FTIS&HTW: Wednesday 20th February

What I’ve Learned, Thom Yorke, US Esquire
“My grandfather would come to our house in the countryside, borrow one of our bikes, and disappear. He’d come back after dark and we had no idea where he’d been. If he ran into anybody, he’d just ask them where the good nightclub was. He did that right up until his nineties.”

The Disarray Of Staff Benda Bilili

Sad news that SBB are no more. Last year, Marcel and I went to see a preview of the film telling their story, followed by the band in concert, and both were wonderful. The film’s an uplifting piece of work full of great scenes (my favourite being when teen genius Roger—player of self-invented tin-can and wire instrument, having just been found downriver and asked to join the band—is given a stern talking-to by his mother and sister). The show was as riotous as a concert in a chapel can be, and finished with some of the finest dancing I’ve ever seen, especially as most of it was done by men on crutches and in wheelchairs.

Mr Hyde Mailout, extolling virtues of “Birmingham Scene”
IS THIS THE NEXT BIG MUSIC SCENE? shouts the headline. “What do you know about Digbeth? We do have one useful thing you should know about it: it’s been lazily dubbed the “Shoreditch of Birmingham” thanks to three young bands who are rising to prominence after spending their formative years hanging out there. Is “B-Town” 2013’s version of Madchester? Meet the major players and decide…”

So I do. I Soundcloud them all. Three bands from the, uh, West Midz. First up is Swim Deep: According to Mr Hyde, “producing ethereal, synth-heavy music that’s unashamedly poppy, yet also soulful and endearingly rough around the edges.” The band’s vocalist says “[Birmingham bands] are making the UK’s best music. It’s not all the same like in other scenes–it’s a really varied sound.” Mmmm. I say: Ordinary boy vocals. Ordinary melodies. Tinny beats.

I try number two. Jaws. Mr Hyde again: “their fuzzed-out shoegaze-indebted sound can’t remain in the shadows for long in any era that sees a new My Bloody Valentine album so warmly received. The vocalist says: “I heard someone describe us as Ian Curtis In LA, which is pretty cool.” Right. Ordinary boy vocals. Ordinary melodies. Tinny beats.

Sensing a pattern I move to number three, Peace. My Jekyll (sorry, I mean Mr Hyde): “Their gift is writing complex, Foals-esque tracks but with huge, sing-along choruses. The vocalist says: “Our music should make you want to shake and make you want to cry at the same time. And sometimes it should make you want to party.” Ordinary boy vocals, more guitars than the others, slightly less tinny beats.

I’ve got to say, five minutes in the company of each of these bands only made me think Where’s the new here? Why are they all so satisfied with replicating what’s gone before? Why are all the vocals so… dull? And how desperate are journalists to discover a new “scene”?

Lately, A Ken Colyer State Of Mind

Dobells Listeners

Before filming an interview with John Williamson and his charming crew for a BBC 4 documentary, I had looked out some hopefully useful material. Among my favourite finds was this picture, taken by the Brighton Evening Argus, of Doug Dobell’s first shop, shopfitted by my dad, in 1956. The programme, to be shown in late May, focuses on the British Jazz Revival of the late Forties and early Fifties. My job was to help illuminate the extraordinary trip that Ken made to New Orleans in 1952, jumping ship in Mobile to play with some of his heroes, breaking the law in several ways to do so. I also recently compiled this piece for The Stansbury Forum about Ken’s pilgrimage, based on reminiscences and letters from Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer.

The Mad Opening Number of A Chorus Line
My mother’s birthday. A show. The pre-opening night, the last of the previews, where the audience seems packed with the cast’s relations, which gives a peculiarly heightened air to the whole performance. It’s actually pretty great—in some ways a weirdly prescient view of Reality TV’s audition process—but my favourite musical moment comes right at the beginning. The opening number I Hope I Get It pits frenzied Seventies Lalo Schifrin wah-wah disco, all tom rolls and rim shots, against the Tin Pan Alley tune of the refrain, “I really need this job/Please, God I need this job/I’ve got to ge—t this jo—b.” Cue massed jazz hands and that particularly Michael Bennett-style of angular shock dancing. Magic!


  1. Sorry to hear about SBB – we saw them at Snape Maltings last September. Another unlikely venue, where (eventually – we were a diffident crowd) they raised the roof.

  2. Martin, I’m afraid I don’t have any definite answers to your questions regarding new bands. However, we don’t seem to be miles appart, thought-wise:

    I used to get really excited about new music and would read reviews fervently. Unfortunately, these are things I don’t tend to tamper with much anymore, since I’ve grown fed up with the hype machine that the indie music press has become; the very hype they were presumably trying to avoid when they first decided to distance themselves from the mainstream music press.

    If I’m going to listen to a so-called groundbreaking new band that claims to write lyrics like Bob Dylan’s, with atmospheric backdrops like those of Joy Division, and with a penchant for drones a la Velvet Underground, why not listen to those artists instead, rather than supporting unimaginative, derivative dribble?

    As a consequence of my disappointment with current pop music, I’ve found myself going further back in time and discovering (or even rediscovering) bands and records I had no idea they ever existed, or that I had never given a fair chance. True, this doesn’t help music move forward, but at least certain pockets of musical history won’t be unfairly forgotten, and my tastes keep getting a little bit sharper and broader than my neighbor’s, who can’t stop listening to Lady Gaga.

    Ken Colyer sounds very intriguing, I’m sure going to do a little research… And I had no idea that Thom Yorke’s grandpa was so hip!

    • I think you’re right, Gabriel, about the unquestioning hype that the non-mainstream press goes in for. I actually think there’s great new music (and some great mainstream pop gems) but certain bands get latched onto for what they say or look like and it doesn’t seem to be enough…

      Nicely put about the source stuff too. I really hate all these Americana bands of the 90s/2000s who only seemed to have listened to one Neil Young track (usually Alabama) and used that as their blueprint and never went beyond that.

  3. Love the Dobell’s pic. Earlier today I was reading about the South African musician Gwigwi Mrwebi on the Honest Jon’s site and there is a Dobell connection there too. http://www.honestjons.com/label.php?pid=28361

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