Archive for May, 2010

Smudge: The Majesty Of Tom Morgan

May 25, 2010

“It’s not the tracks, it’s where they’re leading” – Tenderfoot by Tom Morgan

We all know life’s a bitch, and it can be enough of a drag struggling through from day to day. Music’s much the same. How much time do you spend subjected to other people’s tastes and wondering to yourself, ‘when will this shite end?’ But every now and again, both life and music throw you a bone. It might not be much, but that bone can still taste like manna from the gods.

WHTB is usually skeptical of events like Liverpool’s Sound City festival – essentially a week of hip-but-not-necessarily-exciting bands coming here who might not otherwise – but this year it came with a delightful bonus in the form of Australian indie-pop-punkers Smudge.

Now, you may not have heard of Smudge, and there’s no reason to feel like you should have done either. They never attained an especially significant degree of fame, and if they were influential at all, it was barely outside of their own back yard. Their only modicum of celebrity comes from singer Tom Morgan‘s songwriting partner and de facto foil. Anyone familiar with the works of Evan Dando?

Back in 1991, the Lemonheads were touring their fourth album Lovey (also their major label debut, and their first lp not to feature founder member/frontman Ben Deily) in Australia. Dando and Morgan were introduced to each other by Nic Dalton, founder of Sydney’s Half A Cow Records, and the pair hit it off immediately. The next time they met, several months later, they began tossing musical and lyrical phrases back at each other. Eventually they wrote a song called It’s A Shame About Ray.

Dando and Morgan would also collaborate on Bit Part for the Lemonheads’ fifth album, before going on to co-write at least half of its follow-up (the under-appreciated Come On Feel The Lemonheads). Morgan speaks fondly of the process, describing it thus in 2005:

“It was never like a business arrangement, it was a product of hanging out together. We always have one guitar, we never have two guitars because people get caught up in your own little thing. So, you have to have one guitar and you hand it back and forth… Otherwise you’re playing over the top of each other, there’s no focus”

It’s strange to imagine one of the 90s’ most famously loopy rock stars forming such a disciplined partnership, especially with someone on the other side of the world, but even now the pair continue to write together or for each other (albeit sporadically).

So that’s why you might have heard Tom Morgan’s work before. He was never invited to join the Lemonheads, however, because Dando knew that Smudge was already a going concern. Indeed, by the time Come On Feel… was released, Smudge had released a series of EPs and were preparing to release their first long-player Manilow on Half A Cow.

This, and the three albums that followed, demonstrate that Morgan was more than just a source of material for his famous friend. The sound may be scruffier and the delivery scrappier, but Smudge’s heart is firmly on its sleeve – passion and sheer glee plainly audible for all to hear, and perfectly encapsulated within two-and-a-half-minute pop songs. It’s easy to see why they were much beloved of the slacker congnoscenti, since their songs fizz with the same guitar buzz that powered the likes of Superchunk, Eric’s Trip or Guided By Voices. For those bands, the sound is part of the selling tool – the lo-fi hiss that defined a generation of American indie rockers. But in the hands of this Australian trio, it merely helps to propel songs that are by turns funny, upbeat and (occasionally) resigned to their fate. There’s a warmth and… well, yeh, a humanity in their snappy, crackled pop that you rarely find in any band. Some days it’s positively reassuring to know there are folks out there who ever made records like these.

So it was great to see them turn up in Liverpool, at a free Saturday afternoon show with a BBQ. WHTB geeked out sufficiently to earn some personal dedications (and a worrying sense of fanboydom… but hey, that’s what this blog’s all about, so best quit worrying about it, eh?).

Smudge on an uncharacteristically sunny day in Liverpool

They were utterly wonderful, from the opening breeze of Ingrown to their tribute to one of “Australia’s greatest bands” (their take on You Am I’s Berlin Chair). Tom is still chirpy and sweet, Adam’s melodic basslines still brighten up even the perkiest of pop songs, and Alison is still simultaneously the sweetest of presences and a joy to watch behind the kit. In short, Smudge are still great.

They were going to play Divan, but I asked for Don't Want To Be Grant McLennan. GAH!

Fire Records has recently reissued two Smudge albums, including the classic Manilow. You’re well advised to start there. Then investigate Tom’s work with Nic Dalton in Sneeze, as well as the various other great bands the pair have been involved with over the years.

Peace out. x

All Tomorrow’s Parties (Day Three)

May 21, 2010

“Do you want a goose for breakfast?”

My third day at ATP commenced with me staring bleary-eyed at my chalet-mate Mudguard (it’s best not to question the origins of the nickname, I’ve discovered) and wondering what on earth the above sentence could possibly mean. Swiftly coming to terms with the fact that I was still on the sofa, I learned that Mudguard had been woken up by the sound of geese honking outside his window. At 9am, I was not quite tempted by his offer to kill and cook one of the unbearably loud – dare I pun, ‘fowl’ – creatures, and politely declined.

Scrambled eggs were swiftly prepared as the day’s petit dejeuner, and I slowly attempted to process the events of the night before. Resigned to the fact that I didn’t come out of it too well, whatever way I looked at it, I put Your Heart Breaks on the stereo and slowly attempted to digest the Grauniad’s family section. Lo-fi twee and articles about teenage diaries could only hold my attention for so long, however, so instead I entered zombie mode and watched the Grand Prix for a bit. It’s fair to say that I do not get the appeal of motor sports. They’re rubbish, aren’t they? Who likes motor sports? Pfft. Although I’ll concede that Grand Prix makes a good case for being Teenage Fanclub‘s best album. So maybe motor sports aren’t all that bad.

Eventually I headed out to watch Wax Fang. They’d already played one set at the festival – covering Prince’s Purple Rain album in its entirety, and in costume – which I’d missed. Everyone seemed suitably enthused, however, and I enjoyed their own stuff. They were catchy, energetic and rockin’ in a Ted Leo sorta way, but unfortunately the morning’s zombification had done me few favours in the alertness stakes. Utterly spaced out, i opted out of booze for a bit. A little focus would have been nice right about this point.

I should have loved The 3Ds. Fizzy, old-skool lo-fi indie rock always excites me, and these veterans of New Zealand’s indie rock scene were pretty darn good at it. In the end I lasted half an hour before getting the sweats, and wisely decided to get some air. Air hockey, that is! Attempts at the official festival sport, with Time For Twee and her suitably cool compatriot Pete, provided little improvement to my rapidly-deteriorating consciousness, however. When even food failed to perform as an elixir, I conceded it was time to return to the chalet for half an hour’s nap.

The doze invigorated me somewhat. Pondering that I had now managed to spend all of two and a half hours in my chalet bed, I dashed out to see The Clean. The strains of their classic Anything Could Happen drifted across the air as I made my way to the arena, and I was disappointed that they’d finished playing the song by the time that I arrived. In any case, I was swiftly alerted to the availability of curry, and finally partook in my first full meal of the weekend. Truly, I was back in the room.

I dashed back to the arena, rested and refueled, knowing that beer was welcome in my stomach again. I felt positively victorious at this stage, despite not really having any reason to. Whilst browsing the merch for Wax Fang goods (verdict: i’ll buy them on the internet), I even bumped into Stewart Lee – a WHTB hero since around 1996 when I first saw Fist Of Fun. He was polite and friendly, and agreed to a picture (although his decision to throw his hood over his head at the last second renders the photographic proof somewhat dubious).

Lee was no doubt in attendance for The Fall, of course. Sticking largely to the new album, they veered between thrilling and dull, but happily my taste for beer returned at a fast enough rate for me to enjoy Mark E Smith’s rabble. I really wanted to follow them up with Enablers‘ set, but knew I’d already seen them before and instead headed to see the potential once-in-a-lifetime set by The Raincoats. They were a scrappy post-punk mess, and totally awesome with it. Say, what about a beer?

Closing sets by The Authorities (standard garage-punk) and Endless Boogie (proficient but dull jam band) proved little to us, other than that it was time to close the festivities by drinking and dancing ourselves silly. The Crazy Horse bar provided just the disco for us, spinning a variety of 6Ts, soul, reggae, old skool hip-hop and the occasional smattering of twee. I requested Born To Run only for the DJ to look at me quizzically and ask, “Who by?” If I couldn’t have Springsteen, I was surely in need of another beer.

At 2am the disco finished and we all headed back to our chalets. Mudguard and his delightful wife were having a cup of tea before bed, and i opened a can of lager to join in reflecting on the weekend. It had been pretty ace.

Finally, I managed to spend a night in my chalet bed.

ATP rules.

All Tomorrow’s Parties (Day Two)

May 20, 2010

I awoke at 9am, two hours after going to bed. Wondering whether I was still drunk, and concluding that yes, I probably was, I reluctantly accepted defeat in the fight for more sleep and got up. Feeling woozy, but strangely not hungover, I regaled my pals with the tale of the previous evening and enjoyed a bacon buttie. Too much cannot be made of the recuperative powers of the bacon buttie – suffice to say, I instantly felt like the champion of the world.

Following a browse of the morning’s Grauniad, I wandered outside to meet up with an acquaintance from a certain respectable indiepop discussion forum (in actuality a hotbed of the world’s finest intellectuals and raconteurs, where every thread is drenched in sparkling wit). This seemed as good a time as any to indulge in the day’s first beer.

Not long later, I wandered past the main stage to investigate Blitzen Trapper. Meh. Where’s the bar? Oh, here it is. Ace.

I contemplated watching hardcore veterans Saccharine Trust, but opted instead for the FA Cup Final – a wise decision, it turned out. The game was thrilling from start to finish, including two dreadful penalty misses, a stellar performance from the woodwork and a sublime winning goal. Essentially Goliath bettered David, much to everyone’s chagrin, but it was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. As I engaged some West Ham fans in witty banter (read: drooled and drunkenly babbled about the current state of LFC), news filtered back that Saccharine Trust were already the worst band of the festival, vindicating my choice.

Having bumped into Pete again, I head upstairs to see Mark Eitzel, who i’d been meaning to listen to properly since about 1997. Maybe it was the beer talking, but his set was astounding. Piano-led jazz-inflected narratives of drugs and heartbreak, all sung in a silky-smooth croon and interspersed with endearing patter about his life as a Butlins Redcoat (“I got the gig because Butlins stipulated that one of their own acts performs at the festival with the indie rockers”). Constantly blurring lines between fact and fiction, it was an emotional rollercoaster of a performance. Pete and I agree that he delivered the “set to beat”.

After stumbling across yet more friends, we laughed at Camera Obscura‘s onstage miserabilism and reflected on how that deadened the impact of their show. It was all lapped up by the assembled indie kids, however, no matter how lacklustre it appeared to me. Besides, we were next to the bar.

The highlight of the weekend, however, was always going to be Pavement. Drunk as hell and excited as I could possibly be, I heard amused references to my delirious state of happiness throughout. “Look at his face!” I love Pavement. It was awesome. I couldn’t have asked for much more. Or could I? Warrington’s finest retired punk rocker GI invited us all back to his chalet for veggie fajitas, and who was I to refuse? Great stuff, and a well-needed recharge after all that excitement. Then we ran back out again for some electronic sketches and guitar doodles from Bradford Cox‘s alter-ego Atlas Sound. He was pretty good. BOOOOZE.

An incredibly fun day was capped off by an incredibly fun set from the many members of Still Flyin, and continuing the weekend’s themes, I danced and drank myself silly.

The set finished around 2am, and I decided to watch the Kahn fight. Your humble correspondent headed to the sports bar, ordered a beer and sat down in front of the big screen. Next thing I knew, a bouncer grabbed my shoulder, muttering “I’ve had enough of this,” and escorted me to the door . Discovering it had suddenly become 4:30am, I eventually learned I had been repeatedly falling asleep, and although it came as news to me by this stage, I had been repeatedly warned about it.

Too drunk for my ego to be bruised, I staggered back to my chalet, and managed to reach the sofa before passing out.

Part Three coming soon…

All Tomorrow’s Parties

May 20, 2010

After another despicable lapse in posting, WHTB has decided that the best form of self-admonishment is self-correction. Or something. So without further ado – certainly none of that apologising lark – here’s WHTB’s account of this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. Pray, do not judge this meffy soul too harshly.

ATP is a (now bi-)annual indie rock festival which takes place in the quaint setting of an old British holiday camp. Having relocated several years ago from Pontins in Camber Sands to the larger and more impressive Butlins site in Minehead, it has grown with the recent rise of so-called ‘underground indie rock. This year’s curators, the reformed Californian slackers Pavement, had sold out the festival on their name alone. Almost entirely to checked-shirted boys such as WHTB, in fact. Boys, it turns out, love Pavement.

I arrived at the festival site in something of a grump. Minehead is a lovely-looking coastal town with a beautiful shoreline, and the thought of the weekend ahead should have been enough to keep my spirits buoyed, but no. Due to a variety of circumstances too dull to relate, we were unable to check into the festival until some time towards the end of the first two bands’ sets. Avi Buffalo and Surfer Blood both featured rather highly on my ‘wanna see’ list, but no matter. There remained plenty of time to enjoy bands.

My friend Pete was heading over from New York, and so we had loosely arranged to meet up. Not having seen him in five years (other than in pixelised form) left me rather doubtful as to whether this would happen. The fates are mysterious creatures, however, and they dictated that we should walk past each other as soon as we both entered the arena. We half-took in a disappointing set by Spiral Stairs and caught up over the first of many beers. Fun!

We then moved on catch the Mariachi-drenched Americana of Calexico. A good band will always improve matters. As will a good Minutemen cover (Corona). More beer.

Next we caught The Walkmen in time to hear their hits, despite a fuse blowing onstage, causing them to abandon their set for a good five minutes. They re-emerged baffled but eager, and reminded us all that The Rat is ace. More beer.

I had eagerly anticipated Broken Social Scene, but after a promisingly noisy start, they descended into pseudo-epic rock that was a little too U2 for these ears. Beeeeeeer!

Mission Of Burma put in an early bid for band of the festival, which came as no surprise after witnessing their heroics at Camber Sands in 2006. Great stuff. Getting drunk now. That’s when i reach for myyy revolveerrrr!!! Ah, anthems.

We watched a bit of Quasi – not bad but I was getting a little band-fatigued. Had a wander. And some beer.

Next we caught the end of Marble Valley, and met up with my bud Yoshi from Still Flyin. Good guys. Beer? Again? Don’t mind if i do…!

Times New Viking are one of my favourite bands, and by this stage i was pretty darn drunk. Which was good news, of course. Around this time I stumbled across Westie from Pavement – a charming man who appeared to have time for everybody. Hewas even willing to pose for a photo with a drunken, incoherent fanboy such as myself.

After bar-hopping for a while, I found Pete and the Still Flyin boys again. Around 4:30am we somehow wandered into a packed ground floor chalet party. With a fog machine and a strobe light. WOAH. An hour or so, i looked up to see a nekkid girl dancing on a table. “I’m not cool enough for this shit,” I muttered to Yoshi, feeling a bit awkward and wondering exactly how I was going to explain this to my better half. Not short of young gentlemen willing to help her dance, the nekkid girl eventually jumped off the table, skipped across the room, jumped out of the window and ran off into the night. It was strangely poetic.

Eventually, I got back into my chalet at 7am. Drunk.


Day Two coming up…