Funny


Due to the overwhelming deluge of offers of support to help maintain this blog, we’ve been having a think abvout the whole website and, thanks to our lovely friends at Music Glue, you will shortly notice some fairly major changes to how the Tw Forum website looks, resulting in Blam being moved directly into the website.

This will make it infinitely more likely that Blam will be up to date, as the posts for each night will be linked into the diary, removing the need for one of us to wander drunkenly into the office at 4am and notice that we are still showing the dates from December 1996. In case you be afeared of change, panic not. Blam will continue to be poorly written drivel with a side order of narcissism and a mile long streak of overdone sarcasm. It will be the same content, it will just be in a different place. And look nicer. And be updated a bit better.

Many of you will, by now, have noticed that Blam gets edited at frighteningly infrequent intervals and seemingly on a whim. There’s no rhyme or reason why we do this, no method in our madness, no secret plan to catch you unawares, we just do it when we get time and don’t do it when we don’t have time.

Nonetheless, we recognise that for many of you, life is simply incomplete without a regularly updated free rundown on all the gigs you won’t bother to go to but will later claim to have been at if it makes you look cool. To this end, we would like to invite each and every one of you to review, preview, interview, spout off, mock, publicise, slander and just generally make up whatever you want about whatever it is you want to make it up about and submit it to us so that there’s some sort of rolling content thing. This article is particularly aimed at the several dozen people whose fingers are currently poised over their keyboard on an urgent mission to send us an email bemoaning the lack of mentions to date of their own band, their cousins band, a bloke their mate once met’s band…. we don’t have time to review all the upcoming stuff because there’s too much of it, but we will happily carry whatever you send us in the shape of a ludicrously over the top puff piece thinly veiled as a critical review.

Seriously, if you don’t think there’s enough about you or somebody you care about on this website, send us something and we’ll put it up for you.

Otherwise, shut the fuck up. Eythangu.

Hotleg, Saving Aimee
30th October 2008

Hmm, oddness. Being the privileged sort, I tend to forget sometimes that I can walk in to the Forum whenever I feel like it and perhaps I’m a tad overused to not having to stay outside queuing with the plebs. I daresay I’m just a bit spoilt on that score, so occasionally forget that in the absence of the public, when I wander in, more often than not, musicians and assorted crew from the headline and support acts are hanging around at the closed bar, or soundchecking, making last minute preparations, bawling for leads or other bits of assorted gubbins or simply trying to discuss things with each other before the doors open. The point is, when you’re used to it, you tend to ignore whoever’s there because they’re usually looking busy and one hairy muso looks very much like another after a while. I’ll just park my expansive arse on an available stool, frown at the Pepsi (look lads, its Coke we want, so please bring cans of it back to the bar. Pepsi is the devil’s diarrhoea. Nobody in the world has ever asked for a vodka and Pepsi) and chat to whomever’s guarding the bar from thirsty people. On this occasion, I enquired of young Tom “not gay, just well groomed” Riddlemetimbers as to whether the band have actually turned up (because, sadly, big headliners occasionally don’t) and was pleasantly surprised as he poured my pint of Beelzebub’s arse gravy, when he pointed out what I had utterly failed to observe: Justin Hawkins was standing but a few feet away with his back turned.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m seldom starstruck and I’m not this time, but the other half is a fan (of sorts) and feeling a bit guilty about not bringing her, I reckoned it might be put me in good stead if I ask him, nice and respectful-like, if he could just record a brief video ‘hello’ on my phone. Not that I’d have bothered normally, but one’s lady, you know. So, feeling no end of a tit, with a gentle “Excuse me Justin…” I prompted him to turn round and holding my phone up, asked with all civility whether he would be kind enough to record a brief hello for her as she can’t be here tonight, or words to that effect. You never know, I thought, he might give her one of those trademark saucy feline growls that he does so ‘ironically’, which would guarantee my (hot)leg over when I got home. But no sooner had the words left my lips and the phone was raised, his smile morphed into a pale wide-eyed expression of pure terror, and in a high pitched shriek, stuttered “No! J-j-just – NO!”, turned and ran stagewards to hide, as if I’d suggested he snort a line of charlie from my cock, or handed him a writ for unpaid taxes or a paternity suit.

Tom reckons I frightened him, which I consider to be quite an achievement if I did. This isn’t going anywhere as a story and kinda ends there with no climax or drama, but I record it because a) it happened, and b) because other than this momentary attack of the jitters, Justin Hawkins is perhaps the bravest down-on-his-luck rock ‘n’ roll star on the toilet circuit right now, and it’s high time he was recognised for it. Even if it is on a more modest scale these days.

You may have refused to buy the records on general principal and might even have feigned despair at hearing “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” for the hundredth time in a week, but the odds are you secretly liked The Darkness, or at least begrudgingly admired them. I did. So did countless others of all ages and tastes, especially that summer, and we’ll always remember them with fondness for that, and for the genuine excitement and fun they generated on festival stages, rather than for the appalling bilge that preceded their demise and giant inflatable body parts. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we, the public, want it all over again. Once was enough for many of us, but the rest don’t seem to be shutting up about it.

Yes, The Darkness could reform at any time, or they never will, depending on which rumour mill you believe, and certainly many, including their bank managers, would welcome such a move. Nevertheless, there also exists a diehard segment of fans sincerely hoping that The Darkness don’t bury the hatchet, because it’s better to remember them for how they were in all their innocence before fame chewed ‘em up good n’ proper.

Although there have been a few tentative stabs at the limelight since, Hawkins has been trying to live down those early days and make something of the opportunities that have come his way, and despite one or two less than salubrious moments, he’s come out with a fair bit of respect intact. In his own daft and limited way, Hawkins has become a bit of a national treasure, and he knows that for some bizarre reason, the more of an ironic rock ‘n’ roll fuck-up he is, the more we like it. He might be a cock, but he’s an amusing cock and a British cock, so even in these difficult times, his stock might be trading lower than it was, but warrants a watchful eye, because you never know what the bugger’s going to do next. It would be a shame to throw that away by pandering to pressure and reforming The Darkness, as that would be accepting that Hawkins can’t do anything else, when he clearly can.

Hotleg are not The Darkness in either style, attitude or budget and that’s a good thing. However, their prime commodity is The Darkness’ legacy. Hardly anyone would want to see them otherwise, so of course, despite the quality of Hotleg, who are – it has to be said – more technically proficient than The Darkness ever were, the fact remains that although the crowds are happy to lap up Hotleg and have a great time accordingly, it’ll take a Darkness tune or two to make ‘em go home really happy. So much for a clean break.

There’s a reason that that tune has been found tacked onto the end of previous Hotleg set lists as “the ultimate song”, because it’s Justin’s finest few minutes and he’ll be trading on it all his life, like so many jaded rock stars before him. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t of course, as it’s a tune he has a perfect right to perform and it has ensured his immortality, but Darkness tunes will always get the biggest cheers no matter how good Hotleg’s other material gets. For example, let’s take Hotleg’s Xmas single “I’ve Met Jesus” , or rather, don’t, as you’ll find it an utterly ghastly business. It’s marginally less embarrassing than that abominable “Don’t Let The Bells End” nonsense, but which of those tunes is going to be on every seasonal compilation alongside Wham, Slade and Mariah Carey, until the end of time? He’ll still be asked about The Darkness in interviews and badgered by fans even if his ‘solo’ career lasts 20 years, because the 21st century has proved so far that the only thing preventing a band’s reunion, for pretty much anybody, is death. And even that’s not much of an obstacle if enough money’s involved.

So, with regard to his pop star past, Hawkins has a tricky decision to make: to play, or not to play what people want to hear. Sure, Hotleg played ‘that’ song in the earlier gigs, but would they carry on doing so, knowing that it would somehow be a millstone around their necks? Will they let go of the past completely in order to embrace the future in their own right with no ghosts hiding in the machine? That would be the most principled thing to do, and the happy throngs demanding his falsetto yelps on a song they know, well, they can go hang. But people know that Hotleg have used Darkness tunes as their set climax in the past and as such, they may feel disappointed if Justin & Co refused to delve into Darkness tunes at all, so does he play them with pride and subsequently get accused of being a spent force with his best work behind him, or stubbornly insist that Hotleg is the future and let the past go? It’s a decision that can’t have been very easy to make: damned if he does, damned if he don’t.

Hotleg don’t intend to be rock’s next big noise and know that they won’t set the world aflame, but they’ll get out there and do it well regardless, because, well, they have some pride, and it’s what they do, even if they look a bit silly doing it. Hawkins and fellow guitarist Pete Rinaldi, despite trying to out-‘Eighties’ one another, are a quite mesmerising double-act, assuming the roles of Fun Revivalists par excellence and doing their damnedest to ensure that they drag out the degenerate side of any witnesses even remotely so inclined. So certainly, for as long as Hotleg lasts, they’ll never try to get too serious on us. And why should they, when the public appetite for reviving the fortunes of the forgotten is so strong? The Darkness were hardly a critics’ band and Hotleg aren’t either, so if they gain momentum it’ll not be due to miserable cynics who dismiss Hotleg as a cant method of keeping the fire stoked until the point in the not-too-distant future, when The Darkness can undertake an appropriately funded and marketed return, no doubt championed all the way by Classic Rock magazine or the Daily Star, with Justin re-entering as an elder statesman to all those celebrity parties and trendy haunts that keep the tabloids in business.

But if and when they do, with their youth gone and their naivety kicked into touch, they would be trading on memories alone and they can never again hope to be the same band of spandex-clad goons because everyone’s greyer and podgier now, so they’d be, well, a bit ridiculous. Sure, they would celebrate the old tunes and that long-awaited third album would probably be hailed by fans as a return to the form of “Permission To Land”, but we’d all know inside that it’s cabaret and baksheesh, wringing the remaining life and lolly out of a five-times platinum legend-that-was, nothing more. The magic would be gone, and all that bouncy enthusiasm and camp glamour that they did so well would become self parody. Back then they were new and cheeky and impudently astounded by the scale of their own success, flaunting their hair and codpieces, frequently stealing the show from their betters, giving us instant pop classics that even your granny liked, and we equally loved and loathed ‘em for it. But whether we were twelve, twenty or ninety then, everyone’s five years older now and to the new generation they’d be little more than a novelty. When what was initially rock ‘n’ roll fun becomes corny and stale, as they proved it had on the last Darkness album and tour, it’s impossible to get it back to any significant degree, and no matter how strongly a reunion might be trumpeted, however hard they might try, they’ll always be trying, and failing, to party like it’s 2003. Not unlike a drug addict hardened to his poison, trying in vain with an ever-dwindling circle of friends to achieve the memories of those glorious early highs and never getting there, yet still living in hope that one day, he might.

A bit saddening when you think about it.

It’s a problem that Saving Aimee don’t have, yet, and praise be to that. With haircuts apparently stolen from Guitar Hero characters and a logo nicked from Aerosmith, The St Albans sextet have spent the last three years since their inception, touring and gigging pretty much constantly, hammering the toilet circuit with nobodies and grabbing fortuitous slots with the likes of Enter Shikari and McFly, so with their Hawkins-produced debut album due for release early in the new year, they’ve earned their place at the fringes of the new glitterati through sheer sweat and it shows. Saving Aimee, you see, are simply quite ridiculously good.

Boasting the rare Forum quality of a crisp, clean sound, Saving Aimee whip in and out of tonight’s show like gung-ho guerrillas, coming in to brighten our existence by blazing splendidly for 20 minutes, leaving our ears all tingly and a bewildered “what the fuck ?” expression on our faces. And how do they do this? With wit, bounce, and the skilful application of geeky, freaky, punky emo with electro bits, riffy bits, drummy bits, funky bits, melodic shifts, wonky loops to die for, rich tunes that stay with you like a winter cold, and all polished as brightly as a guardsman’s shoes, that’s how. Should you need much more, we have frontman Luke, a floppy haired urchin with a clipped home counties accent but the dress sense of a bag lady, so naturally the girls love him and the lads think he’s a wanker. Nevertheless he’s got a well seasoned versatile vocal technique, able to croon, rap, scream and holler like a beered-up teenager having the worst tantrum of his life, so he’s certainly not going unnoticed.

The rest are colourful enough goblins, being sufficiently less flamboyant than their leader but happy, tight and absolutely effortless in their ability to enjoy themselves and tease out the fun in others. Be sure of it, Saving Aimee have practiced stagecraft and audience involvement as vigorously as the songs themselves, so we can stand up with ‘em to milk every last tingling drop out of free download single “Small Talk” and “We Are The Good Guys” celebrating the sheer joy of girls, gigs, guitars and grog with as much clapping, chanting and sweating as we can muster, and during that time, Saving Aimee can make you feel as if you both have limitless reserves.

It won’t be long before Saving Aimee’s hearty ability to bend a whole room to their feel-good whim becomes an extremely bankable commodity, so although we may not expect gargantuan success for ‘em in 2009, they’ll keep popping up and getting better each time until you can’t ignore the little buggers.

As Hotleg take to the stage amid a perspiring mob of punters trying to fondle bits of his costume, Justin Hawkins stands alone for a few seconds, basking in the adulation before getting down to business. His arms are a mass of tattoos, the dark roots are showing in his bleached shaggy barnet and that guitar’s hung so low it keeps whacking him in the knees. But then, with heads down and knees apart, they roar into life like a buzz-saw and the chances are, you’ve not heard or seen a more scurvy bunch of gutterdogs since The Glitterati: squealing brash guitars, a touch of ironic kitsch, pale skins, cigarette burns, bleach, eyeliner, designer stubble, bandanas, spandex…you know the score if you’re old enough. Think back, if you can, to those heady days of 88 –92, when the likes of Rich Rags, Tattooed Love Boys and Soho Roses dominated the club scene, with bands everywhere desperately pretending that they came from Hollywood. Or if you aren’t that old, think Rachel Stamp, or The Glitterati after soap and water. But essentially, if it wasn’t for that outrageous falsetto vocal, Hotleg would look and sound just like a Hanoi Rocks tribute band.

You’d be hard pushed to fault their enthusiasm for the era though, and as such, expecting anything more challenging than celebrations of sex and loud guitars would be foolish. Take new single “Trojan Guitar” for example, which as Justin helpfully informs us is “downloadable free, no tax, no obligation, just listen as loud as you like!”; it’s rolled out to hollering aplomb and gets a mass clapalong out of sympathetic support, but as songs go, it’s a bit of a turkey, being a typically clichéd bit of softcore that bursts into Crue-esque glam metal exactly when you expect it to , and ultimately as forgettable as a cigarette. Their debut download single “Heroes” is more tautly angry degenerate sleaze, and damn good it is too, but it’s “Gay In The Eighties” that really divides opinions on Hotleg, because this retro-styled celebration of camp nostalgia is comical, catchy and as corny as a Mexican turd. It’s a tune so instantly despisable that those who aren’t jumping gaily about are by-and-large making forced affectations of nauseated derision to one other, no doubt sighing to themselves that it was exactly what they expected and feared from Hawkins and Co, with a self-satisfied sneer, and making mental notes to use the words “Darkness-Lite” on their blogs later.

So much for the material, then. But as a practiced and slick band, Hotleg can hold their heads up high. Hawkins’ guitar work in Hotleg is precise and dextrous, leaving none of the room for fucking about that he had with The Darkness. You’d probably be forgiven for thinking that he was trying to be taken seriously, because Hawkins seems exceedingly comfortable thrashing around with Hotleg, and even that high vocal technique doesn’t sound like he’s taking the piss any more. That being said, they do practice a lot of cheeky things for the amusement factor, such as when JH busts a string. At a given signal they all stop – and I mean stop dead on a note with absolute unified precision and total silence – while they swap axes over, and when he’s ready to strum again, they burst smugly back to life without missing a beat, as if someone released a pause button. Style, you see. It might not be influential or unique or even desirable style, but it’s flash, and though JH might not be the most eloquent of frontmen, where showing-off is involved, he’s a master of the art.

A Xmas single and lots of booty-shaking later, it’s “mega-ballad” time, in that good old fashioned Eighties way. Yay. Big guitars, waving lighters, the odd hurled glowstick and guys drilling their erections into the spines of whichever female is in front of them, just as tradition dictates. But are we going to get a Darkness tune to top it all off? It could arguably be our little treat for being so appreciative while Hotleg strut and frolic in approved rock n roll fashion, making time honoured squeals with lots of grimaces, tart Tap-isms and grunting noises. No we’re not, despite the cat-calls. And neither will anyplace else. Why? Because JH is brave enough to stick to his guns and treat Hotleg as a band with a future rather than yet another publicity platform. This is a man, remember, who absolutely clamours for an adoring audience and to please crowds, so he’ll upset a sizable proportion of his fanbase (who missed the early shows featuring Darkness tunes) by not performing “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” on this short tour when they’ve been expecting it, but fuck ‘em. For now and for the foreseeable future, he’s finally leaving The Darkness behind him, thinking of Hotleg as a band he’s in rather than as a star with a supporting cast, starting at the bottom, looking straight ahead and damn the consequences.

Fortune favours the brave, they say, so perhaps by the summertime everything will have worked out and their gigs won’t be full of people continually spouting the D-word. But I doubt it, I really do.

Paul Mills

Acoustic Lounge – Sunday 30th November 2008
Ant & Fie, The Yuri Gagarin Contraband, Nick Stephens, Ashley (from Over By Dawn)

One of the most rewarding aspects of The Forum’s monthly Acoustic Lounge is that in addition to the usual solo spots, we often get to witness side-projects that have had little or no prior opportunity to be aired. Frequently unnamed as acts, and often with only vague working titles to the tunes, they’re no so much gigs in their true sense, but convenient opportunities to practice in front of an audience and establish what, if anything, is amiss. On this occasion, Ant from Tom Williams’ band, has teamed up with the silk-throated Fie to see what they come up with; just a piano, guitar, two vastly different voices and songs like “Laugh Out Loud” which possess such iridescent charm that they reel you in like a helpless fish.

It’s her voice that does it. Pitched somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos, she carries the whole folky melody with nervous yet determined composure as she picks away cautiously at the keyboard, careful not to put a finger wrong, miss a vocal note, or even look directly at the audience. Simple stuff for sure, and her obvious inexperience limits her technical capabilities, but there’s such a loving fragile caress in Fie’s voice, and such tense delicacy in her piano work that it’s little short of hypnotic. Plus, she’s very very pretty indeed, by hippychick standards, which does the pair of them no harm either.

Despite her hesitant manner, Ant takes pains to stay very much in a supporting role, preferring to strum away dexterously, using his rich voice only when he has to, and when taking the lead, he sings softly, as if not wishing to upstage Fie, even if she’s doing no more than sitting there picking out gently chiming chords. Together though, they harmonise beautifully, particularly on their tale of life love and laptops “Rosie” and the elegant “Paperclip Anecdote”, which sounds not unlike Kings Of Convenience stripped right down to the roots. “Tobacco Stained Guitar” however, is certainly their strongest offering, with it’s in-out breathing melodic rhythm and irresistible hook, and with a few more like this, and a touch more gloss, Ant & Fie will have a future together to take them way beyond this hallowed stage or The Grey Lady, so watch their progress.

Highly recommended by the boy Wolff (and you know how hard it is for anyone to impress our terrifying ninja doorman) The Yuri Gagarin Contraband truly is a fascinating and unique little project. It’s the brainchild of Ben Shilling, who effectively puts himself in the mind of the first man to go into space and shares with us his hopes, dreams, nightmares and fears (of which there are many) via an audio-visual medium. A projected screen and sound effects show different images of the great Russian cosmonaut, taking great pains to highlight his emotional vulnerability, with shots of him looking proud and heroic with the Russian space team, interspersed with those where he looks pensive, anguished or just plain terrified.

Supported percussively by a fellow in an orange boilersuit (looking like an extra from an old Tango advert) and a double-bassist who never ventures from the shadows, Shilling sits on his stool, as alone as his hero, strumming a battered acoustic, narrating rhythmic poems about being a real space cadet rather than the metaphorical variety, the hellish training, fear of what he’s about to do, leaving behind loved ones and the unknown future, which when you put yourself in the position of a man who doesn’t know if he’s going to die or not, is a pretty heavy deal. Like the first man to test a bullet proof vest or parachute, it takes balls, and the YGC want people to appreciate that, so Shilling’s eccentric urbanite lo-fi folk is centred wholly on Gagarin’s pre-orbital jitters, philosophical musings and whimsical flights of fancy, which compliments his Barrett-ish vocal style perfectly.

And we haven’t even touched upon the lyrics yet. Sometimes inane, but always playful, they suggest that Shilling has spent a great deal of entirely necessary time as high as a satellite. Keeping a straight face while singing such pithy gems as “lost control of my nervous system, found some knobs and I’ve got to twist ‘em…” (“Space Cadet”) and “the real destroyer, is paranoia…” (“Super Punk”) can’t be easy. The guy’s not quite on another planet, but if he told you that he’d been to one, you’d believe it. Or believe that he believes it, at least.

Thought-provoking, arty, wonderfully odd and curiously cool, the YGC are wittily and boldly original, even if their low-budget antics are a little clumsily executed. As a piece of rock theatre it’s still very much a work in progress, but they’re engaging and riveting to the point where you almost want to flip ‘em some spare change, so make every effort to check ‘em out because it’ll be well worth the bother.

Maybe it’s something to do with being a tad older than most of the turns that play here (at least the thick end of his twenties), or perhaps it’s because he’s well groomed, chatty and intelligent, so obviously more serious than most angsty young oiks, but Nick Stephens comes across almost as an acoustic geek. You know how some musicians seem to take great pains to tell you how technically minded they are, as if they’re trying to appear ultimate connoisseurs of their instrument? Come on now, we all know one or two. They’re the type, who swear that they can tell the difference between two almost identical gauges of guitar string, sneer with derision at anyone who doesn’t use a particular brand of effects pedal, recognise structural similarities between two obscure and very different pieces of music, and who think that tuning their instrument slightly differently is something that merits awed praise at their insightful genius. OK, so he’s not exactly one of those, but he’s not far off, and I daresay that creating a hybrid guitar with bass strings replacing the bottom E & A strings, is a bold and clever thing to do. It certainly helps him achieve a full and deep sound, and he can emulate bass parts under the core melody with accomplished finesse, but most people don’t care much about how it’s done, only what it sounds like.

That being said, Nick’s style is soulful, snappy, almost funky, not unlike Newton Faulkner, but without the percussive element and a voice that’s closer to Buckley. He switches back and forth between this home-made hybrid and a normal guitar according to his needs, but armed with a standard instrument, the material is considerably limper. Boasting a crooning wobbly vocal, poppy ballads such as “Supernaturalness” are pleasant enough but ultimately empty and unremarkable, which is perhaps explained by the fact that he’s more used to playing these tunes in a band rather than solo.

Vocally, he has range, power, precision and depth, when he sticks within his limits, but he’s undisciplined enough to frequently overstretch himself like an X-Factor contestant attempting Mariah Carey, treating every line as an excuse to twitter as many notes as humanly possible to disguise a bland voice with flashy glottal stops and warped warbles up and down the scales, which is bloody annoying after about 5 minutes. Nevertheless, his tunes have clearly undergone a lot of painstaking constructive thought, and although fairly average fodder overall, they’re not disposable, and he sings them with passion, giving his all, even if his audience are fidgeting and checking their watches every couple of minutes. So much, in fact, that in order to liven things up, or perhaps as a critical gesture, Forum playmate Charlotte sportingly leaves the sanctity of the bar area and rushes the stage topless, jiggles her bouncers about and streaks back again. Which is nice. Although sadly, Stephens is so wrapped up in trying to merge “The Wheels On The Bus Go Round & Round” with “Play That Funky Music White Boy”, that he doesn’t seem to notice. But that’s geeks for you.

Taking a well-earned repose from Over By Dawn, it’s difficult to tell what Ash is trying to achieve as a solo performer. Looking like a right hard-case and sounding like James Blunt might not be an obvious formula for success, but at least it isn’t the other way around.

Melodically simple and pleasantly catchy, Ash’s gentle traditional bedsit folk style is safe and sensual enough, but hardly distinguishable from half the sensitive romantic troubadours that have proliferated since Damien Rice caught on, and even if angry protest songs or sly sarcastic observations aren’t his line at all, he ticks most of the boxes if inoffensive middle-class acoustic twaddle is yours.

An acoustic cliché he might be, but you’d have to be made of stone, or German, not to be a little moved by his honeyed optimism and belief in the power of love. As he sits on that stool crooning and strumming his white guitar, you’d be forgiven for enviously imagining yourself in his position up there, serenading your truest love, while she looks on adoringly instead of reaching for the vom bucket. Indeed, if you’re starry-eyed enough, “Summer and You” will be as whimsically soppy a tune as you could wish for. But even the most tender-hearted and moonstruck lovers would be hard pushed to retain their stomach contents as he dedicates the sugary “Can I Take You Out To Tea?” to his new wife. Aah. With twee melodies and romantically idealistic lyricism, Ash’s songs are a girly dream, seemingly full of kisses, holding hands in dewy meadows and images from the ‘How To…’ book of slush.

There is an unusual depth to him though, and nowhere is this more evident than in his choice of cover. Most of us would probably agree that hearing someone busk “Wonderwall” is enough to make us want to do them physical harm, but luckily Ash redeems himself with an interesting and thoughtful take on it that’s barely recognisable, half the speed, warily delicate and actually very beautiful. However, he’s back to formulaic folk straight after, and while he may be inventive with other peoples’ tunes, his own, sadly, don’t seem to merit the same care and attention, being formulaic and almost lazy. A new song, “Bury Yourself”, for example, is half-hearted and clumsy, takes ages to actually get anywhere and ends so abruptly it seems unfinished, while the Rice-esque set closer “Hold On” is so dull and lifeless that people are yawning and starting to leave before he’s even halfway through.

Although Over By Dawn gives Ash the benefit of having seasoned and accomplished musicians behind him, which no doubt invigorates his tunes as well as his performance, as a solo acoustic turn he’s unspectacular, and it’ll take more than an interesting cover for him to raise himself above any of the hundreds of other Sunday-lunchtime pub-poets and acoustic Romeos out there. I daresay he’ll give it his best shot though, and should you and your other half find yourselves watching him at some point, any latent ardour will be rekindled with no need for effort on your part. Perhaps you can even book him for Valentine’s day.

Paul Mills

Apologies again this month, as for the first time in 5 years (although it’s been touch-and-go a few times) I’ve missed a monthly moan. No, that’s not a cryptic way of saying I might be pregnant or something, I’ve merely had to miss out reviewing a gig for July. All my own fault as I’ve moved house and the notepad I had for The Displacements gig went AWOL during the move before I’d had a chance to transcribe it, so sorry and all that, but there it is. Call it a summer holiday if you like. Besides, you wouldn’t really have wanted my opinion on it anyway, so let’s just say that it was the most godawful silage from a band that would improve the world around them by having their knees grafted onto their foreheads, set on fire and sent rolling off a high precipice onto rusty spikes, although support act Us And Them are certainly worth checking out, and be done with it. OK? Good. Believe it if you have a mind to.

Tonight though, with the climax of the Local & Live festival happening in The Pantiles and our very own Night Without Sleep creating merry Hell among the bewildered locals as supportive canine howls relay among the crowd, we’re low on bodies and high on apathy. I can’t understand it, personally. Not the turnout because that’s obvious, but the fact that people who have made an effort to pay to get in (while a street party is rippling away outside) seem to go out of their way to be surly and unappreciative. It’s like a convention for the socially inept to swap tips on how to be fascinatingly sullen and withdrawn. But hey, whatever floats their boat. As for everyone else, well, you can hardly blame ‘em for wanting to enjoy the last rain-free evening of the summer, outside amid all the fun, especially when in addition to free entertainment they’ll also get free lavishly packaged CDs, can buy their drinks from The Ragged (have we shamelessly plugged The Forum’s associated watering-hole The Ragged Trousers very much on these pages? It’s where Forum folk go to be ‘normal’. Lovely food, fine beer, good sounds, etc, and The Boy Lawrence pulling pints. Just don’t tackle the stairs while drunk) and can enjoy the luxury of sitting down on chairs, smoking, like they used to be able to do in the olden days. Eeee…when I were a lad…

So, it’s just the sort of elitist evening on which those wacky guys from Unlabel thrive, bless ‘em. There’s a chap in a pig mask (it could be Leon but it’s difficult to tell) screaming and squealing like one that’s being fed backwards into a bacon slicer, while another in a chicken mask (Allan from JATA, I think) makes odd electronic noises and rhythms, while someone else in a donkey mask batters the keyboards. It’s virtually improvised nonetheless, and really just an excuse for some mischief and mayhem, seeing what happens as they allow whatever rhythm they find among themselves to grow and mutate in an orgy of randomly skitterish angry noise and death metal shrieks.

Pretty awesome stuff if you like that kind of thing, no doubt. I don’t though, sorry, which is probably a positive endorsement of some kind when I think about it. To my wimpy ears it’s a bewilderingly unpleasant, sadistic, excruciating din, roughly akin to the highly amplified sound of thousands of nuts and bolts spinning around in a washing machine, while a broken synth goes bonkers and pig-man impersonates the cries of a demon boiling in a vat of hot mucus. But as I contemplate this, the angry young monster stomps around the floor until he eventually snaps into ‘charge!’ mode, grabs my pen and hurls it across the room. Twice. So sorry if I can’t say anything more descriptive about their twenty minutes of electro carnage, but hey, nothing to scribble with, so there you go. I daresay that this audio-terrorism is rather good, because there are enough people willingly enduring this ghastly hullabaloo, trying to get into the vibe, but personally, I found it so painful that I ground my teeth so much that they ache still (that’s true by the way), so least said, soonest mended. Perhaps it might even please the young scallywags.

And speaking of agonising noise, this is Massacres last ever gig, because they’re not talking to each other anymore, apparently. They have their reasons I suppose, although it’s probably something to do with a woman as these things generally are. Sadly though, the former Yes No Maybes never really stood a chance to begin with. For a start, even when things were ‘working’, they were a shambles: out of tune, out of time, out of steam, no coherence, no substance and no positive connection among each other when they played. In short, an absolute dog of a band. Bad tunes, minimal care, poorly executed and dull to boot. Sorry, but it was, so there. Mainly though, it was the ginger frontman who never once thought to hide his shame under a hat, and seemed to have a bizarre inability to control a single aspect of pitch, tone, volume or rhythm, in whatever came out of his mouth.

That being said, as short-lived as their existence has been, Massacres have tried to be bold and inventive with their rough-arsed dark punk. Fair dos to ‘em for believing that there’s something worth exploring, but even with their last chance to make a good impression, they still can’t find it. Tonight, Massacres play so badly, with such clumsiness, they can do no more than blunder at whatever it is they’re trying to do, hoping that they can just get it over with a bit of dignity intact.

Whether you believe it when they are described by their pals as ‘avante garde’ and ‘chaotic’ is up to you, but this lot could probably test the loyalty of their mothers, let alone their mates. They’re akin to one of those cocktails like ‘Baby’s Brains’ or ‘Blow Job’; more of a gag-inducing endurance test than anything to consume for pleasure. Separately, the ingredients are fine, and with the right partners they can make something tasty and moreish, but with Massacres it’s just bad chemistry; put ‘em all together and they congeal into a sickening snotty mess that’s as pleasant to swallow as whale spunk. They simply make a shapeless, unpalatable racket, and perhaps putting the beast down is for the best.

When the guitar pedals give up the ghost, they hesitantly enquire whether they should just move on or start again with effects intact, so under the instruction of their chums who agree, actually, demand, that they want to hear it again, they do. It would almost make for a moment of connection and warmth, providing a much needed element of intimacy if there was any discernable difference, or if Massacres used this opportunity to focus themselves and give of their very best. But there isn’t and they don’t. Massacres are holding it together purely through friendly sympathy and what’s more, they know it. As they progress, the disdain between them becomes more and more apparent, causing them to add bitterness to an already sour mixture, and as the last chords die, bassman Ben throws his guitar to the floor and storms off in a huff, which somewhat takes the starch out of Ginger’s planned farewell sneer. A mean thing to do to your frontman when he’s obviously been rehearsing a big moment, but no doubt satisfying.

I reckon it’s a safe bet that there’s a bird involved.

I had cause to get nostalgic recently, inspired by a band of the same name playing on our hallowed stage, and watch ‘Jubilee’, which if you haven’t seen it is one of most bizarrely pointless rock ‘n’ roll movies ever made. If you can stomach it (and I have every sympathy if you cannot), you might possibly be struck, as I was, by a similarity between Adam Ant performing ‘Plastic Surgery’ and the dance moves of Selfish Cunt’s Martin Tomlinson. I checked out a video of theirs afterwards just to make sure and the similarity is uncanny. They both twitch and jump like rabid rats and yelp a lot of fantasy ramblings, but more specifically, they’re both clearly unwell and watching crazy people let loose is grimly fascinating. Therein lies part of Selfish Cunt’s appeal as it’s riveting to watch someone whose behaviour is alleged to be unpredictable, and we go to see them not for the pleasure of their creations, but because we think that we should.

Although when Ant wrote ‘Press Darlings’ I wonder if, in his darker moods, he ever envisaged such a creature as Martin Tomlinson: the ‘controversial’ homosexual rocker who whines that the country is shit, behaves like a deviant corruptive maniac on stage and acts like, well, a selfish cunt. If he had, perhaps he would have given up there and then. For Selfish Cunt are living proof that everything we are sold by the media is a lie, and the public are gullible fools eager to have the most appalling bilge shoved down their throats in the name of artistic expression, glad to trumpet about how wonderful it tastes. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose as the young Parisians might have said.

I’m not saying it didn’t work, ever. A couple of years ago, they were just as bloody awful, but they generated a level of genuine excitement and intrigue that earned them at least some of attention they received. Perhaps in a crowded room, where the sweat clings to the bodies and the rhythm seduces the moshing muscles, they can command the eccentric actions of their disciples still. But certainly not tonight, and probably never again. Tonight there’s no façade of rock ‘n’roll craziness with Selfish Cunt, just tedium on a grand scale as they force themselves through a pantomime of forced naughtiness and unambitious repetitive strain. And just how outrageous is this young self-harming and self-deprecating scamp that fronts them? Well, it depends on whether there’s anyone there to show off to. Tonight, there’s precious few to care, so whereas the performer that he once was wouldn’t give a toss and could use the lack of adulation for mischief, this evening he merely goes through whatever motions are necessary to earn his fee and wails “is your pussy wet?…my pussy’s wet…” over and over again, like some bored porno harlot, as if it’s the only thing he can think of saying, and it probably is.

Nevertheless, Tomlinson has a part to play; that of an unhinged undernourished underachiever, fighting back to pour scorn and deviant sex-fluids on people of all races ages and cultures, with nobody escaping his contempt as he sneers and shrieks disturbed string-of-consciousness lyrics with his own brand of politically incorrect irony. “I saw a nigger cleaning your streets …” he yells, and I daresay there’s one or two lefties uncomfortable with a skinny gay white boy using the n-word, just the way he intends it. Between his staccato mock-beat poetry and the backdrop of angry grinding white noise comprised of bendy structures, feedback, squeals, loops and bassy rumbles, he pirouettes like a drunken ballet dancer, strutting and prancing about the empty floor, trying to appear sinisterly unhinged but actually looking a bit ridiculous. “I’m gonna fuck the living daylights out of you…” he croons. To the wall. He asks us to come on his big dick as well, which is jolly hospitable of him I must say, but nobody takes him up on that offer either.

Unless you’re about twelve and get excited about sexual gestures and swearing, it’s a desperate exercise in nonchalance and flat inane boredom. We aren’t talking about a mere ‘off’ gig, understand, we’re talking about a rock act that doesn’t know what to do with itself anymore, other than to give the media a legitimate excuse to print the c-word. They haven’t grown, become inspired, or even refined their comically ironic qualities, they’ve merely carried on churning out shite that when you strip away the cusses, is actually just…well, shite. It’s disconcerting to realise that as awful as they were 2 years ago, it actually represented Selfish Cunt at their artistic and creative peak. Now, well, they just make the same noises out of habit. But it’s not just the musical stagnation that’s a problem; they’ve lost interest in what they’re doing even from the perspective of entertainment. Gone is the grotesque edginess and theatrical anxious deviance that made them infamous, and in it’s place is only the residue, like a limp half-arsed shadow striking a few vague poses and fading away into nothingness. “We’re gonna come back and paint the town black…”. Yeah, right.

Of course, it’s arguable that the clue’s in the name and Selfish Cunt are happy to show the world that they do exactly what it says on the label. Yeah yeah, “Iggy for a new era”, and all that rubbish, and we can chuck in the words “cathartic theatre” or however it was that The Guardian described them if that makes you feel better, but come on, enough’s enough. Selfish Cunt aren’t and have never been bold, ironic, inventive, outrageous, or whatever tag you care to put on them to make them sound more interesting. They’re just rubbish, and to endure them for pleasure is to accept that you are not only deaf, but a fashion victim.

Not that they haven’t done well out of it of course. To go from being proud denizens of the art-college set and bearers of the “London’s most exciting live band” tag for almost a whole summer, to inducing equal mixtures of rapture and revulsion in the festival tents of Europe is a proud achievement, but why and how have they achieved this? It’s the name, that’s all. Just a name. Let’s face it, if Selfish Cunt were called ‘Scented Candles’ or something, they’d scarcely be mentioned in a fanzine let alone lauded as one of Britain’s best. Most people with an ear to the ground have heard of them, but how many of those have actually listened to them and how many just want to snigger that they’ve seen a band called Selfish Cunt?

Their recognition (if that’s an appropriate word) has hardly been built upon the music, more upon getting the word ‘cunt’ in newspapers and on t-shirts more often than one used to see in days gone by. Credit where it’s due, they have helped shape the public’s perception of a word, and raise the question of what is truly obscene, and apart from a handful of loonies, most people seem to agree that seeing the word ‘cunt’ in the paper or having our kids listen to bands with names like Selfish Cunt and Fuck Buttons, aren’t going to make us choke on our morning muesli and write to The Courier in protest. After all, if such respected organs as Her Majesty’s Press can say it and nobody bats an eyelid, and if television channels can make documentaries about it and not receive complaints from Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, then the word ‘cunt’ simply doesn’t bother us much anymore and it’s taken the media attention towards Selfish Cunt to demonstrate that. So, if Selfish Cunt want to regain their place in the spotlight, seeing as people are yawning at the likes of “Tranny Fucker”, perhaps the only way they’re going to do it is change their name to something even more offensive. But what?

You see, (and I’m gonna go on for a bit here, but bear with me, it’ll make sense eventually) when ‘fuck’ lost it’s impact we still had ‘cunt’ to upgrade to when we wanted a proper swear word, as it’s taboo status meant that it gave immense satisfaction and maximum offence. Now, thanks to Selfish Cunt, it’s lost it’s impact as a cuss word. It’s still not a word we want our children to use, but there is a perverse satisfaction in that this band have done what dozens of generations of mighty scholars, musicians, filmmakers, pornographers, artists, writers, creative minds, intellectuals, critics, lawyers, rulers, politicians, priests, presidents, broadcasters, humble peasants, in fact, pretty much anyone, failed to do: they have taken the sting out of the word ‘cunt’. They have, without meaning to do so (which is pretty much how most important things were discovered) found a way of softening that word on the British consciousness and downgrading its potency.

Lets not forget that the word was not always as offensive as it is now. It’s common knowledge that there was a street in London called Gropecunt Lane and that Chaucer used it (with some pretty bizarre and inconsistent spellings raging from ‘quaint’ to ‘kent’) but it is changing attitudes that reflect the relative obscenity of words and they can evolve surprisingly quickly. Our grandparents thought nothing of the word ‘nigger’ but it’s deeply offensive now, and ‘fuck’ then was something everyone said but not in the public media. Even ‘bloody’ was outrageous a generation ago, with Mary Whitehouse frothing at the mouth about it being used by such social caricatures as Alf Garnett, but in 2008 you’ll find it being used by J K Rowling and delighting children.

Now of course, even the hallowed Beeb makes a point of ensuring a healthy ‘fuck’ quota to it’s post-watershed programming. If ‘cunt’ is all we have left as an unacceptable taboo, then it’s now lost its impact, meaning and ability to shock. We need a new word to replace it. That’s right, we need a new swear word now that those selfish cunts Selfish Cunt have stolen it from us, to ensure that we continue to have a word in our language guaranteed to offend and upset parents. A word so filthy that old ladies will have aneurisms upon hearing it. A word so taboo that it would render the person to whom it was directed to get terribly upset, perhaps even cry. But making up a new word isn’t easy, so we must choose an existing word, one that already has connotations of obscenity, and make it more so by perverting the meaning.

The word I’m proposing is ‘cuck‘. First of all, like all good swear words (with the exception of bollocks’, which is the juiciest word in the English language) it has 4 letters, one vowel and one syllable. Secondly, it contains parts of the two other rudest words, ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ in order of offensiveness. Thirdly, it is a contraction of ‘cuckold’, (which the older among you would know, is someone whose spouse has been unfaithful) and is in itself a term used contemptuously, as such persons were once the outcasts of respectable society. Finally, just say it out loud and replace ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’ with it. It’s very convincing: Oh cuck! Cuck you! Cuck off! Cuck me! Go cuck yourself! What the cuck? Cucking hell! Cucking cuck! What a cuck! See where it’s going?  It sounds as if it should be up there with ‘fuck’, or ‘cunt’, and quite like ‘cock’ too. I’ve also checked Viz’s Profanisaurus and can’t find it, so yay, we’re in business.

But what, pray, does it actually mean? To whit, how can we employ this word in our lexicon of obscenity? Well it has a meaning already, but it’s not a modern one, so let’s revive it into something with a bit more kick. In line with the other swear words it would have to something to do with genitals, arses or substances produced by either. To up the offensiveness a bit and make it really filthy, it should also have a connotation that implies passive homosexuality, incest, religion and probably paedophilia too. After racking my brains for a good few minutes this morning while trying to decide what to put on my toast, I decided that the substance that I’d least like to have spread upon it would be the congealed plug of excrement, smegma and old semen in the unwashed anus of a kiddie-fiddler priest who had been sodomised by all his male relatives since he was a baby. This substance, ladies and gentlemen is  ‘cuck’. It sounds similar to ‘cack’ too, which kinda fits the theme.

So, there you have it. If Selfish Cunt can’t maintain appeal with their music and can barely evoke a raised eyebrow when their very name contains the naughtiest of words, then desperate measures are needed and perhaps adopting a brand new identity via a brand new obscenity is the answer. Selfish Cuck. Lets put it on t-shirts and start a cucking revolution.

Paul Mills

Ghostwood, The Crucible, Ghosts In Mirrors, XYEZ

20th June 2008

First of all, an apology, as I owe it. This month’s moan was a long time coming (and July’s late, I know…), but sorry, I’m old and have a life, so sincere apologies to everyone, especially the fop Randall, who has been patient with my lack of recent output on account of currently having no computer of my own on which to slouch in front of and pretend I have a purpose. Actually, I don’t really have much of anything possessions-wise at the moment, and that’s a good thing. Apparently. At least that’s what I’m supposed to say. Ah, rest assured all you young lovers out there (including our very own Baggers, who will tie the knot at around the time this article goes online. Love and congratulations to them both from me and all of us at Blam Towers, best wishes, big kisses, etc), I still believe that true love and marriage are the greatest things ever and life’s all about taking chances and embracing opportunities. When love happens, grasp it fully and the chances are, you’ll be happy for the rest of your life. But should things not quite go to plan, take comfort in finding out that it doesn’t have to be ugly and there is a positive lighter side to divorce, if you know how to find it. Knowing that by not having certain material possessions, I’m somehow more free, more independent, can start anew without all the trappings of a past life to tie me down and will have more time for other activities that I may have neglected, means that pretty soon I can have what Americans call ‘closure’, which sounds jolly fun compared to getting all miffed about things, I must say. So provided that I don’t have to start slobbering over people in group therapy or something equally ghastly, I’m all for optimism. But it doesn’t stop a chap missing certain material possessions he previously took for granted when he feels the need to write things. Or check out a band’s website. Or find a flat. Or knock one out. Or pay a fucking bill.

So, having limited web access, until tonight I knew nothing about XYeZ beyond the fact that I recall one or two people on the Forum message board being inarticulately but moderately impressed by the bassist last year. But nothing’s good though, right? No info, no comparisons, no specific expectations; the proverbial blank page upon which to draw one’s own conclusions without having that opinion tainted by someone like, well, me I suppose. Despite inevitable disappointments, there’s a real thrill to be had when discovering new music, whether it’s actually new or just new to you. XyEZ are in the latter category despite being a Stable band scoring highly enough in the Fan’s Choice to reach the finals, so a chance to find out is very welcome indeed, even though I know nothing.

Well, if Socrates was right and the only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing, then XYeZ’s sassy frontlady Hanna Webb must be a fucking genius. No, really, hear me out, because I’m not being a bastard for the sake of it, I’m just observing that the only possible excuse for young Miss Webb’s actions is blissful ignorance of what not to do, and how such actions could be interpreted. Not that she’s bad as a frontperson, understand, as she’s enthusiastic enough and let’s face it, also rather pretty. People are happy to do her bidding, given a chance, as she’s spirited and promisingly confident addressing a crowd. It just clearly hasn’t been explained to her that as the person fronting this bunch of Brightonian funkateers (and therefore being the main visual focus) there are some things she can get away with and some she can’t. Holding the microphone too far away to pick up her vocals when she realises she’s going off key in the hope that people won’t notice is one of them, and another is allowing bassist Lloyd to hog the limelight time and time again when it’s not his bloody call. Good you might be Lloyd, but please, we know. Stay at the side and do your fucking job you flash prannet.

Sure, it might be his band and his songs, and he might be an extraordinarily gifted musician, but when young Hanna’s trying to sing (after a fashion) and get the modest-sized crowd involved in some spirited funky fun, allowing him to repeatedly barge in (mid-verse, mid-chorus, anywhere he feels like in fact) and bask in the centre stage position just because he hasn’t shown off how fast his fingers are for at least 30 seconds…well, aside from emphasising how unimportant she is, it’s damn rude and she needs to give the lad a dry slap. Clearly she’s very used to it, because she uses these moments of being pushed temporarily aside to shake her arse somewhere else and pose half-heartedly with the microphone, trying to look as if she was meaning to do it, so when she gets back in position and they begin to behave like a band again, she’s only really killing time until he wants to be basking in vain narcissistic glory once more. Given that she’s barely audible, controlled, or tuneful anyway, it’s as if her place in the band is of no more consequence than the type of van they drove in order to get here, and any old screamer will do provided that Lloyd can demonstrate how flash he can be on his 5 string (yay for the 5 string bass – let’s give the 5 string bass some appreciation please – look, it’s got, like, 5 strings and that) and he can smugly enjoy the jealous mutterings from other watching bassists (such as our own Mr Thunderfingers himself, Funkydan) who begrudgingly agree that he knows his business.

But that’s all incidental, because if you wanted – and I mean REALLY wanted – strangers to visit your band’s Myspace page, how would you encourage them? Come on, think for a moment. Think about what would influence you as a potential fan. How about a new song that’s just gone up, exclusive downloads, the array of pictures and videos, or simply an invitation to get more info? Or would “Come and visit it because nobody else does!” do the trick for you? Hanna seems to think it will and doesn’t realise that it’s tantamount to saying “we’re not worth your time and nobody seems to like us”, but as I said, it’s just unwitting ignorance. Innocence, even. So maybe the old Greek fellow had a point after all.

As for Lloyd, well, as long as he’s got a chance to grin like an actor in a toothpaste commercial and show off those dancing digits, it seems he’ll be happy, whatever fate dictates awaits XYeZ. But it would be such a shame to let a talent like that stagnate in such unfertile ground. He really can do so much better, given a chance to get his ego kicked into shape, and I hope he does. I might be wrong of course and wind up making myself look silly, as I have no idea whether XYeZ are the bassist’s pet project and everything revolves around him at all, because when I eventually got online their Myspace page gave little indication of it. It just seems that way to the outside observer. I could be reading too much into it, writing late at night as I am, tired and allowing my mind to wander, so he may simply be more obvious than the others because he’s clearly the most talented member of the band. Factually incorrect or not, my assumption is based on one 20 minute observation which appeared to be of a bunch of yes-men (and one yes-woman) doing as they are told at the whim of an egotist. Apologies if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

That aside though, XYeZ’s scatty spluttering funk rock is polished and danceable; it’s latino-flavoured rhythm section is balanced out by raw bloody-knuckled guitar work that can lift the bleakest of moods. Despite the limp vocals, they knock out dynamically soulful and chewy tunes, whether in the guise of sensuous soft rock for vegetarians and people who wash, or pumping granite-bollocked heaviosity for scuzzy bloody-mouthed vagrants. Because that’s the rub ladies and gentlemen; XYeZ have some very, very, good tunes indeed and damn right they sound commercial. Yes, you can actually hum them, and what’s more, remember them. “Above The Level” for example, is as slick as eel spunk, but they maintain an edgy funky freshness that goes beyond the usual dross inflicted by third-generation RHCP derivatives and they sound, well, as if they may be onto something. Unfortunately though, nobody apart from the bassist is remotely capable of truly bringing these songs to life.

Don’t get me wrong, they can all play, and earlier comments aside, Hanna’s still better than many of her girly Stable peers. It’s just that they’re all mind-numbingly drab and average and he isn’t. Sure, it has a glossy tint to it all, and they can get the job done, but that’s the point. XYeZ are nothing more than an adequate bunch of musicians. As a band they come across as a faceless vehicle for this extraordinary bassist, and although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, surrounding himself with musical mediocrity when he could be in so much less creatively limited company…well, that’s a bit different. It’s something akin to a racing driver behind the wheel of a clapped-out Rover, or the Prom Queen who surrounds herself with dowdy sorts because she’s scared of not being the centre of attention.

But hey, I know nothing, remember. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

Mind you, there’s always an excuse for knowing nothing. I’ve made mine, Hanna probably has hers, but Ghosts In Mirrors frontwoman France (yes, that’s her name. I’m thinking of changing mine to “England” just so I can have the word on my passport) has certainly got the best one in that anything is forgiven if you are foreign and cute. Look at The Cheeky Girls. France is cute in the way puppies and kittens are cute when they aren’t shitting on your floor, and what’s more she knows it. She’s acutely aware of the effect she has on teenage hormones (after all, young T** A***** wants to have babies with her despite being gay as a maypole) so what on earth is she wearing? I’m hardly one to preach on dress sense but that gaudy red black & white frock looks like curtains that were considered tastelessly vulgar in the seventies. In Poland. And it makes her arse look big. Mind you, I still would, and so would you. It’s just a pity she can’t sing really, although the rumour going round is that they asked around for a frontwoman who was ‘horny and mental’ but she misheard and thought they said ‘ornamental’ and nobody’s had the heart to tell her otherwise. It must be that saucy accent she’s got, as he could tell you she’s just shat in your bed and you’d still go all gooey, hoping she’ll say it again.

Nevertheless, it’s damn convincing and expressive alt-prog for the first five or ten minutes. France may move like a chanteuse and sound like Amy Lee singing in the toilet while drunk, but musically its haunting, lyrical and imaginatively atmospheric stuff, full of elaborately intertwined vocal and guitar hooks that are both gripping and elegant when the lass is in tune. Traces of Nightwish and Within Temptation bubble up from under the surface as they become steadily heavier, but GIM retain a certain steady brooding groove of their own throughout making such references meaningless. However it gets a little tiresome as they only seem to have one trick up their sleeves, albeit quite a good one that wouldn’t be repeated so often if it didn’t work for them.

Their slightly gothic elements aren’t overplayed either, but aside from some fine ideas there’s little of the savage finesse needed to take them beyond the realms of drabness and after a while her voice will really start to grate on you, trust me. Even semi-narrating a passage PJ Harvey style through a megaphone only serves to emphasise her flatness and sloppy vocal technique, but she disguises it well enough simply by being French and saucy.

Still, for those of you that miss Imperium but wished that they were a bit mellower, Ghosts In Mirrors might just be what you need to scratch the itch.

From the murkier corners of the progsphere though, come the winners of ‘Best Three Piece’ at the 2007 Glasswerks Music Awards, East London’s The Crucible. It may feel like they want to revive the early days of Sub Pop, but this brash, loud, energetic trio are harder than a paedo’s penis in a playground. Although Guitarist/Vocalist Dan Isaac has a gauche and limited vocal style, their material veers between the austere rugged darkness of Alice In Chains and QOTSA’s tongue-in-arsecheek swagger, giving a Muse-ical polish to their proggy timings and thunderous drums, even hinting at dizzying low-end power rock a-la Black Mountain. All rather exciting really, as they unleash their thrashing rhythmic rippling menace on us, building it all up from subtle tones to bombastic extravagance in a few sweaty beats and turning new single “Beyond Driven” (out now on Sub Mariner. Buy it, it’s ace) into a gigantic hulk of a tune that does to the ears what a Chicken Phal does to the bowels.

. Their set is criminally short though, cut by time restraints but that doesn’t seem to hinder them tonight. They haven’t got time to be pissed off at the turnout and it ain’t there show either, so they simply get on with it uncommunicatively, trying to ignore the twitching bodies that pass for an audience and allow themselves an opportunity to get off on their angry flair, even if nobody else does.

Maybe it’s the late start that’s made things so difficult for Sydney’s Ghostwood, as it’s 11pm before they’ve even tuned up and most people have left to catch the last train. Or perhaps it’s because their faces indicate that they are about as comfortable as a hang-glider with diarrhoea. Hardly a good recipe for getting a small but workable audience on their side, but you see, they have a secret. They have frontman/guitarist Gabriel Navidzadeh, and he’s got the special ability to make all your cares disappear, along with your girlfriend’s underwear, so they can get away with doing pretty much as they please. A devastatingly handsome little furry fella, it’s as if Johnny Borrell and Russell Brand were grafted together with no thought about what bits would go where, but one glance from those tired dark-rimmed eyes as he shuffles nonchalantly to centre stage, and you’ll understand why every remaining female mouth in the room is drooling and concluding that walking home really isn’t so bad after all.

Ghostwood lurk in doomy wet darkness and atmospheric anxious melancholia, as if bits and pieces of JAMC, The Cure, Ride and My Bloody Valentine had been hammered together by punchdrunk yobs, which is something only Aussies seem to be able to pull off successfully. OK, so they look about as happy as a baby’s funeral, but when you have a voice and presence like Gabriel’s, such things cease to matter and your only bugbear will be that the set’s not long enough. It’s a gurgling, anguished bellow that sighs, hoots, growls and lurks angrily below the surface of that fizzy, echoing, swirly guitar sound; as hypnotic as it is commanding, like Jaz Coleman might have sounded if he ever decided to write about teenage jailbait and getting drunk on alcopops instead.

Sure, it’s twangy, slightly depressing shoegazing music for surly people whose parents don’t understand them. But if the Aussies are going to produce more beautiful poetic rock stars for the ladies to get all moist over and for the teenage boys to hail as new messiahs of misery, then Ghostwood seem to be pretty much their best hope. All we need is for them to remember that the UK shuts down at 11pm rather than starts, and they’re onto a winner.

Paul Mills

Chain Street & 4th, Greg & Chas, Leon & Phil, The Flavenoids

No, I don’t know why these Unlabel spin-off shows are called “Dog Ego Company”, just in case you’re wondering. And you quite might be, because I know I’m not the only patron curious as to whether it is supposed to mean anything. However, I can reveal why these individually numbered Dog Ego Co nights appear to be going backwards. This is what, number 29 or something like that? 28’s next week and this is allegedly because UnBob has decided to treat them like his birthdays in that after 30 they’ll go in reverse. Sound thinking I reckon, although Bob does risk growing into the only teenager in Tunbridge Wells drawing a pension, but there you go. Age affects us in different ways, and even if it doesn’t make us fret about our physical decline, if nothing else, increasing age causes us to view the world with a more jaundiced eye. Call it bitterness if you wish; I won’t argue.

As I sat in the car listening to the news this evening (as is my want), I found myself watching (with considerable curiosity) the local wildlife which thrives around the back of The Forum, going through their rather charming mating rituals. Well, we all feel that way inclined when springtime is upon us, and it’s strangely sweet to see these delightful examples of regional fauna so well-practiced in the fine arts of courtship. If I were a wildlife spotter, I may have paid more attention to the finer details of the rituals and therefore may have been able to eventually identify the precise sub species of these peculiar rodents, but since I’m not, I can only provide a generic description in that they were a modestly sized pack, scuttling southwards towards the courtship grounds near the roundabout.

At a distance, as any observer will agree, the sexes are difficult to determine, due to the nylon branded sportswear coats adopted by both, plus a shared habit of blowing smoke from thin white sticks, which may have once been an exclusively male privilege but in recent generations has evolved into a practice commonly adopted by both genders. As they passed closer by, I could determine what I could only assume were three males (identifiable by shorter hair, an aggressive stance and a red and white canister carried in the hand and swigged from intermittently) and 2 females (identifiable by slightly longer hair, a disproportionately oversized rear end, a glass bottle in the hand and the more obvious fact that their mating cries are higher-pitched and louder than those of the males).

The male seemingly has to demonstrate his excellent genes by impressing the female with his physical superiority, but risk minimal harm to himself, so a great deal of posturing, spitting and loud grunting towards other species is required to attain the female’s interest, with the other two males ready to show support in the event of real danger by joining the alpha male in a pack attack. A loud shriek from the larger female seems to be the signal to proceed to the next courtship level which involves impressing her with his athleticism, and this seems to be best demonstrated by hurling the metal canister (still full of liquid) with great force at a parked car, with the intent of shattering the glass. A failure, oddly, is met with the enthusiasm of a success, and joint cackling screams of “Naaaaaaaaagghh!! Gaz yorra faaakin men’al kaaant!” from the females and appreciative laughter seem to show that trying is the main thing, although a great deal of importance seems to revolve about the idea of treating the car like a vanquished enemy, so it is often attacked afterwards to inflict further damage and perhaps remove part of it as a trophy of the hunt. This particular missile did not cause much damage however, and pausing only to kick the driver’s door, the pack soon disappeared from view towards the bright lights that beckoned them.

As I watched these creatures on their way to play, the latest details in the trial for Sophie Lancaster’s brutal murder were being broadcast. For those of you that don’t follow current affairs beyond which bands have broken up today, this was the case of a young girl beaten to death by such feral youths for “being a goth”. It’s arguable that being a goth had nothing to do with it, as these lowlife bits of barely-human chav detritus were vicious violent vermin that would have started on anyone seemingly weaker than them and unfortunate enough to have been in their vicinity at the time, regardless of how they dressed. For once though, the tabloids have got closer to the truth than they usually do, because as sickening as it sounds, such attacks by Neanderthal pikeys on “grungas n gofs” happen virtually every weekend in this town. Whose turn it is tonight to receive a kicking is impossible to say, but it’s a fairly safe bet that it won’t be another cowardly shell-suited thug ending up in casualty, unless it’s to have their stomach pumped. And you can tell that someone or something is going to receive the wrath of the underclass tonight, because the Fair is in town and it’s attracting scurrying rat boys like some drum ‘n’ bass version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, so as sure as night follows day, some kind pack of humanitarian peasants, perhaps even those I observed earlier, will stagger from it soon, vomiting Stella Artois and candyfloss as they search for someone to batter or a parked car to destroy on the way back to their holes.

If you’re a young person, you’ll be worried about yourself or your friends, and quite rightly so. But if you’re older, with children of your own, you can’t help but worry about their safety when you know the sort of scum that are out there looking for someone to bully or rob from. These same scum share the same schools and the same streets, so a teenage daughter seemingly impressed by these monkeys in tracksuits is a parent’s nightmare, and it’s for this reason that I’m not going to slag off The Flavenoids and refer to them as a ridiculous and agonisingly awful bunch of clueless schoolgirl bints, whereas in the past I wouldn’t even have hesitated to do so. It’s age again, you see. You start to realise that there are far, far worse things for kids to do with their time than being in a diabolically bad band, and on the whole, no matter how ghastly they were, if it were my own daughter up there I’d be proud and pleased as punch about it when I consider potential alternatives to her and her mates making a brain-aching racket in the garage and pissing off the neighbours.

Can somebody give me some water, my voice is about to go…” croaks lead lady Jessamy as she steps nervously up to the mic, her face rigid with anxiety. It doesn’t bode well. Like everyone playing in support tonight, The Flavenoids haven’t had a chance to rehearse or even prepare because they’ve stepped in at the last minute after cancellations, so a lot can be forgiven. To agree to do this when they clearly aren’t ready is exceptionally brave of them, but sadly shows them in their worst possible light, which is 4 teenage girls (well, they qualify as such), 3 chords (E, A and G), 2 speeds (all over the place and stop), and 1 idea (lets form a band and try not to be too terrible).

From a strictly critical viewpoint, they could be regarded as portrayers of ghastly, excruciating, plodding schoolchild jamming that helps cement the stereotype of girl bands being fucking rubbish, as they’re devoid of cohesion and unable to listen to each other until the set’s nearly finished. Stylistically it vaguely evokes the Yeah Yeah Yeahs being jammed by apes wearing mittens, and I doubt you’d find any disagreement even from them. The Flavenoids know that they’re shit and make no apologies for it. They don’t have the ability to bring out a fraction of their ideas at this stage, and as such they come across a bit like a parody of themselves as they try in vain to hold the bare bones together, playing alongside but never with each other as their timeslot ticks away.

Blond vixen Jessamy might have an indistinct voice (or a bloody awful one, depending on your personal tolerance levels) but even with a sore throat she uses it confidently, avoiding any temptation to go beyond her limited range and power levels, because it’s enough of a struggle with the basics as it is and there’d be no sense in embarrassing herself. Simple trashy rock ‘n’ roll is the name of the game with The Flavenoids, and perhaps it’s their gritty determination to come through unscathed that somehow makes them slightly endearing, even a little cute as they rasp away at what could well be a cover if it was vaguely recognisable.

But let’s not forget that experiencing this kind of embarrassing episode in those formative years before they can drink and buy fags legally, is part of an essential learning process and has to be endured. It’s cruel to slate ‘em simply for being inexperienced as everyone has to start somewhere and stepping in to do this at the eleventh hour shows guts and moral fibre, but it’s nothing more than courageous heartfelt fun at this stage, untempered by practice, patience and time, which are the factors that will determine the The Flavenoids future, if they have one. Until then its valuable experience, so watch them closely and they may even end up tolerable.

Blimey, I reckon I’m getting soft in my dotage.

Another problem with being old though is that whether you want to or not, you eventually mellow your musical tastes as everyday life limits your listening time to things you know you like. Sure, lots of other new exciting stuff drifts across constantly and there are fewer keener pleasures than discovering something that revolutionises your own tastes, but if you want any sort of life at all, you have to accept that there are things that you simply aren’t going to ‘get’, no matter how eclectic you’d like your musical tastes to appear. I know for a fact that I’ll never properly understand or appreciate hip hop, electronic dance, or most jazz, so in the knowledge that I only have limited time in the average day for selfish pleasures, I’ve given up trying. Hey, I’m middle-aged, shoot me. The point is, I also don’t get a lot of what Unlabel finds appealing. Sure, some of it is fantastic, but I really can’t appreciate instrumental noise which sounds like endless droning feedback punctuated by vague guitar strums and randomly plucked strings at an earsplittingly high volume, while someone screams unintelligible nonsense now and again. In a post rock universe (or ATP), it’d be atmospheric lo-fi noise art, but in my day they’d call it tuning up while the soundman’s absent. Ignorant idiotic philistine that I am, I have as much chance of enjoying or even adequately describing Headquarters’ Leon and his buddy Phil’s experimental random headfucking as your granny, so I won’t even try as I take no pleasure in having my eardrums ruptured by something this fundamentally ugly and pointless. Maybe there is a point, I dunno, but it’s lost on me whatever it is, which thinking about it is probably a positive endorsement. OK, to be fair, they aren’t a band, a project or anything tangible really, just two geezers filling in by improvising a doomy din for a while which is great in spirit and appreciated by many. Just not me. Sorry.

Slightly less arduous on the senses are ex 9-Volt quad-stringer (and winner of the 2008 ‘Bloody Nice Bloke’ award) Greg Cheney and his acoustic associate Chas, who haven’t got a name for their enterprise yet but are open to suggestions, so please feel free to post yours at the bottom of this page and if they use it, I’ll give you a prize. They haven’t had a chance to prepare either, but at least there’s a vague resemblance to a workable unit going on, no matter how sloppy it might be. Well, I say that it’s a unit, but it seems to be pretty much whatever Chas wants to do, and what Chas wants to do is make emasculated folk pop pitched somewhere between Damien Rice and Jack Johnson that would probably give James Blunt a momentary stirring in the trouser department, while Big Greg sits there smiling, acoustic bass on his knee, not intruding on Chas’s limelight as he chirpily plucks out a lazy backbeat, trying not to look like a giant backing up an elf.

They almost have it from the offing, as an opening cover of Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Stay Tonight” snaps together pretty damn snugly to the point of suddenly receiving enthusiastic cheers. Beginning with a cover is a risky move and they both know it, but the warmth in the crowd’s reaction seems to have taken young Chas by surprise, leaving the duo unsure of where to go next. While the audience are perhaps expecting more singalong pop as a lightweight interlude after the previous noise terrorism, perhaps they weren’t expecting something quite as lightweight as what they were served with, but it doesn’t dampen anyone’s spirit, least of all Chas’s.

He’s got a slick David Gray-ish voice too; a little lacking in power perhaps, but nice enough to listen to for a while if you like that sort of thing, which he does if the next few tunes are anything to go by. He even starts to get a bit Newton Faulkner on us, experimenting with guitar-body percussion while crooning twee nonsense like “oh come to me, dreamy melody…”, but it’s a fine tune regardless, and they at least have the luxury of being the closest to ‘cuddle music’ that the evening’s going to get, and the couples seem to take advantage accordingly.

Greg & Chas make a pleasant, if not entirely thrilling attempt at contemporary acoustic cool, and with luck could find themselves entertaining punters in wine bars before too long, because that seems to be the most fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of popularity when you have tender songs of heartbreak and holding hands to deliver. “We’re gonna do a Bob Marley type thing…” warns Chas, and a fairly simple calypso ensues as they explore Caribbean clichés in the way that Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” does, before leading the couples into a “one love” chorus. They adore that sort of bland bilge in such places, and should keep it for them because doing it somewhere like a pub in Brixton would probably get them shot.

Age, or maturity if you like, has caught up with Chris Hoad too. The demise of 9 Volt a year ago may have been a sad occasion for those of us that followed the Crowborough mosh-merchants with fanatical zeal, but the absolute necessity of it becomes blindingly obvious now that this solo project has reached fruition. Unrestricted by petty internal politics or the rigid confines of accessible metal, the driving force behind 9 Volt is back, and this time it’s personal. Chain Street & 4th are the embodiment of Choad’s own private fantasies and fears, his inner demons, frustrations and torments come to life. Sure, the Choadlet’s onstage persona is still geared around smutty innuendo as some things never change, but style-wise it’s as far removed from the traditionally raucous metal of 9 Volt as a standard porn flick is from 2 Girls & 1 Cup; musically this project is darker, deeper and scarier than a cave full of vampire bats.

From the opening guitar blast of “The Sentence” to the twisted acid-gargling fury of “Litigation Machines” it’s clear that Chain Street’s modus operandi is to create challenging gritty post-grunge that’s tight, explorative and terrifying, like a grimier, slimier Bring Me The Horizon, fused with the epic anger of Tool, leaving you to marvel at the unhinged toothgrinding moodiness of it all. Tangled blistered guitar squeals, spurting progressive rhythms and intense mathy cool abounds, full of light and shade, loud bits, quiet bits and bits that are just plain weird. It ain’t pretty but it’s immensely heavy and satisfying as they riff out in a flurry of sweaty feedback and distorted, epic, constantly mutating, grinding grunge. And of course, if we want to extend the Chain Street experience we’re all encouraged to buy their new debut album “Devices” (out now on Unlabel) for a mere £8, which as Choad helpfully reminds is around the same price as a prostitute from Glasgow, although slightly more costly and certainly a better investment towards a good time than one from Slough.

Although a clean break from 9 Volt personnel would initially seem to be the obvious choice for such a personal endeavour, having fellow ex- 9 Volter Jamie Straker sharing guitar duties certainly seems to be a wise choice, if only for reasons of comfort as they understand each other’s ideas better than anyone else could, but there’s no doubt at all who’s leading the way. Choad moves like a flailing scrawny bag of hair and bones, thrashing and waving that guitar about like a b-move axe-murderer on prom night, but more remarkably – considering his recent sinus surgery – he’s seldom been on better vocal form; that roaring, phlegm-rattling, tarry-lunged growl is so loud and powerful, it’s a wonder it needs amplification at all.

Chain Street & 4th aren’t easy listening, it has to be said. If 9 Volt was your limit for angry energy, and the Slinty mathiness that’s so popular ‘round these ‘ere parts doesn’t altogether melt your Magnum, or you’re simply plain old, then frankly, you might be better off with your memories. No hard feelings. For everyone else, who might enjoy the feeling of having their brains sucked out of their lug‘oles, they’ll have you grinning like a stoned hyena. And you’ll still get lots of cock jokes too.

Paul Mills

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