TALK SHOW: A LITTLE MORE CONVERSATION

There’s more to Peckham than Del Boy and Rodney would have you believe. Just 12 months ago, gig-goers were spilling from the basement of London record store Rye Wax after attending new music night on the block, Cultural Treason – among them, one Felix White, formerly of The Maccabees, who saw a performance by a band he knew would become part of his Yala! Records family; the city’s newest noisemakers Talk Show.

Their initiation to Yala! would be the ruthless new-wave stomp of debut single ‘Fast & Loud.’ Unleashing their track upon unsuspecting ears only once the band had become regulars at the label’s Bermondsey Social Club nights, they’ve since spent hours on the road playing shows wherever they can and growing their fanbase organically. Posting no music online until the single was officially released, the only way to hear them was to show up. “Having people come up to us after our shows saying, ‘I’ve no idea who you are but I loved it,’ is one of the best compliments,” singer Harrison Swann tells. “It shows that making music goes beyond social media… it can still work the ‘old-fashioned’ way.”

“Making music goes beyond social media… it can still work the ‘old-fashioned’ way.”

With a ferocious live set as taut as their turn-ups, drummer Chloe McGregor sets the pace, smashing out beats with yelps like a frustrated goalkeeper. The agitation of Tom Holmes’ unravelling guitars could bring down walls and the thunder of momentum from George Sullivan’s bass bounces with start-stop vigour. Then there’s Talk Show’s host Harrison; a fist-clenching mass of combustible energy, exploding with 111mph yarns. Eyeballing audiences and delivering each vein-popping verse right to his fingertips, it’s unsurprising he cites theatrical Belgian songwriter, actor, and director Jacques Brel as an influence. “I’ve no idea how came across him,” Harrison says, “probably mindlessly searching on YouTube. I came across “Ces gens-là” and was hooked. I was gripped by his performance; you can’t take your eyes off him. You can see the emotions he’s going through whilst performing, you can see him embody the song.”

“I’ve always loved stuff that blurs the line between reality and ridiculousness” – Harrison Swann

With impeccable attention to detail, as their name suggests, Talk Show’s powerful dark-wave is conversational and captures their unwillingness to stay quiet. Discussion is celebrated and every phrase unfurls like a poetic Hans Christian Anderson fable or a comic book world with a dystopian sense of reality. “I’ve always loved stuff that blurs the line between reality and ridiculousness,” Harrison says. It’s probably why I discovered and love John Cooper Clarke. It’s relatable and bleak, but comical and light-hearted. Getting that balance right is really difficult.”

Skilfully balanced, latest single ‘Ankle Deep (In A Warm Glass Of Water)’ – released on Council Records and produced by Black Futures member Space – is a call to arms, its deadpan mantra chiming to a funk groove and marching drumbeat. “When writing our lyrics, it depends how off-piste I want to go and whether the subject/topic is clear from the start but I try to give myself something enabling me to perform the song or words, rather than just a nonsensical ramble,” tells Harrison.

This is why Talk Show’s audience has grown well-beyond their New Cross and Deptford dwellings. Spending more time in motorway service stations than Max and Paddy’s AA Road Atlas, they’ve played Independent Venue Week, toured with Just Mustard, and even took a particularly memorable trip to Europe; “We played a festival in Zurich at 1am in this huge hollowed-out ex-Army horse stables; it was packed and as soon as we came on everyone hit the ceiling! It was crazy watching it from the stage. That, along with our show at The Great Escape, have been real highlights so far.”

Four best mates on the journey of their lives, Talk Show are making the most of it, even if that does mean getting a bit of much-needed shuteye when the opportunity presents itself. “We’re learning you can’t party each night. Me and Tom have got into Classic FM. It sounds pompous but spending so long on the road you need to mix up the tunes, otherwise we’d drive ourselves insane,” Harrison says.

2020 looks to be a vital year for Talk Show whose new EP will land at any moment. Do they have any resolutions? “To take this band as far as we can. More gigs, festivals, new cities, new countries…. oh and I promised my mum I’d quit smoking,” Harrison grins. Time will tell whether they succeed, but if one thing is clear right now, it’s that Talk Show are ready to light things up. He who dares Rodney…

This feature appears as a beautiful printed article, in issue 2 of New Sounds magazine, published October 2020.

DOCUMENT: FROM SPIES TO WISE GUYS ON THE RISE

As one of Manchester’s most exciting emerging new bands, possessing a mood to match their hometown’s inclement skies, Document are more M1 than MI5; yet the mysteries of the novels they draw inspiration from give clues to their gradual emergence as one of the city’s best kept musical Top Secrets. Tracking them down one chilly November evening, they revealed more than a little intelligence…

“Two are straight-up porn videos… we’ve had wedding footage and it looks like someone’s got engaged,” exclaims Document’s left-handed bassist Max Grindle, glaring into the light beaming from his phone. “There’s a really cool vintage photo from the 60s, in fact, we get a lot of bank details too,” he grins.

If anyone appreciates first world issues it’s Manchester’s doom-laden post-punk 5-piece, Document. Whilst the name may invoke the importance of writing, recording and archiving their dark swells of sleazy riffs, guttural melancholia and bleak observations for humanity’s sake, it hasn’t come without hiccups as technophobe strangers accidentally share their own documents to the band’s Facebook messenger page.

For most this would pose a problem, but Document are storytellers. Each of their snarling tales are scars that distinguish them from their outspoken contemporaries. So when lives are shared with the band – intended or otherwise – it might only offer up another source of real-world inspiration. “The lyrics come from a very personal place for Al,” tells the band’s lead guitarist, Charlie Marriott of their singer and lyricist Alex Evans, who it seems, would be the ideal Catchphrase contestant; “He says what he sees,” Charlie says. “A lot is observations, and he puts his own personal spin on them.” Adds Max; “Al spent a lot of time writing in the studio… he’d re-write and re-write. Our music is definitely a representation of what he’s thinking at the time.”

“The lyrics come from a very personal place… a lot is observations with a personal spin on them.”

Looming like the shadows between the concrete confines of the city’s mills and borrowed spaces in which they rehearse; in just 12 months, Alex, Charlie, and Max, alongside guitarist Josh Franks and drummer Will Smith, have been biding their time. 2019 saw Document as elusive, with just a handful of shows behind them, yet burning fuse-like and igniting sparks of intent with earth-shaking performances at Dot To Dot and Band on the Wall. “I’ve enjoyed not rushing. We were going to have the first song out sooner but wanted to take our time with it,” Charlie tells. “It was the only way to ensure everyone was 100 percent on board.”

Now on the cusp of self-releasing the rhythmic Idles-like stomp of their forthcoming debut single ‘Pity’ – a hefty single-note tune built around deathly dynamics – its two and a half murky minutes introduce a band whose astute narrative invites listeners into their smoggy world. It’s somewhat a gentle teasing of the forthcoming 5-track EP that was recorded over a few weekends at Leeds studio The Nave with engineer Alex Greaves. “Recording in the studio was a great experience; we’re really happy what came out of it,” tells Josh. “This EP captures the first weeks of our band over the first couple of rehearsals – we’re so happy with it but already we’re starting to find ourselves maturing as a group and developing our sound.”

Setting their own discourse, Document’s enigmatic fictionalised realism is captured by the EP’s menacing thriller ‘Spy.’ As grey as the city skies under which they perform, it sways between real-life and imagination, taking inspiration from John le Carré’s 1963 Cold War novel The Spy Who Came In from the Cold as Alex weaves the yarns of characters through his own inimitable delivery. Like striding with muddied boots, its trudge lures listeners into a false sense of security before sinewy guitars tighten, splinter, and unravel into a wall of satanic noise.

On stage, Document’s powerful performance spans dual aspects of post-punk – from angry and intense to atmospheric and melancholic – spiralling into brutal, fatalistic Armageddon. A slick, mostly monochrome palate of rockabilly is fused with after-hours Wall Street through their combo of greased back hair, loosely tailored trenches and slacks, ties, and white vests. Alex’s performance is theatrical, wrapping the microphone cord up in his hand whilst the audience lose themselves in the shadows of his glare.

It may be early days, but the band are already entering their next phase and plan to snatch as many moments as they can to write; “Being a bit wayward and not having a base means we haven’t written as much as we could’ve done yet but that will change in 2020,” Max tells. “For us, New Year is symbolically new for the band as well. We’ve so many ideas floating about… it’s all systems go!”

This feature appears as a beautiful printed article, in issue 2 of New Sounds magazine, published October 2020.

VIDEO THRILLED THE ROM-COM STAR: MATT MALTESE

Crooner is such an ugly word. But if one person can make it beautiful, it’s South London songwriter Matt Maltese. Ahead of releasing his latest album Krystal, it’s lead single ‘Rom-Com Gone Wrong’ was unleashed upon the world with a video that had a rather more DIY feel than the slick stylings of his debut LP. It may well have to do with an appreciation for awkward humour – something he shares with actor, filmmaker and the video’s director Craig Roberts. Exploring the world of the visual and the melodic, I caught up with Matt for New Sounds magazine, to chat about the song, its video, and where music and art meet…

There’s a scene, two minutes into the video of ‘Rom-Com Gone Wrong’ when you know Matt Maltese is one hundred percent dedicated to his art. Shot through wobbling vintage Super 8 cinematography, he stands waist deep in a debris covered lake; his eyes scrunched as water cascades over his hair and fills every facial orifice. “Apparently there were eels in there, or someone told me after shooting that scene anyway,” he grins. “I’m glad they didn’t tell me that first or maybe I wouldn’t have done it. It was full of slime though!”

According to Matt, it was entirely his own idea; unprompted with no-one about to talk him out of it. And besides, a true artisan of break-up songs would never pass up an opportunity to suffer for his art. “That scene where my hands are hovering over the keyboard, I literally couldn’t play, it was freezing! But I guess my pale complexion suited the song,” he chuckles.

Therein lies the appeal of Matt Maltese’s romantic yet realistic gaze upon the world. Since waltzing onto the scene with debut record Bad Contestant and its flamboyant velvet suit extravagance of ‘Bad Comedian’ or the soaring Morrissey-esque politic-apocalypse balladry of ‘As The World Caves In’ (written about a fictional romance between Donald Trump and Theresa May), Matt’s stories have always been brought to life through carefully selected visuals to reinforce a firmly lodged tongue-in-cheek. The only difference this time, is that Krystal is a declaration of independence. “This album is a lot less polished at the edges so the feel of the video fits with that,” Matt tells of its suitable imperfections. “I wanted the first record to be grander, like an orchestrated album from the 70s and to make a statement but a video like that just wouldn’t have suited the bedroom writing style of Krystal. I wanted this record to be more like throwing food on a plate and not minding about the presentation, as long as it tastes alright.”

“When creating a music video it’s most important to keep the visual side honest, especially in this day and age where it’s easy to create content for the sake of creating content,” – Matt Maltese

Craig Roberts, on the other hand, is no stranger to working with the camera. Whilst most will know him for coming-of-age acting roles in Richard Ayoade’s Submarine and Amazon series Red Oaks, his most recent work centres on filmmaking, including his directorial debut feature-length Just Jim in which he also starred, and most recently as director of Eternal Beauty starring Sally Hawkins. In 2013 Roberts directed his first music video for fellow Welsh creatives Los Campesinos and their track ‘Avocado, Baby’ was given his wide-eyed wonder treatment. Its gameshow concept offered the perfect set for Roberts to utilise the sweeping dynamic camera flow of hero Paul Thomas Anderson with vivid colour and humour. It’s no surprise then, that when Matt first met with Roberts, he knew their creative outlooks would complement each other entirely, even if the outcome wasn’t quite as intended. “Initially I tried writing some music for one of Craig’s films. We went for coffee and just hit it off,” Matt recalls. “He’s a great guy, we share the same kind of awkward sense of humour.”

One constant in both Roberts’ music videos is the use of subtitles that lend an additional narrative to the music. In ‘Rom-Com Gone Wrong’ the subtitles act as a shrewd way of inviting the viewer to experience the bewilderment of Matt’s inner turmoil through jarring internal dialogue. “The captions just came about through conversations we had and throwing different ideas around and things we thought were funny,” remembers Matt of how it felt to find himself meeting an unlikely co-star who, it’d turn out, was wooden to say the least; “From early on it was clear Craig and I shared the same sense of humour so that’s how I ended up talking to a tree!” Matt tells. “Humour is important, and you do worry that what makes you laugh between yourselves might not be as funny for others but that’s just the creative risk you have to take.”

Like those buildings with their structures on the outside, the video’s humour is on full display through the irony of a fictional situation that couldn’t be more opposed to real-life and could just as easily be another in-joke between the pairing. “I wanted this video to be an eye into behind the scenes of making a music video, within a music video, and there’s this struggle between the musician and the director and how they both seem to want different things,” Matt suggests.

Enlisting Scottish Outlander actress Lauren Lyle to play the role of Matt’s baseball cap wearing director, his incandescent acerbic wit is channelled through her caricature and Roberts’ skewed innocence. With a voyeuristic charm, typical of both Matt and Roberts’ regular output, listeners and viewers are drawn in whist always rooting for the protagonist; often the underdog. Between grainy stake-out shots from the bushes, the Super 8’s sped up silent movie vibe alongside a perfectly placed Edgar Wright-style crash zoom, adds to the video and song’s comedic effect. Literal interpretations of the lyrics, whether indulging in a wet shave or through a recreation of the bedroom in which the album was written, but of course next to a lake during a summer’s late afternoonin Banbury, allows the video’s low-budget DIY feel to become painting-like, and when each picture is placed next to another it takes on its own independent charm; “I had to work with a lot less money and to put out a record myself was a challenge,” Matt says, “but hopefully it’s paid off.”

Whilst Roberts is known to be a fan of Scorsese and Kubrick and writes much of his own stories whilst listening to music, he and Matt’s work both share a feeling of vulnerability; something unexpectedly fitting for one who describes his own songs as “Paino” music. “I guess I like ‘sad-com’,” hints Matt at a few possible visual influences, “I like dark comedy, shows like Flowers or Fleabag.”

Through Matt and Roberts’ astutely self-aware collaboration between their two musical and visual worlds, awkwardness is embraced, and the sensory experience enhanced. “When creating a music video it’s most important to keep the visual side honest, especially in this day and age where it’s easy to create content for the sake of creating content,” Matt tells. “That said we actually didn’t think we’d fit everything in and had to get all the shots wrapped before we lost the light, but we got there in the end and used everything we shot; nothing was left on the cutting room floor.”

It just goes to show, often things will go Rom-Com wrong but just sometimes, with a meeting of the right creative minds, it can also go very right.

Krystal is available now on 7476. This article appears in beautiful print, in issue 2 of New Sounds magazine, published October 2020.

Beyond the M60

AUCKLAND, NZ – LICKS AND LAUGHTER AT THE BETHS’ BIG BREAKFAST

10 July 2020

With the honk of a comedy horn, the shot cuts to a wobbly phone camera, led around the room by a hand which is holding a chocolate biscuit and lunging towards the mouths of both audience and band. ‘Snack Cam’ might seem a weird proposition in the real world but this is The Beths’ wildly exuberant cosmos, where sampling local delicacies on tour has become such a habit, that to ignore it would be a glaring omission from their latest set. Welcome to the world of The Beths TV. On Cable. In Stereo.

It is episode 4 of the Auckland band’s monthly House live streams, and their final serving peers out from under the covers of lockdown with one simple premise: good chat, good tunes, and good times. Broadcasting from within the peppermint walls of guitarist Jonathan Pearce’s Tāmaki-makau-rau production studio into the front rooms of the world via YouTube, each 40-minute session is an intimate DIY hangout with The Beths in their natural habitat – and a closer listen to the inner consciousness of vocalist and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes.

“It’s really early,” she tells the 15 or so friends who have gathered before them in the form of an awkward school photo line-up. Viewers at home might disagree; it is 10am Auckland time but 11pm in the UK and that ‘Snack Cam’ biscuit is looking less like elevenses and more like a bedtime bite. In fact their stash of crisps, apples and cake would suggest apocalyptic bunker rather than studio, and a band just as prepared for impending Armageddon as they would be for a midnight feast.

With cables snaked around the floor and all wearing headphones, Liz runs through the script with Jonathan, bassist Benjamin Sinclair on the left, and drummer Tristan Deck in the corner behind her. Together, in their cocoon of makeshift soundproofing from what appears to be a collection of covered mattresses and upturned sofa cushions, The Beths have become their own production crew as the cameras roll on their inverted entertainment show. Observing every angle of the room as the view rotates 360 degrees to show bunches of flowers, bird artwork, various technical stations and special guests, music lovers from across the miles are invited to join the fun and revel in The Beths’ organised chaos, with more than a hint of ‘90s morning TV programme The Big Breakfast.

As the camera pans to the audience grinning and bobbing their heads from side to side, the band strum the cool, breezy riffs of indie-pop opener Dying To Believe with buoyant charm and receive rapturous applause. Taken from The Beth’s new record Jump Rope Gazers on Carpark Records, the follow-up to their 2018 debut LP, the House party doubles as album launch. Treated to a sneak preview of the title-track’s video, stickered with Day-Glo Beth TV icon and live chat over the top like a Beavis and Butthead outtake, the live rendition is dreamy with the more tender touch of Wolf Alice. “It’s very emotional… I’m sorry about that,” apologises Liz, introducing the song before singing through her atypically clenched-teeth whilst the band’s Beach Boys harmonies chime in and a ‘Hot New Track’ gif animation blazes in the top right corner of the screen to indicate a Beths’ exclusive.

In fact harmonies is a hot topic of conversation; between songs The Beths respond to their socially distanced audience’s questions via Callum in the ‘Question Time!’ corner, such as ‘what’s everyone’s favourite breakfast egg’ or ‘where do the harmonies come from?’ “From my brain,” Liz suggests with a smile as laughter erupts around the room, and no doubt, in front of screens worldwide.

As in earlier episodes between chats about Animal Crossing, masking tape, making ginger beer and with spinning pineapple face animations, there are live performances of songs from their first album Future Me Hates Meand the acoustic first House session which aired at the height of lockdown when Liz and Jonathan performed as a duo. Now reunited as a full band with audience, Little Death builds to the early ‘90s lo-fi indie-pop they’ve become known for whilst the hooky Great No One recalls the familiar C86 vibes of The Pastels and the driven jangling Britpop of Echobelly with fresh two-thousands style.

Their set is broken up with more inspired features; ‘Time Zone Check!’ has become a favourite in the chatrooms of their earlier streams and there are even interviews with special guests; Philippa Emery, the artist behind Jump Rope Gazers’ joyfully surreal artwork reveals how nostalgia, relationships and incorporating text into the artwork was integral to her own creative process. The session’s tech team and video producer pals Callum and Annabel of Sports Team, with director of photography Samuel, discuss their film-making method and share how the track’s ‘alien meets girl’ concept came about during a daily recommended lockdown walk. 

With accidental Fight Club style subliminal messaging, the screen occasionally blinks to black with the phrase ‘looking for the phone’ and an illustration of a cat napping only reinforces the band’s motto of nothing but light-hearted quality control, before ‘Snack Cam’ and a banana bitten by many mouths makes one final interruption. “New Zealand is currently completely Covid free, I’m sorry if that stressed you out,” laughs Liz as Ben removes the plectrum stuck to his forehead, ready to satisfy everyone’s appetites once more with their irrepressibly cheerful ‘Uptown Girl.’ “Our new album’s out, we’re really proud of it; a big thanks to the whole universe,” Liz says and raises a glass, as the universe stays turned on, tuned in and ready to pop-rock out.

During the performance, The Beths showed their support for Black Lives Matters; namely the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which protects and defends the human rights of Black Transgender people in the US and PARS (People at Risk Solutions), an Aotearoa Not for Profit that delivers a range of specialist services to prisoners, released prisoners, deportees from overseas, at risk youths and their whānau. Just The Type joins them in asking that you please check out these important causes and consider donating to them if you can. Thank you.

JOHNNY DREAM: AN OBITUARY – THE BLINDERS AVENGE COLD-BLOODED MURDER

Disappearing as quickly as he appeared to arrive, Johnny Dream was omnipresent in The Blinders’ uprising. Mysterious agitator and alter-ego of the Doncaster-Manchester trio, he was as notorious for his bat-like appearance as his provocative persona.

The only sides anyone knew of Johnny Dream, were those he chose to reveal. To some he’d appear as the man in black; his Joker eyes tarred with melting ink, like evil bleeding from the reaper himself. Others believed him to be The Blinders’ unsummoned hitchhiker; their dark passenger channelling the spirit of Arthur Brown with political activism in his arsenal. Johnny Dream, of his Codeine Scene, age unknown, has been found dead, gunned down between the eyes.

Those avenging Dream’s honour? A trio of urban outlaws from Doncaster by way of Manchester, riding into town with the blistering brocade of new album Fantasies Of A Stay At Home Psychopath. Bringing up the rear, Matty “Deadeye” Neale whose demonic thousand-yard stare over a drum skin will paralyze with fear; Charlie “Bruiser” McGough who, it’s said, could draw blood with one almighty axe-wielding swing of his bass, and Thomas “Books” Haywood, whose mind slays with the words of a simple sentence. The Blinders, to give their wanted name, are lawlessly leading Fantasies’ cross-contamination of society’s asylum, in which Mary Magdalene brushes her bare shoulders with vulgar lunatic dictators, dumb fucks and psychopaths, in an unapologetic pursuit of answers.

In his own Columbia, Johnny Dream cried out at corrupt society, a dystopian wasteland where dictators ruled as master manipulators. On Fantasies, The Blinders edge towards a similarly unsettling frontier but this time as ringleaders of their own rodeo. Through an alternate Westworld they’re barging into the saloon and upturning tables; the mirror Dream held up to society now lies shattered amongst the dust as they appear to embrace the bargaining and acceptance stages of grief, and prophesise possible futures beyond Dream’s angry reflections of the present. The universe of Brave New World has expanded to new world order with further damnation of doublespeak, but the biggest threat now is the silence of the underclass as Fantasies lassos the existential and aims from the head as well as the heart.

The blue-collar trudge of ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ is an ode to class struggle whilst ‘Lunatic With A Loaded Gun’ glares at the newspaper headlines and propaganda of Dream’s discourse then flicks a middle finger at broken America and its delusions of grandeur. The ferocious ‘Mule Track’ poses questions of where ultimate power truly lies as it wanders the path of illuminati conspiracy theories with philosophical and religious texts under its arms. Blending fiction with tragic fact, The Blinders run rings around cynics with cyclical imagery, whether through ‘From Nothing To Abundance’s “wheel of Big Ben”, the “Cannonball Mountain” of ‘Black Glass’ or each repeated coda, all a cautionary echolalia of Dream’s mantras that warn of a regretful future where history has repeated itself.

Unswervingly confrontational, Dream’s influence was etched on the faces of audiences who witnessed his bellicose sermons; young guns and old punks alike were all transfixed upon the gothic messiah before them. His outspoken tirades would make them question all they knew. He shook up their existence whilst dividing the congregation before him and stepping out with rallying calls to arms; “Come together we need each other,” he’d summon through Columbia’s ‘Rat In A Cage.’

In the absence of Dream’s rage, his fellow sharpshooters offer an intimate and perhaps more troubled dystopia as outside mob mentality is drawn inwards toward the self. Fantasies is solemn and quashes any notion of becoming a concept with eleven episodic vignettes from the workings of a concerned mind, each reaching a hand outward to offer potential solutions. Unlike Dream’s Columbia, Fantasies favours ‘You’ and ‘I’ which delivers hope at the hands of the individual and eyes of the beholder. And yet, from the inside, comes the inevitable awareness of being trapped by its surrounding walls, allowing inner turmoil to set in. Deeply personal, ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’ depicts a toxic relationship turned sour, ‘Rage At The Dying’ and the Starman waltz of ‘Circle Song’ are gut-wrenchingly anxious as they cut to the bone and ‘In This Decade’ closes with wilful acceptance up to its poignant close; “for in this decade there’s no knowing if there’s gonna be a tomorrow.”

With a knack for melody, Johnny Dream favoured fury. Emerging in the spotlight of The Blinders’ debut British Embassy show at SXSW, he channelled “a sound you can truly believe in,” according to event compère and broadcaster Steve Lamacq, yet with that came a short fuse. The fire in his gut was combustible, a fierce energy exploding with every frustration, inciting a melodic tempest to the point of doom-laden destruction.

Fantasies sees The Blinders pause for thought and widen the expanse of their sonic horizons among the vintage furnishings of Stockport’s Eve Studios. ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’ and ‘Lunatic With A Loaded Gun’ are torched with Columbia’s blistering threat of Armageddon with the words, “the world’s gonna burn” to the satanic chorus of backing vocals which cut through the grunge of ‘Mule Track’ and disorientating clubby swells of ‘From Nothing To Abundance.’ Only now, the scales are tipped; the atmospheric ‘I Want Gold’ is laced with found sounds which build upon Columbia’s fallen wine bottle field recordings and ‘electric jug’. Pushed and pulled, new ideas bend to the moment they splinter, as strands of twangy distortion unravel with Morricone-esque arrangement and the rusty sounds of jingling prison warden keys and hollow pipes. Percussion and snare shimmer like spurs at their heels, menacing organ drones and bongos drive through warped vinyl; although if Dream was around to have his way, their wicked experimentation would cut through the guitar storm and make Fantasies’ punch even more potent.

Serving up more surprises; fan favourite ‘The Writer’ is left for the cutting room floor and blistering live track ‘Fantasies Of A Stay At Home Psychopath’ is twisted into a sinister spoken word ‘Interlude’ allowing pause for breath. Their final selections show restraint and focus, as the sound has been sharpened like the lines of their funeral-ready suits.

As for Dream’s family, little is known. Preferring to reside in the company of his Codeine Scene, who he is survived by, rumour has it they have taken to a new ranch in Mexico where ravens pick at the skulls of cattle carcasses and Columbia’s heroes Orwell and Huxley hang in the humidity. Fantasies holds its friends as close; with PJ Harvey producer Rob Ellis at the helm, the bluesy ‘I Want Gold’ recalls The Doors’ ‘Riders On The Storm’ whilst turning a wry smile; “they say I can’t have it well I’m gonna get it.” And ‘Rage At The Dying’ is enchanting, like The Last Shadow Puppets leading a bleak procession which passes visceral rock opus ‘Black Glass’ as its tempo shifts from atmospheric to cataclysmic via the ruthless chaos of Sabbath.

If they’re not careful, everything The Blinders represent could lead to their own untimely demise. Should listeners heed their advice and the world eventually begin to heal, The Blinders as we know them will face a similar fate to their departed companion. It’s the world or them. In which case, Fantasies’ acoustic porch song finale ‘In The Decade’ – a bittersweet ballad akin to the freewheelin’ Dylan folk of Haywood’s recent ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ covers – may hint at plans for their next life. After all, comfort has never been on the cards.

After a failed manhunt, Dream’s killer remains at large but his ruthless agenda remains. Whichever town The Blinders find themselves in next, Fantasies marks the moment they round up a new cavalry and wield their flag with extra all-seeing eyes. Hatches will be battened, babies will cry, and leading liars will scream; only then can justice be done.

Johnny Dream, dissident rogue and alter-ego, born unknown; died 31 December 2019

GLASGOW, UK – A SMASHING TIME AT GLASVEGAS’ BUCKFAST HOUSE PARTY

In these trying times thank Glasvegas for easing any pre-apocalyptic tension. Singer, James Allan and guitarist, Rab Allan are just a couple of songs into their Instagram Live acoustic set and the Buckfast is well and truly flowing. In fact, it’s been knocked for six and the only sound to be heard is that of shattered glass, followed by Rab’s chuckles at his stunned cousin. “It’s because of the glasses!” James exclaims, blaming his shades for the mishap. “It’s a good job we got 5 bottles. It’s such a waste,” he surrenders forlornly whilst around 600 viewers giggle into the glare from their phones.

Acoustic and electric guitars, and a couple of reverb drenched mics at the ready, Scotland’s finest rockabilly romantics are spending their Saturday night in the comfort of strangers; they’ve stopped by the offy for a few carrier bags of their favoured red stuff and taken to their candy-striped couches to perform the evening’s hottest virtual ticket in town – a live set of choice cuts from their back catalogue, stripped back in all its acoustic Glasvegas glory.

This is not your typical House party; there are no cops or kids on scooters churning up their mam’s petunias a la Quadrophenia. The ragers of youth have been replaced with a rather more sophisticated occasion and tonight’s 30-minute set offers a moment of calm amidst the storm. Doused in red lamplight, there is a loungey boudoir feel and angled towards each other, there’s a poignant intimacy (with the air of an empty Twin Peaks Roadhouse) as projections of footage depicting mushroom clouds from atomic testing explode in slow motion and time-lapse cityscapes cascade across back-to-front drawn curtains, seemingly reflecting the fragile moment we’re currently living in.

Opening with fan favourite ‘Flowers & Football Tops’ from their self-titled debut album, it’s in this setting the duo’s vocals and guitar lines shine, each complementing the other from their backing harmonies to what’s become their trademark all-black uniforms. The pair joke with the viewers and discuss the merits of bandmate Paul’s bum and reminisce of times performing on late night TV shows in the US, likening the current situation to that of a ‘Letterman lockdown’ before dedicating ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart (That Makes Me Cry)’ to the TV host. With the camera on landscape, the reception is intermittent as the two hosts are occasionally transformed into outlined blobs, but the stream soon settles and essentially, their haunting reverb resounds as a reminder that each song is suited equally to the living room as performing before a full house at Barrowland. 

Those having caught the pair perform as part of their acoustic tour at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen just before Christmas will remember discussions about forthcoming new album Godspeed – which, whilst James briefly darts out of view to find his capo, Rab assures viewers is on its way. “It’s ironic that it’s taken us about 6 years to finish this new record and now its finally ready, something is saying don’t release this fucking album!” he jokes. “Ah but how long did it take Brian Wilson to release Smile?” asks James reminding everyone that the good will out.

They explain that the album was scheduled for an October release but has been put back “to give it the best chance,” then unleash their new song ‘Keep Me A Space’ – a stand-alone first single because; “it wouldn’t fit the album aesthetically,” and which, they reveal, will precede more single releases this year with the new album release and touring next year. As archive footage showing crowds of people with 70s haircuts walk in slow motion it’s a track that somehow mirrors our stark reality and moves to its own, dreamy, lullaby; its bittersweet melody swinging back and forth before building to a rousing and suitably apt chorus; “nothing lasts forever some people say, all things must pass.”

After a brief early Mother’s Day appreciation message for their mums who are care workers, a fan posts “support the NHS” and the duo move through the remainder of the set with more fan favourites including ‘Geraldine,’ ‘If’, and ‘Daddy’s Gone,’ the latter of which James reveals he has shared a turbulent relationship with. ‘Go Square Go’ and ‘Whitey’ resound as more comments stream in from the right of the screen and the pair closing their set with their revered cover of The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby.’ ‘Songs so full of emotion’ offers one viewer. Others might just call it ‘smashing.’

BERLIN & VILNIUS – CHROMATICS AND DESIRE: A STORY OF LOVE AND LUST

Guitar slung over her shoulder, Chromatics’ Ruth Radalet casts an ethereal stare beneath her blonde bangs towards the hip crowd gathered before her. Tonight, surrounded by the retro remnants of a former theatre in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district, she is commanding and holding their attention with hypnotic spells of love and mystery. To her left, synthpop maestro Johnny Jewel nods as his hands dance upon the keys with the fervour of a marionette possessed.

A glamourous retro-future utopia with Desire in tow, the Double Exposure tour marks Chromatics’ first European shows in 6 years. Before both gangs of beautiful misfits take to the stage, the audience is met with what’s been keeping the band busy as a changing backdrop of neon 80s synthwave artwork depicts every release on Johnny’s vast Italians Do It Better label.

With his raven mane, skinny tie and ornamental teardrops on his face, Johnny Jewel is the gothic-indie antithesis to the melodrama of his technicolour world. Playing bass, and synths balanced on flight cases, he’s a Warholesque enigma; ringleader of his own muse-driven vision, yet creator of music that smoulders with emotion. ‘Back From The Grave’ is a pentatonic dream that ascends into a blissed-out groove and ‘Time Rider’ is ignited by its hefty analog vs. digital static as Johnny seats himself at the electric piano.

In Vilnius’ Loftas, Ruth sings with the grace of Nico through the smoggy disco haze of ‘I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around.’ The pounding heartbeat of ‘I Want Your Love’ throbs like Faithless as it ricochets off the industrial hooks and pulleys of the former factory. Fans of Lynch’s Twin Peaks are treated to ‘Shadow’ as heard on the show and images of flames, smoke, monochrome zig zags and red velvet curtains appear whilst Johnny bobs to the beat with a fan-flung rose between his teeth. “That’s the first flower solo we’ve had,” he grins.

Falling to one knee and bowing to his singer-guitarist, Johnny thanks Ruth before turning his appreciation to the crowd. “Thanks for coming, mind if we play a few more?” Returning for an encore, the audience fall silent for Ruth’s heavenly acoustic solo of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire,’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ is given a Chromatic twist to finish. It’s sass, with pure class.

If Chromatics is love, Desire is lust. Singer, Megan Louise appears to have rolled onto Berlin’s Astra Kulturhaus stage across a slick of liquid tar, standing dominatrix-like in a skin-tight rubber catsuit. The devil to Ruth Radalet’s angel, in Vilnius her uniform is pillar-box red, and both nights’ crowds are met with military marching and waving salutes.

Swapping the glass of red she’s holding to pick up a classic telephone, she spirals its wire around her fingers and delivers lyrics down the receiver. “This is for lovers and future lovers,” Megan tells, before launching into the Drive film favourite ‘Keep Me Under Your Spell,’ and a rousing cover of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle.’ On keys, partner Johnny and the sunglasses-wearing Heaven, close with a synth duel and hold the fuzz to a swell that could rip the venue in two.

NEW YORK – PENNSYLVANIA, USA – FONTAINES D.C. STORM THE EAST COAST

“I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”

James Joyce – An Encounter, Dubliners

The eyeballs of Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten are fixed towards the ceiling. You can hardly blame him. It’s a typical November night in Brooklyn – in September. Just days before, Hurricane Dorian was hugging the south-eastern coastline and nudging ever closer to New York City; its path an unpredictable whirlwind leaving only chaos and destruction behind. All day, the Music Hall of Williamsburg has been hammered by inclement showers and bracing gusts so tonight, as the Dublin 5-piece take to its stage, there’s a very real threat of “tearing down the plaster”  as Grian delivers ‘Hurricane Laughter’; stoking the storm’s eye with their turbulent tones and enough stabs of sonic distortion to leave Mother Nature herself recoiling in its wake.

It’s the opening night of Fontaines D.C.’s month-long, debut North American headline tour and the next phase of the band’s explosive trajectory. Following an emergency culling of their festival appearances since returning to the UK after a momentous SXSW in Austin, Texas and the release of their Mercury-nominated debut album Dogrel, they’re now reaping the benefits of having had a brief well-earned rest. As the thick brogue of Luke Kelly delivering his poem ‘For What Died The Sons Of Róisín?’ resounds through the speakers, the band are called to the stage and with a simple “Good to see you,” tonight’s sold out crowd brace themselves for lashings of frenetic noise that ricochets off every bolthole.

Whipping the congregation into a frenzy through an aggravated release of poetic sermons, Grian blesses each audience member with his gaze and as the tension mounts, they become euphoric. Geeing up the crowd, he wrings his wrists and paces back and forth with controlled convulsions. ‘Too Real’ sees a schizophrenic transformation in the pit from appreciative to cataclysmic, as the mass surge to the left. Phones are hung on to* and stances widened as Grian dons a Peaky Blinders style flat cap likening him to a Victorian baker boy in his shirt-slacks combo. Meanwhile, guitarist Carlos O’Connell launches himself into the crowd; kick-starting a domino effect of fans hurling themselves off the stage and riding a wave into the shadows.

The lone stage-diver repeating such behaviour in Philadelphia the following evening could only hope for such a smooth ride. Part-way between a diner for locals and intimate burlesque theatre with its low red lighting and wooden interior, the second night’s venue is Johnny Brenda’s. Sitting in Fishtown on the corner of a bustling intersection, the city’s Saturday night suburb is neon lit like a 50s film noir. Opposite, late night coffee is being served at Joe’s where the din of the venue’s groups of men drinking into the early hours carries across the street. Commotion and layers of half-conversations spill on to the sidewalk, fuelled by one, two or perhaps even five rounds of Boilermakers.

Upstairs the band have jumbled the previous night’s setlist and as they take to the venue’s corner stage, Grian greets the sea of faces at his feet and those scrutinising from the surrounding balcony with an awkward wave. At the rear of the stage hangs a velvet curtain, strung with what seems to be the clear plastic crystals from a cheap jewellery box, and the room is doused in UV light. Opening with ‘Television Screen,’ it’s an energised set; from the atmospherics of Carlos working the amp, extorting its feedback with each swing of his guitar and beer bottle string sliding, to the hefty punk beat laid down by drummer Tom Coll and Conor Deegan’s thundering bass. Tugging at his baggy stripes, Grian jerks as though to shake off any shred of lingering self-doubt and it’s intense, like watching a band fighting to escape the confines of a matchbox.

As ‘Liberty Belle’ rings out for what could be the city’s adopted anthem (the bell itself, a symbol of Philadelphia), a rogue reveller hugs the monitor at Grian’s feet and struggles with it as he crawls up on to the stage. Predicting what comes next, guitarist Conor Curley is on standby; wearing his white cowboy shirt with fringing and halfway holding out a hand to assist, he’s like Frankie Avalon in Grease’s ‘Beauty School Drop-out’ dream sequence coming to the rescue, until it’s too late. Rising from his knees, the unexpected visitor hurls himself across the room, head-first into the tiny venue’s supporting pillar – taking Grian’s microphone out in the process. The interruption is over as quickly as it begins and apart from a crafty lyrical edit nodding to the fact it happened, the band power on through.

The rest of the set is seamless; the blue hue pulses with the strobe effect of a Stranger Things electrical warning and the band are on fire. Whether over-compensating from the effects of a late night prior, or simply finding their stride, tonight is just better. Everything is wound tighter and cranked up a gear higher. Rubbing his face, banging his chest and dipping his hands deeper into his pockets as if to awaken himself, Grian’s pacing is most noticeable when contrasted by the band’s statuesque shredding. The most affecting moment is ‘Roy’s Tune’; a tender performance showing a band who can do beauty as well as they do brawn. ‘The Lotts’ is suitably gloomy, its spiralling 80s melancholia haunting through beautifully smoggy refrains and Grian breaks out the tambourine for electrifying new song ‘Televised Mind’ – a ferocious cyclone of rhythmic unravelling with dizzying wads of Orwellian dread.

Moving from one skyline to another, the Fontaines D.C. storm is ready to wreak havoc on its next location; both nights’ sets are just under the hour offering a short, sharp, shock from a rising band who pack one hell of a punch. Or to quote Philadelphia’s revered local hero Rocky Balboa, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows…” but therein lies a damn good place to start.  

*Not mine. It’s still in Brooklyn… somewhere. Big thanks to my gigging partner-in-crime, Denise, for sharing her pics!