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Archive for May, 2016

Sulk: No Illusions

NAMING YOURSELF after The Associates’ finest hour will undoubtedly attract Porky’s attention.

Now, I don’t actually know if Sulk are fans of the electric, eclectic Dundee act, but if it isn’t the case we’ll pass it off as a magnificent coincidence. Sulk

Sulk are part of a new wave of revivalist bands, their ears attuned to shoegazing, Madchester and Britpop; the music their dads or elder brothers may have been played to them.

Welcome to No Illusions (Perfect Sound Forever records) their second album following the under-the-radar Graceless of three years go.

From the first minute of Black Infinity (Upside Down) I’m detecting the shimmering guitars and slide effects of Slowdive, which these days is actually a compliment.

The silky vocals of Jon Sutcliffe and the reverb-drenched bass remind me also of Towns, who’s debut album has been reviewed on this site, as well as an act of about five-six years ago, S.C.U.M.

But enough of such spurious comparisons, Sulk are clearly meritorious of their own categorisation. While they take from the above scenes, and beyond, this is less a nostalgia trip but a hand-in-hand jaunt alongside the new psychedelia, or a pioneering mini-genre that, quite frankly, is too esoteric to even have its own label.

One Day takes me back to 1990; Stone Roses had inspired a legion of flares-adorning teens, The Charlatans and their Hammond-esque delights were ubiquitous and The Sundays were breaking out from rotation play on the John Peel radio show. A time where anything seemed possible and an escape from the neoliberal shop of horrors was just a cheap cassingle away.

Rather that focus on individual tracks, I found myself steeped in the overall package, of turning on and delving deep, using it as background harmony while I wrote my shopping list. It would be pointless to dissect the lyrics, they aren’t intended to grab you, it’s the soundscape that matters, dummy.

And while this inevitably leads to accusations of “samieness”, there’s a new pleasure around each corner. Listen down suckers.

Associates

The Associates’ Sulk (1982)

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I HOPE YOU had a look at the review of the third Mouse Eat Mouse album, Toxic Tails – just a wee scroll down and you’ll be there or look o your right. They are one of the more obscure acts around, which makes it, in a cultish way, all the more satisfying to hear any new works.

Toxic Tails is an album of beauty, anger and passion, traits often missing in today’s sanitised music industry.

I decided, therefore, to get in touch with CD Shade the bald-headed, smooth-singing wordsmith who is the backbone of the act for an interview.

MEM 1.jpg

It turned out to be a fascinating exchange, Shade firing off passionate and defensive answers. Admittedly, one of my questions was vague and possibly Paxman-esque in its assumptions, but Shade responded with a clearly-thought out argument as you’ll see.

That question was about his support for Scottish independence which was put so eloquently on the album.

“Independence or dependency. Being a syndicalist I believe in self-determination,” he told me.

“Is Scotland the only country in the world genetically programmed to be incapable of running its own affairs? Would you ask your neighbour who is deep in doo-doo debt to look after your finances? Why are the unionists so in love with the anachronistic absurdity of Westminster? It is the mother of all neo-liberal politics. Anything that will help to break up the decaying post Imperialist UK state is fine by me.

An historical fact: Scotland entered the Union (in 1707) with no debt whilst England had massive debts part of which was accrued to pay off the Scots so-called nobility… parcel of rogues and all that.”

And from this we delved into Britain’s membership of the European Union, of which a UK-wide referendum next month will determine if that still is in existence. Given the Scots generally are more in favour of membership of the EU, the result could drive another wedge in the relationship between Edinburgh and Westminster.

“The EU is not inherently vindictive but it is like all bureaucracies they look after themselves. A right-wing Westminster Parliament is vindictive.

We are about to feel the full force of Westminster’s retribution for having had the audacity to almost vote for independence – shipbuilding on the Clyde for starters.

Two of the most important reasons to be in the imperfect EU: one, keeps the bellicose European nation states from going to war with each other; two, the European Convention of Human Rights.

Without the ECHR we would have no right to fair trials, privacy, freedom from slavery, domestic violence, torture and degrading treatment. The Good Friday Agreement is ratified by the ECHR and would fall apart without it.

The Hillsborough conspiracy wouldn’t have reached court without the backing of the children’s charter which is part of ECHR. The UK would have to write a new charter. Would you trust a neoliberal government that is more idealistically right-wing than Thatcher’s mob. I certainly wouldn’t allow a bunch of miseducated private school buffoons at Westminster anywhere near a UK Human Rights charter.”

Fighting stuff.

Part of the charm of Mouse Eat Mouse is the poetical manner in which they convey their music. They are a punk Ivor Cutler, a demented Sir John Betjeman. It is almost spoken word, but Shade’s timbre is theatrical, cutting, edgy.

When I first came across the track Mair Licht on an Uncut or Mojo compilation a decade ago I was struck by how unusual it sounded among all the other standard favourites of that magazine. It wasn’t pop it wasn’t anti-pop, it was certainly something …. out there.

In an era of plastic soul, punk-by-numbers and the once-maligned middle of the road now being on both sides of the highway, what is the role of those that choose not to talk of lost love and fast cars?

“I see MEM as a conduit for debunking the self-elected elite. Ours is a small voice and if we were nakedly angry we would have called ourselves Dog Eat Mucking Dog.

I’m from a theatre background and understand the power of the platform – you have to put a bit of colour and emotion into your work. Not angry, but frustrated about the level of miseducation and misinformation in our society.

In our sectarian school system I was taught a fabled history of Picts, Romans and Kate Barlass. We got a bit of Shelley but it was hygienically cleansed of his polemics. Nothing about the Scots medieval makars Dunbar, Douglas or Henryson. No mention of John Maclean and the Red Clydesiders.

I had to go to France to hear about Hugh MacDiarmid and Hamish Henderson. It was the American, George Whitman, who ran the Shakespeare and Co bookshop in Paris who quoted the MacDiarmid’s Little White Rose of Scotland to me… do you get my gist? Not angry; frustrated and sad.

“Fluffy singers have their place. What annoys is the way these kids are manipulated by apologies for human beings. I’m a non theist which basically means I am against all hierarchies. Hierarchical systems are sociopathic by nature. I’ll help anyone across the road but I’m damned if I’ll lead them up the garden path.”

 

MEM 2

It took seven years for Woof to arise in 2013 – a self-released sombre, acoustic collection. But, as Shade explains, illness, record company problems and the loss of band members made recording and releasing material somewhat problematic.

“In the gap between our first two albums I had a heart operation. When I was recovering I had other projects to fulfil.

Nevertheless, Woof was written and ready to go with Matt (Lehane) in charge of the recordings, but our record company (Hackpen) had gone out of business. To compound our problems our management company failed.

By this time we only had remnants of the original band.

 “I don’t know the music business and not having the support of a label or management behind Woof it made things difficult. We talked with various people to find replacements but didn’t find anyone suitable. This was to be a blessing in disguise as it has allowed us the freedom to do things at our own pace. Matt suggested that we rework Woof which we did.

Our first joint venture resulted in Toxic Tails.

Look out for our next album that tackles how the arts are used as propaganda to protect the status quo – MACMYTH.”

We look forward to it.

ps, probably best not to go on YouTube to search for them, you might see something that will out you off your dinner. All their music is on Bandcamp of course.

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IF ONLY I could utter a few words in Cymru, the language of the Gods which is the combination of Nye Bevan and someone with an impediment in which they spit as they speak.

So, it’s hurrah for Alun Gaffey and his Welsh language debut which he has haven’t even bothered to entitle. Roc a rol as would say in Gwynedd.Gaffey

Like me you’ve probably never heard of Gaffey’s previous band Race Horses, who had two albums released six and four years ago. If anyone has a spare copy of any of these works please send, and in return I will send around my regular midget prostitute to meet your every need.

Alun Gaffey, as we’ll call it, is a curious work of pop, electro and Tom Jones’ B-sides. Palutyllau opens proceedings with a distinct nod to the 70s funk and soul influences he so beloves: Sly and the Family Stone, Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers et al. Yr Arfon pounds with early 80s hip hop beats, and New Romantic excitement. You better believe it.

Sandwiched inbetween those is a track about dinosaurs (either in the literal or the metaphorical sense) Deinasoriaid, a glorious frolic in indie-pop with a clear acknowledgment of the genius of Gruff Rhys and his band of Welsh eccentrics, the Super Furry Animals. There’s the same Godlike pop sensibilities on O Angau, the free-form, jaunty jumpabout the Welsh seem to love so much (am recalling 90s bands like Topper, Big Leaves, both far too good for the ignorant London press).

And that’s four tracks in; from here it goes slightly off the mainline. Jupiter Gravity is a curious electro-funk number with repetitive chants and minimal lyrics before it divulges into a mock news footage piece. Gaffey may have been advised to avoid rapping on Fy Mhocad Cefn – not that he does it badly, but it feels out of place. A good idea at the time, perhaps.

It’s an extraordinarily diverse album that features guitar, claps, samples piano, drums, bass and drums, and “ayyb” – all played by Gaffey himself with help from a number of others including engineer Frank Naughton, recorded entirely in Grangetown, south Cardiff. Themes include paranoia and alternative living.

It’s a complex work that requires more than a couple of listens to assimilate, but this is beginning to really get inside my head, and heart, and I’m looking forward to Gaffey’s next project.

 

 

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