Thursday, 13 October 2011

Still Rocking and Rolling since Elvis left the building

One of my favourite periods in history has to be the 1940’s. Sure World War II was raging like an extremely angry velociraptor in the background, but take that away and you are left with several appealing things to like about this particular era.

The first would be the fashion; high - waisted skirts, wide collared blouses, fitted coats and jackets, silk stockings, bespoke hats, I could go on but I’m overexcited enough as it is. All of the above were the epitome of womanhood. Add a string of pearls and some elbow length gloves and you could take tea with the queen never mind just luncheon with the WI!

Throw into the mix men in uniform and you wonder why women were swooning all the time!?

The second great thing to come out of this disastrous period would be the music.

Don’t roll your eyes.

I know you all secretly love ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ as much as the next person.

The most well known, and much loved, trio throughout the war period were The Andrews Sisters. Their classic hits such as ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ and ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree’, whilst the latter being slightly creepy if the lyrics are taken completely out of context, have managed to define a whole generation.

These Minnesotan born sisters (actual sisters in this case) entertained thousands of allied forces and sold over 75 million records worldwide. Their perfect harmonies, combined with their cheeky attitude, made them a household name by 1940. They can be considered to be one of the earliest examples of rhythm and blues.

And to look at them, you wouldn't think that these three siblings did not get along...

Fast track to today and the closest you will get to this genre will be rockabilly. Dating back to the 1960’s it is currently enjoying a wonderful revival in the form of The Baseballs. Although there are many who would argue that it never really went anywhere. This German trio were founded in Berlin in 2007, and their debut album ‘Strike!’ has received critical acclaim worldwide. Covering modern hits such as ‘Love in this Club’ (which was my ringtone for a year I was that addicted to it), Rhianna’s ‘Umbrella’ and Katie Perry’s ‘Hot ‘n’ Cold’ it is no wonder that it has become a staple for rock and roll lovers everywhere. With a swinging rock and roll orchestral ensemble and harmonies that would put The Andrew’s Sister’s to shame, it would be scandalous not to have this album in your collection.

I wonder how long these three lads spend in hair and make - up?

Moving closer to home we will find The Bon Temps Sisters. Just as their name suggests, these gals are all about having a good time. A swing, jazz, big band, boogie - woogie and rockabilly ensemble performing all over Chichester for weddings, parties, and like their sisters before them, the Royal Navy. Their renditions of ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ put the original proprietors of the song to shame and their cover of Lady Gaga’s ’Bad Romance’ will make you never want to listen to the original again. Their vocal harmonies, combined with their big band accompaniment, will make you wonder why you ever listened to anything else. Oh and their outfits will make you want to kidnap their stylist.

Seriously, don't you just want their stylist?!?

If you like the sound of this good ol’ fashioned retro fun then why not check out The Puppini Sisters, Imelda May, Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho Devilles, The Rocker Covers and Ghost Highway.

Rockabilly is such an awesome genre of music; with a double bass, a drum kit, a piano, a guitar and even the possibility of a mini brass section, what more could you actually want from life? It’s all about great music, good times, and to quote the wise words of Danny and the Juniors, “rock and roll is here to stay, it will never die”.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Go Folk Yourself!


Just the mere mention of the word conjures up some strange images for you doesn’t it?

You instantly think of long - haired hippies, wearing home made tye - dye skirts, strumming a lyre, dancing around druid ruins (hopefully still wearing those skirts) and pleading with you to get in touch with the healing powers of crystals.

Ha! You stereotypes you.

This is simply one area of folk music. We have since progressed from the days above. I hope.

Traditionally folk music was a way that stories were able to get from village to village. Even in the days prior to the internet and flushing indoor toilets, people still enjoyed a good ol’ song and dance. These stories often involved a maid, a garter (usually falling down), and your choice of a tinker, tailor, soldier and a sailor. If you searched hard enough I have no doubt you would come across one with all four. This was the Medieval version of pornography, seeing as the majority of people were illiterate and paper was a stupidly expensive commodity afforded only by the rich.

The guy on the right is blatantly staring at her chest. Pervert.

Nowadays traditional folk has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Take Bellowhead. An eleven piece outfit including a kazoo, an anglo concertina, a mandolin, a sousaphone, a megaphone and a shaky egg on top of every other folk instrument you can think of, these guys are out of this world. They literally take traditional British folk, rape it, and then leave it for dead. Their vocalists cockney twang makes Dick van Dyke‘s attempts appear ludicrous. I have been told that listening to them on a CD does not compare to seeing them live; the sheer enormity of their set is something that puts Lady Gaga to shame, and that’s a statement that clearly needs living up to.

And you thought getting to band practice with four people was difficult!

At the other end of the traditional spectrum you’ll find Iron and Wine. With a name like that, how could you not instantly fall in love with Samuel Beam? Yes, you read that right. Iron and Wine is actually a one - man band, and that one - man goes by the name of Samuel Beam. He occasionally tours with a live band, but that is sort of a rarity. His sound is hauntingly beautiful. Beam’s vocal harmonies are blended perfectly with traditional folk instrumentals. The lyrics to his songs go beyond meaningful; they weave stories with their words and leave absolutely nothing up to the imagination. Beam’s latest album was an instant success - and for a very good reason. If you don’t add it to your collection instantly, you will regret it for the rest of your life.

And yes - Flightless Bird, American Mouth (if you're wondering) is part of the Twilight soundtrack. Unfortunately. The producers clearly held a gun to his head with that one.

That is an impressive beard.

Moving across the pond into international territory there is Le Vent du Nord. As their name suggests their songs are sung in fluent French. Heralding from Quebec, Canada, their music is heavily influenced by traditional folk music from both Ireland and Brittany. They even have a hurdy gurdy in their ensemble! You have to love them simply for that! Their songs are bawdy, traditional French folk ballads; all about good wine, fine women, and eating heartily around the kitchen table. It’s the kind of music that you want to stomp your feet to, clap your hands, and break out into some form of erratic Ceilidh.

Takes the meaning of the word multi - talented to a whole a new level.

That’s pronounced Kayley.

Speaking of Ceilidhs, even if you hate folk music with a passion, get yourself down to one. They are seriously the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off. Think line dancing but without the cowboy boots. Ceilidhs are traditional Gaelic dances, with a traditional Gaelic folk band. There is a caller who calls out the dances (their name is just such a spoiler don’t you think?) and then everyone follows suit.

Tip: don’t wear heels to this and be prepared to get VERY sweaty. Wear lose clothing, but not so lose that you get tangled up and fall on your face. You’ll be dancing up and down, round and round, side to side, in groups of four, in pairs and then as an entire massive group. Believe me - words don’t do this justice - it has to be experienced for itself.

So even if I have not yet managed to persuade you that folk music is definitely something you should add to your iPod, at least let me take comfort from the fact that you can acknowledge that, if nothing else, they are incredibly talented musicians. The majority of them can play the fiddle with their eyes closed, standing on one leg, doing Duck impressions! And that is something I would probably pay to see.

And if none of the above are floating your boat yet, check out anti - folk. This genre of music takes traditional folk music and then craps on it - in a hilariously comic sort of way. Try The Moldy Peaches, Tim Minchin, Regina Spektor, Adam Green, Kimya Dawson and SoKo. Or if it’s easier, just download the entire Juno soundtrack.

I’ll leave you to get your folk on.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

To Feel or Not To Feel

There are many different themes and emotions which provide the basic foundations to any great song. There’s money, comedy, tragedy, grief, laughter, family, friends, relationships, sex, the good, the bad, the ugly, and that all time favourite, the weather. Each attribute, whether displayed with others, or standing alone, gives songs, and music in general, a particular shape and form.

The most frequently used of these, is love.

Amore, adore, liebe. Whether you say it in French or Mongolian, it means the same thing. It is a universal concept which has stood the test of time. It can move mountains, repair that which is broken, and can cure even those sick at heart. It can make you feel like the luckiest man alive, or the most broken, desolate person to have ever walked the earth. It can make you feel like singing the soundtrack to the ‘Sound of Music’ along white cliff tops, and just as equally, it can make you feel like throwing yourself off from the highest point, into a raging sea below.

This is exactly what a great love song should do.

A great song, much like a great book, should toy with your emotions. If the music is sad, then you should feel sad. If the lyrics are hopeful, then you should be filled with hope.

More often than not, our language fails to adequately capture that which we feel, and expressing ourselves through music is certainly not a new concept.

When Danny sang ‘Sandy’ when he was stranded at the drive in, didn’t our hearts just break for him? When Helen Shapiro burst into the music scene in the late 60’s with ‘Walking Back to Happiness’, didn’t we just want to scream “go get him girl!” As Maria and Captain Von Trap are singing in the garden, our hearts melt, because we are all suckers for three little words; I love you.

Jose Gonzales’ ‘Heartbeats’ is just so poignantly beautiful. The words are so gracefully true that it is hard to feel anything but complete calm when listening to it. Regina Spektor’s ‘Samson’ is so haunting that you can almost feel the intensity of the love between Samson and Delilah radiating outwards.

It is no wonder that more and more couples are choosing Savage Garden’s ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ for their Wedding Song, the lyrics are compellingly puke - worthy, but, unfortunately true for so many couples in love. Even some of the more edgier music scenes are getting involved with the smushy stuff; Mary J Blige took home two Grammy Awards for her 2005 hit ‘Be Without You’. A meaningful song signifying the importance of standing by an established relationship, it moved struggling couples everywhere.

It seems that, regardless of whether or not you are a die hard anti - romantic, the love song is still going strong, and will continue to do so as long as the homo sapien has a song and dance left in him. My only solution to you cold hearted bastards is to climb on board and start feeling something whilst you have a chance. Music is emotional for a reason, and there is simply no crime in feeling.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Six Inches of Mosh in your Face

And no, that title is not a euphemism.

The majority of girls take a lot longer to get ready to go on a night out than the average man. I am open, however, to the possibility that there are some high maintenance lads out there. After commenting on my surprise that a male friend of mine possessed a hairdryer (which was worryingly better than mine) his response was, "Yeah, I'm not a barbarian." Isn't the world full of little surprises....

So, on that night out heels are normally the footwear of choice. And why not? They elongate the legs, force you to stand up straight, encourage you to stick your rear out and adds a couple of extra inches to your height for good measure. What's not to like about them? Apart from the fact that walking in them involves some serious concentration. It's like balancing on a tight rope, except with a little less further to fall. Still the same cold hard ground coming to meet you though.

I'm so beautiful, yet so dangerous.

Here's some handy advice that you should take from your Auntie Amy. Never, never, ever EVER wear 6 inch heels to a gig. Any gig. More importantly a metal gig.

It's asking for trouble. It's like walking up to the toughest, burliest guy in a tough, burly bar, slapping him round the face with a dead, wet fish whilst screaming his mother is a ninny, and instead of legging it out the door, you stand there and take it as he pulverises you into mush faster than a blender on a crack.

Graphic mental images aside, you see my point.

First, there's the issue of stairs. Every venue will have stairs at some point. Walking up and down steps easily is not easy to do in heels. Thankfully health and safety laws have become insane over the past few years so at least there's a rail to cling on to. If you're in one of those dingy, grotty, underground clubs in south - east London, then chances are the owner wouldn't have read the safety manual, let alone understood what it meant. Clinging to a wall for support is never classy. Especially if you've had several tequilas. Running to the loo in heels when you're absoloutely desperate is never a good option either.

Secondly, there's other people. Unlike in a club where the music is all sorted from behind a DJ booth and everyone is dancing in some fashion or another, gigs have stages. Stages involve equipment. This usually involves several guys (and gals) running around screaming about lost leads, stolen plectrums and perferated kick drums. There is no where to hide from these organised maniacs.

Although in this case, it's not so much the equipment they've lost, rather the band itself...

Once the stage is all set up, there is then the problem of the crowd. There will be a mosh pit. Or a wall of death. Either way there is no escape. These happen on any form of night, not just metal. I was at a pop, funk electro night a few weeks ago (in 6 inch wedges, tut tut) and there was moshing happening there. So yeah, a load of angry, sweaty, hormonal teenagers pushing and shoving, and there's you trying to perfectly balance on those six inches? Not happening. What is happening, is you falling over on your behind, and inflicting several nasty brusies.

Thirdly, you're halfway through the night and you think, oh my feet are beginning to ache, i'll just take them off for a few minutes to rest. Okay, stop right there you absoloute nutter. If you have ever seen a gig floor you'll understand that it is not the most pleasant place to introduce bare feet. It is about the same as walking on a shit load of used hyperdermic needles. There will be spilled drinks. And other forms of bodily fluid. And potentailly broken glass. It's not a nice place. Trying to manoevre on that in heels involves more falling bum over tit. Even thinking about doing it in bare feet makes me want to hug my feet in protection, and then giving myself a tetnus shot.

Solution: wear flats. Or perhaps kitten heels. Chances are everyone else will be wearing either skate shoes or DMs. These are significantly more brutal than a pair of stilletos. If you insist on wearing heels all the time (as I do) then invest in a pair of Doc Martens which have a sensible three inch heel, contrary to what they say, size does matter. They're also insanely comfortable and go with everything.

Do not say I didn't forewarn you.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Last Resort

Sex sells. Fact.

In fact it sells so well that women have been using their bodies to get what they want since the dawn of time. On the other hand, they have also been exploited, abused, harassed, and more often than not, treated lower than dogs not fit to lick a mans boot (here I’m referring to history prior to the Suffrage movement, although given the increase rate in trafficking women rising in Europe, my point still stands).

Enter the music industry.

A beautiful world sugar coated in diamonds and fairy dust, where albums like ‘Aladdin Zane’, songs like ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and artists such as Kurt Cobain are born. A world where music can make your soul glow and bring a smile to your face. When a record label resorts to using sex in order to sell a product, they’ve clearly run out of any other ideas.

Clearly you shouldn’t have to take off your clothes to get a record deal, but obviously this is what the public wants. What the public wants, it gets.

Okay, I’m not na├»ve. Singing, dancing and sex have been intravenously linked since a girl could kick her leg in the air whilst singing a gaudy ballad. It’s funny how things have progressed, from showing the ankles, to the wrist, to our current present day situation which leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.
It's surprising they don't fall over, what with the weight of those feathers on their head.

So does the music industry feed off the sex industry?

In a way. The difference being with sex you know where you stand; it sells and you get paid. Simple.

With record labels it’s far worse. They’re devious and cunning, and more often than not, you’ll be hard pressed to find the money in your hands which they owe you after. How many women, or even men (Elvis was a sex object too you know - although long gone are the days where CNN had to shoot him from the waist up just so girls wouldn't get ‘too hot under the collar.’), reading this are thinking, blast, what more can one possibly do? One has literally done everything to get the industry’s attention: bombarded executives with countless emails, sent demo after demo, performed crappy gigs at crappy venues usually to an empty room (though some of the best bands have played to a non - existent crowd *ahemTheBeatlesahem*) just to get the experience.

Elvis and his infamous pelvis.

Short of setting their trousers on fire (which I don’t think would go down all that well) where do your options lie?

Well you could start by taking off your trousers. What? It’s true. We’ve just established that pretty girls parading around in sparkly hot pants and a corset, wearing enough lipstick to keep Superdrug in business for life is what the public wants.

Oh, what’s that you say?

Too degrading?

You’ve got standards?

Well good for you.

Artists make music for the passion of making music. At least that’s what I’ve always been led to believe. In ye good ol’ days before MTV reared it’s pornographic head, the only way you could listen to music was over the wireless. Or down the local concert hall/opera house. Chances are you couldn’t afford the latter, so large crowds would gather in houses eagerly listening to Vera Lynn belt out tunes that can still bring a tear to your grandmother’s eye. Classy.

Anyway my point, which we may have got to in an incredibly crass way, but it’s thus: if you’re a great musician, then that’s just a fact. You’ll create whatever dream you want to for yourself because it always comes down to raw, unadulterated talent. Girls who wear sparkly hot pants are short lived, one hit wonders riding the wave of commercialism at its best. Girls who can hit a top C and only have to wear a pair of jeans a t - shirt to do it, well, you’re survival rate is higher.

Men too of course. I’m not sexist.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Slit Me This is Good

All - girl bands aren’t all about hating men and burning bras (partly as this has become an increasingly expensive hobby). They’re punky and fun and enjoy rocking out to an awesome guitar riff. Britain during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was sprogging out some of the best in the biz. Yet still, so many are quick to knock female artists. I have no idea why, but if you think girls are untalented and are all angry lesbian pixies who have been messed around by men so many times that they have nothing decent left to sing about (the obvious exception being Kittie, who are just plain awful), then you need to check out The Slits before entirely writing the female sex off as musically dead.

Formed from the ashes of several broken bands, Ari Up, Kate Korus, Suzy Gutsy and Palmolive were the founding members of The Slits in 1976. Damn, I wish I had a name as funky as that. But okay, if we’re going to get technical, The Slits haven’t been an all - girl band from the offset. The line up has changed so many times over the past few decades that you couldn’t keep up with it if even if you tried, but the main thing is that they have always been promoted as an all - girl band. PLUS they supported The Clash AND the Buzzcocks. This is all you really need to know to like them.

Agree or die.

Their first album Cut was a massive hit, and has influenced so many girls to pick up a guitar and release all their anger and frustration through the beautiful power of music. Typical Girls definitely spoke to me the first time I heard it. The lyrics are so punchy and addictive. The meaning of them hits you harder than the morning after the night before, where you knew you should not have had that entire bottle of tequila. Ari’s voice has a Grace Slick - ish element to it; raw and un - altered. A wonderful effect without the harshness of reverb; a far cry away from being a contemporary robot enslaved to the powers of technology. She sounds real.

Their second album also entitled Cut, came 15th in the 20 Sexiest Album Covers Ever. Who could blame the voters - three gorgeous women, wearing nothing but loincloths and caked from head to toe in mud. I mean seriously, check out those ladies below, and tell me you wouldn't be on that faster than a gourmand on a Parisian snail?

If you haven’t heard their version of I Heard it through the Grapevine then shame on you. The intro is epic; acapella harmonies, which goes into what can only be described as an orgasmic bass line. You really can’t help but bob your head in time to the beat, doing the scrunchy, lip pouty face thing (you all know the one I mean).

Up until October 20th 2010, The Slits were still touring. Sadly, the German born lead singer, Ari Up, died after a long struggle with cancer. She will always be remembered as the feisty, dread - locked singer, of a fearsome girl band that rocked the world, and if not that far, then they definitely make Monday mornings just that bit more bearable for me. I’m just sad that I never got to see them live.

You can check out The Slits on Myspace/Twitter/Facebook, and if you like them, have a listen to these bands who are on a similar wavelength: Jerfferson Airplane; Xray Spex; The Capricorns and Mika Miko. The Slits were an absolutely marvellous band and have had an incredible impact on society since the moment they first walked out on stage.

They were very far from being Typical Girls.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Remaining Calm in the face of 'The Celebrity'.

So I have this new PR internship. The company I’m doing it with are absolutely lush. It’s only teeny tiny, but it definitely makes it more personal working for them. One of their current clients are a band called Her And The Colours, and after only having been there one day, I was lucky enough to attend the YouBloom awards a few weeks ago.

YouBloom is an online competition set up by Bob Geldoff (silently screams) in order to hunt down proper talent. By proper talent I don’t mean girls in short skirts propped up against the bar down your local, but no doubt some of those did enter. No, You Bloom is aimed to tap into raw musical talent, the kind of talent that you don’t see on reality programmes such as The X Factor, or Britains Got Talent.

So yes, a few weeks ago, one dark and windy Thursday evening, I trekked across London wearing my beautiful Topshop platform boots to the Cobden Club. Jumped off the bus at Kensal Rise and had 40 minutes to get from the bus stop to the venue. Ample time I thought, given that I hadn’t really thought through my footwear that morning, but they do look so good on.

Anyway, thank god I’d downloaded Google maps for my Blackberry. After many wrong turns, and several wrong streets (I really should start wearing my glasses all the time) I turned up 15 minutes later than I should have done to the Cobden

I was not in the least bit intimidated by several burly men on bouncer duty on the front door, but I did give my dad a ring to let him know that I was still alive, and my lifeless body hadn’t been flung into the Thames somewhere. He has a tendency to worry if I don’t check in when I’m out.

Upon entering the venue I was delighted by the fact that my name was on the PR guest list! There was lots of screaming going on in my head at this time. Obviously I didn't shriek out loud. The likelihood of being thrown out is higher if you do that. I then proceeded to “gracefully” make my way up two flights of stairs, past the VIP bar, up to the room itself. In fact, I had made it in time to see Bob Geldoff himself (more screaming in my head) take to the stage to present the awards to the 2010 You Bloom winners. Actually they are the first winners ever seeing as it was only founded last year.

Coincidentally, and I’m pretty sure that their nationality didn’t play a great part in their winning, but two out of the four artists that got first, second, third and fourth positions came from Ireland. Yeah, I’ll let you figure that one out.

At this point I’d found a little corner to stand in, trying to blend in with the crowd (that primarily consisted of either muscios, musico jouranlists, PR’s etc etc) so when I say I was overwhelmed, that is a massive understatement. And as I stood in my little bubble of over - excitement and listened to the genius that is Bob Geldoff, I realised something. That this is something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to hunt down amazing bands and get them out there. Bob even said that finding new, different and brilliant artists was becoming somewhat of a rarity. The beautiful thing was, was that this competition had managed to find some of the cream of the crop.

Second place went to a three lads from County Derry, known as Intermission. They sounded a bit like Muse had just thrown up Placebo, but this aside they were impeccable musicians. Their vocalist had a slightly whiny voice that reminded me somewhat of Tom DeLonge’s vocals for Angels and Airwaves, but after a few songs, it really started to grow on me. The bassist was divine, and I certainly heard no complaints from the crowd. In fact, looking around, everyone was having a fantastic time listening to their sound. Even the intimidating area right at the front of the stage got filled, so definitely a plus!

The winner was Neev Kennedy. Heralding from County Galway Neev’s style was folk meets rock, and if Norah Jones and Katie Melua had a love child, this is what she would sound like. With beautiful, and somewhat witty lyrics, spot on vocal harmonies and a melody to die for, Neev Kennedy is certainly on the one to watch list. Actually one of her songs entitled Happy Song, was so crazily infectious, I was humming it all the way home. It also did exactly what it meant to, made me happy. Well, happier than I already was, and given the circumstances, that was saying a lot.

Those were pretty much the two bands that stood out for me. I was still riding the adrenalin high that came with standing two inches away from Bob Geldoff himself!! I am absolutely certain that I remained cool and aloof: the perfect picture of professional. So yeah if you’re in a band, and you have a new sound and are finding it difficult to catch a break, then why not take a look at the YouBloom competition. What have you got to lose? There's even a cash prize for the winner!