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Archive for February, 2011

Wire(d) for sound

Wire: Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)

Wire were punk pioneers, writing jaunty, short and electric tracks such as 1X2U, and Ex-Lion Tamer. There were a couple of minor hits, Outdoor Miner and I Am The Fly, but, despite three excellent albums, they were dropped by a thoughtless EMI and split in 1981. Their influence cannot be doubted: REM are big fans, and Elastica couldn’t hide their love for the four-piece, blatantly nicking the riff from Three Girl Rhumba for Connection.

I first became aware of Wire in 1989, a couple of years after reforming, via a single, Eardrum Buzz, who’s itchy guitars and bouncy basslines caused one Radio One DJ in Britain to brand it one of the most annoying songs he’d ever heard. Not that Radio DJ were exactly arbiters of taste, not in 1989 anyway. In the same year came In Vivo, which was incredibly catchy and  surprisingly accessible, given their history of being eccentric buggers (they once had a Wire tribute band open for them as they refused to play live their punk standards.) They should’ve been on Factory.

Since then I’ve heard very little from Wire, which doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared: this is the 11th Wire studio album since 1977.  It’s just that the world rarely listens to older bands as they industry clamours for the Next Big Thing. The philosophy is flawed as anyone who has heard an Edwyn Collins, Fall or Joe Strummer album from the past decade or more can testify.

Red Barked Tree is a glorious collection of ripe, easy to digest forthright songs. It is a timely release as the world has changed, post-punk is in, the Gang of Four are the nation’s heroes and as many young  bands as there are slugs in your garden are now clogging up the radio airwaves by playing like it’s 1981.

And Wire in 2011 now sound like a post-punk band revived by the New Wave of Post-punk movement, using that familiar guitar twang and that incessant bass to create something that both sounds like Wire of old and of a band diversifying its interests.

This is seriously good; Wire are in full force, sounding, like, well Wire have always done, in 1977, 1987 and 2011. There’s some sort of random wordplay going on in Two Minutes, Colin Newman shouting statements like ‘Religious vomit’, ‘A dirty cartoon duck covers the village in shit, possibly signalling the end of western civilisation, and ‘Coffee is not a replacement for food or happiness’.

That
might be the best track of the album but Adapt is the most potent: a slow moving beast it may be but that is an ideal pace to delve deep into the state of the modern world – observations about extreme climate change and disaster, the failure of financial markets and hollow politics. There’s a strain of melancholy and it’s difficult to ascertain much hope in the song, just a denouncement of how things are, but it remains aesthetically beautiful.

And in those two tracks you have the essence of Red Barked Tree: quiet or loud; random or thoughtful; brutal or delicate.


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Paul Weller: Find the Torch, Burn the Plans (Island)

The heart of this bountiful DVD/ CD package is the documentary that provides the title. In this illuminating film, punk director Julien Temple gives Weller free reign to ruminate about his London, the London that inspired last year’s magnificent Wake Up The Nation album; the London that’s been his home since 1977. Speaking from a red telephone kiosk Weller bemoans the loss of the traditional British post box, the Routemaster double decker buses the city was once famous for and the very telephone box he is standing in. Meanwhile, two cabbies take a break from the drudgery of the city’s traffic with a cup of overbrewed tea and a glorious English fry-up to herald a great icon of London, the greasy spoon, to complain that the congestion charge, the recession and inflation is hitting their business while bicycle couriers say email means less darting in and out of heavy traffic to deliver crucial documents. Welcome to London in the 21st century. Or any city for that matter.
And, either side of these proclamations on modern life, Weller and his band give fantastic renditions of Wake Up the Nation, the title track to the magnificent album of last year, and No Tears to Cry from the same work.
While it is ostensibly about Britain’s capital city, the film is also about how a middle-aged man found his mojo again and recorded what Porky considers to be one of the albums of 2010 (https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/albums-of-2010). Temple gets some young Mods in a Carnaby St boutique to explain the logic and the meaning behind the album; takes Weller to a traditional fish and chip store (where real spuds are fried), to the trendy Savile St and, in the finest moment, to get his usual short back and sides at a City barber where the 87-year-old scissorman tells the former Jam frontman he has a haircut fit “only for a woman”.
Later, Weller says that, despite what’s been lost, London is much improved: the shops now have colour and vigour, you can get a decent coffee and the multi-cultural make-up provides a varied palate.
After watching the handful of performances of Wake Up tracks performed in an old-style pub that form a crucial part of the film, I’m ready for the second chunk of this DVD, the entire live show for one of his Royal Albert Hall shows from May last year.
I saw Weller at Auckland’s Powerstation in October, a far cry from the RAH perhaps, but the venue is irrelevant given this was his first ever show in New Zealand. Don’t you like sheep Paul? One show was booked but interest was so high three gigs were held at the same venue and the original booking was an absolute stormer, Weller dipping into the past (five Jam tracks, one from the Style Council era) and heralding the present with several tracks from Wake Up the Nation.
I was impressed by how much the new stuff stood up against classics like Pretty Green and That’s Entertainment so I was drooling at the mouth as I clutched at disk one. 28 tracks with a varied mix, starting with last year’s Andromeda, re-awaking 1978’s Strange Town, and featuring a guest performance from the abysmal Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics who is allowed to attempt to butcher Eton Rifles.
The CD includes much of these tracks while there’s six songs from In Concert at the BBC Theatre with Richard Hawley appearing on No Tears To Cry.

It gets no better.







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Black Seeds guitarist Mike Fabulous has his eye on some real goodies at Auckland’s famous music store Bungalow Bill’s when Porky catches up with him.

“I have a great passion for obscure vintage guitars and there’s many to choose from here. Alas, it’s pretty much window shopping; it’s not as if I can afford to buy any of them. It’s still fun though,”

Indeed it is and a good way of whiling away your time before catching a flight to the Capital, Wellington, where the multi-talented band are based.

Surprisingly, Fabulous tells me, it’s only now that the Seeds, who’ve been around for about 12 years, have got a decent recording studio and rehearsal space here in the country’s greatest city, a move that came about through the finest forms of communication still available to man – word of mouth.

Previously the Seeds have been recording at The Surgery, which is also in Mt Cook. “That’s great to record in but outwith that we haven’t had a decent space where we can all meet, thrash some ideas around and then play them. It’s changed our world really and gives us way more options,” he says.

The benefits of this is that they have a space to practice ahead of the Double Scoop Summer Tour, a national jaunt that takes in all sports of obscure and groovy venues. None of the dates are in Wellington, sadly, but the Seeds are regular performers on Cuba and Courtenay.

That will be followed by a tour of Australia, a plan to lay down some tracks in the studio for about three months then take the groovy, reggaefied Seeds sound to Europe and the United States. And sometime thisyear there’ll be a new album, the follow up to 2008’s fantastic Solid Ground.

In the meantime, you can blow your mind by listening to two recently-released albums, the remix-heavy Specials and Live Vol. 1, much of which was recorded in Wellington as well as remote musical outposts like Paris and London. And Fabulous’ solo album Melodies, released under the Lord Echo moniker and fuses Afro-disco, soul, reggae and Ethio-Jazz is out now.

Specials includes remixes made up by internet boffins who tweaked tracks posted by the band on the web. See www.theblackseeds.com for more details.

 

 

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