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Archive for September, 2010

Travis

Back in the early spring of 1997, myself and Big Dave marched ahead of a long queue of people (it was right round the block) waiting outside The Leadmill in Sheffield. Oh how good it felt to get in the front door straight away as all those people looked on, probably thinking ‘spawny bastards’.

They were there for Mansun; we to interview a little-known band called Travis. Big Dave told me about a brilliant performance by them on Later … with Jools Holland and I was intrigued. Their only release at this point was a limited edition promo.

This is the transcript of our interview with three of the band (Fran was elsewhere at the time but talked to us later) in one of their first interviews, for a fanzine I did at the time, Words Fail Me. It was my fanzine but Big Dave asked most of the questions.

It’s fascinating, and, as they say, they relax more for fanzines and give their best interviews. It’s also in the original font.


They’re from Glasgow and three of them – Neil, Andy and Douglas talked to WFM at The Leadmill, Sheffield.

WFM: You played on Later … with Jools Holland before your first proper single came out. How did that come about?

Travis: His production manager came to one of our gigs and was really impressed. There was a couple of others from Later … they also liked us and that was it. We always thought it was Jools who chose the bands but he’s got nothing to do with that. Just comes in, has his spiel, then fucks off.

WFM: Who else was playing on the show?

T: Lionel Richie, Sting and Tricky. It was a great couple of days. You do one day of rehearsals, then it’s recorded as live as possible but we had to do it a couple of times because of technical problems. It was just after we’d signed to Independiente so it was good to do some telly so soon.

WFM: You looked as if you were really trying to squeeze those notes out of your guitar. You were really feeling it.

Andy: I always feel my instrument.

Neil: As much as possible, eh?!!

WFM: Did you get a chance to talk to Lionel Richie?

T: Yeah, he’s a really nice guy, an absolute star. He spoke to us afterwards and said he really enjoyed us. Sting was a bit .. well he was at the end of a long tour so he was a bit knackered but he gave us his nod of approval.

WFM: The NME said you sound like Radiohead, that you heard ‘The Bends’ and decided to form a band.

T: Bollocks. Everybody who’s written something about us has said we’re based on two songs. Just journalistic pigeonholing, lazy journalism. We marry a lot of sounds so we couldn’t possibly sound just like one band. It’s a nice comparison though because Radiohead are one of the bands around just now that we really respect but it’s becoming a bit tiresome now because we’re

nothing like them at all.

WFM: What would you say were your main influences then?

T: We tend not to be into anything contemporary. Fran, who writes the songs, doesn’t listen to much music which is probably why the songs sounds so good.

I’m more interested in Frank Sinatra and movies.

WFM: What’s it like supporting Mansun?

T: Fine, absolutely fine. Paul Draper always pops his head round the door to say hello but the others are pretty quiet. What’s so good about Mansun is that their album (Attack of the Green Lantern) is doing so well at the moment and that obviously gives us a bigger audience to play to.

WFM: Well, they’re actually queuing around the block already and that was about 6.45 when we came in.

T: It’s been like that since the start of the tour. The crowd is always up for it as well. The last tour we did, we supported Beth Orton, and that was a much different audience, a quieter audience which was nice as well.

WFM: Obviously you’re at a pretty early stage in your career but is there any pressure on you at all?

T: No, because we’re quite out of it. We’ve got Andy MacDonald as head of Independiente and he’s not an industry person at all. He’s got nothing to do with the corporate weasels as he calls them. It makes you think that the industry can be trusted even though everyone says it can’t.

WFM: Do you think that Independiente will push you pretty hard?

T: I think they’ll push us as far as they can but we’re not going to enter into a big hype machine. It’s quite organic, quite natural. We’re developing at our own pace and nobody’s complaining about that. There are certain things you have to do, like promotional work but there’s no world domination plan. We’re just doing this to enjoy ourselves and to go as far as possible so that as many people as can will hear us.

WFM: Are you part of this so-called Glasgow scene?

T: The whole Glasgow thing is just non-existent. There’s always something going on but it never really has much in relation to each other. Teenage Fanclub are a band I really respect but we sound nothing like them. People talk about scenes in Glasgow but all the bands have their own particular style. Bis couldn’t be compared with Geneva, 18 Wheeler have their own sound fusing rock and dance. It’s usually the press who invent all these scenes it makes it a whole lot easier fort them to pigeonhole bands as part of a scene. We just happen to be a band from Glasgow. But, anyway, we’re based in London now so we’re a bit aloof from what’s going on up there.

WFM: The press will be determined to lump you in with some scene all the same.

T: As a journalist it makes it a lot easier for them – it’s the way they sell magazines. I can see totally why they do it. It’s quite healthy for the music scene but not necessarily a good thing for the bands. We even got asked the other day by a major paper about being tagged with this New Seriousness scene. If anything, we’re not serious, we just see it as a laugh.

WFM: Are you prepared for the time when the music press will knock you down as they inevitably will?

T: We don’t do this to get good reviews. We are in a band because we love making music and touring. It’ll not bother us if someone in the music press dislikes us. It’s just one person’s opinion after all.

WFM: So, do you prefer fanzines to the mainstream press?

T: You’ve got to do both. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you feel under far less pressure when you do fanzines because less people are going to read it and for that reason we give far better interviews because we’re more relaxed. Fanzines are run by people who know all about music but music journalists tend to be failed musicians or wannabe musicians. Some of them can’t tell the difference between good and bad music. You don’t know if they’ve got an ulterior motive. You can be halfway through an interview and you realise that they’re going for the throat cos they’ll ask certain questions and try to get you to contradict yourself.

WFM: If there’s anyone you would like to emulate who would it be?

T: U2. Their development has been extraordinary. They’ve gone through so many changes yet still keep the songs interesting. It’s crucial to keep that interest factor going. I don’t know how they do it but I’d love to know.

Mibbe it’s because they never go into a studio with preconceived ideas like ‘oh, let’s do another Achtung Baby’ after all, this new one (Pop) was supposed to be a rock album.

WFM: They took such a risk with Passengers, bringing in people like Howie B, Eno and Pavarotti and basically doing an album that was commercial suicide and hardly reminiscent of anything else they’d done.

T: They’re just so willing to take on new ideas. People say they’re self indulgent but so what! Music is all about being self indulgent and that’s what makes such good music.

WFM: So where do you see yourselves in ten year’s time?

T: Hopefully, still doing the same thing. We take this as far as it goes and enjoy ourselves as much as possible.


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Who? The Burns Unit

Title: Side Show
Label:
Proper Music
Tell me more:
A super-dooper Scottish supergroup featuring Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, Future Pilot AKA, King Creosote and other artists that may or may not be known south of Coldstream.
The Lowdown:
This eight-piece came together at Burnsong in rural Scotland in 2006, which is, I gather, a showcase for diverse talents to come together and bash and clash and see what comes out at the end. Nothing to do with Rabbie Burns it appears and the album features ten original tracks. Given that the backgrounds of the Unit are folk, alt-country, rap and a band that can best be described as indie-Indian there is a fascinating breadth of ideas and sounds on Side Show. There is the Kate Bush-esque Sorrys, featuring the enchanting vocals of Emma Pollock, the campfire niceties of You Need Me To Need This and the emotionally, and politically, charged Send Them Kids To War. With such a range it almost feels like a compilation.

Anything else? How many bands can claim that their formal debut appearance on stage played to a sold-out crowd of 1200?

Who? Natacha Atlas

Title: Mounqaliba
Label:
World Village
Tell me more:
Atlas traverses borders with roots or residencies in North Africa, London and Belgium and she blends her Middle Eastern heritage with the sounds of the west. Mounqaliba is inspired by the poems of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and, in addition to original works, contains covers of Francoise Hardy and Nick Drake songs.
The Lowdown:
Among the tracks I would like played at my funeral is Chariots, by Transglobal Underground, not for any thematic reasoning but purely because it is one of the most endearing and atmospheric tracks ever recorded, with Atlas providing it with her majestic voice. Mounqaliba is written almost entirely by Atlas and Samy Bishai, who grew up in Egypt, the orchestral players are Turkish and Atlas sings in Arabic, with interludes in French on Francoise Hardy’s La Nuit Est Sur La Ville and English on Nick Drake’s River Man. Atlas moves easily through the languages, adding beauty and grace to the non-Arabic tracks while adding some bite when she sings in Arabic. It would be difficult to pigeon-hole this album as World, something Putamayo would make a compilation out of, but like Transglobal Underground, or Temple of Sound, this is an album that reflects the sound, sights and feel of the modern world.

Anything else? In 2001, she was appointed by former Irish President Mary Robinson as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Conference Against Racism.

Who? Stars and Sons

Title: Good Morning Mother
Label:
Twice Burnt Records
Tell me more:
England’s new white hope, an over-excited Q magazine writer has gone as far as describing them as “the next big thing.” A little premature perhaps considering they had a single out in 2008, and one to herald this, their debut.
The Lowdown:
In the UK’s fast-flowing, eat-em-and-shit-em, music scene, you need something to stand out. Doing 30 gigs in a week, including places like Bristol Prison, will get half-page spreads in The Sun. Judging by the reviews they can cut it on record too. In The Ocean, that debut from two years ago, is a rousing, zany, family and student-friendly single; Drop and Roll is a more mellow accompaniment with keyboards and a captivating chorus and there’s many swings and roundabouts on the bright and breezy Untested, Untried. It’s poppy, catchy and inoffensive but also seems like many ideas are rehashed and that they rely too much on enthusiasm and a carefree attitude, which is perfectly acceptable but may not be enough to fuel them beyond or even to a second album.

Anything else? Founder Mike Lord is a former bin-man and classical music graduate who has a love of musicals. This may explain much of the contents of Good Morning Mother.

Who? Trinity Roots

Title: Music Is Choice
Label:
The Label
Tell me more:
Before signing off in 2005, Warren Maxwell, Riki Gooch and Rio Hunuki-Hemopo, released two albums that sold extremely well in New Zealand despite not being bothered by advertising or mass radio play. Music Is Choice features tracks from two concerts at the Wellington Town Hall, from August 2004, and six months later, which was their farewell gig. A second disk features a 71-minute documentary on the band and various bits and pieces.
The Lowdown:
Trinity Roots come from the same musical whanau as Salmonella Dub, Cornerstone Roots or Fat Freddys Drop, a select group of New Zealand bands that take the essence, and heart, of reggae and provide it with funk and soul. It is a beautiful, measured sound, wonderful for a leisured day in the garden or in the park, or while ironing the shirts. As a live show, it would appear Trinity Roots had it all and this album captures them at their peak. But while this may be a retro album, and one with some fantastic extras, they’re not a footnote of history, as they play around the country next month after reforming recently.

Anything else? The artwork you see is the cover, folded out. The segment on the bottom right is what you’ll see in the shop.

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In my previous post, I said the athletics event at the Commonwealth Games would be hampered by top athletes’ absence, some from injury, some from more spurious reasons.
Since posting that the problems the Games have experienced have taken a turn for the worse with part of a ceiling at one venue falling down, and a footbridge collapsing.
The athletes’ accommodation in the Games village is apparently unhygienic according to some visiting team officials. Scotland and Canada have delayed the departures to Delhi of the first group of athletes while England is warning it’s team could still withdraw if safety and heath concerns are not addressed immediately. New Zealand is making a final decision on its participation very soon.
Some people might counter this by saying they’re being too fussy and that in India you have to expect there won’t be the same standards as in the west.
It could end up looking like 1986 in Edinburgh when most of the African, Caribbean and Asian countries boycotted the event over the lenient stance of the British PM, Margaret Thatcher, toward apartheid South Africa.
Games organisers insist everything will be ready in time but with just over a week to go, as I write, they are battling against time given there seems to be a lot to do to complete the accommodation and venues.
Against this backdrop of uncertainty several more athletes have decided to pull out, including three top Kenyans, and two English runners Lisa Dobriskey and Christine Ohuruogu, who I read previously had already made up her mind not to go due to a lack of fitness.
Two more, Australia’s Dani Samuels, and England’s Phillips Idowu, have been straight and said they are concerned about safety. I admire their honesty in not giving an injury excuse but are they making the right decision? Samuels, a world discus champion said in a statement she did not want her decision to lead to other Aussies pulling out but she isn’t exactly showing the best example and her decision will surely lead to more withdrawals from the team.
Dame Kelly Holmes has expressed concerns about the condition of the venues but has also said that, at the 2004 Olympic Games, at which she won two gold medals, trees were still being planted on the opening day. There may have been a rush on then to get everything prim and proper but no-one recalls that and the Athens games are considered a success story.
New Delhi has more pressing concerns than trees and at this rate terrorists need not target the Games, the organisers and the Government are doing a perfectly good job of making it look like a farce on their own!
No matter what happens it was right for the Commonwealth Games Federation to award the event to India – when it did there was less political problems than there is now. It is important to move the Games out of its’ western strongholds and give developing nations a chance to prove they can host such events.
If it turns out this Games is a disaster, invaluable lessons will be learned for India, other aspiring Games hosts and the Federation itself.

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The Commonwealth Games in New Delhi next month will be a spectacular festival of sport, togetherness, colour, enthusiasm, South Asian culture and hopefully, peace, although there are clear signs it could be targeted by armed groups.
Despite the negativity surrounding the games, which is partly valid given the fears of venues being ready on time; alleged, or assumed corruption and security fears, I’m confident it will be a successful games and prove that it was right to take the Games out of its western strongholds and take it to Asia, and to the developing world.
But I only have one fear, and that is of the quality of blue ribbon code, athletics.
This appears to be the one sport most affected by the timing of the event, as the athletics season generally wound up in September following the World Athletics Final and the Continental Cup.
Tired limbs and injuries picked up during the season has ruled out many athletes intending to come. But there is, alas, an alarming number of athletes who clearly don’t care about this event, and had no intention whatsoever of turning up and representing their country.
Which is shocking given that most competing nations, such as Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Bahamas, and many of the African countries, are too small to make an impact at the Olympics or World Championships, where the Europeans, Ethiopians and the Americans are very strong.
If you were to look at the Commonwealth rankings, in many events, particularly the sprints, there are few or even none of the top 10 competing in India. So, there’s no Usain Bolt or Asafa Powell in the 100m, no Christine Ohuruogu in the 400, Mo Farah in the long-distance events or David Rudisha in the 800. For some, such as Ohuruogu, a lack of fitness is the problem while many of her fellow elite British athletes, such as Farah and Jessica Ennis, peaked for the European Championships in August and the Commonwealth Games is a step too far, as they prepare for the 2011 season, which can start in a few months with the indoor campaign and, ultimately, the Olympic Games in London the following year.
But, we also have to look at the nature of the Games and it’s stature in the modern athletics arena. The governing body, the IAAF, has diluted the impact of the major events by having the World Championships held every two years instead of four, introducing new events and making others annual showcases. Athletes now have more distractions with the lucrative Diamond League and, with more money – and four-carat diamonds for overall winners – available for supposed amateurs, the incentive of running, literally, for dollars, is immense.
The recession has affected some nations’ plans to send a bigger squad than they may have intended but you also have to wonder about the selection policy of some athletics associations. Australia, the first country to name it’s squad, has omitted middle-distance runner Craig Mottram who wasn’t fit enough during the selection period, but is now in top form. With 2006 champion John Steffensen spitting the dummy and pulling out and other athletes also withdrawing due to injury, Australia should now be padding it’s squad with its absolute best.

Explosion

For all that, the Games promise to be an explosion of top-quality competition. While the sprints and some other events will be missing many of the sport’s superstars, it’s likely that the field events, walks, and multi-discipline events will possess most of the top ten in the Commonwealth rankings. Kenya is providing many of its stars in the middle distance events and there are big names such as Sally McLellan (110H), Phillips Idowu (TJ), Steve Hooker (PV) and the women’s 800m promises to be one of the best medal hunts in all sports in India, with world champion Caster Semenya up against three very good Kenyans led by world number 2 Janeth Kepkosgei, and the Jamaican Kenia Sinclair.
There will be stars of the future winning their first major medals and the large Indian side will make an impact, perhaps not with a huge haul of medals, but by creating a boiling atmosphere inside Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the inevitable improved performances that competing in front of a home crowd brings.
Meanwhile, in swimming, many Olympic medallists will be competing and the strength of the Australian, English and Canadian teams will ensure many records are broken, possibly some new world marks set. Cycling will feature some very good Australians and Brits though some British riders such as Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won’t be there to focus on the European Championships, which are being held about the same time. The rugby sevens features some All Blacks and other international stars and has, effectively, all the best sevens nations apart from Fiji, which is suspended from the Commonwealth, while in netball, all the best world teams are members of the Commonwealth. Gymnastics, shooting, archery and bowls will have their share of big names in their respective sports, though I could care little about these. As for tennis, only a handful of top players come from Commonwealth countries and they’re unlikely to even turn up.

Do the Commonwealth Games, which was once called the British Empire Games, and is restricted to just 72 nations and dependencies, still matter? Of course. They are often termed the Friendly Games are without the arch-competitiveness of the Olympics. A former top sprinter Obadele Thompson said, after taking a bronze, that for countries like his – Barbados – each medal was precious while for those in the UK, there is a pride of competing under the Scottish, Welsh, English, Northern Irish, Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man flag that is denied to most of their athletes in the other major championships.

So, people of Delhi and India, let’s show us what you got and prove to the world that this extravaganza doesn’t have to be held in Manchester, Glasgow or Melbourne every four years.

BTW, I know this is not a music-related subject but permit me the odd foray into sports.

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Who? Tommy Ill

Title: Tommy Ill
Label:
LOOP
Tell me more:
Ill has released three EPs of non-macho rap: Toast & Tea Kettles (2007), Matchsticks (2008) and Come Home Mr Ill (2009), the first on Empathy Recordings before his transfer to LOOP.
The Lowdown:
Tommy boy could be New Zealand’s answer to Welsh hip-hop grates Goldie Looking Chain; a rapper without the hard-man posturing, egotism, chauvinism and opportunism of so many of his contemporaries. Au contraire Rodney, Ill’s debut is full of party tracks, packed with dry witticisms, and cheeky rhymes that drop various samples, including The Carpetbaggers, a sprightly instrumental made famous by the BBC’s Money Programme. Tommy Il the album features a track called A Robot, with a guest appearance by A Robot and is about A Robot (“he goes out at night and takes robot drugs”) . Alas, Tommy Ill seems to think he’s in California rather than Aotearoa judging by the vocal mannerisms and some of the things I’m hearing. Otherwise it’s fine for a rap album.

Anything else? Ill has been known at live shows to climb on furniture, and be given a piggyback around the stage by crew members.

Who? Chris Difford

Title: Cashmere If You Can
Label:
Saturday Morning Music Club
Tell me more:
I was being sent an email a minute by an over-eager promo company telling me about Difford’s new concept, releasing a single a week for ten weeks. Fans would subscribe to the Saturday Morning Music Club and receive a download of a track per week. Shades of the Wedding Present who released a single in every month of 1992 and had a hit in the British charts with each one, regardless of quality. Now Difford’s put all the tracks together on a CD.
The Lowdown:
A wonderfully Squeezy title from a songwriter who keeps the curious English observational style very much alive. With the onus on creating singles rather than album tracks, Cashmere If You Can jumps from one joyous catchy singalong to another, with a few slowdowns tagged on. On Like I Did, Difford tells a familiar parental tale, of how kids do exactly what they did once: “He’s getting stoned (like I did), he plays bass (like I did), he lays in bed like I did, how can I complain.”

Meanwhile, Difford relates a story of a young man, who with some skinheads mugged an old lady, “just because we could” as well as some other stupid things done Back In The Day. Society is awash with vacuous lyrics and music, so it’s refreshing to hear tales of regret, of young men leaving their loved ones to go to war, and the problems of noise in a small house, sung by someone who’s not just observing society, but who has lived some of the tales he puts to tape.

Who? Robert Scott

Title: Ends Run Together
Label:
Flying Nun
Tell me more:
The captivating angle to this release isn’t the artist, who I will get back to, but the label. From 1981 Flying Nun was run on the hoof and despite the manner it operated – on enthusiasm rather than a business ethos – propelled numerous Kiwi bands into the stratosphere, from The Clean and the Chills to my own personal favourite Straitjacket Fits. Thankfully, after years of neglect, founder Roger Shepherd bought it back and has released albums by Grayson Gilmour and Die! Die! Die! (see last Lowdown). Hurrah and lashings of ginger beer and paeroa all round.
The Lowdown:
For someone ingrained in the Flying Nun ethos, being responsible for many album covers, and an integral member of both The Bats and The Clean, it’s appropriate that the Nun revival continues with Robert Scott. Ends Run Together sometimes sounds like an appropriation of The Clean Bats, and on alternative listens appears like it has eschewed Scott’s past, as he performs the role of a man who’s creative urges may not always have got the release they should in previous bands. Now, he has an outlet for his own songs, ideas, loves, hates, instruments, etc. There is, therefore, chugging indie rock – opening track On The Lake – to pastoral folk (Days Run Together) and it all works beautifully as it usually does down in Dunedin.

Anything else? Also features Clean frontman David Kilgour and Lesley Paris, the former drummer of another Otago band, Look Blue, Go Purple.

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