Monday, 12 October 2009

Animal Magic Tricks & Men Diamler @ Uluru - 8th October 2009

I used to live near to the south coast of England, almost the opposite of Manchester within the English context. It taught me lessons. Mainly lessons about what will happen to people should they linger between hedgerows a little too long and allow the spirit of natural humanity warp along the lines it was (un)designed before TV and aspirational magazines laid our these imperial Roman pathways to bullshit nirvanas. People are strangely like trees, and will grow in any number of directions if they are allowed. I'm just not sure we are allowed.

Manchester has its own problems with wrong-headed pathways, but occasionally their Renaissance image is scored by a passing antler, by a talented troll. I found out last minute about a gig by a couple of touring southerners at Uluru, which is an almost pleasingly weird venue for live music. There is practically no-one there, and those that are there are probably there just to have a drink – or so it seems. Due to cancelled gigs in Buxton, they have decided to play wherever there is even a tiny welcome, and Chorlton has a chance to stand up to its hippy reputation.

Animal Magic Tricks had caught my ear before, but is such a timid, low-key type of music that making sure your ear keeps caught can be a bit of a challenge. The recorded music that I've heard involves beautiful layers of tape hiss, whispered, fluttering vocals, all the kind of thing that doesn't necessarily cut it in Manchester. It's not the kind of art school chick-warbling that was clogging the weekend supplements at the beginning of the year either.

One tune begins with a audio book clip from Thomas Hardy, which is slowed and continues in the background as she sings another tune on top. I like the strangeness. People chatter and don't really seem to get it. Animal Magic Tricks is a lone ginger woman in vaguely kooky gear, that kind of lacey farmhouse that middle-class women wore in the seventies, playing the guitar a bit and some ancient, woozy keyboard. The dress code shouldn't matter, yet I note it nonetheless.

Men Diamler looks like an impossibly skinny Arsene Wenger, even slightly hunchbacked. He has acolytes in the audience, who have followed him over from a gig the previous night, and it is easy to see why. He stamps his feet on the floorboards, he moves to the middle of the room to be nearer his audience, he doesn't need a microphone. He is loud. He has the air of a hedge poet, a very slightly unkempt Arsene Wenger hedge poet. A little like a stampy, guitar thumping Thom Yorke. He has blatantly come up from the South of England. He never stays on his little wooden chair for long, jumping up to stamp along the floorboards again.

Lou feels a little uncomfortable, as though her evening has been impinged upon; but I appreciate the effort he's making. Far better he comes and sings to people who are chatting in the background than sulk from a stage or expect his acolytes to hush on his behalf. The lyrics too are pithy and poetic, if a little down on humanity and all that stuff. People are nothing more than “saline”, he reckons. The melodies are seemingly effortless, but this is belied by his bloody blisters. While the assembled ask for an encore, all he can manage is to spring from his chair and show us all his damaged fingers. But in a sweet way.

This is Chorlton. Isn't this supposed to happening all the time now?


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Insidious Junkbox - a musical compilation from MC Coc Oen

Chorlton resident and musical uber-brain Coc Oen has, for some time now, been compiling and sharing a series of 'mixtapes' he likes to call the Insidious Junkbox. CIR managed to coax him out of his ursine lair for long enough to grab a few words of explanation....

And you can download all ten of the Junkbox podcasts here :-

Insidious Junkbox: An Apology

Insidious Junkbox gradually seeped up from the basement of my imagination, from the foiled plumbing of my fervent dreams of a better life. The title is based on Rebellious Jukebox, which is probably obvious, but I feel I should explain.

The idea has been kicking around my head since the dawn of my radio-addled adolescence. Imagine if I could spend my days, my hours and minutes, earning tiny piles of cash by stringing together fantastic bits of recorded music, spitting out muttering mixtapes and bringing a little joy to the world! Just the idea of putting together little radio shows was nourishment enough. Adulation was no likelihood.

Then one day the generator giggled into life and the plan was sketched. I decided to launch one of these bad boys into the ether myself, admittedly in piratical fashion and without fanfare. I got a bit of audio software, set up a microphone (badly as it turns out and I have yet to get the hang of it) and began planning what treasures I would share with a couple of people that I already knew.

So the basic plan is this: play the occasional classic that has lodged itself in my consciousness over the years – largely from the late 80s and 1990s – then pepper and season with new tingly delights. I try to stray outside the pig pen every now and then, but the blueprint comes from my micro-Daddy John Peel and little strays far beyond it: indie schimdie, classy hip-hop, some left-field pop, electronic communications. There's a thick vein of Welshness, as there is a lot to be said for the music of that gloomy corner of the world and not so many people to say it, and tastes will wander toward the obscure if allowed.

MP3s are knitted together at The Flat Above on Chorlton Cross. Podcasts are occasionally listened to, and occasionally asked after by folks that I know. If I'm honest, in my dreams they snag me a foot on some shiny ladder to the next level of aspiration; if I'm honest with myself, it's a lazy path leading nowhere obvious. Nonetheless, there'a a tingle trickles down my throat with every opening line.

Any thoughts or track suggestions are double welcome – – and should anyone wish to slap MP3s of the podcasts on their site or link them, feel free.

I remain your humble podcaster, MC CocOen. x

Monday, 28 September 2009

Excerpt from 'Fluids' by Sian Cummins

Author of this parish Sian Cummins has completed her first novel, Fluids - and before its even released, is already halfway through a second, The Elastica Principle.

Rather than referencing 90s Britpop, as we rather gauchely supposed, the elastica principle is actually an architectural principle to do with the distortion of structures - 'which is kind of similar to what goes on in the book'. Ah.

As for Fluids, Sian describes it as a dark comedy set in the year 2000. 'I think it mostly came out of the idea that a lot of people in 1999 thought they were going to wake up dead on the first morning of the new millennium so, in the book, someone does. It takes the piss out of the sort of apocalyptic paranoia that was around at the time and is still around ten years on.'

An early bird, Sian likes to get up and do her writing before she goes to work, which given that we find it difficult enough to get up and go to work at all, impresses us hugely.

Here is the opening paragraph of Fluids, as a taster.


On the first morning of the new Millennium, John, 30, named after Lennon, woke with a killer hangover, a dead arm and a dead girlfriend. She was lying across his arm, pinning it to the bed, her fidgeting over for good. John twisted his head to gaze into her sticky half-closed eyes and saw the light. Not flu, not just the tetchiness that comes with the time of year, but an appliance leaking colourless fumes. They’d pushed a leaflet under every door in the block about the dangers of carbon monoxide and it was only now, in the few seconds between sleep and the sight of her dilated pupils, that the message came home. Her choked bloodstream, his own red cells working against him, binding themselves gladly to the poison. He had lived through the night against the odds; remarkable enough in the circumstances to seem like a challenge, but fuck that. In the same revelatory seconds, John had resolved that there would be no fight. Maybe for Sarah, it if hadn’t been very obviously too late. For all the hand-holding people did, for all the snuggling up, baby talk and acting coy, this is what it came down to. The protective instinct meant human fragility, that is, the possibility of this - her; cold and unmoving, deader than punk rock, and him doubting that blowing his own toxic breath into her mouth would do any good. And it wouldn’t. She was gone. So he wasn’t even going to try saving himself. He would stage a bed-in with her for whatever time he had left; a quiescent John to her stiffening Yoko. I’m sorry Sarah, he thought, but don’t worry, I’m on my way.

Root Masters - KingTree & The Roots live @ Blowout, Chorlton Irish Club

King Tree & The Roots are new of this parish, but they are popping up in all the right Chorlton niteries already: gigs at Dulcimer and Abode, and now the Friday institution that is Blowout at the Irish Club.

A couple of the faces are familiar already from other bands – Tim Warren once hit sticks for Chorlton's most widely feted export since the Bee Gees, Polytechnic, before they withered on the vine; Ollie Wright has skittered his fingers up and down the bass for years as the frontman of The Nightjars. Now they are allied in backing the rumbling talents of one King Tree, a man from Cumbria with an ear for Byrdsian jangle and an eye for witchy women in the woods.

While there's a fair bit of chat between the lads off mic, they are not here to banter with the audience. They are here to play the music and play it intensely. I'm not normally one to judge a band by their dress sense, but the indications are there in the mixture of cowboy check-shirts and Can tees. This is almost kraut-billy – limber beat combo basslines, shivery and sharp tribal drums, tight guitar lines and melodies that hover somewhere between vintage Fleetwood Mac and The Strokes. It's refreshing too to see a tambourine/backing dude not on stage purely to gurn like a monkey. Their conviction is infectious.

On the other hand, it's as if the Filmore West was in Cockermouth not Hollywood, that rather than wandering into the Mojave desert, those folk rock dudes had stared out over the Irish Sea after sessions at the local. I can see the album covers now. I can see the guys posing for photos at sunset in an autumnal copse in ponchos and big hats, semi-feral thirtysomethings that live in mossy sheds where everything is mouldy and damp but the pristine collection of vintage vinyl. This is the work of rock classicists. There's a faint scent of Top Gear about the place. There's often a kind of sea shanty shuffle going on, but without the Scouse wackiness of an outfit like The Coral.

In the middle of the stage, while The Roots lithely frug about, King Tree is largely static, the slightly diffident troubadour. It seems those witchy women have caused him years of ocean-tossed heartache. There's a spooky, musty feeling to the songs, and while the sound system doesn't provide much lyrical detail, when the frontman booms out “Where are you? Where are you?” on their gem of a two-speed peyote pop song, “Forever Lost”, there's a touch of Richard Hawley, or maybe a manly PJ Harvey.

King Tree & The Roots are playing it straight, but on a crooked pathway through the forest where the wolves and warlocks live - the stuff of adolescent fairy tales, of low-key British horror movies. Shadows in the corner of the eye on long, wintry nights. Memories of the girl with danger on her lips.

Coc Oen

Thursday, 24 September 2009

THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – Chorlton Irish Club, Manchester 22.5.09


I was offered the chance to interview The Pains of Being Pure at Heart ahead of this show, but on first listen, I was totally underwhelmed with them. This album is just derivative, I thought. It’s just early My Bloody Valentine (‘Come Saturday’), for God’s sake. With a dash of The Smiths (‘The Tenure Itch’). And The Cure (‘This Love is Fucking Right!’). Oh and there’s that one that sounds a lot like ‘Vapour Trail’ by Ride (‘Stay Alive’).

The songs were catchy, there was no denying that. It’s just that the band were so nakedly in thrall to their eighties British indie influences. It’s cynical and they’ll get nothing from me, I decided, with a huff and a crossing of my arms.

Then a friend persuaded me it would be interesting to speak to them, seeing as they are one of the more hyped bands to come out of NYC this year. I gritted my teeth and started to come up with some questions.

Here are the first three that came to mind:-

  1. Is it easy to get away with ripping off ’80s UK indie in the States?
  2. Are you surprised at the success of your new album, given that it is so derivative?
  3. Will your next record be less derivative?

I decided not to go ahead with the interview.

A couple of weeks passed and once I’d quite finished with Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, I felt an unexpected urge to go back to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. Those jangling hooks had barbs. That winsome, pure pop instinct wouldn’t leave me alone. To my shock and surprise, when I put the album on again, I realised that over the past couple of weeks, without realising it or particularly listening to them, I had totally accepted them for what they were. I started to like them.

I awarded the song ‘Young Adult Friction’ five stars on my iTunes rating. But by this time, it was too late to sort out the interview.

The day of the Irish Club show came around. I was playing a set myself, in the snug room downstairs, before the Pains went on upstairs. So I did my gig, then grabbed a couple of beers and went upstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

First of all, God, it was hot up there… So many bodies, so little ventilation. Sweat was pouring from everywhere before the headliners had even taken the stage.

Then, up they popped… and boy, did I feel like an idiot straight away. Bassist Alex Naidus’ killer Malcolm X glasses can’t disguise the fact that he can’t be a day over 23. Keyboardist Peggy Wang is a classic indie poppet. The second guitarist is so patently into it that his demeanour quite disarms you. Singer Kip Berman is smiling fit to burst as soon as they burst into ‘Come Saturday’ and the crowd instantly goes for it.

By the time they get to ‘Young Adult Friction’, there is a bona fide moshpit and Berman just gazes across his crowd, with genuine delight in his eyes. He is touched, you can see it. Wang half tries to retreat behind her hair, bashful, as the front few rows sing her vocal parts for her, but she can’t hide her smile.

They didn’t expect this; they are in no way blasé about the pleasure they have given to these strangers from the island that sired their music.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have touched a nerve. Their unashamedly nostalgic music is (fucking) right for this crowd, right for this room. It’s just like it must have been the first time around – the romantic introverts, bedroom poets and literate loners are brought back together by sugar-edged guitars, untutored boy-girl harmonies and dreamy, shimmery clouds of languor.
It really doesn’t matter that it’s nothing new. People don’t care that it’s all happened before. It doesn’t even matter that these American kids are bringing our own musical heritage back to us. This crowd do not care who the band are, where they’re from, what year it is, or who they’ve ripped off. They just like the songs.

The moshpit swells as more and more adults (some young, some not so young) are convinced to dive in and accept The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

I fight my way out of the hall, walk into the gents’ and look at myself in the mirror. My shirt is doused in beer and sweat. They’ve just played ‘Stay Alive’ and Berman has dedicated it to Manchester, ‘because we stole your drumbeat.’ Well, that one came from Oxford, actually, I thought to myself.

It doesn’t really matter.

Ollie Wright

the pains of being pure at heart

Friday, 4 September 2009

DAMON & NAOMI – Chorlton Dulcimer 3/9/09

When Damon & Naomi started recording together in the early 90s, they didn’t consider playing live, thinking a band without a rhythm section would be ‘the worst kind’. It’s credit to their talent that they made it work, especially as the duo started out played bass and drums themselves.

Naomi Yang is a renowned bassist, having developed a unique approach to the four-string whilst with the influential, reverb-soaked 80s indie stars Galaxie 500. Tonight, however, she plays synth, producing suitably celestial organ tones to flesh out Damon Krukowski’s simple, resonant acoustic guitar. High and higher harmonies hang in the air and the music floats serenely, unencumbered by the earthy tones of the traditional rhythm section.

Clearly blessed with enormous brains, Damon & Naomi chat amiably between songs, sharing urbane jokes about misheard lyrics and apologising for selling ‘coals to Newcastle’ by performing an English folk song – the stark, beautiful ballad ‘Cruel Queen’. This, along with the sumptuous ‘New York City’ and stormily graceful ‘I’m Yours’ (both on new compilation album The Sub Pop Years) are the highlights of a classy set. In spite of the glacial pace of the songs, the show spins past quickly and seems over before it’s even begun.

It’s strange to see legendary indie figures in your local pub, but such is the way of things since Dulcimer became a full-time microvenue. A word of warning, though - arrive early if you’re coming to a show here, as you won’t see much from the back.

Ollie Wright

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Generalissimos - The Men Behind The Man (Cloud Sounds)

Proggy, old-school lo-fi pop from these lads who formed in the wilds of Withington, before sensibly relocating to The Holy Land this summer. They should fit in nicely round here, being men with a commitment to facial hair and an appreciation for the work of Paul McCartney.

‘The Men Behind The Men’ kicks in with 80s soft rock keyboard stabs, which preface a somewhat ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’-esque verse, which is elevated rather classily by a proper Dexy’s-style saxophone blast in the chorus.

The Generalissimos have been around for a while now and their debut single is long overdue. Let’s home the time they’ve spent shining up their odd-pop nuggets leads to a slew of such releases in future.