November 2008

25th November, 2008

I have a friend who quite likes listening to chocolate. Thick, creamy, dark chocolate. Dripping out of a gold platted chocolate fountain, she watches it, and dreams of Persian rugs, fireplaces, and pink satin cushions. Did I say chocolate? Sorry, I meant ‘We Own The Sky’. THIS is what you hear when you dream your sweet, sweet dreams, and feel that wonderful warmth at five in the morning.


Published in Student Direct, November 2008


24th November, 2008

EXACTLY HOW much is going to a gig, mocking the audience and abusing the band worth to someone? At least £20, apparently.

The signs were there from the start. Opeth, Sweden’s prime metal export, attract a slightly more varied crowd than the average metal band, with goth boys wearing a lot and goth girls not wearing a lot, metalheads, and fans of bands such as Tool and Marillion. Quite diverse, but very friendly. Not, however, hip-hop loving, hostile, balding men decked out in denim, gold rings and a beanie.

Before the p.c. brigade pounce opportunistically, yes what’s on the outside doesn’t necessarily make what’s on the inside axiomatic, but there were other pointers. For example, the man’s “DJ” dancing like he was in some sort of club (you can’t dance to Opeth. It’s like trying to fly a brick), and assortment of “wankers!” gestures at the end of the night (and every song).

Assuming he did pay, what prompts the presumably conscious decision to cough up to go to a performance by a band you’ve probably never heard of and set about taking the piss? And on your own too; if he’d picked a DOWN or Slayer gig, he would’ve been ripped apart, his arms shoved down a toilet, his head lobbed on stage and his genitals impaled on the singer’s microphone stand. But whilst his reasons will remain a mystery, everyone who was in that room now hates him. And their reasons are quite clear.

Published in Student Direct, November 2008

2nd November, 2008

ole-832-the-hawk-is-howlingMOGWAI deliver a post-rock soup which skimps on spices and other exciting condiments, but leaves a warm, full and satisfying feeling.

Mogwai are known in the post-rock world for not being content with constructing simple walls of sound. This Scottish four-piece produce walls of sound complete with barbed wire and graffiti ranging from pretty flowers and psychedelic colours, to political mini-rants and straight up abuse. Happy Songs for Happy people brought the world of minimalist not-quite-rock music the beautiful ‘Golden Porche’, whilst Come On Die Young served up rants against punk rock and ‘Puff Daddy/ANTICHRIST’.

The Hawk is Howling is no different. Which is good. Kind of. It’s Mogwai doing their thing, taking simple phrases and moving them through various crescendos and diminuendos, slowly elaborating on a main theme. It can be catchy (‘The Sun Smells too Loud’), moody and threatening (‘Batcat’), or all of those, plus strangely rousing (‘I Love You, I’m going to Blow up your School’).

But therein lies the problem. If you have any of Mogwai’s albums, or any of Explosions in the Sky’s, the new This Will Destroy You, and I could go on, then you’ve heard it all before. Mogwai’s latest adds nothing to the genre except another entrancing but ultimately slightly above average disc. Tracks such as ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ are certainly captivating in terms of melody and dynamics, but if you’re looking for a post-rock band who are doing something new with their sound, then this isn’t the album for you.

But, if you want an undemanding one hour sonic voyage, or just love Mogwai and post-rock in general, then by all means, go get it.


Published in Student Direct, Noveber 2008

7th November, 2008

OK, THERE’S no denying that gigs and festivals are loud, the equivalent of standing next to a pneumatic drill for an extended period of time, albeit more musical (depending on your point of view, of course). So, to protect those precious personal sound receptors, three things have been recommended. Don’t go (as if), turn the music down (yeah, right), or wear earplugs.

Now, I’m pretty sure my hearing is going down the proverbial toilet. And some gigs are just far too loud; anyone who saw Fu Manchu at Academy 3 last year can testify that. I couldn’t hear properly for a week, no exaggerations. I probably should’ve thought about my future health, my need to hear bird song when I’m 80, or to attend to the wishes of moaning children or spouses. Earplugs would be the answer. But why don’t people wear them?

Maybe people just don’t think about it during the aural pummelling. I certainly don’t.

Or maybe it’s just the general nature of humans to put having a good time way above their health and well-being in their list of priorities. If people drink to excess, risking liver and brain damage, plus anything which could happen whilst stumbling home, then how can we be expected to take care of our hearing?

Here’s a radical idea. Instead of those bland and frankly un-cool lumps of plastic you can get for free…let’s turn earplugs into a must-have fashion accessory. If people put metal studs and fleshplugs into their ears (which carry risks of blood poisoning and miniature dolphins jumping through artificial hoops), surely we wouldn’t be averse to adding a bit more weight to our lugholes, which just so happens to do us a bit of good?

Picture it; just before your dream gig, you make a beeline for the merchandise desk. But what to choose? Before your awestruck eyes you see t-shirts, hoodies, posters, bandanas…but what are these? The Arctic Monkeys official earplugs? Woah! Buy! Buy! Buy?

Published in Student Direct, September 2008

7th November, 2008

Promoting his new solo album The Cross Eyed Rambler, Paul Heaton takes some time out to chat to Student Direct about how to write a great song, using Wikipedia to get a record deal, and the evil that is Walkers crisps.

Paul HeatonPaul Heaton, for those who are wondering, was the chief singer, songwriter, and all round communist of The Beautiful South, one of the biggest British bands of the late ‘80s and early 90s. Formed by ex Housemartins members Paul Heaton and Dave Hemmingway, the band became well known for Heaton’s dark, sarcastic and whingeing lyrics played over chirpy indie pop melodies. Songs such as ‘A Little Time’, ‘Song for Whoever’ and ‘Old Red Eyes is Back’ gained the band a devoted following, and Carry on up the Charts, the band’s first “best of” album, went down in history as the fastest selling British album. The band split up in January 2007, citing “musical differences” as the cause, but Heaton didn’t take retirement.

You’d think with that kind of résumé, getting a deal for a solo album wouldn’t be so hard. “It was devastating”, says Paul. “I finished the record, went on Wikipedia, and took down all the still going independent record labels”. He emailed 30 different labels (along the way finding out that 10 of them weren’t actually independent, but had recently been swallowed), and got two good responses. Five said no, without even listening to the record, stating that they “didn’t think there was a market for it”. Without listening to it. Yes, without listening to it. From that perspective, it’s interesting to consider how independent record labels that do this can survive, a notion that prompts a characteristically guard-dog like reaction from a man who, in his youth, was “left of Stalin” in terms of politics. “They exist on ripping bands off, and the bands you can rip off are the bands without managers or lawyers. Young bands. They sign them to a dodgy deal, before they [the band] know what a dodgy deal is.” “There’s also a bit of a John Peel ethic, you know, don’t touch somebody who’s had such chart success.” But to not want to listen to it first? “Bizarre”, he says.

Heaton has long been known for his song-writing. With lines like “with a choice between loneliness and love-sick QE2’s, well tonight I choose self-abuse” (‘Tonight I Fancy Myself’) to “Life my girl will take away that optimistic skip, stick its big foot out and try deliberately to trip, substitute young hope with arthritic hip” (‘Deckchair Collapsed’), for anyone looking for tips on how to pen an interesting chart topper, he’s your man. “I don’t think you can be too specific” when writing, he says. “If you’re too exact you start sounding like you’re punching the air a bit. Leave a little bit for the listener. Like ‘The Pub’ (a song from the new album). Let them think, “yeah, I know that pub”. Don’t fucking call it the Green Dragon, call it The Pub”.

The great British pub is one of the many issues close to Heaton’s heart, and with its mention springs a good five or six minute conversation about the “5000 pubs closing down a year in the UK”. “That makes me angry”, he says. “Everything about that part of our society has gone skew-wiff”. Preferring a rough pub filled with varied characters and the risk of a glassed face to a “bar full of business suits and wankers”, Heaton attributes the slow death of the “centre of the village society” to a rise in bar culture, and Tesco’s vending of cheap booze. Oh, and the Tories.

The Tories have caused Heaton much anguish, but ranking right up there is the inadvertent forcing of him to terminate his crisp packet collecting. “I do have an incredible collection, and that’s putting it modestly”, he admits. But those days are over. “When I was a kid my politics were to the left of Stalin” he jokingly states, but “I was always told “if you vote Tory then you’d have more choice”. But they didn’t have anything against monopolising everything”. “In my life, Walkers…my fucking daughter will never taste a packet of sausage and tomato crisps…Walkers have taken over. It’s Walkers everywhere.”

Politics is a “real strong vein” through Heaton’s life, as is arguing. “Everything is political”, he says, “and I can argue with that bottle over there. You can leave me in the van by myself and I’ll have a political argument”. “So it’s good to put in songs. Every song is a political song. If you look at charts and you look at a particular month when there wasn’t a song about anything, but there was a big crisis, say the Iraq war. All those people have decided not to talk about that in song. That’s a political statement, not to write anything.”

If you did know who the Beautiful South and Paul Heaton were, then you probably would have been wondering (before 2007) if they would ever go away. But Heaton has plenty left in the tank to rant about. Plus, when asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t putting his politics to music, he looks visibly worried. “Err…err…when I was a kid I wanted to be a fireman, but I was scared of fire. I think I would’ve just been a real sad loser, I can’t imagine anything else I would’ve done.” So, when he writes that “nothing’s black and white no more, just permanently tanned”, the future for Paul Heaton is quite definitely orange.