Posts Tagged ‘ATP’

I’m only trying to remind you

January 10, 2011

I tried with Teenage Fanclub. I honestly did. But for years it just didn’t work out.

It all started out so well too. In 1996 I was 13 years old and still delirious with excitement from the swiftly-dying Britpop ‘movement’. The NME – my weekly bible at this point – still occasionally gave nods to the Fanclub, but no matter how reverential the mention, they were hardly plastered across the paper enough for me to pay significant attention as a young pup enthusiastic for exciting new sounds (however retro and… well, not really exciting these sounds may have been). As it was, my pocket money went in other directions. I had Northern Uproar singles to buy! (And, if I’m honest, I suspect I may have been put off by Brendan O’Hare’s beard and the length of their hair. Time, you play cruel jokes on us all…)

By the summer of that year, I had discovered the Manic Street Preachers’ dark and abrasive The Holy Bible. This represented the beginning of a two-year love affair with that band, and is possibly the root of my love for more dissonant, less immediate music (leaving aside my embarrassment as a recovering MSP fan, one hates to use unbearably smug words like ‘challenging’ here, especially given how unchallenging it seems to me now). As far as this story is concerned, however, it caused me to pick up an issue of Vox magazine with a huge feature on the Manics and a free tape. The interview and retrospective on the Blackwood boys was obviously the main source of attraction, but I was nonetheless intrigued by the cover-mounted compilation of session recordings from the then-superlative Mark Radcliffe Show.

This wasn’t the first free tape I’d gotten with a magazine (that prize goes to a fairly unremarkable NME effort the previous Autumn), but it was certainly the first to contain more than a couple of tracks that I’d actually want to listen to. An acoustic version of Suede’s My Insatiable One sparked an obsession with Brett Anderson’s lot (that would mercifully evaporate with the release of Head Music several years later), whilst my first exposure to the intense sadness of Tindersticks still lingers in the memory.

The overall winner from this cassette, however, was Teenage Fanclub’s version of their b-side The Shadows. Devoid of a chorus, it instead featured nothing more than a simple harmonica riff and a gorgeously melancholic two-part harmony. The words were pretty enough to convey a sense of wistful optimism, and before long I found myself playing the song to myself whenever I picked up a guitar. It’s still a favourite, by the way, although I’ve now heard the ‘proper’ studio version, and frankly it’s not a patch on the simplicity and wonder of this acoustic strum-through.

And then suddenly… nothing for a while. The Fanclub’s sixth album Songs From Northern Britain emerged in the summer of the following year, but whilst i knew that Ain’t That Enough was a thoroughly pleasant tune, at the time it didn’t quite grab me as I wanted it to. Another two songs from that album turned up on NME tapes in the lead-up to that album’s release (the Raymond McGinley compositions I Don’t Care and Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From), and again I was unmoved. Young ears discovering the joy of volume in Sonic Youth’s glorious noise are perhaps not quite tuned into the sophistication of those pieces, and I was gleefully unaware of what I was missing out on.

I picked up more songs through free tapes, but it wasn’t until I heard their cover of Sebadoh’s It’s So Hard To Fall In Love in 6th form that they truly registered on my horizon again. Even then it was fleeting. I listened obsessively to the song over a glorious month in 2000, and then went back to ignoring Teenage Fanclub.

From hereon in things get messy. In university I discovered punk, and for a few years would label anything slower than the first Ramones album as ‘boring’. Unless it was reggae or 60s garage. Or Mogwai, oddly. In retrospect 2001 was a pretty exciting time, and a great time to be young, flush with a student loan and high on musical delirium. But I still regret the ease with which I dismissed so much great music that I’d discover for myself later on.

In the end, it was by accident that I got into them at all. In 2006, I finally managed to go to an All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, for the first time since unsuccessfully trying to rouse my friends’ interest in 2001. Giddy with excitement, my pals and I started drinking on arrival, which swiftly cut short my interest in the event’s more cerebral bands. After getting thoroughly bored during Electrelane’s set, I wandered into the other live room to see what else was on. Anything that had a chorus or just sounded like a pop song would have done at that point. Happily,  a certain band (guess who?) were onstage, midway through their 1995 single Sparky’s Dream. I knew the song, and I’d enjoyed it as a teenager without being overawed. But it was different this time, for some reason. Instead of leaving me cold, it was drawing me in and surfing the waves of inebbreiated delight that ebbed and flowed around the hall. Next they launched into Everything Flows, quoted in my last blog and largely known to my undereducated ears courtesy of J Mascis & The Fog’s cover version. And then it was over. I’d missed the majority of the set. But by this time it was too late. I felt warm, fuzzy, drunk and thoroughly converted by that song and a half.

Upon returning home, one of the first things I did was buy their most celebrated album Bandwagonesque. Its charms took a while to creep under my skin, but once they did, I ceased to look back. From the opening line of The Concept (“she wears denim wherever she goes / Says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo / Oh yeh”) to the final heroic instrumental Is This Music?, the album is an effortless, gracefully wonderful collection of simple pop songs that offer no challenge, dissonance or difficulty. Instead, it gets by on straightforward brilliance. It’s fantastic. I rushed to investigate their back catalogue further.

Four years later, I’ve fallen totally and utterly in love with their latest effort. In an eerily appropriate moment of symmetry with that first song of theirs that had me hooked, the album is called Shadows. It’s wonderful. Like finding an old pair of gloves in a drawer in the middle of winter, and discovering that not only do they still fit, but they match with all your other clothes, and age has not diminished their ability to keep your hands warm.

Norman Blake’s songs are almost always my favourite Fanclub tunes, but with Baby Lee and If I Still Have Thee he may have surpassed even his own dizzy heights. And Gerard Love’s Sometimes I Don’t Have To Believe In Anything is a gorgeously-understated piece of perfect pop – somehow indier-sounding than the Big Star/Byrds material that they’ve become famous for, but by no means schmindie. In fact, in one of those strange moments where a great band begins to sound like those it’s influenced, it reminds me rather of The Delgados, only better.

To close,  I could attempt to sum up everything that I’ve belatedly come to love about Teenage Fanclub, but Andy from the ever-excellent blog/fanzine A Fog Of Ideas managed to do so better than I could ever hope to. It’s not a short quote, but it’s entirely apt:

the fannies aren’t avant garde or edgey or any of those things but what I think they have done that is perhaps radical (if you like) is to make ‘adult orientated rock’ that manages to avoid a lot of the trappings of that much- and possibly justifiably-maligned musical styling: they’re not lazy or resting on their laurels or playing tried and tested chops, they’re not good old boys revelling in histrionics and overbaked mannerisms and the like

what I think the fannies have done is grow old rather gracefully, they play music that’s unaffected and from the heart and I think in a world where there’s so much artifice and copping of moves that’s kind of quite agreeable

which sounds like I’m damning them with faint praise but I actually find that quite significant and winning, uplifting even

possibly they may not be relevant… but then who’s deciding what is or isn’t relevant and what-me-worry?

for me they make music of infinite grace and beauty and I can understand why that might not be appreciated, it’s never been a common currency

and in my best whispering bob harris voice, the following fannies lyrics explain why they appeal so much to me:

here is a sunrise, ain’t that enough?
true as a clear sky, ain’t that enough?
toy town feelings here to remind you
summers in the city do what you gotta’ do

you can call it niceness, if you want, I just think it’s anti-bullshit, or maybe it’s another kind of bullshit but it works better for me than the alternative all day, every day: cynicism, nihilism, misanthropism, all the isms, if you will

it’s better than that, it’s more hopeful

Wise words. I just wish the band and I had gotten along sooner.

Still, better late than never.

“Don’t look back”


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

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…

When Time Is Poetry

January 29, 2010

It’s supposed to be a sure sign that you’re getting old when your favourite bands start to reform.  When WHTB was a younger, more foolhardy soul with fire in his belly and a neatly-copped ‘tude, he wascompletely opposed to nostalgia reunion tours, and very nearly missed the Pixies due to punker-than-thou skepticism (not that they turned out to be especially amazing in the flesh. They fucked up Gigantic as well, the bad meffs).

But within the last few years, I’ve been to see sets by Dinosaur Jr, Mission Of Burma, the Lemonheads and Sebadoh. And there’s a chalet bed reserved for a considerably drunker version of myself when Pavement pull in to headline ATP in May.

the reunited, somewhat crinklier Mission Of Burma

For this huge selling-out of my core values, i offer the following (rubbish) excuses:

1. Most of my favourite bands were long-gone or approaching the end of their careers by the time i’d hit 16. Never let it be said that I’m a man of my time.

2. Back then I also decreed that all bands over the age of 30 “should be taken outside and shot”. Whereas these days, and as I hurtle ever-nearer to that magic figure myself, I feel like I’m right on the cutting edge of all artistic endeavour if i manage to enjoy a band under said age.

In any case, who cares? I considered posting a lengthy musing on why people bear such malice towards reunions, but it would be fucking boring. So let’s just skip to the conclusion of that bit, eh? Everyone clings to the myth that rocknroll is young people’s music – after all, they’re angrier, sassier and sexier than their ‘maturing’ counterparts. And older generations certainly have a tendency to forego the ‘LETSDOITNOWBEFOREWELEARNHOW-WUNTWOTHREEFOWAH’ spirit in favour of tasteful ballads and profficient playing. But hell, the whole genre is 60 years old now. How can it possibly just belong to young people? Dinosaur Jr’s new records and live sets are louder and harder-rockin’ than any number of crappy Top Man indie bands. Age is subjective. I’m in favour of young people labelling me an old bastard for saying as much – after all, I’ve started rambling now – but now that I’m not so young any more, I needn’t concern myself with such frilly nonsense. I’d rather know whether it’s rockin’, excitin’ or just any damn good.

And now I’ve got a ticket for reunited emo legends Sunny Day Real Estate, at their first ever UK show in London in April. To say i’m excited would be an understatement, but then again i was 12 when the original line-up split first time round. Again, never let it be said that I’m a man of my time.

Here’s the reunited SDRE on Fallon.

Peace x