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A FLURRY OF Associates reissues keeps the Porky sty happy.

The remastered releases include the first three albums, The Affectionate Punch, Fourth Drawer Down and Sulk, all with an extra disk of splendiferous outtakes and B-sides and the now-obligatory booklets.Associates 1.png

However, and somewhat insanely, I will bypass these three (I have previously reviewed the classic Sulk), at least for now, and focus on what would appear to be a tiresome cash-in with a title that keeps to the tradition of simplicity for such anthologies, The Very Best Of. This may seem contradictory given the cover art is of an old photograph, the liner notes are sparse and it omits a big chunk of the act’s history. But it has its merits.

Naturally, it includes the three hits which propelled them to playful and glamorous appearances on Top of the Pops – Party Fears Two, Club Country and 18 Carat Love Affair, along with the former’s AA-sided partner, Love Hangover. These complete the singles disk; the compiler has opted to ignore everything after Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine went their separate ways promptly following the final hit, with MacKenzie thereafter keeping the banner with moderate success (two excellent singles, Those First Impressions and Waiting For The Love Boat).

The hit parade includes their very first effort, a now very obscure but very ropey cover of Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging – frankly there’s no getting around criticising this under-produced barely listenable take, but it did get them noticed, which was its purpose.

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Michael Dempsey, John Murphy, Alan Rankine, Billy MacKenzie

 

It’s followed by a string of tracks released in 1980 and 1981, some relentlessly grinding as they attempted to develop their electro-art cabaret style. But there is the supremely garish pop of A where Oor Billy rattles off all 26 letters with dazzling aplomb and the haunting mystique of White Car In Germany with its encephalonuous lyrics: “Anonymous as bathrooms/ Androgynous as Dachshunds” and keeping faith with his north-east Scotland roots by noting that “Aberdeen’s an old place”.

The carrot to this anthology is an entire disk of hitherto largely unheard tracks, all but three of them having appeared some years ago on Double Hipness, a lavish array of demo-stage recordings, including the paen, as it were, to Morrissey, Stephen, You’re Really Something. This album is only in the homes of true diehards.

The trio of songs that haven’t featured anywhere before are a surprisingly engaging version of the 1960’s standard Eloise, Jukebox Bucharest, which was recorded around 1978 or 79, and a fuller version of Double Hipness.

As I furrowed through this collection I came to realise it was less of a thrill than I first anticipated, other than the discovery of the noted unreleased tracks. I didn’t especially need to again hear International Loner nor a live version of Gloomy Sunday. I can only assume its compiler, the former band member during this period, Michael Dempsey, had trawled the vaults for what was available.

It’s clear that, with MacKenzie’s star still high and interest in the act failing to fade, a box set is required, capturing everything that was recorded up to and beyond the point at which the two main protagonists split. With all the bells and whistles.

 

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DAVID BOWIE’S death in January triggered a frenzy of obituaries, programme specials and lists of what critics regarded as the Englishman’s finest works.

The universal feeling was that his albums from the 1970s were the standouts. I agree to this to an extent – the Berlin trilogy was Bowie at his pioneering peak and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is his magnus opus, despite all its flaws. Earthling.png

But I was piqued at the neglect from virtually anything post Let’s Dance. One self-confessed fan’s list of top ten albums stopped at 1980’s Scary Monsters, Scary Creeps. I found this incredible given early works like Hunky Dory show Bowie still in his formative stage as a serious artist.

One album I have included in my own top 10 (see below) is 1997’s Earthling. It arrived two years after 1.Outside, the industrial, edgy, album that was another 360 degree turn in Bowie’s output, dramatic turns that he so comfortably did during his career.

And, yet, it is also close to the aforementioned Scary Monsters, which was a more aggressive work that the three previous Eno-tinged masterpieces.

At the time of Earthling’s release I was initially put off by the suggestions it was Bowie’s “jungle” or drum’n’bass album. My first listen didn’t dispel those opinions but I was soon hooked on the electrifying basslines and Bowie’s most passionate writing for a few years.

It kicks off with Little Wonder, which is massively bombastic, borderline radio friendly – its overt use of drum’n’bass laying down a challenge to breakfast DJs to even listen to it. As for the lyrics … well … “sneeky Bhutan” mingles with “Mars happy nation” and “Big screen dolls, tits and explosions,” in what seems almost a stream of consciousness.

If that’s what I was anticipating as those initial third party impressions seeped through my mind, Dead Man Walking pounded them like a hammer on the anvil. If Bowie had listened to The Prodigy in the mid-90s this is how it came out. All that’s lacking is some misogynistic controversy.

Battle for Britain (The Letter) contains a tumultuous opening riff that sounds not unlike a Nine Inch Nails B-side (clearly an influence). It’s a colossal song that veers fantastically in all directions, with a surprising jazz piano break at about three minutes in and intermittent warped vocals.

Then there’s a song almost beyond comprehension, The Last Thing You Should Do, which begins as a possible outtake from 1993’s White Tie, Black Noise before a minute and a half in comes some ear-splitting guitars (Reznor-ish again) that pummel onwards before those deft melodies cooked in grease come to the fore.

I’m Afraid of Americans, is, meanwhile, one of the more straightforward tracks, boom then bang, and repeat ad nauseum in a diatribe on the failed American Dream.

There’s a couple of fillers and the final track, Law (Earthlings On Fire) should’ve been left off but this is more than compensated by the flurry of gloriously in-yer-face tracks that once more put Bowie on a track of his own liking. Alas, he followed this up with the moribund …. Hours and the train was derailed.

And for it’s worth, here’s my own top 10 of Bowie albums:

  1. Heroes
  2. Lodger
  3. Low
  4. The Next Day
  5. Earthling
  6. Station To Station
  7. Diamond Dogs
  8. Heathen
  9. Ziggy Stardust
  10. Reality

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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.

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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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MOUSE EAT MOUSE have been awa’ in their hidey hole in the corner of the hoose, nurturing a path away from the trap and into the cheese factory.

But they’re a coming out noo: CD Shade has his wordsmithery hat on again, so let’s listen in to the latest episode of lucid anger in Toxic Tails, which follows the fair lauded Mair Licht (2006) and the more subdued Woof from three years ago. See review of Mair Licht hereToxic Tails

This self-released album comes in the midst of a British Conservative government intent on pursuing class war, and follows the defeat for the separatists in the Scottish independence referendum (at least in the short-term, the notion of a separate Scotland is more pertinent than ever).

Mouse Eat Mouse have been trimmed to a duo, of Matt Lehane, described on the cover as “multi-instrumentalist and music” and CD Shade, the Rabbie Burns-inflected writer and vocalist, a bald eagle of a colossus, whispering or bellowing the lyrics with an innate passion lacking in so many X-Factor lite-ish acts. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, MEM are from Scotland, the west coast to be slightly more precise.

Toxic Tails is a monologue of writing, a journalistic inspection of the modern British state, and, in consequence, places and people way beyond the seas and coasts of the Isles.

Extraordinary Rendition, for example, tackles the dubious method of abducting a suspect, putting a hood over their head, and whisking them off to another country to have sharp things intruded where they shouldn’t be. No trial is required, no explanation given.

In hushed, piercing tones over lolling guitars and piano, Shade notes the British government’s excuses at defending its involvement in such inhumane tactics as nonsensical. “The UK government claimed that as the interrogators didn’t enjoy their work it couldn’t be torture”.

Arsepirational, meanwhile, hammers nails into the neoliberal apologists who allow their tongues to spoon out endless verbal diarrhoea to justify transferring billions from the vulnerable to the unemployed, undeserving rich. The “fiscal jihadists” are, Shade laments, creating a “modern day Dickensian hoplessness” where foodbanks are the ultimate in social control.

It seems quite pertinent listening to this as junior doctors in Britain go on strike to defend the NHS and patients from a government of multi-millionaires trying to divest an essential service of funds to the extent that people will have to flock to costly, dubious private providers, some of whom they and their cronies have vested interests in.

Arseperational belongs to a tetralogy that includes Patchy News, an acerbic critique on the barrage of negativity from the BBC and most of the printed media for their “pro-Unionist cant,” and slanted editorials.

Blaming the media is as old as prostitution so it was no surprise that Scottish independence campaigners took such umbrage at the slanted coverage of the referendum. However, that in itself does not explain why 55 per cent of those who voted nae in September 2014 did so. Not all of them reads the Daily Express.

CD ShadeShade returns to the issue of “self-determination” in Birth Of A Notion, the closing chapter of an intense and cathartic effort. From his mouth come plenty of whispered, feel good words like revitalisation and renaissance and various other words beginning with the two-lettered suffix.

None of this is in any way delivered down the throat a la William Bragg; while the band itself describe it as “extreme folk” (it’s hard to think of even such a concept) these are thoughtful diatribes delivered with care. It is folk though, but with an extra dollop of melody, and no tank tops.

Fat cats beware: these mice are fucking angry.

Get Toxic Tails from bandcamp:

https://mouseeatmouse.bandcamp.com/album/toxic-tails

 

 

 

 

 

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THOSE FAMILIAR with this blog will be aware of Porky’s affinity with the musical outpourings of Bury St Edmunds in the heart of largely rural West Suffolk.

This is a town of contrasts, but the kids have never been as deep-hearted conservative as their peers with a 20-minute drive to Cambridge offering a route to the student and underground music and culture landscape of that esteemed regional capital.

Horse Party 2

From left, Quigley, Hope and Langley

A product of Bury is Horse Party which was formed at one of Seymour Quigley’s club nights after his ear-bashing Ten City Nation trio broke up. Horse Party’s debut album, Cover Your Eyes, came out to a smattering of applause in 2014 including on this here site (https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/vote-horse-party/).

Now comes Horizons, a 13-track mop-up job on R*E*P*E*A*T Records, that collects two 7”singles, various download-only releases and one unreleased track from the past 12 months.

While Cover Your Eyes was a fine debut it did also reek of filler-ism, with some tracks falling below the required standard. Maybe it’s the short-term thrill of focusing on just a couple or three tracks at time where HP are at their best as the singles and some of the B-sides sound crunchily glorious.

Most compilations are annoyingly in random order, but Horizons is chronologically logical: from the beginning of 2015 to January just past. That permits the listener to grasp the ever-changing nature of the trio as the months went by. As the album progresses the mood gets darker (“we could drown if you like”) and there’s a feeling the frenetic, buzzsaw format is gradually being dispatched.

So, Out of Sight, the A-side from a year ago, bristles with pugnaciousness, its corruscating lyrics aimed at someone with faults aplenty. Ellie Langley’s vocals are perfect for this type of brusk, radio-unfriendly sound, but its partner, Receiver ,sees Quigley take the lead role, which seems more appropriate for such a stroppy track.

HorizonsPaydirt and its complementary B-sides Animal and October continue this abrasive outlook, grinding guitars assaulting the senses, drums pounding the inner tissue; Animal in particular is magnificent in delivering a cohesive force in anger-harmony.

Nevertheless, the Money Talks EP sees a sudden, unwelcome dip in form of Jordan Speith proportions. There’s no beating about the bush here; it’s fundamentally lame, the title track telling us something we all know. But it does contain the exceptionally beautiful anthem for lost souls everywhere, Looking For Life, with Langley sounding like she’s easing into her role as frontwoman.

I appreciate relatively new acts releasing compilations so early in their careers; much of this is hard to get, spread over five separate issues in various guises plus an unreleased track I would have to assume wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise. I can only assume this is a stop-gap to newer material later in the year, rather than an admittance that the act is stuck in a rut.

 

 

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