Archive for May, 2012

By Neil Peacock

It’s Friday night, the telly is tuned into the (then) eclectic Channel 4.

The Countdown clock has been run down, and a nation’s youth awaits the new edition of The Chart Show – the latest hits, the dance and indie top tens, amazingly trite facts about the groups, all encompassed in head-spinning computer graphics.

The highlight is the Indie chart, but tonight the best songs are glossed over; the forward button’s on, the picture spins out of control, that is until the producer stops at ….. well who the hell ARE this lot?

“Monday morning, oh no, I can’t escape, suburbs calling, oh no, it’ll have to wait…”. A voice from a bachelor pad springs out from the screen, bedroom in disarray, he’s singing about being skint and waiting for his giro to arrive. He’s singing about my life. The picture fades out, fuzzy images cut into suburban lanes, tree-lined streets, and the rest of these sharp suited hipsters dragging a couple of old bangers and a scooter off to the pub. Or so that’s how I remember the video by Jim Jiminee.

It was over 20 years ago and I haven’t had the opportunity to see the video until this week. I think my memory served me pretty well. More importantly, in a few fleeting moments, they had caught my imagination, what one might call a seminal moment that embeds and pulses within your brain over the years.

Jim Jiminee hailed from Fleet in Hampshire, comprising Kevin Jamieson (lead singer/guitar), Peter Dyes (lead guitar), Delphi Newman (keyboards), Nick Hannan (bass), and Lindsay Jamieson (drums). Another notable ex-member was Harriet Wheeler from The Sundays who had sung in an early incarnation of the band called Cruel Shoes. Jim Jiminee sounded like the best of Mod-style indie-pop combined with surprising elements of skiffle and subtle jazz, Kevin sang about relationships as tragicomedy, life on the dole; semi-routes to small town madness.

Their first EP Do It On Thursday, released in 1987, is an indie classic, when indie actually meant independent. It was, rightfully, a top 20 indie hit, featuring four life-affirming songs; the type that made you want to throw your best hat in the air, kiss your dearest friend, throw yourself into your neighbour’s goldfish pool, that sort of thing. They were all suffused with natural energy bursting life; they made signing on the dole sound like the finest thing you could do.

This was followed the following year by the equally excellent I Wanna Work EP, and now they were actively looking for a job, but on their own terms – ‘I wanna work for my pleasure, I wanna find myself a boss, I’ve had it up to here with leisure, but I don’t like playing squash.’

The EP included the jazzy pop of This Is Your Life, a tune about a rich girl, poor man relationship. One tune I’m Your Candidate, exposed the world of slimy politicians, ineffective local MPs; ‘THE UNEMPLOYED, TO HELL WITH THEM’, Kevin exclaims as if reading aloud from a Tory Party manifesto, backed by much guffawing and loud applause. Combining dark humour with politics, it is easy to see the connection some critics made between Jim Jiminee and some of Madness’s early recordings.

Then came the magnum opus, Welcome To Hawaii, a record I was glad to find in Probe Records in Liverpool, and one I listened to frequently during the summer of ’88. The album showed a slightly more reflective side with songs like She’s Gone Too Far and Wasting Away, but generally the mood was upbeat and carried on the quality of the singles, in particular on A Habit Of You – a song about addiction that only love could bring. The original album came with a lyric insert and on the back a great photo of Jim Jiminee wearing garlands and looking slightly bemused on a typical English beach, an obvious reference to the title of the LP. The vinyl, released by Cat and Mouse records, is now worth a small fortune although it was reissued in the early noughties by the now defunct label Vinyl Japan.

Like a doctor of good taste, my enthusiasm for the record made me loan it out to a friend I was living with during my university days. He loved it too, and 18 years later I’m still waiting for my copy back. Some people would call the cops, but I still have faith that my friend, who lives in another part of the country now will do the decent thing … one day.

The final EP Town and Country Blues was released in the Spring of ’89. Sadly, it disappeared almost without trace, and I was unable to find a copy until long after the group split. By this time Delphi had left, and the video, which appeared to be filmed in a disused trailer, was featured on The Chart Show. The mellow, but very fruitful, The Honest Truth gave us a sneak preview of how they might have developed. The other songs were a demo from ’86 called Hunting Out Of Season, and a piano ballad version of Do It On Thursday, Kevin singing the song like a Hampshire Sinatra propped up at the bar at 4am wanting one more for the road.

Without a decent promotional campaign, the single stalled and, after recording The Thatcher Years, – posthumously issued by Vinyl Japan – Jim Jiminee split up. It’s a shame this wasn’t released at the time. Although not as cohesive as the first album it contained many gems including the Kinks-style satire of Man In A Tracksuit, the regretful If You Search For Love and, potentially a great single in the final track Impetuous Girl. They also performed another standout song from the LP, Never Let Her Go (or at least Kevin does) for a German TV channel again bedecked in garlands whilst the other members try to put him off his playing, funny to watch if you ever find the footage.

To outsiders they will only be seen as a small footnote within popular music history, but to those who caught them live (I sadly did not) or bought their records at the time (I gladly did) they left a glowing imprint and a warm smile upon one’s face whenever I listen to them. Do it on Thursday? Why wait? Do it today.

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The previous edition of Lowdown on the New was the last. Hurrah you say. Hurrah I damn bloody well say too. Writing these columns has become onerous and unenjoyable. They served a purpose for a long time, to bring in interest to the site and to allow me to flex my music journalist brain muscles.

But they also served a more self-centred side. Let’s rewind back to the mid-90s when I was producing a series of fanzines that was hard work with little reward, and also writing reviews for my student newspaper. Back then, with a massive proliferation of small labels with owners willing to spend time until the wee hours packing CDs in padded envelopes, zine and student rag editors would annoy the hell out of their posties with the weight of packages to poke through the mailbox. When I became a reporter on a weekly rag I penned a popular music column which meant going into Aberdeen to see bands, interview the odd semi-famous or fading pop star and review albums. And by fuck did they come through the door, singles, EPs, albums, some with gimmicks such as matchboxes or button badges. It was the musical equivalent of endless blow jobs from leggy redheads.

While the majority of stuff sent in on-spec reeked of one-chord indie plagiarism, this was a window to bands I’d never come across otherwise and there’s an attic in my homeland weighted down with some of the ones worth saving. What I didn’t like (about 90%) I’d flog to a shop in Dundee – one massive load netting me three quarters of the price of a flight to New Zealand – or would provide handy birthday and Christmas presents. Like every other music hack, I was a champion bludger, a gold medal-winning blagger,

Needless to say those days are long gone, there’s few goodies to gain, and those that do come through the door are delivered only by shedding blood, and kissing arse. It’s a digital world, baby, and that’s good for both writers who can get the music without delay and for the labels who can dispense with interns spending the whole shift stuffing envelopes with Grade D indie bands.

That’s the history, but as I said earlier, it’s too time-consuming whatever I would be receiving with a full-time job, partner, baby and a new-found love of knitting.

That said I will continue to review certain new albums if they are deserving of a fuller review that I can afford under the limitations of the column at the moment.

Porky Prime Cuts will have more band features, and more personal diatribes. The stuff we feel we do best at.

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Who: Paul Weller 

Title: Sonik Kicks

Label: Universal

Tell me more: Has he still got the fire in his belly? Was the magnificent Wake Up the Nation a last hurrah?

The Lowdown: In a 21-year solo career, Weller has never dwelled on the successes; every album is a new adventure, and to be truthful, some have needed to be to make amends for a lapse in judgment. Such an accusation can’t be levelled at Sonik Kicks, a glorious ride through rock and electronica’s magnificent history. Dragonfly soars like Goldfrapp with the scent of sci-fi wafting throughout. Around the Lake is a course, bitter fruit, with drumbeats and screechy effects mingling with guitars-a-plenty. Krautrockers Neu! are an influence on this record – Kling I Klang is the most obvious reference point – but Drifters has a flamenco touch, Paperchase has ‘a slight Blur feel to it’ says Weller himself and it’s hard to disagree. And while all this sounds mesmerisingly dynamic, the finale, Be Happy Children, is a beautiful ballad which features his own kids. Like Bowie he is a living legend but like The Grand Dame, he has that innate ability to change and move in a new direction, without sounding like a bandwagon hopper.


Who: Mystery Jets 

Title: Radlands

Label: Rough Trade/ Rhythmethod

Tell me more: Siblings are common in bands, but fathers and sons in the same group are far less so: in the Jets case it was Henry (dad) and Blaine. The Jets had a very promising start releasing excellent period piece singles like On My Feet and You Can’t Fool Me Dennis, from 2005 which formed part of the following year’s excellent Making Dens album.

The Lowdown: If truth be told, the Mystery Jets have hit some turbulence since then, Serotonin – released in 2010 – was remarkable for its insipidness. I have hopes that Radlands will be a return to form but, alas I’m unable to say that. For a start the cover has the band within a map of Texas, which reflects the recording location, but looks like a corny country or MOR album from 1975. They arrived in Austin for the recording process only with guitars, and borrowed “all this amazing valve gear from an old guy called Jack,” but Radlands still sounds contrived. This isn’t the same band who created Making Dens, this is a four-piece who’ve matured, and the joyful pop sounds have dissipated. A shame as there is a majestic break-up song about who takes what from the record collection. Greatest Hits namechecks Paul McCartney and Mark E.Smith and Blaine Harrison tells his spurned lover: “You can take the Lexicon of Love but I’m keeping Remain In Light”. Hale Bop is cringeworthy but would go down a storm in a rural bar where they have both types of music: country AND western.



Who: Alabama Shakes 

Title: Boys & Girls

Label: Rough Trade

Tell me more: Gaining some attention in their native USA and beyond, the Shakes are three guys and one girl, vocalist/ guitarist Brittany Howard.

The Lowdown: Much of the publicity for one of the band’s gigs in London this year was due to the presence of Russell Crowe who is either an Aussie or a Kiwi depending on his behaviour. I don’t know anything about his taste in music but he isn’t exactly an expert on new music. And therein lies the problem with a A-List celeb endorsements: they know little more than me or you. Crowe and everyone else in the sweaty venue may have loved the Shakes that night, but alas, I find it hard to get remotely excited by this record. Howard overdoes it, coming across as a new Joss Stone, while the band do their best with the material they have at hand. Overwhelmingly disappointing but they are trying too hard to sound like other people.


Who: The Heartbreaks

The cover from the promo copy, which I find better than the commerical one

Title: Funtimes

Label: Nusic

Tell me more: Edwyn Collins is one of the producers on this debut album by a bunch from the seen-better-days English resort town of Morecambe. They are supporting Morrissey soon.

The Lowdown: If what some people wrote were to be true, The Heartbreaks are the new James or Libertines. They are neither of course, but such attempts of hyperbole reek of smoke and mirrors, or just simply becoming carried away.
Funtimes is jaunty, effervescent and joyful, while referencing the decline of the great British seaside resort. You can imagine they spent their pre-teen years on the coconut shy and ungainly wrapping their right arm around a girl, “I’ll be waiting outside the Winter Gardens, feeling slightly worse for wear; if talk of romance thrills you, honey, maybe I’ll see you there?” sings Matthew Whitehouse on Winter Gardens.
Collins’ influence is noticeable on Remorseful but not overly so. Standard indie guitars abound and it reminds me Tom Allalone and the 78s, who promised more than they actually delivered but the vigour, passion and northern Englishness of Funtimes is winning me over with each listen.



Who: Some Velvet Morning  

Title: Allies

Label: MyMajorCompany

Tell me more: Anyone who names themselves after a Nancy Sinatra/ Lee Hazelwood song needs more investigation. The morning is Des Lambert, the velvet is Rob Flanagan and the some is Gavin Lambert who hail from London. Porky hasn’t sniffed them before but they have released several singles and an album since 2006.

The Lowdown: It’s telling that Chris Potter, who has worked with Verve and U2, is involved. Des Lambert wants to be both Bono and Richard Ashcroft at the same time, with a dash of early Coldplay and perhaps the Cure. That sounds like an impressive roll-call, but it is a little deceiving. Black and white artwork and band photos and a track with a German title (Unterbrechen) makes them seem dark and mysterious. But musically they’re fairly one-dimensional. It is one of those albums that’s both rewarding and frustrating. One the one hand there’s some epic soundscapes like the single How To Start a Revolution that make you feel like reaching for the sky and shouting the lyrics. But the frustrating side is that they aim for that orgasmic feeling at every opportunity, and, like Usain Bolt, you can’t run a world record in every race.

Anything else: MyMajorCompany operate by crowd funding, a way of raising money to be able to raise the capital for an album, and SVM raised £100,000 in this way.

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