Alternative Friday

because great new music doesn’t always get the exposure it deserves

Live music. Isn’t it! There’s a link between the tracks in this latest New Tunes, and it’s that I’ve been fortunate to see all four artists live in the past month, and all of them were outstanding! So have a listen, explore their albums, EPs, & singles further… and then make plans to see them on a stage!

 

Of Empires – See You With The Angels, Kid

Leading up to the release of their new EP, Brighton band Of Empires made a highly memorable visit to The Monarch in Camden. This was the first time I’d seen them live, and I’m hoping it’s not the last, as their style of indie rock ‘n’ roll was terrific, while the infectious energy of lead singer Jack Fletcher had the crowd engrossed. You can find out more about the band in the Q&A I did with them last year, while they’ve also had a Showreel video feature for Baby Darlin’ Sugar (from the new EP), but this is the title track.

Website | Soundcloud | Spotify | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

 

Tom Hickox – The Dubbing Artist

Tom Hickox first appeared here in 2012, and he was excellent live then, but the launch for his second album Monsters In The Deep at The Lexington was a truly remarkable occasion, as the London based pianist with the most intense of baritone vocals was joined by a 5-piece band, and together they played a stunning set. This track tells the story of a woman in pre-revolution Romania, who dubbed bootlegged films for people to watch in secret, risking her life in the process. A fascinating story… which you can dance to!

Website | Soundcloud | Spotify | YouTube | Twitter | Facebook

 

Himalayas – Thank God I’m Not You

I was fortunate to catch Cardiff 4-piece Himalayas on the same bill as Of Empires in London, so it was a doubly exceptional evening, and their noisy but melodic rock riffs & percussion were enthralling. To see this newly released track played live was a real treat too, and it’s accompanied by an equally strong video, which is why it’s had its own Showreel feature.

Website | Soundcloud | YouTube | Spotify | iTunes | Twitter | Facebook

 

The Magic Gang – How Can I Compete

Also from Brighton, The Magic Gang arrived at The Horn, St. Albans, the night before their biggest show to date (Heaven, London), and blew the crowd away with their infectious brand of indie and jangle pop, akin to a delightful mashup between Two Door Cinema Club and The Housemartins. The trio of guitarists also combined perfectly on vocals too, and this helped send a happy crowd home with numerous new earworms!

Soundcloud | YouTube | Twitter | Facebook

Cardiff 4-piece Himalayas have come up with an infectious new single in Thank God I’m Not You, full of raucous guitar riffs, furious drumming, and a chorus that breaks any national speed limit! It’s already appeared in the May Mixtape, but it gets a Showreel entry too because the video, by Tom Large from GreenNova Productions, captures the energy of the track just perfectly.

 

Website | Soundcloud | YouTube | Spotify | iTunes | Twitter | Facebook

Louis Barabbas – where to begin? He’s a musician, a writer, a record label boss, music moderator… and a lover of peanuts!  He’s also now the creator of Jocasta, a musical tragedy loosely based on the myth of Oedipus, which features Tom Robinson, Tom Hingley (Inspiral Carpets), Bridie Jackson, Jami Reid-Quarrell, and many more, and which received support from the Arts Council.

So read on to find out more about the musical, as well as stolen cheese, selective muting devices, and an acting challenge for Maxine Peake!

 

Louis Official | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Jocasta Wiki | Debt Records | The Bedlam Six

 

~ Tell us more about the musical, and why is Jocasta the lead character, rather than her son Oedipus?

The more I work on this project the more I think the real question should be why was it ever all about the son? I guess it’s just the ancient Greek equivalent of everyday sexism. Obviously in the last century the story was hijacked by Freud and the narrative has never truly recovered (culturally speaking) but, focusing on character trajectory alone, there’s such an emotional journey there – losing a child is tragedy enough but then all the stuff that comes after… nightmare upon nightmare. You could comfortably ditch all the monsters and prophesies and just focus on the heartache.
My version is not just about that though, there’s a lot about media bias and spin politics and how people in various positions of power and vulnerability cope with the pressures associated with both.

 

 

~ Was the idea to do this more recent, or have you always had the ambition to create a musical?

I’ve been interested in this story for a long time, ever since I was at school. It is the most perfect example of classical tragedy – wherein the seeds of destruction are sewn in full view of the audience but hidden from the protagonists – it is certainly not for the faint-hearted! I’ve wanted to write a musical my entire adult life but have never had much interest in the throwaway MGM matinee variety, I like art to have a sense of threat. That’s not to say they can’t be fun (look at Cabaret set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany and the rise of anti-semitism, yet nonetheless very catchy). I wanted to really push myself because I knew that getting people interested would be difficult, so at the very least I’d come out of the process a better songwriter, if still a largely niche one.

~ How did you sell a musical about dirty politics to the Arts Council?!

Since beginning the writing process in 2014, global politics (and indeed local politics) has become more and more bewildering. By the time I submitted my Arts Council application everyone was so steeped in the slime of Brexit and Trump that a musical like this probably looked distinctly pedestrian. My main pitch to them was that currently the biggest leaps in musical theatre are being made by the USA (e.g. Hamilton and The Book Of Mormon) whilst the London West End is dominated by Jukebox musicals, old standards, and revivals. Mine isn’t stylistically as radical as Hamilton (there is arguably a direct thread between me and, say, Lionel Bart) it does, however, contain a lot of stuff that musicals are not renowned for whilst, hopefully, not sacrificing the essential hummability. I realise I’m confining my argument to the mainstream here but that’s the nature of such funding proposals with limited word counts. There are hundreds of amazing independent musicals being workshopped all over the country as we speak, every single one eager to tell the world that not all musicals have to be like Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. I just hope to be one of those that gets listened to!

~ Given the impressive number of people involved in the project, how long has it taken to get to this point?

The hardest bit was starting. I spent literally YEARS almost starting. My band took a break in 2014 after a pretty exhausting European tour, and I decided that was the time to get on with it, but still it was pretty slow going. Nothing I wrote in the first three months made it into the final version. The first song that survived was a simple lullaby in C major – it would become the young Jocasta’s first number. I wrote that in January 2015. I’d originally attempted writing her later stuff first and working backwards but in the end it was her hopeful young self that dictated how the character and music would develop. After that it all happened relatively quickly and my big problem was writing too much.

The narrative spans about thirty years and I wanted the characters to be more than just caricatures, so there’s a lot to squeeze in; then I just thought “what the hell, let it be long, let it be an epic”. So there are thirty songs in the final thing (and I did cut a fair few!). The last one was written in November 2016 and the script finished on Christmas Day (well a workable version of the script – it still needs a lot of polishing). So if you don’t count all the procrastination, self-doubt and failed attempts, the whole thing took about two years to write (though during that time I was also writing for Bedlam Six, Dutch trio Snowapple, and a Lowry commission, so it wasn’t full-time by any means). Once we got into the studio it took about three solid months from pre-production to final master.

~ Will there be a stage version? If yes, where are you at with it?

I hope so. There are a few directors interested. I don’t want to produce it myself because I think it’s important for new work to get manhandled by others rather than fussed over and pandered to by their authors, but I’d happily help out doing onsite rewrites or making tea for the stage crew. What I’d really like to see is a serialised version on television. I know that probably sounds ludicrously ambitious for someone whose only prior TV job was writing music for a cheese advert, but I really believe it’s about time the musical found a home in that medium. I know there’s already stuff like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but there seems to be this unwritten rule that states TV musicals have to be tongue-in-cheek affairs constantly winking conspiratorially at the audience. I don’t see any reason why a serious violent tragedy full of songs about sex and politics can’t find an audience on some forward-thinking platform like Netflix. We’ll see.

 

 

~ What’s the background to Debt Records?

Well, back then (2008/9) everything looked like it was going to change, the internet felt like the wild west, everyone staking their claims, little labels were springing up all over the place. The supposed democratisation of creativity has since been revealed to be something of a fairytale but I still believe in the value of narrative – that was what Debt was always supposed to be, a way of giving artists a bit of a story. Some of the most interesting moments in the history of popular music have been when artists cross over, so we figured we’d set up a label-shaped organisation wherein the focus was collaboration. At its most banal it adds a few lines to everybody’s press release, but if we do our job well then something really special happens and it all starts to feel a bit more zeitgeisty. We haven’t done half the things I’d have liked to have done but I think we still punch above our weight. The most rewarding thing is being so close to other people’s creativity, it’s really inspiring and I feel very privileged to be allowed such proximity to other artists’ work.

~ ‘Louis Barabbas & the Bedlam Six’ came to the end of the road in 2016, but why, and what were the highlights of 10 years with the band?

Every band starts with a bunch of foolish notions about success and notoriety, and then you spend the rest of your time together trying to adjust your expectations/beliefs to fit the actual facts. Towards the end it was getting harder and harder to ignore how the music industry is nowhere near as big and important as everyone seems to think it is, that when you tell someone you’re in a band they no longer go “wow, how cool”, but rather wince and immediately assume you’re about to ask them to contribute to some kickstarter campaign. I wouldn’t mind feeling that cheap if it paid a bit better. After a while you realise there’s only so much time you can spend pursuing fun for its own sake. But it was a brilliant way to spend our 20s (and early 30s) and I have no regrets, we travelled all over the place and met amazing people and had a generally brilliant time. But these things can’t last forever and we didn’t want to start repeating ourselves. We were all ready for a change.

As for the highlights, it’s a difficult one to answer, one of the best things about being in a band is that unique feeling of togetherness that comes from a bunch of very different people sharing a single moment. But in terms of specifics it’s never the stuff you think. One time we played to 10,000 people in Nuremberg and there were girls screaming in the front row like we were The Beatles, it felt like a textbook “made it” snapshot, but actually it left me rather cold. I always preferred playing smaller gigs, where you can make contact with everyone in the crowd. The best times are when you connect, that’s what music is really good at. I think my favourite memory is a gig we did in Switzerland where we played encore after encore and then just had to stop because of the curfew so we all just went outside into the public square and did an acoustic set of old folk songs (the venue staff even brought out candles), then we sat up all night with the gig promoter eating chocolate cake and drinking whisky. The biggest shame was we had quite a luxurious hotel booked for us that night and none of us used it.

~ If you were invited to curate a festival stage, what five bands/artists would you invite to perform?

Hmm, most of my favourites lean towards the deceased and the independent. How about Ennio Morricone conducting excerpts from his film soundtracks, John Otway, The Blockheads, Frog, and The Decemberists. You said no Debt acts but can I have my stage compered by Alabaster dePlume? [only if he likes chocolate cake & whisky? Ed]

 

 

~ Who are your musical Guilty Pleasures? Don’t panic, no one will read this bit!

Well, the fact that I’ve admitted to liking musical theatre probably demonstrates I don’t feel guilty about any of my musical pleasures. I even have the Evita soundtrack in the car (despite loathing Andrew Lloyd Webber). Besides that, if we’re talking weird tastes, I really like film and TV music, particularly naff science fiction themes like Dudley Simpson’s Blake’s Seven (performed by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) and, of course, the original Dr Who theme by Delia Derbyshire and Ron Grainer. Also I can’t resist dancing to Deeelite’s Groove Is In The Heart, which is pure fluff. But I’m struggling to feel guilty about any of that.

~ What’s the most interesting fact about you, and what’s the least interesting?

I don’t think I’m the best judge of either. I’ve stolen cheese from Supergrass backstage. Is that interesting? I almost always have a packet of peanuts in my pocket. Is that not interesting?

~ If you could invent anything, what would it be?

If I could invent anything it would be a selective muting device that would filter out other people’s boring conversations. I’d make sure you could adjust the filter to various specifications though. Sometimes I really like listening in on other people’s chatter but when it’s just phatic communion of the “nice weather” variety (or that peculiarly British pastime of comparing illnesses) and I’m trying to read something or sharpen a particular thought then I’d dearly love a button that just switched all that off for a bit. I guess it’s the real world equivalent of the signal to noise ratio. Right now there’s a lot of noise.

~ Which actor would you choose to play you in a film about your musical life to date?

Maxine Peake. She’s very versatile and very formidable and I’d really like to be both of those things. Or maybe it could be an animated film voiced by Tom Baker. As you can see, I’ve no great interest in authenticity.

 

Bad Pop? No chance, as it took a long public holiday weekend in the UK to whittle this mixtape down to these 10 tracks, so high was the quality of the longlist (there’s a wonderful amount of superb new music out there atm). So I hope you enjoy the selection, which takes in a fine array of alternative & indie tunes, as well as some infectiously soulful reggae, mellow electro synth, & melodic thrash folk! Enjoy…

 


Himalayas – Thank God I’m Not You
Bottle Note – Homecoming
Coquin Migale – Plans
Leslie Lewis-Walker – Young Love
Misfires – Come On Over
Shortstraw – T-Shirt
Giant Party – Ambulances
Waldorf & Cannon – Rise Up
Bad Pop – Masculism
Masasolo – Ordinary Day

 

Where do we start with the wonderful Johnno Casson? Well, he’s a solo artists who’s made music under the the monikers of Snippet, Old Tramp, and himself, and first appeared here in 2012 in New Tunes #3, as well as in #11, and #19, while he’s also a community hero and a moderating colleague at Fresh on the Net. He’s just released his new album – Future Melancholy Pop Music – so read on to find out more about the album, as well as, er, fire manipulation, swimming certificates, and roast potatoes!

 

Website | iTunes | Folkwit Records | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

 

~ In the past your music has been described as ‘wonky pop’, but how would you best define it?

It’s pop music Jim, but not as we know it.

I don’t mind wonky pop, indie pop, SnipHop or how ever people want to describe it, categories and pigeon holing have never been my strong point but I totally understand how it helps people get an idea of what they are getting into. My music is informed by a long line of British songwriters (Davies, Bowie, Dury, Difford & Tilbrook, Dammers, Albarn, Skinner) with a generous splash of (mostly 70’s) American funk and soul. From the feedback I have had from supporters and writers my music tends to come in 2 shapes – bouncy music to make you feel better about life, or reflective music to make you think about life. I can live with that.

 

~ What were your influences and songwriting process for the album?
It comes in a variety of ways, sometimes I have a song title, an idea of what I want to say, or sometimes (actually mostly) I improvise it and it arrives like magic. I write mostly on acoustic guitar, get a little groove going musically or a chord sequence that i like and let it happen, switch the dictaphone on (ok mobile phone recorder) and go, the lyrics always come quick, sometimes that need lots of sculpting, sometimes they arrived almost fully formed. The best ideas almost exclusively are the first one’s that come so that red light needs to be flicking straight off. Rarely, when I recorded this song…

 

I had the music completed and just started to sing with no pre prepared lyrics, and that vocal take made it all the way to the album release.
If I have just watched a show about someone who I really rate a song will flow out of their inspiration, or if I have listened to a song or album where I love-the songs, melodies and lyrics just flow, BUT the biggest way a song comes is if I experience something in my life in really impacts me in real time – love, pain, and everything in between, be it personal or observational, if I feel it it will find its way into a song. The very best songs I have ever written always come to me the quickest. I have written my very best stuff in 15-20 minutes and a kind friend said to me, it’s because you have honed your craft for 30 years that you are able to deliver a cracking song in 15 minutes. That was a nice thing for someone to say but I’m still learning each and every day.

 

~ How long has it taken to write & record Future Melancholy Pop Music, and what has proved the biggest challenge?
It’s the longest I have ever taken over an album for a myriad of reasons, most notably the battles to not let M.E. win. It was probably written and recorded over 2 years, though a couple of the songs were written 3 years ago. I had the tracklist in place for 2 years and just had to turn my demos of songs into finished pieces. I love writing and recording and have really enjoyed making it, but this one feels like a childbirth that is way over term and busting to be birthed (*disclaimer – of course as a man I know nothing of the real trials and tribulations of childbirth, I slid down the wall and nearly fainted during the birth of my first child whilst my wife was doing all the hard work!).

Songwriting and recording are always a joy for me but the biggest challenge was in mastering the album and wanting to do justice to Wim Oudijk’s productions (he produced 8 songs and I produced the other 7). I’ve mastered before but not to this level with someone else mixes, and people kindly offered their mastering services which was great but I personally wanted to honour Wim if I could, and I hesitated getting someone else in because, to be frank my head was spinning with his passing, but as the air cleared I thought ‘could I do this?’. I never give up on something and always find a way of getting something to work, however much time I have to put in, and this one wasn’t just for me but for him. I listened to his voice in my head willing me on, borrowed his wings, strapped myself in for a fast ride and went for it. I worked my socks off and did the best job I could do, and I’m happy with it and hope he is looking down with a lovely grin and that people enjoy it.

 

 

~ As you’ve mentioned, your long-time producer Wim Oudijk sadly passed away during the recording of the album, but over the years what did he bring to your music, and what do you remember him for most fondly?
He brought the life out in my music, he gave it sparkle, he gave it clarity and he found a way of polishing me up good and proper. Wim taught me so much about music, about production, and tbh about life, he brought sunshine, humour and goodness with him every step of the way and he touched the lives of so many people. I worked with him for about 9 years and we never met, we simply exchange files on email/wetransfer, and chatted joyously all the time over the internet. I had planned to go to The Netherlands to visit him last summer but he became unwell and asked me to wait until he was better, as he wanted to be back to 100% to meet the main man :(.

He was like another brother to me and also like the father I no longer have, his loss hit me as hard as it would a family member, he was such a special man. People might think, how can you feel so over a person you have never met in person? Well, a person like Wim comes around only once in your life and when it does, when you get to know the person, the man, you will know that friendship and love do not always need to within touching distance to be real, people can reach you through copper wires and change your life in an amazingly positive way through sheer brilliance of personality and being. If the evil of terrorism can impact our lives so negativity through the internet then so can the blessing of goodness and wonderful human beings, he was one of the very best humans x

 

 

~ You run The Warm & Toasty Club, but what is it?
The Warm and Toasty Club in a not-for-profit community, music, arts, and history organisation.
We started out as a sunday afternoon live variety show at Colchester Arts Centre, like a youth club for all ages – part chat show, part radio show, part gig, part film show, and full of lovely content from the people in our community whilst showcasing amazing artists.

Over the last 3 years we have expanded by going out and working in the community and coming back to Colchester Arts Centre to do public shows as often as we can. We work with new music artists and align it to what has become the biggest element of our community work-with people living in retirement establishments in Essex.

We are currently undertaking a project called Coast to Coast in seaside towns in Essex which see’s us touring retirement establishments. We hold regular Memory Afternoons where we reminisce with residents on their memories of what life was like for them when they were younger – lots of positive reminiscence of people centred history, but also more poignant stories of how the world was a different place for them in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond (actually sometimes the 1920’s even get a mention) and how the second world war impacted people’s lives in a myriad of ways.
It’s all about positive face to face engagement and having a great time whilst capturing stories of days gone by. You can listen to our podcasts here.

We work with professional artists to bring art and music into the sessions/shows, and the response has been wonderful. We have had songwriters writing songs based on participants shared memories, beautiful young singers, barbershop quartets, and dancers entertaining the residents, and artists making memento cards for the participants, and all sorts going on. It is proving to be as much a real tonic for the soul for me as it is our participants – it’s a pleasure and honour to spend time with these people.

We have a live public show to celebrate the Coast to Coast project on the afternoon of Sunday 28th May at Colchester Arts Centre. It has a range of content to charm all ages (not just our older generation – we actively like to show off as many aspects of our communities as we can) with an array of musical talent on show, song and video premieres, sweet engaging chat, biscuit of the month, and free hot buttery toast. You can find out more here…

Tickets | Website

 

 

~ If you were invited to curate a festival stage, what five bands/artists would you invite to perform?
Good question, well, like the fine work you do in championing new music Jim, I would probably fill it with wonderful new music artists, the mainstream is not where it’s at imo, the borders and margins hold all the ace cards but taking your guide of using currently active and relatively well known artists, I’m going to go for onstage join up’s/mash up’s and stage filling shenanigans…

Gruff Rhys featuring Sweet Baboo
Massive Attack featuring Holly Cook
Nick Hakim vs Mirror Signal
Lambchop vs Bill Callahan
The Blockheads featuring Mike Skinner

All doing warm and toasty club style short sets – leave them wanting more.

 

~ Are there any other new bands or musicians local to you in the Colchester area that you recommend we check out?
Yes:
Animal Noise
SuperGlu
Vince Petchey

 

~ Who were your musical heroes when you were growing up?
I never had heroes, those accolades were saved for family and friends, but I did admire Ian Dury, Terry Hall, Paul Weller, Kate Bush, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Freddie Phillips, and Mr Benn.

 

~ What do you have planned for the next few months now the album is out?
Rest after the birth of the album ha (sorry, another reference I have no actual official knowledge to be able to make).
Live dates, I launch the album in Colchester on the afternoon of 9th April in the tea rooms of The Minories art gallery (the never ending story of Britishness and cups of tea is a firm winner), add in some sweet live music and its the gift your Sunday afternoon always wanted.

 

~ Aside from music, do you have any other creative skills? (or obscure talents!)
I filmed and edited the Bad Man video (above) myself, and I designed and made the album sleeve (big up the DIY artists). I am not bad at chatting to people and showing off without a safety net, my culinary skills are said to be strong/border line amazing with reviews of my roast potatoes still ringing in my ears (legendary, allegedly) and recently I have found that I can eat most of the contents of my cupboard and fridge for England. I have a swimming certificate but not the one where you dive to the bottom of the pool in your pyjamas to retrieve a brick.

 

~ What would you tell your teenage self?
Do it again (twice).

 

~ If you could have a superpower for a day, what would it be?
If I could have the power to heal then I’d go for that, as that is what the world needs now. Or failing that I’d go with Fire Manipulation so I could cook up a wicked mediterranean bar-b-q with my own hot hands (I think I like food too much).

 

There’s been some excellent music released so far in 2017, as evidenced by the challenge it was to trim this month’s longlist down to these ten tracks. It’s an eclectic selection too, so do spread the word about your favs as we take you from electric guitars to Oriental guzheng strings via some alt rock, Scandi pop, acoustic storytelling, and Americana folk. Enjoy…

 


M60 – Honey
The Magic Gang – How Can I Compete
Tom Hickox – The Dubbing Artist
Lewis Bootle – Cells
Of Empires – See You With The Angels, Kid
Annabel Allum – Rich Backgrounds
Bedroom Eyes – After I Was A Kid But Before I Grew Up
The Lodgers – Sound The Alarm
Chris King & Hotel Radio – The Fire People
Mintball – Shogun

ONE IN – ONE OUT!

If you use Spotify (highly recommended if you don’t) then seek out and follow the new Evolving Tunes playlist, but as the name suggests, it will change from week to week!

It’ll contain a dozen or so newly released tracks by hugely talented musicians, and as hard as it will be to eventually delete them from the playlist – that’s the point… it will evolve!

Therefore for every superb new tune added, the oldest will reluctantly be removed, and so to avoid missing any of them, follow the playlist and pop by regularly to hear more new and independent musicians. Enjoy…

 

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