mugger’ especially tangible, stand out track for me 'W.U.O.T.W.S', collaging fractured recordings into a motley mesh of details morphed together - driving the experimentation aspect of this album to the brink.   The rate at which Segall is breaking new ground is enough to make anyone’s head spin, and it’s no wonder there’s so much buzz around the album coming out this Friday through Drag City.   Ty Segall filters through the currents of sludge and electrified glitter to tease out new ideas on every release and ‘Emotional Mugger’ is no exception.  It’s streaming right now on NPR if you're interested in a taster...

Monday, December 21, 2015

Normil Hawaiians : Interview




It's a great pleasure to offer an interview with the Normil Hawaiians.  Their lost album 'Return of the Ranters' has received nods from Wire, Louder Than War and Record Collector amongst other worthy publications.   With talk of a reissue series on the way it seems a good time to find out more about Normil Hawaiians, so here we go...

Hi! Thanks for taking part in this interview!  Where are you right now? What are you up to?


Guy Smith:  I'm in Wales in a community in the sticks, a long way from London......but accessible in 5 hours so not too bad.  Back in ‘85 we were all living communally in Brixton, then as we started having kids first Noel then Simon moved with their families to N.E. Kent...I harboured visions of travelling overland to Morocco in a converted bus so with Viv and our 2 kids in tow hit the road in 87 learning to juggle and playing Irish folk music.  We made it to Morocco and then spent a couple of years touring Europe, busking...but we needed a base and finding London too claustrophobic after all that  fresh air and living for the moment stumbled across the community in Wales where we've been based since, though  travelled a lot in the meantime.


You played your first show in 30 years recently at The Lexington, how did it feel to be on stage again? 


GS:  Great! I've done loads of different performances over the years from singing acapella in pubs in Wales to juggling fire shows in Japan and with different bands on stages in clubs and festivals.  First time with the Hawaiians - but it felt like last week not last century...so easy, a lot of mutual love and respect.


How did you prepare for the show?


GS:  We came up with a set list based on our favourite stuff from the albums and as Noel hadn’t drummed for years we asked the very affable Ian Button lately of Death In Vegas to deputise whilst Noel played some keyboard parts and other percussion...I wanted to do some acapella stuff too and asked Zinta Egle to provide an extra vocal presence.  We then met up and rehearsed for a week in a barn in Dover adding some extra bits to some pieces...and we all stayed at Noels place as with Jimmy and mark living in different parts of Scotland, Wilf on the South coast it was great to all hang out together again.


Some of the visuals in your show made me want to ask whether you’d seen Jacques Peretti’s BBC series ‘The Men Who Made Us Spend’ last year.   It talks about capitalism, obsolescence, how we part with our money and where it goes – did you see it?  What are your feelings on this topic?


GS:  I didn't see this, no but this is all stuff that we were aware of and debating in the squats and festivals of the 80's and singing The Big Lie (particularly) on stage at The Lexington I was reminded how relevant politically it sounded now.



Normil Hawaiians formed as a collective in Brixton in the 80s, what can you tell us about life then and what kind of connection you had to any kind of music scene?


GS:  Normil Hawaiians was formed from the ashes of punk in ‘79 by myself, Jim Lusted and our mate Kev Armstrong’s 15 year old sister Janet.  Jim and I were both 20 and had been at school together ...I'll never forget the day near the end of the fifth form, when about a dozen of us were all lined up outside the headmasters office at St Olave Grammar School for Boys to be told we were surplus to requirements and on no account would be welcomed into the sixth form...nearly everyone in that queue became a friend and most joined bands.  That school was horrible, but we had a pretty cool education listening to Zappa , Soft Machine and Hawkwind as 12 year olds.    

We formed The Tarts and with Max Splodge as our drummer, played The Roxy and wherever we could and were very much part of the second wave of punk bands formed in the wake of The Pistols, Dammed and Buzzcocks.  Until the whole punk thing splintered and we looked for new directions, Siouxsie and The Banshees were mates of mates from the same part of South London/Kent border. There was a while when just about everyone we knew was in a band, I put out a compilation album of South London bands 'East of Croydon' on Nothing Shaking Records in 1981.   

You could live off the dole then and they’d ask you what your occupation was and you said 'musician' so they just let you get on with it....some great places we rehearsed and hung out at, one was InterGalacticArt Studios down The Old Kent Road - a squatted pub with all kinds of freaks , actors and arty people passing through. There were squatted wooden Wharfs by the river and the Anarchist bookshop in Brixton, both inspiring, sometimes challenging and eclectic, smoky jazz gigs and squatted boat yards, squatted boats, peace convoy and travellers yards full of people living in busses and trucks passing through, welding sculptures.  There were the Stop The City demonstrations, Colourful but always peaceful  CND marches and north of the river we were part of Dining Outs  label and did all-nighters at the Scala; film, band, film, band with 23 Skidoo, Disco Zombies, Kan Kan, Occult Chemistry . All bands who were beginning to push the musical boundaries further out.


Noel Blanden:  At the same time as the Olavians demobbed I too, in a local rival school, went through a similar experience. I was hauled into the headmaster’s office and accused of theft in the most juvenile display of psychological manipulation I’d yet encountered in my young years.  I lost the last vestiges of respect for my betters who were capable of behaving in such a childish way and immediately told them where to stick their school, walked out and never went back. I was already in bands by then and came to Guy’s attention via a group I played in that comprised Jim and Berlin/Bertie (who were with/in Normil Hawaiians) and Peter Fenton who had just left Siouxsie and the Banshees (and wrote Love in A Void and Make up To Break Up). It was quite an incestuous community and yet everyone was playing in group of some kind.  Similarly Simon and Greenfield Leisure, with Cliff McLenehan (also of Normil Hawaiians), who was an old school friend of mine.


The inventiveness and quality of your recordings made me wonder if you were influenced by other artists to start a musical project.  Or, were you turned off by everything you heard at the time and wanted to do something new? 


GS:  I was doing the sound for my mates band The Heartbeats at The Rock Garden some-time around 1981 and I looked around and everyone looked the same...Slicked back hair, make-up and dinner suits.....from an inspiring post punk beginning the scene had morphed into a yuppie, Duran Duran clone thing.  Horrified I vowed to grow my hair long, head for the hills and start improvising musically.  Of course it wasn't that simple...Jim, Nick and Brian were getting a really funky groove going on guitar, bass and drums, but it wasn't my thing.  I wanted to really push the boat out and started dusting off my old Faust, Can, Gong and Hawkwind records which were big pre-punk influences. After a rather dismal gig in Camden supporting The Thompson Twins we split, leaving me with the name- and a week later a record contract with Illuminated.  Simon, another Old Olavian joined on guitar, Mark appeared from the Ether with a string synth and we recruited Noel on drums. After a while we felt comfortable swapping instruments and sometimes would improvise for 4 hours at a time in darkness doing whatever we felt like doing...anything!  Zoviet France was about doing some really radical stuff but no one else around us...it was factioning and genres and labels were being stuck on groups. We wanted to do our own thing, without labels.


How do you think you were perceived when you started?  And do you think that impression has changed at all since 'Return Of The Ranters' came out?


GS:  Hard to tell to a point...John Peel loved us at first and played 'The Beat Goes On' directly after announcing John Lennon’s death.  We had a bit of a reputation as eccentrics, slightly weird - but with only the music papers and a few fanzines around it was hard to gauge. We didn't have a manager or agent so no-one with an ear to the ground.  We were always railing against the machine, and politically nothing has changed.  We've been pleased to receive some really positive reviews and comments regarding the album since it has been released even making For The Rabbits top twenty best albums of the year- 2015, not bad for a 30 year old recording...but it does sound fresh and relevant.  But generally people seem to get it more now. We got much more stick for being different back then.


How does it feel to have 'Return Of The Ranters' finally released?


GS: Nice...it's been a long wait, but we split in '86 frustrated that the project wasn't complete, but we all needed to do different things at the time.


Why did now feel like the right time to do it?


GS: The timing does feel right, summer last year I stumbled into the cinema tent at The Green Gathering Festival where they had just shown Operation Solstice the documentary about The Battle of The Beanfield and the director Gareth Morris was there talking about the film.  We chatted and I sung The Battle of Stonehenge acapella to the whole audience and that kind of started a ball rolling. Of course 2015 is the 30th anniversary of the ambush and also of the last Brixton Riots which we were also involved in the miners’ strike and all that Jimmy sings of on Slums...the 30 year thing has significance somehow.


And of course it was helped no end by a phone call from Chris of Upset The Rhythm wanting to release our recordings, the people in the music business seem much nicer now...real enthusiasts.


Importantly when we all made contact again, finding people is relatively easy nowadays of course, we all wanted to play together again.


What was the recording process for 'Return Of The Ranters', I understand you went to Wales and worked with Dave Anderson to make this album?


GS:  We'd recorded nearly everything we'd done since '82 at Foel and Brian the engineer knew us well, Dave Anderson had become a good friend by then so we knew the environment too.  We'd go for long walks up the mountains.  We had a few half worked out ideas taken from the IGA improvisations....but none of it seemed to be going anywhere after a couple of days, so we decided to instil a bit of discipline by working on an old Eartha Kit song- something we'd never tried before. We didn't use the track, eventually and as far as I remember the entire album was written or improvised there and then over 2 weeks, but we lived it day and night. 

How important is experimentation in your music?  I saw you playing with hammers and trowels at the Lexington, so was curious about this element in your song-writing.


GS:  Interestingly The Lexington gig was the least experimental of all as we mainly took pre-recorded pieces and effectively copied them.  We also played more 'songs' than we would have done before. But then I suppose that in a way was an experiment.  We also stuck to single roles more, Zinta and I just sung…though Simon persuaded me to play guitar on Big Lies and I did play a bit of bass on ‘Sally IVth’ and some keyboard on Travelling West.  But generally we stuck to one thing with Simon using some samples, something we were just touching on in ‘85. As for the hammers and trowels, again this was quite toned down really from the past, though Simon makes a beautiful wail from his guitar with screwdriver jammed in the frets. We were always a bit theatrical and all of us having been involved in different musical, and circus and theatre projects over the years it was nice to put on a bit of a show and include some juggling as well as using industrial implements.



What's your favourite song on the album?


GS:  It's got to be ‘Sianne Don't Work In A Factory’, my one and only love song written for me eldest daughter. The contrast between the opening womblike sounds of the birth, followed by a gentler softer....dare I say it Love Song, then evolving into industrial factory noise seems to work.


But if I'm singing acapella live- ‘The Battle of Stonehenge’ is the one.


Some of the other tracks were complete improvisations, many with a real outpouring of emotion...almost impossible to recreate....some of the sounds Simon created particularly are quite unique, but everyone played their part.


What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?


GS: A wry smile maybe, but know we really created sounds that came from within us spontaneously and lyrics a reflection of the times. I hope it moves people one way or another


As far as I can tell all of your songs are originals, would you ever cover a song?  What would you cover if you did? 

GS:  Ha ha we actually did two covers at the Lexington gig- both acapella.  ‘Heaven’ from the David Lynch film Eraserhead, though we did it differently. The other was the chant at the end of ‘Sally IVth’ which is a Hebredian mourning song  originally sung whilst beating the chest with both fists to release grief.  Towards the end a cover version of a Leisure song kicks in.


In 1980 we did a cover of Frank Zappa’s ‘Mr Green Genes’ as part of the John Peel session we got to the BBC studio and there was a Grand Piano and Hammond Organ. We really had to use them somehow and decided to try something quite different. Nick was the best pianist amongst us so he played both parts I think.


The record has two different sleeves, can you talk us through the decision behind that and where the images came from?


GS:  The photo montage with the billboard and Stonehenge and a traveller mate of ours, Liam, was put together by Wilf back in early 86 and was to be the original front cover.  But over the years the artwork was lost somehow, Simon felt we should come up with a different cover and he chose the image of Jimmy, Jim and I before a gig we did in Basle in ‘85.  Wilf eventually found a copy of the original montage. Both seemed to have their merits so we went for both in the end.


'Return Of The Ranters' feels political, especially documenting your experience at Stonehenge in 1985, do you feel like you've outgrown the ideology you had in the 80s?  Has your perspective shifted at all?  Or do you still feel as passionately in the same things as you always have?


GS:  No not at all....though throughout the nineties things didn't seem quite so bad.  But now globalisation and technological developments have created a monster of corporate greed that like a truly successful parasite is not recognised by its hosts.  This aggressive form of capitalism without compassion is ruining the world and its life-force, the media is controlled by tax avoiding villains masquerading as protectors and informants.


Squatting is now illegal, sleeping rough is often illegal, rents and house prices are out of reach of many...where are people to go, what are they to do?


I stood as a candidate for The Green Party in the last election to help spread awareness of the plight the power mongers are putting the planet in. The whole system is crooked, but I do believe that it can be changed with stealth and education. The banks are holding countries to ransom but with a will- as in Iceland, there is a way. 


NB:   The battles 30 years ago were to destroy community and collective power bases but in doing so a terrible genie was let out of the bottle.  Democratic capitalism has all but consumed all other ideologies and has been so successful that the only route left for it is to consume itself.  It’s now capitalism versus democracy and capitalism is winning.  Global corporations are bigger than some governments and they are starting to join and merge.  These tax avoiding, people hoovering behemoths pose a great threat to freedom.  Governments disguise their own impotence and cling onto what little power they have by focussing  on peripheral issues e.g. immigration and the unseen enemy, which is why we need to do all we can to protect and promote local, family and community alternatives to just being plugged into the mainframe.  To paraphrase Guy we need to be aware of the dangers and yet celebrate hope and beauty. These are the themes of today and will I’m sure emerging in our new music.



I was wondering, now we're back in a Tory government… if your band formed today, would you say/do anything differently in your song-writing compared to 30 years ago when ‘Return Of The Ranters’ was penned?  Are there new things that trouble you today in this version of the Conservative Party?


GS:  With the internet now we know more about how we are being lied to and exploited, man being pitted against fellow man. Divide and conquer. Our lyrics today will be as critical of the powers that be, but also we see the beauty in so much and it's important not to get swamped by the negative.  I really do wonder how Cameron, Osborne IDS (sounds like a disease) can look people in the eye without flinching...I always thought that with privilege come responsibility.  HA!


How did you feel about the level of interest in Normil Hawaiians recently after such a long time since going separate ways?


GS:  Nice!


What do you plan on doing with the momentum that has built up for the band now?  New songs? Reissues? Touring?


GS:  It was so good to get back to performing with such good friends that we can't just leave it at that.  We are planning a few gigs around Easter – Brighton & London again...but we want to play interesting places, we'll see. We still all live miles from each other so we are limited with what we can do, but definitely re-issues with Upset The Rhythm if all goes to plan...then who knows,  more recording- it's possible and we want to do it so....


What have been the main differences you've experienced from being in a band in the 80’s compared to now, technology has changed the game so much for example, and have you felt any part of the process is helped or hindered with the way things work today?


GS:  Well the biggest difference for us was the ability to use visuals , something we couldn't afford in the 80's.  A friend of Jimmy’s put them together after we gave him an idea of what we wanted and then he pinged ‘em back down to us to use as backdrops.  Brilliant! 


NB:  We have already seen a change of approach as much of our pre-rehearsal exchanges and practice has been facilitated online.  Despite this, Normil Hawaiians have never been defined by the current technology.  One of the main reasons ‘Return of The Ranters’ has been well received (apart from the lyrical resonances) has been that it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in the 80’s.  So much 80’s music is unlistenable now, as bands at the time rushed to embrace nascent technological developments without pausing to reflect how best to utilise them,  Consequently those records are locked in a time capsule.  We deliberately eschewed novelty and concentrated on performance and the dynamic interplay of our personalities to grow our sound, only allowing into the process that which added value. That is part of our blueprint.  What we did know was that we did not want to sound like every other band at the time. Today, we are all aware of and use modern recording aids (there is some awesome tech out there) and fully expect to trade ideas and explore online platforms to develop new songs (out of necessity given that we all live so far apart) but the most important thing is that what emerges has worth and fits our ethos.  It’s a very democratic process.


Is there anything you want to say that you feel you haven't been able to yet as a band?  If so please share!


Simon Marchant:  I would say that the things we have done best in the past have been our recordings. These have been honest and very much simply a record of 'what happened then'; a triangulation of political, spiritual and geographical aspects. I don't feel we've really done this live, though, and I would dearly love to do so in future.  But to do this with integrity is quite an intimate thing. It's exposing and so can be quite a challenge. Ironically, I feel that in order to feel free to perform effectively in this way, to eschew rigidity and form, we have to create structures and frameworks within which such freedom can take place and this is something currently being worked on.



For more about the Normil Hawaiians and to pick up a copy of 'Return of the Ranters' CLICK HERE!