Mid-summer music

July 9th, 2010

So I realised I haven’t written anything for four whole gosh-darn months, no excuses – although there are many reasons: impending childbirth, self-employment, idleness, etc – and even this is going to be a flippin’ link to some music!

Well that’s the way I’m rolling right now, and whilst I’ve been to the Lakes, Snowdonia and Cornwall this year, the travel writing has taken a back seat to listening to new music via the many excellent resources out there now giving away tracks. These include the links below, and I recommend they be checked out, signed up to, followed, stalked, maimed then devoured in your own time:

I’ve “done” a compilation loosely based around the summer. I say loosely as it’s stuff I’ve been listening to since May so it should probably be called “Rob’s Summer Tunes 2010” and released on K-Tel, but while I wait for confirmation of a release date for that, feel free to download the zippedy-doo file and prick up yr ears, etc and so on.


  1. Sleigh Bells – “Tell ‘Em”
  2. School Of Seven Bells – “Babelonia”
  3. The Drums – “Let’s Go Surfing (The Raveonettes Remix)”
  4. Cate Le Bon – “Shoeing The Bones”
  5. Violens – “Acid Reign”
  6. !!! – “AM/FM”
  7. Stornoway – “Here Comes the Blackout…!”
  8. Craft Spells – “The Fog Rose High”
  9. Crystal Castles – “Celestica (Thurston Moore Remix)”
  10. Stars – “We Don’t Want Your Body”
  11. HEALTH – “Die Slow (Tobacco Remix)”
  12. The Whigs – “Dying”
  13. Philip Selway – “By Some Miracle”
  14. School of Seven Bells – “Half Asleep (Lusine Remix)”
  15. Underworld – “Scribble”

This is the link to the file (it’s massive – 116mb, but worth it)

Music and Travel or Travelling with Music

January 11th, 2010

Music surrounds me.  Or rather, I surround myself in music.  Whether falling asleep on my own at night or walking to the local shop, it’s always there. When I run, drive, eat, type, always there.  I realised this when the sound of silence broke me from a waking dream early one morning, and it got me thinking about the music I choose, happen upon, am given and influences me whilst travelling last year.
Sigur Ros and Yosemite - Feb 2009
Sigur Rós always reminded me of actually experiencing the band live at Glastonbury Festival. Until I spent a few hours walking around Yosemite National Park in California in February 2008 with Ágætis Byrjun coming to me through my headphones. The Scandinavian sounds married beautifully with what would have been a “blue sky powder day” at a ski resort. The six and a half hour journey each way to get to the park was forgotten as soon as I wandered around the deserted footpaths away from the main lodges and found myself staring up at thousand foot cliffs rising from snow meadows beneath.

This can be the beauty of music. Hearing that collection of songs will forever remind me of that time and place, those few hours of solitude in an environment of outrageous scenery. I’ll also remember the Bostonian professor – also named Robert (Bob) – and the British couple nearing the end of their year out. Incidental to my experience but remembered because of the depth of reminiscence I now feel.
Mogwai and City Lights bookstore, San Francisco
A day or so later, I wandered aimlessly looking for City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach district. The area’s “colour” – by which I mean, strip joints, homeless population and “interesting characters” – was accentuated by Mogwai creating their walls of sound between my ears and out of their The Hawk Is Howling record. The slow buildup of layers of guitar effects over guitar squall pushed me ever upward from Fisherman’s Wharf, past Coit Tower and up to the Beat Museum, City Lights and the building Francis Ford Coppolla’s Zoetrope film production company have called home since the 70’s.

Maybe I should’ve been listening to bebop jazz in homage to Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous prose writings inspired by his time at jazz bars in the city, but I’ve always associated the Beat Generation more with the drug-fuelled ramblings of a benzedine addict; huge feedback-filled walls of noise are how I picture that scene as a soundtrack…

America is a special country and has a special landscape for musical associations. Perhaps this is a personal thing and I’m just a sucker for a Yankee-accent and the music coming out of the country but well, there you go.
Billy Bob's Hamburgers
For example, Johnny Cash’s music was made for driving down a Texas highway towards Austin on an 84 degree F February morning having just come out of Mexico. Creedance Clearwater Revival similarly, in a redneck, singalong kind of way, comforting like a nursery rhyme to an infant when driving past “Lonesome Hill” ranches, border patrol stations and Billy Bob’s Hamburgers.

There’s always the blues imitators who took it to the next level – Led Zeppelin helping get that Ford Mustang up onto the Pacific Coastal Hoghway out of LA – rock music’s dynamism can help get you going when you’re in that over-tired, underslept state of mind, suddenly on an 8 lane highway after the sedation of New Zealand’s State Highways (generally one lane each way).

Down in New Zealand’s South Island, John Lennon had kept us entertained whilst viewing the majesty of a seemingly untouched country enjoying an early summer. How Do You Sleep?, Lennon’s poisonous jab at Macca, will forever remind me of the rolling green mountains between Marlborough and Nelson. The two bare no relation but are now inextricably linked in my mind – the song’s anger made all the worse by it being recorded with Ringo and George and subsequently listened to amid the grandeur of yet more amazing hillsides, shoes on fence posts and not much else…proper thinking time to digest the vitriol.

On a potentially more embarrassing note, car-dancing (dancing sat down in the back of a station wagon) to Michael Jackson’ “Thriller” and the breath-taking peak of Mt Aspiring are forever linked in music/landscape fraternity.
Basingstoke train station
Basingstoke train station doesn’t seem to inspire the same lyricism, but given a bit more thought could surely provoke the spirit of John Lydon’s PiL, The Smiths or Joy Division…it looks like it could anyway. This is a fairly random collection of thoughts cobbled together from journal notes whilst travelling via road, rain, air and foot around the world in 2009. While I was listening to music.

Songs of my Year – 2009

December 23rd, 2009

I’ve listened to a lot of music this year, as every year. A year ago today I was halfway across the world en route to spending Christmas and New Year in New Zealand, today I’m writing this from a Best Western in Stoke-on-Trent about to attend a Christmassy wedding on the edge of the Peak District. All the way through 2009 I’ve had music to relax, stimulate, reminisce, remind, excite and teach me – here’s the collection I settled on. So if you’ve got ten minutes this Holiday Season, “grab” yrself a mince pie, hot toddy and read on…

Yo La Tengo – ‘Here To Fall‘ from Popular Songs
Still a free download from the link above – yay – I discovered this band about 15 years too late but they’re still going strong, as this track from 2009 shows. There’s a wicked live concert from their most recent tour available here too, so check them out!
The Sables – ‘Six Miles’ from Fall
The Sables have been a beautiful five-piece for a year now. Their second album will be released in early 2010, and this track is already a sturdy, confident young live buck…I love the momentum of this track, pushing us forward, I can see the band playing in my mind – what a great band!
Gomez – ‘Airstream Driver‘ from A New Tide
Gomez never went away, they just went to Chicago and enjoyed their popularity in the States. Luckily, they came to Southampton Uni in November and played this from their latest album, it’s a beaut!
A.A. Bondy – ‘Vice Rag‘ from American Hearts
Man, was seeing this guy live at The Social in London this October a treat? Why yes, it was – he played this song in a jazzy jam-style (some will cringe, some smile wanly) but this is such a funny ditty, how could you not love it?
Death Cab For Cutie – ‘Little Bribes‘ from The Open Door EP
I just properly discovered this band this year – the 2008 album Narrow Stairs has been played constantly throughout the year. Referencing Big Sur and Bixby Canyon Bridge resonated with me after my LA – San Francisco coastal drive in February, and so this addendum to that release has been much loved in 2009.
Bon Iver – ‘Blood Bank‘ from Blood Bank
A happier, more positive counter-note to ‘For Emma, Ages Ago’, this is yet another gorgeous tune from Bon Iver. I’m a softie, that is known, but they made me cry more every time I saw them this year…well, it was either them or the rum…
The Jackson 5 – ‘ABC‘ from Cool Cheese
Deep joy. If MJ is remembered by me for one thing, I think it’ll be this…pop perfection from a simpler time.
Black Kids – ‘I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance‘ from Daytrotter Session
Special because I saw them play live at the Gaelic in Surrey Hills, Sydney on my first night in Australia in January, just a great memory!
Creature – ‘Mo Greazy‘ from Hustle To Be Free
So I didn’t so much buy this by free will but have it thrust upon me by the artist himself on the street in Greenwich Village in March. However, the hustler in question turned out to be a man of his word and this is a great hip hop tune, and a greazy one at that…
Steve Earle – ‘Someday‘ from Guitar Town
Finally got to see this great artist at the End Of The Road Festival in Dorset this September after having something of a secret obsession with his first 3 albums back in the ’80s. This is the track that made me dream as I looked out from my bedroom window…
Matt Marr – ‘Different Shades Of Blue‘ from Currency Of Souls
The first three tracks from next year’s ‘Currency Of Souls’ album became my running soundtrack earlier this year (i.e. when I was running). This is just a great pop song from someone I consider to be a master songwriter and performer. Let’s hope more people get to hear Matt in 2010.
Animal Collective – ‘My Girls‘ from Merriweather Post Pavilion
Amazing at Glastonbury, rather more underwhelming at Green Man, but this track showcases the accessible side of this incredible group, just such lush sounds.
Grizzly Bear – ‘Two Weeks‘ from Veckatimest
Another great track from a great American band. The flow of amazing songs in this lo-fi, Americana, folk strain doesn’t show any signs of abating, and this is a beautiful example of that genre I just made up.
Wilco – ‘Wilco (The Song)‘ from Wilco (The Album)
The best band performance I’ve ever seen. Wilco at Green Man Festival this year. And this song just goes off, and in such an unashamedly jocular way, yay!
Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard – ‘California Zephyr‘ from One Fast Move Or I’m Gone Music From Kerouac’s Big Sur
A whole album written in tribute to one of my favourite author’s great novels? It could’ve gone horribly wrong, but this track evokes all the huge, expansive, exhilarating feelings I experienced travelling across the US by train in February this year.
The Pictish Trail – ‘Winter Home Disco‘ from Secret Soundz Vol. 1
So I caught Chicken Pox in April this year. It “came out” at Homegame 6 in beautiful Fifeshire, but Fence Records have been such an amazing addition to my musical library. Whether at Club Anemone in Bournemouth, the aforementioned Homegame, Green Man Festival or the Thekla in Bristol, Johnny Lynch aka The Pictish Trail and label founder has written an incredibly evocative tune that you can dance or at least wiggle along to, and that’s a great thing.
Noah And The Whale – ‘Blue Skies‘ from The First Days Of Spring
Feeling a bit down? Too much darkness? Can’t see any light in the tunnel? This song might help a bit. A song written as you turn the corner and start to make sense of the world you’ve been inhabiting for the last while. Special for obvious reasons.

Wow, that was pretty earnest, eh? Well, whatever, hope you enjoyed it and maybe enjoy some of the music – here’s the track listing and the zip file is linked down the bottom, wheee!

  1. Yo La Tengo – ‘Here To Fall‘ from Popular Songs
  2. The Sables – ‘Six Miles’ from Fall
  3. Gomez – ‘Airstream Driver‘ from A New Tide
  4. A.A. Bondy – ‘Vice Rag‘ from American Hearts
  5. Death Cab For Cutie – ‘Little Bribes‘ from The Open Door EP
  6. Bon Iver – ‘Blood Bank‘ from Blood Bank
  7. The Jackson 5 – ‘ABC‘ from Cool Cheese
  8. Black Kids – ‘I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance‘ from Daytrotter Session
  9. Creature – ‘Mo Greazy‘ from Hustle To Be Free
  10. Steve Earle – ‘Someday‘ from Guitar Town
  11. Matt Marr – ‘Different Shades Of Blue‘ from Currency Of Souls
  12. Animal Collective – ‘My Girls‘ from Merriweather Post Pavilion
  13. Grizzly Bear – ‘Two Weeks‘ from Veckatimest
  14. Wilco – ‘Wilco (The Song)‘ from Wilco (The Album)
  15. Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard – ‘California Zephyr‘ from One Fast Move Or I’m Gone Music From Kerouac’s Big Sur
  16. The Pictish Trail – ‘Winter Home Disco‘ from Secret Soundz Vol. 1
  17. Noah And The Whale – ‘Blue Skies‘ from The First Days Of Spring

Here they are in a compressed file if you’d like them – Songs of the Year – 2009. Of course, I’d point you to the links on the song titles to download the tracks you like (where available) and give some money back to the artists!

Here’s hoping 2010 brings us all as much joy and happiness as we can handle, thanks for reading…

Club Anemone – South Coast underground

September 7th, 2009

Where do underground club nights come from?  From a single mind, an idea which is followed through due to conviction, an external confirmation or the simple lack of a barrier?

I haven’t asked Pual Hardsparrow his motivation for starting and maintaining Club Anemone, but assume rightly or wrongly that they involve one or all of the options above.  To run a night in a provincial, seaside town two hours from London – and probably anywhere in the world – you will almost definitely need some blind optimism and self motivation.  I think/hope that Hardsparrow’s motivations involve a desire to show a cultural backwater, ravaged by Lowest Common Denominator, “kiss me quick”-type establishments, what culture, talent, creativity and originality is “out there” and also that a good deal of it exists or originates from the place itself.

Little Boat @ Club Anemone

Over its time, Club Anemone has pitched its caravan up at a pub/venue in the neighbouring town, at the local railway worker’s club, and the last “old school” small live venue in town (now a megachain “fun pub”) and most recently in the basement of a “down on its uppers” bar of the future…a venue which it feels oddly at home.  Or at least seems to allow the music and performances to do the talking without distracting.

The desire to liken one “thing” to another or series of others is only too easy to succumb to when discussing music but Club Anemone defies such logic.  Very often Hardsparrow will begin the evening with his very own brand of anti-folk, neo-ironic, folky and non-ironic tunes – “Jim’ll Fix It”, “Eugene Landy” and one I call “Mr Mushroom Head” which is in no way called that – among them.  With a self-depreciating smile or grimace – mood-dependent – he will finish his acoustic ramblings with news of a raffle, competition or some manner of savoury confection (last time: cherry bakewells).

To follow may often be a local band of troubadours – The Powdered Cows, Language, Timothy!, Little Boat and Yaard among others – angular, challenging, talented, funny and most definitely original.  As the evening progresses the “bijou” audience of loyal and enthusiastic music-lovers are treated to out of town or country performers  – often from the Fence Collective – such as The Pictish Trail – Fence records head honcho, Bristol’s Rozi Plain, Ichi – the stilt-walking Japanese trumpeter and Viking Moses from the US.

Club Anemone Flyer, July 2009

We paying punters stand reverentially and most often smiling with simple joy at the initimate performance unfolding on stage – like a private showing, or like peeking through the curtain at a final rehearsal which is, in fact, the performance itself.  Hyperbole maybe, but this is surely the region’s best-kept secret and most original live music night, hidden away as it is, in a basement like all good underground movements should be.

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard @ the Thekla, Bristol – April ’09

April 29th, 2009

What is this wonderful, droning idiotic repetition of a tune? Why, it must be Jeff Lewis & The Junkyard tuning up and starting their set in the bowels of the boat they call “Thekla” this Monday night in Bristol. If you know Jeffrey Lewis, you know what to expect from a Jeffrey Lewis gig – quirky, endearing songs played with a nonchalance you can’t buy, lyricism that makes you actually listen to the words and an unbridled joy (especially from brother Jack on bass). What’s not to like?

Well, I guess if you don’t like ramshackle endings, mid-song, off-mic discussions – probably based on what might happen in the next ninety seconds – or short histories of North Korea in comic book style then Jeff Lewis may not be for you. Otherwise: WHOOP! Let the whimsy and joy commence in equal measure. In these days of F***book, Twitter and every fool blogging for food, experiencing an event as organic as this is becoming a genuine rare treat. There’s no backdrop or “lightshow” at the Thekla, nor is one needed as Jeff & The Junkyard entertain by music alone (comic book narratives not withstanding).

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard @ the Thekla, Bristol - April '09

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard @ the Thekla, Bristol - April '09

New songs taken from the latest collection of songs ‘Em Are I’ are strewn amongst older favourites. ‘Bugs And Flowers’ sits snugly amidst garage punk workouts – such as brother Jack’s ‘The Upside-Down Cross’ – and lyrics like “These flowers blooming they are not human, these flies and insects are really weird. Their backs are shiny, their souls are tiny, and by the zillions they’ve disappeared” are twee perhaps, but there’s a message here, one of mortality and our ultimate connection to the earth which we can do nothing to change despite our best efforts at controlling our environment.

It’s this wide-eyed enthusiasm and awareness of the world around us – around him – which makes Jeffrey Lewis so unique and so worth going to see live. The records are great, yes, but to see and hear him singing these tunes with his battered acoustic guitar sounding alternately clean as a whistle and dirty as a heavily distorted acoustic guitar is one of the pure, joyful events in this momentary life.

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard @ the Thekla, Bristol - April '09

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard @ the Thekla, Bristol - April '09

‘Roll Bus Roll’ is a beautiful example of the happy marriage of musical melody and tempo echoing the lyrical content of the song: “Roll Bus Roll, take me off. A rolled sweatshirt makes the window soft. If I fall asleep, don’t wake me up.. Roll bus roll, take me up”. Building up, rolling along, this is surely a masterclass in magical nuggets of lyricism. ‘Broken Broken Heart’, conversely, makes light of the harsh realities of the subject matter with it’s jaunty rhythm, but the lyrics are as hopeless and angry as you’d expect from a song with such a title.

It looks so easy for Jeffrey Lewis on stage – and common belief is that these live performances are advertising space for his undoubted talent as a cartoonist – his easy manner with audiences honed across many tours and journeys around Europe and the States. This manifested itself by deciding that the night’s theme was “Themes” and pondering the likelihood that we were actually sinking but the water hadn’t reached us yet. His comic book interludes numbered only one this evening – the aforementioned “History of North Korea” – hey, a history lesson in rhyming couplets and cartoon form! – just another reason this is not just another rock show. After an hour and a quarter, the Junkyard leave the stage to rapturous applause and another few converts will leave with the already hooked into an early Spring night suggesting a great year ahead for Jeff Lewis, his band and his many talents.

homegame 6

April 26th, 2009

Anstruther is a small fishing village an hour northeast of Edinburgh, situated in the East of Neuk in Fife, ten miles from St Andrews. It’s also home to Fence Records, home of King Creosote, James Yorkston and The Pictish Trail among many others. A couple of times a year this place comes alive with music lovers from around Scotland, the rest of the UK and, it seems, the world for a weekend of music, mirth, drinking and general joyfulness.

Homegame 6 was held at five or six different venues across the town – the large Town Hall, the VERY yellow Erskine Hall, the Scottish Fisheries Museum and the Hew Scott Hall among them. The Hew Scott is a great little building opposite a shell-covered house holding maybe 150 folk at any one time plus the bar, the food/hot drinks stall and the merch desk as well as many, many fine performances over the weekend.

Animal Magic Tricks

Animal Magic Tricks

We enter around fish & chip time on Friday evening to experience ex-Bournemouth, now-Brighton’s Animal Magic Tricks. A beautifully controlled, poised set over thirty minutes see Frances move between vocal-only songs to electronically-assisted and cello-accompanied joyful tracks bound together by her elegantly fragile and beguiling voice. This set was a real treat, stood in what is a stone community hall with many like-minded, respectful and enthusiastic people. It almost felt like we’d been invited to a secret party, the capacity for the weekend is somewhere around 600, and the atmosphere certainly felt like we were all privileged to be here. Bristol’s Rozi Plain followed, a personal favourite of mine due to the song ‘Stolen Shark’ played at Club Anenome at the Bournemouth Railway Club last September, another beautifully understated performer which Fence seem to specialise in.

Unfortunately, my arrival in Scotland coincided with the onset of what came to be chicken pox and so my Friday night was cut short, however I was regaled with tales of David Thomas Broughton and The Pictish Trail performing, Gummi Bako dj-ing and Hardsparrow break-dancing – just warming up for the weekend, eh?

Fourteen hours of delirious sleep later…Hardsparrow has been in Finland for three months. Now back in Bournemouth and the UK in general, he looked a little worse for wear on Saturday morning but his set – more electronic than not these days – captivated a roomful in the Hew Scott. Joined variously by others on keyboards, ukulele, guitar and “large microphone”, Hardsparrow never fails to entertain with endearing randomness and genuine humour throughout his set. ‘He Is Mushroom Head’ is an undiscovered classic…for now.

David Thomas Broughton

David Thomas Broughton

Having no knowledge of the day’s running order, my joy at finding that David Thomas Broughton was to follow was equalled only by the reality of his performance. A better scribe than I should describe this man’s vocal skills, but coupled with his looping skills – of acoustic guitar, the mic stand(!) and his own voice – he makes for one the very best performers seen in a good while. The embarrassment at leaving mid-set was 10 if there was a scale, as unbeknownst to us the hall – and the hallway adjoining – had become FULL whilst we sat mezmorised at the front! Art Pedro awaited us in the Fisheries Museum – a joyous slice of positivity delivered by guitar, laptop and Pedro – wish I could’ve got into the room for his set but the day was busying up.

“Come to the Erskine Hall”, suggested Hardsparrow. “Ok”, we said. Jake Flowers played in the World’s Yellowest Room™. His self-confessional one-man band (he had a bass drum as well as his acoustic guitar) songs fitted the spare space of the hall. The childrens’ frieze behind the stage juxtaposed against the bluntness of his love-and-loss tunes nicely, well-positioned whoever was in charge of fitting artists with venues.

Jake Flowers

Jake Flowers

A meander down the hill past the main hall brought me back to the Hew Scott for Expedition Guide‘s early evening set. Also known as Lee from Dutch Husband, Expedition Guide set into his thirty minutes technological challenges intact but hidden from the audience. Utilising distorted samples on an mp3 player along with electric guitar and his trademark low vocals, seashanty-esque tunes washing up from the Firth of Forth into our ears. Or something. Good stuff whatever, full of extras on repeated listens.

Expedition Guide

Expedition Guide

Off to the Town Hall to catch as much of The Phantom Band‘s set as decent. Amazing first song, a slow-builder which finally bursts to life for a couple of minutes when it could’ve lasted past May as fas as I’m concerned. The drug intake (Anadin Extra, kids) bolstered with rum & ginger beer, we hiked up the hill to the Waid Academy for an inspired set from James Yorkston & The Athletes – very loose in the best sense of the word, humourous, obviously loving the weekend surrounded by friends and admirers. Then across the road for a PROPERLY original set from Bristol’s OLO Worms at Legends – I imagine “the” nightclub in Anst’er! Really, really original – I can’t be more unoriginal in emphasising the originality of their tunes and accompanying projected film – find them out and make them perform for you. To complete the day? How about squeezing into the Hew Scott for an impromptu set by Kenny, Johnny & James aka King Creosote, The Pictish Trail and James Yorkston. Bonhomie all round as a hushed (literally: SHUSH!) audience experience a set of trad Scottish folk songs, singalongs and general good feeling which is only bettered by Viking Moses‘s finalé and encore whereby the gathered are all singing at the tops of our voices whilst Mr Moses leaves the venue and reappears moments later to garner the accolades awaiting him from a bevvie-up, loved-up Saturday night crowd. A top day. Official, like.

Saturday finished me off. That much is true. Sunday was glorious. Even from the inside of a caravan on a holiday park in Scotland…hey, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it! So I missed Malcolm Middleton, Men Diamler and King Creosote, I hope I get the chance another time. I also hope I get the chance to experience Fence on their own turf again. It’s a wonderful life, perhaps easier to see when you’re not fully able to enjoy it..! Here’s to Homegame 6.