Wednesday, 25 May 2016

So Much To Answer For

As you read these words, I'll be heading northwards to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, to catch the first of two shows on Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band's current River Tour. I say current, because for some of us of a certain vintage, this is our second River Tour, the first followed the album's original release in 1981. Ticket prices have gone up a bit in the past 35 years.

My original twin-tub damaged ticket from 1981.

This is only the second time in my life that I've been to Manchester, the first was for just a few hours one evening in the Winter of 1978, when a band who I was chums with at the time, played at the Russell Club in Hulme, otherwise known as the original Factory Club. I travelled from their home town of Leeds in the back of the hired van, rattling around among the drums, amps, guitars and mic-stands, all the while being slowly poisoned by exhaust fumes - happy days. The weather was bitterly cold, the audience sparse and the support act was Gordon the Moron, he of Jilted John fame. I took photos, but unfortunately mislaid them a long time.

Here's Wire, who I reckon have been on a bit of a roll since 'Red Barked Tree' in 2011. They're not from Manchester, but this appropriately titled tune, from last year's self-titled album, is ace.

Monday, 23 May 2016


Apparently, it's been 20 years since I last saw Tindersticks in concert. Blimey. Sometimes I really do struggle with this passage of time thing. In the interim the band released several great records, took a hiatus, reconvened in a slightly amended form and then released more great records - 2008's 'The Hungry Saw' and 2010's Falling Down a Mountain' being particular favourites around these parts.

This year Tindersticks released their 11th LP, 'The Waiting Room' and to compliment the album, the band created a short film for each of the 11 tracks. For the second set of their performance last night, they played 'The Waiting Room' in sequence, as the films were projected onto a giant screen behind them. In spite of one brief technical hitch, it was pretty jaw-dropping stuff.

This is 'We Are Dreamers!', featuring Jehnny Beth of Savages on backing vocals.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Pit Ponies

The bruised legitimacy of Euan Hartley's vocal delivery attracted me immediately - think Wild Billy Childish meets Wreckless Eric. The rest of the Pit Ponies aren't slouches either. The band, who formed in 2013, come straight out of Upminster and, from what I can gather, have so far rarely ventured outside of the M25 in a live capacity. They are playing at Liverpool's Sound City Festival next week though, so perhaps more nationwide shows are on the horizon. Their début LP, 'Magnificent Second Occupation', was released last Summer on the, always worth investigating, Trashmouth Records, though I only belatedly bumped into it in January. They're calling what Pit Ponies do 'Upminster Soul' - and why not? Check out the whole LP here.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Milly Hirst

A couple of minutes into 'I Still', the first song of Milly Hirst's brief set on Saturday evening, I found myself unconsciously reaching out to the back of the chair in front of me for support, such was the emotional force buried within the beauty of the song and its performance. From the allegorical 'Gentle Sailor' to 'Mary', based on an unspoken episode from her own family's history, Milly's set bulged with utterly captivating songs, performed with a particularly intense restraint. Word has it that there is an LP in the pipeline and Milly's music will most certainly feature on these pages again when it appears, if not before. Meanwhile, check out her exquisite self-titled EP, released in 2012 (here).

Friday, 13 May 2016

Swiftly Does It

Just over a week ago, for the first time this year, we heard a sound we've come to love more than almost any other - the screaming call of returning Swifts. Just a couple of birds to start with, twisting and turning in the skies above, but within a few days more had arrived, as gradually they began to re-familiarise themselves with their surroundings and the rooftop nesting spots they've used for generations.

On Wednesday evening, Mrs S & I noticed a variant of the Swift's call with which we weren't familiar. Instead of the usual joyous passing screams from above, we heard an odd, panic stricken call from below. A pair of Starlings had blocked a lone Swift's high speed path into it's nesting space beneath the roof tiles, forced it to the ground and were viciously pecking away at it. A downed Swift is as good as dead without speedy assistance, particularly when it's on the receiving end of such an attack, they spend virtually their whole lives in flight and have no means of becoming airborne from the ground. We ran down to the garden, scooped the shocked bird into a small box and took it to the highest point of the house, our bedroom, to release it. Holding it on an outstretched flat palm, we let it feel the breeze and sure enough, it soon took flight. What we didn't realise was that the Starlings were still waiting on the rooftop and immediately appeared from nowhere to forcibly bring the Swift crashing to earth again. Mrs S and I raced down the stairs and into the garden once more, to rescue our prone, plucky pal from the lethal beaks of the Starlings. This time we decided to wait awhile, to allow the starlings to disperse and let our battered Swift calm itself.

A little later, with the coast apparently clear, we once again climbed to the top floor to release the Swift. This time, it was understandably initially reluctant to take flight, though eventually swooped from Mrs S's outstretched hand and off around the house. To our absolute horror, the Starlings reappeared from out of the blue and were onto it like a shot. We once again heard that awful terrified scream as it was forced out of the sky and out of our view, somewhere further down the lane. We feared the worst. A grounded Swift stands little chance of survival, but this one had now been brought crashing to Earth on three separate occasions. We ran along the lane and miraculously spotted the Swift on the ground in a neighbour's front garden. Amazingly it was still alive, but had clearly endured enough for one day. We carefully placed it back in the cardboard box and took it home. It gratefully slurped some water offered from a pipette, then we left the shell-shocked little mite to chill-out, hoping it would make it through the night.

To our great relief, the Swift not only made it through the night, but looked quite perky when we carefully opened the lid of the box on Thursday morning. What we couldn't know of course, was if any serious damage had been caused either by the Starling attacks or the repeated collisions with the ground, not to mention the extreme stress involved in all these events. This time Mrs S & I resolved to release our beleaguered chum elsewhere, somewhere safer. The photo at the top of this blog was taken from our bedroom window, where we had unsuccessfully released the Swift on the previous two occasions. Squint and you'll be able to see the steeple of the church in town, across the marsh. Beneath that steeple is a large, lofty old graveyard, overlooking the marsh in our direction. We took the Swift to that quiet, bright and breezy location, held it aloft and within seconds it took flight. Looking none the worse for its multiple ordeals the previous evening, it circled us twice before climbing, up and away.

As I watched it soar, I considered the thousands of miles that little Swift had already travelled and, with a fair wind, the thousands more miles it might yet have left in its wings. And I don't mind telling you, my heart soared too.


'Ond Yn Dawel Daw y Dydd' (translates as 'But Quietly Comes a Day') is by Huw M. His beautiful music is my current obsession and I will definitely return to it in more detail soon.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


Ellen Kempner has been trading as Palehound since 2013, originally as a solo vehicle, but latterly in a bona fide band configuration. Palehound's very fine début LP, 'Dry Food', was issued in the USA last August, though only received an official European release, on Heavenly Records, as recently as March of this year.

Here's the official (and slightly disturbing) video for 'Molly', together with a performance of 'Healthier Folk' recorded during the band's Audiotree live session at the end of 2015. Check out the full 6 song session (plus more of Ellen's music) here.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Grant McLennan - 10 Years Gone

It barely seems possible that 10 years have passed since Grant McLennan's untimely death, at the dreadfully early age of 48. To mark the day, I direct you to two of my own favourite performers, both personal friends of Grant. Peter Walsh fronts The Apartments, a band I've been listening to since 1984. If you haven't yet picked up on last year's magnificent 'No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal', you should really make it your business to do so. Peter wrote a generous and moving piece about Grant six years ago and republished it today - read it here.

My admiration for Ed Kuepper's music knows no bounds. I've gone whole weeks of my life listening to nothing but his records. 'Finding You' originally appeared on 'Oceans Apart', the final Go-Betweens LP, in 2005. Ed recorded his own version the song for the 2007 Grant McLennan tribute album, 'Love Goes On'.

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