Song, by Toad

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Song, by Toad Records’ Year in Review

8 ambitious futility

Phew, fucking hell, nearly there! Another year comes careering to an end, with little in the sense of control, planning or even semi-coherence to sellotape it all together.

One thing, though, it’s been a fucking great year. Not a single other label out there has come close to matching the kind of stuff we’ve put out in 2014 as far as I am concerned. And alright, that statement might sound delusional or just plain arrogant to you, but music is all about personal taste and I am supposed to think that, am I not? There’s no point starting a label if you aren’t going to release your own favourite music, and if you thought that was already being done then you wouldn’t have the motivation to start in the first place, would you.

There’s a Soundcloud playlist at the bottom of the page if you want to check for yourselves.

People say that time flies, and it does, I suppose, but January 2014 seems like a very long way away indeed. There were normal records to be planned of course, but before we could get into that we had to record and release what turned out to be Meursault’s last album: The Organ Grinder’s Monkey.

That was my first real brush with crowd-funding, and I think it went really well. Getting people to vote on the songs worked nicely, and we ended up with a record which had broken even before it was even released. It made me wonder rather seriously about why we can’t manage this the rest of the time, but I suppose the project itself had a few uniquely suitable aspects which can’t really be reproduced.

It was financially successful of course, but oddly enough we couldn’t get anyone to fucking review the thing, despite Meursault being one of our most widely-covered bands for every one of their other releases. Maybe it was because it was mostly covers, maybe because it was crowd-funded, or maybe because it was released (and hence old news) almost before we even knew ourselves what kind of album it was going to be, but honestly it made the music press look particularly stupid in my eyes.

It’s one thing when magazines decide to only review this or that kind of release, but the internet was supposed to free us from that kind of pointless nonsense, and yet all the big online magazines seem to be drifting into mimicking the established press, and I really don’t think that is either a good thing, or in any way necessary, really.

Anyhow, as badly as we’ve fared with the press this year you do find yourself developing a rather acute appreciated of the people who have actually supported you.  As well as some of the online and print publications who have continued to be so supportive, we’ve had amazing results with the radio this year too.

Farewell, Bastard Mountain was the first sign that things might not be so predictable in terms of what appealed to radio shows. 6Music put five minute instrumental drone track Drone Armatrading on heavy rotation, and Palisade (a gorgeous track, but downbeat as fuck and loooong) did really well too.

These radio results finally cemented in my head the idea what we really have to stop second-guessing what radio will actually want and just send them our favourite stuff. Received wisdom is that you’re supposed to only really send them three-minute pop songs with hummable riffs and an obvious chorus, but this year has pretty much shown that to be utter bollocks so from now on that approach is going out the window. We’ll put out the songs we think best represent why we love an album, and balls if they’re the sensible choice or not.

Considering our struggles with press recently, I have to confess I was a little nervous about releasing the Virgin of the Birds album Winter Seeds in May. Given Jon lives in Seattle, which makes it impossible to try and build grassroots support never mind persuade the jittery hipsters of the internet to write about the album, I thought it could be really heavy going but actually the response was fantastic. We got some great reviews, and Charlie Ashcroft and Dani Charlton at Amazing Radio got right behind the record too, so the whole thing felt like it went really well.

Here at Song, by Toad Records we have something of a knack for releasing albums by bands who subsequently either cease to exist or just go so quiet that they might as well have ceased to exist, which is a surefire way to complete financial ruin. We have such a nose for that kind of project that it even works with festivals too. Our third Split 12″ was released in June, at a time designed to coincide with the Insider Festival, where the record itself was actually recorded the previous year. Except there was no Insider Festival this year.

Still, despite it ending up looking slightly orphaned, it is still a gorgeous record with some wonderfully odd moments, and actually served as a perfect precursor to to the David Thomas Broughton and Jonnie Common albums we released later in the year. That wasn’t particularly the plan when we set out our release schedule, but it did work out rather nicely in the end.

There was a brief interruption to the planned schedule with the second Pale Imitation Festival in August. It went fantastically again, although I have to question my wisdom in starting the damn thing. The idea was to fight back at the fact that the Edinburgh Festival more or less forces us to cease operations during August because we have no chance of being heard over the din, but the Pale Imitation Festival is such hard work that it actually ends up being more disruptive than just having to take a month off so, er… yes, I am a fool. What of it?

And far from having August off, actually during all the Pale Imitation stuff I ended having to work in all the press for Sliding the Same Way, the collaborative album by David Thomas Broughton and the Juice Vocal Ensemble. A bit like Bastard Mountain, this is another semi-improvised record which is primarily in the ‘alt-folk’ bracket I suppose but which is so tinged with oddness that the genre becomes irrelevant, it’s the personality of the album which dominates.

Jonnie Common’s Trapped in Amber is similar, in that sense. Nominally it is experimental electronic pop, I suppose, but his personality is so stamped all over the album that it is this which becomes its defining characteristic.

It’s part of the frustration of being a small label with pretty limited resources I suppose, but with both of these last two records I felt that I didn’t really do a good enough job with the PR.  I contacted all the right people of course, and I did it in plenty of time, but given the coverage both artists have had in the past and the quality of the records in question I feel like I should have got them way more coverage than I did.

In both cases the reception was great, and the radio play more than compensated for a lack of written press – and radio listeners actually buy records too, whereas I have never seen any link between sales and written reviews – but I can’t help but feel this is something I seriously need to look at next year because I don’t think the label is really cutting the mustard in that sense at the moment. Of course it doesn’t help when all the supposedly alternative publications are wasting both their and our time covering mainstream pop acts, but we still need to improve, I think.

And so finally, here we are, more or less at the end of the year, with just time for one last release: the Couch King EP by the erratic, prolific, unpredictable and occasionally inspired Passion Pusher. He may be all over the place at times, but there is some great stuff in amongst the madness and I really hope he can harness it in the future, because I love some of the stuff he does.

Couch King was also our first tape release, which I am hoping will be significant. Mrs. Toad and I moved in May, to a house with a small warehouse on the grounds, and in the New Year we are going to turn it into an informal recording studio. That will hopefully allow us to do more Split 12″s and Toad Sessions, and to encourage more projects like Farewell, Bastard Mountain and The Organ Grinder’s Monkey – loose, creative projects which are nevertheless quite intense, but hugely exciting and rewarding to be involved with.

I’m already working on a number of really exciting releases for next year, and you’ll all be getting a Christmas present on the 25th which will introduce you to some of our new projects, but for now I think I am going to take it a bit easy and relax for a few days.  I’ll do my end of year album list, and put my feet up with Mrs. Toad, who quite bafflingly continues to encourage all this.

It’s been an incredible year, and I am both really proud of what our existing comrades have achieved, and proud of the people who liked what we were doing enough to want to join us. Song, by Toad Records represents an amazing group of really interesting, creative people and I think next year I want to do more to emphasise that, just amongst ourselves as much as anything else. I might not be all that great at actually running the label all the time, but in being a part of it you are associating yourself with some properly amazing people.

And when we move back into our now-refurbished living room later this week I might just put on our records from this year one after another, drink too much gin, and reflect that yes, the world really is wrong about music.

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Aberdeen Label Market

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Do you live in Aberdeen? Do you give a shit – even a teeny-tiny little shit – about the records we release here at Song, by Toad Records? Of course you do. So come down to the Lemon Tree on Saturday 15th, where we and several of our other label pals will be setting up shop with our latest releases and probably spending so much money on other people’s records that the whole thing ends up seeming a bit silly, but hey ho, records and fun, you can’t argue with that.

And trivial nonsense aside, since the demise of One Up, I don’t think Aberdeen has actually had a decent record shop, although in my ignorance I could be doing someone a grave disservice here, making this kind of event even more important. I’ve said before that we don’t really make much money doing these label markets, once you take all the travel into account, as well as the amount we tend to spend on booze and other people’s records, but I still think they’re really important.

Mostly, I think it’s the type of fan who comes along which makes it important. I think you have to be pretty dedicated and pretty knowledgeable about your music to even realise these things take place (normal people don’t really follow the announcements of tiny indie labels), so the people you tend to meet at these events tend to be the most important fans, really: the ones who come back time and again, who know every artist on a label even if they don’t unconditionally love them all, and the people for whom their love of weird, under the radar music is really important. And I think it’s important that we keep a good connection with folk like that, because ultimately they are the same as us, and their dedication keeps small labels alive.

As for us, we’ll have a couple of new releases for sale: the new Passion Pusher tape and the CD version (not the vinyl yet, sorry) of the new Jonnie Common record Trapped in Amber. Please do come along and say hello. And do remember that Jonnie’s Aberdeen album launch is actually this Thursday at Downstairs with Christ and Colin Austin.

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Upcoming Toad Gigs

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After a wee break and a couple of house shows, we actually have quite a lot of gigs coming up in the next little while, and that’s without even having thought about our New Year’s House Gig yet.

Obviously you are morally obliged to come to absolutely all of these shows and if you don’t attend each and every one I will secretly suspect that our friendship is based upon nothing more than a tissue of lies and pity. And if you can’t manage all of them then, erm, well one would be nice if you’re up for it. Please. They will be great shows, I promise.

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Passion Pusher EP launch shows:

This Saturday 8th Nov – Voxbox, Edinburgh
With Sean Armstrong (The Yawns)
Sunday 9th Nov – Flying Duck, Glasgow
With FROTH, Herbert Powell Youngstrr Joey

These shows may have been a little hastily arranged, but they mark two important events: our first formal release with Passion Pusher, and our first ever cassette release.  James calls his genre ‘dingus rock’ which I have to confess I rather like, and I suppose you could throw slacker and lo-fi in there too, but those terms get applied to fucking everything these days. Slop rock maybe, because it has that sort of feel to it where you’re not sure if he would perhaps rather be playing computer games rather than singing the songs, but the end results happen to turn out brilliantly anyway.

Jonnie Common Album Launch Digiflyer

Jonnie Common album launch shows:

Thursday 13th Nov – Downstairs, Aberdeen
Friday 14th Nov – Pilrig St. Paul’s, Edinburgh
Saturday 15th Nov – Glad Café, Glasgow

Jonnie’s album may be mired in manufacturing delays (sorry everyone) but we will have copies on CD in time for the album launches. Jonnie just recorded a session with Vic Galloway (including an absolutely awesome John Cooper Clarke cover) which you can listen to here. In Aberdeen he will be joined by Christ and Colin Austin, and the Edinburgh and Glasgow shows will be with Wolf and poet Ross Sutherland.

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My fucking birthday!

Wednesday 19th Nov – Henry’s, Edinburgh
The Pictish Trail, Two White Cranes & Owen McAulay

Quite why I have volunteered to work on my own fucking birthday I don’t know, but when Roxy from Two White Cranes got in touch asking about gigs in Edinburgh on the 18th or 19th of November I thought why the fuck not, let’s have a laugh and see some great bands. And I haven’t seen Johnny Pictish play solo for bloody ages either, and he is, despite being head of Song, by Toad Records’ most deadly rival, fucking ace at music.

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Song, by Toad Christmas Parties:

Wednesday 3rd Dec – Total Refreshment Centre, London
Jonnie Common, Plastic Animals & Numbers Are Futile

Saturday 20th Dec – Henry’s, Edinburgh
Plastic Animals, Garden of Elks & erm, some other things.

We have two Christmas parties planned for this year, one down in London and one our traditional Edinburgh drunken train-wreck. London will be a bit of a label showcase, with a van-full of muppets heading down from the North to bring actual music and culture to our impoverished cousins in the South. Young Fathers won the Mercury, right? So England will be looking to Scotland for cultural leadership from now on, right?

In Edinburgh we shall have various friends doing weird and silly songs for a bit, and then some Proper Guitar Bands, and finally Irregular Owl Movements and Mrs. Toad DJ sets. God fucking help us.

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Jonnie Common – Trapped in Amber Album Launch Shows

Jonnie Common‘s glorious new album – yes, seriously, glorious – is being released into the world on Halloween of this year (pre-order your copy here) and to celebrate, we are arranging some launch shows. And they will be fantastic. Therefore you should come.

Aberdeen is (tragically) going to be the last Citizen Mule gig, so please give the silly oaf (Stevie, not Jonnie) a good send-off. The Edinburgh show is in the rather gorgeous Pilrig St. Paul’s, halfway down Leith Walk, and on the Saturday night in Glasgow the Save-As Collective have a special night planned, with a Miaoux Miaoux DJ set and everything.

The album is great, the shows are going to be great, I am just chuffed to bits all round with this whole business. And not a cynical comment in sight. What’s happened to me? It’s like I don’t even know myself anymore.

Thursday 13th November – Aberdeen
At Downstairs, with Christ and Colin Austin – tickets £5 on the door

Friday 14th November – Edinburgh
At Pilrig St. Paul’s with Wolf – tickets here.

Saturday 15th November – Glasgow
At the Glad Cafe with Wolf & Ross Sutherland – tickets here.

And just for fun, here is Jonnie’s new single.

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Toadcast #306 – The Crumbscast

tag This is called the Crumbscast for no better reasons than that I like the name and that it starts with a song called Crumbs, the new single by Jonnie Common. Given I’ve had to try and think up unique names for all of these bastard things anything which sounds good and has at least a tenuous link to the topic at hand will do.

I’ve not done a podcast for ages actually, but the last one was the one just before the independence referendum, and I still feel so utterly let down and disappointed with how that went that I’ve been unable to really talk about it since. On you go, Westminster, you’re doing a decent enough job really – at least a better one than we could ever hope to do on our own. Is that really the message we just delivered to the world? Yes, yes I think it is, at least to some degree. How sad.

So you see, probably a good thing that I waited at least a couple of weeks for the worst of the depressed bitterness to wear off. I almost get dragged into it at the start of the podcast, but like a champ I manage to break free and deliver an hour (and a little bit) of the usual awesome music that no-one’s really heard of because the world is WRONG about music. Sorry.

Toadcast #306 – The Crumbscast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

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01. Jonnie Common – Crumbs (00.22)
02. Tired Tape Machine – Your Ghost (07.30)
03. Passion Pusher – BLT (17.18)
04. Allison Crutchfield – Supermoon (22.22)
05. Sun Kil Moon – War On Drugs (31.01)
06. Velvet Morning – Green Whale (40.31)
07. 808s and Greatest Hits – Great Western featuring A. Fantastic Reprise (48.44)
08. Memory in Plant – Rainy Veins (54.09)
09. H. Hawkline – Black Domino Box (58.01)
10. Wallflower – Ambien (1.03.02)

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Crumbs: New Jonnie Common Single

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It is indeed New Jonnie Common Single Day here at Song, by Toad Records, with the second song from his belting new album Trapped in Amber now being officially set loose upon the internet. The album is being released on Halloween this year, and we’ll be doing a small run of launch shows in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow on the 13th-15th November and are looking at a label Christmas Party down in London in early December as well.

You can pre-order the album on vinyl or CD here. The CD version comes with an entire alternate version of the album, and if you pre-order the vinyl you’ll get a download card for this version as well.

This tune is a classic example of Jonnie’s way with a lyric: even though not all of it makes immediate sense, there’s a sort of playful warmth there. The Books were actually cited as a possible comparison on CMU the other day, and I have to confess that although I had never really thought of it, the similarity is definitely there. Which is ace, because I fucking love The Books.

Anyhow, I think think we’ve now served up the most obviously cheerful pop moments on the album, so be aware that the rest of it is both melancholy and downright weird at times, but if this and Shark can’t tempt you to buy this record, frankly nothing will. Great songs, the pair of ‘em.

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Jonnie Common – Shark

This is the first single from the new Jonnie Common album, and it’s fucking ace. The album, Trapped in Amber, is out on Halloween of this year, on vinyl or CD, and you can pre-order a copy here.

Shark is a tune which also appears on our last Split 12″, but this version is a totally different beast. It’s been described as chilled-out Kraftwerk or Glasgae Beck, and erm, well I am not going to critique those two descriptions, but they did make me laugh.

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New Jonnie Common Album Coming Soon

Yes, that’s right, after years of relentless badgering Jonnie Common has agreed to release an album with Song, by Toad Records. Actually, to be fair, he had every intention of sticking with the excellent Red Deer Club, who did a fine job with his last album, but for logistical reasons it wasn’t possible so, y’know, he had to make do with us in the end.

It may not always be all that obvious, but it’s actually a tremendously meaningful thing when an artist you really admire actually entrusts you with the job of doing the best thing with their work, so I was pretty touched when Jonnie asked us to do this. I’ve been a fan of his since his Down the Tiny Steps years, so I am absolutely delighted to be able to do a formal release with him at last.

I’ll not say too much now, as we have a new single to release next week, but for now know that you can pre-order the album on CD or vinyl from here, and that the CD version comes with two versions of the album so you can pick which one you prefer. Or just alternate between the two, your call.

The album is called Trapped in Amber and will be released on Halloween 2014, and we are currently working on some excellent launch nights for you, so keep an eye out for further announcements.

For now, until we release the new single next week (although the excellent Steve Lamacq played it on 6Music just under 45 minutes into his show the other day), just enjoy this gorgeous video of a rather brilliant song which might or might not be on the album. I say ‘might’ because, y’know, IT’S A SECRET!

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Toadcast #304 – The Nearlycast

Tour de France  2012 stage - 12 So, here we are on August 28th and I have neeeeearly made it through another Pale Imitation Festival. Nearly. We still have tonight’s awesome show with eagleowl, Ian Humberstone and Smackvan, and then the closing party on Saturday with PAWS, Halfrican and Et Tu Brute! and then I will sleep for a week, and lock the doors and the shutters to the house so I don’t have to speak to people until I am good and ready.

That sounds like a moan, and it is I suppose, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t love the festival we’ve put on. I’ve loved every gig so far, and I’m incredibly proud of how well it has all gone and how well it has all been received, it’s just that it’s kind of exhausting and rather gets in the way of all the other things I have to be doing at the moment. Anyone who does this kind of shit knows, I guess, it’s amazing but exhausting, and at the moment I am knackered.

Anyhow, I recently received a most excellent package from Norman Records of about five or so new albums, and a lot of them get a spin here. Oddly enough I had to go an buy the Wytches song on iTunes again because for all Heavenly sent me a download card with the album, there was no sign anywhere of where to actually redeem it, and I couldn’t find one on their site anywhere either. Weird. And of course the PR folk never sent me the album for review either so I’ve ended up buying an album I was asked to review, and then having to buy a song again just to play it on the damn podcast.

Still, they’re ten times more established and successful than we are, so I suppose in a way it’s sort of reassuring to see that they can still be just as hapless. Music would be pretty shit if it was all ruthlessly efficient people in charge.

Toadcast #304 – The Nearlycast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

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01. Temple Songs – Sunspot Dandyline (00.20)
02. Michael Cera – Gershy’s Kiss (07.56)
03. Chad VanGaalen – Frozen Paradise (10.44)
04. Jonnie Common – Shark (18.31)
05. Eaten By Television – To Emma (25.40)
06. The Wytches – Wire Frame Mattress (31.29)
07. Los Angeles Police Department – Enough is Enough (36.54)
08. Old Earth – Some Gates’ll Swing Wide, For Us (38.47)
09. Beck – Morning (47.39)
10. The Eskimo Chain – Riding (57.37)

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Howlin’ Fling

Click to go see all my (pretty mediocre) pics from the weekend.

I am not writing a review of this fine festival. It is good. The music is ace. You should go if you can.

It’s in Scotland, just off the West Coast. So it will probably rain. In the words of Billy Connolly. “Of course it rained. It’s Scotland. Where did you think you were, fucking Benidorm?” When the sun comes out, though, and even when it doesn’t, it’s fucking beautiful. Really, seriously fucking beautiful.

I have sunburn on my back. Not bad sunburn, but you know, Scotland, rain etc..

The drive through Glencoe and down the coast to Arisaig makes you feel like you are heading to another world. The Sheerwater is class. Remember to take some beers for the trip. Driving a band full of people who’ve never seen it before was fun too. Watching people see that stuff for the first time is a nice little reminder of how special it really is.

Sam Amidon playing reels out the back of the café as we got there was awesome. So was Sam playing music on stage. So was Sam playing music with Beth Orton. So was Beth Orton playing music on her own. In fact those two were just bloody brilliant in general.

Samuel. Stream. Rocks. KABOOM!

Lisa, Tamsin, Caroline and Susie brought stinky, stinky cheese and gin and tonic, complete with genius tactics to make sure IT WAS ALWAYS COLD! Words cannot express my admiration.

Johnny Lynch playing the hits to his fans after the year (or so) that’s he’s had, while everyone went mental. That was brilliant. Well done old chap.

No matter what anyone tells you, swimming in the sea off Eigg is fucking cold. Really bollock-shrivellingly fucking cold. And no, you do not get used to it.

I still don’t understand how pretty much all the water in the world can fall from the sky on Saturday night and yet still there was none of it left for showers the following day. But Jens Lekman breaking out the tropical pop (and looking like he was having all the fun in the entire world all at once) during a tropical downpour was pretty brilliant. As was Jonnie Common’s eight-legged groove machine. POP!

Double breakfast every day. One bacon-and-egg roll (all runny and hot – mmmm!) and a coffee. Then forty-five minutes later, same again. No hangover in the world can compete with that kind of tactic.

I like how festivals like this have stalwarts, who are at every damn one, and then people like Boxed In who were fantastic, and who I’ve never heard of before and might not have heard of otherwise.

I did dancing. Presumably extremely bad dancing, but it was dancing nevertheless. And the thing: I only had to be ever so gently coerced. The last time I went mental and danced like a pillock was at the front of British Sea Power at the first Away Game. And the time before that was at FOUND in Legends at Homegame. I am starting to spot a theme developing here. I am told there are videos, but I really don’t want to see them. Let’s just leave it as a happy, slightly murky memory shall we. Oh no wait, this is the fucking internet isn’t it. Balls.

There was a moment when Meursault played the first chords of Ellis Be Damned and I was absolutely alone in my whooping. And then it dawned on me that I was the only person in the whole tent who knew how fucking awesome the next four minutes were going to be. That was nice. Especially as people kept turning to me during the song with an ‘oh that’s why you were whooping’ look on their faces.

I think it’s something to do with the lack of superstars, but perhaps mostly the proportion of musicians to punters, but having the two sets of people entirely mixed together instead of being in their own little enclaves makes everything better.

Only two stages running at staggered time means you see everything. No sneaking off into your own little bubble of pre-approved music.

Whisky.

Oh, and fuck, I still have a record label to run don’t I. Don’t you fucking dare judge. YOU try kick-starting your brain after a weekend like that.

Samamidon – Fiddle Mayhem (Toad Session) from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.