A cover feature

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Hi fans!

Sorry for being quiet again. After unleashing all that rage in the last post I thought I’d give it a rest for a bit.

Anyway, I have news.

There is going to be a magazine, an actual magazine, a printed thing, with my words in it. Better than that, my feature’s on the cover. No laughing at the back – this is a big thing!

Anyway the big thing is Trisickle magazine and you can order it online from, well, now, and it’ll land in a few days. How exciting is that? It’s very exciting.

My feature is about the revival of rock music from the north-east of the country and has an interview with Kingsley from the Chapman Family. I do say so myself, but it’s worth reading. If I was the sort of person to use such words – and let’s face it, I am – I’d call it explosive. BOOM! Like that. Yeah.

Elsewhere in the magazine, you get an interview with a chap called Neil Blender, another with another chap called Ali Menzies, another with Benjamin Sniddlegrass from Cockfosters, some words about Tess Burnet, some words about graffiti, some stuff about games from Scott Goodacre, some horoscopes almost as funny as the ones we used to run in Degrees North (ask your parents, oh actually they won’t know), reviews and all that usual magazine stuff AND a picture of the editor’s cat.

All for less than £3. Please buy it.

How to be the future of music

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If you’re in a band, a not very successful one, chances are you’re wondering what you can do to get ahead.

Fortunately, Kingsley from the Chapman Family shared some tips with me after I asked a fairly innocuous question about hype and the NME…

“I’m fed up of “ones to watch lists” and people telling me which bands I should be listening to for the next six months – music is not a competition or something that should be decided by committee. Furthermore it’s not about some corporate industry executives buying their little starlets a fast track to fame so they can continue in their greedy wanker lifestyle.

“The pattern is established and it goes something like this:

“Start a band by combining the sounds of two or more previously critically acclaimed hype bands from recent years and crudely mash them together to give you a new unique sound;

“Create make believe buzz hype in the autumn in London to get the suits’ tongues wagging;

“Get a famous influential celebrity radio tastemaking DJ “onboard”; get a slot on Jools Holland as “the ones to watch” in October despite only ever playing in the capital to your influential mates;

“Do a small sold out tour in tiny venues to get the provincial towns onside powered by hype and your one good song;

“Do interviews but be careful not to be too opinionated (at least until your marketing team has done studies and has decided which demographic you’re going to be aimed at);

“Release a pretend DIY single even though you’re funded by a major; get a slot on the BBC Sounds of… list and hopefully a cheeky slot on Jools’ Hootenanny if you’re lucky;

“With a bit of luck get the prestigious opening band slot on the NME Awards Tour; release your slightly hastily put together album in March;

“Play an understated slot at Glasto but with maximum TV coverage, ideally play an exclusive acoustic set to Jo Whiley whilst wearing wellies and a fucking straw hat;

“Play a triumphant slot at Leeds/Reading just as “the big single” drops.

“Job done. You are the future of music.”

So there you have it. Remember where you heard it first.

You can hear more from Kingsley in the next issue of Trisickle magazine, the presence of which I shall alert you to in due course…

Interview: Charlotte Hatherley

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Charlotte Hatherley doesn’t want to talk about Ash. It’s understandable, really. She left the band three and a half years ago, and yet it’s still all some people want to talk to her about. That’s probably because she was always such an enigma, the ice maiden of British rock. Even though she has gone on to record and release her second and third solo albums as well as becoming a thoroughly reputable touring guitarist for the likes of Bryan Ferry and Bat For Lashes, after almost a decade with the band, it appears to still smart that they asked her to leave.

But the split was expected. Hatherley had already released her début solo album Grey Will Fade while with Ash and her band mates had been initially supportive of her solo career. However, cracks emerged during the recording of 2004’s Meltdown album, which signalled a return to the band’s punk rock roots. Hatherley was unhappy with the big American rock sound the band had turned to, and eventually, early in 2006, the other three members of the band asked her to leave, citing their desire to return to their early days as a trio as the main reason for the break.

Leaving Ash

Hatherley tentatively explains: “I realised there was a massive world out there, that was the moment I realised I’d quite like to leave. It was their world, their life, I didn’t have that attachment to it. It was a natural progression and a relief, you don’t think you can function outside of the band, you put yourself in an uncomfortable position. It’s important to push yourself. I had to learn how to deal with life.”

Despite her politeness and friendliness, Hatherley is a shy and apparently uncomfortable interviewee. Although my questions are not too testing, she often umms and ahhs before offering an answer. She talks about her own record label, Little Sister Records, intelligently dissecting why the music business is in such trouble. She speaks candidly of her decision to release her latest album, New Worlds, independently rather than signing a deal, pointing out that “it’s not really worth it unless there’s money involved.” But for the much of the interview, she seems unwilling to open up.

The new Kate Bush?

She laughs when I bring up the comparison people often make of her – calling her the new Kate Bush. “Obviously that’s amazing and I’d never compare myself to Kate Bush. I don’t really care who people compare me to, it doesn’t interest me. I think what I do is very me… I don’t think it works when you try and emulate someone.”

Of her influences Hatherley speaks passionately of Bowie, of the way he constantly reinvents himself, of his theatrical influences, of the way he creates characters and personas for his performances, seemingly uncaring of what the critics or the general public will think. But also, surprisingly, she is big on 80’s acts like XTC, Television and Talking Heads. And since leaving Ash she has broadened her musical spectrum.

“Every person I’ve worked with I’ve learned from. Bat For Lashes’ theatrical stage performance. Ash was a different thing. Bryan Ferry had a real aesthetic look, he’s a real style icon.”

File sharing

When I bring up the file sharing debate that was dominating the news at the time of our interview, she is erudite and intelligent.

“It’s quite bleak in so many ways. Amazing music will suffer. Only rich kids will be able to afford to make music, as a hobby. There’s so many BRIT school middle class artists already.

“There’s no way bands can survive. But cutting off internet connections isn’t the answer. Attitudes need to change. Kids don’t realise they’re stealing from artists. The frustrating thing is the record companies should have dealt with a long time ago so there would be an easier transition.”

And Hatherley obviously feels very strongly about the way record companies treat their artists. It will be very interesting to see if she decides to sign anyone to Little Sister Records, or whether she decides to keep it for her own releases.

“Labels don’t know what the fuck they’re dealing with. Fuck the labels – it’s the artists that need to make money. I’m all for fucking record labels. I don’t expect to make any money from record sales. The only way is to tour. I’ve been touring for 12 years, I don’t want to do it any more but I have to. I can sell records directly from my website. But I can’t make living from that. Ash will always have the touring. I can make money by playing with other people.”

Moving on

Hatherley was preparing to set off on tour with Bat For Lashes when we spoke, continuing the endless cycle of releasing music and then touring it incessantly, the life she has lived since her teens. She turned thirty earlier this year and agrees that she would like to try other things than music, perhaps art, in good time. “I’m open to ideas,” she says.

And there’s a sad tinge to her voice as she admits: “I’ve been doing it for so long I kind of have to carry on.”

This article was written for TMM.

Charlotte Hatherley on piracygate

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Former Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, now a successful solo artist in her own right, has given TMM her views on the file sharing debate.

It’s a particularly vital question to ask Hatherley, who is about to release her third solo album, New Worlds, on her own label, Little Sister Records.

“It should have been dealt with a long time ago. Record labels don’t know what the fuck they’re dealing with. Fuck the labels, it’s the artists who need to make money. I’m all for fucking record labels,” she told us. “I don’t expect to make any money from record sales, the only way to do it is to tour. It’s getting to the stage where only rich kids can afford to make music, there’s so many BRIT school, middle-class artists at the moment.

“I’m lucky in that I can play guitar for other people [Hatherley sets off a UK tour with Bat For Lashes tomorrow] and I can sell directly from my website. Kids need to realise [when they illegally download music] that they’re depriving artists of making a living. There’s no way some bands can survive. It’s quite bleak in so many ways.

“But cutting off internet connections isn’t the answer.”

The full interview with Charlotte, in which she talks to TMM about playing guitar for Bat For Lashes, her new album New Worlds and leaving Ash, will be on the site soon.

This article was written for TMM.

Glasvegas interview

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It would be fair to say that the way music hype works is changing. The turnover of hype bands was astonishingly high not long ago, but all of a sudden the landscape has changed and the people in the know are now putting all of their eggs in one basket.

This year, undoubtedly, the basket belonged to Glasvegas. Late last year their signature track Daddy’s Gone crash-landed into NME’s tracks of the year list at number 2, and since then the Glaswegian four piece haven’t looked back, despite the slight hiccup of missing out on a number one album to Metallica.

Not that the band expected it in the slightest. Guitarist Rab Allen says: “We were delighted with number two. Metallica are one of the biggest bands in the world, we knew we weren’t going to beat them.”

Since the album release Glasvegas have played practically every night to increasing levels of devotion from their followers. Indeed, they’ve hardly been off the road for the last few months. Rab explains: “We’ll be touring for about a year. We’ve had two weeks at home since last November.”

The band have developed an almost gimmick of never being seen in any colour than black, with singer James Allan recently taking to wearing sunglasses relentlessly. But Rab says that there’s a less interesting reason for the lack of colour in the band’s wardrobe, “It’s just easier for when we go on tour, for washing! You open the suitcase and it’s all black.”

It lends itself to a startling spectacle in the band’s live show. White light batters your eyes, with the only thing you can see being four near-static figures on the stage, totally lost in the music. It’s a nigh-on religious experience.

Rab adds: “Grown men are singing the songs back at us crying. The music is quite emotional for some people, especially lyrically.”

Glasvegas live is a incredible experience. Rarely is there a second’s respite from the aural blast, emotion pouring from the band into the crowd and back again. When we see the band, in a tiny room in Manchester, it almost, almost brings a tear to our eye. And we’re very, very tough. We ask if the smaller shows are a better way to see the band live.

“We’ve done some massive gigs that have been incredible. We played Brixton [Academy] and the sound was amazing. Anything indoors is good.”

One of the most note-worthy things about the band is that they don’t shy away from dark themes in their output. The album covers, death, divorce, loss, stabbings and desperation, often in the same song.

“James is very good at putting himself in the shoes of other people”, says Rab. “The events in the songs aren’t necessarily things that have happened to us, but things he’s heard about.”

Glasgow is the rough sibling of cultured Edinburgh, more known for council estates and social deprivation, and it is this background that frames the background for the band’s work.

But despite all the critical praise Glasvegas still, to be cliché-tastic, keep it real. The band likes to stay as down-to-earth as possible, employing the now famous Geraldine [the former social worker from the band’s breakthrough hit, er, Geraldine] on the merchandise stall.

But with the world seemingly at their feet, Rab discloses to us that there may not be another Glasvegas album after their upcoming Christmas album, which the band recorded in a Transylvanian church.

“It [the Christmas album] was something James has always wanted to do. But if we don’t feel the material is better than what we’ve already done, we won’t release it,” states Rab plaintively.

DN is gobsmacked. But with James, the band’s chief songwriter, churning out new songs as regularly as clockwork, and the band’s ambition lying somewhere in the stars, the name of Glasvegas is certain to be a familiar one for years to come.

[This feature was written for Degrees North]

The Subways interview

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It’s three years since teenagers Billy Lunn, Charlotte Cooper and Josh Morgan released their debut album as The Subways.

Back in 2003 the trio broke out of Harlow, Essex, after John Peel played one of their early songs, and they won a competition to play at Glastonbury festival. But after the success of ‘Young for Eternity’, the next step of their career would be fraught with peril and the future of the band was brought into question .

Billy suffered problems with his voice and had to have surgery, leaving him unable to speak for two weeks and banned from singing by doctors for six weeks. “I was worried for my future, I was worried for my life!” says Billy, reflecting on the tough period.

Then the band lost someone part of the Subways family, their A&R man, the man that had helped them get their record contract and remained a friend of the band through their fledgling career.

And as if all this trauma wasn’t enough for the band to cope with, Billy and Charlotte, who had been a couple for the entire lifespan of the band, split up. But incredibly they seem as close as ever. The sexual tension once present at their live shows may have fizzled but they’ve remained great friends – they had to to keep the band alive.

The pair are as you would expect from their on-stage personas. Billy is passionate, excitable, fidgety and full of perfect soundbites, Charlotte more reserved and thoughtful. It is this balance that frames their writing process and gives the band their shape.

But when asked about their influences, the answer is surprising. Alongside obvious choices like Arctic Monkeys, Nirvana and Biffy Clyro, names like Johnny Cash, Neil Young, The Carpenters and Bob Dylanare mentioned. “Mary’s the perfect combination between Oasis and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles”, states Billy.

And when I ask about current music the pair are enthusiastic about Future of the Left, and surprisingly, The Enemy. But when prodded about the current indie scene Billy is typically forthright, “There are good bands, and there are shit bands with a little bit of grey in between. Obviously Scouting For Girls and The Hoosiers are just shit”.

“I’d rather watch a bad band than a band that’s just completely boring” counters Charlotte.

So then, the album. ‘All or Nothing’ splutters along at a million miles an hour, a sign of the desperation they felt to get the record made and out there after such a long wait. The album title itself points to the situation the band found themselves in. It literally was, as cheesy as it sounds, all or nothing for the band.

And they seem to have pulled it off. The live show is as frenetic as ever – “These songs from ‘All or Nothing’ are made to be played live” – claims Billy, and you believe him. The riffs are thicker, and drum rolls pounded even harder, the vocals screamed louder than ever, the crowd going as mental for the new tracks like ‘Alright’ and ‘Girls and Boys’ just as much as the classics ‘With You’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen’, which closes tonight’s set,.

And the lyrics have moved away from the tales of small town life from their debut album. “I just wrote lyrics that I felt compelled to say, that I felt I had to say, more analytical, more observant, because we’re growing up, we’re seeing the world” says Billy.

But the band still feel they have places to go. Billy is open about his desire to write what he describes as a ‘megahit’, citing ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Everlong’ as the kind of musical legacy they want to leave. “We have an obligation to sing out to the world. Fucking hell, I sound like Bono, how sucky is that!” says Billy.

But despite all the Big Statements, the band are just three young people having the time of their lives. “We’re used to having to prove ourselves and being the underdog. I don’t think people realise how astonished we are that people still come to the shows” half-jokes Billy.

But while The Subways are still writing the big choruses, still giving crowds a great time and generally being one of Britain’s best young rock bands, the fanbase will keep on growing. Let’s hope, for their sake, that the third album is a bit more straightforward.

[This feature was written for Degrees North]

The Automatic interview

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Not many bands had more of an eventful start than The Automatic. Formed in their native Wales ten years ago, it took until 2006 to release their debut album, ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’. From that album came the ubiquitous ‘Monster’ and fellow smash hits ‘Raoul’ and ‘Recover’, quickly followed by the trashing of the GMTV studio during a ‘live’ performance and the departure of the charismatic Alex Pennie. I caught up with the band’s drummer Iwan Griffiths to see how the change in line-up was affecting the band’s dynamic.

The band hired Yourcodenameis:milo’s Paul Mullen to complete their line up, before recording in LA with Don Gilmore in September last year. Griffiths explains that they intended to record the album all in one go, but that, in the end, the process turned out much the same as when they recorded their debut, with the recording process spread out over a number of months with different producers, including Butch Walker.

Griffiths said: “It took a long time to record, which gave us more chance to try new things, different instruments, different ways of recording. It’s fun to play live, we can properly go for it.”

And Griffiths is frank about the change in the band’s dynamic with keyboardist Pennie leaving the band, “Pennie had good ideas, but wasn’t able to say what he meant in musical terms. Paul has amazing ideas. Paul is more musically minded. Pennie was a dominating presence. Now, there’s not just focus on one individual, there’s more focus on the band.”

The band’s return was through the rollicking ‘Steve McQueen’, a balls out rocker that does its best to hide the troubles at the heart of the band. The message is clear: The Automatic are a different band now.

But Griffiths claims it wasn’t a conscious decision for the band to abandon their catchy, poppy roots: “There was no definite decision, we just wrote the music. The first album, we were too consciously trying to write a ‘Monster’.”

The white elephant is present throughout our conversation, alluded to but hardly mentioned by name. The outsider would naturally assume the band would be sick to death of hearing about their ‘Creep’ but the reality is far from it. They take great pride in having written such a big hit and Griffiths claims they still enjoy playing it live, although they “mess around and try and do something different with it.”

I bring up the subject of indie’s sudden omnipresence within the industry and the fact that there are dozens of bands making identical music and Griffiths is quick to agree: “The Kooks and One Night Only are the same band to me.” Griffiths also points to the emergence of oodles of Libertines rip-off bands, what he calls ‘Mockney’. But, strangely, he has nothing but praise for a band that has roundly been criticised for wearing their influences far too clearly on their sleeves.

“The Enemy are different from that whole thing,” he claims. Obviously not a Jam fan then. At one point, he also compares his own band to compatriots Manic Street Preachers and, at this point, my colleague in the DN office is struggling to fight fits of laughter.

I quickly change the subject to their treatment from the NME, who originally lauded the band and even booked them as headliners on the 2006 Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot tour, but quickly turned on the band, dropping in cheap shots whenever they got the chance. It’s a cheap trick, and one the magazine is guilty of more and more often, lately.

“It did at first get the band down, it gets a bit personal. It’s just a bit low. They said that when we die people would cheer. It’s a bit uncalled for. We’re not a Mugabe regime.”

Despite all of this, the band are probably best known for destroying the GMTV set, during a mimed performance. Griffiths explains that the band were still feeling it from a long drinking session the night before and had been duped into doing the show, but claims that it wasn’t pre-meditated. “We didn’t go in planning it, but it ended up happening.”

The interview ends with Griffiths’ assertion that “this is the album we wanted to write compared with the first album. There were doubts from the first album. This is the sound we wanted.” How the public reacts remains to be seen.

The Automatic’s second album ‘This Is A Fix’ is out now on B-Unique Records.

[This feature was originally published in Degrees North]