John Foxx and The Maths – Howl album review

1 06 2020

Howl is the latest studio album from John Foxx and The Maths, and is released on Metamatic Records on July 24 2020.

Joining John Foxx, Benge and Hannah Peel on this album is former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon, who first worked with Foxx on Systems of Romance in 1978.

My Ghost sets the scene – guitars and synth’s duelling for attention, and an uptempo glam-rock meets early Prince beat. Intriguing lyrics and heavily processed vocals add a layer of mystery to this addictive opening track, that has hints of post-punk in the end section, referencing Foxx’s Ultravox work as well as some of the his work on The Garden (my favourite John Foxx album).

“my ghost comes running at me,
like living smoke from a burning tree”

Howl was the first single from the album, initially available on Foxx’s bandcamp page and it was clear that this new material would appeal to fans of his earlier albums. Howl is so satisfying, perfectly titled (the guitars do ‘howl’) and a joy to listen to, with the mix of electronica and chopped up and wild lead / rhythm guitar work referencing late seventies Bowie.

There is no time to pause, as the psychedelia of Everything Is Happening At The Same Time may slow down the BPM’s slightly, but the thick wall of sound is still a powerful statement. Benge and Hannah Peel excel on this beautifully produced and arranged piece.

Tarzan And Jane Regained is a more lo-fi production, and a simpler arrangement initially, as the buzzsaw guitar layers build incrementally as it becomes one of the albums most memorable tracks. Each playback reveals further details within the production, as previously hidden synth and guitar lines rise to the surface.

The sound changes with the widescreen clarity of The Dance, a song that showcases some of the most inventive synth lines on Howl. The guitars are used more as washes rather tan lead or rhythm, and sit further down in the mix, rising to the forefront during the chorus, which is pure Siouxsie & The Banshees from the Ju Ju era.

The dark, wild and seedy streets and characters of 1970s New York are celebrated in New York Times, a song screaming out to be released as a single. New York Times contains one of Foxx’s most memorable choruses, topped off by a great vocal performance making this track so vital.

“What would it take, to remove all the hate”

The darkest track on Howl is Last Time I Saw You, which drips with disdain and despair, and references Soho’s Berwick Street in London.

“The first time I saw you, I had to look away”

Even though this is probably Foxx at his most musically obtuse, I find myself returning to this song more than any on Howl. It is the most interesting lyric on the album, and I have no idea to the meaning behind Last Time I Saw You, which makes it all the more intriguing.

Howl is an intense listening experience, made sweeter by the delicate grace of its final song, Strange Beauty. Reminding me of the fragility of The Cocteau Twins at times, with chorus driven guitars and some shiver-inducing original 80s electronica, all four band members shine on this career highlight. Foxx also delivers a lyric and vocal full of elegance and longing.

“And when it fades way, leaving me with just a trace of of strange beauty,
of strange beauty, stranger than anything I’ve ever known”

Strange Beauty is timeless, and as the synth solo’s make way to a slow fade, you wish it could go on for longer, which is the sign of a great song.

Howl is a rare beast – an album that works as a perfect headphone experience, as well as blasting loud from your speakers. The production does a superb job in enabling this rewarding listening experience.

This is the album I have wanted to hear from John Foxx for a long-time – taking his guitar-led past into the same room as the stark electronica he is renowned for.

This incarnation of John Foxx And The Maths seem to have hit a peak, with a formula that will hopefully lead to more new music in the future. I cannot wait to hear what Foxx / early Ultravox fans think of this album, as there is so much here to enjoy and excite.

John Foxx (vocals/guitars)
Benge (keyboards/percussion)
Robin Simon (guitars)
Hannah Peel (violin)

My Ghost
Howl
Everything Is happening At The Same Time
Tarzan And Jane Regained
The Dance
New York Times
Last Time I Saw You
Strange Beauty

Buy Howl on CD
Buy Howl on vinyl
Buy Ultravox – Systems Of Romance on white vinyl





Be-Bop Deluxe Modern Music deluxe box-set review

7 11 2019

Esoteric Recordings are releasing a re-mastered five-disc deluxe box-set limited edition (comprising 4 CDs and a DVD) of Modern Music, the 1976 album by Be-Bop Deluxe.

This expanded reissue has been newly re-mastered from the original master tapes and features an additional 55 bonus tracks including new 5.1 surround sound & stereo mixes from the original multi-track tapes by award winning engineer Stephen W. Tayler, out-takes from the album sessions, a BBC Radio “In Concert” performance from October 1976, along with a bonus CD of a previously unreleased “official bootleg” of a performance at The Riviera Theater in Chicago in 1976 recorded for FM Radio on Be Bop Deluxe’s first US tour.

The set also includes visual material taken from a session for BBC TV’s “Old Grey Whistle Test” show broadcast in November 1976.

The DVD material (including the 5.1 mixes) is not reviewed here, as review copies were not provided.

Modern Music was the first album to be produced by John Leckie (XTC, Simple Minds, The Stone Roses) who continued to work with Bill Nelson on Red Noise, The Love That Whirls and Getting The Holy Ghost Across.

Modern Music was released just prior to the arrival of punk and new wave, a sound and attitude that would inform Nelson’s releases for the next few albums. The music on this album is a mixture of classic and progressive rock, with wonderful harmonies, nods to early David Bowie (particularly the Ziggy Stardust era) and a covers a variety of genres.

Twilight Capers is a delight – revelling in the genre-switching that was prevalent in this period – moving from ballad, via jazz-rock to reggae – all in the one track! The Doors like end section, with its powerful production touches hits the sweet spot every time.

The light and breezy Kiss Of Light reminds me of the City Boy debut album (a wonderful classic rock band that seems to have been written out of history) that was also released in 1976. Modern Music was written on the road, and seems to be Bill Nelson’s reflections on America at the time.

Nelson writes in the box-set booklet:

“…many of the songs on Modern Music were written in hotel rooms whilst touring America and some of them directly relate to the growing disillusion I was feeling with life on the road.”

The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow is a charming song, written by Nelson at a sound-check, lamenting his faraway love.

The Modern Music suite is the highlight for many fans of this or any Be-Bop Deluxe album. You can hear a snippet of the late John Peel in the suite’s intro to the title track, which radiates West-Coast sunshine.

Down On Terminal Street is overflowing with wonderful lyrical imagery, and I love the way the church-bells chime amongst the heavy guitars and synths in the songs intro and end section.

“The street cafe was closed to all but ghosts
Who glide the alleys searching for their lair”

Make The Music Magic returns to the more commercial sound of the early songs, but in a stripped back acoustic setting.

Disc two of this box-set is a new stereo mix of the album. The mix feels much wider, and individual instruments are noticeably clearer. As are the vocals – you can hear the reverb on Nelson’s vocals on Down On Terminal Street with such clarity, its like hearing the album for the first time. I defy you to not crank up the volume on this new mix.

This disc also includes the stunning 8 minutes long Shine (New Stereo Mix), which reminds me a little of Bowie’s Stay from Station To Station.

Disc three is a BBC Radio One “In Concert” taken from the band’s headlining show from 2 October 1976 London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The highlights of this disc for me are the live takes of Ships In The Night and the 12 minute plus Modern Music. It’s a good quality recording, given its age.

Disc four is a recording from the Riviera Theater in Chicago on 21 March 1976, where Be-Bop Deluxe opened for Thin Lizzy. The band’s set was mixed and broadcast live by the local radio station WXRT-FM. The concert included in the band’s set Bill’s Blues, which was never developed further on record. Sadly this “official” bootleg is for completists only, as at times its not as good quality as the sound of disc 3, and you can see why Bill’s Blues was left unreleased – it’s just a standard blues jam. There is audible distortion / clipping and hiss, so not a disc I will be returning to.

Nevertheless, this is a lovingly curated box-set, topped off with an entertaining 68 page book, that gives context to the band and the individual tracks, along with many previously unpublished images. If you are a fan of Bill Nelson’s work in Be-Bop Deluxe, or are a fan of 70s rock, there is much to enjoy in this box-set.

Pre-order Be-Bop Deluxe Modern Music 4 cd / 1 DVD box-set on Amazon

Disc One: Cd
Modern Music
The Original Stereo Mix:

  1. Orphans Of Babylon
  2. Twilight Capers
  3. Kiss Of Light
  4. The Bird Charmers Destiny
  5. The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow
  6. Bring Back The Spark
  7. Modern Music
  8. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone)
  9. Honeymoon On Mars
  10. Lost In The Neon World
  11. Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids
  12. Modern Music (Reprise)
  13. Forbidden Lovers
  14. Down On Terminal Street
  15. Make The Music Magic
    Bonus Track
  16. Shine (B-Side Of Single)

Disc Two: Cd
Modern Music
The New Stereo Mix:

  1. Orphans Of Babylon (New Stereo Mix)
  2. Twilight Capers (New Stereo Mix)
  3. Kiss Of Light (New Stereo Mix)
  4. The Bird Charmers Destiny (New Stereo Mix)
  5. The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow (New Stereo Mix)
  6. Bring Back The Spark (New Stereo Mix)
  7. Modern Music (New Stereo Mix)
  8. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone) (New Stereo Mix)
  9. Honeymoon On Mars (New Stereo Mix)
  10. Lost In The Neon World (New Stereo Mix)
  11. Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids (New Stereo Mix)
  12. Modern Music (Reprise) (New Stereo Mix)
  13. Forbidden Lovers (New Stereo Mix)
  14. Down On Terminal Street (New Stereo Mix)
  15. Make The Music Magic (New Stereo Mix)
    Bonus Tracks
  16. Shine (New Stereo Mix)
  17. Forbidden Lovers (First Version)
  18. The Bird Charmer’s Destiny (First Version)

Disc Three: Cd
BBC Radio One “In Concert”
Recorded 2nd October 1976 At Hammersmith Odeon, London

  1. Maid In Heaven
  2. Bring Back The Spark
  3. Kiss Of Light
  4. Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape
  5. Fair Exchange
  6. Ships In The Night
  7. Twilight Capers
  8. Modern Music
    I. Modern Music
    Ii. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone)
    Iii. Honeymoon On Mars
    Iv. Lost In The Neon World
    V. Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids
    Vi. Modern Music (Reprise)
  9. Blazing Apostles

Disc Four: Cd
Live At The Riviera Theatre, Chicago 21st March 1976 –
The Official Bootleg

  1. Fair Exchange
  2. Stage Whispers
  3. Life In The Air Age
  4. Sister Seagull
  5. Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape
  6. Maid In Heaven
  7. Ships In The Night
  8. Bill’s Blues
  9. Blazing Apostles

Disc Five: Dvd
Modern Music
The 5.1 Surround Sound Mix / New Stereo Mix (96 Khz / 24-Bit) / Original Stereo Mix (96 Khz / 24-Bit)

  1. Orphans Of Babylon (5.1 Mix)
  2. Twilight Capers (5.1 Mix)
  3. Kiss Of Light (5.1 Mix)
  4. The Bird Charmers Destiny (5.1 Mix)
  5. The Gold At The End Of My Rainbow (5.1 Mix)
  6. Bring Back The Spark (5.1 Mix)
  7. Modern Music (5.1 Mix)
  8. Dancing In The Moonlight (All Alone) (5.1 Mix)
  9. Honeymoon On Mars (5.1 Mix)
  10. Lost In The Neon World (5.1 Mix)
  11. Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids (5.1 Mix)
  12. Modern Music (Reprise) (5.1 Mix)
  13. Forbidden Lovers (5.1 Mix)
  14. Down On Terminal Street (5.1 Mix)
  15. Make The Music Magic (5.1 Mix)
    Bonus Tracks
  16. Shine (5.1 Mix)
  17. Forbidden Lovers (First Version) (5.1 Mix)
  18. The Bird Charmer’s Destiny (First Version) (5.1 Mix)
    Visual Content
  19. Forbidden Lovers (BBC Old Grey Whistle Test 1976)
  20. Down On Terminal Street (BBC Old Grey Whistle Test 1976)

Pre-order Be-Bop Deluxe Modern Music 4 cd / 1 DVD box-set on Amazon





News: Sutherland Brothers & Quiver box-set

5 09 2019

Cherry red are releasing an 8 CD Sutherland Brothers & Quiver box-set on September 27 2019. The 103 track box set covers all of the releases by Sutherland Brothers & Quiver during the period 1971-79, for both Island and CBS Records.

The box-set includes their most well-known song Arms Of Mary, as well as Sailing (which became a huge hit for Rod Stewart in 1975) and 1975’s Reach For The Sky album, which featured Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on one track.

The box-set consists of:

  • Sutherland Brothers – produced by Muff Winwood
  • Lifeboat – which includes seven bonus tracks, four taken from the USA version of the album. Also included is the track Sailing which though not a hit for the band, gave Rod Stewart an international chart topper
  • Dream Kid which includes a non-album cut as a bonus
  • Beat Of The Street includes two non-album cuts
  • Reach For The Sky – featuring the hit single Arms Of Mary which reached No. 5 in the UK, No. 17 in Germany and the top spot in both Holland and Ireland. Two non-LP tracks have been added as a bonus, and Dave Gilmour guests on the track Ain’t Too Proud
  • Slipstream – from 1976 which includes the UK hit single Secrets
  • Down To Earth – featuring six non-LP bonus tracks including rare tracks from the USA version of the album
  • When The Night Comes Down – which features the No.50 UK hit single Easy Come Easy Go.

Buy The Sutherland Brothers & Quiver box-set from Amazon.





Climax Blues Band – The Albums 1973 – 1976 boxset review

3 07 2019

Esoteric Recordings are releasing a 4CD clamshell boxed set by the Climax Blues Band, titled The Albums 1973 – 1976. This release is the second collection of Climax Blues Band albums and features their work issued between 1973 and 1976, consisting of the albums FM Live, Sense of Direction, Stamp Album and Gold Plated.

The first disc contains FM Live, a recording of a concert that was broadcast on WNEW-FM in New York in 1973. FM Live gave the band their first major US success. The album highlights the more blues orientated sound of their late 60s / early 70s output.

The original UK release was a single album – this version is the USA double vinyl running order. Highlights on this live album include the wonderful harmonies on I Am Constant and the high-octane, Bo Diddley influenced Shake Your Love.

Disc two in the set is where it gets more interesting for me, with the 1974 studio album Sense of Direction. At this point the band are heading off in a more rock and jazz fusion direction and providing the sounds that would blast out of classic rock / FM radio stations for the next few years.

Amerita / Sense Of Direction opens the album, with a 6 minute track that owes more to the sound of artists such as America or Chicago than to the Climax Blues Band’s Chicago blues origins.

Reaching Out is one of my favourite tracks on this collection, with the song served up on a lovely early 70s groove, with some great guitar lines from Peter Haycock. At this point in their career, the band were really stretching out and hearing this music now instantly transports you back in time to those heady seventies times.

Bonus tracks on this disc consist of the single version of Sense of Direction and a rawer, less polished version of Shopping Bag People.

The third disc is the Stamp Album from 1975, where the band headed further towards a more mainstream sound. From the Rhodes piano and sax driven Using The Power, to the pop-reggae of Mr. Goodtime, the band were now inhabiting the same musical universe as contemporaries such as the Average White Band and the mid-70s work of Robert Palmer.

The smooth harmonies of I Am Constant and the Doobie Brothers style funk of Running Out Of Time are another two early album highlights. The addition of new member Richard Jones opened up the bands pallet at this point, with an added emphasis on keyboards that is really noticeable on the fusion of Rusty Nail / The Devil Knows. The album closes with the expansive arrangement of Cobra, a short instrumental.

The final disc is the bands most successful album, Gold Plated from 1976. Notable for giving the Climax Blues Band their biggest hit, Couldn’t Get It Right, which peaked at No10 in the UK and No3 in the US, the shift to a more pop-friendly sound continued.

The dual guitar and clavinet of Together and Free finds the band setting out their stall early on. Couldn’t Get It Right remains the bands signature tune to this day, and has appeared in film (and game) soundtracks.

Bonus tracks for this album include an extended version of Chasing Change and a rare (and very short) Climax Blues Band ballad, Shadow Man, which reminds me a little of mid-period 10cc.

The Albums 1973 – 1976 is a good introduction to the music of the Climax Blues Band, which will be of interest to lovers of early to mid-70s rock music. This collection houses each disc in replica album sleeve wallets and also includes a new poster.

Buy The Albums 1973-1976 at Amazon

Also available:

The Albums: 1969-1972

Tracklisting for The Albums 1973-1976

Disc One

FM Live (1973)

  1. All The Time In The World
  2. I Am Constant
  3. Flight
  4. Seventh Son
  5. Standing By A River
  6. So Many Roads
  7. Mesopopmania
  8. Country Hat
  9. You Make Me Sick
  10. Shake Your Love
  11. Goin’ To New York (Full Version)
  12. Let’s Work Together

Disc Two

Sense of Direction (1974)

  1. Amerita / Sense Of Direction
  2. Losin’ The Humbles
  3. Shopping Bag People
  4. Nogales
  5. Reaching Out
  6. Right Now
  7. Before You Reach The Grave
  8. Milwaukee Truckin’ Blues (Chipper’s Song)
    Bonus Tracks
  9. Sense Of Direction (Single Version)
  10. Shopping Bag People (Alternate Version)

Disc Three

Stamp Album (1975)

  1. Using The Power
  2. Mr. Goodtime
  3. I Am Constant
  4. Running Out Of Time
  5. Sky High
  6. Rusty Nail / The Devil Knows
  7. Loosen Up
  8. Spirit Returning
  9. Cobra

Disc Four

Gold Plated (1976)

  1. Together And Free
  2. Mighty Fire
  3. Chasing Change
  4. Berlin Blues
  5. Couldn’t Get It Right
  6. Rollin’ Home
  7. Sav’ry Gravy
  8. Extra
    Bonus Tracks
  9. Fat Mabellene
  10. Together And Free (Single Edit)
  11. Chasin’ Change (extended take)
  12. Shadow Man




Kate Bush – Remastered

4 10 2018

Kate Bush will release remastered versions of her entire studio album catalogue on CD and vinyl in November 2018.

I was only thinking the other day that I would love to hear a remastered version of The Dreaming, and here we are. The power of positive thinking. Back to reality – tweets from the Kate Bush twitter account are as rare as hen’s teeth. So when one arrives in your timeline (a tweet, not a hen’s tooth), its normally significant, like announcing the 2014 Before The Dawn tour and now this extensive re-issue campaign. I feel they may have missed a trick with not using #NovemberWillBeMagicAgain, but KB-HQ twitter team, you can have that one for free if you want.

For the casual fan, the CD box-sets are a great way to add some classic albums to your collection. As an avid fan since 1978, I’m looking forward to hearing the new remasters of some of my favourite albums and hearing with new clarity so many songs that are etched into my soul.

The vinyl box-sets are, by their very nature, quite pricey, but being split into four different sets will help you build your collection over time, if vinyl is your format of choice.

From the initial artwork shown on Kate’s website, the CD and vinyl packaging looks beautiful, so I would suggest going for the physical releases, rather than digital, if you possibly can. Hopefully the details below will make it clear what is available, so you can start saving for your purchases!

The albums have been remastered by Kate and James Guthrie (apart from the live Before The Dawn album which retains its recent, original mastering).

Read my review of the first CD boxset here.

My review of the second box-set is now live.

So here is the detail, with the Amazon pre-order links.

THE CD BOX-SETS

Kate Bush Remastered Part I

KB remastered 1

  • The Kick Inside
  • Lionheart
  • Never For Ever
  • The Dreaming
  • Hounds of Love
  • The Sensual World
  • The Red Shoes

Amazon pre-order

KB-CD-Packshot-1-Square-3000_01


Kate Bush Remastered Part II

KB remastered 2

  • Aerial
  • Director’s Cut
  • 50 Words for Snow
  • Before the Dawn (Original Mastering)
  • 12″ Mixes
  • The Other Side 1
  • The Other Side 2
  • In Others’ Words

Amazon pre-order

KB-CD-Packshot-2-Square-3000 2


THE VINYL BOX-SETS

Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl I

  • The Kick Inside
  • Lionheart
  • Never For Ever
  • The Dreaming

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-1-(Flat)_0 1


Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl II

  • Hounds of Love
  • The Sensual World
  • The Red Shoes

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-2-(Flat) 2


Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl III

  • Aerial
  • Director’s Cut
  • 50 Words for Snow

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-3-(Flat) 3


Kate Bush Remastered In Vinyl IV

  • 12″ Mixes
  • The Other Side 1
  • The Other Side 2
  • In Others’ Words

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-4-(Flat) 4


The track-listing for the Kate Bush Remastered In Vinyl IV box-set and the last 4 CDs of the second CD box-set consists of:

12” Mixes

Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
The Big Sky (Meteorological Mix)
Cloudbusting (The Orgonon Mix)
Hounds Of Love (Alternative Mix)
Experiment IV (Extended Mix)

The Other Side 1

Walk Straight Down The Middle
You Want Alchemy
Be Kind To My Mistakes
Lyra
Under The Ivy
Experiment IV
Ne T’Enfuis Pas
Un Baiser D’Enfant
Burning Bridge
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) 2012 Remix

The Other Side 2

Home For Christmas
One Last Look Around The House Before We Go
I’m Still Waiting
Warm And Soothing
Show A Little Devotion
Passing Through Air
Humming
Ran Tan Waltz
December Will Be Magic Again
Wuthering Heights (Remix / New Vocal from The Whole Story)

In Others’ Words

Rocket Man
Sexual Healing
Mná na hÉireann
My Lagan Love
The Man I Love
Brazil (Sam Lowry’s First Dream)
The Handsome Cabin Boy
Lord Of The Reedy River
Candle In The Wind





Big Big Train – Merchants of Light

24 07 2018

PrintMerchants of Light is the new live album from three times Progressive Music Award winning band Big Big Train. The album features the best performance of each song played at the band’s three sold out shows at Cadogan Hall, London, in the autumn of 2017.

The title track from their 2016 album Folklore ushers in the 16 track live album. The brass / strings and Shaft like rhythm guitar lines snuggle up together better than they should on this powerful opening track. Brave Captain from Folklore‘s companion album Grimspound works equally well in its live setting. As I mentioned in my original review, from the half way section of the song, there are shades of Dire Straits Private Investigations in the piano lines and the breakdown.

Last Train was originally on the 6th Big Big Train album The Underfall Yard from 2009. The song tells the story of a station masters last day at work. One of the more progressive songs on this live album, the harmonies are a pure joy to hear.

London Plane is built on a solid foundation of an intricate vocal arrangement, and serves up an adventurous mixture of jazz and prog flowing through the instrumental sections.

Meadowland is a gentle pastoral sounding track, with subtle brush drums, violin and restrained piano. A Mead Hall in Winter is one of this live album’s highlights. Synths and strings jostle with jaunty organ, throwing musical nods to 70s giants Genesis and Yes, with a sprinkle of early Steely Dan thrown in for good measure.

Swan Hunter from English Electric Part Two and its tale of a long-lost shipping industry has become one of the band’s standards. The use of brass always evokes a feeling of the early 1970s to me, and this fine version of Swan Hunter is no exceptionDavid Longdon’s vocals are in fine form here and throughout the album.

Big Big Train live by Simon Hogg

My favourite Big Big Train song is The Transit of Venus Across the Sun. It’s the brass again! The arrangement is so light and gentle, with no bombast used in getting the emotion across. There is real beauty in both the arrangement and performances from all the musicians.

East Coast Racer gets a fantastic reception from the crowd, and is the longest track on the album. The song charts the history of Mallard, the worlds fasted locomotive.  East Coast Racer is the band at their most progressive and highlights some of their finest melodies and harmonies.

A great version of  the mid 70s pop / rock influenced Telling The Bees is followed by one of the oldest songs on this album in Victorian Brickwork. This track is one that will appeal to fans of the first progressive era of the early 70s. The twists, turns and swells will lift the darkest of moods, and is modern progressive music at its finest.

Drums and Brass is an instrumental interlude that leads into the albums final track, Wassail.

It is easy to get lost in the music of Big Big Train – from the fascinating stories told through the lyrics, to the varied musical styles. If you have not heard the band before, Merchants of Light would be a great starting point, and it is highly likely that you will set off on a voyage of discovery to take in all of the bands recent albums.

Tracklist:

Folklore Overture
Folklore
Brave Captain
Last Train
London Plane
Meadowland
A Mead Hall in Winter
Experimental Gentlemen part two
Swan Hunter
Judas Unrepentant
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun
East Coast Racer
Telling the Bees
Victorian Brickwork
Drums and Brass
Wassail


Buy the Merchants of Light double CD from Amazon

 

Also available now is the Swan Hunter EP, that includes 3 versions of Swan Hunter (a radio edit, a 2018 remix of the album version and a live version), plus a new recording of English Electric: Full Power‘s Seen Better Days (an emotional duet with no-man’s Tim Bowness) and a 2017 live at Real World Studio version of Summer’s Lease (originally on 2007’s The Difference Machine album).





Fader – First Light

22 06 2017

FaderFader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin). They have released their debut album, First Light, on Blanc Check Records.

First Light is a dark, simmering electronic album. The music sits somewhere between Cabaret Voltaire and early (pre-The Garden) John Foxx. And that’s a good place to be.

3D Carpets is driven by analogue synths and minimalist percussion, with a chorus that soaks into your brain. I don’t have a clue what Neil Arthur’s lyrics are about on a lot of the songs – but I love the images they conjure up,  they paint a picture that is open to personal interpretation. Its good to use your 21st century imagination.

Check The Power has a tense, paranoid vocal delivery from Arthur, and some fine, deep bass synth lines from Benge.

“You better go back”

I love the way the synths sound so dirty,  not like VST / emulations, the duo clearly use authentic machines.

There is a real depth to these meaty sounds. Way Out is a case in point – the sweeping synths shift from deep low to brighter high notes. At times I struggle to believe that this album was recorded in 2017, not 1979.

“Caught in the moment of doubt”

The title track continues the edgy feel, with Arthur shouting about “Catholic converters” and “Resume the search at break of day”. The track First Light reminds me a lot of John Foxx, have a listen below.

The marching percussion and thick synths on Wonderland conjure up memories of early OMD and very early Human League / Heaven 17. Over the first few album listening sessions, I grew to appreciate the stream of consciousness, quite dystopian lyrics. There is also a lot of humour on display here.

Liverpool Brick is a wonderful, beatless song. The sparse but melodic instrumentation works really well with the lo-fi recording of the vocals. Liverpool Brick also contains my favourite lyrics on the album. Like the track, the lyrics are very direct (in stark contrast to the rest of the album).

A Trip To The Coast delivers one of the most memorable songs on the album. A real mood of melancholy and lost, fading memories permeate throughout my favourite track, which will surely appeal to the Stranger Things generation. I hope A Trip To The Coast is used to promote First Light, as I think it will be a favourite with a lot of people. Put this song on your SoundCloud, Fader!

The album closes with another album highlight, Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks” (a print of which sits on my home studio wall, fact-fiends). Such a moving piece, with a metronomic delayed vocal delivered over a dark, simple synth-scape, and a throbbing low hum.

“In silence and silver, Ikea blue bag.
Washing away the stain, on our rags”

Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper

First Light is a fine debut release from Fader, and a must-buy for fans of late 70s, early 80s electronic music. I hope its the first of many releases from the electronic duo, as there are clearly lots of places left for Arthur and Benge to explore.

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Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s By Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence

25 03 2017

OK, lets start with a confession. The 70s is my favourite decade. Its a decade that I lived through as a young ‘un (I was 10 in 1970) and saw me through to my first years as a young adult. It was the decade that provided some of the music that has seeped into my very soul, especially the mid 70s classic rock and the punk / post punk music from 77-79 that shook the establishment. So Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s was always going to scream out READ ME, READ ME NOW. Oh and prepare to open your wallet – as you will probably find yourselves heading over to Amazon to buy lots of the DVDs and blurays of programmes you loved when you were young, or to eBay to pick up comics (old copies of Look-in) or other 70s memorabilia.

Scarred for Life Volume one: The 1970s

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s is a printed publication (740 black and white pages printed, with a free colour eBook version) that covers the decades weird and wonderful television (including favourites of mine such as The Tomorrow People, Sky, Survivors and A Ghost Story For Christmas), as well as a look at the changing face of UK TV culture. And that’s not all – the publication looks at board games – such as Top Trumps and Escape From Colditz, plus films and comics (including the mighty Action from 1976) as well as 70s fads and food (I had forgotten all about Horror Bags Fangs Crisps!). Oh and the array of 70s ice-lollies – no wonder I’ve spent so much money at the dentists over the years.

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s opens with an excellent scene-setting introduction by horror writer / historian Johnny Mains. Scarred by Television is the books first section. If you lived through the 70s, the memories are instantly sparked by the description of TV in that decade – no remote controls, tiny screens and few channels, compared to todays HD and hundreds of channels beamed into our homes through satellite / cable and on demand net based programming. On demand was not an option in the 1970s – in fact recording of programmes to watch later didn’t feature in most households until the 1980s. So TV watching was a much more communal event – everyone watched the programmes at the same time and discussed last nights viewing at school or work the next day. And if you missed the programme, or if it clashed with something else your family was watching on the homes ONE TV, that was it – no pausing, rewinding or catch-up TV. You simply missed it.

Programmes discussed in depth in the first few chapters include The Owl ServiceThe Ghosts of Motley Hall and one of my favourites, The Tomorrow People (which has a Bowie reference, fact fiends). Name that tune! The Blue And The Green Tomorrow People story has stuck with me all these years.

SkyOne of the most enjoyable parts of Scarred for Life is the coverage of the HTV series Sky. I remember watching and enjoying early episodes of this programme, but for some long forgotten reason, I never got to watch the whole of the seven part series. But I never forgot those terrifying black eyes…..

There is also a lengthy and informative section on Play For Today – including the haunting Blue Remembered Hills, which can be found on the Essential Dennis Potter boxset.

The sci-fi section of Scarred for Life includes the BBC post-plague drama Survivors. Much grittier than the (sadly cut-short after two series) more recent version starring Max Beesley, the original series lasted three seasons and went straight into my Amazon basket after reading about it in this book.

My favourite TV related section of Scarred for Life is the Gothic TV section – especially  the section on A Ghost Story For Christmas. I occasionally saw episodes during the 70s but bought the BFI DVD collection a couple of years ago due to the 2010 remake of the M. R. James story Whistle and I’ll Come to You, and dipping into this collection has become a Christmas tradition. The Scarred for Life piece goes into great detail, even mentioning the 1860s M. R. James origin of the Christmas Ghost stories that led to this wonderful BBC festive regular. I know its not Christmas as I write this review, but I think I’ll dip into the collection again this weekend. Charles Dickens is not just for Christmas, after all.

The How we used to live section discusses the way that some mainstream 70s TV dealt with race (the impact of ‘light entertainment’ shows such as The Black and White Minstrel Show and Love Thy Neighbour) and particularly the awful, lazy stereotyping in Mind Your Language. The section also discusses the “something for the Dads” casual sexism that was prevalent in Seaside Special / Top of the Pops and various sitcoms such as Doctor In The House and On The Buses. To their credit, the Scarred for Life writers don’t choose the easy “weren’t the 70s wacky” route in their discussions about these issues.

Scarred for Life takes an interesting approach to its lengthy Doctor Who section. Instead of focusing on the show and the stories, they take a fresh approach discussing what it was like being a fan of the show – writing about the Doctor Who Exhibitions and the eras Doctor Who annuals and magazines.

If, like me, you are of a certain age – the phrase “clunk click every trip” will mean you watched the multitude of public information films that ran through the decade, and they are discussed in loving detail in Scarred for Life. To this day, I’m still petrified of dumped fridges and ponds.

charleysays

The section covers with Charley Says, The Green Cross Code and the downright terrifying Joe & Petunia (the coastguard animation still haunts me). Coo-ee!

I spent many happy hours playing Escape From Colditz as a kid in the early 70s. The board game was inspired by the popular TV series, starring Robert Wagner and David McCallum, that ran for two series between 1972 and 1974. It made a change from the endless magic sets and compendium of games that I received each Christmas. So I really enjoyed the children’s games section in this publication, that also covers Top Trumps, a card based game (I recall having lots of military and vehicle based sets – mainly tanks, jets and motorbikes).

The savage cinema section is well researched. Covering films such as Soldier Blue, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry and the Death Wish series, the writers put these films in the context of the post-Vietnam, permissive society fighting Mary Whitehouse era. Classic films such as Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver and Deliverance are also covered.

The writers also delve briefly into the “When Animals Attack” late 70s film genre, mentioning Grizzly, but sadly no mention of one of my  (corny) favourites from the era – Day of the Animals. I saw Day of the Animals as a double-bill (what a great concept, bring it back!) at the cinema in 1977 with a great film called The Car, with James Brolin being pursued through the desert by a seemingly driverless Lincoln Continental (The Car is mentioned further on in Scarred for Life).

Another well-written section of the book are chapters given over to covering some of the satanic / possession films of the 70s. Covering less obvious choices, such as Dennis Potters Brimstone and Treacle (not to be confused with the later film version starring Sting) as well as the sort of films you would expect, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist, the writing is often focused on the public’s perception of the films rather than plot synopses, which is a fresh take on these much-discussed classic horror films.

I also found the folk-horror section interesting – as its a sub-genre I know little about, so feel inclined to explore further.

The Pop Movie Turns Dark covers the trio of pop films That’ll Be The Day, Stardust and Slade in Flame. I’ve never seen the Slade film but love the two David Essex films. I didn’t realise that That’ll Be The Day is based on Harry Nilsson’s song 1941, so thanks for that pop-quiz nugget, Scarred for Life.

thatll-be-the-day

The sections on 70s books and comics is the section I was looking forward to the most, and it did not disappoint. I bought several pre-ban issues of Action – I wish I’d kept them, as it was a ground-breaking comic that is covered in depth in this publication. And I had forgotten all about the Pan Book of Horror Stories – that turned me onto the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker among others. I was also a big fan of the early James Herbert books – The Rats is discussed in Scarred for Life, but my favourite was The Fog. I’ve still got my original copy and it still scares me to death. Its a shame there is not more coverage of James Herbert – he may not be regarded as being a writer in the same class as Stephen King in horror writing circles, but his books were extremely popular in the 70s and 80s for the very good reason that they were terrifying.

Scarred by… food. Horror themed ice-lollies (Lyons Maid Red Devils & Haunted House), Smiths Horror Bags crisps (I can taste them now!) and Golden Wonder Kung Fueys (bacon and mushroom corn balls mnnnn) are all on the menu in Scarred for Life. Oh how I miss the 70s.

There is an interesting chapter on UFO imagery used in 70s music, including Boston, ELO, The Stranglers and a fair bit about David Bowie‘s apparent fascination with aliens. The sections ends with the top 10 UFO songs of the 70s. I won’t give it away – buy Scarred for Life and see for yourself.

Scarred for Life is a great read for anyone who lived through the decade, or for anyone in love with the music, TV and films that poured out of this amazing period. The TV series Life on Mars gave a great flavour of the 70s, so if you loved that show, Scarred for Life will paint an even fuller picture of the decade. I am really looking forward to the next volume, that will cover the 80s. I can’t wait to read about the nuclear paranoia of that decade, especially the mighty Threads.

You can buy Scarred for Life Volume one – the 70s now as a 740 page perfect-bound paperback (the printed version comes with details of how to obtain the colour e-book version as part of your purchase).





Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone In The Universe

10 11 2015

aloneintheuniverseAlone in the Universe is the first album of new material released by Jeff Lynne under the ELO banner since 2001’s Zoom. The opening track When I Was a Boy sets the stall out straight away. The descending bassline and strings let you know that you are listening to the classic ELO sound.

Love and Rain lifts the tempo, and along with the majority of this album, would not have sounded out-of-place blasting out of your FM radio back in 1977/78. And that’s fine by me – I wouldn’t expect a 2015 ELO album to sound like its of the here and now. That would be just plain odd.

Alone in the Universe works well as it delivers what you would expect – well-crafted pop songs that last around the 3 minute mark.

When the Night Comes serves up the albums first classic Lynne chorus, and the song is underpinned by a late 70s / early 80s reggae infused bass and guitar line.

The Sun Will Shine on You is one of the album’s strongest songs. It packs in more hooks in the first minute than the majority of current albums. The bass and synth are especially effective on this stand-out track.

Lynne likes to throw 50s rockers onto most of his albums, and Ain’t It a Drag has its roots in the era of Buddy Holly and Duane Eddy. But whilst the arrangement of Ain’t It a Drag pays homage to Lynne’s youth, the song is more Tom Petty than Roy Orbison, and it is not locked into just one era.

However the bossa-nova beat of I’m Leaving You IS pure Roy Orbison, and feels more Travelling Wilbury’s than ELO, and is the only slight misstep for me on the album.

Jeff Lynne

Earworm alert! You will probably think that you have already heard One Step at a Time, even if you haven’t heard the song on Spotify, as it draws heavily from the classic ELO sound and feels instantly familiar. As you would expect, the production values are high on Alone in the Universe.

Alone in the Universe feels like a early to mid-70s track, and whilst lyrically Lynne goes all Ground control to Major Tom on us, I really think the arrangement on this final track is a notch above the other tracks and makes you return to the song more than others on the album.

Alone in the Universe does not break new ground by any means, but thankfully its not one of those returns that makes you wish the artist had remained away from the recording studio. Its an album full of very good pop songs, and it sounds just like you would expect an ELO album to sound. It’s also free of excess – coming in at under 40 minutes and so leaves you wanting more.

So if you were a fan back in the 70s and 80s, there is plenty for you to enjoy on Alone in the Universe. Welcome back ELO.

Buy Alone in the Universe on CD from Amazon

Buy Live in Hyde Park bluray from Amazon

Buy The Classic Albums Collection on Amazon








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