giovedì 27 maggio 2010

English as a second language

The Names were a great Post-Punk band from Brussels (Belgium), formed in 1978 around bassist and songwriter Michel Smordynia. After local gigs as The Passengers, they changed their name in time for their debut single, Spectators of Life, released by WEA in 1979 to test the market for home-grown new wave music. Being signed by famous Manchester label Factory Records early in 1980 helped the band to achieve a strong reputation both in Belgium and abroad. The single "Nightshift" marked the beginning of their collaboration with Martin Hannett, the producer of Joy Division, with whom the band were to record an album ("Swimming") and two more singles ("Calcutta" and "The Astronaut"). Those were their heydays as you can hear in some tracks recorded from some 1979-1981 Belgian radio concerts, features stand-out tracks Nothing To Fear, Memories and a version of the classic Factory single Nightshift. While a show from Oostakker from summer 1980 includes Questions And Answers, Other Enquiries and I Wish I Could Speak Your Language. Superb material which echoes other keyboard-led groups of that era such as Magazine and Simple Minds. The Names recently made their return on stage (with new drummer Laurent Loddewijckx) during a Factory Night event at Plan K, in Brussels, in december of 2007. A live DVD, "Nightshift", was released in 2008 by LTM. The new studio album, "Monsters Next Door", came out this April on Str8line Records.

lunedì 24 maggio 2010

dream florence dream

There was life after Diaframma & Litfiba in Florence and there were bands more or less important there in the late eighties. Nicola Vannini's Soul Hunters were amongst the best, with an interesting album and a pair of singles too. Once Nicola sang in Diaframma but the egemony of Federico Fiumani was impossible to contrast in the same band. So he formed a new combo and mad some interesting music too. It's a real pleasure to hear those atmospheres of The Cure or The Sisters of Mercy, revamping it into the classic florence wave style once again, in a peculiar sound and sophisticated tracks. Their music reflected the mood and tones of that times and opened to middle european influences too. Between pop, rock and dark tones there was an intersection, which The Soul Hunters claimed for themselves and fill with heart and life.

domenica 16 maggio 2010

Grandsons of dungeon

The Triffids were with no doubt an essential part in the soundtrack to my adolescence. I first heard of them while briefly living in London, where they arrived in the long hot summer of 1984, with great hopes and the immense talent of their "so inspired singer" David McComb. I was a common teen at the time and never really share my italian friends taste in music. But London was something different and NME was a good guide for a post punk boy! Like many others at the time, I used to devour the musical newspapers voraciously and that summer they announced the Triffids as "the group who will save rock music" once again... I was there waiting for them and, after reading NME, I immediately went out trying to find all their records... so I finally found a wonderful copy of their fantastic debut mini lp "Treeless plain" that I discovered in the Notting Hill Records & Tapes Exchange discount department, downstairs in the basement. The Triffids finally came over Uk, "arriving in London with a wad of cash they’d saved up and 5 return plane tickets scheduled to expire by Christmas". They began by playing gigs with the The Go-Betweens and and soon supporting Echo and the Bunnymen. At first, it was something about their look that intrigued me a lot. They looked like they had just been plucked from the australian desert, shell - shocked and a little under nourished. From this point on they never looked back to the the wide open roads. Then a word about their singer, my singer. His sound deep, soft and sensual transmited such good feelings in my body and my head! With his voice, David finally took me to a better world! A major influence on the group's sound was surely their geographical location, coming from Perth, the world’s most isolated city on the west coast of Australia, facing a cold ocean and backing onto a huge, empty desert. The isolation infused The Triffids' work with a feeling of emptiness and loneliness. I was living thousands of miles away from them but, hearing their music, I felt exactly the same as I was there in Australia, in my adolescent dreams. Their most Australian-sounding album, the wonderful sophomore album Born Sandy Devotional came some months after. The rest of the story is well known. In Belgium, Holland, Germany, France and particularly Scandinavia, the Triffids became big business. The fickle European rock press devoured the unusual sounds and intriguing lyrics that captured Australia's intimidating landscape and in Belgium, they played to 70,000 fans. From Calenture to the Black Swan in pretty short order I bought later all their realses and I was equally captivated, never dissatisfied. They were all well received, but the success wasn't overwhelming, which inevitably disappointed the band members to the point where they soon after dissolved. According to my idol David, as he wrote ..." In 1986 we found ourselves at last on the holy mount of bigtime Oz rock as part of the infamous Australian Made bachannalia. Time was even found for a quick fling in America in 1989, but by this stage of the decade it was obvious to most coolheaded observers that a beautiful era was at an end. The last Australian shows were in late 1989, and the final Triffids entertainment booking was, appropriately, in front of a few miserably frozen stragglers in a snow resort in Jindabyne. Well, actually it was Canberra ANU, but let's not spoil a good ending"... The day David died, just a few days short of his 37th birthday, I felt like a part of my adolescent self died at that moment too, forever. As someone else's wrote, "I never knew David, but felt I had grown with him somehow". Please celebrate him once again buying the soon to be finally realised deluxe box set "Come Ride With Me ... Wide Open Road" and listening to their old Blah Blah Blah 1985 Radio session...

lunedì 3 maggio 2010

The friend I had was a passionate friend...

..." Soon or later it had to happen. The painfully predictable way in which rock scenarios repeat themselves certainly belies the once optimistic image of a dangerous, freewheeling medium constantly expanding like some parallel universe journeying to dimensions never seen or heard before. A thriving primal musical milieu began to flower on Mathew Street, Liverpool, circa 1977. From the ego shattered breakdown of the portentously named Crucial Three, a band that never made it out of sitting room let alone the garage, crawled Ian "Mac" McCulloch (Echo And The Bunnymen), Pete Wylie (Wah! Heat) and Julian Cope (Teardrop Explodes). The bands' early singles on Zoo and Inevitable were acclaimed and it dawned that here was another much needed opportunity to write on and help manufacture a phenomenon - The Liverpool Scene, The New Merseybeat, and so the labels linger on. Once the buzz had filtered onto the discreet pages of the Sunday glossies, there came a need for the final ingredient: a ritual sacrifice. The Teardrops released their debut album "Kilimanjaro", which embraced pop in favour of their formative experimentation. It also included their past singles and, although excellent in parts, veered towards the bland by virtue of its unifomiity. It was a golden opportunity for the big put down. The knives were drawn and suddenly it's et tu, buddy. Couple this with Julian Cope's propensity to unashamedly air the band's internal and external rivalries like the dirty washing from the northwest's other soap box fantasy, "Coronation Street," and you find an incestuously, inward looking menage a trois that looks like imploding under the weight of its own negativities. While the critical backlash aimed at the Teardrops' debut album, flawed as it is, seems more than a little unfair, the way the Teadrops have become the eye of a bitchy whirlwind of jealousies, slander and cynical asides is hardly surprising when you realise that the band is fuelled on in-fighting and hatred. "Yes, I must say I don't like Dave. He gets a pretty dubious character sometimes." This is Julian Cope talking about his keyboard player and producer Dave Balfe, a man who frequently works with great effect with the other great Zoo controller Bill Drummond under the collective title of The Chameleons. "He just plays a good role in the band that's all," he continues, "but we often fight, and I mean physically. I usually win because he's a bit of a wiinp ... not that I'm a fighting person though." Speaking as if he'd just snorted an entire week's supply of speed, the Teardrops' mainman continued his explanation on polemics as a means to creativity in the romantic setting of the Ali Kebab House somewhere near their north London rehearsal studios. "Dave is just one of the most extreme characters I've ever met. Sometimes he gets me so knotted up inside .. but then again that's good because it keeps me pushing; you know, right there." Hardly the kind of thing you expect from a man who writes predominantly love songs, and very good ones too, and confesses to a long-running affair with the metaphysical poets like Donne and Marvell. Turning, momentarily from aggression to what he calls the "alternative society" of Liverpool, he had this to say: "It's become the hip thing to deny that there's a Liverpool scene but there is. "It hasn't been exaggerated by the press in fact. It is a very cliquey place, very insular. We all meet in the same places and despise each other jokingly. One thing though, there's certainly not a Liverpool sound." , As if to amplify this point he goes on to point cut that he considers the Bunnymen to have become too dirge like - "they've lost their original fragility" and Wah! Heat are accused of being "too heavy and ponderous." Much of the emotion on the album revolves, not unnaturally, around girls, apart from occasional tracks like "Went Crazy" and "Books". The latter is the only song without the lyric printed on the inner sleeve and it's not without significance that it was written with former partner, Mac McCulloch. Like their friends/enemies (you choose) the Bunnymen, they received more than their share of flak for signing with a big label rather than an independent. Julian's answer to those "rootsier than thou" critics is typically uncompromising and pragmatic. "Oh that's all shit . , . I don't think there's anything called selling out these days. We recorded the album first and then took it to Phonogram. There was never any doubt I always wanted us to go with a big label." By throwing in their lot with Phonogram they will also have the financial backing to make their current Daktari tour more than just a slog round the halls promoting the album. Eschewing camo chic - "We're heavily inyo army gear, I've got 17 pairs of army pants all hanging up and we've even got a jeep" in favour of nouveau naturalism. "Our backdrop is like a huge zebraskin" the band will also be using the unusually talented road crew that helped make the Bunnymen tour so visually powerful. As the consciously Love inspired horn section is central to the album's ambience there will be two trumpet players on stage with the band. It seems a crucial tour in many ways. The white light seems to be shining on them harder than any other time in their history. After raising so many hopes, they've committed the fatal sin of disappointing the self-righteous upholders of street credibility, not to mention one particular rock journalist currently conducting a personal campaign of character assassination in their home town. You might like to have known what the other members of the band thought about this tale of back stabbing and tribal warfare, but according to the garrulous Julian there was no point asking them. "I usually do the interviews because I’m the only one with anything to say really. Like Alan just spends most of his time thinking, and Gary (the band's drummer) never says anything. "I can usually speak for them better. Dave would just start pissing you off ... it sounds like a really horrible band, doesn't it?" Ian Pye

Reproduced from Melody Maker, 18th October 1980.

Listen to The Teardrop Explodes playing live at Eric's in 1979