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"The entrance onto the stage of a Weird Al Yankovic-lookalike, replete with biker jacket, is somewhat surprising, as is his "Royal Festival Hall, are you ready to rock?" shouts, this being more suited to a Judas Priest concert in Pittsburgh circa 1985 methinks."

by Andrew Stevens' regular round-up of rock and roll artyfacts…


More post-punk chronicles…

Literature Review: Simon Ford, Hip Priest: The Story of Mark E Smith and The Fall, 2003 (Quartet)

Whereas everyone else of note required a younger actor to play them, Mark E Smith played himself during the 1977 parts of Madchester biopic 24 Hour Party People. In itself, that says a lot about the man.

Named after the Camus novel (they themselves later spawned a literary style, the 'New Puritans'), The Fall have long offered the opportunity for show-offs to demonstrate their pure dedication and devotion to an act by releasing 28 albums since 1979. This being the first book on The Fall since Brian Edge's 1989's Paintwork: A Portrait of The Fall, from the cover on in, it is clearly an attempt to provide the world with another Johnny Rogan -esque Manchester band of yore biography (cf. Simon Goddard's more recent The Smiths/Morrissey effort). And on that level it works (ironically, The Smiths owe their name to, in part, Mark E Smith). Ford is also the biographer of Sheffield noiseniks Throbbing Gristle (as we're discussing names, named after the Yorkshire vernacular for an erection) and from the outset the use of footnotes at the bottom of each page (for chrissake, that's what the back of the book's for!) really spoils it. There is also the pedestrian use of quotes from late 1970s NME which are just strung together in the first few chapters.

Negativity dispensed with, Ford's account is readable in the extreme and provides the same reader with some useful background about one of rock's most enduring, dysfunctional and controversial figures, from the Prestwich beginnings through Brix Smith and on to the student/Peel-championed 1990s. We are regaled with tales of Smith dragging Cramps vocalist Lux Interior to a dressing room mirror during an early 80s co-headlining tour to "take a fucking good look at yourself" ("What's there not to like?" was Lux's response). This deserves to take its place within the upper echelons of the idiosyncratic genre of rock biography and Ford should be pleased with himself. I mean, what's there not to like about it?

LP Review: The Thermals, More Parts Per Million, 2003 (Sub Pop)

The 1990s were cool: animation like Daria and Beavis and Butthead, the films of Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, and the rise of the Internet. The Thermals seem to think so too, with a debut album that was reputedly recorded for $60. For chrissake, they're even on Sub Pop. But it is the Guided By Voices version of the 1990s this foursome invokes with their brash lo-fi and completely atypical 2003 sounds.

Sounding like a speeded-up version of The Walkmen , The Thermals eschew the current Nuggets revivalism in favour of the more homespun and traditional sounds that we've come to associate with Sub Pop. So we have Hutch Harris (of Hutch and Kathy fame) yelping about "go fast/go slow" and "all systems intact" on 'It's Only Trivia' as if US indie of the most rigid kind never went outta style. For that matter, we have Kathy of Hutch and Kathy fame, but that's beside the point as there's also Ben Barnett of the wonderfully-monikered Kind Of Like Spitting in there for good measure. Even better, they were signed to Sub Pop on the say-so of the lead singer for Death Cab for Cutie! These names almost make you wanna migrate to the wastelands of the Northwest US.

Harris' vocals are an acquired taste as he yelps his way through the album's 13 tracks (they last all of two minutes each), but the fuzzy guitar work and brash lo-fi-ness of it all more than suffices. 'Brace and Break' implores someone (or other) to "stuff your sentences into your boring diary" in an almost twee manner, before intoning "get fuckin' ready". 'No Culture' icons does the business as an manifesto against hipness and the fact there's a tune to back it up helps too.

With the ferocious lyricism of Frank Blank and the melodic punk licks of Pete Shelley played through Lou Barlow's equipment (and like a roll-on applied to a festival goer's armpit), The Thermals are a spectacular blast of fresh air. Get fuckin' ready is all I have to say.

Literature Review: Peter Guralnick, Feel Like Going Home, 2003 (Canongate)

In an era where the blues enjoys an unprecedented role within youth culture (as opposed to being the sole preserve of Mojo journalists), Guralnick's intimately personal assessment of the blues' contribution to rock and roll is well worth reissuing. Few writers manage to capture the personalities involved in a scene as well as he.

Feel Like Going Home is far from a turgid Blues encyclopaedia, as you'd expect from the title, but traces the fine line between blues occupancy and the rock and roll explosion of the 1950s. The nuances of rockabilly and the more familiar sounds of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and, of course, Elvis Presley are all here. Guralnick's writing style has few parallels today, which makes this worthy of attention for any music aficionado.

Live Review:, Asian Dub Foundation, Royal Festival Hall, June 30 2003

So, to the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank (which has come in for a right load of stick recently, but I love it) for the closing night of the Lee 'Scratch' Perry-curated Meltdown 2003. There's nothing 'royal' about this evening's bill -- Ozomatli and, of course, Asian Dub Foundation -- both bands occupying the agit-pop end of the musical spectrum.

I can't fault the annual Meltdown's ability to showcase the collective talents of several groups under the same roof and all curated by one esoteric individual (2002 was David Bowie's turn). The setting is far from ideal, it being a seated arena more suited to chin-stroking Guardian reader contemplation than anything else, but like it says in the liner notes to The Who Live at Leeds, it doesn't take much to get people out of their seats and in the gangways. The 'No Smoking' signs beamed onto the stage detract from the rock and roll quotient somewhat as well. And now a word from David Blunkett…

The entrance onto the stage of a Weird Al Yankovic-lookalike, replete with biker jacket, is somewhat surprising, as is his "Royal Festival Hall, are you ready to rock?" shouts, this being more suited to a Judas Priest concert in Pittsburgh circa 1985 methinks. Ozomatli, I assume are the support act, but they behave like the main act, easily exceeding their allotted slot. The crowd seem to think so too, being as they are wiggling their hips to the politically-charged blend of Latin, funk, hip hop and rock, kinda like an ideologically conscious Jurassic 5 (Cut Chemist is a member of both bands) or Rage Against the Machine given a Djavan make-over. Obligatory references to Joe Strummer aside, it's hard not to be affected by the rhythm of the crowd, or the number of people on stage (I counted 11). And it's not difficult to see why they share a bill with ADF and as a live experience, they pack the punches and keep the rhythm conscious.

Surprisingly, ADF's sound comes across as the antithesis to Spinal Tap's 'amps to 11' mentality, I mean haven't you guys heard of the volume setting on the mixing desk? The ADF sound itself has progressed nicely since they became focused and got their act together on 1998's Rafi's Revenge LP, follow-ups Community Music and Enemy of the Enemy occupy the same mix of Indian sitar grooves, drum and bass beats and rock guitar, over lyrics with David Blunkett and the asylum and immigration system in their sights (ADF's last appearance here was 'scoring' Le Haine, natch). We have references to 'weapons of mass percussion' (the crowd like that). We have 'Naxalite', 'New Way New Life' and, of course, 'Free Saptal Ram' (who is actually free now). We have rhythm and we have consciousness. What more could we want? Erm, some volume?

Emma Goldman might have said "if I can't dance it's not my revolution" but here tonight, judging by the state of the audience, it's dancing they want rather than revolution. Anti-globalisation has a time and a place and ADF and Ozomatli make the crowd aware of that, yet leave it to the individual to make their own minds up. Opportunities for dancing are infinite, revolution South Bank-style less so.

LP Review: Mates of State, My Solo Project, 2003 (tsk! tsk! records)

(there was no photo of Mates of State available from my usual source, so here's one of early 90s Manc act 808 State instead…)

After Northern State and Hope of the States and eschewing the optional third and fourth members of a group, Californian duo Mates of State take the whole husband/wife thing to new organ-driven (as opposed to blues) levels. Their UK entrance is via the belated release of their 2000 album, My Solo Project, recorded for the tsk! tsk! label, also home of no wavers Erase Errata. Deploying the whole "My mother said if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all" approach, I can simply say the songs have a child-like quality to them and the opening track 'Names' is basically a cover of the theme to 80s sitcom Cheers (I'm more a Frasier kinda guy, myself…). Whether or not either of these are a good thing purely depends on your point of view.

Their unbridled enthusiasm translates well onto the recording, I will give them that. Tracks like 'La'hov' and 'Everyone Needs an Editor' (I'm sure Andrew Gallix would agree) showcase their talents well to some extent and if bright and breezy indie pop is your thing then don't let me stop you. There, my mother would be proud.

LP Review: Various, Rough Trade Shops - Post Punk Vol. 1, 2003 (Mute)

If heaven was a record store then Rough Trade would be the hallowed space beyond St Peter and the pearly gates. Just to prove that, Rough Trade (the shop, not the label) and Mute have combined to issue compilations of the staffs' choice picks from across the ages and so far we have had Rock and Roll Part 1, Electronic Part 1 and now Post Punk Part 1. Each of these represents the most fun you can have with two CDs and a multi-changer CD player. If these are to be a regular thing then Post Punk was kinda inevitable given its recent ascendancy amongst the influences on many of today's new bands (both of 2003's 'ones to watch', Erase Errata and The Rapture, are on here as well) such as Gang of Four, Wire, XTC (pictured) and Public Image Limited.

That Rock and Roll and Electronic are broad-ranging classifications of musical styles is beyond refute. Post Punk however, is a little trickier -- I mean, when did 'punk' end and 'post punk' begin? And you can go a bit too far with the whole 'post' thing too. That notwithstanding, the Rough Trade staff have out-excelled themselves once again with their wise choices and as such, key tracks from The Pop Group, ESG, Swell Maps, 23 Skidoo and Magazine are on here, as well as some less predictable but equally essential inclusions from Crispy Ambulance, World Domination Enterprises (where are they now?!) and UK Decay, are on here. The liner notes draw on the anal-retentiveness of a record store clerk along with the deployment of fanzine-esque prose and personal reflections (I loved the digs at 'Hoxton trendies' throughout!). As such, this record is beyond essential.

LP Review: Psychid, Psychid, 2003 (db)

Psychid are Radiohead for people who like Radiohead. They even come from Oxford, just to press that point home. Their eponymous debut album would suggest that there are some people left in the music industry untouched by the garage rock revival (or bands yelping "Gay bar! Gay bar!" and thinking they're funny), being as Psychid do their best to recall Radiohead's miserablism multiplied by the Beta Band's eccentricity (also witnessed more recently by the likes of Clearlake and British Sea Power).

Psychid is far from offensive but it isn't exactly the most promising of debuts, more encouraging than anything else in terms of its rigid determination to avoid the pitfalls of being tied to current trends, recalling as it does the dimming flame of British indie of the 1990s. Tracks vary in their pace, from the sullen 'Wires Ripped Out' to the altogether more ebullient 'Digging for Victory', the latter surely vying for a place on XFM and Radio 1's playlists. I guess it's just good to see that in British Sea Power, Clearlake and now Psychid, indie-schmindie hasn't gone away at all…


Andrew Stevens is Co-Editor of 3AM and lives in London, England.

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