Nowhere –  Love Ghost (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

33363981_975886805906833_3255780262012780544_nI’m going to come straight out and say it, I’m a sucker for violins in rock music. There is something about the way it sweeps and washes when most other musical weapons of choice in the rock band arsenal, crunch and chop, beat and pulse. It is sultry and classy at the same time. If the saxophone is the instrument that adds the sex appeal to jazz and blues, it is the violin that adds that same sensual quality to rock music. In a toss up between gratuitous sax or sensual violins, I’ll take the latter every time.

It has been used to great effect in the past but not as often as I would have liked. Obvious examples are the windswept beauty of classic era New Model Army and on a personal level few did it better than SkyBurnsRed, a band who sadly made it on to too few people’s radars. But Love Ghost also seem more than aware of this potential and so I already have one foot in the door when it comes to their music.

Nowhere is a song of contrasts, the aforementioned strings coil around jagged guitar riffs, grunged out white noise and tumultuous back beats, sadly it is used only to add sweeping minor detail and often gets lost in the musical maelstrom but I am happy to put that down to production as the bass is also often missing in action. I guess they need to think of the violin less as a creator of musical motifs and instead a lead instrument. But that’s cool, they are young, they have nothing but time. The song is also a contrast on an existential level, an anthem to being lost in a big world, of wanting everything and of not knowing where to start, of waiting for life to begin in earnest and of not knowing how to usher it in.

The word I keep coming back to here is potential. Not being patronising, nope, not for one moment, on the strength of this one track I would say that they are already far ahead of the pack in most ways, not just for their age but in the grand scheme of things. They understand that you can’t keep churning out the same sounds and present the same limited ideas and imagery like a bunch of classic rock goons, but that things have to move on. And whilst their sound is a love letter to 90’s alternative rock and grunge it also addresses the notion of where rock goes next. And where it goes sounds like a place I want to follow.

They already understand dynamics and the emotive quality of certain sounds, that power and impact doesn’t just come from volume and intensity but from contrast and atmosphere. Of course like any rock band it is about putting the hours in, relentless touring and with hard work, skill and a fair wind they will write that one song that they need to get noticed. And believe me when that happens it could blow up big. Very big. And I, for one, can’t wait to see it happen.

 

 

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For Fuck’s Sake Jake – Jake Martin (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a3179856497_16From the title and artwork which features TV’s being thrown out of windows and pub fights you might be lead to the assumption that what follows is confrontational, rabble rousing and a mass of punk ethics. The reality is that it is confrontational only in the messages that the songs carry, rabble rousing in small, personal ways and its punk ethic is that of a year zero approach, a slaying of traditional musical heroes, a break with the what has come before.

 

The dual personality of what Jake does is neatly summed up in the glorious I Don’t Wanna Be Your Heroes, where he rallies against the likes of The Levellers, New Model Army and Frank Turner over music that comes from a similar place. But the message is always one of being yourself, of remembering what matters in life, the people not the payslips, the moments not the mortgage payments, finding your own way through the world and not playing by too many rules.

 

Musically it is great, on top of straight, honest and punchy guitar lines, there is never much more than a fleeting cello, an occasional banjo or mandolin and a steady beat which leaves the vocals as the main selling point which is very important when you have lyrics this good. Lyrics where small town, kitchen sink dramas reveal themselves to be universal life lessons and personal revolutions become templates for world change. The revolution isn’t on the streets; it’s in your head, your attitudes and outlook on life.

 

So it has all been done before, of course it has, but what Jake brings is a message of individuality, of rage turned to contemplation, of social comment and a gentle distain for those still star struck by scene and celebrity. But more than that these messages are grafted on to songs that are so memorable, so accessible and so great that you will be singing them on the way home from the gig long before you revel in playing the CD the next day. You did buy a CD right?

Cultural Revolutions – with Dave Franklin

DAA founderDave Franklin, looks at 5 albums that impacted on his younger musical brain and have stayed with him over the years.

first-and-last-and-alwaysFirst and Last and Always – The Sisters of Mercy (1985)

 Standing at that point when an underground movement hit the big time but before later imitators brought the genre down to a lowest common denominator, the Sisters debut album is the perfect gothic album. Forget all of the frilled shirts romantics and the cyber-Goths who came later, this is an album soaked in an amphetamine haze, a bleak dystopian soundtrack but still carrying a certain amount of optimism in its hidden layers.

Stand out tracks: Black Planet, No Time to Cry, First and Last and Always.

 waterboysThis is The Sea – The Waterboys (1985)

Of all the bands that made up the “Big Music” sound (The Bunnymen, The Alarm, Big Country etc.) This was the one album that seemed to encompass its characteristics the best. Pitted against a musical landscape of sometimes inspired but more often-insipid synth fashion bands, their music seemed elemental. It soared to great heights, it crashed like waves on the rocks, it smelt of the earth and it burned with a raging intensity. Mike Scott may have led his musical minions off Pied Piper-like down a stranger and less obvious musical path as what amounted to an Irish pub band but he left us with this epic masterpiece.

Standout Tracks: Don’t Bang The Drum, This is The Sea, The Pan Within.

The-Men-They-Couldnt-Han-Waiting-For-Bonap-498796Waiting For Bonaparte – The Men They Couldn’t Hang (1989)

 TMTCH were the band that made me want to be a musician and by 1989 they had found a sound that was both unique and accessible. Coming out of the squat punk scene they fused rock, folk, history and social politics into songs that were half terrace anthems and half music to get down and dance to. Subjects included the social unrest of the industrial revolution, the homeward voyage of merchant seaman, smugglers, soldiers and mutineers. Lesser bands would have turned the subject matter into twee folk ditties or sing-along sea shanties but what TMTCH did so well live was give you a poetic history lesson whilst you danced and drank yourself into a drunken stupor.

Standout Tracks: The Crest, Bounty Hunter, The Colours

 Thunder-And-Consolation-coverThunder and Consolation – New Model Army (1989)

Whilst the first three albums had featured a punkier, harder hitting sound, Thunder and Consolation was the album that saw a more windswept and emotive sound taking centre stage. Mixing anthemic rallying cries with wistful reflections, political statement with songs about family and belonging it also marked the first and last forays into chart and national radio play with singles such as Vagabonds and Green and Grey. New Model Army are renowned for an ever evolving sound but this album formed the heart of what they stood for and informed everything they produced afterwards.

Standout Tracks: Family, Green and Grey, Vagabonds, Stupid Questions

 

51q31o5x4JL._SL500_AA280_Alnwick and Tyne – Blyth Power (1989)

 That Blyth Power never achieved commercial success is probably due to always seeming to be walking in the shadow of The Levellers and their meteoric rise. But where as Brighton’s finest headed off down an accessible hippy-folk route, this bunch of west-country ex-punks remained a cultish riot of folk, lush harmonies, punk verve, some of the most eloquent lyrics in contemporary music, wit, wisdom and wordplay. Not bad for a bunch of train spotters! Their old boys network contains both Wob and James Hince of the Kills and they remain the most quintessentially English band on the planet. Wat Tyler meets Noel Coward if you can imagine such a thing.

Standout Tracks: Lord of The Isles, McArthur, Better to Bat.

 

First published at Swindon Link Dec ’14

 

 

Between Dog and Wolf – New Model Army

1379526120_500frontTumbling out of the wreckage of the dying punk movement, New Model Army were always flag bearers for a darker and more thoughtful alternative, but an alternative where a snarling dissatisfaction and restlessness was never far from the surface. Always at odds with the record industry, even their breakthrough hits such as Vagabonds, 51st State and the majestic Green and Grey barely disguised their mistrust of the way the world worked and their search for some honest answers. From then on in their path has been their own, eschewing the career that required singles on demand and corporate justification and choosing to remain a cult band with a smaller yet fiercely loyal following.

An ever shifting line up has always kept the sound in a state of evolution but has also meant that the consistency hasn’t always been a strong point. For every Ghost of Cain and Thunder and Consolation there has been a Carnival and Today is a Good Day. So what would they return with in the wake of the recent storms they have weathered; yet another change in the line up, theft of equipment and other personal tragedies. In typical fashion the band seems to have come back firing on all cylinders and hungrier than ever.

Somehow managing to create a sound that is at once vast yet empty like the windswept hills that they so often sing about, Between Dog and Wolf is a desolate and visceral place littered with heart wrenching statements and an all encompassing loneliness. They also speak in a universal language with the images drawn from all over the planet yet used as messages and metaphors that require no allegiance to any culture or creed.

Whilst the album lacks the immediacy of their late eighties heyday, it also represents the more mature and shifting nature of the current band, no longer a call to arms but more a call to understanding. But the lack of immediacy of the songs is more than made up for by how sonically textured the album sounds, atmosphere, clever production and more than ever raw, passionate emotion. I’ll take that any day over a ephemeral chart position. The title is taken from an expression that means between day and night, the time of transformation and change and that quite adequately sums up where the band might see themselves, on the cusp of a new direction for their music, this may be the template for a whole new model for this particular army.

Navigating by the Stars – Justin Sullivan

756-Navigating_By_The_Stars_-_Justin_SullivanJustin Sullivan is a man who may need an introduction, as he is not exactly what you would call a household name. He is best known as the front man of the band New Model Army, a powerhouse of angst and energy that burst on the scene in as the dying embers of punk were fading to dust. From the early eighties to the present, NMA were a law unto themselves, delivering an individual brand of rock that established an almost tribal devotion in its followers. Theirs was a street wise down to earth view of everyday life, their songs were filled with passion and emotion and their music had the ability to make you feel. Whether a slow haunting introverted number or a punk frenzied headlong charge, the music always connected with the audience in some way, had the ability to make them experience the message in the song on emotional level, a quality that is sadly lacking in much of today’s music.

 

The band are still working as hard as ever and it is probably a sign of how much time the band takes of Sullivan’s time that it was not until 2003, over twenty years down the road of being the driving force of NMA, that he got around to recording an album in his own name. The songs were written in the aftermath of the September the eleventh, and Sullivan admits that…

 

“Like everyone, it took me quite a while to recover from watching those events and taking in the aftermath. However, strangely, I didn’t feel like writing an angry song. In some ways I’d already written so many songs about September 11th before it happened, that I wanted to do the opposite. In a world where so much anger, cruelty and ugliness had just boiled to the surface, my instinct was to go the other way and to make something beautiful.”

 

So in a way this album is quite a departure from the politically motivated songs associated with his main musical concern, but there is also much that is familiar too. Although the album is very low key, electric instruments at a minimum, it still contains that moving, haunting wash of sound that raises its head on some of the later NMA albums. It is a very organic sound, rich layers of keyboard and string arrangements form the basis of many of the songs, which may surprise many who may associate Sullivan as a guitar oriented musician.

 

The album opens to the violin and guitar blending together in a melancholy wash. But Twilight Home, one of two singles on the album is a song of optimism, light and beauty and sets the pace for what is to follow. Whereas with NMA there was a social or politic message to be gleaned from the songs, here Sullivan is content to be merely poetic, an art which he has mastered very effectively. It is in this opening number that we also meet a common theme of the album, the sea. Again in his own words…

 

“Well, at least half the album is made up of songs about the sea. I have always loved being by, on, or in the ocean. I think it’s partly the sense of infinite space (as I also love deserts and being at the top of mountains, while I don’t really like the closed-in feeling of being in forests) but it’s also a visual thing – the movement and never-ending play of water and light is the most beautiful and inspiring sight that I know. ”

 

It’s a theme that is at the forefront of the next two tracks the folk styled story of Blue Ship and the other single, Ocean Rising. The former is a laid back number sitting comfortably along side the opening track, but the later moves the album into new territory. A rising threat of music is created through a swell of rhythm guitars and a mass of keyboard and string arrangements that build to breaking point in the background to eventually dominate the entire piece. Sentry is a darker and simpler affair, mainly one man and his guitar driving onwards, creating, as Kerrang Magazine described it, music that is both “poignant yet understated” In fact understated is the important factor here, there is a space and restraint that creates an atmosphere and mood that a fuller delivery would fail to capture in quite the same way. The subtle orchestration leaves the voice as the focal point of the songs, and Sullivan has always been someone worth listening to, a grass roots spokesman for the issues of the ordinary man, reflective, worldly wise, slightly weary but full of hope.

 

Tales of the Road is much more in the vein of NMA, small meaningful stories of life on the road, even the pace of the song is different from what has come before, funky guitar licks and a shuffling snare set a groove for the lyrics and a wailing harmonica to hang on. The harmonica is played by regular NMA contributor Mark Feltham and indeed many of the NMA extended family are present on the tracks as well as a number of less than obvious choices, such as music legend Danny Thompson on upright bass and Ty Unwin, a man normally associated with TV and film scores. A life spent travelling is distilled into a few snapshots of the nomadic lifestyle. Travelling is a constant theme here also and even though on the surface there are obvious descriptions of the physical journey, these also seem to be allusions of a mental and maybe even spiritual voyage. A restlessness and longing for home emanates from the album, the man that once wanted to change the world is now content just to head for home with the knowledge that at least he tried and maybe made a difference to some peoples lives.

 

The title track is a wistfully slow and introverted affair; the sea and the endless search for a spiritual resting place form the nature of this number as Sullivan indulges again in his of maritime odyssey. More poetic water related expressions form Sun on Water leads us to Ghost Train a more upbeat guitar lead number with an almost country beat to it, both musically and lyrically its not a million miles away from Johnny Cash, and that’s never a bad thing. There’s a dark quality in both music and the lyric’s that seem to pay homage to that mans work, whether intentionally or not. Green and Home are similar types of song, again mainly Sullivan and his guitar, but it seems to be the lyrical content that are important here and Feltham’s eerie harmonica runs through the later to good effect. The album is rounded off by Changing of the Light and Apocalypse Dreams, the former is a lilting and gentle, poetic and haunting; the later a summation of many of the ideas presented in the songs that come before it, when Sullivan sings “maybe it’s time, to turn this ship around” the pent up weariness seems to spill from him. By the time you reach these last few numbers you may, like me, feel that some of the output has become a bit samey, and the cause may have been better served by dropping a couple of the songs. The more you play the album though the more the songs take on an individuality and although its often difficult for one man and a guitar to make eleven songs sound that different from each other, but he has managed it here and done so with a passion and soul wrenching honesty that you have come to expect. It’s a wonderful album and makes ideal listening for those quiet moments of self-reflection and retreat from the hustle of daily life that we all need to get away from.

 

It’s a collection of songs that I can’t imagine anyone else coming up with and whilst Sullivan hasn’t got the best voice in the world, the slow nature of the songs and the dark and brooding aspect contained in many make his voice right for them. For fans of NMA who want to experience the more reflective side of Sullivan’s writing or for new comers who just want a mellow set of songs to listen to, this album fits the bill. It is poetic without being pompous, mellow without being washy and contains a mix of dark and light throughout. Even in its seemingly darkest moments it is offering hope and optimism and you can never have enough of that.

 

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