Strange Bones, the Blackpool tune bombers are back with another burst of sonic power which they’ve made their own and it’s a blast of fierce raw electro rock, as in your face as usual, the way they normally do. The excitement is building for their much anticipated debut album England Screams which follows soon along with a blistering set of tour dates. Read on…
Frontman Bobby Bentham explains, “Nobody is getting out alive. Deathwish is about feeling trapped by your surroundings and understanding the restraints that we have are put in place by nobody but ourselves. I have a strange relationship with Blackpool, UK, the dystopian Disneyland sea-side town that time forgot, the good and the bad of this place and how it has influenced me is portrayed in the song”.
A mutant creation spawned from a year of experimentation and pushing personal boundaries, forthcoming album ENGLAND SCREAMS is Strange Bones’ most authentic and ambitious work to date. With Bobby at the helm on writing, production, mixing and engineering, the record is a seismic, bone-crushing sonic escape. He explains “The idea for ENGLAND SCREAMS came from trying to understand the relationship between order and chaos, the two factions that fly different flags but create balance when they meet in battle. I want to be honest with myself about the obscurities of life and the mind. I’m not afraid of taking things to extremes, which aligns with the highs and lows of not just songwriting, but life in general. It’s where I feel comfortable when creating, completely outside of my comfort zone, which is fucked up, and asks the question if there was ever a comfort zone to begin with. The album also looks at the devil inside, and finding that balance between light and dark”.
Here’s hoping the live dates below go ahead. A top as fuck double header with label mates Calva Louise!
(w/ CALVA LOUISE)
27 Jun – Key Club Leeds
26 Jun – The Ferret Preston
24 Jun – Sugarmill Stoke-On-Trent
23 Jun – The Horn St. Albans
Band of Holy Joy return with a passionate and grandly melodic new album.
It’s 2021 and Johny Brown has never sounded more alive. The eternally youthful leader of Band of Holy Joy has somehow managed to reverse the traditional artistic arc of most songwriters and performers by producing his most vital work almost four decades after the formation of the group in South London.
Dreams Take Flight finds Brown exploring the strange, dream-like mind-state of the pandemic lockdown of the last year, perfectly articulating the existential dilemmas and frustrations that united us all during the strangest year many of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Arguably the most lushly melodic Band of Holy Joy album to date, Dreams Take Flight consists of eight perfect and purposeful songs that stretch out as long as required as Brown explores his themes like a post-punk Issac Hayes or Van Morrison. Co-writer James Stephen Finn excels as Brown’s main songwriting foil, but there are no passengers in this musically adept group.
Indeed, Dreams Take Flight invites comparisons with both Hot Buttered Soul and Astral Weeks, in terms of its heady, melodic intensity. Lyrically, it feels like Brown has reached the pinnacle of the themes he has been exploring in an incredible run of recent albums, asking questions about the nature of existence itself and finding epiphanic wonder in the minutiae of everyday life.
Opening track, This is the Festival Scene, features Brown’s lyrics at their wittiest, as the singer spins a playfully surreal and satirical yarn of a music festival that goes badly wrong, over a compellingly cinematic backing. It’s classic Band of Holy Joy, with Brown’s trademark vocals wilfully flitting between 60’s crooner and post-punk spoken word.
The surging chorus of second track A Leap Into the Great Unknown could well be a distillation of Brown’s passionate beliefs: “Take a leap into the great unknown, we don’t have to face this thing alone”, the singer urges. There’s a similar positive romanticism to That Magic Thing, buoyed on another killer chorus featuring the refrain “Love is a healing force, love is a thing that heals”.
In fact, every track on this album hits hard, with wise, heartfelt lyrics and melodies that you’ll want to listen to again and again. “To live is to choose”, Brown declares on Notes From a Gallery “but to choose well, you must know who you are.” Elsewhere, The Rhythm of Life finds a bruised and battered Brown questioning whether political activism (and perhaps artistic endeavour) can ever be meaningful, eventually concluding that the mere act of personal commitment creates something powerful in a communal setting.
Dreams Take Flight may have been forged in the disorienting strangeness of pandemic lockdown, but Band of Holy Joy have created a strikingly beautiful and uplifting album, timeless in nature, and marbled with perceptive insights into the human condition.
UPCOMING BAND OF HOLY JOY LIVE DATES 2021 Wednesday 4th August – Sydney and Matilda (Sheffield) Thursday 5th August – Sneaky Pete’s (Edinburgh) Friday 6th August – Stereo (Glasgow) Saturday 7th August – 3 Tanners Bank (North Shields) Friday 13th August – The Thunderbolt (Bristol) Saturday 14th August – The Piper (St Leonards) Saturday 16th October – Westgarth Social Club (Middlesbrough) More to be announced soon.
Call it synth-punk, electro-punk, post-punk, punk/new wave, or whatever you like. Just know that MONONEGATIVES do it better than almost any band out there. On its debut album Apparatus Division, the London, Ontario trio has condensed all the anxieties and terrors of present times into a 12-track synth-punk masterpiece. Out on the legendary labels No Front Teeth and Big Neck Records, Apparatus Division expands and refines the musical vision of last year’s extraordinary EP Sure Shock. A laboratory analysis of MONONEGATIVES’ musical DNA would confirm the group’s ancestral relations to Devo, Wire, The Screamers, Joy Division, and Tubeway Army. But this band manages to take those influences (and others) and craft a sound that comes off as original and contemporary in the modern-day dystopian nightmare of 2021.
I would still describe MONONEGATIVES as a band that puts the “punk” in synth-punk. 10 of these dozen tracks clock in at under three minutes, and four come in under two. These guys still can rip into a song with speed and fury. But even with the relatively short running times, a lot of these tracks find the band slowing tempos and using synthesizers to create tone and atmosphere. The approach to songwriting is so creative that some tracks are like two songs in one — transforming from moody post-punk to a raging ball of fire without warning. I like how this band takes full advantage of synthesizers in punk rock. The synths are not just there as background — they are central to the songs and developed with a composer’s mentality. Impressively, the band pulls off a sound like this that successfully mixes the primal guts of garage/punk with the synthetic sensibilities of electronic new wave. It’s all part of a larger artistic vision that also encompasses the band name, song titles, and art work. Apparatus Division is the sort of album that ought to be absorbed with headphones. Just press play and let MONONEGATIVES pull you into their wild, strange world. Are you entering a surrealist future or just the frightening present that your conscious mind won’t allow you to acknowledge? The answer is open to interpretation.
Scott Lavene The George Tavern, Shadwell 26 May 2021
Spring has sprung! The bluebells are out. As Covid hopefully gets a little smaller in the rearview mirror, people are emerging like hedgehogs following a long but restless nap. In his first gig in 447 days, Simon Reed dusts off his camera and heads into London’s East End for an appointment at the historic George Tavern with Essex singer, songwriter and all-round raconteur Scott Lavene.
Not been out in London for a very long time and as I leave the glitz of the City skyscrapers behind I don’t mind admitting I’m a little nervous that my first venture is to Shadwell, buried deep in the East End. I’m sure it’s just because I’m out of practice, but I hope the locals won’t be too offended if I say it’s not the most salubrious part of town. I’m here to see Scott Lavene, an artist whose often whimsical lyrical stylings bare comparison with Ian Dury, John Cooper Clarke and Mike Skinner among others. Lavene’s ‘gutter pop’ (his words) attracted much praise in the form of his 2019 album Broke. It is an excellent record.
The neighbourhood might be a little sketchy, but the venue – The George Tavern, is anything but. Grade II listed, it occupies a proud corner spot on the Commercial Road. Inside, it’s magnificent. In pre-booked, socially distanced guise, the tables have candles and attendant service, and are surrounded by plush leather studded armchairs. Wooden panelling abounds. The only thing to spoil the ambience is a smoke machine on piece rates, which is rendering an air quality not seen in London since 1952.
At around half nine, a musician dressed in a striped waistcoat, 7/8 trousers and Ray Ban Wayfarers takes to the stage. It’s Scott Lavene, though it is tricky to see through the smog. He starts up a drum machine and plays Nigel, the first single hewn from his new album Milk City Sweethearts, which will be released on 17 September.
It’s an everyday story about heroin addiction in a badly run-down part of town. The town in question is Boscombe, an outlier to Bournemouth where Lavene now resides. He makes it sound unremittingly shit. I lived there in the eighties and can confirm that it is – or at least it certainly was back then.
Nigel is perfect microcosm for what Lavene does best in his writing – taking dark, dark situations and showing them some light: ‘Janet’s in the parlour, she’s getting a new tattoo. The name of her true love to go with the other twenty-two. She’s had Nigel in her kitchen, she’s had Nigel in her bed. With his name on her neck, she’ll still have him when she’s dead.
On the record, there’s some great saxophone – straight out of Davey Payne’s top drawer from his time with Dury’s Blockheads. I’m immediately struck by how good this would be with a full live band, but for tonight, Lavene is solo so it’s just guitar and the impressively (I suspect deliberately) lo-fi beat box. “Cha cha cha” sings Scott just before he shuts it off. Turns out this is how he ends a number of his songs tonight.
This is Lavene’s first gig in 18 months and he tells the crowd he’s a bit nervous having been out of the loop for so long: “I did a pre-gig poo. I don’t normally poo in the evenings”. You wouldn’t actually know it though (nerves, not poo habits), for he seems supremely relaxed in front of this sell-out crowd and he is just as witty between the songs as he is during them.
Some of it is probably pre-planned: “Thanks for coming out tonight – risking your lives. I don’t mean Covid, I mean Whitechapel”, but he’s equally amusing when called upon to improvise. In Methylated Blue, he misses a note: “Perhaps I should have practised the singing. You can just listen to it on the record – it is a big note. This is what happens when you’ve only spoken to people for 18 months”.
Most of what is played tonight are from the last album and we don’t get many peeks behind the curtain to what’s coming next. One we do get though is the current single Lord Of Citrus, which was released on 25 May, a day before the show. It’s a song about loneliness, of feeling a little different, before finally finding a soulmate who feels the same. I’m not sure if it’s autobiographical but wouldn’t mind betting it is. There’s not been much time for us to get into it prior to the show but it has a fantastic video made by Canadian animator Ryan D. Anderson for us to play catch up in our own time. A character with a lemon head walks out of a job and into his own world, step by step in time with the music. It’s as hypnotic as it is strange as it is addictive. It’s very hard to only watch the once.
Back to the live music. Scott plays Light Of The Moon, a personal favourite of mine from the last record. He introduced it by staring down a member of the audience: “You sir look like you could relate to this. It’s about working in a factory, taking too much speed, and having your girlfriend leave you”. References to drugs and alcohol appear in much of Lavene’s material and that’s hardly surprising given he has had dependencies on both through most of his adult life. Without it, there wouldn’t be the stories he weaves so skilfully through the music but it’s good to know that these days he’s writing about it retrospectively.
Broke is probably Scott’s best-known tune. Eight minutes of spoken word, it has plenty of the above, plus a liberal dose of the helplessness of systemic poverty. Of course, it’s all wrapped up in the comfort blanket of Lavene’s humour. The revelation that short-term respite from his monetary woes was attained through chopping up bushes and selling off the bits as bonsai trees on Basildon Market gives everyone a laugh and smooths the edges from the bleakness of the whole thing.
For the song Happiest Boy In Town, Lavene explains he was once asked by a husband to be if it could be used as the first dance at his wedding. I mean, it is essentially a boy meets girl love song, but my God it hits some dark places and to be brutally honest, it would be falling far short of my top ten tunes to get a party started. To be fair, the guy requesting it did ask if it could be re-recorded, omitting all references to the taking of heroin. “No. Write your own song about her” was the reply.
Comparisons between Scott Lavene and Ian Dury are obvious and easy – maybe too easy, but there is one essential difference between them. Dury couldn’t sing and never really tried. Scott might not have a claim to be the next Freddie Mercury, but he certainly can sing and does – to great effect.
We hear that when Lavene closes the show sat at the piano, singing Say Hello To Zeus, a song he wrote about his father, who had recently passed. When Dury spoke about his late father in the song My Old Man, there was poignancy for sure, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been moved by it. That’s not the case here. There is no Bossa nova beatbox, just words and piano. The words are fantastic and the vocal soars.
It’s another from the new album and is a truly beautiful song – certainly something to look forward to in recorded form. The George Tavern crowd is absolutely silent throughout. This may be a reflection on the class of Lavene’s audience, or perhaps having missed live music for over a year, people have stopped taking it for granted. If it’s the latter, it’s a small bonus from the pain we’ve all been through.
There are no other Scott Lavene live dates in the immediate pipeline but expect a tour in support of Milk City Sweethearts post its release date of 17 September. I’d recommend attendance. It’s a great night out.
Blasting out like a souped-up Ford Cortina with attitude, Night Motor’s latest album, Fatal, smacks you in the face from the first song and doesn’t let up over the next 12. Distilling post-punk attitude with garage sensibilities, Fatal comes across like a mix between the Fall, early Pere Ubu and a smattering of The Seeds. It creates an exciting experience from Mawgan Lewis (guitar and backing vocals), Mat McIvor (vocals), Pete Knight (bass), Kelly Green (keyboards, theremin and backing vocals) and Jonny Hipgrave (drums and samples).
Blessed and Cursed, with its cynical singing and driving bass, comes across as post-punk from graffiti streets, no future minds and a bored greyness, with a curled lip at anything considered cool. Punk may have been about stealing cars but post-punk was about walking around and around under grey skies. The Milkman has a paranoid guitar sound like badly wired brain waves and vocals like a spasmodic, twitching, angry geek. Martyr starts with a drum beat that could be straight from Joy Division, with a heavy bassline and industrial noises. The drums and bass on Paradise give a tight backbeat for the guitar and theremin/keyboard space to drift and explore the spaces in between, a place where ‘dreams and fears and hope collide – another day in paradise’.
But, just as post-punk had many sides, there are also more sides to this band than post-punk.
White Witch starts with a Klaus Fluoride style bassline, a rockabilly beat with psychedelic guitar, and vocals like a crazed preacher on Speaker’s Corner. The sound of a theremin adds a spooky 60s feel. It could be a forgotten 60s garage classic brought up to date. There are the goth-tinged Deadpool, with its noir club beat, and Stone Age with a primitive beat reminiscent of Ausgang.
Life could be 80’s indie-pop that has a hint of the forgotten great band, Lowlife. Confessions is out and out punk with brittle guitar work and angry vocals just ‘screaming the blues’. Whilst Termination has vocals that are delivered in a rapping style over a Wire sounding beat. Album closer, Chloroform (a nod to the classic Strychnine?) has a perfect sixties garage sound and freaky sounds, man. Mat McIvor singing ‘Why don’t you just come upstairs?’ sounds perfectly creepy.
Fatal is a paranoid, tension-filled, slightly bleak, quirky post-punk, with 60’s garage, goth and pop thrown in to create a great album experience. If they’re as good live as they sound on record, then can’t wait to catch them live.
The C33s are back with a cracking new single that surely shows they’ve been brewing a storm since the excellent Harpurhey Hostility. Wayne AF Carey welcomes them back to life…
The PR says: Never a band to shy away from uncomfortable themes and tackling them head-on, Benzodiac is a frank observation of addiction, renewa land rebirth. Three minutes and forty eight seconds of slick guitar, trademark dual vocals from Cav Green and Judy Jones, pummeling bass from Ste Phillips and palpitating drums is enough to set the tone and fuel the excitement for what is still to come with the rest of the EP.
I say: Welcome back Cav, Judy and Ste! One of the coolest bands coming out of Manchester kick start their rise with a fuck off surf garage number which kicks in with a Dick Dale style lick that rumbles in with a killer bass line backed with Judy’s drum patterns and backed with those riot grrlll style vocals. Cav’s small guitar solo during the centre of the song is proper psych surf that shows his love for the surf rock sound of Dale of even Hank Marvin. A proper blast of infectious North Manc punk that just gets better every time I listen. I love the fact that they’ve created cartoon caricatures of themselves for the artwork. It gives them an identity. The video below is just pure psych garage fun with Cav looking like a young Jesse Hughes with his dodgy tache. If this is the latest chapter then I’m in. I’ve seen em live a couple of times now and they’ve blew me away with the raw power. Expect the full EP to blow us all up…
The EP Benzodiac will be released in August 2021 on Rare Vitamin Records on 10” vinyl, CD and cassette.
DEAFDEAFDEAF have hit me with a bang with Odes. The third single from the youthful post punk Manc band that I’m ashamed to only just catch up on. Recently captured by Disobedient Records they thrill me with a great tune and excellent video. Here’s the score…
Just think if The Chameleons met Mogwai in a dank basement. You’re getting there. A slow builder that crashes in with that classic dark Manchester sound from the Hannett days. Excellent production and sweeping gloomy guitar sounds that shudder and shake with authenticity, A top as fuck band that don’t shy away from their influences and paint their own picture in this world of post punk labelled music that should, by rights have a new label to distance themselves from the usual Fall, goth comparisons. A mile away from the average indie bollocks and a marker for the Next Next Wave started by the likes of Cold Water Swimmers, The Pagans S.O.H. and Tinfoils. In Manchester we have cycles. Big indie, dark post punk, funk, the wonk of Cabbage, the sophistication of Slow Readers, the Doors laden punk rock of The Blinders, Brix, James Holt… It’s all there. DEAFDEAFDEAF cement their place in the rich vaults of Manc music with their own twist of subnormal soundscapes. To top it the video is fuckin’ excellent!
Def Robot return with their 12th album in two years and it’s a blast of a mixed up style of genres to prove there is still life in their endless tunes. Wayne Carey does the usual DR style track by track explanation with the enigmatic Paul Taylor straight outta Kendal…
“Explores the events surrounding the assassination of JFK including rumours and speculation about his private life – which may have contributed to his death.”
A spiky punk number that romps through Americana with some great riffs. A proper anthem that gets better with every listen. Fuckin’ great guitar solo towards the end.
On My Way.
“An atmospheric road trip on a foreign substance. On the way to somewhere unsure – home? A loved one? Death?”
This goes all film noir, an atmospheric moody number that chills the senses with it’s downtempo picturesque druggy swagger. Dark as fuck.
“2021 feels like there’s just too much going on to take in. Sometimes I wanna just get away from everything, take a deep breath and relax!”
An early Floydesque intro that goes all Gary Numan on the ears. A futuristic rocker with a nice psych feel flowing throughout. Spacey!
Rise Of Robot.
“Mechanisation and advances in technology have been incredible for the human race. But is there a danger of it all going too far? Are we losing touch with nature and what we are?”
A proper dirty riff kicks off with this Nine Inch Nails sounding piece of industrial hip hop which shows the diverse range and talent of Taylor and Hancox’s songwriting.
Kiss The Disco.
“Even if you aren’t a fan of dancing or letting go on the dance floor, we all miss the kind of places we went to that held friends, merriment, socialising and dancing. A love song to one of the things we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”
A proper upbeat number that goes all Wonderstuff on us and cheers you right up! The lyrics are funny as fuck. “A thousand days without dancing, I’ll bust some moves” A proper party tune about the longing for hitting the clubs once more.
“A dig at the consumerist and capitalist world that we live in. There will always be part of the world that suffers in the face of this way of living.”
This reminds me of the scene from Human Traffic when John Simms is working the shop floor at a clothing store and they’re all serving like robots under a sweaty slathering pervert. Some great guitar and bass is the crux of this three minute catchy bastard.
“A song from David and written by his youthful band back in the day ‘Tim’. God knows what he’s on about. I’ll have to ask…”
Hancox does a mad minute of punk attitude that hits the target. Mad…
They Shoot Horses.
Based on the old film of the same name which covers the events of a dance marathon. Was first recorded with Kerosene. Recorded again from scratch for the ol robot.
They now enter Pixies territory on this stand out track. A proper grunge prototype tune that harks back to the Bossanova sound that we all know and love. Excellent.
Better Than Me.
“A tale of superiority in a friendship/partnership. Sarcastically commenting on the Alpha role but at the same time accepting and maybe even enjoying being the ‘weaker’ one.”
A proper rock stomper with an excellent riff that ramps it up big time. A really rocked up glam number that sounds fuckin’ top. Exciting and relevant with some great drumming in there and some top notch guitar skills.
End Of An Era.
“Instrumental electronic beat experiment, that may or may not become another song in future…”
Fuckin’ ell! They’ve gone trip hop now. There’s no end to the sounds these guys produce. A small step into electronica that works.
Place I Call Home.
“We’ve been going back to a few songs on the last 2 albums, re-recording and getting a fresh take on them. Here’s one that originally appeared on the album Play This When We’re Gone”
Guitar skills at the forefront from the start. A total rework as mentioned above. Cracking chorus and a tune full of ideas that just work. Another anthem that I can’t wait to see performed live. Tune.
On My Mind.
“A love tale of regret. An apology for going through a tough time and somewhat neglecting those that care for you. It’s not necessarily intentional. Just circumstance.”
Fuckin’ voilins? Oh yes. There’s no end to their talents. Paul Taylor turns into a hybrid of Nick Cave with a Worzel Gummidge head of Richard Hawley screwed in. Magic.
The Last Cuss.
“This was originally on the album You Will Not Be Discovered and was sung by David. We’ve completely re-recorded it with Chris Willcocks on drums and Paul on vocals.”
A stab at recreating Smashing Pumpkins at their prime without the whining voice of Billy Corgan. A proper nod back to nineties intelligent grunge that has smatters of Black Francis running throughout. A great track that resonates and a perfect ending to another great album.
I don’t know what Taylor and Hancox are on but I’ll pre order some now if they let me know. Another album that you can’t categorise. They pilfer and plunder from the rich vaults of great music and use it to their advantage and it’s fuckin’ great stuff. The question now is, how the fuck are they going to sort a set list out when they hit the live circuit? We await with anticipation…
5CD set bringing together the two albums released by Adrian Borland’s pre-Sound punk outfit The Outsiders, plus the One To Infinity EP, extensive demos and a live set which seems to be the only one of the band in existence. All of this music was recorded from 1976 to 1978 and the project has been put together with much input from Adrian Janes, the band’s original drummer and songwriter. Ian Canty puts his bunce on a long shot…
The UK punk explosion encouraged thousands all over the country to pick up instruments for the first time. Which was a great thing of course, but we shouldn’t forget that there were also people playing in bands already that were fired up by events both here and in the US, something which was important too. Often, those people were the few fans of punk precursors like The Dolls, The Stooges and Velvet Underground resident in Britain at the time. They had time to learn to play their instruments and possibly even performed in or as hard rock bands, although privately favouring a more earthy sound. But with the emergency of The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, they felt able to finally grant their latent proto-punk feelings a free hand. The Outsiders, a three piece group from South London, were a good example of this, moulding their older influences into something fresh and different with the onset of punk.
They originally formed whilst at school in 1974 under the name Syndrome, with a line up of Adrian Borland on guitar and vocals, Bob Lawrence on bass and drummer and lyricist Adrian Janes. On December 21st 1976 they played as support to Generation X at the punk mecca to be The Roxy in Covent Garden. Before this The Outsiders had developed in some isolation, until in 1976 they started recording demos, with the hope that the change in the musical climate at the time would help net them a record deal. Ultimately this proved unsuccessful, so they took on the credo of the times do it yourself to heart and recorded and released their own records. They had two full years beforehand to hone their chops and play the odd gig, which gives one a possible reason why they presented on their first recording a seemingly bizarre mix of old and new.
Calling On Youth is a very interesting album, if perhaps not quite a great one. Released on their own Raw Edge label and recorded at the studio of the same name which was really the Borland family home, it emerged in the early summer of 1977. Even without the trailblazing “first independently released punk LP” reputation, the nine tracks that make it up still stand out from the pack. This record is certainly far from the headlong “1,2,3,4” ramalama rush one might expect, something that no doubt held The Outsiders back at the time, but matters far less all these years on.
The dynamic title track comes with a good dose of old school guitar soloing, which shows the playing ability of the band but was probably a bit of a no-no in year zero. This up-tempo start is followed by the acoustic and downbeat atmosphere of Break Free, which masks a scathing lyric. The buzzing Stooge-a-rama of On The Edge has a dose of real punk rock venom and gets another full on metal guitar break and a tough Hit And Run also evokes the sound of Iggy. Start Over slows things again and is as near a completely late 1960s self-examination as one could conceive ten years on.
Weird continues along similar lines but in a louder manner, with only the choppy chord sequence taking it closer to the sound of the summer of hate. While the title and lyrics of I’m Screwed Up may seem peak 1977 (“I hate myself”), the explosive funk rock touches and guitar overload definitely aren’t. Walking Through The Storm again takes the pace down and has a little in common with Weird, sad and delicate with long, quiet sections. Oddly enough Calling On Youth ends with one of the band’s oldest songs Terminal Case, Adrian Janes’ self-confessed ode to rock & roll, which motors along nicely with some snappy drumbeats.
The self-appointed “typewriter gods” of the new wave in the weekly music press gave Calling On Youth a unanimous thumbs down. Its mixture of old and new wave must have been confusing at the time to be honest, but now the will to mix influences and provide contrast seems positively heroic. It is joined on the first disc of Count For Something by the excellent One To Infinity EP. Simply a fantastic record that is a step up in class from the LP and in the power-packed Consequences managed to sum up the excitement of the new wave as well as anyone.
The title track comes bursting out the gates with a real slashing fury, leaving anyone who was lulled into a false sense of security by the milder album tracks agog I would imagine. On New Uniform they hit back at the kind punk conformity which had greeted Calling On Youth and Freeway’s psychedelic warps and backward cymbals lead to a solid jam that shows a band quickly leaving that scene in their wing mirror as they sped on into the future.
Count For Something’s second disc rounds up demos and original versions on the first album and EP tracks, plus a few early songs that slipped through the net for one reason or another. Unlike many other demos that turn up after years in the vaults, the sound quality here is pretty good. Though perhaps the numbers from the first album and EP aren’t wildly different, they’re full of energy and presented with clarity. Of even more interest are the songs that didn’t make it onto those records, which make up the final five tunes on this platter.
There’s two takes of Blowtorch, the original and a faster, shorter and less gritty one recorded at Pathway Studios (Weird on this disc was also cut there). Apparently the Velvets’ sleaze and oral sex innuendo of the lyric was enough to put the kibosh on it being included on the album itself. At the other end of the scale Anniversary is a pretty enough rock ballad dating from 1975 – if the music press trendies baulked at Calling On Youth they certainly wouldn’t have been able to take this. The lengthy I’m Gonna Be Free is an interesting psychedelic/glam/punk rock mix up that slows down and speeds up during the course of its eight or so minutes and Perfect Girl touches on funk rock in a similar way to I’m Screwed Up.
The Outsiders’ second album Close Up arrived in 1978, with the band leaving their home environs of Raw Edge to record at Spaceward in Cambridge. This makes up all of disc three of this set and it’s a far leaner, more streamlined document, leaving their old wave affectations behind without relinquishing any power. Vital Hours is a fine rallying cry to open the album, fast and catchy with almost reggae guitars. It fits in vaguely with the post punk sound of the times, but the band are lithe and imaginative likes few others. Observations again shows them brave enough to go slowly and quieten things, with the song apparently an attempt to transport Kraftwerk circa Autobahn to Surrey. It’s a good try too, marking out the small town alienations that were a big part of punk. Both neat innovations and sheer pop appeal are present from the very beginning of Close Up.
Fixed Up is more a straight punk/new wave melody with a bright and wry lyric, with Touch And Go following with cutting guitar and a tight rhythm. The bass and drums are always spot on and spry in The Outsiders, driving things along here to the galloping, memorable chorus. Inspired by Burning Spear’s Slavery Days, White Debt’s wobbly effects and soloing could on first glance appear to be a throwback to Calling On Youth, but here the band are driving towards the new on this nervy slab of coiled tension. Count For Something brims with a vivaciousness that brought to my mind Buzzcocks, a great punk pop song which would have made a fine single for the band, if they ever got round to releasing one. Towards the end it gives us some pure guitar solo action that shows Adrian Borland’s ebullient talent on the six string.
Out Of Place was the first track on side two of the original record, based in r&b but with a riff that zooms on top of the ultra-tough power pop structure. Taking the pace right down, Keep The Pain Inside seems like the follow up to the more angst ridden numbers on the last album. There’s a touching vulnerability evoked here and the brief Face To Face, which comes next, is in contrast a smart mini pop tune. Semi-Detached Life vividly spells out the pitfalls of suburban existence, something that was an element in UK punk and its aftershocks and then Conspiracy Of War brings the curtain down on Close Up. There’s a slow build to what is overtly an anti-nuke song, calling to task scientists and governments in perhaps a naïve but also enchanting way. The Outsiders ramp up the atmosphere and sheer musical might here and end things in a suitably dramatic fashion.
Sadly again the music press still didn’t get it and some slightly better reviews didn’t really reflect the band’s progress. At the time of release Bob Lawrence left and Borland’s mate Graham (Green) Bailey replaced him. Some more demos were recorded, but with Janes also decided to leave by the end of 1978 that was more and less it for The Outsiders. Mike Dudley came in for him, but the remainder of the band soon took on the new name of The Sound, which is another story entirely.
On disc four we get the demos for Close Up, plus later recordings from Green/Bailey’s stint in The Outsiders. Much like the extra Calling On Youth disc, these sound really good. The album itself features in demo form first in the same running order it was released in and again these songs are near fully formed here. Touch And Go is particularly sparky, but the whole set is accomplished by The Outsiders, who were as sound as a bell by now.
This selection is joined by a further 12 unissued songs, some of which showed up in different form on The Sound’s recordings. All except the insistent refrain of Watchdog and the ball of energy that is Prime Mover were recorded after Graham had taken over on bass. On Settled Dust there’s an immediate sign that things have moved on to as they weave r&b deftly into a post punk framework and Flesh On Flesh’s stop/start guitar attack is bracing. Blind Date comes over as rock-solid punk pop with a little 60s influence in both of its mixes and the pared down riffing of Sooner Or Later is a deep and moody delve into the near future.
There is a definite sense on these efforts that unconsciously groundwork was being laid for The Sound, though Deep Breath feels more like a natural progression for The Outsiders. Night & Day and Symbols are some way edgier and seem more built for the coming decade, in fact the former showed up on the second Sound LP. Quarter Past Two rattles away with a big guitar sound and final track Got To Get Away makes for an invigorating, hyperactive end-piece with guitar stabs and bouncing bass. It all combines to give a picture of a band that seemed to have a real future in the post punk world, but that wasn’t in the script sadly.
The final disc of this set captures a live show played at the LSE on 8th February 1978. It shows the band in the middle of their development from One To Infinity to Close Up (the Calling On Youth songs had been junked by this point). The sound quality here is decent, good bootleg quality and the band speed through 10 numbers which include a version of Iggy’s Raw Power. New Uniform is preceded by a barb aimed at Sham 69 and The Outsiders thrive in a live setting with good honest power welded to interesting ideas. A lengthy Keep The Pain Inside is particularly moving and intense and Running Out Of Time, which went unissued, is full of well-honed attack.
They finish up with Observations and Vital Hours, both of which would feature on their new LP. The former starts off quietly and it is important to note again that The Outsiders were one of the few bands caught up in punk who could actually “do quiet” convincingly. A stylish guitar figure asserts itself then to head up the neat meander through their local stomping ground. Then a fiery Vital Hours impacts and ends the live set and Count For Something with an explosive joie de vivre.
I think Count For Something is an excellent boxset, with everything an Outsiders fan or even an intrigued Sound fan could really wish for. Adrian Janes, the band’s drummer, has clearly put a lot in and there’s a genuine warmth that comes over in the sleeve notes. This is the story of three schoolmates from the outskirts of the big city who did things their way in the punk world. They also managed to stay on good terms along the way, which is quite a feat in itself.
The late Adrian Borland is clearly still missed by his friends in the band and appropriately there is plenty of love for him here. The Outsiders used their influences and background to make something truly original when it would have been far easier to do what everyone else was at the time i.e. 100 miles an hour punk thrash. Sticking to their guns ultimately served them well as what they did remains intriguing, occasionally bemusing but always beguiling, as well as well worth hearing afresh here.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here
It has been a couple of years since I last checked in on Montreal’s Priors. My Punishment on Earth, the band’s third LP, was due out last year but had its release delayed due to the pandemic. It was written and recorded prior to the events of 2020, yet it could not be a more fitting release for this particular moment in time. It’s full of darkness, dread, and anguish — as if Chance Hutchison and his bandmates are letting loose a year’s worth of internalized tortures. If the band’s last album New Pleasure was a startlingly progressive take on garage-punk, My Punishment on Earth is the logical next step. It moves the band deeper into synth-punk and post-punk territory without losing the “punk” part of the equation. Whereas New Pleasure was like a wild, bumpy ride, My Punishment on Earth is more like a dark descent into one man’s living hell. Given the album title, you probably wouldn’t have expected songs about milkshakes and kittens. But this is by no means the bummer of a record that you might assume it to be. While the songs still rage (only two tracks exceed three minutes), the hooks on this particular album are stronger and left with much more room to breathe. These songs really stick with me, and I’m always left wanting more when I reach the end of the album. I’m reminded of everyone from Jay Reatard to modern-day bands like Miscalculations, but I can only describe Priors as true originals. They are writing the manual on how to move punk music into the 21st Century without sacrificing any of the genre’s fundamental energy and excitement. If we’re talking about great albums of 2021 so far, My Punishment on Earth has got to be in the conversation.