Monday, 30 April 2012

Z is for Zines

In the days before the internet, people shared the music they loved through these beautifully hand crafted things called fanzines.

Taking influence from the punk bands who decided that anyone with enough balls could DIY it by forming a band and making music, zinesters wanted a piece of the action too. Hidden away in bedrooms across the country, zinesters lovingly wrote about the music they were passionate about, cut it all up and pritt sticked it into what can only be described as works of art, then xeroxed the fuck out of it.

Reappropriating images from magazines, throwing in quotes from songs that said something and provoked intelligent thoughts and compiling articles and reviews that removed the pretensions of music mags, zines empowered music fans and gave them a voice for the first time. It wasn't just music journalists who got to have their say and tried to influence opinions on music, for the first time, the fans could do it too.

While it's great that the internet has allowed anyone to do this, as well as let people find music for themselves, rather than just soak up what's fed to them through the radio, websites and webzines just aren't the same. Of course there's a craft to them, but looking at something on the web just doesn't compare to holding that printed black 'n' white booklet in your hands and appreciating the effort that's gone into making it.

Coming across a cool website is also nothing like having hand decorated envelopes pile through your letterbox...

Decorated envelopes always signalled the arrival of something special, adorned with quotes, glitter and stickers.

This is part of my zine collection. A lot of the zines I read during the '90s were heavily Manics influenced.

R*E*P*E*A*T was, and is, by far one of the best zines ever to exist. Fighting the power since 1994, this zine is still going strong, releasing a print edition, as well as running its own record label.

R*E*P*E*A*T's cut 'n' paste interior is art at its rawest.

The zine I wrote back in the day... Rubble 'n' Shit...

When I was 16-years-old, I was frustrated that the bands I loved so much were covered in the music press. To me, the only antidote was to write about them myself and attempt to let others know that were bands they should check out. We got a lot of lovely comments from people, shout outs in other zines, met heaps of cool bands - some of which I'm still in touch with today - got a shit load of CDs and even scored an awesome review in Big Cheese.

These are the originals the zines were photocopied from.
It would be impossible to calculated the hours I spent writing, printing, cutting and sticking these together...

Today, there aren't that many titles still going in print, but along with R*E*P*E*A*T, one that's worth checking out is Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, which is dedicated purely and fiercely to independent music. For non-music titles, head along to Sweet Candy Distro, which distributes a whole host of American titles covering the weird and the wonderful.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Y is for YEEEAAAAH! (James Hetfield-style)

Urban Dictionary defines Metallica's James Hetfield as having coined the phrases 'FUCK YEAH' and 'WOHOH', although I think the latter may belong to The Misfits... However, it's certainly true he has an obsession with shouting 'yeeeaaahhh', with it creeping into recorded songs, live performances and even while partaking in the old band-to-audience banter.

The habit has even mutated into some sort of plague amongst the crowd, with gig goers unable to resist the urge of joining in with this verbal tic. In fact, if you go and see these guys live, you'll hear murmours of 'yeeeeaaaahhh' uttered compulsively throughout the evening, they just can't keep it in. Currently, there is no known cure for the disease.

If you think I'm making this shit up, check out the 'yeah' counter below...

Friday, 27 April 2012

X is for X-rated

If you are offended by naughty words look away now - this is a celebration of the f-word in all its glory.

Because cursing is fun and squeaky clean music sucks, I've taken inspiration from Daft Scots Lass who posted M is for Muthafucker earlier in the game and compiled a lovely, naughty word inspired collection of songs.

I was going to do a whole post about x-rated music, with banned record sleeves and albums, but sadly I don't have the time to go into all that. What I will say though is that the original artwork for Guns n Roses 'Appetite For Destruction', which depicted a robot having just raped a woman and was based on a painting by Robert Williams, was deemed too offensive for record stores to stock. The banned artwork was replaced with the classic skulls image that has adorned the album since.

Sadly, there are many acts of similar censorship in music. Instead of having artwork that makes us think, record companies are more concerned with having sleeves that shift units. So it goes.

My top three uses of the word motherfucker in song:

Don't Say Motherfucker, Motherfucker - Turbonegro

Binge and Purge - Clutch

Die Like a Motherfucker - Therapy?

Also check out:

Heartless Bastard Motherfucker - Frank Turner

History's Stranglers - The Bronx

Thursday, 26 April 2012

W is for Women Who Rock

Decent music - we're talking punk, rock n roll and metal here - has always lacked women. While our sisters of the '70s were busy DIY-ing it for themselves, attempting to redress the balance and showing the boys that, actually, chicks could well give them a run for their money, today's scenes seem to lack that ballsy attitude and sheer bloody determination.

Somehow, 30 years on, there's still a huge discrepancy between the number of women who rock and the number of dudes hogging the stage, but here's three who should feature somewhere in every good record collection...

Kim Gordon - Sonic Youth

Effortlessly cool Kim has been wielding a bass for the Youth for over 30 years and at 58-years-old is still leading in the awesomeness, style and quirky stakes. I particularly love how haunting her voice in this track about Karen Carpenter...

Exene Cervenka - X

I worship this Queen of LA punk. From out eyelinering early day Manic Street Preachers and crafting her own throw-anything-on-and-still-look-fucking-cooler-than-you sense of style, Exene shunned the punk by numbers look so favoured of Brit punk chicks, instead crafting a punk meets rockabilly after being beaten up by a goth look. It also pisses all over today's cartoon 'punk' chicks like that Paramore bird. Love, there's nothing alternative about you.

It's rare to find X ranked in the must-buy punk lists or most influential sounds of the late '70s, especially here in the UK, but true is that this band were trailblazers. In terms of sound, X paved the way for punk in LA by weaving rockabilly bass riffs into urgent vocals and that all-important fuck you attitude the genre is well'known for, but while the rest of the punk world was busy being angry, these guys and girl were storytelling. Crafting tales of the city's darkside into their songs - drugs and rape anyone? - X will having you singing along while quietly thanking fuck that you didn't live in LA in the '70s.

Oh yeah, in case you hadn't guessed, I have a massive girl crush on Exene.

Lisa Kekaula - The Bellrays

"Blues is the teacher, punk is the preacher..."

Pop's got nothing on this chick. Like Aretha Franklin singing for The Ramones, Kekaula's soulful voice adds a truly magical touch to the rough edges of The Bellrays' garage sound. A recipe of rock 'n' roll and punk, bound together with soul vocals, it's hard not to fall for the charms of The Bellrays' perfect meddly. Kekaula has soul running through her veins and a voice that packs a punch so fierce it could loosen your jaw.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

V is for (Lost) Venues

While Noo Yawk's CBGB's may be the most famous gig venue to have gone to the wall in recent years, here at home a fair number of our own sweat boxes have also heard their last chords reverbrate around their walls. Here's three music meccas, the holy grail of local music scenes, where memories were formed, sweat was poured and graffiti was drawn, that have been lost in the last three years, leaving a big hole in their wake for avid music fans...

London Astoria - January 2009

Despite online petitions and a lot of support from the music community, London Astoria was forced out in January 2009 to make way for - wait for it - a new, improved rail link under the city. The venue was purchased compulsorily and demolished to make so called improvements to the underground. It seems a loss for music is a win for the capital's commuters.

The Charlotte, Leicester - March 2010

The closure of The Charlotte - originally The Princess Charlotte - was particularly devastating for me as it was one of the venues that helped me earn my stripes as a veteran gig goer.

I've lost count of the number of gigs I attended here or the bands I saw or discovered within its grim and slightly shabby, although extremely loveable, walls. The most memorable moments include Joe Strummer - who shouted and me and my mate from an upstairs window while queuing - an extremely sweaty Alkaline Trio show, the electric going off every ten minutes during A Wilhelm Scream's set and interviewing Send More Paramedics' singer, who answered everything question as if he were a real zombie.

Anyway, to get back to the story... The Charlotte's operating company went into administration, following dwindling numbers of gig goers, and is being turned into student flats, although it's battered facade has so far escaped unscathed.

Jilly's Rockworld, Manchester - April 2010

This was another personal loss, as I'd had some good nights at Rockworld and seen mates' bands play here. Again, a drop in audience numbers, coupled with the smoking ban, put the final nail in Jilly's coffin.

These are just three stories taken from a growing trend that's happening around the country and like our local record shops, the message is clear: use 'em or lose 'em.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

U is for Underdogs

Dog Toffee were one of the most awesome bands to come out of Manchester in the late '90s-early '00s, but sadly their brand of fearsome punk 'n' roll was too intimidating for most of the city's music fans. Worshipping Elvis while their counterparts worshipped The Smiths or Oasis, and rocking turned up jeans in a city where most people favour the tracksuit, Dog Toffee were sadly always going to be the underdog.

They made some amazing records and played some killer shows, but called it a day in the mid-00s to tattoo and pierce the good people of Manchester. These days you'll find them at 72 Tattoo.

Here's a couple of awesome tracks from them, altogether now 'WOOOOOAAHHHHWOOOOAAHHH'

Monday, 23 April 2012

T is for Tribute Bands

Tribute acts are pretty shit. It's one thing to cover songs from your favourite bands, but to pretend to be them, on stage, for an entire set, well there's something really quite sad about that if you ask me.

Could we call them failed musicians? Probably. I have a mate who once did the sound for the Bon Jovi Experience when they played Manchester. Although they hailed from Birmingham, my friend explained how they had spent the entire evening talking in New Jersey accents, walking round the venue with the swagger of an arena band and generally acting like a bunch of dicks with over inflated egos. Oh dear...

Looking at it from that angle, tribute acts just aren't worth bothering with. However, there are odd moments of genius in the whole tribute act set up. Ladies and gentleman, introducing Beatallica...

Beatles + Metallica = Beatallica 

Giving Beatles songs a metal mash-up, Beatallica mix elements of both bands to create something that is bat shit crazy and hilariously funny.

Band members:
* Jaymz Lennfield
* Grg Hammeston
* Kliff McBurtney
* Ringo Larz (my personal favourite)

Take these awesome song titles:
* 'The Thing That Should Not Let It Be'
* 'Hey Dude'
* 'And Justice For All My Loving'
* 'All You Need is Blood'

And these awesome album titles:
* The Grey Album (The Beatles did The White Album, Metallica did The Black Album)
* St Hetfield's Motor Breath Pub Band

Random fact:
The band were issued with a cease and dissist order by The Beatles' record company, but Lars Ulrich stepped in to lend the band Metallica's lawyer.

If you like this, you may also want to check out Gabba (The Ramones + Abba) and Bat Sabbath (Cancer Bats doing their punk/hardcore take on Sabbath).

Oh and just in case you were wondering, if I had a tribute act we'd be called Bloody Holly and we'd play Buddy Holly songs in the style of The Misfits. Hell. Yeah.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

S is for Subliminal

Music's a funny thing. It has the power to bring us together, uplift us, comfort us and book mark those special moments in life, but sadly for others, it induces fear and a panic reflex. Particularly if they don't get it or it's designed to be thought-provoking.

It's not just foul language the fear runs to, some people are so paranoid about its influence that it's been blamed for some really ridiculous things over the years and the heavier side of music always seems to get a pretty raw deal. Take subliminal messages...

Case #1: Ozzy Osbourne

I guess being part of the band who gave birth to the phrase 'heavy metal' and kick starting an entire genre was always going to bring shit to the door of Black Sabbath. Some people fear what they don't understand.

With their creation of music's loudest and darkest sounds and imagery ,Black Sabbath were set to be firsts in more ways than one, with parents latching into the band's music as a scapegoat for the behaviour of their children.

It's incredibly sad that American teenager, John McCollum, shot himself in 1985. However, it just so happens that at the time he was listening to Ozzy Osbourne's 'Suicide Solution' - a song about alcohol addiction, rather than the act of taking one's life.

Struggling to come to terms with their son's death, the McCollums took Osbourne to court, claiming his lyrics encouraged young people to commit suicide by the use of subliminal messages saying: 'get the gun, get the gun, shoot, shoot, shoot...'

Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the trial went in Osbourne's favour, but the fact it got to the courts in the first place is unbelievable.

Case #2: Judas Priest

In 1990, Birmingham metallers were accused of using subliminal messages to encourage their fans to kill themselves.

The parents of two American teenagers, James Vance and Raymond Bellknap, who shot themselves in 1990 (Bellknap died, Vance survived) attempted to sue the band for allegedly incorporating the subliminal message 'do it' within the song 'Better By You, Better Than Me'.

They claimed that the message told fans of the band to commit suicide.

Frontman Rob Halford summed up how ridiculous the accusations and court case were perfectly when he said that if they were including subliminal messages within their songs, surely the message would say 'buy more of our records'.

Finally, some common sense.

Friday, 20 April 2012

R is for Record Store Day

More than 3,000 independent record stores in America have closed over the last 10 years, while the UK has seen three quarters of its independents shut their doors. There were 700 independent record shops scattered around our fair isles in 2000, by 2009 figures had plummeted to just 296.

A while ago I watched the eye-opening I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store from US indie film-maker Brendan Toller, which documents the demise of every music fan's mecca - the local record shop. The place where first records/tapes/CDs were purchased, where friendships were sought, where gems were discovered by artwork alone and where advice was offered on why the product you held was shit and should be exchanged for *insert name of classic album here*.

Exploring all the avenues that have led to that sad, gaping hole in our town's High Street, this 2010 film looks at all the reasons behind the demise, starting with the impact of profit hungry, tasteless major conglomerates. With no interest in artists, artist development or innovation, of making the music industry a creatively diverse place or apparently, music itself, the major labels are slowly sucking the life out of what should be one of the most imaginative and visionary industries on the planet.

Surely in an era where technology allows a no-holes-barred approach to music, one which allows people to record their own music in their bedroom and where the internet should act as a level playing field for all artists, we should be pushing the boundaries of music, not producing as much middle-of-the-road, radio-friendly shit as can be churned out quick enough to make the fat cats an easy 'buck'. The music industry should be an inspiring place, not about making the most money in the shortest amount of time.

The reality is that the major's stranglehold on the music industry allows them to keep control by setting the prices of CDs and dominating the air waves - Toller states within the film that the biggest radio stations in the USA play the same songs 58% of the time. It is also claimed that the label behind punk-by-numbers pop outfit, Good Charlotte, reportedly paid around $17,000 to get one of their singles played on the radio 250 times. As a result of been spoon-fed what the majors want audiences to buy, people actually go out and buy this shit - does no-one want music with integrity anymore? Are there really people out there who struggle to make decisions on their own personal tastes?

The result is that independent record stores just cannot compete with the cut priced deals offered by supermarkets and brand names. See, the thing about the independent record shop is that it was never really designed for the chart hits. Yes, they have small sections catering to the Top 40, but the rest of the shop generally dedicated to timeless artists or genre-specific sections. The indies have always relied on the dedication of their customers, who are largely looking for an alternative to the latest big pop release, and just the passing trade of the chart-seekers. However, as supermarkets began stocking chart hits at bargain prices, this trade has been snatched away and of course, as the internet and MP3s arrived, the death toll for the local record shop sounded loud and clear.

Record Store Day - Saturday 21st April

Tomorrow marks Record Store Day, a global celebration of the independent record store in all of it's glory. While it's sad that these Aladdin's caves have to have a designated day to encourage people to visit them, I think it's a great way to get people talking about independents and talking about music, and perhaps even inspire some of the MP3 generation to show their support.

One of the great ways shops are encouraging people to make the effort is with some super sexy, limited edition, only-available-in-indies releases. This year's exclusives include one-offs from The Clash, Clutch, Crazy Arm, Metallica, Refused, Sex Pistols and Sugar, plus many, many, many more. Check out the full list HERE.

Record Store Pilgrimage

It's perhaps fitting that I actually picked up Toller's documentary whilst on a pilgrimage to the greatest independent record store on the planet - Los Angeles' Amoeba Music. For someone from a small market town in England, where record shops are small, compact treasure troves, seeing Amoeba in all of its glory was mind-blowing. The sheer size of the place was unbelievable...

Amoeba sells everything, from the most popular to the most underground. Every genre imaginable, CDs, tapes and vinyl, used and new, t-shirts, posters, box sets, books, fanzines and DVDs are packed in from wall to wall - and I barely scratched the surface of the gems that this place holds. Two and a half hours and $150 later I finally tore myself away from Amoeba's seductive interior.

The joy of Amoeba is that it doesn't just sell music, it also hosts in store performances and charity auctions, its website features free downloads and it's got its own record label. Amoeba is what every independent record shop deserves to be like and seeing, feeling and hearing the excitement and vibrancy of this mammoth store made me realise the sad state of independent record shops in the UK.

Within the last couple of years, all of my old stomping grounds have slipped away; in 2007 Loughborough's Left-Legged Pineapple closed its doors for the final time (but lives on in the virtual world), whilst 2009 saw Selectadisc in Nottingham (which heatbreakingly started life as a market stall way back in 1966) and Pendulum in Melton Mowbray say goodbye. The majority of the music that adorns my shelves came from these three places - I even bought both my first tapes and my first concert tickets from Pendulum - and it makes me sad to think there'll never be anything to replace them. 

Anyone with a true passion for music and record shops should check out I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store - it will certainly make you think about where to buy your music. I'd also really like to see a sequel to Toller's award-winning film, something titled along the lines of What The Fuck Happened To The Local Gig Venue?

Find out more about Toller's film and where to buy it HERE.

Interesting MP3 fact - within two years of their initial arrival, the number of internet searches for 'MP3' had surpassed that of 'sex'.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Q is for Queen of Hearts

Fucked Up's 'Queen of Hearts' was by far one of the standout songs from last year and the video accompanying it is one of my favourites of all time. Taken from the hardcore opera collection 'David Comes To Life' - a concept album detailing a boy meets girl story in Thatcher's '80s Britain - this song captures the moment the main characters, David and Veronica, meet for the first time.

The album's basically a love story with really rough edges, with frontman Damien Abraham's gruff vocals perfectly balanced with those of bassist Sandy Miranda. It's an utter beauty, check it here...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

P is for Punk Pilgrimages

“Most of my heroes never used their real names, so I thought I’d join them,” explained Bobby Pinn, my punk-worshipping guide on his decision to adopt a pseudonym. “Who knows, by the end of the afternoon maybe you’ll have one too.”

As the skin-searing sunshine pierced through the high rises of New York’s chaotic streets, Pinn welcomed me to his Rock ‘n’ Roll Walking Tour – a two-hour jaunt around the musically rich East Village. As the zip code that witnessed the conception of music’s most raw and honest genre, I was desperate to see, hear and feel where punk was born.

On the southwest corner of East 9th Street we gazed skyward to the apartment block across the road, counting up ten floors. It was here, Pinn informed me, that a quarter of one of New York’s most famous musical exports resided for over two decades. Jeff Hyman, more commonly known as Joey Ramone, once owned three of the apartments here and spent much of his downtime battling his Obsessive Compulsive demons within their four walls. One of punk’s most unlikely forefathers, The Ramones’ wiry frontman is a key figure of this walking insight into New York’s musical heritage.

Joey Ramone's former residence

Past toothless, crazed drunks demanding quarters for beer, we came to a 35-year-old Aladdin’s cave of punk rock attire. Behind its peeling paint and well-worn exterior, St Marks Place’s Trash and Vaudeville has many stories to tell, having dressed everyone from Iggy Pop to Joan Jett over the years. Photos of its famous frequenters are proudly displayed behind the counter, but a signed Slash top hat is one of the most impressive aspects of the d├ęcor.

Trash and Vaudeville

Fittingly, it’s here that one of the genre’s best known photographers happened to stroll by, personifying the area’s punk history. Roberta Bayley, the photographer responsible for the iconic cover of The Ramones’ debut album, happily dished out her business cards, emblazoned with the iconic image of the leather jacket and denim-clad gang of four skulking in front of a wall located right here in the East Village.

Roberta Bayley's iconic photograph on The Ramones debut

It was a tribute to one of the UK’s punk greats that was, for me, one of the highlights of the tour. A vibrant portrait of Clash legend Joe Strummer stands as a proud memorial to the inspirational singer on the side of Avenue A’s Niagara Bar, it’s creation filmed for the video of his cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. As I posed for a photo, Pinn pointed out that it is the only wall in the area that never gets tagged by gangs or graffiti artists.

Me and Joe

More snaps were enjoyed by other East Village icons, many of which would go completely unnoticed were it not for Pinn's extensive work tracking them down, including the Led Zeppelin building on St Marks Place (see previous 'L' post).

After two hours, my time was almost up and as a fitting end to a fascinating ramble, it was the venue that gave birth to punk that became our final stop.
Unrecognisable from its glory days, 315 Bowery was once home to the genre’s most famous haunt and is as interwoven with the story of punk as the bands that spawned it. Forced out by rocketing rents, CBGB’s is today the home of plush menswear store John Varvatos.

CBGB's Then

CBGB's Now

Stepping inside, I was met by the refreshing cool of Varvatos’ air conditioning – an atmosphere a million miles from that of punk’s Mecca at full capacity. Having poured over tales of the sweat-soaked shows held here from 1973 until its dying breath on 16th October 2006, I know that personal space and modern luxuries were not characteristics of CBGB’s. I was relieved however to see its mark on the building hadn’t been entirely stripped away; lovingly salvaged from the gutting process, entire sections of the graffiti-drenched walls hang proudly within Varvatos’ spacious interior, offering visitors an insight into the building’s place in the punk history books.

CBGB's Then

CBGB's Now

Pinn talked positively about Varvatos’ dedication to keeping its heritage alive with features from its past and in-store performances, but I couldn’t help feeling I was too late. When I closed my eyes I could almost feel the reverberations of a thousand and one punk gigs and at that moment I would have given anything to experience the chaos and intensity of one of those legendary shows.

As for my punk moniker, I’m still working on that one.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

O is for Over But Not Forgotten

It's always sad seeing your favourite bands split, especially when they kick fucking ass. But since the music lives on, here's a couple of bands that are over, but deserved to be remembered, to check out if you missed them back in the day...

Rocket From The Crypt

Proving rock n roll wasn't dead, this gang of punk n rollers stormed the '90s with  a dirtier take on Jerry Lee Lewis and that classic '50s sound. Not only was their music awesome, they also had pseudonyms and quiffs, which makes them far cooler than you or me. If you like this, check out The Night Marchers - frontman Speedo's new band, who still fucking rock with sleazier lyrics than ever. Ooh-er.


A trio of noiseniks from Buckingham, Crackout fused together punk and rock to create a racket of loveable lyrics and damn sexy riffs. I was lucky enough to get to know these guys back in 2001 and they kindly put my name on the guestlist to see them supporting Weezer at Shepherd's Bush Empire when all the tickets were sold out.

This is a video for one of their most addictive tracks - You Dumb Fuck - and right at the end where singer, Steven Eagles, can be seen waving (at 3.17), he's actually waving at me and my mate at Rock City in Nottingham. Fact.

If this appeals to you, take a look at their most recent incarnation, Out of the Afternoon.

Monday, 16 April 2012

N is for New Discoveries

Festivals offer one of the best opportunities for discovering new music and over the years I've stumbled across some beauties while standing bleary eyed in various fields around the country. Here are some of my favourites:

That Fucking Tank - Leeds Festival 2009
I've always loved the moniker, but as this Leeds duo consists of just a drummer and bassist, I'd had my doubts about how well they could hold my attention. A completely unfair judgement on my part. Drums and bass they may be, but there is no 'just'. That Fucking Tank are truly captivating live, full of fierce riffage and worth checking out for more reasons that just their name. Intrigued? You should be - go worship at the temple of the Tank.

Kvelertak - Leeds 2010
Norwegian, scary looking and very beardy, Kvelertak had been strongly recommended by a friend - Metal Steve - and with very good reason. Like weighty riffs? Like it fast and fucking heavy? These guys have just the right balance of furious rock n roll and metal attitude to tick all the boxes of good music.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

M is for Mixtapes (the soundtrack to an adventure)

Back in the days when I had a Walkman - up until 2003 actually, I was a latecomer to the iPod - and money to blow on going to gigs that were really far away, I used to make mixtapes for my journey. These usually consisted of tracks by whatever band I was on my way to see, as well as some John Peel sessions, festival performances and songs I was hooked on at the time - largely a healthy mix of punk and rock n roll.

Last summer, during my own take on Jack Kerouac's coast to coast American road trip - from LA to New York via New Orleans on the train - I made my own soundtrack for the journey based on the states and cities I passed through and the bands that call them home. Sadly, this wasn't on a tape, but it still kicked ass. Go clicky-click!

Here's my American adventure soundtrack:

* Los Angeles, California: Shitty Future - The Bronx

* Palm Springs, California: Freedom Run - Kyuss

* Arizona: A Praise Chorus - Jimmy Eat World

* El Paso, Texas: Invalid Litter Dept. - At The Drive-In

* Birmingham, Alabama: Step Up (I'm On It) - Maylene and the Sons of Disaster

* Atlanta, Georgia: Curl of the Burl - Mastodon

* Virginia: I'm Your Opposite Number - Strike Anywhere

* Washington DC: Minor Threat - Minor Threat

* Baltimore, Maryland: Electric Worry - Clutch

* New Jersey: Glory Days - Bruce Springsteen

* New Jersey: Backseat - Gaslight Anthem

* New York City: Jamestown - The Movielife

Friday, 13 April 2012

L is for Led Zeppelin

While in New York last summer, I took a rock n roll walking tour of the East Village, which offered a real insight into the city's music links. The tour's put together by Bobby Pinn, a man so obsessed by the city's musical heritage that he's spent years researching who lived where, who rocked where and who died where, and when.

One of the absolute gems of the tour was getting to visit the building that adorned the cover of English rocker's Led Zeppelin's sixth album, 'Physical Graffiti'. Upon reaching the St Marks Place site, our punk guide pulled the 12" record from his bag, holding it up for comparison alongside the real life apartment block. "Anyone know what's missing from the album sleeve?" Pinn asked, as we huddled in for a look.

Led Zeppelin's 'Physical Graffiti'

The real life 'Physical Graffiti' building

After a few lame guesses on our part, Pinn went on to explain how the real building actually has five floors, while the album sleeve has just four. Yeah, I know, it's easy to see now, right? Well, it's claimed Jimmy Page's drug dealer lived on the fourth floor of the apartment block at the time the album was made and rather than risk drawing attention to him, it was decided the floor he lived on would just be removed from the image.

I'm not sure how true that is, but it's an awesome story. My theory is that the building was too tall for a 12" sleeve to have all five floors included, so I think one had to be removed to fit the space. Of course, it's the drug dealer story I usually share with people - it's more rock n roll isn't it?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

K is for (songs that begin with the letter) K

Ok, so I know this is a lame topic to go with, but as some of my other posts have been mammoth and rather time-consuming I need an easy one today.

I thought picking five songs beginning with the letter K would be a doddle, but it turns out I have more than anticipated. So, this is my top five and if you click the links you can have a listen...

* The KKK Took My Baby Away - The Ramones

* Kids Don't Follow - The Replacements

* Kool Thing - Sonic Youth

* Knives - Therapy?

* Kick Out the Jams - MC5

It was a tough decision, but in the end, the above are essential sounds for you iPod if you ask me.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

J is for Joey Ramone

On 30th November 2003, New York's East 2nd Street was officially named Joey Ramone Place in honour of The Ramones frontman. Since then, it's become the city's most stolen street sign - surprisingly half-inched more than that of Broadway and Wall Street.

After its last disappearance, action was taken to prevent the removal of its replacement. While the rest of New York's street signs stand around 12 to 14 feet off the ground, the sign for Joey Ramone Place has been raised to 20 feet with an aim to deter thieves. About as tall as the man himself then.

From the information I've just provided, can you work out what is wrong with the picture below...?

No? Well, the sign's actually pointing the wrong way. The last time they replaced it they positioned it towards the Bowery, rather than East 2nd Street, which as you can see is the one at the bottom pointing towards the camera.

All 5'4" of me next to the 20' high sign.
It would have made such an awesome souvenir as well.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

I is for Idols

They say you never forget your first love and I can honestly say the torch I've held for the Manic Street Preachers still burns as brightly as it did for the 13-year-old that discovered them.

To my young, impressionable ears, the Manics were he most exciting and important thing I'd ever heard or seen. Coming from a small town that was so lacking in everything it felt like the arse-end of nowhere, they gave a voice to the boredom and banality felt by teens like myself who were stranded in exactly the same existence.

It was the critically acclaimed 'Everything Must Go' that brought them to my attention, but it was immersing myself in their back catalogue that led me down the path of music awesomeness and onward to an eternal love of good music and good books.

I have the Manics to thank for drawing my attention to a lot of things that have been life changing. Without them I'd never have found The Clash, a band whose presence has made my life all the richer for it, or Jack Kerouac, whose 'On The Road' beatnik adventure completely captured my heart and made me fall in love with America long before I got there.

From the aggression and attitude of 'Generation Terrorists' to the dark, thought-provoking depths of 'The Holy Bible', the Manics' music has always encouraged he listener to think outside the box. While other bands worked hard to fit whatever music mould was trendy that year, they distanced themselves with lyrics inspired by the library, rather than the ladies.

They supplied their fans with not just a list of musical influences, but a whole library's worth of books that would enrich lives. Joining the Manics clan was only partly about expanding your CD collection, mostly it was about expanding your mind and your bookshelf. For every single, every album, there was a specially selected quote, a clue to the possibilities that lay ahead were you to just tag along on their educational ride.

The Manics also revelled in being different. In the early days their sound was an awkward fit, but their look was even more striking. Eyeliner, feather boas, women's blouses and the tightest of tight white jeans. You think the emo look was an odd one? The Manics took the best and worst of female style in the early '90s and ran with it.

They were a band out there on their own - what's not to love?

Monday, 9 April 2012

H is for High Fidelity

High Fidelity is the greatest film ever made. Fact. If you're into music you'll be able to quote this film word for word. If you're not into music, well, you're missing out.

Anyway, this film is about a music obsessive and his disasterous love life, told through a whole bunch of top five lists that encompass more than just his favourite tunes. The film has an awesome soundtrack, John Cusack (ummmm...) in the lead role and poses two very important questions about life:

Was I miserable because I listened to pop music?
Or did I listen to pop music because I was miserable?

During the opening scenes of the film, main character Rob Gordon, asks this question, before pointing out that kids are subjected to thousands upon thousands of songs about heartbreak and rejection. It's an interesting question - do I listen my go-to misery guy, Johnny Cash, because I'm unhappy or is his melancholy voice the source of that unhappiness?

I'm pretty confident that it's the latter, although my entire life has been entwined with music to such an extent that I wouldn't know either way. However, my theory is that some times in life we're drawn to certain sounds and lyrics, just like the way we're drawn to certain people. Often the people we're closest to are those we see something of ourselves in; our best friends are the people who think like us, share the same interests, the same moral compass, the same hatred of Tories... Music's just the same. At certain times it just feels right.

I think when it comes to misery and music, we use it as a crutch. Somehow it's easier for someone else to sing what we're feeling than it is to actually talk about it and occasionally in life there are moments when you feel a song understands you more than anyone else.

What really matters is what you like,
not what you are like.
Books, records, films - these things matter.
Call me shallow, it's the fucking truth.

He's talking about love here and I think I'd have to agree with him. Ok, so it might be a little shallow and yes, occasionally, what you are like does matter a little bit, but on the whole having stuff in common is important, afterall the couple who air guitars together, stays together. Or so I'm told.

I think life would be pretty dull without the chatter of records, books and films to decorate it. I mean people who aren't into that kind of stuff, what the hell do they talk about??

Now I'm not saying that the books, records and films have to be to the exact same taste, I'm just saying that there needs to be some cross overs and a little mutual respect where things don't quite match up, that kind of thing. Although when I burst through the front door shouting 'oh my god, you have to hear this band!', you'd better fucking like them.

Top fives

Music lovers love a good list and seeing this film for the first time, aged around 16, I found it pretty liberating to know that I wasn't the only one with this dirty little secret. These days I think there's something wrong with you if you don't list your life, but I'll only judge you slightly if you actually admit that.

For the proud listers amongst us, whether it's music or something else, I'd highly recommend books by Lisa Nola. Her 'listography' titles give you some fun topics to list - and argue - about. I'm currently working my way through Music Listography... What else?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

G is for Gigs

It's one thing to sit at home with your stereo keeping you company or to amble your way to work in the morning with your iPod blaring, but it's something altogether different to be totally immersed in that sound, to feel it reverbrating through you. There's nothing like experiencing live music or feeling the atmosphere of the room as your favourite bands completely kills it. It's addictive.

Out of the hundreds of bands I've seen live over the last decade and a half, I am forcing myself to pick my top five - five?! - for this post. It's a task that is so challenging I've been sat here for several hours debating with myself over which should be included. We've fallen out about it more than once.

Anyway, it has to be just five - why five is the magic number will be explained in tomorrow's post - so this is what I've finally decided to go with:

* Manic Street Preachers - V99, a field somewhere in Staffordshire, err... 1999

Hey, before you judge me for going to this festival can I just point out this was in the days before fame hungry dicks and people who shag footballers started to swamp it. Secondly, the Manics owned it. I know it's not technically a gig, but this one has to be included because it was the best I've ever seen them play out of more than 10 performances I've witnessed.

A set littered with classics, all stomped along to while wearing my feather boa, spraypainted skirt and Doc Marten's. I remember shouting and pogoing all the way through it and also have vague recollections of some equipment being smashed up at the end. To the 16-year-old me, it was one of the best things I'd ever seen and actually, the 29-year-old me is inclined to agree with her.

Also, check out the price... £35 for a day ticket to a festival. Ahh, them were the days.

*  Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Rock City, Nottingham, 1999

Not quite The Clash, but being within spitting distance of a punk legend is an experience that will stay with me for a life time. The set was an equal measure of Clash and Mescalero, and while the stuff from his new band was great, it was pretty clear that everyone was there mainly to hear the classics. The Mescaleros didn't have that gang look and feel that The Clash so effortlessly pulled off, but their renditions of 'Rock the Casbah' and 'Tommy Gun' were pretty meaty and certainly proved a hit with the crowd.

A true gentleman, Joe's first task upon entering the stage was to get all small people to the front and the tall ones to the back so we could all see. As the crowd was made up of about five women, all of us down the front, and a few hundred men aged from about 30 to 50, things had already kind of ordered themselves that way. Yours truly got to see the whole set from the front barrier, where I got completely battered and bruied. But it was totally worth it.

I still have Joe's towel from that night stashed in my emergency box of stuff I'd save from my burning house.

* The Bronx and Mariachi el Bronx - Rock City Basement, Nottingham, 2010

A double dose of LA's greatest band and an exceptionally sweaty evening was enjoyed in the Basement. The thing with seeing bands in this room of the venue though is that you end up being almost on top of them, which is great, but also pretty terrifying when you're watching someone like the The Bronx. They're a scary bunch, let me tell you.

The evening kicked off with a gentle romancing from Mariachi el Bronx, a band of true beauty who bust every myth going about punks not being able to play anything but noise - these guys are amazing musicians and are tight as fuck. Not only that, they're also the best dressed band I've ever seen, just don't tell the Manics' Nicky Wire I said that.

Mariachi el Bronx - scary looking, but the best dressed band you're likely to come across 

MeB was followed by a ferocious, face-shredding hour of The Bronx proper. I was down the front for this one too and remember getting kicked in the head several times, particularly by a lad who stood next to me for half the set before deciding to launch himself into some sort of backwards crowd surfing manuever. It was pretty impressive.

* Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner - Rock City, Nottingham, 2009

This was a special post-birthday gig, which made it all the more exciting as it's rare bands play any venues near me around the time of my b'day. It just so happened that this year was an exception, with The Bronx playing round the corner, with Rolo Tomassi and Fucked Up, at the Rescue Rooms on the same night. I opted for Turner and Anthem, which was a bloody good decision as the show was incredible.

Gaslight Anthem were touring 'The '59 Sound' at the time - an album that bows down and kisses the feet of both Springsteen and The Clash - and were on fire that night. Another songwriter who successfully sculpts his songs into stories of love, loss and life, frontman Brian Fallon weaves together his musical influences
to create beautiful songs with real characters at their heart.

This night in particular, the band had the crowd at their mercy and the place went completely mad. They played 'I'da Called You Woody, Joe' as part of their encore - a tribute to Joe Strummer - where support acts the Polar Bear Club and Frank Turner ran on stage in their pants.

Turner was equally awesome, playing a stripped down, solo set of favourites.

I am somewhere in this picture, but can't remember if this is from the gig
I'm talking about above or the headlining show Turner played
at Rock City a few months later. I have a feeling it's the latter.
Either way, demonstrates his live awesomeness.

* Alkaline Trio and Crackout, The Charlotte, Leicester, 2001

This was more than a decade ago, so my memories are pretty hazy. However, I do remember this gig was completely rammed and ridiculously sweaty. Pals Crackout got my friend and I in on the guestlist as they kindly used to do back in the day and I remember Alkaline Trio changing the words of 'Stupid Kid' to 'Birthday Kid' for some lad in the crowd. There was also a lot of crowd surfing going on, which was risky considering how loe the ceiling was at this place.

Thinking about this gig makes me feel sad because Crackout and The Charlotte are no more.

Anyone got any good gig memories to share?

Friday, 6 April 2012

F is for Frank Turner

Oh Frank. How empty my life and iPod were without you, your guitar and your stories. Without that chance encounter at Leeds Festival 2008 I might never have known about the songwriter of a generation and discovered that charming blend of acoustic folk/punk that you've crafted as your own.

You had me hooked from the first song, but the most memorable moment of this set for me was that you made me cry. Telling the story of your friend Lexi, who died of cancer, through the most heartbreaking, but also heartwarming, lyrics, you transformed a rowdy crowd to a sobbing wreck.

'Long Live the Queen' is a magical moment in music that sadly took a personal tragedy to create and every time I hear it live, with so many people singing along, I  get a lump in my throat.

The following year I saw you at Leeds again, in a bigger tent, where the few hundred supporters from 2008 had morphed into several thousand and they all sang along. I cried again and I wasn't the only one.

I'm sure you've done her proud.

My top five Turner tracks to check out:

* The Ballad of Me and My Friends

* St Christopher is Coming Home

* Balthazar, Impresario

* Back in the Day

* Long Live the Queen (see above)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

E is for Eccentric

There's something about taking music as one's life work that brings out the bonkers in people. Somehow, being a professional musician morphs people from being of this world into beings from another realm entirely.

Take Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr Bungle fame and the following:

* Faith No More covered the Eastenders theme tune at Leeds Festival 2009.

* There track 'Caffeine' was written about a sleep deprivation experiment Patton undertook.

* Faith No More once played a festival where bottles of piss were used as missiles aimed at the band themselves. In good humour, Patton threatened to drink the next one that landedon the stage. A man good on his promise, he downed it and proceeded to throw up throughout the remainder of the set.

* He used to shit in hairdryers in hotels.

* Patton provided the voices of the monsters in 2007's 'I Am Legend' starring Will Smith.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

D is for Debuts

It's often said a band's classic work comes together in their third album - think Radiohead 'OK Computer', Metallica 'Master of Puppets' and Manic Street Preachers 'Holy Bible'.

After testing the water with the debut and getting past that difficult second album, things usually come together to create a masterstroke the third time around.

Personally, I like the uncertainty of a debut, the sound of a band discovering themselves and in some cases a rawness that just can't be captured again.

Here's my list of debuts that defy the third album rule:

* The Clash - The Clash
Yes, I know 'London Calling' is cited as the classic here and while that album is a true work of art, there's something about 'The Clash' that just speaks to me. Edgy, stripped down and angry, the lyrics and sound just give me that same rush of adrenaline I felt the first time round. If you don't own it, you should.

* Killing Joke - Killing Joke
I own a few of these, including the just released 'MMXII', but their 1980 eponymously titled debut and its unmistakable brand of industrial post-punk simply can't be beaten. Want to know what the impending apocalypse will sound like? It's already been recorded here.

* Guns n Roses - Appetite For Destruction
It's got 'Welcome to the Jungle', 'Paradise City' and 'Sweet Child o' Mine' - how could a band possibly top that? Not to mention that Axl Rose was already well on his way to becoming an asshole the moment this album was released.

* Pearl Jam - Ten
Born into grunge and yet still going strong, Pearl Jame have successfully managed to dodge the curse of pigeon-holing and a passing music trend. This stunning collection has some awesome riffs and hasn't aged a day.

* Arcade Fire - Funeral
A modern classic with amazing moments throughout and completely captivating when performed live. Also one of the best albums of the last decade and while their later stuff is also worth a listen, I don't think this one can be topped.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

C is for Cover Versions

A good cover version, by definition, is a song transformed. It's what happens when a band has the vision to see past the original, to take a song in a new direction and completely run away with it. I think it's pretty lame when bands can't manage to put their own spin on a song, when they don't have enough character or heart to give it a new personality - afterall, who wants a shitty, second-rate version of the original? No, they'll be none of that here. Come with me and I'll show you five bands who have the vision to make a song their own...

Here's my top five cover versions:

'Whiskey in the Jar' - Metallica
A traditional Irish drinking song taken on by Thin Lizzy back in the early '70s, but completely remolded by Metallica into a meaty beast of a track. And, it's got awesome riffage you can't help but sing along too.

'Hurt' - Johnny Cash
A truly haunting and thought-provoking number by Nine Inch Nails, some say about heroin addiction, some say about suicide. Latterly destroyed in an appalling cover version by Leona Lewis. However, while the original makes for heavy listening, Johnny Cash's take on the track is simply beautiful and he makes it into his own story of a man at the end of his life apologising for his mistakes. If you don't like this you have no heart.

'To Have and to Have Not' - Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards
It's got attitude, it's got swagger and soundwise, it comes with a lot more balls than the original by folk/punk singer Billy Bragg. That's not to say I don't love the original - as a leftie and political song writer, Bragg's lyrics always stand way above the music and always capture the world just how it is.

Check out these prophetic lyrics:

The factories are closing and the army's full,
I don't know what I'm going to do,
But I've come to see in the Land of the Free
There's only a future for a chosen few

'The District Sleeps Alone Tonight' - Frank Turner
The one man acoustic warrior is the maestro of cover versions, effortlessly turning Black Flag's 'Fix Me' and Bad Brain's 'Pay to Cum' from bile-ridden blasts of pure fury into songs that could easily pass for his own. Here, he takes The Postal Service's electronic number, removes the fluff and strips it back down to its bare and beautiful bones. Stunning.

'Immortal' - Clutch
There's making a song you're own, then there's totally re-writing it. Once upon a time, this dirty rock gem was a '70s classic rock, Free-sounding Leslie West (of Mountain) number titled 'Baby I'm Down'. Not only was West ok with it being rewritten both lyrically and musically by Clutch, he helped them do it.

This is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, find out more HERE.

Monday, 2 April 2012

B is for The Bronx

The Bronx1 [the bron-cks]

1. a breed of punk and hardcore largely recognised by its added riffage and don't give a fuck attitude
2. a style or movement characterised by the adoption of extreme aggression, ferocious vocals and the urge to punch people full on in the face
3. a defiance of social norms relating to popular music
4. a sound defining the phrase 'multiple eargasms'

Example sentences:
The Bronx will kill us all without mercy

It may be a shitty future, but at least we have The Bronx

I saw The Bronx live last night and now my ears won't stop bleeding

Yes it is a borough of New York, but The Bronx actually hail from Los Angeles

You iPod needs The Bronx

I just saw that mental dude from The Bronx leap head first from a pillar at the Leeds Festival (2009)

2002, Los Angeles, America

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Challenge #3: Sarah vs. Planking

The latest choice from my list of ways to make a dick of myself before turning 30 was to take on the craze of planking - also known as the art of laying face down somewhere you probably shouldn't.

This was certainly the case at 8.30am on a Sunday morning when, let's face it, all normal people were either warmly tucked up in bed asleep or enjoying an early morning shag.

Not me. I was laying face down on a giant pork pie, in the cold, without a drop of caffeine having touched my lips...

Yes, I know it looks like a beer barrel, but it's a pork pie.

I know what you're thinking, that it looks easy and shouldn't even be on the list. Well, let me tell you, at 8.30 on a Sunday morning it was a difficult challenge and it was also fucking cold, as the lid of the 'pie' is actually metal rather than wood. You're also lucky I'm not wearing my pyjamas and slippers, because it was a serious consideration at one point.

I took this one so that you would know the above picture wasn't of my stunt double.

Verdict: WIN!

A is for At The Drive-In

Launching a full on attack on the senses and a vicious assault on punk, At The Drive-In were one of the most exciting, progressive and violent sounds to come out of the '90s.

In a career spanning three albums and eight years, their pioneering post-hardcore sound gave birth to an album that remains as important and influencial as it did the day it arrived. 'Relationship of Command' was, and is, a pioneering album of agitated and urgent noise, ranking amongst my top ten albums of all time.

The Texan five-piece's reputation for untamed live performances, the convulsive moves and raw vocals of frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala, make the band utterly compelling to watch, with every live video as captivating as the next.

It is, however, the infamous Later... with Jools Holland performance that's guaranteed to provoke the strongest reaction, telling you exactly where you stand on the At The Drive-In are genius/bullshit scale.

'One Armed Scissor' performed live on Later... with Jools Holland in 2000

While today it may be hard to grasp how much At The Drive-In managed to shake up music and how important that album was, you have to remember the era it arrived into. They stormed the late '90s and early '00s with an edgy sound that completely put the shits up the indie and Britpop deluge that had ruled much of the decade, while also stamping out the fire of nu-metal's sludgy riffs with a syncopated cacophony, plunging punk to exhilirating new depths.

I remember having 'Relationship of Command' on repeat for months, seeing the video for 'One Armed Scissor' and knowing I had to see this band live. Sadly, I never got the opportunity, despite having tickets to see them for my 18th birthday at Rock City, Nottingham; the band pulled out of the last remaining dates of the tour - after a year on the road - blaming mental and physical exhaustion.

Of course, I was devastated, but who could blame them really, just watching some of their videos leaves me feeling in need of a quiet lie down. Shortly after the cancellation of the tour, however, they imploded, announcing their split after making the album of their career and while at the peak of their popularity, much like pioneering punk noiseniks Refused.

But following an announcement at the start of the year that 'this station is now operational' once again, with a trickle of festival dates already planned, I'm hoping that this time round I'll get to experience that full on breeze-block-to-the-face sound first-hand.

Tracks to check out: