Conrad Ashton’s modern take on classic rock gives us confessional notions of the heart through authentic lyrics. He sings with the confidence of the late, great Mark E. Smith of The Fall, fearless in his delivery, with a definite hint of Bob Dylan. But the main feature is his punk rock tone which delivers pure Conrad Ashton.
The Newcastle based man’s new single, ‘Time’, is rich with bold affirmations about life and primarily, the effects of time. Poetic lines like ‘after all, we’re shadows and dust’ convey his deeper outlook on life that runs through his eloquent writing style. We are grabbed by his commanding tone, leading the guitars and drums on a two and a half minute blast. There’s no doubt I enjoy his distinctive vocal, but his voice is often at odds with the natural underlying melody of the song, creating a conflict for the ears. The punk influence wavers his edgy voice, but sadly, the music struggles to compliment the vocal itself. With a more energetic backing track marrying the strength of his tone, he may have gotten away with it.
His 2015 album, ‘One for the Road’, is definitely worth a listen and a great showcase of his pop rock style. I hope he continues to sing so genuinely. He has great things to say.
Emma & the Idles are a London based group delivering powerful indie pop, driven by the explosive vocal strength of the lead singer, Emma Withers. The band formed last year to really expand Emma’s sound. This new single from the group, ‘Ride or Die’, makes a solid debut.
The song begins with western style guitar, setting a sensual ‘twilight’ scene, narrated by the intimate energy of Emma’s voice. A romantic standoff is kick-started with heavy beats and wavering electric guitar in a chorus full of fire. Emma sings dangerously of love with a similar daring female strength to Lana Del Rey, but with a sound more powerfully matched by what Emma would describe as ‘Jessie J meets Joan Jett’. Listen below!
In an uncertain time for artists releasing new music, support them all you can from home. Donate to your local venues if possible and allow the fun to continue.
Colin Newman is best known as the vocalist for the British post-punk group, Wire, but following the band’s peak of success, he released a number of solo albums. His most successfully regarded individual endeavour could be the 1980 album, ‘A-Z’, to which the song, ‘Alone’ belongs. The album wasn’t made to be liked, with its unhinged, experimental edge that runs straight from the heart of a young, daring Newman.
‘Alone’ is a quirkily eerie tune. I discovered it in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ as Buffalo Bill sews his skin-made garments together; it really is perfect for the scene. Repetitive, descending melodies create a swirling ambience that grows increasingly infectious. Industrial clashing controls the song’s steady march to the croon of Newman’s repeated lyric… ‘retained a sense of humour’.
The words of the music are a very unique reflection on being alone and the complete ‘A-Z’ album is worth a big listen for fans of that exciting late seventies sound.
Dylan Williams and Tom Minchin are the Brummie duo, Mass House, who have just released their new single, ‘Birmingham’. Their electronic sound has an indie edge and their motive to write is a very interesting one. The often dully regarded ‘grey’ city of Birmingham provokes Mass House to write about the limitations of living somewhere that they feel lacks opportunity. However, their connection to the city as a home makes it difficult to really escape somewhere that is so wedged into their hearts. This new single is full of the burning energy of youth and future apprehension.
With heavy beats and probing synths, the tune packs a bold punch. Fat, rounded drum beats reflect the Brutalist nature of the city’s architecture, while high-pitched synths embody a desperate, human outcry for something more. Whilst they speak negatively of Birmingham, the same loving passion for the city underlies the song, expressing the conflict they feel. The powerful and clear vocal is very effective in delivering this message.
Mass House are a beautiful product of environmental inspiration. Much like German, electronic music pioneers, Kraftwerk, who grew up in the industrialising Düsseldorf, this changing city has come to influence their sound that is so expressive of the city’s mood. Birmingham is developing excitingly fast and the music scene is constantly bubbling.
Tom and Dylan are keeping busy during lockdown, promoting other up and coming artists on masshouse.bandcamp.com and raising money for people struggling at this difficult time, which is brilliant. You can find out more about them at masshouseofficial.com as well as social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Listen to ‘Birmingham’ now:
To still have the opportunity to see massively influential, original punk bands is so special. I feel very lucky to have caught Irish Punk band, Stiff Little Fingers, in Birmingham in March on their 2020 Vision Tour, before their remaining dates were cancelled due to the current pandemic. After a couple pints of Guinness, me and a few middle-aged, male punk friends eagerly head over to the O2 Academy for the gig, ready to knock back a few more and get a bit wild.
There couldn’t have been better support for Stiff Little Fingers. TV Smith of the punk band, The Adverts, jumped around singularly on his guitar, playing his own gems and popular songs from The Adverts’ 1978 album, ‘Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts’. He was a bursting flame of old energy, singing of everyday life’s current hardships and ones felt as a youth in working class 70s Britain. It felt special to hear the rusty twang of his voice grind strongly on through pretty little melodies in more recent songs of his like ‘Lion and the Lamb’, but also in timeless, iconic hits of the punk movement, like ‘Bored Teenagers’.
To take us to another level of reckless energy were The Professionals. This band’s sound is so pure and electric. Unlike with TV Smith, you can’t hear the gentle melancholy in The Professionals’ sound. The raving guitars drive the feel of elation in their tone. Paul Cook and Steve Jones, ex-Sex Pistols members, are founding members of the band that came together after the Pistol’s demise, so their London Punk sound is definitely infused into their creativity. Jones no longer plays with the band and Tom Spencer is the frontman. Spencer is a suave, buoyant and cool performer who looked thrilled to be playing old and new hits with the other tight musicians. For a band rooted in a decade long ago, their performance musically and as a group is so sharp and youthful. They were very refreshing to watch.
The stage was in darkness again until vibrant lights suddenly exposed a# comic-book themed backdrop. Bold letters read ‘STIFF LITTLE FINGERS 20/20 VISION TOUR’ as a dragon breathed fire on a petrified city behind, creating the playful theme of disaster striking. It definitely seemed to be a relevant, well chosen theme for this year’s tour….Contrasting comical television themes then played as we waited in light-hearted anticipation, just before Jake Burns and the lads stepped out for the third gig of their run. Again, the sheer, electric energy of the band rocked the venue and their best songs still evoked high-spirited animation amongst us all. Burns’ voice reached the same beautiful heights and strong depths as it’s ever done, immediately sending us all into a bounding frenzy. Familiar favourites like ‘Gotta Getaway’ fuelled the frantic mosh pit. An emotional moment came with the introduction of ‘My Dark Places’, a very personal song about Burns’ own struggles with depression. He urged us all, men particularly, to express our emotions and ask for help and it is so true. With new music also on the horizon, the band is still progressing.
Seeing the passion alive in all ages from young teenagers like myself to the men and women edging sixty, felt just amazing. I looked around me at the older age groups, thinking how they were once my age, supporting bands back in the late seventies at the peak of the punk movement. A desire for change was sparked and a rebellious punk rage was growing; the same power that was flowing from me and a handful of others my age at this gig over forty years later. I wondered whether the adults there would have ever imagined themselves supporting the bands as grown ups, with their fists in the air, after all this time. I wondered if the bands thought they’d be continuously inspiring youths after all this time. How time has passed and the lyrics are still so very relevant. The beautiful spirit strongly remains.
Boy Harsher are an american synth duo from Savannah, Georgia. Augustus Muller programs most of the music, while Jae Matthews writes and performs her haunting lyrics. They are a prime example of the addictive tempos and strong emotions that minimal drum beats and synthesizers can create.
Their style falls into the wide categories of Minimalwave, Darkwave and Coldwave, three labels that could try and classify the powerful, electronic, synth-driven music type. Such styles hark back to the Post Punk era from which emerged bands who were beginning to experiment with strict, solid and “danceable” rhythms formed by analogue machines. The shock of Punk had made its impact and the melancholic minor keys of Darkwave began to spread across Europe in response.
The surfacing Gothic influence could be heard in several well-known Post Punk pioneers like The Cure, Siouxsie and The Banshees and Bauhaus, but also bled into Minimalwave groups who conveyed the beauty of minimal drum beats and synths. Brilliant examples include Eleven Pond, Martin Dupont and Turquoise Days with tunes from each group like ‘Watching Trees’, ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Grey Skies’ respectively. Each encompasses the genre perfectly, just like Boy Harsher do today.
Boy Harsher’s sound oozes an addictive pain. Muller’s beats are so tight and strong and smooth, like solid chrome for Matthew’s voice to slide across. Every drum hit throws you deeper around the pinball machine. But Boy Harsher’s music really manipulates the listener with minor chords and solemn strings that fill the spaces, fuelling the emotion and the dark edge. Matthews’ voice always comes floating in like a ghost’s deep whisper. She sings of pain and performs wonderfully with Muller, because their expression is always true and authentic. They are playing from the heart, something often missing from the motivation of music in the mainstream today.
My Two Favourites:
Morphine- Yr Body Is Nothing 2016
This song is a powerhouse of a track with its solid pulsing bass line and sharp sounds that flicker in between the strict drum and snare. Matthews’ intense delivery of the lyrics and feeling of desperation is reiterated perfectly in the intense pounding of the beat. The classic reference of a lover being compared to a drug is made, which is always a metaphor to connect with. It’s beautiful to listen to and the breathy, sleepy vocal almost reflects the trance that Matthews is in. It’s impossible to not move to.
Lost- Careful 2019
Lost is one of my favourite songs of all time. Released at the end of last year on their latest album, ‘Careful’, it isn’t one of the most popular tracks on it at all, but songs won’t ever have the same effect on all of us. The whole track is like an industrial process running on Matthew’s emotion. Her voice is so confessional, telling us she’s ‘not very well’ in the first line as she throws us into her system of clashing factory-like sounds that drive the destructive feel of the song. Muller always constructs everything to have so much power. She’s pulling us away with her to escape; running away being a common theme in her lyrics. The silky synth pads jump out on and off the beat, pulling us different ways. This song encompasses my own painful endeavours in love, encapsulating the heart’s devotion as an ‘endless ache’ which is why the song is so special to me.
Boy Harsher’s music has a dark, personal and powerful magic that will make you emotional, yet make you dance. Similar great bands to listen to are Black Marble, Lebanon Hanover, Molchat Doma and Motorama to name just a few. Enjoy.
When Buddy Holly died in a plane crash in 1959, his growing success as an american pioneer of Rock and Roll in the late 50s would be cut devastatingly short, but he left behind for us a beautiful collection of hits that he released with his band, The Crickets.
Released in 1958 , in his absolute prime, Maybe Baby was a popular hit in the United States and the UK. In the song he asks whether one day he will have the woman he likes. Like a lot of love songs of the time, the solemn element of the romantic lyrics seems to melt into the swaying Rockabilly melody, disguising any pain in a happy-go-lucky feeling.
The rise and fall of chords in the verse is such a pleasant sound. I would rewind to hear the opening constantly when listening for the first time as an eleven-year-old; the sound is just so euphoric. The twangy, youthful sound of Holly’s voice and electric guitar matches perfectly with the angelic backing vocals of The Crickets. The hold and release of words makes Holly’s tone so full of character and entertaining to listen to.
It’s a sweet yet sombre couple of minutes, curiously deliberating the future, but so satisfying a sound that we are motivated to just feel carefree. Sit down, drift off and see where it takes you.
This Scottish band surfaced in the Post Punk era, but grew more successful throughout the 80s. Known for their hazy sound of colourful layered guitars and Elizabeth Fraser’s ethereal, smeared vocals, they contributed massively to the Dreampop genre.
Cherry-Coloured Funk opens their 1990 album Heaven or Las Vegas, which achieved the most commercial success. The song hits with a heavy opening beat, immediately dunking us into a vivid scene of twanging, lifting guitar and the solid pounding of a tribe-like drum. The shifting chords evoke rise and fall, but the leaping chorus yanks us off the ground as Fraser’s voice just seems to take us there.
All the lyrics are total nonsense. However, despite having no lyrics to engage with or relate to, the sheer sound seems to manipulate our emotions. The lyric ‘Not get pissed off through my bird lips as good news’ has no way of being embedded into this sentence, but can only stand as an example of beautiful chaos which doesn’t need to be understood.
This song has the power to cut me open as I bleed a deep-seated euphoria. Sit down with it, close your eyes and just see what it pulls out of you. I would love to know.
The Damned came back to haunt us with their sound this Halloween season at KK’s Steel Mill, in preparation for their Night of a Thousand Vampires gig that would follow at the London Palladium a few days later. I travelled by bus to the Wolverhampton venue, eighteen and alone, preparing to see one of my favourite bands for the first time and probably wet myself with excitement…. at a punk gig full of fifty year olds all clad in black.
‘Ladies and Gentleman, how do’… Vanian’s voice rumbled through the dry ice as the haunting piano seeped in. Gothic anticipation was soon split in two with shrieks from the band and their whaling instruments in Love Song. The first skinhead fired himself onto the scene, immediately igniting the moshpit front and centre. The same energy seemed to occupy Sensible as his wicked grin took pleasure in making the guitar squeal.
The set was strongly dominated by Machine Gun Etiquette classics like Smash It Up and the enchanting Plan 9 Channel 7, but more recent beauties like Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow were performed, in which I think Vanian’s deep, theatrical voice is heard at its most beautiful.
With wide eyes and an even wider grin, I marvelled at them, but just twisting my heels and nodding my head wasn’t enough, so when New Rose exploded, I dived wildly into the bounding men, resigning myself to their animal ways. Slaves to the banging drum beat, we were beckoned to recklessness. I could’ve done with an inhaler but I hyperventilated on.
The raging punk spirit struck me at first in an almost threatening way, but there was a great sense of peace as I realised that this was a shared emotion, hungry for the rush of the music’s adrenaline and no-one was out to harm, despite the flailing hooks and jabs sparking off the group. It was beautiful.
There’s definitely a comfort in seeing ‘old’ bands play as if they’d never aged. Maybe Vanian does drink the blood of virgins. Or perhaps he preferred the man in the audience who exposed his neck and bellowed, ‘Oi Vanian, chew on this!’ It was the absolute highlight of the evening and I had a bloody good time.