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Archive for April, 2013

It’s been eight years since the House of Love last released an album. I had virtually wrote off any hope of hearing new material, despite ongoing reports that they were preparing new songs. The news late last year of a new album was the best Christmas present Porky could have got.

And I need to be thankful they didn’t sustain the time period between 1993’s Audience with The Mind and Days Run Away from 2005. The House of Love have, in some respects, been the favourite cousin to Porky over the years, accompanying him on his ascent to adulthood; She Paints Words in Red comes during the descent into middle age. HoL

It was as a 17-year-old living in a humdrum town who’s contribution to music is limted to a member of the Average White Band, and a brief mention in an Everything But the Girl album track, that I first heard HoL, on John Peel naturally enough, when he put on Plastic a B-side to Real Animal but which was the equal, if not the better, to its more feted partner. If you want a potted history, check a previous post https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/?s=house+of+love

She Paints Words In Red is their first for Cherry Red, which also released the 3-disk deluxe edition of their debut at the end of last year. They clearly have HoL’s interests at heart as that was a carefully-considered issue of a remarkable album.

It was with enormous anticipation that I put the CD on in the car, driving to work excited and fretting that it might be a massive letdown. Hopes were even higher after seeing the magnificent artwork, long-time HoL photographer Suzie Gibbons capturing some extraordinarily colourful and evocative images on her travels.

It begins, suitably, with a bust of guitars and Chadwick’s plaintive voice. He sings the key chorus low, but the words ‘stay away’ ring with authority – a firm but fair order. A Baby Got Back On It’s Feet is certainly a pleasing opener.

On Hemingway, Chadwick sounds like he’s always done on more sedate tracks, Leonard Cohen attempting to do The Clash. “I feel like Hemingway/ And I’ve got a gun/ I’m gonna shoot someone just for fun.” he sings menacingly in a way reminiscent of another gun-centric song from Days Run Away, Kit Carter.

Internal artwork, a photograph by Suzie Gibbons

Internal artwork, a photograph by Suzie Gibbons

The title track is a beautiful, melodic song that would have fitted snugly on Days Run Away, and it’s not too taxing, with just ten lines. The fourth, and the most surprisingly inclusion, is a reworking of Purple Killer Rose, now reduced to an abbreviation, PKR. This was the B-side of the 7” to 1991’s The Girl With the Loneliest Eyes. It’s included here, because Chadwick says, they didn’t do it justice first time, which listening back to it, I can concurr. He strained so hard on the words he almost sounded demented. On the 2013 version the Londoner is menacing without the eeriness, and Bickers, Matt Jury and Pete Evans play harder. It is a perfect addition to She Paints Words In Red, but wouldn’t have fitted in on their Fontana albums.

Lost In the Blues begins with some masterly Chadwick words: “Tears that lie on my face/ don’t show the thorn in my mind,” but, nevertheless, is a relatively non-descript folk-ish track. Low Black Clouds is on the same railroad, a melancholic yet appealing number with brilliant guitar work.

The band strike up on Money Man, letting loose  with a barrage of guitars and drums. The mood dips on the following track Trouble In Mind, with Chadwick becoming the singer-songwriter he’d occasionally threatened to be, only for that image to be momentarily canned by the uplifting chorus. If there’s a weak link to the album this is it.

Thankfully, the pace, and quality, picks up immediately as Never Again rattles on at full pelt. It continues the band’s obsession with firearms as the frontman asks for “a penny for your thoughts and a big white pill/ or a gin and a gun or a bag to fill.” It’s so mesmerising and captivating I feel obliged to press the rewind button a few times. That trick usually puts a dampner on the next track as it has high heights to reach, but Sunshine Out Of The Rain is as dreamy as its title would suggest. Now I feel the House of Love are really hitting their stride, and I’m reminiscing of the times I would rush to a city 40 miles away to get a new 12” single or album. It isn’t quite meant to be like this with the best being saved for last. The lyrics are enlightening and etheral on Holy River, as the chorus reaches one crescendo, then another and doesn’t let go until we hit 3:57. It feels like 1989 again, playing Safe and I Don’t Know Why I Love You over and over in my bedroom.

And to top it off there’s Eye Dream which is as close to psychedelia as HoL will get complete with a brief snatch of reverb guitar. This would be ideal as a seven-inch B-side, not because of its quality (though HoL B-sides were of a high standard) but it is perhaps best appreciated on its ownsome, a track you can indulge in, outwith the more brazen tracks that’s preceeded it.

At this stage I’ve listened to the album five times, and the most recent one was where I delved the deepest. I still feel I can go deeper as I discover with each listen more subtleties, explore further into Chadwick’s mind and find the points where the band really sound like a fighting unit, ready to take on the world. And when you do that you always find ways where improvements could be made. There’s a couple of tracks I may have excluded if I had any inlfuence at all, but it’s too late for all that.

She Paints Words In Red isn’t the assault on the senses their spiky debut was, nor is it alike any of the subsequent albums; it is it’s own man, a pleasant and joyful listen that for me is already one of the best albums of the year. It was always going to be, of course, unless they released an album of Justin Bieber covers. But, please Terry, Guy, Matt and Pete, don’t take nearly another decade to get into the recording studio.

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Yeah, you’re thinking Maggie Thatcher died days ago, but …. the state-funded funeral is to take place soon, and her legacy of cuts to aid the rich, and destroying working-class communities continues, three decades on.
As Judy Garland’s Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead, of all songs, rockets to the top of the British download charts, we take a look at some of the finest anti-Thatcher (and by implication anti-Conservative) songs, both contemporaneous and those more recent, wishing her to die. There are so many more.
The protocol here is to have the video to the song, but you’re all web-savvy enough to go on YouTube and do that if you wish.

Simply Red: She’ll Have To Go (1989)
Mick Hucknall is a very rich man indeed, but he hated Thatcher: “Breaking our backs with slurs/And taking our tax for murdering/The only thing I know/She’ll have to go”.

Crass: How Does It Feel To Be The Mother of 1000 Dead? (1983)
During the Falklands War, Crass released Sheep Farming In The Falklands, which was castigated in Parliament and there was even an attempt to prosecute the band for obscenity.
This single was just as vehement about the conflict: “You smile in the face of the death cause you are so proud and vain/ Your inhumanity stops you from realising the pain/ That you inflicted, you determined, you created, you ordered/ It was your decision to have those young boys slaughtered.”

The The: Heartland (1986) The The
Matt Johnson lambasts Britain as the “51st state” of the United States while criticising Thatcher for turning the country into the land where “pensioners are raped and their hearts are being cut from the welfare state”. Johnson adds: “Let the poor drink their milk while the rich drink their honey/ Let the bums count their blessings, while they count their money”.

The Beat: Stand Down Margaret (1980)
The Beat were quick off the mark calling for her resignation the year after the Tories were elected. “I said I see no joy/ I see only sorry/ I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow/ So stand down Margaret/ Stand down please”. She didn’t listen and The Beat were proved correct.

Morrissey: Margaret on the Guillotine (1988)
“The kind people/ Have a wonderful dream …  Margaret on the guillotine/ Cause people like you/ Make me feel so tired/ When will you die?”
It made Mozza the subject of an official investigation by British police.

The Specials: Ghost Town (1981)
Another ska classic about Thatcher’s economic policies that raped local communities. “This town’s becoming like a ghost town/ Government leaving the youth on the shelf.”

NeuroticsNewtown Neurotics: Kick Out the Tories (1981)
This underrated punk band’s third single was pretty self-explanatory: “Lets kick out the Tories/ the rulers of this land/ for they are the enemies, of the British working man/ and it shows, while that bastard is in, unemployment grows/ and it shows, in hospitals, factories and the schools that they’ve closed.”

Billy Bragg: Thatcherites (1996)
There are a number of Bragg tracks that could be included here (Between the Wars for example) but this is unusual that it was released (on a b-side) after Thatcher had fallen. Bragg comments on Thatcher’s legacy, mocking her successor, John Major: “You Thatcherites by name, lend an ear/ You Thatcherites by name, your faults I will proclaim”

Pink Floyd:  The Fletcher Memorial Home (1983)
A surprising entry, in which Roger Waters envisions “The Fletcher Memorial Home for Incurable Tyrants and Kings” in this song from The Final Cut, naming Margaret Thatcher as one of the tyrants in residence.

Elvis Costello: Tramp the Dirt Down (1989)
Costello wishes the worst on Thatcher: “And when they finally lay you in the ground / I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.”

Hefner: The Day That Thatcher Dies (2000)
“We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies, even though it’s not right,” sings Darren Hayman. I hope he did.

Pete Wylie: The Day that Margaret Thatcher Dies (2011)
Not to be confused with the Hefner song of almost the same name, this party-rock tune revels in its hatred for the former PM: “She’s gone! And nobody cried!” Well, some idiots did.

Mogwai: George Square Thatcher Death Party (2011)
Instrumental, but who needs words with a title like that. This was namechecked in a BBC news report about an impromptu celebration, apparently sparked by the song, in the square in the centre of Glasgow.

Frank Turner: Thatcher Fucked the Kids (2006)
“Blame the folks who sold the future for the highest bid / That’s right, Thatcher fucked the kids.”


Madness: Blue-skinned Beast  (1982)
“I heard you shout for yesterday, but I was sleeping on the job/ And I dreamt of fighters miles away whose lives I had to rob/ Have a drink on me/ I put it down to the company”

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BALKAN MUSIC music has never sounded so good. Wellington act Niko Ne Zna are among the mainstays of this emerging scene DownUnder (albeit it’s not a new one but it’s profile is higher than ever) and I’m delighted they’ve gotten round to recording and releasing an album, following the fantastic self-titled EP released in 2010. Renegade

They’re now an eight (or nine)-piece that uses trumpets, accordion, bass and tenor trombones and a sousaphone (a form of tuba that fits around the body) and make an almighty Gypsy/ Balkan cocktail that sounds neither contrived nor from a Serbian village, but certainly closer to the latter. They are a curious live experience: the first time I saw them was when I walked into my favourite record store in Wellington (sadly gone) and they were heading my way while playing, before they performed to shocked motorists and passersby outside the store. Earlier this month at the Big Day Dowse festival Niko Ne Zna were among the crowd, encouraging people to dance with them in a circle.

Their unusual style (to Western ears and eyes anyway) transfers easily to Renegade Brass Bandits (Monkey records), 10 tracks of high energy Balkan buzz such as the energetic, frenzied Smoked Paprika but there are also more reflective numbers, such as Ederlezi. Smoked Paprika is one of two songs written by Frankie Curac, the Croatian-Kiwi multi-talented instrumentalist, with Hamish Jellyman and Simon Grove also contributing to the writing process. Traditional tracks like Kustino and Gankino mingle with the self-penned material.

The other Curac track, Fez, appears on Monkey’s compilation of a number of Eastern European-flavoured acts from both sides of the Tasman on an album imaginatively entitled Gypsy Fever. DJ Balkanetic has compiled these 12 tracks and has done a dandy job of unifying often diverse acts such as The Klezmer Rebs, the Balkan-rockabilly Aussies The Barons of Tang, the Benka Boradovksy Bordello Band and Black Spider Stomp. Needless to say the Kiwi acts are the most entertaining.

Lookie-here: http://www.monkeyrecords.com/monkey/

Staying with the Mediterranean, but with a rather different feel, is an album by Moussu T e lei Jovents. They are, you will have guessed, from France, but it is more helpful to pinpoint the precise area – the Occitan region in the south-east, which has its own identity and aspirations. For their fifth album, Artemis (Manivette records), they again pillage the sound of Marseilles from the 1930s, with a hint of light opera too. You could call it Mediterranean blues. They sometimes sing in French and sometimes in Occitan, a Romance language spoken in a stretch of land from Catalonia to the far north-west tip of Italy.

Moussu TThey use a clever mix of light-heartedness and nostalgia, rebellion and powerful hints of poetry. Mistaal is a glorious blend of rock and a unique form of blues that reminds me everso of Les Negrettes Vertes the fabulous Parisian act of the late 80s/ early 90s, though I expect to be chided for such a comparison by someone with more of an ear for French/ Occitan music. This is a surprisingly sprightly and entertaining album.

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THIS IS an extremely austere period: across the eurozone countries are relying on bailouts, and paying for them through massive cuts programmes. Millions of people have been on strike and on demonstrations against such measures. In Billy Bragg’s Britain the ConDem government is carrying out cuts that affect the people it hates – the poor, the unemployed and the disabled in a systematic campaign based on cruelty and ignorance. Meanwhile, in Africa and the Middle East the effects of the Arab Spring are continuing even if the dramas of that monumental period have largely died down.

There is a rich seam of material for Billy Bragg, Britain’s finest political songwriter, to draw upon. This could be Bragg’s finest hour as he rails against the spiteful, narcisstic ruling classes and inspire his followers with tales of inhumanity, and resolve.

Ermmm …. Bragg

What I’m actually listening to, on Tooth and Nail (Cooking Vinyl) is a clutch of songs of love and the personal with a strong hint of country music. I clearly got my hopes up too high. Still, the thought of Bragg becoming a county and western artiste is a little tough to chew.

If the songs were strong I would feel justified in biting my tongue and appreciating the new strength of the writing. But they’re weak, and remind me of Elvis Costello’s painful attempt to write a country album, back in the early 80s.

I can’t deny Bragg the right to pen an album of personal songs, nor of moving into new territory, in fact branching out is pivital to most acts, but the fact is Bragg has established his reputation on his armour of edgy, working class hero songs, reflecting life in the slow lane for millions of people. His voice is not his strongest point, but he has mastered a way of utilising it to maximum effect on songs such as There is Power in a Union or the Johnny Carcinogenic Show, but it doesn’t have the timbre to enact his feelings on, say, Chasing Rainbows. Needless to say, Porky feels deflated. 

Still, there’s always next time.

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MARIE BOINE is an artist from Norway with an incredible vocal style (watch the video at the bottom of this article) but her background and culture is far away from A-Ha and Eurovision entries that seems to mark the country’s musical identity.

She was raised in a small village in the far north, where the nights draw in quickly in winter, and daylight is sometimes a 24-hour phenomena during summer.

The region to me and you is Lappland, but to Boine (pronounced Boin-ee) and the rest of her people it is Samiland, or Sapmi, and they are distinct from the Norwegians who mainly live in the south.

Marie Boinee, in conversation, at the Pinetum Stage, Womad, New Plymouth(Craig Stephen)

Marie Boinee, in conversation, at the Pinetum Stage, Womad, New Plymouth
(Craig Stephen)

At an Artist in Conversation session at WOMAD in New Plymouth with Nick Bollinger, the singer described Samiland as “an area that was used by my people, the Samis, for thousands of years. Then it was colonised by the Swedes, the Finns, the Russians and the Norwegians, and they divided our land in four.”

It is a vast region, with differing landscapes throughout, and little vegetation, so fishing is a necessity. The language of the indigenous people is diverse with nine dialects recognised, and some are very different to the others; some are still alive, some moribund. Most of the estimated two million people living across the region are from the Nordic countries and Russia and the voices heard there now reflect that influx. Samiland, therefore, shares a sad history with the peoples of many countries in Europe (Ireland, northern Scotland, Euskadi etc) and globally where colonisers repressed the traditions and language of the inhabitants.

Repression

Those who tried to continue to speak in their own tongue in Samiland were chided.
“They banned the old Shamanistic religion that we had and the language” Boine said. “In the schools we learned the language of the majority culture. As a child the Sami language was only spoken in my village, at home, but when we came to school we were told that we had to forget the language so of course we were in a way brainwashed to feel bad about our culture.”

Boine left her village as a teenager to attend teacher’s college where she first became aware of her people’s history, and that had a major influence on her.

“I started to sing for myself because I wanted to trigger all these feelings of being inferior and I also understood that a large part of my people felt the same way. So everytime I published a song people would come to me and say ‘you are singing about me’. I understood that it was important to write and sing in my own language. But I was told ‘why are you singing this language, it will disappear’.

“In my home we spoke Sami so I grew up with the language but not with the singing, the traditional singing was banned. My parents became very Christian so they believed all the lies that the missionaries and the priests told about our culture being from the devil. So when I started to care about these songs I not only had to fight against the majority people but also my parents because they were convinced that the old songs were from the devil.”

Defiance

Boinee says she learned the songs from those families who refused to accept the Christian belief and kept the songs alive. She also went to the archives which were kept, somewhat surprisingly, by the colonisers because “maybe they wanted to keep the devil’s songs for themselves.”

Her parents were singing Christian hymns every night which at least gave her an opportunity to develop her vocal techniques but her parents also sang “in the old way, they were using the whale singing”. But as she delved further into her own culture and history she found new ways of singing. Some people thought her technique and timbre was similar to that of Indigenous Americans.

Despite being shy, Boinee battled her lack of self-confidence to perform on stage at the college she was studying at, and then was invited to do concerts, and, later, to perform for radio and television.
“In social situations I was very shy, but on stage, that was my home. I found the medicine in the music, that’s why I love to share this with my audience.”

She released her first album, Jaskatvuođa maŋŋá, or After the Silence, in 1985 and in 1989 her second album, Gula Gula, was picked up by Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. In all, she has recorded 11 studio albums. It would be easy to label Boine as a traditional folk singer, but there is far more to her and her band. They use a variety of instruments, some of them just implements that they managed to find a way of incorporating into their music, and Boine uses yodelling or yoik.

 

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