The great man’s not here to perform himself, but that won’t stop us! Ed Harcourt – Mercury Music Prize nominee, songwriter and producer – and I have teamed up with London’s The Barbican to present Love & Other Crimes: The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood, which will take place on Sunday October 25th.
Ed’s put together an extraordinary band, including members of Portishead, The Bad Seeds, The Magic Numbers and The Invisible, and we’ve already announced a number of the vocalists who will be joining them. These include Josh T. Pearson, Kathryn Williams, Lawrence (of Felt), Kathryn Williams and Caitlin Rose, with more names on the horizon. Expect a few surprises!
By the way, the picture ( is by Simon Leigh, and was taken in 1999 backstage at the Royal Festival Hall before Lee’s first ever solo show. (28 July, 2015)
Lee, Myself & I has now been out a couple of months, and celebrations of its publication have now taken place in London (with performances from Ed Harcourt), Berlin (with performances from Nils Frahm and Fran Healy) and even a remote island on the edge of the Arctic, my beloved Træna, where I read to a packed chapel of heavily clad festival-goers. I also joined John Doran, author of the fantastic Jolly Lad and editor of The Quietus, for readings in Birmingham, Gateshead and Leeds.
More events are on the horizon: on August 17th I will join John Niven, DBC Pierre, John Doran and musician Keeley Forsyth for a night of Whisky & Cigarettes at The Faber Social, 5 Little Portland Street, London, and later that week, on August 21, I will read at the Green Man Festival. In between, I’ll appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with author / journalist Stuart Cosgrove and host Olaf Furniss. The event is on August 18th, costs nothing, and starts at 9pm in the Spiegeltent.
A reading will also take place on September 17th at Concierge in Basel, Switzerland, and there will be more in Berlin, too, with further events planned elsewhere. (July 19, 2015)
So, it’s out! Lee, Myself & I: Inside The very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood is finally on shelves and online. The press has been kind, too: generous praise has come from the likes of Mojo, Uncut, The Guardian, Record Collector, The Quietus, Classic Pop, Drowned In Sound, Rolling Stone Germany, The National (UAE), Louder Than War and Shindig, amongst others, while various radio stations – including BBC 6 Music’s Gideon Coe and Stuart Maconie, plus Berlin’s Flux FM – have invited me onto their shows to discuss the book. There’s more coverage to come, too, and book launches in London (May 21) and Berlin (June 11), plus reading dates with John Doran, author of the extraordinary Jolly Lad, in Birmingham (May 22), Gateshead (May 23), Leeds (May 25) and then Norway’s remote Træna Festival (July 10). Further activity will be announced soon.
And – as Lee would say – by the way… to make sure you’re up to date with readings and other Lee, Myself & I activity, please visit www.facebook.com/leemyselfand and ‘Like’ it. (May 19, 2015)
Heads Held High
Once upon a time, there was a young student music journalist who dreamed of working in the music industry. He spent a little time hanging out with a moody but charismatic singer who’d just signed a record deal with his band. That band went on to become one of the biggest in the world, and the singer soon forgot about the student music journalist. But the student music journalist still remembers the thrill of watching this band grow, and two decades later he’s still writing about music, so he decided to recall those heady days.
Yep, twenty years since Radiohead released The Bends, I’ve written a personal recollection about my various brief encounters with Thom Yorke and his colleagues leading up to the release of that breakthrough record, and why it was such an important album.
“I hear a shuffling sound, or maybe a cough, emanating from a hunched, gnomish figure. It’s Thom, and he’s alone. I hesitate, then shamble over. We exchange pleasantries, but conversation stalls, and Thom begins to look increasingly gloomy. It’s time to get me coat.” (March 3, 2015)
“Where do we go from here?” Try The Quietus.
I can at last confirm the details of my long-promised first book, Lee, Myself & I. Published worldwide by Jawbone Press on May 19, 2015, it tells the story of the eight years in which I worked with Lee Hazlewood – the man best known for writing and producing many of Nancy Sinatra’s greatest hits, including ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin” – and how we became close friends. Recalling conversations we had during some of the adventures we shared, it also tells the story of Lee’s life, often in his own words, as well as the tale behind the last song he ever recorded, whose lyrics I wrote. It is, I hope, a touching, intimate tale that reveals the extraordinary contribution he made to popular culture in not only his work with Nancy, but as a solo artist, a producer, a radio DJ and film maker. It’s also a tale of validation: his and mine.
I’ll be reading from the book in the coming months in various locations, including Oslo’s by:Larm conference/festival on March 7 at 1830 in Mono, though this will only be open to delegates and festival ticket holders. I’ll also be in London on May 21st, in Berlin on June 11, and at Norway’s Træna Festival in early July. Further details of these events, and others that I hope will soon be confirmed, will be announced on Facebook, so sign up on the special Lee, Myself & I page in order not to miss out. I’ll also be posting stuff there regularly, including music, pictures, and material from my own private Lee Hazlewood archives.
You can find out more about the book on Jawbone’s website. Any media looking to offer support can also contact me via the address on the ‘About’ page of this website. (February 12, 2015)
Victoria’s No Longer Secret
Now, this is exciting news that’s been hard to keep to myself. For the last few months, I’ve been involved with an extraordinary film called Victoria, written and directed by Sebastian Schipper (Absolut Giganten, Ein Freund Von Mir, Mitte Ende August). As with Mitte Ende August, I was called in to provide English subtitles, this time with my subtitling colleague, Fabian Schmidt. Absolutely stunned by what is a one camera, one take, 135 minute film – one that I’ve regularly described as the most traumatic I’ve seen since Dancer In The Dark – I volunteered some ideas for the soundtrack and was hired as a music consultant.
If it wasn’t enough of a dream that I get to do a job I’ve always wanted to do, I also succeeded in bringing in none other than the brilliant Nils Frahm to score the film, making the experience even more exciting. The results premiere on Saturday February 7th as part of the competition at the Berlin Film Festival, with a release in Germany later this year (June 11, 2015). I’ll post a trailer and more news about the international release when I get it, or you can follow developments at their Facebook page here. Trust me when I say this is one Berlin film everyone should see, and it really couldn’t be any more different to Oh Boy. (February 4, 2014)
Thirty years ago, I spent days on end listening to U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. I’d rarely heard anything as mysterious as The Edge’s intricate guitar lines, and Bono’s sincerity seemed unquestionable. Returning to it in 2014, I sought to celebrate it, but the plot unravelled the more I explored it. Around the same time, I was chatting with a friend about this sense of disappointment, when another acquaintance approached. “Are you talking about Tony Blair?” they asked. I wasn’t, but I realised I could have been.
“For a while they fulfilled such hopes, but the pure oxygen of their rarefied altitudes made them giddy: they lost touch with the qualities that had put them at the top, and stopped listening. Their growing delusions of grandeur gradually led them to make poor – or at least unpopular – decisions, and people lost faith in their pronouncements, feeling increasingly that they’d been cheated, before, slowly, peeling away from these one-time saviours.” (October 1, 2014.)
Click here to find out what’s even better than the real thing.
Fat White Family Values
Well, this wasn’t meant to happen. Back in London for a few days, I thought I was just going out for a couple of beers and a bite to eat with The Quietus’ Associate editor, Luke Turner, and then the chance to check out his and editor John Doran’s ‘Tip for the Top’: Fat White Family. Despite being weighed down by the cynicism with which Camden can affect a man, I was still so entertained by these raggedy waifs that I proposed I write about them for the website.
“(It’s) The Birthday Party playing Blur’s ‘Country House’. It’s The Libertines without the poetic pretensions. It’s the sound of Duane Eddy turning in his grave after he’s been strangled with his own guitar strings and buried by the Fat Whites themselves.” (September 23, 2014)
More frothing at the mouth here…
Just Popping Out
The latest issue of Classic Pop is out now, featuring my first work as ‘New Album’ Reviews editor. That means I get to take an in-depth look at albums by veteran acts like Erasure, whose The Violet Flame proves to be unexpectedly rewarding, Deacon Blue, Simple Minds, Claudia Brücken and Ali Campbell, as well as shining a light on great records by younger acts like Mr Twin Sister and Kan Wakan. (September 17, 2014)
Ray Sings Hell
I’ve run into Gemma Ray a couple of times in Berlin over the last couple of years, most recently at a Gallon Drunk show. I’d not heard her music, however, until The Quietus asked if I’d like to interview her. A quick listen to Milk For Your Motors convinced me this was a good idea, and a week later I was sitting drinking tea with soy milk in a studio in what was once Tempelhof Airport. Ray turned out to be a good humoured, garrulous lady, something equally evident when she played a low key solo show a week later.
“While her work bears little relation to The Smiths, it nonetheless displays a talent comparable with Morrissey and Marr’s for referencing what came before them – musically and lyrically – while seeking to create something innovative and indispensable. Its guests may be veteran – Suicide’s Alan Vega; Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb; Toby Dammit, who’s collaborated with, among many others, Iggy Pop and Michael Gira – but its outlook is fresh…” (September 1, 2014)
Fire up your motors here.
Twenty years ago, Simon Reynolds coined the phrase ‘post-rock’ to describe bands like Seefeel, Disco Inferno, AR Kane and countless others whom he described as “children of Eno” and who, he argued, were using the studio “to create what he’s called a ‘fictional acoustic space’, rather than simulate the experience of a live hand“. The band who inspired the phrase, however, have slipped the minds of many, perhaps thanks to the fact that they barely existed by the time their debut album, Hex, finally reached public ears. Bark Psychosis’ story hasn’t been told in any great depth before, but I managed to persuade the band’s nominal frontman, Graham Sutton, to travel back in time with me, accompanied by others who worked with him – both musicians and industry associates – during those intense years from the late 1980s to early 1990s.
“We truthfully didn’t give a fuck, apart from getting out of the music what we needed from it. There was always the feeling that it could fuck up at any moment because everything was so open, which of course it often did! But on the occasions it all clicked together, it was a mighty fucking force…” (August 14, 2014)
May the mighty fucking force be with you here.
A Class(ic) Act
Because sometimes a man just can’t keep himself busy enough, it’s been announced that I will be taking over the New Releases section of Classic Pop magazine. This means that, every two months, I will present six pages of what I consider the best new music for the mag’s readers: releases by established acts and new artists alike. The next issue will be out in mid September. There are some genuine surprises in there… (August 12, 2014)
The concept of a guilty musical pleasure has seemed increasingly redundant to me the older I’ve got. A great song is a great song. A great album is a great album. In the past, for instance, I’ve defended Simply Red’s debut album at length for The Quietus, and my fondness for Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s second album is little secret either. So when Spotify announced a chart of their listeners’ Top Guilty Pleasures, and The Quietus asked its contributors to suggest a list of songs they loved and for which they felt no guilt, I got stuck in. Amid this list of 50 classics for which none of us will make an apology, you’ll find me ranting about more than my fair share. And I didn’t even get round to Billy Idol’s ‘Eyes Without A Face’. (They’ve got no human grace, you know…)
“‘Careless Whisper’s crowning glory is a set of lyrics so emotionally transparent as to be distressing. A description of the agonising guilt one feels at having betrayed someone close – and of the torrent of regret that follows – ‘Careless Whisper’ is candid, heartfelt and entirely realistic…” (August 4,2014)
And how do you plea? Find out here.
It’s an odd but pleasantly comforting thought: in July 2008, I visited the tiny archipelago of Træna, off the coast of Northern Norway, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle, to write my first story for The Guardian. After eight more trips there – including two month long stays – I’ve now had the chance to share my experiences (and photos) using all that I’ve learned about the islands for the third volume in The Poor Man’s Connoisseur series of travel guides, of which I am co-writer. This 110+ page book will be given away free to every visitor to this year’s legendary Træna Festival and – The Connoisseur hopes – to all interested parties for years to come.
Blessed with a typically succinct name – Træna: A Poor Man’s Connoisseur Coastal Guide To A Magical World, Far Up North, Out To The Left, And How The Helvete To Get There (All Based On A True Story) – the book is currently only available to festivalgoers, but, if you ask nicely, perhaps I’ll be able to provide a download.
“The journey is the reward, they say. In the case of Træna, it’s not entirely true: this epic pilgrimage will lead you to even greater joy, so you get twice the bang for your buck. Træna may seem to exist on the cutting edge of nowhere, but as you travel along the coastline, it’s easy to recognise that the scenery here is worth the struggle of standing to attention on deck in stiff, cold winds – or at least fighting for a window seat. And that’s just for the first hour or so. Sex hungry whales haven’t even begun to pursue you yet.” (July 8, 2014)
Give Me Some Space
My love affair with much of the Erased Tapes label’s output continues. Now Peter Broderick hooks up with Greg Haines for Greg Gives Peter Space, a short dub-inspired collection that’s perfect for late summer nights or hungover post-World Cup mornings. In a nutshell, “it beg(s) the question: what better reason to make music than for the sheer fun of it?” (July 3, 2014)
Further consideration can be read here on The Quietus…
The Boy Is Back In Town
With Jan Ole Gerster’s debut film Oh Boy (now retitled A Coffee In Berlin) at last released in the US – I insist upon laying claim to the English subtitles – German Films Quarterly asked me to write a profile of the director. So I tracked him down in Italy, where he was working on a new script, and spoke to him about how he ended up writing and directing the film despite never completing a single short film for the German Film and Television Academy.
“I realised that not going to school, drifting through Berlin, hanging out in cafes, could be the subject of my film. I finished that script at the very last second: they really were about to kick me out. They were like, ‘We’ve been asking you for five years to make short films, and then you come along with a feature film script. Do you think this can be your graduation film?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure!’” (May 21, 2014)
The full feature is available to read online here on pages 8-9.
Keep Frahm And Carry On
I love Nils Frahm, me. That live album last year, Spaces? Genius. That 12″ collaboration with Olafur Arnalds? Blissful. Not sure he’s ever done anything I’ve disliked. And now he’s had his own instrument designed. I spoke to him for Electronic Beats about the art of piano making and why his Una Chorda is so revolutionary…
“I think instrument builders play one of the biggest roles in the music industry. I’m really aware that people who create instruments for musicians are as important as the musicians. Why should I be the star? The person who builds the instrument should be a star as well.” (May 19, 2014)
Read more here.
There’s Goldfrapp In Them Hills
With perhaps my favourite Goldfrapp record to date – the remarkable, especially pastoral Tales Of Us – coming out, I travelled to London to meet Alison Goldfrapp for the cover of the spring, 2014 edition of Electronic Beats. In the comfortable surroundings of a private members club, she proved an initially cautious but, in the end, rather lovely interviewee. It also turned out we had a number of things in common: a Hampshire upbringing, a military father, and a fascination with Scandinavia…
“Whenever there was a full moon we drove to the sea and swam. We lived about an hour and a half away, so it would be like “Full moon! Get in the car!” That was one of the last things I did with my father: swim in the sea under a full moon.” (May 17, 2014)
You can read the full interview at the Electronic Beats website.
After the success of Oslo: A Poor Man’s Connoisseur Guide to Happy Living in One of the Most Expensive Cities in the World – an updated edition will be published in the foreseeable future, by the way – we moved to Tromsø, where we applied the same high standards of absurdity in identifying what it is that makes the place so special. You can see that in the title alone:
Tromsø – A Poor Man’s Connoisseur Guide To The Best And ‘Wurst’ Of The ‘Coolest’ City In The North, Except Perhaps Reykjavik, With Grateful Thanks To The Gulf Stream
The book is currently only available in Tromsø – where by all accounts it’s becoming rather popular – but we hope that will change some time soon. And you can expect news of The Poor Man’s Connoisseur’s next activities very soon indeed…
“The nature surrounding Tromsø is… Oh, come on! It’s fucking spectacular? Seriously! Mountains, fjords, flora, fauna and fornication. In the fucking Arctic! Puffins! Sea eagles! Whales! Even the muskoxen, a real stayer! What the fuck else do you need to know?” (May 16, 2014)
If you’re particularly keen to see a copy, drop me a mail and I can perhaps arrange a pdf in special circumstances…
A Crushing Blow
Sensitive men like me are easily scared by rock at its most aggressive, but Oslo’s Deathcrush are simultaneously so much fun that there’s no time for fear. Like a cartoon Sonic Youth, the trio’s first three singles have been perfect exercises in noise-pop, and their live shows are both ferocious and fiercely entertaining. The Quietus and by:Larm News felt it was time to talk to them about Rod Stewart’s former drum kit and why they’re happy living in the future.
Don’t you get tired of men in their forties like myself turning up to your shows and getting overexcited?
ÅBR: Nope! Our most devoted fan is sixty, and has probably seen us twenty times or more, with the set lists at home to prove it, and videos from every show up on his YouTube.
LN: And that dad in Southampton. How can you get tired of a forty year old dad doing push-ups in front of the stage? And you’re forgetting the underage boys sneaking in to see us. Hopefully they’ll stick with us till they’re sixty too. And all the ‘I’m not a lesbian, but, erm…’ girls. And the deer-in-the-headlights, ‘I don’t really like that type of music, but I love you guys!’ crowd. (February 20, 2014)
Learning Things The Prague Way
Over two decades ago, I visited a London recording studio to interview Czech band Ecstasy Of St Theresa, the first act to record for a Western label after their country’s Velvet Revolution. At the time, they were immersed in the making of what would turn out to be Free-D – Original Soundtrack, a remarkable record that was light years away from the fierce shoegazing of their Western debut EP, … Fluidtrance Centauri….
The story behind the band is one I’ve wanted to tell for many years, so the twentieth anniversary of the record’s release seemed like the perfect opportunity to speak to the band’s main man Jan Muchow, as well as those around him: producers, A&Rs and collaborators. It’s a tale that takes in, amongst other things, The Jesus & Mary Chain, John Peel, Philip Glass, Absinthe and a guitar belonging to one of The La’s.
“If you broke the rules, you had to stop performing live and find a job. Communism didn’t allow you not to have a job, so if you didn’t get a job, you’d go to prison…” (Feb 17, 2014)
Frankie Say: Buy Classic Pop!
The band may have declined my requests for interviews, but ZTT masterminds Paul Morley and Trevor Horn, as well as The Art of Noise’s Anne Dudley, all contributed to my examination of the story behind Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s 1984 debut album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, for Classic Pop magazine.
The feature also happened to be my first cover story for a national magazine, which is perhaps fitting since it was one of the first records I ever fell in love with.
“Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s initial salvo of devastatingly perfect singles represented pop at its technological finest, with their first three topping the British charts, making them only the second band ever to have achieved such a feat…”
In addition, you’ll also find my reviews of albums by artists including Marc Almond, St Vincent and Midnight Oil. (Jan 24, 2014)
Someone Get Me A Band Aid
“Sacred cows are there to be slain,” a friend reminded me after I faced a deluge of criticism for my deconstruction of Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ on The Quietus. Plenty of others, however, were clearly in tune with my critique of the classic Xmas charity single’s patronising lyrics, and found plenty to smile at too. The first of the site’s annual Wreath Lectures was designed to make people question the 29 year old track’s text, something which – very much like a national anthem, or an established hymn – I argued was often sung without any thought for its substance.
Some defended Bono’s “Well, tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you” line – for which I voiced my particular distaste – by suggesting that it was ironic. In fact, some went so far as to suggest much of the song was ironic. Whether or not that was the case, the song is so draped in glib sincerity that it’s hard to discern any sense of said irony in its delivery, and it’s from that we have to take its meaning. And that meaning, I maintain, is clumsily, odiously patronising.
“There shouldn’t be a single vinyl copy of the record in existence that isn’t scarred by a deep scratch leading from Bono’s moment all the way to the run-out groove…” (December 10, 2013)
Feed the world here.
Mad About The (Oh) Boy
And so Jan Ole Gerster’s debut film, Oh Boy, rounds off the year with yet another festival win, this time at the all-encompassing European Film Awards, where it picked up the esteemed Discovery Award. This is in addition to it being one of the nine films picked for Germany’s foreign-language 2014 Oscar shortlist.
The trailer – in all its English subtitled glory – is also finally available here. The film is, put simply, wonderful. My subtitles merely bow to Jan Ole’s script. (December 8, 2013)
Popping Out Again
Classic Pop Issue 8 is out now, and features my lengthy story about A-ha’s debut album, Hunting High And Low. Though getting an interview with them seemed a doomed prospect – after all, they broke up after a farewell tour 2011 – my timing was fortuitous: both Morten Harket and Magne Furuholmen were due to attend a BMI Awards ceremony soon after my request, and their manager invited me to meet with them in the plush surroundings of The Dorchester Hotel in advance of the ceremony. Pål, meanwhile, was happy to answer questions via email. It turned out to be a memorable, if somewhat surreal afternoon…
“I understand three dimensional space. It’s my thing, in a way. I know what something looks like from behind if I see it from the front because I understand the lines and what they need to do. If you see something – that something could be a woman, or it could be a horse, it can be a man – you can understand a lot about what you don’t see by what you see. That is fascinating, because it’s almost like a game.”
There’s more like this – as well as further contributions, including a live review of Goldfrapp in Berlin – on the news stands now, or order a copy from http://www.classicpopmag.com/. (December 5, 2013)
Update: you can now read the a-ha feature at the band’s website.
Pastel (De Natas) Colours
I’ve never been to Portugal before, and what better excuse than a weekend in Braga, a city that’s in fact the country’s third biggest, even if few people seem aware even of its existence. The occasion was the Semibreve Festival, an intimate celebration of exploratory musical and digital art. It’s highlights were without doubt The Haxan Cloak, a sonic hurricane force, and Pastel De Nata, one of the finest delicacies I’ve ever enjoyed. I tried to sum up a fabulous weekend for The Quietus.
“It is a performance of, as they say, terrible beauty. Or, as a friend of mine might have put it, I could have shat tears.” (November 29, 2013)
Get a taste of it here.
Ivo! Ivo! It’s Off To Work I Go!
4AD were without a doubt one of the most important British independent labels off all time (and plenty would argue they remain so). On the eve of the publication of a new book by Martin Aston – Facing The Other Way: The 4AD Story – I got to talk to the two men who defined the label’s 1980s and 1990s golden years: co-founder / A&R Ivo Watts-Russell and chief design artist Vaughan Oliver, the men behind some of the most idiosyncratic music and artwork the music industry’s known.
“Even if you’re spending thirty dollars, I don’t think it’s much to spend on something that’s a nice object that gives you pleasure from looking at it and wants you to be delicate and tender with it, but actually inside contains this incredible musical work.” (October 21, 2013)
Read all about 4AD’s amazing “planet of sound” here.
Top Of The Hill
Berlin based Clara Hill has been around for a while, but it’s taken her six years to follow up her first three albums for Sonar Kollektiv. Back at last, she’s reinvented herself as a singer of experimental indie-electronic torch songs, a far cry from the smooth grooves of her former work.
“I just wanted to release my unborn ideas with my own production. I wanted to break the smooth sound of the past, which sometimes, in retrospect, lacks depth. I wanted get into authenticity and the free development of ideas. Now I can let out ideas which were always inside, but which never found the way out. I think I can express better what I always, over the years, felt.” (October 29, 2013)
Read Clara Hill walking the walk for The Quietus here.
Higher Than The Sun
Like Travis, Morcheeba aren’t perhaps an obvious subject for The Quietus. But their story is one of endurance, and co-founder Ross Godfrey reveals that it’s not only musical endurance that they’ve had to practise. Over a couple of pints in a South London pub, the guitarist and songwriter shares tales of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery that would shame most rock gods, while telling the tale of a band once beloved of the trip hop crew, and who’ve now released eight albums…
“I always thought that rock & roll was a good thing, really. I knew there was a chance that you could choke on your own vomit and die, but I’d pretty much convinced myself that wasn’t going to happen to me!” (October 18, 2013)
Pour yourself a drink and settle in for a ride…
Tailored To Perfection
Madcap musical scientist with the porn star’s name, Dirk Dresselhaus – a.k.a. Schneider TM – has been a part of my life for a decade and a half now. During that time he’s dug up my garden looking for corpses (don’t ask), played me records made by indigenous pygmies (no, seriously), and made music of his own which is amongst some of the most ‘out there’ I’ve heard. He’s currently on a serious solo trip into the freeform unknown: first there was Construction Sounds, about which I wrote last year, and now there’s Guitar Sounds, a follow up that replaces the noise of buildings being renovated with the sound of guitars being destroyed.
An eloquent raconteur, Schneider also speaks many wise words on both the liberating nature of improvisation and the shallow nature of contemporary ‘alternative’ music.
“Whatever makes sound can be music. But many things that count as music are not. They’re just representative sounds for marketing strategies…” (September 25, 2013)
Schneider tells his story here.
That Kitchen Sinking Feeling
It’s the interviewer’s worst nightmare. You sit with a band for ninety minutes as they pour their heart out, banter and confide in equal measures, then hours later discover that the recording has failed. Never trust technology. Still, you can trust Kitchens Of Distinction, whose Patrick Fitzgerald and Julian Swales rejoined me, this time on the phone, a week later to dig over the same territory again: namely their criminally underrated career and their ‘accidental comeback’.
“Would-have-beens? Could-have-beens? Should-have-beens? For a long time, no one even asked. This is why it’s so surprising that Kitchens Of Distinction – the ‘shoegazers’ who stared at the stars, the ‘dream-pop’ moment that pop historians slept through, the architects of ‘sonic cathedrals’ left to crumble – have returned to life.”
Everything and the kitchen sink is here in an article that Patrick Fitzgerald called “quite possibly the most definitive piece about KOD ever written.” Aw, shucks. (September 23, 2013)
As Tears Go By
So, there’s no point spending an hour and a half on the phone with Curt Smith, another hour and a half on the phone with Roland Orzabal, and further time with the A&R who signed their first band, the A&R who signed Tears For Fears themselves, and the man who produced their debut, The Hurting, without doing something with all that chat, is there? No. I thought not. So I turned it all into an epic ‘oral history’ of Tears For Fears’ early years, from their childhood all the way up to the release of The Hurting itself. Like Andrex, it’s long. Very, very long. But, like L’Oréal might insist, I like to think it’s worth it.
“[My parents] ran an entertainments agency for pretty much Working Men’s Clubs. We had a ventriloquist come round and he taught me ventriloquism. All the women were strippers. My Mum trained strippers and was a stripper herself, and my Dad used to enjoy that as well!” (Roland Orzabal)
Read more of their chatter for what is my centenary (!) article for The Quietus here.
Holding Back The Tears
Another issue of Classic Pop – the sixth – hits the news stands, and this time I’ve provided an in-depth look at the making of Tears For Fears’ classic debut, The Hurting. Chats with Roland Orlazabal and Curt Smith proved fascinating, and whet my appetite for a return match, I hope, in a couple of years when their second (and greatest) album, Songs From The Big Chair, celebrates its own thirtieth anniversary.
Also within the magazine’s pages are my full page live review of Depeche Mode’s recent Berlin show at Olympiastadion and album reviews of – amongst others – Helena Bonham-Carter’s singing debut as a guest on interior designer Nicky Haslam’s bonkers album, Midnight Matinee. (August 2, 2013)
Erling Ramskjell is not your average musician. He lives on the island of Træna, where I initially encountered him in 2008 – the first year I attended the annual Træna Festival – and he works part time as a fisherman when he’s not composing curious hybrids of indie, folk and more.
You won’t have heard of him before unless you’re a fan of Norwegian music sung in a rare dialect, but with his debut under his own name that’s changed, since he’s now employing English, albeit in his own unique fashion. Read more about his new album Fraillaments here on The Quietus.
“Fraillaments is unlikely to trouble the front pages of hipster bibles, it’s true, but it operates in a world that, much like its creator’s insular environment, is both recognisable and strangely alien…” (July 10, 2013)
I’ve gone on record many times about my love for much of the early ZTT catalogue, and this latest attempt to mine some of its treasures – alongside those of Stiff Records, the label its owners bought further down the line – gave me another opportunity to explore the strengths and weaknesses of its product (a word of which the label itself would approve). Zambient One is a compilation that doesn’t always hit the sweet spot, but is nonetheless cleverly put together and worthy of your time.
“During their incipient 1980s heydays, ZTT Records were, one might argue, the label that turned flogging a dead horse into an art form…”
Lots more words beneath this one: ‘here’. (June 14, 2013)
It’s been a while since I contributed anything other than listings to Slow Travel Berlin, but the launch of Flaneur magazine – there’s no ‘^’ on that ‘a’, so don’t start accusing me of not being able to speak French, you hear? – was a good excuse to return to their pages. This new publication’s goal is to shine a light on a city by looking in depth at just one of its streets, and for their first issue they chose Berlin’s Kantstrasse. I spoke to the founder and editorial team about their inspirations, intentions and whether West Berlin is the new East Berlin. Read all about it here. (May 6, 2013)
Does The Pope Shit In The Woods?
I never asked Sinead O’Connor that question, but I think I know how she’d have answered. Something of a hero of mine since the release of her debut album in 1987, she’s always had opinions as powerful as her voice. The brevity of our conversation – she arrived late on the phone from another interview, and had to rush to a radio station soon afterwards – sadly prevented me from getting into the kind of depth I’d have enjoyed, but hell! It’s Sinead O’Connor. And once you’ve heard Sinead O’Connor sing ‘Troy’, you’ll always be grateful just to hear her voice. Furthermore, a hat like hers is an excuse for anything.
“I’m not joking when I say that the music business was created for people who weren’t quite criminal enough to go to jail, and weren’t quite mental enough that they’re nut-heads, but at the same time weren’t able to function within a ‘normal’ society, so that they had to create the music business for us so that we could contribute usefully…”
Press the button here. (June 5, 2013)
How We Learned To Hate Travis & Why We Might Be Wrong
That was in fact the original title of my latest piece for The Quietus, a lengthy and occasionally philosophical – by my standards, anyway – interview with Fran Healy of the multi-million selling Scottish band Travis. As the piece suggests, I’ve never had anything especially positive to say about the group, but have also never had any reason to dislike them. Meeting Healy by chance in a bar, and then hearing their new record, made me wonder why people are so dismissive of his band when their greatest offence is to be ‘nice’. Healy was game for an in-depth discussion of how we react to music and why…
“Andy (MacDonald, Independiente boss) got us these framed discs that I’ve never hung on the wall. It’s about three metres long with nine platinum discs in it. It’s a joke! You’d see it in a parody of a rock and roll documentary. That made me think, ‘Maybe we pushed it too far’. And that spoiled it a little bit for us. Everyone’s sick of you! Even I was like, ‘take this shit off the radio now! Really! Will you go away?’”
Get stuck in here… (May 28, 2013)
Hit The North!
I’d never really planned to see The Magnetic North. The album had passed me by somewhat, and only the persistence of the band’s publicist persuaded me to give up the first truly warm night of spring for the confines of Berlin’s Volksbühne Theatre. Perhaps it was my sehnsucht for island life – the Træna Festival is still some weeks away – but the band’s beautifully arranged live ode to the Orkney Islands proved genuinely moving. I was consequently moved to write about it for The Quietus here.
“The way Erland Cooper likes to tell it, the story starts with a dream, one in which the Orcadian musician – best known as the front man of Erland And The Carnival – is visited by the ghost of a long dead fellow citizen of the Orkney Islands, Betty Corrigall…” (May 24, 2013)
Berghain has been a (ahem) temple of dance for a while now, but rarely does that dance include ballet. May 2013, however, has seen the Staatsballet Berlin take over the building’s Halle, where they’ve worked with Henrik Schwarz, Marcel Dettman & Frank Wiedemann and DIN to create an extraordinary evening. It’s been sold out throughout its run for good reason, but I get to tease you with my report from the show right here… (May 21, 2013)
The Boy’s Gotta Have It!
Last night, Jan Ole Gerster’s Oh Boy – the film I subtitled in English what seems like an age ago – swept the board at the Lolas, the German Film Academy Awards. It’s been picking up prizes for some time now, and rightly so, but this time Jan Ole went home with the Best Film and Best Director awards, while his star, Tom Schilling, was the winner of the Best Actor prize.
Meanwhile, Cheri MacNeil, of Dear Reader – a band whose press biographies I’ve also written since their first album for City Slang in 2009 – picked up the award for Best Score.
So… the chances of those outside Germany getting to see this magical, low key beauty just became a little better. Until then, you can get a taste of the film by visiting production company Schiwago Film’s website and following the links to the English trailer, the second video on the dedicated Oh Boy page. (April 27, 2013)
Talking Loud & Clear
Because, basically, I can’t write enough about Talk Talk, I leapt at the chance to contribute to the beautiful Upon Paper magazine, a publication about as big as a football pitch. Asked to provide something that spoke of artist James Marsh’s influence on the band”s aesthetic – he was responsible for pretty much all their cover artwork – I focussed on their third album, The Colour Of Spring, “a tipping point that enables their career to be divided into pre- and post-…”
If you can afford it, I highly recommend picking up the magazine itself, but otherwise the piece is now online here. (April 4, 2013)
It’s not often that I get asked to tell a story about a pineapple. It’s even less often that I get asked to tell a story about a pineapple by a Dutch journalist I’ve never met. But I was. So I told the story. And it’s a good story. It’s not actually mine, so I can say that.
If you want to hear my – or, to be more accurate, my friend Keith’s – story about the pineapple and The Berlin Wall, follow this link and listen to the Soundcloud player… (March 12, 2013)
Hot on the heels of my chat for The Quietus with Ed Harcourt about his favourite thirteen albums came another similar discussion, this time with Iceland’s rather fine Neo-Classical musician Ólafur Arnalds. Rushed off his feet, he’d perhaps not had as much time to think about his selection as Ed the previous week, but nonetheless this was an interesting collection of albums from a thoroughly lovely fellow.
“I’ll tell you what: the new Destiny’s Child single is one of the best pop songs in years…” This and further enlightenment is available for your eyes here. (March 11, 2013)
Harcourt In The Act
I spent a very pleasant ninety minutes on Skype recently with Ed Harcourt discussing his 13 favourite albums for The Quietus’ Baker’s Dozen series. He’s a talker, is our Ed, but a highly entertaining one who knows how to give good quote. From Tom Waits to Big Star via Gravediggaz and Nine Inch Nails, his selection is full of surprises and provokes more than a few anecdotes. “I’m a bit obsessed with RZA. I like the cut of his gib!”
More Harcourtian wisdom is available here. (March 4, 2013)
Just Popping Out
It’s remiss of me not to have pointed this out earlier, but I’m now a regular contributor to the recently launched and rather fine Classic Pop magazine. Their third issue came out earlier his month – February 7, 2013, to be precise – and features my in-depth interview with none of than Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. (I’d therefore like to take this opportunity to apologise to my sister for the grief I gave her as a youngster. ‘Chant No. 1’ is worth its weight in ‘Gold’ alone. Pun intended.)
In previous editions of this bimonthly publication you can find me writing at length about Duran Duran – I spoke to John Taylor at length about his band’s career for Issue 1 – and also The Human League, whose catalogue I explore in Issue 2.
More information about the magazine is available here. (February 19, 2013)
The Wisdom Of Abrahams
A practitioner of ambient music under his own name, though he’s collaborated with plenty of others less inclined to that form, Leo Abrahams’ latest – a mini album – is rather different, and rather lovely.
“These are carefully crafted, beautifully realised songs that are over far too soon.”
A more lengthy review for the BBC is here. (February 19, 2013)
Ghosts In The Machine
Once upon a time Nicolas Fromageau was in M83. But after two albums, he moved on, and ten years later he’s back with his new band’s first full length album. I took a trip to Paris to hang out in their studio, smoke cigarettes and talk about the influences on their ferocious debut of Sonic Youth, Justin Timberlake and an act apparently called Elf.
“First I wanted to do a typical Joy Division song, actually, very hypnotic, then I thought, ‘Fuck off, let’s do some dissonance with guitars.’ I wanted it to sound like Thurston jamming with Peter Hook…”
French banter for The Quietus starts here. (February 19, 2013)
Atoms For Peace Be With You
I’m not going to say that Radiohead can do no wrong. But I maintain they’re one of the few global acts out there who consistently surprise with their inventiveness, and the news that the long-promised Atoms For Peace album – which finds Yorke working with, amongst others, producer Nigel Godrich and Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea – couldn’t help but be exciting. Did it live up to expectations?
“It displays the same twitchy rhythms and occasionally genial sincerity that Yorke displays with his onstage dancing.”
Further thoughts for the BBC are here. (7 February, 2013)
OMG It’s OMD
For some odd reason, I was the first person to speak to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s Andy McCluskey about their second album since reforming, English Electric. Though a far longer feature about the band’s entire career is due to run in Classic Pop magazine in April, I shared the lowdown about the record with The Quietus.
“A typewriter is designed to type things onto a page, not make a clicking noise when you hit the key. A steam engine is not designed to go ‘chuff chuff’. That’s an audio waste product of the inefficiency of its engine. And as the world has modernised, the accidental audio by-products, waste products, of the things that have become concrete music are going to be less and less because the designers have designed out the waste so that the machinery of the modern world has actually become more silent.”
More rather fascinating theories can be dissected here. (February 5, 2013)
Darkstars In Our Eyes
I’d tweeted about the brilliance of this album within days of receiving it, and still loved it many weeks later. So Darkstar were warned I might wax lyrical, and they did nothing to stop it.
” It’s the kind of record, riddled with familiar tropes but delivered in an often startling fashion, that begs for journalistic similes.”
The extravagance starts here, courtesy of The Quietus. (January 31, 2013)
A request from The Quietus to speak to Anton Maiof, the man behind the music of Anton Maiovvi, not only led me to the discovery of ‘Horror Disco’, an unlikely but rather wonderful genre of music. I also found out that Anton whips up a mean, if somewhat unique, lasagne.
“He’s like a cop who wakes up and drinks whisky. I think he’s probably an Italian who wants to be an American. So he’s kind of modelled himself on the Miami Vice guys, but he can’t lose that Italian side. I think he’s a bit of a playboy, but it’s not glamorous…?”
No recipes, but plenty of words here. (January 29, 2013)
I mean that in the nicest possible way. Nils Frahm just keeps getting better. Even when he’s playing with nine fingers after he fell of his bunk bed. Hence the title: Screws were required to put things back together.
“These are deceptively simple, minimalist sketches in which the personality of the piano – its timbre, the creak of its hammers – is of as much importance as the performer’s.”
Hammer out your own thoughts by reading mine on the BBC here. (2 January, 2013)
Tinseltime In The Rain
Lovely Tracey Thorn has made a Christmas record. And I may even listen to it over Christmas. That doesn’t happen often.
“It’s in stark contrast to Gabrielle Aplin’s cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love for John Lewis’ latest TV commercial.”
Read the review for the BBC in full here. (28 November, 2012)
My Own Private Glasgow
The reissue of The Blue Nile’s first two albums, A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats, was the perfect excuse to indulge in a little nostalgia. With only 13 bonus tracks across the two releases, I felt more inclined to examine what the records actually meant to me, how they impacted upon my life, and, in particular, my vision of Glasgow itself.
“The Blue Nile’s world was a mesmeric mixture of monochrome shades and subdued tones, realistic but not real. It was like a movie, its set built upon a Hollywood hillside – it was too exotic for Pinewood Studios, after all – and designed by Edward Hopper for a film scripted by Larry McMurtry and directed by Tony Richardson. It was peopled by vividly drawn characters who suffered but survived, the distant promise of better times ahead edging them forwards.”
The full story is here. (November 20, 2012)
I loved Lindstrøm & Christabelle’s Real Life Is No Cool. I was therefore excited to hear of his second solo album in 2012, Smallhans, and volunteered my services to the BBC. They accepted my review, and it’s here… (November 16, 2012)
Returning to Peter Gabriel’s So after many years, I was amazed to discover just how deeply ingrained within me its nine songs are. Asked to review the deluxe reissue by The Quietus, I found myself buried in its history as much as its content, and the resulting 3,000 word article takes a look at both in depth.
“The idea that the ex-public schoolboy would top album charts around the world, help change the face of music videos, and arguably dissuade countless people from committing suicide – an extraordinary claim for a musician – was unlikely to have crossed many minds when Gabriel stepped into the cowshed that had been converted into studios in his Avon countryside garden at the start of sessions for So.”
Read more here. (October 30th, 2012)
I’ve wanted to write this story for a long, long time: how Leslie Winer, former supermodel, a.k.a. ©, accidentally invented Trip Hop. Witch, her debut (and, to date, only) album haunted me during the early 1990s, and only now, twenty years later, has someone – The Wormhole – decided to pay her her dues with the re-release of her masterpiece alongside a compilation drawing upon that and her work, often unreleased, since. I got to talk to her in a rare interview for The Quietus. At the very least, check out the music… (October 29, 2012)
I confess that I wasn’t a fan of Cody ChesnuTT’s first album, The Headphone Masterpiece. But his second album, ten years later, has proved to be a regular visit to my speakers, and I got to say as much for the BBC. Press here if you want to find out more. (October 22, 2012)
What A Herbert!
It seems that I’m Berlin’s new resident, English Herbert Grönemeyer expert. If you can bear to hear German spoken badly, there’s an interview online here from Deutschlandradio Kultur in which I discuss the German legend’s new English language album with Susanne Burg. Have some sympathy for poor ole me, however: I wasn’t aware the interview was going to be in a foreign tongue until minutes before it started. Still, their website at one stage described me as a ‘Musik Schriftsteller’, and that ain’t bad. (October 19, 2012)
OK. ‘Pants’ is a little strong. But it was hard not to feel a little disappointed by Matt Thorne’s lengthy analysis of the work of Prince Rogers Nelson. Credit due to the man for examining his work in such depth, but if you’re not familiar with vast swathes of Prince’s music – much of it hard, if not impossible to track down – then this may simply prove too much. Nonetheless, it was undeniably enjoyable to write about both the book and Prince himself here. (October 4, 2012)
Anyone For Nookie?
The famously Welsh John Cale is much more than just the co-founder of The Velvet Underground, and his new album – the mischievously titled Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood – provides proof of his versatility. My review for BBC Music is online now here. (October 2, 2012)
Batting For The Wrong Team?
It turns out that criticising Bat For Lashes for not being perfect can prove controversial. My often positive review for the BBC Music site may not have unleashed torrents of fury, but it certainly upset a couple of fans, and not because I employed the word ‘chiropteran’. The brickbats started flying here. (October 1, 2012)
‘Burging’ On The Brilliant
When I first heard that Tim Burgess of The Charlatans had collaborated with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner for Tim’s second solo album, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the concept. But it turns out that Oh No I Love You is a wonderful record completely undeserving of my cynicism and, indeed, of a pun as bad as that in the headline above. Apologies for both these things. But I more than make up for them in my praise for the collection on The Quietus. My in-depth review can be read here. (September 21, 2012)
Boy, Oh, Boy
Great news as Oh, Boy, the beautiful black & white film set in contemporary Berlin that I subtitled on behalf of director Jan Ole Gerster, picks up three awards at the Oldenburg Film Festival, including recognition from the all American jury. More details of the awards can be found here in the Hollywood Reporter, and you can see the trailer – sadly without subtitles at this stage – here, or on the subtitling page of the ‘Other Work’ section of this very site (ie here). The film is released in Germany on November 1, 2012, with international release dates to follow. It’s a genuinely touching story about the unravelling of a man’s life as he searches for a decent cup of coffee. That’s how I like to think of it, anyway. (September 18, 2012)
Yeah. I’m on Twitter. @WyndhamWallace. (For as long as I can bear it, 2012)
The publication of a book celebrating Talk Talk, as well as a double CD tribute album, might seem like an occasion for celebration to a Talk Talk head like myself. Sadly, however, both projects – while worthy – leave a little to be desired in their execution. The Quietus asked me for my thoughts, as well as running an extract from the estimable Chris Robert’s portion of the book. It’s here. (September 13, 2012)
Pet’s Go Crazy
The Pet Shop Boys came to Berlin for a globally streamed, one off 45 minute show. West End Girls being the first 7″ single I ever bought – unless you count the second hand copy of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ b/w ‘V2 Schneider’ from Notting Hill Gate Record & Tape Exchange, and, actually, you probably should – I begged and squealed until I got a ticket. Was it worth it? Hmmm. Read my Quietus review here. (Sept 7, 2012)
Bearing It All
The BBC has published my rave review for the new Grizzly Bear album, a record which took its time to win me over but did so comprehensively. Read it here. (6 September, 2012)
World Party for the World Service
My review of the World Party 5CD set, Arkeology, is now online here. It comes with an Any Year Diary, don’t you know? (The 5 CDs. Not the review. The pay’s not that good.) (29 August, 2012)
Herbie Goes ‘Banana’!
Another piece for The Quietus, this time about Germany’s most successful musician of all time, the star of Das Boot, and boss of cult label Groenland Records.
“Does anyone need anything except bank loans from a country that may formerly have given us Kraftwerk, Can, Einstürzende Neubauten, Atari Teenage Riot, Boney M, Rammstein, Propaganda and Neu, but whose charts are still known in the popular consciousness as the second home of David Hasselhoff? What can Grönemeyer possibly add to the party that Scorpions haven’t already?”
Read the full story here. (August 22, 2012)
WorldWideWallace Is Live!
It’s taken a while, but finally it’s here: www.wyndhamwallace.com, a showcase for my writing and photography, as well as other work, including lyrics, links to films I have subtitled, artwork to which I have contributed and whatever takes my fancy.
I’ll try to update the news section regularly with news of associated activities. Keep checking back, and feel free to drop me a message at info @ wyndhamwallace dot com (30 August 2012)
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