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Archive for December, 2010

 

Paul Weller: Wake Up The Nation

Seeing Weller in Auckland in October was my gig of the year. He tore at his set-list with gusto, making the new tracks sound as impressive as Jam or Wild Wood-era solo output. Wake Up the Nation is surprisingly excellent, not just a return to form but possibly his best yet, a rallying call to all those who suffer from apathy and disinterest. Weller hasn’t made a comeback after a couple of iffy albums, with As Is Now and 22 Dreams both good career moves, but few people were expecting him to hit the mark so often, as he does on Nation, especially on Fast Cars/ Slow Traffic and the burning, angry title track.

The Courteeners: Falcon (Polydor)                
Falcon is an album born of the musically-rich north-west of England, the lyrics resonating with Mancunian landmarks, of lovers being in faraway London, and all the things that working class people in the towns across the breadth of dear old England do. There will be comparisons to Editors, the typical “indie-rock band” but the Courteeners are the mature version of the Arctic Monkeys, their tales being of late 20s heartache and exuberance.

Phoenix Foundation: Buffalo (EMI)

Please take a trip with the Foundation through Wellington’s Town Belt and hill suburb of Mt Victoria on Eventually, and take your brolly with you. Be enchanted by the child-friendly Flock of Hearts, be invigorated by Pot and singalong like a mad thing to the wonderfully fruity lyrics of Orange & Mango. Buffalo is a gloriously simple record, one that is very New Zealand in its themes, but also sounds like it could traverse traditional musical snobbery and parochialism, and appeal to, say, indie fans in Manchester.

The Burns Unit: Side Show (Proper Music)                       
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’s 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.

Natacha Atlas: Mounqaliba (World Village)
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 a Francoise Hardy song 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 a band she performs with Transglobal Underground this is an album that reflects the sounds, sights and feel of the modern world.

Chris Difford: Cashmere If You Can (Saturday Morning Music Club)
A wonderfully Squeezy title from a songwriter who keeps the curious English observational style very much alive. Cashmere If You Can jumps from one joyous catchy singalong to another. 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.” 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.

 

Belle and Sebastian Write About Love (Rough Trade)                                                      
The basic tenets of a B & S album are all enclosed: dreamy vocals, plaintive melodies, and beautifully penned songs about relationships that never happened, schoolyard bullying and, a tale of the toxic friend who only calls at midnight when a relationship with a muscleman goes awry. There are some lovely tracks with ’60s bounce; it’s impossible not to be entranced by the hook-heavy I Can See Your Future or the escapist harmonies of the title track featuring actress Carey Mulligan.

 

Ten City Nation: At The Still Point (Sturm Und Drang)
As the band have progressed from their days as Miss Black America, they’ve become even more nihilistic. More guitars, more anger, more Stooges and more Nirvana influences. The opener, Flashing Lights is very accessible – punk with discipline – but Room 10101 is, shall we say, the kind of thing that would scare mothers around the world. At times we need noise in our life. Not the Korn or Green Day form of noise, but something more digestible, even though At The Still Point might give you that bloated feeling after listening to all 12 tracks in one go.

Howl Griff: The Hum (Recordiau Dockrad)
A single, Crash and Burn, is a cosmic outpouring of twee, delirious pop, reminiscent of a lovely Canadian bunch called Cinderpop and shares a sense of the surreal with The Coral. And, like those scousers, Howl Griff tell stories of real characters, such as a lady who “can help you in the dark of night and improve your memory”, on Jean’s Therapy. Meanwhile, on Uduhudu, spirits are raised from the dead in a spangly, manic and effervescent shanty. Glorious, bonkers stuff only the British can do, and the Welsh do best for some reason.

Goldfrapp: Head First (Mute)                                
Goldfrapp have revisited electro-glam with an album that’s unashamedly steeped in the glorious synths of the 1980s. The opener, Rocket, sounds suspiciously like The Pointer Sisters’ Jump, and is followed by Believer, a beauty that harks back to the radio-friendly Supernature album of 2005. It ends with Voicething which wouldn’t sound out of place on the last Kraftwerk album.

FParom 1977 to 1982 Paul Weller was

the driving force behind the Jam,

a Mod band that had the energy

of punk. All guitars and rousing

statements, the Jam enjoyed an amazing

run of numbers ones in the UK. Cocktail

pop came in the form of his next band

The Style Council and since 1991 has

been a solo star.

In recent years, Weller’s credibility has

dripped and some people have written

him off. However, Wake Up The Nation

is, well a wake up-call, to the Modfather

and to his fans. And to Britain to shake

off its apathetic lumber and get groovy

again.

The 16 tracks here crackle and fizz,

proving that no matter his age (over 50)

Weller remains a formidable force. The

edginess of his early solo career is mirrored

on the opening track Moonshine

and its equably impressive cousin, the

album’s title track.

Paul Winders and The Goodness prove

that the Dunedin sound is very much

alive. You Can Have It All has the kind

of nicely-scripted lyrics, tuneful observations

of New Zealand life and the

easy-going manner that reminds me of

bands like The Chills, The Bats and The

Verlaines, who Winders was a member of

once. Best of Friends is so dammed hummable,

and Thank You is as good as anything

the above bands have recorded.

On our world trip, we now take in

Argentina, the beef, rugby and, above all

football-loving South American country.

And music: ah yes, the tango. The Gotan

Project are its 21st century flag-bearers

giving latino music a modern update,

fusing the traditional dancefloor freneticism

with jazz and a touch of electronica.

Not too much though. Gotan cut and

paste the Argentinean commentary of

Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal

against England in the 1986 World Cup

and immserse passages of a famous local

novel into Rayuela. Somehow I can’t

imagine Latin America’s biggest star,

Shakira, doing things like that.

 

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A groovy year

2010 has brought many opportunities for Porky Prime Cuts, including interviews, reviews and features. Too much good stuff to pick out in particular but we’re pleased with the breadth and range of material the site has covered, some of it outwith music. We would like to thank everyone who has had even just a peek at the site and all the bands, record label people and everyone else who has helped us over the past 12 months. Next year will even better with some features already written or half-written including an interview with The Black Seeds. While the number of hits has been very encouraging, we will endeavour to reach thousands more people over the next 12 months which means over the next month or so there will be a bit of re-think on how to move forward with the site, in terms of layout, and content. Any suggestions very welcome indeed. We’re going to take a wee break just now though the albums of the year article will be posted over Christmas and New Year.

The Porky Prime Cuts FAQ

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Send a bribe to the address on the site. The bigger the prize, the bigger the size.

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Porky is 100 percent bacon. We gave him an ultimatum: write this damn thing or become a packet of smokey.

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Can I can send a download for you to review, is this good?

Downloads are for the kind of people who think that tinned spaghetti is as good as fresh pasta.

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Our crack team of Mutant Teenage Ninja Squirrels are in training this very minute ready to pounce into action for any eventuality.

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In the early 1980s, during a dismal political and economic time in Britain, there emerged a opinionated, committed and musically brilliant band from Yorkshire who, in terms of cutting edge polemic and absolute confidence in their beliefs, have never been bettered.
They were called the Redskins (or just Redskins), were card-carrying members of the Socialist Workers Party, and adopted soul music as the sound of revolution. Their support for the SWP was unwavering: a speech by Tony Cliff, the de facto leader of the party was used on the only studio album, Neither Washington Nor Moscow, named after the masthead on the party’s weekly paper, Socialist Worker.
There was nothing frivolous about the three-piece; politics had to be lived and breathed, and if they weren’t singing about revolution and the class struggle, there were plenty of benefit gigs, in support of jobs or the Greater London Council, for example, to support.

Redskins comprised singer Chris Dean, a former NME scribe who was inspired by Joe Strummer, drummer Nick King, and bassist Martin Hewes. Changing their name from No Swastikas to Redskins in 1982, the trio moved to London and released their debut single Lev Bronstein in July of that year and bagged a John Peel Session in October, where they paraded a brass section, featuring Kevin Robinson, Trevor Edwards and Ray Carless, who would become a regular fixture.
Their emergence was timed perfectly. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party won a parliamentary majority and soon began a series of cuts and attacks on working people and communities that never let up. I recall as a primary school child the chant ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher’, after one of her first moves, to stop free milk in schools. It seemed callous but this was merely a portent of things to come: heavy industry was destroyed, especially in Scotland, local government powers were limited, millions were added to the dole queue, and the unions were bound in suppressive legislation.
Out of this era arose several leftist acts, such as Billy Bragg and Style Council, but Redskins were the only ones to be so committed to a cause. Later, Manchester indie band Easterhouse, with their far-left politics and alliance to the Revolutionary Communist Party, would be carry the red flag hoisted by the Redskins.
In the early days, Redskins were more punk than soul, the ardent Peasant Army containing an inflammatory, and angry chorus. It was only a B-side, the A being Lev Bronstein, otherwise known as Leon Trotsky. Another single was released on CNT, the label which was also home to the Three Johns, Lean On Me/ Unionize!, although the B-side was as good as it’s supposed superior.
This incredibly upbeat paen to working-class solidarity was their breakthrough single, reaching no. 3 in the then critical Independent chart in the UK. Dean’s message couldn’t have been clearer on Unionize!: “We can talk of riots and petrol bombs all day long/ But if we fail to organise, We’ll waste our lives on protest songs.”
I have recently been listening to all these songs on Epilogue, a barely promoted compilation released by a largely punk Canadian label called Insurgence. Living in New Zealand I had to pay through the nose for postage this, but it’s worth every cent.
It contains three tracks by No Swastikas, which signified their commitment to radical politics, none of which have been released on CD or vinyl before: Strike/ Unnamed/ Stickies, which reveal among some raw and edgy music, a commitment to the cause. There’s also the excellent The Most Obvious Sensible Thing from an unreleased John Peel Session, as well as B-sides and demos.
For me this is as good as music can get. I only became aware of them through a friend, who was a member of the SWP, in 1986, the year they broke up.
They had released their debut album earlier that year, and before that released more fantastic singles, one of which made the national charts. Bring it Down! (This Insane Thing) peaked at 33 in 1985 but it felt like a rocket up the establishment.
By this time Redskins were on Decca, a move that seems remarkable for a band of such noted political persuasion.
But understandable as well. In 1984, Britain was in the midst of the Miner’s Strike that polarised the nation, and brought to our television screens pictures of picketing and violence as miners fought for their livelihoods. The media portrayed the battles as the fault of aggressive miners, but there is much evidence of deliberate police provocation.
Redskins were at the forefront of the miner’s campaign, playing benefit gigs and releasing Keep On Keepin On!, which was backed with Reds Strike the Blues. The A side solemnly noted “Can’t remember such a bitter time, The boss says jump, the workers fall in line.” And while the workers were let down by union leaders and the media lie machine, Dean rallied the troops, urging them to keep fighting and not to give up. It didn’t sound like typical lefty politicking, these lyrics just sounded right, the most suitable words for a difficult situation.
Around the time they formed, Dean predicted a surge in industrial activity and was proved correct when the National Union of Miners called the nationwide strike. In essence it was a battle between an industry on the wane and a government not doing enough to save it. But this was a test for Thatcher; win this and she could claim to be the hammer of the unions to business interests, and feel she had the upper hand when it came to reforming union laws.
After a year on strike, the miner’s went back to the pits, defeated, but the Redskins’ campaign had only just begun. Bring it Down was followed by Kick Over the Statues, the Power is Yours and It Can Be Done, all of them as much inspirational than political.
Since they broke up at the end of 1986, virtually nothing has been heard of Chris Dean, and apart from a CD release of Neither Washington Nor Moscow, with extra tracks, the only addition to their limited recorded material has been a live album, called simply Live, on Dojo in 1995.
More recently, several left-leaning bands got together to record several of the band’s tracks, for an album called Reds Strike the Blues. Somewhat surprisingly, many of these acts are from America, although they never toured there, and one of those are Peasant Army, named after one of their first tracks. It also features Negu Gorriak, a fiercely nationalist and socialist band from Euskadi/ Basque Country. An Italian band, Ned Ludd, covered Names Were Named, a rare Redskins track played live toward the end of their lifespan.
They split because of a number of reasons – Hewes, in an article for Socialist Worker at the time, under his pseudonym Martin Bottomley, put that down to things like losing the spontaneity of the band and being unable to do their bit for the party. “It’s hard to get up for a paper sale when you’ve got back from Bradford at five in the morning,” he wrote.
Their split was timely, perhaps. Given that Neither Washington Nor Moscow contained few new tracks and was full of previously-released singles, they may have been struggling for motivation by 1986. They wouldn’t have been spoilt for inspiration, however, had they continued. Thatcher continued her divide and rule tactics, and the hated Poll Tax, which meant people on the dole paid the same on their council house as a millionaire in his mansion, would have provided a jolt in the arm at the end of the 1980s.

Redskins left on a high, however, with a wonderful legacy of a back catalogue full of spiky, punk-soul classics that made an impression on, maybe a small amount of people, but people who generally took on their ideals, if not purely of a socialist revolution but of using art in politics and of not allowing the bastards you grind you down. Keep on keeping on indeed.


* Epilogue available on CD and download from Insurgence records:

http://www.insurgence.net/

 

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