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pretty decent indie ballad, but as I played it over and over I realised that at some point journalistic dedication had been replaced by a real fondness.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...