Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Punk Rock

Longterm readers of this blog - or, indeed, anyone with enough time on their hands to go back and read it from the beginning - may remember my tales of getting into music back in my schooldays. There was, however, one significant genre which evaded mention, perhaps because I got into it a little later, or because it was something of a private passion. Most of my friends were into indie, which, along with metal, hip hop and acid house, could be found in the charts and in several national magazines. In contrast, punk rock was perhaps at its most under the radar at the end of the 1980s. Sounds still gave it a little coverage, and John Peel could always be relied upon, but much of the media had written it off as a dead or dying irrelevance.

These days, when punk and metal feature in the same magazines and on the same rock dancefloors, when scenes like doom metal and crust overlap so much, when a bunch of my punk friends are genuinely excited about going to the very metal Live Evil festival this weekend, and when mainstream metal has co-opted so many of hardcore's signifiers, from the breakdown to the circle pit (though rarely the politics, sadly), it doesn't seem strange that I came to punk/HC through metal. But when the likes of Kerrang! first appeared, the two genres looked scornfully upon one another. Punks thought metal was pompous, fantasy bollocks, and the metal attitude towards punk can be summed up by this eloquent chap.

Thanks, chump. Things were starting to change by the time I started paying attention in '88. The crossover between thrash metal and US hardcore had spawned a subgenre, known as, er, crossover, and so the likes of CRO-MAGS and DRI were deemed suitable fare for Kerrang!. On this side of the pond, NAPALM DEATH had kicked up such a ruckus that the bands following in their slipstream were likely to at least be mentioned in dispatches in the metal press. But overall, their coverage of punk/HC largely consisted of METALLICA's refusal to be photographed without at least one member in a MISFITS t-shirt.

However, at some point round about '89, Metal Hammer gave a teenager called James Sherry a monthly column called (if memory serves) Rotten To The Core. In what was my introduction to the DIY ethos of the hardcore scene, James would enthuse about the tapes, records and fanzines he was into, complete with prices and contact addresses. As a teenager myself (just three-and-a-bit years younger than James, I realised recently), I had very little disposable income to devote to buying music, and the generally cheap prices of these punk artefacts, along with the fact that I'd heard some of the bands mentioned on John Peel's shows, led to my making a couple of purchases which would radically redraft my musical boundaries.

The first was a tape called Fur Is For Animals. It was a benefit compilation for the animal rights group Lynx, although as they were charging less than £2 for a 34-track tape I'm not sure how much they actually raised. The music on offer included melodic female-fronted punk (JOYCE MCKINNEY EXPERIENCE ), melodic Welsh-language punk (ANHREFN), anthemic political punk (RECTIFY), US hardcore-influenced bands (INSTIGATORS, COWBOY KILLERS), gothy post-punk (TWELVE 88 CARTEL), peace punk (UPHEAVAL), thrashcore (RIPCORD, SATANIC MALFUNCTIONS), thrash metal (WAR DANCE ), metal-influenced hardcore (DECADENCE WITHIN), crusty death/grind (PROPHECY OF DOOM), anarcho punk (ACTIVE MINDS, DESIGNER FEAR), some plain weirdness (GODORRHEA), a band featuring a certain James Sherry (SCUM CHILDREN) and even more besides.

As a result of listening to this tape, my understanding of the term "hardcore" was not the standard image of the music as punk rock's harder, faster offspring, but more an umbrella term which could cover an array of bands and styles, united more by ethos than sonic similarity. (In a sense, I considered punk almost a sub-genre of hardcore, rather than the other way round). I still see the hardcore scene as something which can encompass everything from riot grrrl to power violence, emo (in its pre-MTV sense, at least) to d-beat, post-rock to metal, just so long as the people involved operate with integrity and a DIY ideology. (For any readers lost by any of the genre terminology here, my basic point is: hardcore is not just tough guys in vests trying to get you to beat each other up).

I did, however, notice something interesting when playing my Fur Is For Animals tape in the room I shared at school with four or five other kids. They literally didn't hear any of it apart from the stuff with unintelligible, guttural vocals. Never mind that the growlers were balanced in number by bands with plaintive, melodic vocal styles (itself quite a feature of the scene at that point) - the tape became synonymous with the idea that I liked ridiculously unlistenable noise, and the phrase "Fur Is For Animals", enunciated in a Cookie Monster growl, became the sort of thing my classmates would shout at me along with "Olly Thomas Is No Chicken" and "Onslaught, you Sabbat" (see earlier blogs - I'm not explaining all that again).

This general incomprehension at my latest musical discovery even extended to the two kids who had, recently, become punks... sort of. Dave Jones-Cooper and Simon Robshaw had started listening to the SEX PISTOLS, although his poshness made Jones-Cooper a pretty rubbish punk. Robshaw, however, did at least embody the part pretty well - with his skinny physique, ginger hair and slightly rodenty features, he could pull off a reasonable Johnny Rotten impersonation. While I've no idea what either of them are doing right now, the differences between them were evident when their paths diverged - while Jones-Cooper went to university, Robshaw dropped out of education before the Sixth Form and was last seen (by me, at least) in 1992 with dreadlocks and (no lie) a dog on a string, sporting the uniform of a different corner of the counter-culture.

The other significant purchase I made from James Sherry's column was the first issue of a fanzine called Everything Went Black. Published out of Belfast by a teenager called Colin Campbell, it featured interviews with the likes of NOMEANSNO, DR & THE CRIPPENS, BOLT THROWER, RECTIFY and the INSTIGATORS. While it cast more of a light into what was still quite a murky scene to me at the time, the zine itself was probably less important than the fact that Colin started tape-trading with me. The first tape I received from him featured Plastic Surgery Disasters by DEAD KENNEDYS, BLACK FLAG's Six Pack 7" and NOMEANSNO's The Day Everything Became Nothing EP, plus a tune by Colin's own band DON'T KILL SHEEP. If Fur Is For Animals was a snapshot of the contemporary UK scene, this tape was more of a US hardcore history lesson, and I loved it all. Some metal bands, particularly on the thrash side of things, wrote about socio-political issues, but never with the sarcastic, satirical approach of the DEAD KENNEDYS - and their tunes were catchy and addictive. Anyone who's remotely interested in this sort of thing knows that BLACK FLAG were just an immense force of unstoppable power. And NOMEANSNO added a surrealist bent and a curious, almost prog/funk, musical sensibility, once again reinforcing the idea that hardcore could be whatever a band wanted it to be.

Over the next few years, Colin introduced me to a slew of crucial hardcore bands, taping me more DKs and BLACK FLAG along with the likes of CIRCLE JERKS, POISON IDEA, SCREAM, JAWBREAKER, MELVINS, ALL and THE DIDJITS. He also sent some great rarities my way (an unreleased GODFLESH 12", a FUGAZI demo (still, to my mind, one of the best bands to ever walk the earth, in this or any scene) and the second demo by a then-unknown Belfast band called THERAPY?) and taped me some cult metal stuff, from MACABRE to KYUSS. The tapes fizzled out in about 1994, by which time he'd gone to university in Liverpool, probably because we forgot whose turn it was to write, although it may also have been down to him getting bored of me sending him indie and thrash metal stuff that he wasn't into (although I recall he quite liked the end of I Am The Resurrection by THE STONE ROSES).

So I guess the reason punk and hardcore haven't been mentioned too much in previous chapters of this blog is that I didn't get to any shows for a while. Clearly, none of my school friends were interested, and I wasn't aware of any DIY shows going on in Somerset. Instead, I continued to buy demos, compilation tapes and fanzines, while ordering vinyl from Full Circle, a distro run by Andy Turner from the INSTIGATORS (these days to be found doing press for metal labels). Another significant purchase was made after (ironically) a house party at Simon Robshaw's; when my Mum picked me up, ashen-faced, the following morning, we drove home via Taunton and I bought Peruvian Vacation by THE STUPIDS from Our Price. Not the best cure for a fifteen-year old's first proper hangover, but a great rekkid nonetheless, and it took my mind off the fact that I'd spent three or four minutes of the previous evening attempting to seduce a girl by slow-dancing with her to Carrie by EUROPE.

When I went to Southampton Uni in '93, I was finally in a town with a punk scene, but it still took me a year to make it to a show, even though some of my new friends were into punk - Jason wore a BAD RELIGION shirt and Anneka even introduced me to Wedge from RECTIFY, who I'd written to a couple of years earlier, at an alternative club. He was drunk.

It appeared that all the punk gigs at The Joiners were promoted by someone - or something - called the STE Collective. This shadowy organization, it seemed to me, would almost certainly be a bunch of hardline anarchists ready to judge anyone with the wrong attitude/accent/clothes/haircut, and I didn't feel confident enough to put myself in a situation where my punk credentials would be found wanting. As a consequence, I missed shows by THE JOYCE MCKINNEY EXPERIENCE, SHUTDOWN, EXIT CONDITION, FABRIC, WORDBUG, RHYTHM COLLISION, HERB GARDEN, MTA, RAN, HOOTON 3 CAR, OI POLLOI, UNWOUND and the obligatory "many more".

SONIC YOUTH made a movie called "1991 - The Year Punk Broke", about the success of NIRVANA and the elevation of underground bands to mainstream attention. But while NIRVANA had roots in punk (most obviously Dave Grohl's time as a member of SCREAM), the real Year Punk Broke was 1994. GREEN DAY  (who'd played an STE show at The Joiners in 1991) and OFFSPRING took pop punk into the worldwide charts, Southampton's rock DJs started playing BAD RELIGION, NOFX (another band with STE shows under their studded belts) and RANCID, and I realised that maybe now I could convince my housemates to come down to a punk rock show.

That show was JAWBREAKER, on November 1st 1994. I told Alex, Lucy and Gail that they sounded a bit like the BAD RELIGION and GREEN DAY tunes they were digging on the Nexus dancefloor, which was maybe stretching things a bit, but it got them down to the show with me. I was used by now, through the reviews I'd written for Kavort and Wessex News, to getting into the Joiners for free, but as a non-profit entity, the STE weren't down with the concept of a guestlist, making for a slightly awkward conversation on the door.

It turned out that the STE Collective weren't a bunch of intimidating scene police after all. Their key members at this point were Rich Levene, an unassuming looking chap who didn't dress remotely "punk" but lived and breathed this music (essentially the exact opposite of a Simon Robshaw punk), Rob Callen, a bespectacled fellow with frizzy hair, and PJ, who looked a little bit like a dreadlocked Captain Pugwash. They promoted their shows with a monthly bulletin, consisting of a sheet of A4 folded three times to produce a six page pamphlet. Aside from the bulletin number and date, the cover of each edition was identical, with the STE logo (featuring a drawing of a hardcore singer mid-leap) and the slogan "START A BAND!... WRITE A FANZINE!... PUT ON A GIG!... IF WE CAN DO IT, ANY ONE CAN!!" Inspiring stuff, and for once I'm not being sarcastic. Inside the bulletin you'd find columns by STE members and various other contributors, news on local bands and shows, previews of forthcoming STE activity, contact details for local bands, promoters and zines, a grainy photo of an STE regular and, always, an introductory paragraph about the STE, its history ("all of us have been active in the punk/hardcore scene since the early 80's (e.g. South Hants Fanzine Collective, NOX MORTIS/SUICIDE PACT, 'Bouquet' 'zine etc)") and its values ("those time-honoured principles of trust, honesty + a sense of community spirit"). (All usage of Caps Lock, underlining and bold print reproduced as seen in the bulletin - the band names throughout this blog have been similarly treated in tribute to STE style). It also explained that STE didn't stand for "Smash The Empire" or something like that but, rather more prosaically, for "Southampton, Totton and Eastleigh", the three towns from which its members hailed.

Anyway, back to the JAWBREAKER show. PJ was on the door, and I don't recall who backed down about my getting in for free, but I do remember writing to the STE address the next day to apologise and suggest that they probably hated me anyway as both a student and a journalist. I got a reply in due course from Rich Levene, who took my ridiculous paranoia (and stereotypical idea of what punks did and didn't like) in good humour, explaining that the STE's members had been students and had dabbled in journalism themselves. He also said I should say hello next time I went to one of their shows. What a good bloke.

The support band that night was a bunch of locals called THIRST!. As a newcomer to the local scene, I didn't know that their guitarist Steve Burgess had passed away a few months earlier, so my review in Wessex News merely complimented them on their melodic hardcore sound instead of dwelling on recent tragedies. You can check out their recorded work on the Suspect Device website by following this link...

JAWBREAKER were a pretty big deal at the time of this show, with the STE bulletin even implying that their appearance at the Joiners would go down in history alongside the aforementioned GREEN DAY and NOFX gigs. At this point, they'd recently released their third album, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, still considered their best by the cognoscenti, and their tuneful and emotional punk rock made my first proper hardcore show one to remember. Alex, Lucy and Gail weren't overly keen, though.

Here's some footage of Jawbreaker in Leeds from the same tour.

I carried on going to STE shows for the rest of my time in Southampton, and became friends with Rich and Rob (though I never got beyond nodding terms with PJ - perhaps he always saw me as that student journalist wanker who tried to blag in free to a non-profit show). I also got to know a bunch of the regulars: Rooster, thus named (I always assumed) because of his spiky hair, which made him the only STE gig-goer you'd confidently select as a punk in an identity parade; Cov John, a boisterous fellow; Tony Suspect, the man behind the mighty Suspect Device zine; Jon Fry, who was the singer in THIRST! and the STE regular most likely to be found in Southampton's alternative clubs for a boozy chat; members of local punk bands like SMOG UK and HAYWIRE, about whom you'll be hearing more in future blogs; and plenty more over the years, especially when the STE had a sudden influx of new faces which gave the whole scene a new lease of life (and a bunch of new bands) at the end of the 90s. I ended up contributing to the bulletin on occasion, and played STE shows with three different bands, one just a week before I moved away from Southampton in 2003.

The STE Collective doesn't really exist these days, although Rich still puts on all-dayers once or twice a year in Southampton. But over fifteen years and more than 200 shows, they created something which I still hold up as a sort of ideal, both in terms of the way they conducted themselves and their selection of generally shit-hot bands; gushing though this might appear, I genuinely view the STE in the same sort of light as John Peel and precious few others.

Punk rock continues to inspire and inform me, and there will be plenty more occasions to sing its praises as this blog continues to slowly dredge the 90s and beyond. Anyone interested in some serious nostalgia is directed to Ian Glasper's excellent trilogy of books covering the UK punk scene from 1980-1989, with Trapped In A Scene particularly relevant to the bands featured on Fur Is For Animals.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

University Year Two, Autumn Term: Wessex News

Kavort magazine may have been a rather inauspicious start to what I was far from convinced would be a career in journalism, but it was still sad when it ceased to exist. I suspect whatever advertising they pulled in didn't make a free paper a viable concern, sadly. However, I had an alternative route to rock journo notoriety rather closer to home, as from the beginning of my second year the music section of Southampton University's student paper Wessex News was now under the control of people from my English course, entitling me to blag what was probably - scratch that, definitely - more than my fair share of promo CDs and gig reviews.

It all began in October 1994, when music editor Karen pressed a copy of Drugstore's single Starcrossed into my eager little hands and asked me if I could go and interview them in Portsmouth. I gave the ten-inch record a spin and thought it was a pretty decent indie ballad, but as I played it over and over I realised that at some point journalistic dedication had been replaced by a real fondness. Brilliantly, when I met them in Portsmouth they turned out to be really nice folk too. There was guitarist Daron, a handsome and friendly chap with great hair, drummer Mike, a tall, wry American who demolished any idea that Americans don't "get" irony... and there was Isabel. Isabel played bass, sang and provided the dark, smoky soul at the band's heart. She was tiny, Brazilian, gregarious, mischievous and the only person I've ever met who's managed to be hot while looking a little bit like an old lady.

Drugstore were routinely compared to the Jesus & Mary Chain and Mazzy Star at this point, but they seemed chuffed that I could hear some Galaxie 500 in there. Their set that night was excellent, and included a cover of the Flaming Lips' She Don't Use Jelly which would become something of a live favourite. I completely fell in love with the band, catching them live as often as I could and using Wessex News to encourage Southampton's students to pay them some attention. They were the first band where I knew the majority of the songs from their debut album before it was released, and you can be sure they'll be cropping up in this blog again...

Kitchens Of Distinction have already been mentioned a couple of times, but it occurs to me that I haven't really talked about their music in any great length. They were seen as being on the peripheries of the shoegaze scene, I guess, but they didn't really fit. Apart from having a name at least two words and four syllables longer than most of their peers, their songs were closer to the mid-80s era - more Echo & The Bunnymen than My Bloody Valentine, basically. This Wedgewood Rooms show was the last time I saw them, but also the best, and I've still got a lot of affection for them - and in particular this song.

My next assignment was to go and interview hotly-tipped Scottish rockers Baby Chaos. You will note that in this instance, history has not quite backed up the predictions of the people doing the hot-tipping, but their sparky pop rock did indeed seem rather promising at the time. They were supporting Terrorvision at the university, so I went down and met them beforehand. As an icebreaker, I'd brought down a document which had been doing the rounds called The Purity Test. A lengthy questionnaire of "Have you ever...?" questions based not just on the sex-orientated pursuits suggested in its name but also every conceivable example of immorality and criminality, its humour was essentially defined by its ridiculously comprehensive nature, while the ultimate point was to find out how pure - or, preferably, impure - you were. Now, I certainly didn't have time to go through the whole ruddy thing, but I figured asking them to choose a number between 1 and 500 and asking the corresponding question would be quite funny.

It wasn't, it was just embarrassing. Although, to be fair, this video shoot looks more embarrassing.

Inevitably, The Purity Test lives on...

Anyway, Baby Chaos may have been nonplussed by this whole idea, but they were good eggs, the interview actually went OK and they were the best band of the night, perhaps not much of an achievement when they were followed by comedy German punks Die Toten Hosen. I'd also tended towards a dislike of Terrorvision, largely on the basis that tunes like Oblivion were, and indeed are, really, really annoying. They always seemed like a band who'd actually be happy to be described as wacky, and despite being covered more (and more favourably) by the metal press than the inkies, it felt like they had more in common with the jauntier end of indie - Dodgy, say - than peers like Therapy?. All that said, there was something quite winning about their obvious lack of pretension, and it's pretty unlikely any Terrorvision fan will have walked out of the university that evening feeling disappointed.

Jesus, somebody's put a one-camera recording of the Southampton university set on Youtube. Here's a lot of topless frontman Tony Wright for your eyes.

The next show I went to was Jawbreaker at The Joiners, but I'm keeping that one back for the next instalment of this blog which, you'll be thrilled to learn, will be a Punk Rock Special. So instead, let's fast forward past my 20th birthday to check out Rub Ultra and The Crazy Gods Of Endless Noise. Yes, we're back in the realm of the wacky. The latter band hailed from Bournemouth, had done a photo shoot with rubber bands wrapped around their faces, had a song called Treacle Tummy Fudge Time Treat and, you won't be surpirsed to learn, were shit. Rub Ultra were at least a bit better, essentially a funk metal band in the tradition of the little-remembered likes of The Atom Seed and Scat Opera, only with a hint of the dubwise stylings ingrained in the crusty scene.

Just two days later, I was interviewing Trans Global Underground before they played the university. I was struck by how Hamid Mantu (or Hammy, as he introduced himself) had a quietly well-read presence quite distinct from the various indie bands I'd been interviewing, and also by how short vocalist Natacha Atlas (not being interviewed, but sat at a nearby table doing her make-up) was. The show, coinciding with the release of their excellent International Times album, was wonderful, as full of memorable tunes as the stage was of various robed and masked musicians. I think there's a danger that their world dance fusion could be seen as a tad worthy, but as this video shows, they were also prone to arsing about...

1994 held just one more show for me, and I'd like to tell you the year went out with a bang, the best was saved for last, or something equally hyperbolic. As it turned out, this last show was...OK. The headline band were The Sea, except they'd just renamed themselves .Sea, for reasons nobody seemed to know but which almost certainly didn't include avoiding confusion with Cornish duo The Sea, largely because the latter didn't hit the shoreline until well into the 21st Century. I suspect it was because everyone who'd thus far come across The Sea thought they were basically a less successful Levellers, and they wanted people to listen without prejudice. Guess what? They still sounded like a less successful Levellers. Of more interest to me were support band EB & The System, largely because they were on the label Words Of Warning, which I'd got into as a punk label but which had lately been spreading out into the post-crusty scene and signing bands like Dub War and Scum Of Toytown. EB&TS hailed from Basingstoke and played an indie-punk-dub-rap hybrid which I thought worked pretty well. Inevitably, the band split up shortly afterwards. Their Myspace page has 30 friends.

So, as hinted at above, the next blog will discuss punk rock and its part in my downfall, from a tape called Fur Is For Animals to Jawbreaker at The Joiners, and these words: "START A BAND!...WRITE A FANZINE!...PUT ON A GIG!...IF WE CAN DO IT, ANY ONE CAN!!" Until then...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Nazis 1994

Like the late '70s and, well, RIGHT NOW, the early '90s saw the paranoid and pathetic rabble which makes up Britain's extreme right raise their potato-like heads above the parapet. The rise of the BNP was attacked in song by the people you'd expect: Chumbawamba, Credit To The Nation and Anglo-Asian hip hop crew Fun-Da-Mental were all ready to "Give the fascist man a gunshot", lyrically at least. But the extent of people's concern can be seen by the broadsides from voices you wouldn't expect to hear piping up. Pop Will Eat Itself, a band whose previous work included tributes to an Italian porn star-turned-MP (Touched By The Hand Of Cicciolina), their favourite pop culture references (Can U Dig It?) and, well, "go(ing) downtown to hustle chicks" (the pleasantly-titled Beaver Patrol), hooked up with Fun-Da-Mental for the anti-racist single Ich Bin Ein Auslander, sonically something of a companion piece to their Prodigy collab Their Law. Even more surprisingly, Roger Taylor released Nazis 1994. You know things are serious when Queen's drummer puts out a wholly uncommercial single about holocaust denial, although we could probably have done without his naming one of its versions Schindler's Mix.

In East London, the BNP had scored their first council seat when Derek Beackon won a by-election in Tower Hamlets in September 1993. This would have been shocking anywhere, but in a multi-cultural part of London it seemed particularly worrying; coming only a few months after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, it was further proof that the spectre of Nazism wasn't going to go away.

On the 28th May 1994, the Anti-Nazi League organized a march through South London, culminating in a gig in Brockwell Park. Depending on your source, the march attracted between 100,000 and 200,000 people, with up to 250,000 showing up for the gig. A small number of those folks were me and assorted chums, including members of Carp Fever and some of our mates from Chamberlain Hall. While we were all assuredly opposed to the BNP, it's probably fair to say that the music on offer played a decisive part in encouraging us to London for the day. Carp Fever faves The Levellers were headlining, alongside performances by the Manic Street Preachers, Credit To The Nation and Urban Species. Also listed on the bill was a special guest, which dedicated Queen fan Matt Ross assumed would surely be Roger Taylor. At one point in the day, he did surprise Lucy by exclaiming "Roger Taylor!", but he was only referring to a poster for Nazis 1994, and it turned out that the special guest was Billy Bragg. His wasn't the only disappointment of the day, mind; we had to leave before the Levellers to catch our coach back to Southampton, obviously booked by people who were more concerned with the march than the bands.

A less political moment of summer 1994 was the decision Sophie and I made to go to Reading instead of Glastonbury, thus establishing a pattern of alternating between the two big festivals which I stuck to throughout the rest of the decade. I suspect our choice in '94 was influenced by the festivals' respective bills; where Glastonbury's delights sometimes seemed to be spread thinly across a multitude of stages, Reading was all about the alternative rock that made up the foundation of what I was into. That said, one of the first bands I can remember seeing that August weekend was our old favourites Trans-Global Underground, clearly more of a Glasto-friendly outfit. But the festival's first day was somewhat dominated by the presence of Hole; Kurt Cobain had only been dead a few months, and what felt like the entire festival turned up to see whether his widow would implode on her return to active service. There was a weird atmosphere; if everyone was united in their love of Nirvana, they were distinctly split in opinion when it came to Courtney Love, and it felt like the rubberneckers who wanted to watch her public self-immolation outnumbered those who were looking forward to hearing Beautiful Son and Miss World. I certainly wasn't in the former camp, and it proved too painful to watch her stagger through her back catalogue in a wrecked, wretched state. To be fair, Courtney made it through the whole set, but I didn't. Not sure where I went, but I was back for Pavement's set, which made me smile a lot, particularly with the anti-Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots lyric on Range Life seeming so appropriate at the festival which had seemed like the UK's home of grunge. Eschewing the main stage headliners Cypress Hill, we went to see The Wedding Present close the first day on the Melody Maker stage. I was a big fan of their Bizarro and Sea Monsters albums, along with the twelve singles they'd released throughout 1992, but latest album Watusi, while still quite good, was clearly a more lightweight affair than its predecessors. Obviously, they played quite a lot of it, which made their set a little disappointing. That said, Weddoes frontman didn't deserve to get punched by Courtney Love, an event provoked not by poor set list choices but, according to legend, because he knew Steve Albini.

Saturday began with the Reverend Horton Heat, the sort of act which would never get on a Reading main stage bill in the 21st century...which is the 21st century's loss really, as hell-raising punkabilly is a good way to start the day.

Next up were Kitchens Of Distinction, who I maintain were a great band. I say this despite discovering many years later that my future bandmates Jimmy and Steen were watching them and considered them one of the lamest bands imaginable. A harder-hitting performance by anyone's reckoning came from Fun-Da-Mental, bringing their hardline politics and thrilling hip hop to the indie kids. I don't remember seeing anybody else on the main stage that day, despite the rest of the afternoon and evening including heavy hitters Pulp, Radiohead, the Manics, Ice Cube and headliners Primal Scream. The thing is, I also don't remember watching Superchunk, Compulsion, Elastica or Madder Rose on the Melody Maker stage. I don't think I was wasted, but I have no memory of seeing any of those bands that year. I do, however, remember who Sophie and I went to see instead of the Primals or Madder Rose: Frank Sidebottom.

As it so often was, Sunday was rock day at Reading 94, although the state of rock in those still-post-Nirvana years meant it was scarcely less varied than the other days. Soundgarden had pulled out for some reason or another, but instead of replacing them with a band of similar stature, the organizers moved the bill up and shoved Collapsed Lung on the bottom of the bill. These rock-friendly Essex rappers were a bit useless, but one of the two frontmen made me laugh by introducing himself as Chris Cornell... The only real mark Collapsed Lung left on popular culture was Eat My Goal, a tune which will probably still be getting included on football-orientated compilation albums released to cash in on the World Cup when we're all dead and gone. Incidentally, one Collapsed Lung frontman is now Radio 1/1Extra DJ Nihal, while the other is doing this...

To demonstrate the array of bands united under the rock banner that year, Cop Shoot Cop were up next with a nihilistic blast of pre-gentrification New York noise, the sort of act which would never get on a Reading main stage bill in the 21st century...which is the 21st century's loss really. This tune isn't the best they played, but it is the only one I could find, and at least Tod A's shirt fits into the title of this chapter...

We'll sweep Stabbing Westward under the carpet and pretend that the next act on was Chicago's premier noiseniks The Jesus Lizard. This band were just INCREDIBLE. Their music was at once slinkily rhythmic and prone to bursts of jagged violence, and I'd never seen a frontman quite like David Yow, a shirtless shit-kicker somewhere between Iggy Pop and Dennis Hopper's character in 'Blue Velvet'. At one point, I looked up from my moshing and suddenly realised that Yow's crowdsurfing body was inches away from my head. I don't think I was particularly near the front, so he must have gone on quite a journey. They really were the sort of act which would never get on a Reading main stage bill in the 21st century...which is the 21st century's loss really, as there was more danger and excitement in one of their songs than in most of the main stage bill of a 21st century Reading put together. One of the coolest things Nirvana ever did was honouring a pre-fame agreement and releasing a split 7" with the Jesus Lizard at the height of the former's success. As Nirvana didn't bother with a video for Oh! The Guilt, a few seconds of The Jesus Lizard's Puss made it on to Top Of The Pops. Here's some poor quality footage of them doing it at Reading. This is their hit, remember...

Professorial-looking New York riff-masters Helmet made it a hat trick of fantastic American alternatives (we're forgetting Stabbing Westward, remember), but I think by this point Sophie may have been experiencing noise fatigue, so we went off to do something less eardrum-battering instead. After that, The Wildhearts' set was notable for two reasons: the presence of one Devin Townsend, now a cult figure in his own right but then primarily known for singing with Steve Vai, on guitar, and the fact that bassist Danny dislocated his knee within the first few seconds of the set but managed to get through the whole thing before seeking medical assistance. This is that first tune, their 'Only Fools & Horses' theme tribute Caffeine Bomb, and you can see the point when Danny goes down about 35 seconds in (and the look of pain on his face whenever the camera returns to him).
I think while the Afghan Whigs were playing, we might have been having an argument. Sophie had a minor panic attack triggered by crowds and dust, and I reacted in the martyrish way which will be familiar to subsequent girlfriends (and possibly some workmates). "Well, we may as well just go back to the tent and miss the rest of the bands, then," was my thoughtful riposte. Luckily, Sophie didn't call me out on my bullshit (or my obvious bluff) and things were better by the time Senser came on. This band have been discussed at length in previous blogs, so I won't go on again, but it was great to see them so high up the bill and I danced myself silly. Here's the nostalgia bomb known as Age Of Panic.

Henry Rollins and his Band were a pretty intimidating presence, particularly when Hank did an impromptu speech about how much he liked England, its food, its bands, etc, leading sarcastically into Liar. Sadly, I couldn't locate any footage of that, so here's Disconnect instead. Its lyrics, all about wanting to pull ones own brainstem out, are clearly what sunsets were made for.

With Soundgarden out of the picture, Therapy? were promoted to the penultimate slot on the main stage, which could well mark the high water mark of their entire career. They were pretty much my favourite band at that point, riding high on the back of Troublegum. Page from Helmet and Lesley from Silverfish both came out for the tunes on which they guested on the album and it felt, to all intents and purposes, like a headline set, particularly as me and Sophie weren't too bothered about seeing the actual headliners and ended up watching the Chili Peppers disinterestedly from a point so far back we were probably nearer our tent. One thing about Therapy?, though: they did something I'm not too into, where they did a medley of some of their older tunes instead of playing them in full, a token gesture for the pre-Troublegum fans in attendance. Typically, that's the video I'm posting here, apparently recorded for Spanish (?) TV.

That was it for Reading, but as with the previous year Simon and I made it to Pilton for their end-of-summer village fete. I'm pretty sure Trans-Global Underground played, but I can't remember anyone else. This was entirely my own fault. Simon, his girlfriend Sarah and I had bought a quantity of booze, which we couldn't take into the marquee where the bands were playing. In rather gung-ho fashion, I mixed the rest of my cider (maybe a litre or so) with whatever gin Sarah had left and proceeded to down it. I then spent most of the evening sitting against the side of the marquee trying to hold it together. I think this was then Sam Ogilvy, a kid I went to school with between '83 and '88, wandered up to say hello, obviously discovering that I was in no state to maintain a conversation. When Simon drove us back to my folk's house, I got out of the car and immediately threw up. If my folks ever knew it was me - and there is no good reason why they wouldn't - they kept it to themselves. Embarrassingly, this wouldn't be the last time I'd be sick in the vicinity of Simon's car, but you're going to have to wait until we get to 1997 for that story.

Drawing a line under that unfortunate incident, next time I'll be striding manfully into my second year, asking Baby Chaos rude questions, falling in love with Drugstore, marvelling that funk metal is still a going concern with Rub Ultra, enjoying even more Trans-Global Underground and Therapy?, catching the tail end of the crusty scene with The Sea... and the small matter of my first DIY punk show. See you back then.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sons Of The Stage Part 2: Carp Fever

When Nine Inch Snails split up at the end of the Sixth Form, it felt like we were beginning to get somewhere. Not in terms of any real success, of course; we'd only ever played within the school grounds, and it was unlikely that we'd attracted the attentions of anyone beyond our circle of friends. However, the small repertoire of original material we'd built up had given me a taste of being in a band, something at which I was keen to have another bash.

Consequently, when I got to university I was quick to drop into conversation that I played guitar and would really quite like to start a band. This rather backfired when a socially awkward character asked me to play in his industrial combo. I can't remember the guy's name now, but he was possessed of a blank-faced charmlessness which, as it turned out, was allied to an almost-total lack of understanding of how to go about putting a band together. My justification for saying this is that he also approached a guy called Andy to play drums. Now, by his own admission, Andy couldn't play drums, but to our now-nameless friend this was less significant than the fact that Andy was a burly fellow with a Travis Bickle-style mohawk. "All you'll have to do is hit a metal bin with some spanners," was the would-be svengali's advice, which almost says as much about the public perception of industrial music in 1993 as it does about the cretin that uttered those words. I'm surprised he didn't also ask around to see if anyone had any power tools.

It might not surprise you to learn that this band never actually happened.

Instead, I fell in with a group of eager young musicians from Chamberlain Hall. The line-up was Alex on acoustic guitar and vocals, myself, Lee and Andy (not the mohawked one) on guitars, Lucy on bass and Ella on drums. Those of you with a keen interest in counting will have noticed that this collective included a staggering four guitar players, and from this, anybody who knows the more extreme ends of my musical taste may be forgiven for assuming that this band would deal in apocalyptic soundscapes characterised by in-the-red volume and total sonic overload. It didn't, though. It really didn't.

The tastes which fed into our band were pretty varied, while rarely straying from the middle of the road. Alex was the biggest Crowded House fan in his home county of Cheshire. Lee and Andy liked Bon Jovi and could always be relied upon to whip out their acoustics for a run-through of Extreme's More Than Words. Lucy liked indie and funk and, having been drowned out by a guitarist in an old band back in Market Harborough, was keen to ban distortion pedals from our set-up (an edict which I'm afraid I ignored). I'm afraid I don't remember what Ella was into, but as she shared strong Christian beliefs with Andy, it's probably fair to assume that death metal wasn't really her sort of thing.

I don't remember the discussions about what she should call ourselves, but I do know how we came to choose our name. Our friend Matt Ross was keen on fishing and was accumulating knowledge from various published works, including the unmissable tome 'Carp Fever'. Matt thought this would be a splendid name for our band, and it appears that we agreed. After the various names used by my school band, I was used to a certain silliness in this area, and in truth I still kinda like it. It's got the right sort of randomness for an indie band, and if somebody were to emerge with this name in 2011 I could well imagine Radio One DJ Huw Stephens saying the name in his lovely Welsh accent. That said, I was always sensitive to the idea that sooner or later some wag would swap two of the letters around to pass judgement on our skills...

Incidentally, Matt also possessed another fishy book by Bob Nudd, by the name of 'My Way With The Pole', which I earmarked as a potential album title. As we shall see, however, its services were never required...

The public debut of Carp Fever took place in Chamberlain Hall, in a space which I don't recall having a name. It was the room between the dining hall and the bar, and as such was principally used by people waiting to get fed or shit-faced. One evening, possibly in the summer term, the six of us occupied one end of it to perform a repertoire of songs we could all just about agree on. I'm pretty sure we played a Crowded House tune. We definitely did U2's Mysterious Ways, because I overheard one of Andy's friends saying afterwards that we'd "murdered it". At the time, I thought this was a little unfair; the way I got round not owning a wah-wah pedal by using my distortion and some palm-muting was surely a new dawn for guitar experimentation. Looking back, however, I suspect Andy's friend was right. We also did some Levellers stuff, including a version of Sell Out in which I "took the mic" for the shouty bit in the middle eight, prompting observers to note that I handled it as if I was in Slayer. I'm fairly sure they meant it as a compliment. I know we did a version of Parklife with name-giver Matt Ross doing the Phil Daniels bits. Beyond that, I'm really not sure.

We did write some originals, too, which may have appeared on the setlistOystercatcher, as the word Cornwall never figured in the actual lyrics - I think I thought that was quite a Wedding Presenty thing to do (as in their tunes Rotterdam and Granadaland). It was about the holiday I'd had in Cornwall the previous summer, and how friendship lasts forever. (This has proven true in part - of the people I went to Cornwall with, Simon was my best man last year, Ben has been a vocal supporter of this blog...Lucy's my friend on Facebook...and, OK, I have no idea what Natalie's up to these days.) Figure In The Landscape, meanwhile, was based on the novel 'Tess Of The D'Urbervilles' - clearly at this point in my life I thought that what rock music needed was more of a Thomas Hardy influence.

At some point towards the end of the first year, Lee and Andy both left Carp Fever. There was no animosity - they were both sweet guys, and Ella would live with them in the second year - I suspect their reasons went along the lines of wanting to concentrate more on studies and playing More Than Words, and maybe they were fed up of being drowned out by my cack-handed usage of a distortion pedal. The newly streamlined Carp Fever ventured out of our comfort zone to play a pub called The Dorchester Arms, which would assume greater significance for me many years later when venerable Southampton indie DJ Hammy started his Saturday night residency there. We got the gig because Lucy knew some guy in a local indie band who needed a support, and the whole affair was fairly dispiriting. Any of our friends in attendance were outnumbered by stony-faced locals who were watching some sort of sporting entertainment on the TV screen above the stage. Lucy's friend's band were entirely forgettable, and nicked my distortion pedal. (I don't think Lucy put them up to it).

That ended up being it for Carp Fever. Although Lucy, Alex and I shared a house in the second year (along with our friend Gail), we never quite got motivated to give it another go. I guess the convenience of having a free room in which to rehearse in halls meant it seemed a right old hassle to arrange practice space out in the real world. Students, eh?

A few years later, Lucy and Alex got another band together who continued in the indie/folk/pop vein Carp Fever had hinted at. They were called Barrington and did much better than us, getting a CD out and actually building some sort of fanbase. Here's their Last FM page: Don't be put off by the fact that "similar artists" include Kinky Brothers and Jock's Trap.

I've lost touch with Andy, but having made Facebook friends with Lee I'm delighted to find that he's as lovely a fellow as he was back then - and that despite living with Christians for most of his time at uni he's a self-proclaimed atheist/humanist. Hopefully he'll forgive me for the More Than Words-orientated mockery above.

Ella ended up being the most successful musician to have a stint in Carp Fever on her CV. After uni, she returned to her native Devon, where (curiously, at around the same time Lucy and Alex formed Barrington and I joined a band called The Gilamonsters) she ended up playing in Buffseeds, an indie pop band who came tantalisingly close to success in the early 2000s. Here's a strangely curtailed video of their best known tune...

And as for me... well, it was five years before I joined another band, which means I won't be writing about it here for some time. However, with tales of fetish nights, an altercation with the original lead singer of Iron Maiden, the offending of a Tom G. Warrior lookalike, the clearing of an indie disco, Valentine's Day in Camden, The Frequently Late Guitarist and communicating with Japanese musicians through the power of the air guitar, The Ballad Of The Gilamonsters will surely be worth the wait...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

University Year One: The Boy's A Hack In Town

Ahem. Sorry about that subtitle.

Before we get to the main meat of this chapter - namely, 1994 and my first foray into Rock Journalism - I have a confession to make. Up until this point, my research has been meticulously conducted, apart from my inability to discover exactly when Bob played in Ilminster. However, I've come across a show where the internet directly contradicts my own memory. It appears that the Lemonheads played Brixton Academy in October 1993, which means I should have written about them last time; however - and I appreciate that this is a strange thing to remember - I'm sure I discussed the Tindersticks' debut album being Melody Maker's Album of 1993 with Simon in his university halls before heading down to Brixton, which means that the gig couldn't have taken place earlier than mid-December 1993, and probably not until January 1994.

Anyway, whenever the gig happened, the Lemonheads had a special place in our hearts. When we holidayed in Cornwall in summer 1993, a tape of their album It's A Shame About Ray played a large part in the soundtrack to our week (along with a compilation I'd made which featured Astralasia's Sul-E Stomp, New Model Army, Swervedriver, Aphex Twin and what I can say with some confidence must have been another twenty or so stone cold classics). ...Ray is a slight piece of work, unlikely to appear in many Best Albums Of All Time lists (although Pitchfork appear to have named its title track the 138th best tune of the 1990s, and the album was No.4 on the NME's list for that year).What it does have, however, is a hazy, sunny feel and a bunch of lyrics about love and relationships which made it perfect for what a devotee of American High School flicks would almost certainly have dubbed our Coming Of Age summer.

Simon, Natalie and I definitely went to see them in Brixton; I don't remember whether either of our fellow Cornwall tourists Ben and Lucy were there. We got to the Academy in time to catch a bit of the Senseless Things (different bits of the internet suggest that Drugstore and Eugenius may have also played, but if they did, we missed 'em). It was our first experience of the strange sloping floor of this venue, which did at least mean that we got a pretty good view for a set filled with much of It's A Shame About Ray, plus tunes off their new album Come On Feel The Lemonheads. It was a show that felt special due to our own associations with the tunes, and it was probably one of the band's last London gigs before mainman Evan Dando went properly off the rails, more interested in hanging out with Oasis than making his own music and pushing his substance intake until he became seen as a sad, shambling yesterday's man. I'd see him do a solo gig in Southampton in the early 2000s, by which time he'd overcome his problems to turn in a pretty good set which brought back how good his best songs are.

Now, given that I've been filling your eyes with words all about me for several blogs now, it won't surprise you to learn that at some point I decided that my opinions on what people's parents refer to as The Music Scene were well worth foisting on the public. I decided that the best place to start was by writing for a local publication, of which there were a few. I was strangely reluctant to get involved with the university paper Wessex News at this point, perhaps thinking that after only one term of uni I'd be laughed out of the offices as a fresher with ideas above his station. A local listings paper called Sound Info had already become essential reading for me (and my stash of old issues has proved invaluable research for this enterprise) and did publish reviews, but I'd already got the impression that they might be quite a tight gang to infiltrate. That left another local free arts paper called Kavort (yes, I know, that's a terrible name). I can only assume that they were desperate for contributors, as they seemed to agree to publish me suspiciously easily.

Any lucky Southampton resident who happened to pick up a copy of Kavort between the 4th and 17th of February 1994 would have discovered not one but a whopping two reviews by plucky new writer Olly Thomas, sharing a page with a writer going by the name Mustapha Mosh (oh my sides, etc) and pieces on Tenpole Tudor, a punk covers band called Wile Coyote and, er, a performance of Shirley Valentine at the Salisbury Playhouse.

The first of these reviews, both on paper and in real life, involved me going to the Joiners to see the Wishplants. At this point in musical history, the influence of prog rock on indie was pretty minimal, but there was definitely a bit of Steve Hillage flickering around guitarist Ed's contributions. As a regular reader of Melody Maker, I knew that proper journalists never missed an opportunity to make a snide remark in passing, so I suggested that the Wishplants' tunes sounded "as if the Ozrics suddenly woke up and started writing tunes." A couple of issues later, Kavort printed a furious letter from one Clovis Patten of Southampton's Portswood area, who wrote "...but in a comparison to Ozrics, Ozrics will always be better, but they are just misunderstood by cynics like him (i.e. me)." Brilliant, I thought, my first review and I'm already stirring up controversy amongst the Portswood contingent of the Ozric Tentacles fanbase! The editor's reply was curiously unsupportive, but having suggested hoisting me up by my tentacles (I'm assuming you can see what he did there), he did go on to mock Clovis for his unusual Christian name.

Poor Clovis.

I don't recall whether I was also sent to interview the Wishplants - my small collection of Kavort magazine is missing an issue which may have contained such a work - but Sophie and I certainly got chatting to them. Later in the year, we'd arrange for them to play at my University hall's ball, an arrangement which caused some confusion when it was advertised as taking place at Southampton University rather than being a closed gig open to residents of the afore-mentioned Chamberlain Hall and their guests.I should probably give you some background info on Chamberlain. I'm pretty sure it was the smallest hall of residence at Southampton Uni. One entire side of the building was designated as a "quiet" space - no music, no parties, no fun - and proved popular with the foreign students who, unlike most of their British counterparts, had actually come to Southampton to study. There was also a larger-than-average contingent of Christians at Chamberlain. Infuriatingly, as is their wont, these people turned out to be universally good eggs - I'd even play in a band with some of them, about whom more will follow in due course - but you couldn't describe them as wild. So, imagine you're the Wishplants, and you've agreed to play at some ball at a University - you'd be a bit disappointed when turning up at the smallest, quietest, most Christian hall in the city, particularly when most of the attendees aren't too bothered by your indie-prog wares and are just waiting for you to get off so the DJ can play some hits, right? I seem to remember them enjoying themselves, though...well, I can remember them sitting "backstage" taking the piss out of my suit ("Look at your shoes, man!") and singer Saul making a casually offensive joke about rape which didn't go down too well.

Sadly, things never quite took off for the Wishplants. They don't appear to have an entry on Wikipedia, and I think you can tell a lot by the fact that my internet research has yielded the information that a fellow called Dave Guerin was their monitor engineer in April and May 1994 (don't remember him at Chamberlain Hall, sadly), somebody found a copy of their Tortoiseshell EP in their loft in March 2009, and, most distressingly, that Wishplants drummer Mick is now doing this...

Back to the pages of Kavort, and if your glance was to move one column to the right and down a bit from the Wishplants review,you'd be looking at some words I wrote about a band who are still at it in 2011, namely Cornershop. This assignment took me to Portsmouth's Wedgewood Rooms for the first time, and indeed to the faintly depressing backstage area thereof to conduct an interview with Tjinder and Ben. Now, if your experience of Cornershop goes no further back than the Fatboy Slim remix of Brimful Of Asha, it might come as some surprise that in 1994, Cornershop had been depicted in the music press as political firebrands, their most famous image a photograph of the band setting fire to a picture of Morrissey in protest at his alleged flirtations with fascism. These days I can't help but think of Moz like you would a slightly nuts old uncle whose opinions are more cringe-worthy than genuinely offensive, but back then it felt like a new frontier had opened up, with indie's old guard being held to account by a savvy new generation.

It turned out that, contrary to their angry image, Cornershop were thoughtful, friendly fellows who were totally welcoming to a nervous kid who, thanks to a sheltered upbringing, wasn't much more used to hanging out with Asian dudes than he was to interviewing indie bands. Unfortunately, as my review testifies, I wasn't too impressed by the actual music, which tended towards non-descript sub-Sonic Youth noise, although I did single out England's Dreaming as an unsung classic. It's an opinion I still hold - with its scrappy energy rush and hijacking of signifiers from Public Enemy, The Smiths (!) and (in its title) Jon Savage's seminal Sex Pistols book, it remains one of the best singles from the Riot Grrrl era (along with Huggy Bear's Her Jazz and Mambo Taxi's Poems On The Underground).

Also on the bill were Brighton's Action Painting! (who I thought were trying far too hard and didn't even mention in my review) and Breed, who were the band of the night by some distance. There have been many bands called Breed over the years (I even know of one from Portsmouth), but this was a trio from (I think) Liverpool whose sound I described at the time as "twisted late night blueswailing." Crikey! In practice, this meant that they shared characteristics with the Bad Seeds, Tindersticks and Gallon Drunk, producing sharp-but-stately tunes fuelled by life's darker side. Their album Wonderful Blade is highly recommended, and please don't be put off by the fact that their drummer Steve Hewitt went on to join Placebo. Singer Simon has kept it more real, as you can discover here:

The next gig I went to was Skyscaper at the Joiners. Kavort weren't interested, and to be fair neither was anybody else I knew. Sophie and a horde of my pals from Chamberlain were off to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Mayflower in full regalia, so I was saved from donning a basque and suspenders and chucking toast about that evening. Skyscraper was the brainchild of ex-Swervedriver bassist Adi Vines (don't worry, Swervedriver hadn't split up - I think Adi had already left by the time I'd seen them a few months earlier). I mentioned this to a girl called Thea who wrinkled her nose in disgust at the thought I was going to see a Nazi band, but I was quick to point out that she was thinking of Skrewdriver, and that neither Swervedriver nor Skyscraper harboured far right allegiances. When Swervedriver were called on by the music press to list bands and tunes they dug, Adi would always mention the likes of Killing Joke and Murder Inc, and this was the vibe that he was going for with his new concern. By this point,they'd released a couple of good singles (Choke and Lovesick) and made for a diverting live band, although I'm not sure their album Superstate has aged too well.

Nine days later, I was back at The Joiners for my next Kavort assignment. The Voodoo Queens were a big favourite of mine and Sophie's (and of John Peel's, natch) so we were stoked to be seeing them. Looking back, they were very much the lightweight option from the Riot Grrrl days; they might have had songs critiquing the supermodel-fuelled beauty myth and sexism in general, but they also liked to pen tunes about how much they liked chocolate, shopping and Keanu Reeves (on Kenuwee Head, a tune which I can now only barely believe actually existed). In my review, I argued that this sense of humour was important as it "destroy(ed) the myth that equates feminists with dour men haters", but I can see now that it also provided ammunition for anyone who wanted to shoot them down. Not that you'd want to, mind; another way they differed from, say, Huggy Bear or Linus was that their music was unapologetically pop, in a trash-punk-surf-bubblegum kind of way. With this in mind, whoever booked Submarine as their tour support was heroically misguided; their slo-mo shoegaze was probably quite good, but as I put it at the time, their "mournful basslines and doomy atmosphere str(uck) the wrong chord with the assembled pop kids, and ke(pt) on striking it for far too long." This ultimately didn't detract from the fun to be had with headliners, however, with Voodoo Queens singer Anjali impressing us with both her abillity to deal with the sort of fuckwads who seemed to attend this sort of show just to heckle, and by her friendliness when we approached her afterwards to sign Sophie's t-shirt.


At this point, one of the hippest names in clubland was Megadog. Originally a club night in London which booked many of they key bands on the crusty/techno borderlands, it became a travelling roadshow which put on parties in tents at festivals and, by 1994, was doing tours, one of which pulled in to Southampton University on the 9th of March. The primary attractions were Trans-Global Underground and Banco De Gaia, along with founding DJ Michael Dog and the unforgettable MC Teabag. Other treats listed on the ticket included Dog Decor and the Woof Cinema, and if anyone who was there can remember exactly what these consisted of, I'd be grateful. Both of the main acts were fantastic: Banco De Gaia was the more techno-aligned of the two, albeit with a rich strain of Middle and Far Eastern sounds underpinning much of the set, while TGU were a glorious riot of party-starting colour and sound, putting music from across the globe (as, I'm sure you'll have noticed, their name might suggest) into a blender of dubby dance music. Members wore ethnic masks and singer Natacha Atlas belly-danced. This was not the sort of thing you got at indie gigs.

Business as usual was restored the very next day, when I went to review Tiny Monroe at the Joiners. As one Jimmy Martin has pointed out, I neglected to mention them in the last blog when they supported Curve at the university, mainly because I literally can't remember a single thing about that performance. I can, however, remember their Joiners set, which I approvingly noted at the time was possessed of "a cool swagger" and "a wired, dark tension bubbling under." They were one of a wave of female-fronted bands which was just breaking at the time, but unlike their contemporaries like Elastica, Echobelly and Sleeper, they never really grabbed the attention of the wider populace. I actually compared them favourably to Elastica in my review, noting rather snarkily that the latter had less talent but better connections (no pun intended, then or now). In truth, Elastica had become an early example of my being put off a band on the basis of reading too much hype before hearing any actual music - they grew on me soon enough, and their self-titled debut is more likely to find its way to my stereo these days than anything by Tiny Monroe. That said, I did unearth a tape of the latter playing live on Mark Radcliffe's radio show while researching this blog, and they weren't half bad. Ska, or at least its up-stroke guitar style, was curiously in vogue in UK indie at this point - bands as varied as Kingmaker and Therapy? had appropriated it for Queen Jane and Turn respectively - and this was a technique Tiny Monroe were fond of, along with a spiky-yet-insouciant new wave sensibility. Their frontwoman, NJ, meanwhile, was almost certainly described as "striking" in every contemporary review (although, oddly, not in mine).

As I'm saving festivals for a later blog, there's only one more First Year gig to tell you about. It was time to rock, it was time to rap, it was time to crusty techno. Yes, it was time for Senser, although technically first of all it was time for New Kingdom. These were a hip hop group from NYC, centred on the vocal talents of Nosaj and Sebastian Laws, who had started to attract favourable notices from the more forward-thinking writers in the UK music press. Theirs was a fuggy, psychedelic stew, sticking out like a sore thumb at a time when G-funk was the dominant sound in hip hop - New Kingdom had more in common with Tom Waits than Snoop Doggy Dogg. They pretty much pre-empted the rise of trip hop, and the blunted paranoia of their records found a kindred spirit in Tricky, who collaborated with Nosaj for a b-side called Moody Broody Buddhist Camp. Years later, I would discover that my friend Benny Beats and his mates used to refer to them as "drunk hip hop", and that fits their slurry style pretty well, I reckon. They were an excellent support for Senser, but in the absence of any footage of that night, you'll have to content yourselves with this clip of them on The Word. Is that Lionel Blair getting down to New Kingdom? It ruddy well is.

Minds were blown accordingly, but at this point Senser were certainly capable of picking up the gauntlet laid down by their support band. This gig happened on the 11th of May, which would have been three days after their debut album Stacked Up entered the charts at No.4 - an almost unthinkable achievement back in the days when they were known primarily as the Ozrics' favourite support band. Clearly, they'd crossed over, and on their own terms too. This show felt triumphant, and came with the added bonus of Nosaj joining them onstage for a rendition of the Beastie Boys' Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun. Here's them doing it (without Nosaj) on the telly. I think you get a good sense of how short singer Heitham is from this footage...

So that was it for my First Year at university - but hang about,. I also played in a band around this time! Looks like you'll just have to come back next time to hear about my several months in a 33.3% Christian folk/indie/funk/pop collective which was named after a book about fishing...