Saturday, 30 May 2009

Fanfarlo - Live Review

Act: Fanfarlo
Location: Southampton, U.K
Venue: Hamptons
Date: 29/05/09

Fanfarlo wafted into town on a sultry start of the weekend evening and it was clear from the assembled throng, that they were up for a good evening of off-kilter esoteric indie pop.

Fanfarlo are a London based band, named after a Charles_Baudelaire novella, who have been courting plenty of favourable coverage in the three years that they've been together and have become much coveted by sections of the music blog scene and given a nod of approval by David Bowie!

The band are fronted by Simon Balthazar, who writes and sings the majority of the material (vocals, keyboards, mandolin, saxophone, glockenspiel, clarinet) He grew up in Sweden, which might explain the refreshingly enigmatic zest to their musical direction, veering away from the insular influence of plodding post Brit pop bands of the Nineties/Noughties.

My Initial impressions of Simon's singing style brought to mind the lovely languid singing voice of the late Billy MacKenzie from the celebrated Eighties Scottish band The Associates, crossed with something more rural and folky; Cathy Lucas (violin, keyboard, vox), Justin Finch (bass) Amos Memon (drums) and Leon Beckenham (trumpet, keyboard) complete the line up. On closer inspection, with their checked waistcoats, dickie bow ties and outcrops of facial fungus, they conjure up an image of a band, born out of necessity, after being raised on some back to nature commune on a remote Scottish Island. Imagine a scene if you will, where television is banned and they have to fill the long winter evenings by creating strange and organic songs from instruments fashioned from flotsam and jetsam: Not so much of the 'Kids from Fame' more like the 'Kids From Castaway'

The first half of the set was somewhat muted with the first four numbers being politely received, but it wasn't until the latter stages of the performance that they really upped a gear, when the stronger songs were delivered, allowing the musicians to exert some zip and add a bit of sparkle to the set.

The culmination of the evening was to deliver the highlight of the show. The final song was played and the band, pleading over exertion on the stuffy stage area, bargained with the crowd who were yearning for more and then placated the cluster of indie fops with an encore delivered right in the heart of the audience on the venue floor.

This sated the appetite of the fan base who had threatened a twitter of tuts of discontent for a brief interlude. We all gathered around and clapped along as if it was an impromptu camp fire singsong or street corner rabble raising, all huddled round in a great big musical hug.

Their first single from their album was released through Moshi Singles Club on 04/05/2009
'Drowning Men/Sand and Ice ' buy it here

O.K listen up, here's the summary bit: recommended for fans of the new wave of indie folk that's sweeping the floppy fringes of the nation's bookish youth. We're talking about Johnny Flynn, Thos Henley, Neutral Milk Hotel and oh...alright then, I'll mention The Arcade Fire comparisons being bandied about. A Salvation Army band for the crunched generation!

Fanfarlo - Harold T. Wilkins - from the Album Reservoir get it here

Fanfarlo - Howard T Wilkins - Bandstanding Busking Live Performance

Monday, 25 May 2009

A Broken Consort - Box Of Birch

A Broken Consort is the moniker for one of Lancashire artist Richard Skelton's musical projects, it's meaning is originally, to stand for an ensemble whose instruments are not all from the same family (read more here)

Richard Skelton is an artist from Lancashire, UK, who has created and collaborated in spine tingling music under a number of guises including Heidika, Riftmusic, Carousell, Harlassen and Clouwbeck. He has released two albums of A Broken Consort material on his own private press, the Sustain-Release project. This creative press was born as a commemorative tribute to his late wife Louise, with the intention of publishing her artwork alongside his own musical offerings. The second A Broken Consort album Box of Birch, originally released in 2007, has recently been picked up and given a second airing via New York label Tompkins Square

It's difficult to encapsulate the type of music this is, classically orientated, yet adventurous and experimental, with a twist of an ambient brooding film soundtrack thrown in; a hybrid of musical families if you like! The promotional material suggests "Skelton creates powerful, instrumental music out of densely-layered acoustic guitar, bowed strings, piano, mandolin and accordion, often laced with delicate, shimmering percussion. The result is something utterly unique" It's hard to argue with that description and fans of Peter Broderick would do well to investigate further.

I have to confess had this one nearly slipped through the net, as I was alerted to it earlier in the year, yet put it on the back burner, despite taking to the music and being particularly impressed by the sumptuous packaging "It was originally published in a boxed edition that contained, among other things, birch twigs collected from the West Pennine Moors" Skelton showed beautiful attention to detail that pushed this release from being being just 'a product' into an artifact, longing to be treasured. It took a nudge from that venerable music magazine Mojo - designed for ageing rock collector bores, a demographic circle in which Scratchy hits right in the bulls eye, who have given Box Of Birch a favourable write up in their 'The Vinyl Countdown' column in the July 2009 issue.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Teach-In sing Ding-a-dong

It's that time of year again, when the U.K representative for the Eurovision Song Contest gets publicly humiliated with a long line of nul points from our continental cousins, except for a few sympathy points thrown our way by Ireland and the decent handful from plucky Malta (they've long memories on that island) this is an event much like Marmite, you either love it or hate it and I'm firmly in the former camp, there's another word you often associate with this spectacle.

For the benefit of our American readers who must be wondering what on earth Scratchy is blathering on about.. a quick explanation of this event can be sought here. The gist of Eurovision is that since 1956 lots of European countries have each year entered a song, with the hope of becoming the most popular tune in the annual contest. Each member awards a number of points, up to a maximum of twelve points and it's all meant to be done in the spirit of unity and harmony.

It was taken quite seriously in the early years with many established pop stars, such as Lulu and Cliff Richard, entering quality pop songs and it was also the springboard for the careers of some internationally renowned acts, most notably Abba in 1974. However, there has always been a strong whiff of cheese to the event, with more than it's fair share of nonsensical lyrics, silly songs and ludicrous costumes. It's creditability has been a bit suspect for many a year in the U.K with the Great British Public not taking it as seriously as the organisers would like. It's nadir for the British arrived in 2003 when Jemini finished in last place with the dreaded 'nul points' This was widely seen as a backlash and an anti war protest about Tony Blair's involvement and the U.K's participation in the American led invasion of Iraq.

The integrity of the show has recently been cast into further doubt with old alliances, block voting, and traditional enmities overtly influencing the voting. This reached the depths last year as to rankle Terry Wogan so much (the much loved BBC presenter who had been the face of Eurovision for the BBC for donkeys years) that his wry commentary of the proceedings turned into ire as he all but announced his resignation from the job on air as the winner entry from Russia was being crowned, amidst bitter recriminations of undue favouritism coming from their allies in the former Soviet republics, who had strangely, nearly all given maximum marks to their powerful neighbour.

Fear not, my American friends, if Eurovision was a dastardly plan by 'cheese eating surrender monkeys' to turn us all into one big commie loving "United States of Europe" then it's failing miserably and the bickering is louder than ever..that's why we love it! This year I'm hoping for one of the representatives of the former members of the Soviet Bloc, to just lay their cards on the table and have an act performing a song called "Please Don't Turn Off Your Gas in January" before awarding the obligatory douze points.. It'll be a lot more straight forward for everyone involved..

I have dug out my one cheesy record featuring a Eurovision winner, bought mainly for the hideous cover and fashion nightmares being worn by the band. I was particularly taken with the look of the guy top right who is the spitting image of the Les McQueen character from the cult television comedy The League Of Gentlemen The sketches highlight the tragic life of the ex rhythm guitarist from fictional band Crème Brulee, played to perfection, by Mark Gatiss. The story is of a Seventies soft rock band, who entered the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981, and were nearly signed to Pickwick in 1976. Their big hit was "Voodoo Lady" and Les desperately hankers for a return to the limelight and recapture his youth.

had a rather more successful career than Crème Brulee. Now, usually thought of as Abba clones, they were actually a successful band in their home country Holland, with three chart hit hits already under their belt by 1974 and were no spring chickens to the pop scene, having formed way back in 1969. The line up in the halcyon years had Getty Kaspers on lead vocals, John Gaasbeek (piano) Ard Weeink (trumpet, bass) Chris de Wolde (guitar) plus founder members Koos Versteeg (piano, accordion) and Ruud Nijhuis (drums)

The Dutch entry's night of glory, at the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest, with Ding-a-dong propelled them to have a hit with the winning song in most European countries, reaching number thirteen in the U.K. In fact, trivia fans, they were the the first winners under the now-familiar Eurovision voting system, whereby each country awards scores of 1 to 8, then 10 and 12, it's worth storing that little titbit of knowledge for future reference at a pop pub quiz! Their career fizzled out in 1978 after six albums but since then, the occasional reformation, with new members enlisted to fill the gaps, has kept the spirit of 75 ding-a-donging along.

As a postscript to the event, my personal favourite song from the 2009 contest, the Portuguese entry Flor-de-Lis, headed straight for mid table mediocrity on the night and my predictions of disaster for the U.K entry Jade weren't borne out as she was placed in a respectable fifth place, where as my friends' two year old daughter showed a keen ear for a winning pop tune, by dancing most animatedly on the sofa to the Norwegian entry Alexander Rybak, which blitzed the field with a record breaking 387 points. So much for my pop punditry prowess, the lesson learnt here is, next time ask a toddler if you want to predict a chart topper.

Teach-in performing their winning song Ding-a-dong at the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm,Sweden.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The Cambridge Concept Of Timothy Clover

There's a school of thought, that says nearly all of the buried vinyl treasure has now been exposed and now we're are just scavenging for the left overs. Hunting for the overlooked 'classic lost album' is apparently an endangered sport because the record companies are finally getting their acts together and digitising their back catalogue for user friendly online consumption. Soon every obscure album will be available, with just a quick search and a touch of a button, thus depriving us of the thrill of the chase. This article from the Observer Music Monthly by Tom Cox on record hunting bemoans this loss of opportunity to hunt for the pop equivalent of the Holy Grail.

It's also true to say, that there's something approaching saturation coverage of every hot new album released, from the music meedja to the wittering of a million music blogging monkeys and even the stuffy national newspapers getting in on the act. This has meant that any new act which manages to stand out from the crowd will probably get showered with plaudits these days, thus diminishing the likelihood of them falling into a hole of obscurity, only to be discovered many years later by an obsessive middle aged man, rooting around the dusty deitrus of the pop archives.

Well, it's it's a fair bet so say that, if the benchmark is set to unearth some lost nugget of garage rock gem of the Sixties or a Velvet Underground acetate demo, your average collector, like myself, is almost certainly going to fall short. However, there's still plenty of enjoyment to be had from this hobby and it's a case of not digging deeper, but to go lateral! Burrowing into the seams of genres that are often overlooked and simply broadening one's horizons is the way to go folks and can unearth some satisfying curios.

A good example of the rewards of this policy that I have undertaken, is this little beauty from 1968 "The Cambridge Concept of Timothy Clover - A Harvard Square Affair" subtitled "The Bean Town Sound" (Tower st-5114) It was recorded at Olmsted in New York City. I can only presume, of the actual album and the reason it was overlooked by other fellow vinyl vultures, must have been due to the understated cover design, for a flower power era album, is a rather underwhelming collage with a clunky title.

Now, I'm not saying that this a lost classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a certain appeal and deserves more that a footnote in the development of the Sixties bubblegum psych-pop. The songs are a mish mash of traditional soft pop fused with a sunshine-baroque beat. The pleasure is in hearing the blossoming ambition of the creators, as they have obviously been inspired by the cataclysmic expansion in people's expectations of pop music in the aftermath of The Beach Boys Pet Sounds in 1966 and The Beatles riposte in the following year with Sgt Pepper.

This idea of throwing away the standard three minute pop song formula and begin to investigate the possibilities of this still adolescent genre of music reminds me of The Monkees soundtrack album to their film 'Head' from 1968 which by all accounts was a commercial disaster at the time, yet in time, has been retrospectively re-assessed as a bold musical statement and become cult viewing/listening. Another comparable bubblegum (mod) act who pushed the boat out during this fertile period was The Small Faces in 1968 with Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake.

A closer inspection of 'Timothy Clover' reveals a man who has aspirations to be smoking reefer, but he ain't ready to drop a tab and leap onto Ken Kesey's Magic Bus bus quite yet. For this wasn't a case of the squares fully turning on tuning in and dropping out like his namesake, but more like a trip to Carnaby Street to buy some new threads and keeping in vogue.

A quick root around the origins of this project reveals more band wagoning in the background to the whole story of it's inception. The creative trio behind the music were producer Larry Jaspon, Bruce Patch and Lenny Petze, who went on to co-write three songs on the sole album of cult Boston garage band Teddy and the Pandas who were signed Patch's company - Tea-Pot Productions.

The 'Timothy Clover' project was conceived as fitting into part of a made up 'catch all' label covering bands from the Boston area on the East coast of America. The scene was called 'The Bosstown Sound' 'The sound heard round the world! (refered to on the front cover of The Cambridge Concept as 'Beantown') It was dreamed up to compete with and act as a counterpoint to the established West Coast San Francisco scene. This was the brainchild of Alan Lorber of the MGM Record Label, he hoped that the resulting publicity would bolster his roster of groups including The Ultimate_Spinach, The Beacon_Street_Union and Orpheus.
An excellent overview of this scene with first hand recollections can be found here..

These notes by Larry Jaspon, on the back sleeve, give a flavour of what they were trying to achieve with this album...

"For years the names "Harvard Square" and "Cambridge" were synonymous with old world traditions and vine covered colleges. A place for the rich and famous only, where football rivalry was the main topic of discussion and the "Hasty Pudding Club" created havoc among the shop keepers . . . now it's different!!! A wave of revolution has swept thru the age-old streets. Walk here . . . and you will find yourself in a flower garden of youth. Colorful beads, strange clothing, hanging guitars...dominate the scene. Songs never before heard . . . of love and dreams, of great expectations and sad regret, of truth and existence are being sung everywhere. They are the key to this new, exciting concept of life finding birth here.

Come now - with Timothy Clover - one of them... into this world of strangeness and beauty - with words you have never heard - in a place that is now beyond your understanding.. but, perhaps. . . if you listen with an open mind. . . and without prejudice . . . the ethereal meaning of it all will become majestically and realistically clear to you . . .

"There's a lesson in ev'ry flower, misty rain can't take away" (A Harvard Square Affair)

"The Cambridge Concept of Timothy Clover - A Harvard Square Affair"

Track Listing
Side 1
1.Timothy Clover
2.Trolley Car Line
3.One Day Your A Rich Man
4.When Your Dreamin'
5.Tear Drop Mobile

Side 2
1.A Harvard Square Affair
2.His Life To Live Over
3.Cotton Candy (Can Be Yours)
4.Mt Friend John
5.Great World Next Door

The highlights of the album for me are Tear Drop Mobile which has an eye on the finer moments of 1960's psychadelic rock band H.P._Lovecraft and Cotton Candy that has hit potential, as a psych sun bleached bubblegum tune. The whole album can be downloaded for your listening pleasure at

The best I can do for visuals is this little snippet of Teddy and The Pandas

Sunday, 3 May 2009

We Made God - Live Review

Act: We Made God

Location: Southampton, U.K
Venue: Talking Heads
Date: 26/04/09

On this sleepy April Sunday evening, these guys had come to deliver a blistering set, at a venue, which has a good reputation as a showcase for interesting alternative music. So it was an easy decision to wander down and give my earlobes a sonic workout, as opposed to the usual end of weekend feet up in front of 'Heartbeat' with a glass of sherry: Lester Bangs eat your heart out!

Platterhorn managed to negotiate a couple of hours off family duty and he was happy to also sample We Made God, with just a minor caveat, that we stopped off for a post-post rock gig kebab on the way home. During the aperitif to the main act, we were treated to three interesting support acts, varying from emo-electro rock to 'Fugazi-like' hardcore punk trio, so something for all the family to enjoy there. It's a shame the crowd was a bit sparse and the atmosphere was a bit flat, as it must be hard for these bands to get pumped up to perform, when there's minimal feedback from the audience. Playing live is an important part of the learning curve of a band and it's vital to try out what works, outside the confines of a practice studio.

The main act on the bill We Made God come all the way from Hafnafjörður in Iceland, this gig was part of a short tour of the U.K promoting their self produced debut album 'As We Sleep' which was released via Maybe Records on March 27th 2008 in their native country and October 2008 in the U.K. The youthful quartet Magnús (vocals, guitars) Arnór (guitars) Stúni (bass) and Biggi (drums) make up the numbers and have been together for about five years. Together, they create a moody desolate sound, chiseled from a sonic landscape, which billows raucous clouds of storming riffs. It's a ferocious sound, with outbursts of frenetic chainsaw riffs, cutting through the introspective passages, all anchored by Maggi's anguished guttural howling vocal style.

We Made God are exponents of experimental rock, cut from the similar cloth as their fellow Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros (let's get the obligatory reference point out of the way) however I was struck how much more heavy their sound was, in this live setting. It's easy to see why they have garnered positive reaction from the likes of Kerrang and Q music magazines with four star reviews. It's crunching stuff which makes the floorboards tremble and 'W M G' could sit comfortably on the bill of a Download festival for instance. Their album would nestle nicely next to the Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and Black Mountain on the hard rock rack at the record shop. Yet they have enough variation within their songs to appeal to the mainstream crowd as well as the indie kids.

The band have got a strong stage presence, at times looking like grungy Thunderbirds marionette puppets, as if they were controlled by the ghostly hand of Kurt Cobain, with imaginary strings making them bob up and down in the rocky parts unleashing a foursome frenetically freaking out. The singer looked as though he was exercising some serious demons in his singing technique to the point where he admitted he was in danger of fainting.

The strongest song Gizmo was given an airing as was Sub Rosa and the last song We Lost The Battle, We lost the War stuck out as a highlight. As the evening drew to a close, all that was left to do was for the small but appreciative crowd to head home, in our case via the local Kebab shop, with the warm sound fuzz of 'W M G' still ringing in our ears, shish kebab filling our bellies and gooey chilli sauce dripping down our shirts!

We Made God - Gizmo from the album As We Sleep directed by Óskar Bragi Stefánsson