Monthly Archives: June 2017

BBC Introducing Guernsey: June 2017 – Arts Sunday Lookback

The Recks at Arts Sunday

The Recks at Arts Sunday

Click here to listen to the show

Earlier in the month BBC Introducing Guernsey held its third live event with a stage as part of Guernsey Arts Commission’s Arts Sunday event on the St Peter Port seafront (read the review of that event).

So for the June edition of the radio show I featured tracks recorded live on the day from Thee JeneratorsThe RecksTANTALEBuff Hudd and Blue Mountain (along with a little preview of Hummingbird, the new EP from the folk duo).

Not only that but we had music from a couple of bands playing national festivals; Of Empires who recently played The Isle Of Wight and Mt. Wolf who were playing at Glastonbury and we had a look ahead to next weekend’s Sark Folk Festival.

You can listen to the show on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here.

Tracklist

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Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Optimist

Get Cape Wear Cape Fly - OptimistGiven the fact that Ed Sheeran has recently almost filled the entire ‘singles’ top ten with songs from his latest album it’s hard to escape the fact that when Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (aka Sam Duckworth) released his debut album The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager back in 2006 he was more than slightly ahead of his time.

Following further albums (including Maps which I reviewed a few years back) Get Cape called it a day to be replaced by solo albums from Duckworth and, more recently, the Recreations EP and album. But now he has returned to the original moniker and sound with two-track single Optimist, in a way that not only feels current with the content of the charts but also timed expertly to go with what’s going on in the UK’s political sphere.

While the Get Cape sound evolved over the years it’s clear from the start that Optimist is firmly heading back into classic territory with Sam’s acoustic guitar and voice leading the charge backed by an array of beats, samples and brass.

The title track continues in Get Cape’s ever-present vein of people politics, focusing on the individual, generally in a way that feels autobiographical, but lacing it through with a message that can be taken into a wider context.

Sam Duckworth, aka Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.

Sam Duckworth, aka Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.

Meanwhile the B-side, National Health, is more obviously pointedly political but presents this in a double meaning manner that helps make its point all the stronger. Given the title and Sam’s famous political leanings I don’t think I need go into too much detail.

As with all ‘protest music’ (for wont of a better description) all the messages would be for nought if the tunes weren’t there too and I’m very pleased to report that, while not as exciting and new as this was a decade or so ago, Get Cape has lost nothing in his musicality leading to a pair of tracks that certainly come with a purpose but are also highly listenable and, given their beats and rhythms, danceable in an indie disco kind of way.

Welcome back Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. I hope this is the start of a new chapter as it certainly feels like the pop music world really needs a firebrand actually saying something important at the moment.

While there’s not a video for either of the tracks from the single since their release Get Cape has posted another new track, Alibi, to his YouTube channel, so I’ll put that as the video for this post…

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Jackie

Jackie movie posterThe story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is one that has been told time and time again since it happened in November 1963 from documentaries to conspiracy thrillers to (somewhat surreally) Red Dwarf, so what more was there to say in the subject more than 50 years on?

Well judging by Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, quite a lot.

Taking the perspective of Jackie Kennedy, portrayed meticulously by Natalie Portman, it traces events through the medium of an interview with an anonymous journalist (Billy Crudup), from the First Couple’s arrival in Texas up until the president’s funeral. In focusing on this rather short period it allows a level of detail and intensity not usually seen in a conventional biopic which is very much a part of its strength.

This intensity is the film’s hallmark, shot with many more close-ups than you might expect, the grand vistas of such iconic locations as that stretch of road in Dallas, the White House, Arlington cemetery or others are almost entirely absent, making this far more personal than it might otherwise be.

Jackie - Natalie Portman

Portman as Kennedy

Along with this shooting style, Portman’s performance is, of course, what the film hinges on and it comes with a rarely seen sense of precise deliberateness which gives the feeling, I think intended, of Jackie Kennedy as a hugely guarded person.

As the film goes on and the guardedness is maintained but navigated by both Larrain and the journalist, to reveal her grand ambition; to create what has become the legend surrounding the Kennedy ‘dynasty’. In the film’s one slightly heavy-handed moment this is expressed as a kind of ‘modern Camelot’.

While this performance and cinematic style very much help tell the story there are moments where it makes it feel too detached and unemotional. However when the emotion does comes out, such as the scenes of Kennedy’s arrival back at the White House after Dallas and those where she is alone with Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), we get a sense of the state of shock she is operating in, very much in the public eye and there is a very genuine and real sense to this without a hint of the potential melodrama it could easily lapse into.

Peter Sarsgaard and Natalie Portman

Peter Sarsgaard and Portman

The film contains its share of subtly shocking moments as well, that again never feel overplayed but are just present as, I can only imagine, they would be in reality, this is most graphically noticeable when you first see a long shot of Kennedy still wearing the same outfit as she was in Dallas, complete with blood stains.

With amazing period detail and some excellently used sound design, Larraín’s film comes together to be a very impressive work that explores a mythologised event in a way that is genuinely unmythologising and given the situation, surprisingly down to earth, but with an intensity and tension that most mainstream thrillers could but dream of, just in a rather different genre.

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Rancid – Trouble Maker

Rancid - Trouble Maker album coverThe better part of three decades into their career it’s fair to say Rancid have slipped into the territory of being, at least to a degree, elder statesmen of the Californian punk scene and the wider global punk scene with it, possibly even more so than relative contemporaries like Green Day (another band to release a new album in the last 12 months) due to their previous lives in other bands and generally maintained credibility throughout.

Now, with Trouble Maker, their ninth studio album, they continue a trend that began after 2003’s Indestructible of creating something enjoyable and generally satisfying but hard to remove from something of a ‘by the numbers’ feel.

Within that though there’s still a lot to like, kicking off in their usual upbeat mode with a short, punchy number, Track Fast, before lead singles Ghost of a Chance and the acoustic tinged Telegraph Avenue, that bears strong hallmarks of Tim ‘Timebomb’ Armstrong’s solo side project.

From there it twists and turns through the usual sounds we’ve come to expect from the dancefloor filling ska of Where I’m Going to the more hardcore influence of All American Neighborhood to the positive pogoing material of Goodbye Lola Blue along with (sort of) title track An Intimate Close Up Of A Street Punk Troublemaker‘s shout along chorus.

Rancid 2017

Rancid (Steineckert, Armstong, Frederiksen and Freeman)

As ever Armstrong’s slurred and intentionally lose delivery is counterpointed by Lars Frekeriksen’s precise and barked vocal and guitar parts while Matt Freeman’s bass playing brings the rock ‘n’ roll and relative newcomer (this is his third album with the band), drummer, Branden Steineckert keeps the punk rock power pounding throughout.

As with Honour Is All We Know as the album goes on there are points where the tracks begin to run together somewhat, but it has to be said that where this happens Rancid’s sound is enough to carry them through, particularly for a fan.

While its far from musically revolutionary what Rancid continue to do with Trouble Maker is something that I think is a strong part of their longevity as, while they don’t sing directly about politics or protest, their portraits of characters and life in and around their original base in the East Bay reflects something larger and more universal in many ways, while also generally being supremely engaging, charismatic and entertaining.

Tim Armstrong - Rancid 2017

Armstrong/Timebomb live circa 2017

With all this in mind there is something of a sense that Rancid may have become a little like the punk rock AC/DC or Motörhead, releasing albums that, while maybe not surprising or ‘classic’ in the way …And Out Come The Wolves was, are involving and enjoyable in just the right ways and remain packed with songs made for the live environment with the potential for singalongs, skanking and pogoing galore.

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Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman movie posterOver the last decade and a half DC have, for the most part, missed the target with their attempts to get a movie ‘universe’ off the ground. Superman Returns and Green Lantern were total misfires while Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice felt overburdened by a sense of their own importance while being overlong and just a little to ‘dark’ (Suicide Squad remains a bizarre anomaly that while far from successful at least tried to do something different).

Wonder Woman then follows on from these, in the same universe and MoS, BvS:DOJ and SS (as, possibly, no one is calling them), but once the brief modern-day prologue is done with we are launched into one of the most entirely enjoyable comic movies in some time (though Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel still top it).

The opening scene setting is a little laborious as we are introduced to Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) and said island paradise, it’s race of Amazon warrior women and Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the fact that we have flashed back to 1917. In this though there are some impressively flashy action beats and the design of Themyscira is excellent.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Gadot in Wonder Woman

From there though things soon pick up and we follow Diana And Steve as they, respectively, try to destroy the God of war Ares and foil a plot that would see Germany win the First World War.

While this is fairly standard and leads to the inevitable big battle scene (albeit a better staged one than any of the previous films in the series) two things set it apart.

First is that, unlike pretty much any other mainstream comic book so far, and certainly unlike any of the DC predecessors, Wonder Woman embraces the inherent ridiculousness of the form in the best of ways.

This leads to moments of humour in odd places but at no point did I feel like I was laughing at the film but more laughing with it, while in other movies similar moments either fell flat, got lost in cliché, or just felt laughable. This really begins with the first time we see Diana as Wonder Woman (though she’s never named as such) in ‘the real world’ and culminates in the big reveal of the main antagonist.

Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Pine and Gadot

Secondly is that, for the most part, the lead is Diana and its her who leads the action scenes and is the hero of them while the male characters are sidekicks or, in the case of Trevor, the love interest in the way the female character usually would be, though he gets to have his moments too.

While this does falter somewhat towards the end, with one moment in particular, it wasn’t so much that it spoilt the rest of it for me and fits the general conventions of the style, and I hope Diana’s position remains strong heading into the upcoming Justice League as she is so far, by a long way, the best leading hero of the current DC films which is also testament to Gadot’s excellently pitched performance.

Themyscira - Wonder Woman

Themyscira

While the film does have its flaws, mostly where the cliché goes a little too far or where it gets a little lost in cgi video game-style territory (though this is far less than in either MoS or BvS:DoJ), it has given me some hope for the future of the franchise, if Zack Snyder can take some of the stylistic notes laid out here by Patty Jenkins and roll it into his work (Watchman proved he’s more than capable of making a good comic book movie after all).

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BBC Introducing Guernsey live at Arts Sunday – St Peter Port – 04/06/17

The Recks on the BBC Introducing Guernsey stage

The Recks

With the seafront in St Peter Port thronging with people BBC Introducing in Guernsey added a unique mix of new sounds to Guernsey Arts Commission’s Arts Sunday event for a third year.

As folk trio Blue Mountains took to the stage a crowd had already gathered and they weren’t disappointed.

Fresh from recording a new EP (due out in the coming weeks) the band’s set was drawn mostly from this new material and started the day off in fine fashion.

That new EP’s title track, Hummingbird,was again a highlight as was their take on Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl.

Blue Mountains on the BBC Introducing Guernsey stage

Blue Mountains

While the set was darkly soulful in places, as we’ve come to expect, it provided a relaxed start to the day and as the sun shone they held an audience and seemed to attract some new fans as well.

While the name may be similar to his full band, Buffalo Huddleston’s leader Mike Meinke, aka Buff Hudd, brings a very different dynamic with his solo performances.

Playing a more percussive style of acoustic guitar, creating both rhythm and melody he held the audience enraptured even in this busy atmosphere.

Buff Hudd on the BBC Introducing Guernsey stage

Buff Hudd

Despite the attention to detail of the style, his performance remained upbeat and relaxed and was highlighted by a very impressive version of recent single Don’t Worry Yourself delivered in Japanese and the genuinely unique Monolimbtastic, written to be played even if the performer has a broken left wrist.

While the first two acts had been on the more low-key side of things the energy was soon kicked up several gears by Tantale.

Fresh off a UK tour the four-piece seemed more focussed than ever leading to one of the best sets I’ve seen from them. 

With new material mixed in with the old they wrangled their epic psychedelic side in with their driving grunge rock and seemed to grab a crowd largely unfamiliar with their music and keep the engaged throughout.

Tantale on the BBC Introducing Guernsey stage

Tantale

Amongst the well-known tracks they also slotted in a few new songs suggesting more of the same great sounds in the follow-up to Just Add Vice.

The energy jumped up again as The Recks took to the stage, newly revived after a string of shows in Guernsey and Jersey including Reasons and Liberation Day, they attracted the biggest crowd of the afternoon.

It was clear some in the audience weren’t familiar with the band but many quickly got into the sounds and discovered a lot to like in the fusion of folk, jazz, indie and psychedelia (and even a little disco) flying from the stage.

The Recks on the BBC Introducing Guernsey stage

The Recks

New song She’s A Revelator has quickly become a standout track and was again here while the likes of She Wants That Too had people singing along to the chorus as the enigmatic quintet provided a musical highlight of the day.

After a brief shower that did little to dampen the atmosphere along the seafront Thee Jenerators hit the stage with a nonstop blast of their typically erratic and raucous garage rock that began with City At Night and ended 45 minutes or so later with Daddy Bones with barely a breath taken throughout. 

The set was packed with favourites new and old with bandleader Mark Le Gallez a constantly moving bundle of nervous energy driving them onward.

Thee Jenerators on the BBC Introducing stage

Thee Jenerators

While it’s probably true to say a sunny afternoon outside isn’t Thee Jenerators natural habitat, they didn’t seem to let that deter them and, as all the other acts did, held a fair-sized crowd throughout with a mix of longtime fans and those hearing them from the first time.

As the seafront began to clear and the various stalls and stages that lined it and the piers were packed away, there was a sense that both with this stage, and the event as a whole, Arts Sunday had once again created a genuinely celebratory atmosphere with music at the heart of it.

You can see a full gallery of my photos on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Milk Teeth – Vile Child

Milk Teeth - Vile Child coverLast December I caught Stroud based four-piece Milk Teeth supporting Against Me! as part of their UK tour and was suitably impressed by the young band’s punk rock sound and attitude and their debut album, Vile Child, released earlier in 2016, certainly impresses as well.

Kicking off as it means to continue with the blunt and sudden Brickwork, Milk Teeth set out their stall early with grunge sounds mixing with more current punk rock to create something, that if I didn’t know better, would sound totally American and also entirely current and powerful.

The first half of the record continues this with key touchstones clearly coming out of Seattle, and Nirvana in particular, though bassist Becky Blomfield and (now former) guitarist Josh Bannister’s vocals, that range from the subtle and melodic to the raging, give Milk Teeth their own strong identity.

Milk Teeth 2016

Milk Teeth (early 2016)

A stand out track of the album marks something of a shift in the sound of things. Swear Jar (Again) is unique on the record with a slower tone and was also a standout of their live set last December.

From there the grunge style is developed with something akin to the likes of Reuben and Therapy? being added to the mix giving it a more post-hardcore flavour including some genuinely raging moments that serve to give the album a great sense of dynamic.

While in the hands of some these shifting sounds could make it sound disjointed this all holds together nicely and, while it does in a way, sound like simply a bunch of songs stuck on a disc (there is no immediately evident theme), it does still have a feeling of being a complete piece of work.

Milk Teeth

Milk Teeth (live late 2016)

This leads to it being one of the stronger debut albums I’ve heard from a band in some time, with a lot of promise of great things to come from this band who more recently seem to have become a favourite of Kerrang! magazine (for what that’s worth in this day and age).

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Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen coverBruce Springsteen, The Boss, Born in the USA and Born To Run, the man who brought the New Jersey blue-collar ethic into the world of the New York rock scene. Certainly he is all of these things, but, in his autobiography, Born To Run, he does a great job tempering a tale of success beyond the realms of almost anyone else, with a personal story that is genuinely emotionally effecting and shows how, even in his position, there can be a darkness that could bring it all crashing down like the most perilous high wire act.

Unlike most of the other autobiographies I’ve read, that of Springsteen is something a little different as I am not as wholly immersed in his work as I have been that in that of Laura Jane Grace or Kurt Cobain, for example.

That said, and somewhat appropriately, the work of Bruce Springsteen falls into a category I’d best describe as ‘my dad’s music’, with the likes of Born in the USA soundtracking many road trips down through France in my youth, so a lot of the music is familiar to me on at least a subconscious level.

For two-thirds or so of the book it is much as you’d expect from any musician’s life story charting his career from first picking up a cheap guitar  all the way to playing shows to tens of thousands in stadia around the world.

Bruce Springsteen in 2016

Springsteen in 2016

As with many such stories for me the most interesting part is in how he first became, The Boss. Growing up in working class New Jersey, playing in various bar bands and then how he translated that into his early commercial success.

Along with that comes, of course, the story of The E Street Band. This is something a little different, as is their career, as Springsteen makes it clear throughout while they are his backing band, they are at the same time more than that. Some are given more time than others with ‘Little Steven’ Van Zandt and ‘The Big Man’ Clarence Clemons particularly featured, but all given at least their moment in the spotlight.

There are points in this, and in the discussions about Springsteen’s other work, where his style of band leading borders on a kind of egocentric arrogance but, through his descriptions at least, it always lands just on the right side of the necessary confidence for his role (though it’s clear not all his band mates have always shared this opinion and he doesn’t hide away from that).

The E Street Band

A late 1970s version The E Street Band

This is all as interesting as one would expect from such a career and as he goes through albums song by song it is a fascinating insight into the themes and thoughts that have created one of the most successful musicians and performer forms of the last 40 years and, while more light is shone on the bigger songs and records, it seems like everything is given an appropriate time and space, no matter the commercial success it received.

The other third of the book though is where Born To Run genuinely becomes something more as Springsteen focuses on his family and, as it goes on, more specifically his father and their shared mental health.

In its early stages it seems as if Springsteen senior is at once a huge presence but a massive emotional absence in young Bruce’s life and as it goes on this has clear emotional resonance on the growing musician. In the second half of the book this shifts as Springsteen explores not only his father’s mental health problems but begins to address his own.

Bruce Springsteen - Asbury Park

Springsteen in Asbury Park

This leads to what are the most interesting parts of the book as Springsteen discusses his own depression in the most frank and lyrical manner I’ve possibly ever heard or read. As well as the more factual side of his conditions he doesn’t shy away from describing the more day-to-day side and the way it makes him feel in relation to his own life, something often skipped in my experience of stories like this.

What this does is make what could have been a perfectly serviceable autobiography into something far more and, crucially, something that could be of huge importance to much of its audience who, traditionally, are the least likely to address mental health issues.

Also of course the other sign that’s it’s done it’s job is that I do now want to more consciously explore Springsteen’s back catalogue with the extra context that it seems is crucial to understanding it all and that makes much of it just as fitting in the current political situation as it was when it was written up to nearly half a century ago.

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