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Hove Festival – Day Two

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Hove Backstage by boat

Hove Backstage by boat

Day two at Hove Festivalen and we kick off the morning with a little exploration of the festival Island and surrounding coast by jumping aboard a gorgeous motor boat and pootering along the coast. Our captain is more than happy to extol the virtues of the surrounding countryside, which is by now revealing itself to be so breathtaking it will undoubtedly be slapped with a government health warning sooner or later. Revelation of the trip though is perhaps that last year the captain played host to those lovely Kooks boys who were such models of British politeness that they left a lasting impression. Good to hear!

Musically the second day of the Hove Festival in Norway opened with exemplary exponents of the new Bergen Wave, The New Wine, who those of you in the know may have seen rammed into the top floor of the Lock Tavern last december or possibly whipping up a frenzy at Komedia stepping into Golden Silvers shoes at The Great Escape. Tonight in their home country they seem like a band where everything has been taken to the next level, commanding the stage with a mature confidence that belies their youth.
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Hove Festivalen – Day 1

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Hove's second stage

Hove's second stage

Blogging for Spoonfed

The 3rd annual Hove Festivalen opened to glorious sunshine on the south Norwegian coast yesterday as 12,000 revelers made the journey to attend the festival that the likes of Jay Z, Franz Ferdinand and the Ting Tings have declared “the best festival on earth”.

Franz Ferdinand headlined the main stage yesterday and treated the crowd to a raucous set that ran the full gamut of their hit laden back catalogue as well choice cuts from their third album ‘Tonight’. In supremely relaxed mood the Scotsmen got particularly rapturous reactions for ‘Take Me Out‘ and ‘Ulysses’ . The band had spent the afternoon cruising the coastline and then grilling their fresh catch on the backstage BBQ, so it was no wonder that the band were in benevolent form when they hit the stage in the quasi twilight of Norwegian high summer.
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My Toys Like Me

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Another month has flown by and it’s time to head north of Hoxton Square again to The Macbeth for the mighty Twisted Licks monthly residency. This months edition featuring the helium sluiced stylings of My Toys Like Me.

It’s a strange week in London’s music world as many movers and shakers have hot footed it over to that Texas in order to swap buzz bands and 50oz steaks with the great and good at SXSW. As such the crowd is a little Spartan on arrival compared to normal, but by the time My Toys Like Me take to the stage it’s getting hard to swing anything let alone disgruntled felines.
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Written by Jonathan

April 5, 2009 at 6:48 pm

The Aliens

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This article originally appeared on Subba Cultcha.

“When was it decided that listening to music had to be easy?” John Maclean talks about The Aliens difficult second album.

The Aliens new album ‘Luna’ is a difficult beast. The follow up to their 2007 debut, ‘Astronomy for Dogs’, ‘Luna’ is a sprawling behemoth of a record, it’s songs span out in front of you creating rolling, expansive sonic panoramas. A third of the records tracks flow out well past the 6 minute mark, two making double figures, it is safe to say that this is not a primped and preened MTV pop record, where running over the radio sanctioned 3 minute timeline is tantamount to creative blasphemy. It is coincidentally, and possibly for exactly that reason, a mesmeric, psych tinged, honeycomb folk-pop masterpiece. It’s the album that The Aliens should have been able to make first time around but were perhaps not allowed to, where ‘Astronomy for Dogs’ felt muted, like a curtailed version of what could have been, ‘Luna’ runs free. Recorded in the remote Scottish home studio of chief Alien, Beta Band co-founder and Lone Pigeon man Gordon Anderson, the relaxed recording schedule the band adopted allowed them to explore each track with the focus and willful experimentation upon which they thrive.

“It (Luna) was actually a lot easier to make than ‘Astronomy…’ because with ‘Astronomy…’ we decided to do it in a largish studio in london so the pressure was on and we actually only had a week or two to actually record. So we didn’t get that much time to experiment and do what we usually do with tracks,” recalls John looking back to the first time The Aliens committed their singular space folk vision to tape. “ Whereas with ‘Luna’ we recorded it in Gordons cottage up in Scotland and spent 6 months on it. So much more time to experiment with tracks and scrap tracks and add things to tracks, and I suppose as well because Gordon’s slightly fragile at times so when it comes to big cities like London I think he found it really difficult getting to the studio and using the tube. Just moving through all the people and the hassle of a hot summer in london. Whereas with ‘Luna’ he was comfortable in his own fishing village and in his own cottage.” The fragility that John is alluding to reflects the well documented history of mental illness attached to Anderson, who spent the best part of 10 years institutionalised. It is something that has been with him since the Beta Band and inevitably informs both the process and the music of The Aliens, evoking further comparisons with other musical explorers who have flirted with the darker sides of the human psyche such as Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett, who both ploughed into similar psychedelic layered pop.  ‘Luna’ is an incredibly expansive record of glorious 60s tinged folk, songs like ‘Billy Jack’ and ‘Bobby’s Song’ stretching out forever creating giant sonic wormholes that suck the listener deep inside, yet it hangs around a uniquely intimate core, heard, as one might imagine, almost by accident, like a garden hopping youth pressing their ear to a window of Brian Wilson’s studio during the creation of ‘Smile’. It feels like you’re a voyeur to a moment of aural conception, the tinkerings of flawed genius.

The spectre of ill health raised itself again throughout the recording process and again after the album had been finished causing the band to cancel a string of scheduled summer dates. “We haven’t really got our teeth into playing a lot of the new stuff live yet because Gordon got a bit unwell again after the album was finished.” Notes John, “If we had serious funds to make a proper live show then we were talking about actually playing the album as it appears on the record because we think it might suit that…starting at the beginning and going straight through, and getting everyone involved who appeared on the record…but that’s just not possible so we’ve got to scale a lot of it back, I mean there’s so much going on on some of the record that we’ve really got to look at how to produce that live.” It would take a small army to reproduce the album note for note live as the list of vintage instruments and antique drum machines goes on and on, the bands love of excessive experimental sonics highlighted in the song title ‘Theramin’. “We’re all fans of rare instruments. I’m especially a fan of vintage electronic equipment. We use a lot of vintage drum machines and stuff, there’s one called a sonivox which was a really early vocoder used on the radio in the 1940s, but it’s getting harder and harder to afford them. With Ebay everyones a bit more savvy about what they have now. We’re fans of like the old BBC sound workshops where they make crazy psychedelic sounds out of computers they built themselves like. It’s an exciting area of sound.” Though, given the nature of the band and the uncertainties surrounding Anderson every time he steps onto a stage can lead to an audience not knowing what to expect from  The Aliens live the band do have plans to keep the shows as high energy as possible. “ I think there’s a lot more upbeat songs on this record which will translate well live, on the first record there were some songs we didn’t play live because we felt they were too downbeat. We always want the live experience to be a bit more like a club…we want people to move and dance and not just stare at us as we self indulgently moan,” says John. “I think for this tour it will end up being a mix of ‘Luna’ and ‘Astronomy’, The great thing about getting gordon onstage is that you never know what to expect, we never really have a set list so whatever he’s in the mood to play we’ll play.”

There seems scant danger of any self indulgent moaning taking over the sheer triumphant splendor of the songs from ‘Luna’. They pitch and glide, washing various hues over you, this is the sound of joy projected through a prism of stereotyped Scottish dour, songs like ‘Blue Mantle’ and ‘Boats’ find you just wanting to wallow in their sonics as they fall over you like giant aural snowdrifts. So what has been inspiring these mini-opera’s? A lot of salmon and cinema it would seem. Certainly tales of the various recording sessions that stretch back to 2007 have the band debating the finer points of salmon preparation with at least equal veracity to the benefits of diving chord changes. “After you’ve spent all day playing music and sitting in front of pro tools you really don’t want to listen to other peoples music, so we’re always watching films and there’s a lot of ‘Luna’ that’s more influenced by films than music or anything like that. The last film I saw at the cinema was Hell Boy 2 so we love the art house films and the mainstream movies as well.” The Aliens are definitely art house but with ‘Luna’ they may well have the sleeper hit of the year.

Restlesslist – Brighton, July 2008

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This article was conducted for The Beat Happening magazine.

There’s something about island and coastal dwellers. Perhaps it’s an imbalance of sodium in the veins, maybe its the incessant threat of falling foul to some Hitchcockian seagull related demise or the muggy vapors of those lost at sea wandering the streets, eulogised on harbour wall plaques. Whatever the provenance the proximity of the sea seems to break down the normal restraints of human self control, creating a palpable frisson, an infectious theendisuponus spirit that fuels wanton creativity and overt depravity. It is apt then that scintillating Brightonian instrumentalists Restlesslist have produced an album perfectly encapsulating that essence of the modern British seaside town. ‘The Rise and Fall of the Curtain Club’ is aural schizophrenia, a cut up combination of the classic funfair facades and the punch drunk explorations of relentless house parties and 3am deckchair liaisons.

Conceived in the cradle of modern bandom, the converted bedroom studio, as a natural extension of the friendship between Benjamin Elliot (art, hearts and ink) and Mathew Thwaites (you know him from Electric Soft Parade) and fired by house party discussions and DJ slots the two quickly decided they wanted to fuse their creativity. As they noted what they were creating quickly demanded an audience outside those privy to their homestead and they begun the onerous task of assembling a full band. “It hasn’t really been a bedroom thing for a year maybe two,” offers Ben before Matthew adds, “we still write in their though, we’ve got a converted studio about the size of this.. (Small arm gestures)”. “We didn’t really think about it, it was just a hobby that we kind of kept to ourselves but then we got a gig and had to put a band together,” “couldn’t” notes Ben chuckling, “yeah couldn’t so got dropped from the gig, and then just carried on. A few people have come and gone but now it’s a band.” A band indeed and currently employing the very able talents of luminaries such as Brakes man Thomas White along with Matthew Davies and Max Erle. “It’s been good because of the way it’s gone”, continues Ben, “because we didn’t start with any idea of how we’d sound or how we’d look it’s bee a very natural progression. It all makes sense.”

Many of the bands compositions, such as ‘Dirty Pint’, for which they recently completed a gloriously compulsive video, and ‘Mint Sauce’, lilt menacingly between elegiac seaside organ evocations and complete sfrozando. They take imperialistic British seaside whimsy and subject it to a Burroughs tinged cut-up groove surgery, the resultant heady brew conjuring scenes of Billy Childish channelling the ghost of Ennio Morricone and the pair cruising the bars and boardwalks glassing organ players left and right before torching the whole damn mess. It’s a ragged edged soundtrack that will launch a million filmmakers amongst its listeners. Interestingly though many of the key signposts surfacing in their reviews, such as Morricone, are surprising the band themselves. “I actually got into Morricone through reading one of our reviews,” states Matt, “the name kept coming up so I looked into it.” Matthew does go on to reveal an insightful addiction to collecting Disney soundtracks proffering that The Little Mermaid may just be the pinnacle of modern fairy tale embellishment. Though a brief mini tour of their house reveals endless mountains of bizarre instruments and scattershot piles of vinyl turning up everything from scandinavian elf Bjork to BBC field recordings reflecting the eclecticism that translates to record.

For all their lo-fi bedroom roots Restlesslist have started 2008 in gloriously high profile form and have been garnering high praise from all quarters with BBC 6’s resident ex-Fall man Marc Riley declaring ‘Butlin Breaks’ the best record he has heard. Alongside Album Of The Week accolades from Huw Stephen’s, endless spins from Colin Murray and Steve Lemacq and triumphant live turns at the like of Truck festival and The Great Escape, Restlesslist are poised to make huge waves. Every life is better soundtracked, and Restlesslist are grand masters of the art.

Written by Jonathan

August 18, 2008 at 10:45 am

Siobhan Donaghy

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This article originally appeared on

The luscious lady herself.

Sugarbabes? Who the hell are they? Siobhan Donaghy talks about McDonalds and scary gothic statues in rural France.

Hey, at least I left before they did their McDonalds commercial” yelps Siobhan Donaghy, referring of course to her apprenticeship in pop darlings Sugarbabes. It would be fair to assume that any artist attempting to ‘go serious’ after being in one of Britain’s most recognisable sugar coated pop bands since S Club 7 is always going to have a bit of a mountain to climb with the modern music press. Not that you could tell that from the infectious way in which Siobhan Donaghy is bouncing off the walls prior to the release of her dazzling sophomore album ‘Ghosts’.

It hasn’t been an easy ride mind. Following her flight from the wild pop fantasy of the Sugarbabes Siobhan set about recording and releasing her debut solo album, 2003s ‘Revolution In me’. Despite the album being well received it came at a transitional time for London Records. So at 19 she found herself homeless and desperate to get her record heard. Not that any lingering scars are evident today. “I can’t say enough about London Records, really they are responsible for me being here, they stood by me when I left the Sugarbabes.” Couple this with a broken heart and its no surprise that Siobhan found herself on an extended holiday. A trawl around her website quickly highlights the influence of this period with a list of her favourite cities and books reflecting a period of travel and reading. Its not unusual for someone in their late teens to go through a period of soul searching, discovering new music and literature, to not experience a wanderlust at the end of teenagerdom would seem more shocking. Yet not many of us can claim to have been woken from our travelling daze by a phone call from a top flight producer such as James Sanger (Dido, U2, Keane, Brian Eno), but that’s exactly what happened to Siobhan. “It was just crazy, a bolt from the blue, and it’s been incredible. James is like this eccentric genius.”

So it came to be that Siobhan embarked on the journey that led to the heart of rural France where Sanger set about pushing Siobhan further than she had previously imagined. “He would just play me all these records, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, Brian Eno” states Siobhan recalling a kind of classic eccentric pop cramming session. “I wanted the record to be a lot more emotive, to explore some new sounds and James used to open that up to me. I just think he’s this brilliant, eccentric genius.” Not that the transition was all sugar and spice. “We were staying in this old farmhouse and I was staying in a wing on my own and it had all these gothicy decorations…I had to wait until we knew each other but as soon as we did I was like “James, get these out of my room!!”.”

The resulting album ‘Ghosts’ is a work of evocative maturity and quintessentially eccentric British pop in the best traditions of the aforementioned Kate Bush et al. Whilst those who are close to Siobhan may have seen this coming for the general populous it really is an album out of left field. It’s a dramatic record that showcases the full range of Siobhan new pop sous, exploiting grand techniques to produce ethereal, beautiful soundscapes. It’s something that has the relationship between Siobhan and Sanger at its heart. “He allowed me a lot of freedom, and we come from completely different camps. I mean, like on the old record I used to read things like New Scientist and write songs based on articles I’d read like how the male chromosome was disappearing, I wouldn’t get away with that with James around.” This chalk and cheese dynamic certainly seems to have spurred Siobhan on to producing such a dynamic record.

Newly signed to Parlaphone, “a dream” she notes, Siobhan it would seem now has the world at her feet. Asked about who she’s currently excited about she raves about Damon Albarn, “who by the way I think is the best songwriter we have in this country right now” and Patrick Wolf, “who’s doing a remix for me”. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the possibility of working with her new found loves the Cocteau Twins in the future. Asked if she has a collaborative nature she says, “I could definitely see myself in a band again, if I got to write and it was a collaboration, sure.”

Of course there will still be doubters, those who see Siobhan as she was at 14, twirling around on the video to ‘Overload’ with her fellow saccharine babes, but that is a world away now and given the opportunities and support she deserves ‘Ghosts’ hints at the beginnings of an artist who could easily become one of the most important female solo pop artists in Britain.

Written by Jonathan

June 29, 2008 at 5:30 pm