Song, by Toad

Archive for October, 2009

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Excess Baggage

LiamMaher [The first part of this week's Sunday Supplement was written by Blueback Hotrod photographer and all-round pish-talker Dylan]

Earlier this week, Liam Maher, frontman of Flowered Up, died aged 41.

As any good student of the baggy scene will recall, London’s Flowered Up rose to a brief period of prominence at the ecstasy-fuelled, rave-influenced periphery of indie music in the early 1990s. A commonly used description of the band is the “cockney Happy Mondays”.

With just one album and a couple of singles making up the band’s complete discography, it’s difficult to draw anything other than such broad comparisons. In fact, theirs might have been the briefest of footnotes in the story of alternative music, had it not been for one of those singles in particular; their exquisitely daft, magnificently bemusing and utterly irresistible opus, Weekender.

With the full-length version clocking-in at a jaw-dropping 13 minutes, Weekender was quite literally one of the baggy scene’s biggest anthems. Astonishingly, given its epic proportions, there’s barely a wasted bar of music in the song. Raucous guitar riffs soar as the song rollercoasters from one sequence to the next, powerfully driven forward by the piledriving locomotive provided by the rhythm section.

The song; a bittersweet, condescending ballad of the nation’s working class twenty-somethings, stuck in their offices and factories five days a week, and only escaping as far as the local bars and clubs each weekend, could have easily ended up as another of the countless lumpen, turgid facsimiles anonymous young boys in baggy jeans and brightly-coloured sweatshirts were pumping onto Top Of the Pops on a weekly basis at the time, had it not been for a sense of wild inventiveness in the composition and arrangement coupled –crucially – with a disciplined craftsmanship in the performance and musicianship.

The syncopated drum pattern is classic indie, but delivered with imagination, expression and vigour, while the bassline is remarkably accomplished throughout the entirety of the track, providing a swaggering, funky groove sadly missing from so much of today’s guitar music.

The song itself is something of a ‘concept’ piece. The sections are meant to loosely illustrate a week in work, leading to a night in the pub in the first instrumental passage, on to a nightclub for the trancey, electronica bit, then a noisy hangover before returning to work on Monday. If it wasn’t for such high concepts, they might not have got away with the splashes of brass and – ahem – jazz oboe that lend the song its sense of identity and drama.

For me personally, it was a key part of the soundtrack to my adolescence, regularly reverberating around the prefab walls of our sixth form block’s demountable hut. Me and my mate Rob would gleefully sneer the line “Weekender, fuck off! Fuck off and die!” at each other, revelling in our impersonation of Maher’s venomous gibe, and relishing the rebelliousness of such clearly pronounced profanity in a pop song, still uncommon back then.

Few details have so far been released about the circumstances of Liam Maher’s death, but he had been a habitual drug-user for much of his life, as suggested by the article in The Guardian written by his friend, Robin Turner of Heavenly Records.

Perhaps Weekender is a fitting legacy for a largely unfulfilled life led to excessive hedonism; perhaps it’s a tribute to a unique moment in the development and diversification of British guitar music. Maybe, after all that, it’s just a great way to spend quarter of an hour.

Flowered Up – Weekender

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Toadcast #92 – The Pantscast

pants postThis podcast is a little bit random, I have to say.  There are songs which follow on from the like folk/hate covers posts which have appeared over the course of the last week or so on the site, a couple are related to the fact that Mrs. Toad is once more away in God Bless America shooting illegal aliens, chewing gum, whistling Dixie, or whatever the fuck it is they do over there, while most of the first half is related to the fact that my friend Andrew is coming to visit this weekend.

They do sort of relate to one another, the songs, at least.  Or there’s a bit of overlap anyway.  I never keep much track of it, but this is at least the second version of Blues Run the Game we’ve had on the podcasts, and I have no idea if I’ve ever actually repeated a song on these things.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I had, because I’m bloody disorganised when it comes to this kind of thing.

Anyhow, no scary metal bastards making your ears bleed this week, just a lot of lovely folky stuff and a couple of scratchy indie bands.  Oh, and Jack White.  I’d say that he was an egomaniacal dick, but he’s massive and would probably kick my arse, so I won’t.  Recent stuttering aside, though, he’s produced some cracking tunes, whatever you think of the guy.

Toadcast #92 – The Pantscast

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01. Soul Asylum – New World (04.17)
02. The Tragically Hip – Pigeon Camera (10.29)
03. Beck – Guess I’m Doing Fine (14.47)
04. The White Stripes – I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself (24.46)
05. Elbow – Fugitive Motel (29.57)
06. Billy Bragg – Wishing the Days Away (Alternative Version) (34.53)
07. Tortoise & Bonnie Prince Billy – Thunder Road (43.15)
08. Christopher Bell – Pretty Thing (53.53)
09. Nick Drake – Blues Run the Game (55.33)
10. Fairport Convention – Crazy Man Michael (60.52)

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Friday is Not a Superstar DJ, it is a Very Naughty Boy

DJ CAT Yes, this weekend I am a superstar DJ, or at least I get to kid myself that I am one.  Apart from full-on dancey, mixey, beat-matching stuff (and even then I have my doubts) I have never thought of DJing as much of a skill, I have to confess.  As I said in the comments section of a thread discussing this ages ago, however, if it’s possible to do it badly, which it clearly is, then it must be a skill.  Still, irrespective of not really knowing what I am doing, and the dubious merits of my presence to everyone else, someone like me is always going to enjoy forcing their music taste on other people and that is exactly what I am going to do: relax, get pickled on gin, and play a lot of tunes.

First a Cabaret Voltaire tonight as part of the excellent Oxjam Take Over Edinburgh night (which will sadly prevent me getting to see lots of bands I would like to see, but there you go).  I might play more raucous stuff at this one – the situation seems to call for it, what with Friday night drinking and so on.  The the following day I am popping down to the Bowery to play some tunes at MarchéMarché, a craft fair which will have some live music and things going on as well, and generally sounds like a lovely day.

Other than that, my friend Andrew is visiting from London this weekend, which is excellent.  I remember from living in London that it’s all too easy to expect people in the provinces to come to you, albeit for no better reason that laziness.  Mind you, if you had to make an hour’s journey just to have a pint with a mate then you’d bloody well expect other people to make an effort, I suppose, wouldn’t you.  In any case, Andrew and Natalie aren’t really like that because they’ve come to see us twice since we’ve been here, which is more than anyone else from down there.  London: about twelve million people; Scotland: about six.  Weird, when you think of it.

So here we are once again, at the end of a very talkative week on Song, by Toad.  But it’s not all about the big-mouths remember, Friday is as ever a de-lurking amnesty and a chance for the quiet people who just potter by and marvel at the madness to get involved themselves and see just how much of an embarrassment they can make of themselves.  Let’s face it, the rest of us are pretty good at that already.  And remember, Fives first, then pish, not the other way around.

1. If you were a DJ, what would be the most inappropriate song you would like to play and the most inopportune moment?
2. Song for your funeral.
3. Song you’d like to sneak onto the record player at your worst enemy’s funeral, just to ruin it.
4. Name a fantasy cover version you’d love to hear.
5. Name a fantasy duet you’d love to hear.

And here, after all the moaning I’ve done about cover songs this week, are some covers I really like, for various reasons:

The Gourds – Gin & Juice (This may be the best cover of all time.)

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Hawksley Workman – Bankrobber (Just weird, but good.)

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Heather Nova – I’m on Fire

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The Specials – Guns of Navarone

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The Dead Kennedys – Viva Las Vegas

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The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – …and the Horse You Rode in On

scotlandyard This album has some really, really high points, and a couple of slightly sticky ones, but in general it’s a really good listen and I am enjoying it.

It falls pretty neatly into the area of 80s indie pastiche, alongside bands like My Teenage Stride and the Shout Out Louds.  There’s plenty of the Smiths at times, for example, but the most obvious influence in this record seems to be Pulp, whose sound is absolutely all over it.  I Pretend She’s You sounds for all the world like Babies – not a copy exactly, more like a kid who looks suspiciously like his brother.

When something is so firmly rooted in a long-established sound, when there really isn’t any musical innovation going on, then the tunes themselves have even less place to hide than usual.  And this is where that first paragraph came from: some of it is great, but some is a bit middle of the road.

Around the early-middle of the album, around about the time of Hope is On Your Side and Libertyville or Somewhere, it gets badly robbed of its momentum.  Those songs in particular do not excite me, and after the brilliant Stop! I started to think I was going to be disappointed.  Not so, however, because in Sixteen is Too Young and Praying is a Heartache they really snap right back into the zone with a couple of sad and really lovely songs.  This gives the album a strong finish, cemented by the excellent title track, and ensures you are left in a good mood when it comes to a close.

It’s a long album which could, in my opinion, afford to be trimmed a little, but in general they have some really good tunes and I’m enjoying this.

The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – Stop!

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The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – Sixteen is Too Young

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Website | More mp3s | Buy from Bloodshot Records

About a month ago the band were involved in a pretty horrific-sounding accident, when their tour van had a blowout on the motorway.  Fortunately, everyone lived, but they are all in shock.  To sum up how serious it was, almost a month after the crash, Mary from the band described her condition like this:  “I’ve still got a lot of physical and occupational therapy in my future, but I’ve progressed to walking with a cane already.”

Because the American medical system, despite its technological advancement, is administered in a style presumably inspired by an ungodly combination of the Middle Ages, the Third World and dystopian science fiction, instead of simply worrying about recovering from their injuries and their emotional distress the band have to worry about the catastrophic financial consequences of long term medical care in the States.  They can’t get insurance because they are musicians, so they will have to pay for it all themselves.  Consequently the chances of them descending into long-term penury and/ or grossly neglecting the care they require are pretty high, and in all honesty a fucking disgusting set of affairs.  You can help out my going to this page and making a donation; please do so.

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Rob St. John Fucking Rocks

rob Photo pinched from Blueback Hotrod.

Given he’s from Lancashire and lives in Oxford I am not sure I should be tagging Rob St. John as a Scottish band really, but as far as I am concerned he’s one of ours, dammit!  Fucking Oxford.  Not only did they lure away one of my best friends last year, leaving our football team short of an excellent centre forward, but now the conniving bastards have fucking well pinched Rob as well.

Anyhow, to celebrate selling every last copy of both of his EPs Rob is making all the songs available for free.  It’s a lovely idea – you make a short run of physical copies and if that sells out then it’s done its job, and you might as well let everyone have it instead of milking that set of songs for as much as you can get out of them.  Of course, he won’t get rich that way, but he’ll have so much fucking integrity I may just have to slap him.

The stuff can all be downloaded from here, along with three other recordings which really caught my, erm, ear.  They really show the bite Rob has injected into his stuff with the move to electric guitar, and the sound is scuzzy as hell, and fucking great.  The guitar sound in particular makes me want to dry hump my speakers, it’s that dirty.  Rob apparently has a 7″ single on the horizon too, and if he can capture this kind of growl in the recording process then it should be fucking brilliant.

Fuck you Oxford, you bunch of bastards!

Here are the three songs in question, recorded live at the Retreat Festival in August 2009:

Rob St. John – Domino (Live)

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Rob St. John – The Shipping Forecast (Live)

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Rob St. John – December & Whisky (Live)

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Wild Beasts Live in Session for Fresh Air

These videos were taken when I interviewed Wild Beasts for Fresh Air Radio a little while ago, and I thought you might be interested in seeing them.  Ben (the wee chap on the left) has a fucking amazing voice.

The Fresh Air broadcast is about to start up actually, and it looks like I am going to get a Wednesday evening slot – hopefully around half six or seven – so watch out for that in the coming weeks.  In fact there’s actually a launch party in the big swanky-looking Uni building thing on Bristo square (Teviot, is it?) on Tuesday.  The beer’s fucking cheap so please come along and help kick things off with a degree of drunken debauchery.

Interview is here.

Fresh Air Radio website.

Wild Beasts website.

Buy Wild Beasts stuff on Amazon.

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Matty Groves, Covers and Copyright

copier I admitted in a comment yesterday that I don’t really understand my general dislike of cover versions.  I don’t object to them at all, just the opposite in fact: generally I am really interested to hear them, and I like the fact that songs exist in that sort of malleable state, unfixed by any one ‘correct’ interpretation.  The problem is not in principle, just practise; I simply tend not to like them very much, and I don’t know why.

To make matters even less logical, I love people playing folk songs, and of course the whole folk tradition is one of repeating and reinterpreting songs and phrases, tunes and riffs which have gone before.  It’s one of the fundamental assumptions of the whole medium in fact: that each generation add their own layer to the existing ones, and in turn make their contribution to the richness of the art form.

In fact, if anything makes a mockery of the current abuse of copyright law by media corporations it is folk music.  The idea that you need to incentivise people to create is just laughable.  In fact the converse is true, as the art from every repressive regime in the world shows, no matter how much you discourage people from being creative you just can’t bloody stop them.  I’m not arguing against people making money from their art, but the copyright law at the moment is increasingly becoming a straitjacket to creativity, the need for which is proven a lie by folk, which is essentially a big long chain of mashups, samples, rehashing and reworking. Read the rest of this entry »

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Alela Diane & Alina Hardin – Alela & Alina

alelaalina This EP is as simple as it is beautiful.  It has been released on limited edition 10″ vinyl by Family, an imprint of Names Records which they are keeping for limited runs of special stuff – like this.

The EP itself is unbelievably spare – guitar and two voices and the songs themselves are two of Alela’s own and three traditional folk songs.

It’s difficult to analyse something like this at all, honestly.  It’s exactly what the above description will lead you to expect and you will either like it or not.

Personally, I think Alela Diane has one of the loveliest voices I’ve heard in bloody ages, and from the sounds of this Alina Hardin isn’t far behind.  Add to that the fact that Alela has a rolling guitar plucking style which I think is warm and beautiful and you can pretty much guess that I love this, can’t you.  It’s possible that you might find it a little bland, because it’s all so bare-bones, which gives all the songs a very similar personality, but  that will only be an issue if you are less than captivated by the few elements which make up these arrangements, and the lovely open space given to them.  For me personally, this is not a problem, it is one of the nicest aspects of this particular recording.

Incidentally, they also play a version of Matty Groves, a song I know from the brilliant version on Fairport Convention’s classic Liege & Lief and one which have heard rather a lot of versions of recently.  I think I’ll make that the focus of a post in the next day or so, because it’s a great song to which I’d like to devote a little more time, but not here.

This really is gorgeous.

Alela Diane & Alina Hardin – Bowling Green

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Alela’s MySpace| Alina’s MySpace | More mp3s | Buy from Names Records

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Time to Get the BNP Out of the Closet

mosley Sooo… the BNP are going on Question Time are they?  That should be interesting.

I know there’s been some complaining from Anti-Fascism sorts and other parties about this ‘legitimising’ the party in some sense by actually bothering to engage them in debate, but I think I am in agreement with the broader consensus which says that you really have to get their opinions out in the open and debate them in public.  I was raised in Austria and the general refusal to engage with the somewhat euphemistically-named Freedom Party* led to their ideas and propaganda going so entirely unchecked that they were actually legitimately elected to power a few years ago – to the sudden horror of everyone who had hoped to make them go away by ignoring them.

Now, I take Hain’s point about the BNP being quite simply illegal because they don’t allow non-Caucasian members but basically it’s too late: the BNP have been legitimised to take place in national political debate, not by anything the BBC might be doing, but by the fact that an awful lot of people have voted for them.  That’s one of the things which I think people tend to ignore – the problem with the BNP is not so much the pernicious nature of their policies or their tendency to lie about just how racist they actually are, it’s the fact that so many people in Britain might just actually agree with them.

There are a few reasons I think we really need to get these weasels out in the open: Read the rest of this entry »

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Live in Edinburgh This Week – 18th October 2009

stockbridgeIt’s busy week, in the absence of Mrs. Toad, and ends with me actually DJing twice in the space of two nights towards the end of the week as well once at some point on Friday, although I’m not all that sure where – Cabaret Voltaire I think – and then the following day at the Bowery at MarchéMarché , which should be good fun.  I have been promised that on no account am I expected to motivate people to dance, which probably helps matters considerably.

Oh, and I’ve just realised that I am approaching a hundred kilos in weight – 215 pounds, or 15 Stone 5 for those of you still living in the dark ages – so it might be time for just a little less beer, slightly fewer biscuits and for yours truly to get off his fat arse and do some exercise.  Bloody  hell, reality can be a bastard when it prevents you doing exactly what you want when you want, can’t it.

Tuesday 20th October 2009: Findo Gask & Everything Everything at Cabaret Voltaire.

Everything Everything I don’t know so well, but Findo Gask are a band who I really love, despite their distinct lack of material, considering the length of time for which the band has existed.  They have a couple of terrific singles to their name – electronic, danceable and infectious as fuck, with just a little sadness in the mix as well – and the only time I’ve seen them they were excellent, but that was a while ago now.  So I’ll be along on Thursday as much to see what they’ve been doing with their time, as to take the chance to enjoy their live show again.

Findo Gask – Va Va Va

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Tuesday 20th October 2009: Bat For Lashes & Yeasayer at The Picture House.

Personally, I think Bat For Lashes are pretty fucking dismal, honestly.  However I know a lot of my readers will be really up for this, so I thought I’d better mention it, just in case anyone was unaware this was happening.

Wednesday 21st October 2009: Mitchell Museum & The Scottish Enlightenment at Electric Circus.

These White Noise gigs start so bloody late they can fuck those of us with day jobs over for the rest of the week.  Still, I like Mitchell Museum, and the Scottish Enlightenment are returning to the fold after a very quiet couple of years.  They have a new album to show for their silence though, and have sent me a few songs through to sample, which I appreciate.  I’ve listened to them through a couple of times now, but not enough to really have anything clever to say about them yet, so I’ll just include one below and let you decide for yourselves.

The Scottish Enlightenment – Necromancer

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Wednesday 21st October 2009: Clues, Munch Munch & Over the Wall at Electric Circus.

I know nothing about Clues, bar this one promo song, and that the press bumph mentioned some famous bands like Arcade Fire and so when talking about their history.  So not much information, but the song itself sounds very promising.

Clues – Perfect Fit

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Thursday 22nd October 2009: Maps, Epic 26 & The Foundling Wheel at the Ark.

I quite fascinated by Maps, more from the descriptions I’ve heard than anything else.  I don’t actually know their music at all, despite their Mercury nomination a couple of years ago, but a band described as sonter shoegaze indie electronica sounds like a worthwhile punt to me.  Another plus is that these lot should be loud enough to silence the general chattering which the odd shape of the Ark tends to invite.

Friday 23rd October 2009: Meursault, Jesus H. Foxx, Y’All is Fantasy Island & the Occasional Flickers at the Bowery as part of the Oxjam Festival thingy.

The Bowery lineup is obviously the most Toad-friendly, with two of our bands on the bill, but there’s stuff happening all over the city on Friday.  It’s called Oxjam Take Over Edinburgh, I think, and one ticket gets you a wristband which will get you into everything – from the in-store performances at the Oxfam Music shop in the centre of town during the day, to this, to Sneaky Pete’s to Cabaret Voltaire and all sorts.
Full lineup and tickets here.

Meursault – The Furnace

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Saturday 24th October 2009: MarchéMarché at the Bowery.

This is actually a craft fair, not a gig, but yours truly shall be DJing at the event, so that’s all the excuse I need to plug it to within an inch of its life.  Promises promises, as Mrs. Toad is no doubt muttering to herself at the moment.

Saturday 24th October 2009: My Latest Novel at Cabaret Voltaire.

I haven’t had a chance to see these guys at all recently, and I’ve heard hugely variable reports from the gigs they’ve played here recently.  The last album was no better than decent, in my view, but I loved Wolves and I still really want to catch them when I can.

My Latest Novel – All in All in All is All

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