Monday, 23 April 2018

Shonen Knife - Feature & Photos from the Legendary Japanese Band's Gig at Sub89 Reading April 17th

Shonen Knife at Sub89 Reading - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
I first saw Shonen Knife at the Reading Festival in 1992 where they appeared as part of an excellent line-up as special guests of Nirvana. Although BBC DJ John Peel had picked up on them a few years earlier, it was probably Kurt Cobain who introduced Shonen Knife to a much wider audience in the UK. At the time the kitsch Lo-Fi trio from Osaka in Japan were the unlikely darlings of the American underground Grunge scene, even boasting their own tribute album called “Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them” which featured acts such as Sonic Youth, L7, Babes In Toyland and Redd Kross covering a song each. So, 26 years later and I’m back in Reading at the Sub89 to see the band again and it’s good to see that singer and guitarist Naoko’s sister and co-founding member Atsuko has re-joined the band. She was drumming when I saw them at the Reading Festival in ’92 but now she’s moved onto bass. In another line-up change, Risa has replaced Emi on the drums and if I’m honest I was a bit apprehensive in the build up to the show as the last line-up was so fantastic, I wasn’t sure how they were going to follow it. I need not have worried. 

Shonen Knife at Sub89 Reading - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
Shonen Knife at Sub89 Reading - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
Risa in particular is a revelation, she’s a quite remarkable drummer, a blur of flailing arms and hair, and she is so powerful and exciting to watch. Atsuko too has taken on the visual aspect of previous bassist Ritsuko with her long hair swinging all over the place and huge smile that proves she is having as much fun as we are. Naoko has hardly changed, she looks amazing and has that wonderful grin and glint in her eyes as she announces that the band are happy to be back in “Reading Rock City”. They kick off with a superfast “Pop Tune” and then it’s straight into “Banana Chips” one of the catchiest songs the Ramones should have written. As The Undertones sang about chocolate and girls, Shonen Knife specialise in food and cuddly animals. For example, tonight’s set-list includes such subject matter as “All You Can Eat” buffet restaurants and looking forward to a Friday night out at the “Sushi Bar”, where Naoko lists various types of this “famous Japanese meal”. Risa takes over the leads vocals to sing about “Green Tangerines” and then it's Atsuko's turn for the Oriental harmonies of “Wasabi” and I wonder if many bands could sing about the pungent taste of the eye-wateringly hot mustard and get away with it. “You’ve had the starter and main course and now it is time for dessert” Naoko grins before slamming into the heavy “Ramen Rock” from the “Overdrive” LP. I was going to shout out that noodles are hardly a dessert but they might have thrown a load of jellybeans at me so I just decided to keep quiet and enjoy the menu...errr...sorry, music!

Shonen Knife at Sub89 Reading - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
Shonen Knife at Sub89 Reading - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
One highlight of the night is “I Am A Cat” which shows that Shonen Knife have elevated the Japanese obsession with ‘kawaii’ or cuteness to another level, making it kitsch, humorous yet cool at the same time. The set is a satisfying pick ‘n’ mix of songs from throughout their career with “Jump Into The New World” from their current LP “Adventure” and the single “Buttercup” standing out as particular highlights for me. Their mash-up of Ramones, Shangri-La’s harmonies and the catchy 70’s Rock of Cheap Trick and the Runaways is infectious and they play a nice cover of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel To Be Kind” too. The old classics such as “Twist Barbie” and “Riding On The Rocket” still sound as fresh and exciting today as they did when I first heard them. For the encore, they return wearing Shonen Knife T-Shirts and launch into the song handily titled “Rock & Roll T-Shirt” a nifty and fun way to advertise the merchandise! The Hardcore Punk blast of “Antonio Baka Guy” nearly blows the roof off the venue and then it’s over, the three of them stand there holding their Shonen Knife scarves aloft, lapping up the well-deserved applause. What a great night out! It’s life-affirming good time Rock ‘n’ Roll and I would defy even the most hardened cynic not to crack a huge ear-to-ear grin throughout the duration of a Shonen Knife gig.

Shonen Knife at Sub89 Reading - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
Shonen Knife at Sub89 Reading - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
For more photos of the gig please check out the album at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and there are videos at our YouTube channel here. You can also see our previous features including exclusive Paul Slattery photographs from London's Cargo in 2012 here and their Osaka Ramones show at the same venue in the Blog archive here. For more info on their current tour dates you can visit the official Shonen Knife web-site here or their Facebook page here.

Shonen Knife at Sub89 Reading - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Fallen Leaves at The Hope & Anchor - Exclusive Paul Slattery Photos From the Recording of their New Live LP

The Fallen Leaves photographed by Paul Slattery
The Fallen Leaves latest night in their residency at the legendary Hope & Anchor in Islington was a free gig arranged for the recording of a new live album. The band played two sets including some brand new songs and of course encouraged a healthy dose of audience participation, which might well give them headaches during the editing! The set was recorded on the night by ex-Vibrator turned Producer, Pat Collier, who as the founder of Alaska Studios has worked with Robyn Hitchcock, The Sound, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Makin' Time, The Seers and many more great acts over the years. At the moment no title or release date of the album has been announced but of course as soon as we have more details we will let you know.

All colour photos above copyright Paul Slattery

All black & white photos above copyright Retro Man Blog
Thanks to Paul Slattery for the excellent colour photographs. The Fallen Leaves next show at the Hope & Anchor will be on Saturday 26th May. For more photos of the gig please check out the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

OHMS "Melodies of Our Lives" - A New Album of Electronica From Members of The Past Tense & SuperMinx '70

Well, I didn’t see this one coming. Considering our favourite Garage-Psych-Soul outfit The Past Tense have just released an excellent new LP "7A" and their terrace stomping pals SuperMinx’70 have recently announced their return with a new line-up, I wasn't expecting to receive an album by a side-project featuring members of each band. I thought they would be far too busy. I certainly wasn't expecting what lies within "Melodies of Our Lives" the debut release by OHMS, a new duo featuring Past Tense bassist Ken Halsey and SM’70 frontman Paul R Osborn. Yes, it’s Ken and Paul but not as we know them! The opening track "6-8-1-6-79 (For a City Boy)" immediately conjures up early Tubeway Army around the time that Gary Numan started adding early analogue synths over buzzing Punk Rock guitars. It’s a great song and as we swoop into the next number "Sky Falling Now", an unashamedly catchy Electro-Pop song, I notice a theme developing. Suddenly I’m transported back to the early 80's like the time-travelling cop Sam Tyler in TV’s "Ashes To Ashes".

You see, OHMS wouldn’t be out of place appearing alongside Heaven 17 or OMD on any episode of Top of The Pops from around that era. Blimey, "Our Time Will Come" even has a subtle undercurrent of that 80’s museum-piece, the fretless bass. Talking of bass, "Never Let Them Tell You" is another highlight with its New Order bass line and synths that swell into a great chorus. Indeed, what we have with "Melodies of Our Lives" is an affectionate and superbly executed look back at the birth of Electronica in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The duo’s tag-line, 'Music From The Future When We Were Young', pretty much sums it up as they have captured that period where people were taking the Punk DIY philosophy and applying it to synths, drum machines and sampling instead of guitars. You get the feeling that you’ve just tracked down a rare album from an unknown early 80’s band who were discovering this technology and experimenting with it for the first time. There are throbbing sequencers and bubbling analogue synths, sampled brass, Sci-Fi sound effects, toy-town drum machines and rhythm boxes and even the good old classic cascading chimes effect. It's kind of "Vintage Futuristic". Now there’s a good title for the follow up LP guys!

I'm also taken by "Theme For A Swimmer" which is an Erik Satie style minimalist instrumental with hints of Japan’s "Canton" that would be perfect playing over the opening credits of a Cold War Spy movie or part of a Philip K. Dick film score. However, what saves the album from being a gimmick (albeit an extremely well-conceived one) or merely an 80's concept album – is the quality of the songwriting, in particular three tracks bang in the middle of the record. The album gathers momentum and really hits it's stride with the excellent Bowie influenced "Together Forever". Then comes my favourite track "We Were Young" in which Paul reverts to his more familiar South London tinged SuperMinx '70 vocals and they seem to have hit on a style that could lead to OHMS being more than just a nostalgic trip down memory lane. But I think the album’s centrepiece is the stunning "So Alone" which features the best vocal performance I have heard so far from Paul. It starts with a spoken-word verse strangely reminiscent of a darker Pet Shop Boys, before building to an almighty chorus shot through with raw emotion. The lyrics sting with their honesty. There is certainly enough in these three songs alone to hope that OHMS won’t just be a one-off project.

To order the album and find out more information on OHMS check out their official web-site here.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Here To Be Heard: The Story of The Slits - New Documentary Screening and Q&A with Tessa Pollitt

We recently attended a screening of Here To Be Heard, an excellent new documentary movie about The Slits at the historic Regent Street Cinema in central London. This was followed by a lively Q&A session with Slits’ bassist Tessa Pollitt, the movie’s Director William E. Badgley and The Slits manager Christine Robertson. “Here To be Heard” is packed full of exciting live footage of the band in all their shocking and colourful glory and it’s easy to understand what an impact and sense of danger they must have exuded in their early days. Throughout the film, the main voice of The Slits comes from Tessa and the story unfolds from the pages of her scrapbook. She’s wearing gloves to protect the book, almost like some sort of Punk Rock historian in a museum archive and as she carefully flicks through the well-thumbed pages there are fascinating glimpses of old music press cuttings, reviews and photos. The film really captures the fear that spread through the establishment at the emergence of Punk and of course the violence that this fear provoked at the time. Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten and Paul Cook were attacked in the street as were many less high profile musicians and fans and girls were not immune either. Tessa shows us a photo of The Slits on stage and she is wearing jeans with a big slash across the backside. In the voiceover, she tells us that they were actually Ari’s jeans and the cut was caused by a knife. Ari was slashed by some outraged nutter yelling words to the effect of “If it’s a Slit you want, I’ll give you one!” The only place they felt accepted was among their Punk and Reggae peers and they received some welcome support and help from Joe Strummer, John Lydon and Don Letts in particular. They toured with The Clash on the legendary White Riot Tour along with Buzzcocks and Subway Sect and appeared in “The Punk Rock Movie”. Although the early UK Punk explosion did pave the way for some amazing individual female performers and artists such as Gaye Advert, Siouxsie, Fay Fife and Poly Styrene it is still hard to believe that The Slits were pretty much unique at the time. There were not that many independent non-industry manufactured all-girl bands around back then. 

The Slits at Thames Polytechnic, Woolwich 4th March 1978 Photographed by Paul Slattery
The Slits were also more challenging and more chaotic than the majority of their contemporaries and I can imagine that the male dominated music industry and media must have been scared witless by them. Scared, not only by their attitude but by their music too. There was Viv Albertine’s spiky almost Avant-Garde guitar work, Tessa Pollitt’s fluid Reggae-inspired bass, Palmolive’s tribal drum beats and of course Ari Up’s fearsome voice and presence all topped off by her unnerving confidence. The movie highlighted an interesting reminder that this definitive all-girl line-up of the band never actually released any official records and were only captured on tape by the BBC for the John Peel radio sessions. In fact, The Slits didn’t get round to releasing their debut LP “Cut” until 1979 and by then Reggae had really taken a hold and they insisted on signing to Island Records and working with producer Dennis Bovell. In the movie, they admit that most Punks were disappointed that it didn’t sound anything like their raucous radio sessions and early live performances.

Viv in 1980 by Paul Slattery
It wasn’t just the music that had changed either. There were only three band members captured topless and mud-covered in Pennie Smith’s iconic album cover photo. Palmolive, who had left to join The Raincoats, was replaced by Budgie on the drums and they were no longer an all-girl band. The movie mentions the influence of The Pop Group’s angular Funk on The Slits’ sound even to the extent of them borrowing their drummer Bruce Smith to replace Budgie when he left for Siouxsie & The Banshees. The band certainly wanted to challenge people and break down genres and boundaries – touring Revue style with a revolving line-up of eclectic bands, taking in Jazz, Soul and Reggae. They would also become enamoured by Don Cherry’s daughter Neneh who would join the band as a vocalist before going on to a successful solo career in her own right. In 1981 they released an underrated album “Return of The Giant Slits” but the band were sadly to fall apart in 1982 and they disappeared off the mainstream musical radar. In the movie and the later Q&A Tessa describes the shock of suddenly finding herself out of music as akin to a war veteran coming back home, full of adrenaline with nowhere to channel it. She honestly admits that this sudden void was filled by a heroin addiction and she jumped at the chance to re-form the band when an opportunity came up in 2005. Viv and Palmolive declined the offer to re-join but Ari was back and her chemistry with Tessa was renewed.

Compere with Christine, Tessa & William E Badgley at the Q&A
They recruited Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook’s daughter Hollie as replacement vocalist for Neneh Cherry and started touring. They released an album entitled “Trapped Animal” in 2009 and played dates in Japan and Australia. In America, they opened for Sonic Youth and it was nice to see Thurston Moore was there at the movie screening. However, it was during one US tour where things started to unravel. The band were getting frustrated by Ari’s increasingly erratic, confrontational behaviour, decided enough was enough, and quit. Even Tessa could not handle Ari any more. In the movie Hollie gets quite emotional when discussing this period as in hindsight they realise that Ari must have known she was ill and her behaviour was possibly a defence mechanism. What comes across in the movie from the start is that The Slits all looked out for, supported and defended one another so it is sad that Ari could not discuss her health with the others and instead, pushed them away in her efforts to deal with her situation. In the Q&A session afterwards, Director William E. Badgley explained that the seeds of the movie were sown during this last fateful American tour. Ari had insisted that Jennifer Shagawat, the Tour Manager filmed everything along the way, it was as if Ari knew she did not have long to live. When Ari passed away in 2010, Jennifer passed the footage to him and asked him to make sense of it all. Luckily for us Badgley did just that and he has created a long-overdue portrait of The Slits that certainly fizzles with as much energy and excitement as the band themselves. The film also includes new interviews with Viv Albertine and Palmolive (now a contented Christian school teacher living in the States) and there are talking head pieces from a variety of friends, fans and contributors including Gina Birch, Budgie, Bruce Smith, Don Letts, Dennis Bovell, Adrian Sherwood, Hollie Cook and the later line-ups of The Slits. 

During the Q&A session I asked Tessa if she had ever considered picking the bass up again and she admitted that she had tried a couple of times but that it had been too traumatic losing Ari. They had such an unspoken connection and so far she hasn't been able to find that playing music and she gets more pleasure as a DJ nowadays. Some other topics covered included discussing how the dole and squatting scene in the 70's meant that people could be creative on little income which is far more difficult now. Tessa felt that music has lost it's vibrancy and she wouldn't want to be starting off as a youngster in the music business now. She's not really into any bands at the moment but did express her love Subway Sect when I mentioned their original guitarist Rob Symmons is still performing with Retro Man Blog favourites The Fallen Leaves. However she is still enthralled by Jamaican music and culture and talked about The Slits interest in exploring new ideas and inspirations from World music. Indeed their admiration for Japanese culture led to Ari singing in Japanese on "Earthbeat Japan". She explained that The Slits always wanted to move on and not become a caricature of a Punk band. Tessa also touched on Pussy Riot and how there was still much to be done for Women's rights around the world. If you enjoyed the movie and you are a fans of The Slits and Reggae then you may like to know that William will be working with the Here To Be Heard team again on a documentrary about Don Letts, which has just started filming.

Compere with Christine, Tessa & William E Badgley at the Q&A
I can also thoroughly recommend Typical Girls? The Story of the Slits by Zoe Street Howe, which was published by Omnibus Press. Faber have just published Viv Albertine’s second autobiography To Throw Away Unopened a follow up to the excellent Clothes, Music, Boys. You can read a report on Viv’s book talk at the Social in our Blog archive here. There is a Pledgemusic campaign running for the Here To Be Heard DVD release and you can check out William E Badgley's official web-site with details of all his movies here. With thanks to Paul Slattery for the excellent archive photos.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

DJ Lee Grimshaw Talks to Amy KB about the New Sergeants Mess 7" Single, his Debut Release on Spinout Nuggets Label

DJ Lee Grimshaw
Amy KB: Tell me about Spinout Nuggets, what inspired you to start your own label?

Lee Grimshaw: From a very young age, I dreamed of running a record label, owning a record shop and managing a music venue. Like many, I spent hours hunting for and buying records and I was lucky to have two older brothers who also shared the same love. We were regularly taking the train up to London together on Saturdays for record shopping or attending gigs and club nights all over the South East. The old TVS studios in Gillingham (which sat on our route to the train station) was always the place that my brothers and I pictured to be the venue that we would one day conquer and convert into a hub for all the above. Unfortunately, that plan never came to be, and it eventually became the site for yet another Lidl outlet. We had by then already relocated to Newquay, but the dream was still vibrant! Supporting record labels such as Detour, Damaged Goods, State, Crocodile, Heavy Soul, Vacilando ‘68 and many others over the years opened my eyes a little to how a passion and a dream could be combined and maybe become a reality.

I remember listening to the Retro Man Blog Podcast interview with Ian at Damaged Goods a few years back and felt inspired by Ian’s passion for pressing up the Slaughter and the Dogs reissue back in ’88. He even went along to actually witness the manufacturing at the pressing plant. At this time, my dream was still just that, a dream. Years later in 2017, I was lucky enough to be accepted for voluntary redundancy, following twenty-three years’ service, allowing me to have some investment cash for a few ongoing projects, including the label. I also experienced a life changing moment (losing a cherished family member too early in life), which gave me a little boot up the bum! So, the dream started to look a little more likely. The label was actually set up due to some unreleased tracks that were put my way (more on this later), and I’m really pleased with the whole thing. There was already a ‘Spinout Records’ in operation, so I needed to tag something different to the ‘Spinout’ name, and after many hours deep in thought, Nuggets felt good. I asked Darryl Hartley to help out with the logo, based on his mighty fine long line of sterling artwork.

AKB: What drew you to Sergeants Mess for the first release?

LG: While all the dreaming and redundancy affair was going on, Johnny Barker from the band kindly sent me a copy of the first Sergeants Mess EP, which was produced by Billy Childish back in 2002, to play on the Spinout Show. He’d hinted that they had further unreleased tracks available, recorded with the mighty Mole at Sandgate Studios in 2013, and he asked if I knew anyone who’d be up for getting it out. Well, I originally thought my time had come, but just didn’t know how to get the ball rolling. Jon sent the tracks through, and I got a one-off carved up in order to play during my DJ set down at the colossal Beatwave Weekender 2017. I played it on the show too, and there was some great interest in it. I made a few enquiries but it wasn’t the right time for other labels to get it out, due to other planned releases.

So, following an ad-hoc meeting with Jon in a Rochester boozer, I felt it was the right time, and what better release to start with than the Mess quartet. With the help and guidance from Mole at State Records (did someone say ‘State Records?!’) and Russell at Crocodile Records, I managed to get the ball rolling. Big thanks to those fellas for their time and support. Jon had already put the sleeve artwork together, and I added a few bits on, including the numbering, which I’ve always loved (it took me a whole evening to hand number these) and Jon printed them up too. It’s a real buzz to have such a collection of respected musicians for the first label release, just check out their collective musical journeys – Senior Service, CTMF, Buff Medways, Goodchilde, Daggermen, Phaze etc - their names appear on a fair few records in my collection, and I’m most certainly happy that it's a Medway band too! Plus the fact that the band share their name with the much remembered army surplus outlet in Chatham (don’t know if it’s still there or not, but I’m going back to the late 80’s on this one). Also, using Graham at Cyclone Music in Rochester for the whole pressing operation felt just right too, and the service was perfect.

"Sergeants Mess "Well That's Another Fine Mess" - On this hand-numbered limited edition 7” vinyl release of 300 copies, the Mess provide two stormers, each in it’s own parallel universe. "Couldn’t I Be Yours" gives a respectful nod to the Garage output of the 60s, and "Back In The Bag" is an experi-mental, yet very well constructed and funked up Kinks vs Gorillaz-esque wonder".

AKB: What can we expect to hear next on Spinout Nuggets?

LG: The label is no way intended to be something major or competition to anyone else but there are a few potential ideas for future releases. I would love to continue with it and roll out some real gems, and a few bands have already showed an interest in working on it. Hopefully, we may put one of our very own recordings out soon, either as Little Miss Mojo, or in a band offering, but I’m also up for any good offers. There’s also stuff I like that hasn’t been available on vinyl format up until now and I may work on trying to help arrange a release. Who knows, let’s see how it goes.

The Spinout Gang by Darryl Hartley
AKB: The Spinout Empire seems to be growing all the time! As we’ve discussed, you have the label, and the radio show but what else do you have planned for the future?

LG: Spinout Productions is the overall tag and it allows integration into other affairs, whether it’s flyer/graphic/design, entertainment assistance, whatever really. As a collective, we are really pleased with how things are going, and spending less time at a day job has allowed me to spend more time in all musical things (including the continued search for records). I’ve also managed recently to set up the new Spinout Productions website with the guidance of my brother Darren (thanks!), and I quite enjoyed the whole process, including the ecommerce shop side too. I’m hoping this may grow into a community-based hub for all our fave friends too. We totally appreciate all the support to date. For the Spinout Show, we’ll continue to run a live weekly one as much as we can (Wednesdays, 6-8pm, at ncbradio, with various guests. We’ve had some great additions, including some very special guests, our good friends Rick and Amy, the State Records take-over and our regular guests, brother Dave Grimshaw and Stevie Junk Wax. We’re always on the lookout for new music too, so send it to us!

The Spinout Revue continues to flourish, and we are lucky to be able to take this to various weekenders, festivals and venues throughout the year, in addition to our own organised affairs. We have only just returned from performing at the High Rollers Weekender in Las Vegas, under The Spinout Revue outlet, with live vocals from Little Miss Mojo, and we are pleased to have been part of it. What a weekend! We flew out with The Len Price 3 too, and they tore the roof off the place the night before us. We will certainly return to this great weekend, it was so well-organised (good work Eric, John, Patrick and the team), full of real nice people with such a good vibe. The whole ‘Revue’ idea was always going to include various performers, and we will continue to include as many as we can, whether it being DJ’s, a band, some poetry, dancers, visuals, whatever, and we’re hoping to get some more acts down to Cornwall too.

The record shop dream may still become a reality, along with running a music venue (in order to put on all what we like), and I’m working on these, combining the two would be ace and we’re on the hunt for a venue. In the meantime, I’m using the Spinout Shop on the website to sell some specially picked releases to share. We really do appreciate the continued support, bookings, socialising, laffs, friendships, beers, and of course, the events we are able to attend (including the mighty fine Retro Man nights). I’d also like to take this moment to thank ‘the Mess’ (Jon, Darryl, Wolf and Chris) and all that have sailed in her (or bought the 7”…!). Graham Semark, all our Spinout show listeners worldwide, Mole and Lois, Russell Crocodile, Dave Grimshaw, Russ Wilkins, Adam Cooper, Adrian Gibson, Jordan Cinco, John Manion and Steve from Retro Man Blog for all their continued help, support and services to all Spinout affairs. All the bands and promoters that put so much effort in to what they do, and of course, my partner in musical crime, the one and only Little Miss Mojo (Emma), who I’ve had the pleasure (and support) to build this all with.

Check out the Spinout Productions new web-site here for further information on all the Spinout news and happenings and how to order the new 7" single by Sergeants Mess. You can hear one side of the Single in Episode 29 of Retrosonic Podcast. With thanks to Amy and Lee.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Tours at The King Charles in Poole, 9th March 2018. Paul Slattery Photos and Report on the Power Pop Legends Reunion

Tours Photographed by Paul Slattery March 2018
Back in 1979 John Peel played Tours "Language School" on his show for 50 consecutive nights declaring it his second favourite 45 of all time behind the Undertones "Teenage Kicks". 39 years years later, The King Charles pub in Poole was the venue for Tours' first gig in all that time where a packed upstairs medieval room saw Dorset’s favourite sons shake off the intervening years with a blistering set featuring all their favourite tunes from their "Album Of The Year That Never Was". The Band rehearsals, which I had previously reported on for Retro Man Blog (see here for details) had obviously paid off as the band blasted through their three minute power-pop classics.

Tours Photographed by Paul Slattery March 2018

I’d never been to a gig in a medieval room before replete with all the details, hammer beams, inglenook chimney and lancet windows - what an amazing venue for a reunion gig. Although most of the songs are nearly forty years old, the late seventies was a golden age of great Power Pop and the songs sound as good today as they did back then.

Tours Photographed by Paul Slattery March 2018
Tours Photographed by Paul Slattery March 2018
Basher on drums and Steve on bass are excellent throughout and keep the whole gig moving right along, and this is the first time the band has appeared as a five piece with original member John Hole back in the band. When Ronnie, Richard and John are on-song the guitars really are a "wall of sound" and what they lack in perfection they make up in passion. They complete their rousing set in just about 55 minutes to a huge ovation and I can’t tell you how good it is to listen to these great songs played live once again.

Tours Photographed by Paul Slattery March 2018
Tours Photographed by Paul Slattery March 2018
Ronnie tells me that the band should be doing another gig at The King Charles later in the summer, although Basher has commitments with his band "The Electric Shakes" and Richard has to fly in from New York. But hopefully things will come together next year for a 40th anniversary tour, I really hope they can pull it off. If tonight’s performance was anything to go by then I hope by next year it’s full steam ahead. (Paul Slattery, March 2018).

Tours Photographed by Paul Slattery March 2018
Tours Photographed by Paul Slattery in 1979
You can hear Paul talking about his trip to see the gig and listen to the band's classic "Language School" single in our latest episode of Retrosonic Podcast (episode number 30). 

Thanks to Paul for the feature and great photos. We'll keep you updated on future Tours news.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Damian O'Neill & The Monotones "Refit Revise Reprise": The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion and Everlasting Yeah Guitarist Discusses His New Solo LP with Retrosonic Podcast

In the latest special edition of Retrosonic Podcast Damian O'Neill, guitarist with The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion and The Everlasting Yeah talks to Steve from Retro Man Blog about his excellent new solo album "Refit Revise Reprise". The album is released via a Pledgemusic campaign under the name Damian O'Neill & The Monotones and comprises twelve tracks recorded at Damian's home and at Press Play Studios in South London. Co-produced, engineered and mixed by Damian, Andy Ramsay (ex Stereolab) and Paul Tipler with musical contributions from Sean O’Hagan (The High Llamas) amongst others. There’s some old, new, borrowed and blue on this record. You’ll hear new songs and instrumental tracks that are guaranteed to thrill and melt your heart plus Damian has delved into his musical past and revamped selected self penned Undertones/That Petrol Emotion songs too. It’s Glam/Stomp/Dreamy Pop with a cascade of guitars, vibes, organ, bells and whistles. Damian takes us on a thoroughly entertaining journey through the new album which also touches on some of his other solo projects and collaborations such as 5 Billion In Diamonds, No Flies On Frank, A Quiet Revolution and the "Trapped In A Cage" single. There's also a world exclusive of one of the first ever performances by the mysterious Derry based Psychedelic Garage Rock band The Wesleys of "Love Parade", a track which would go on to become an Undertones classic! Here's the brand new video of a superb track from the album "Sweet & Sour" directed by Douglas Hart.

You can order the album on CD, download or vinyl and check out the various bundles and packages at the Damian O'Neill & The Monotones Pledgemusic site HERE. For updates, information and news please head over to the official Monotones Facebook page here. Please visit our Soundcloud site to listen/download the episode or easier still, check it out below...

If you prefer, you can stream the episode at Mixcloud or subscribe to Retrosonic Podcast on iTunes for free at the link here to ensure you don't miss another episode! And don't forget to check out our archive for the hugely entertaining story of That Petrol Emotion and The Everlasting Yeah with Damian, Raymond Gorman and Ciaran McLaughlin - it's a must listen for any fan!

With thanks to Damian, Viv and Rosa O'Neill.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Nymphet Noodlers: The Story of One of Sweden's Most Underrated Bands from the Beginning to December's Reunion

Nymphet Noodlers at Uppsala Konsert & Kongress December 2017 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
For a band that only released one EP, one CD Single and one full-length Album in a relatively short-lived career, Nymphet Noodlers and their band members, vocalist Mattias Hellberg, guitarist Mattias Bärjed, keyboard player Martin Hederos, bassist Jan Martens and drummer Jesper Karlsson certainly had a lasting impact on the Swedish music scene. The Hellacopters, Nicolai Dunger, A Camp, The Solution, Stefan Sundström, Dundertåget, Henrik Berggren, Magnus Carlson, Diamond Dogs, Refused, Tonbruket, Sofia Karlsson, Anna Ternheim, Nationalteatern, Håkan Hellström…the list of bands, artists and projects that each has been involved with in some way or another over the years would be longer than a telephone directory! However, there was one band in particular that might not have existed without them, a certain Soundtrack of Our Lives. So, just who were Nymphet Noodlers? Formed in the early 90’s in the city of Karlstad, a few hours to the North East of Gothenburg, Nymphet Noodlers evolved from the ashes of local bands Ugly Jake and Christ Couldn’t Come.

Front man Mattias Hellberg gave me the low down on their early history in our Retrosonic Podcast interview back in 2012. “I had a band called Ugly Jake at the time and a week before we were due to play our first gig in Gothenburg the guitarist broke his hand so I asked Mattias Bärjed to join. We already had a covers band called Nymphet Noodlers and we played MC5, Alice Cooper, Stooges and 60's Psychedelic stuff. Mattias joined and something clicked, like a partner in music, so we started writing totally new songs for the gig in Gothenburg. We realised we needed a keyboard player and our sax player Simon Jedvik knew a guy and he brought Martin Hederos along to a rehearsal. He was at the same school as me and Mattias but he was studying music and those guys were not that cool, so, we were kind of sceptical in the beginning. Martin said something like ‘I never really played Rock ‘n’ Roll but I'll try my best’ and we started playing, it was quite loud and he went nuts, he played like hell and we were like ‘yeah, you got the job!’ I can tell you that he changed his wardrobe quite quick once he joined us!” Fellow Karlstad resident and childhood friend of guitarist Mattias Bärjed, the acclaimed comic book artist, movie director and musician David Liljemark recalls those early days. “Not counting their earlier related bands, I first saw Nymphet Noodlers when they were still a covers band. February 1992 at Café Creole, Karlstad, I remember that they played the Kinks' ‘Till the End of the Day’. Then 10th October 1992 at Kyrkerud Folkhögskola in Årjäng but in my calendar it says ‘8pm Ugly Jake’ and we have at least a version of “Helter Skelter” on tape, featuring a vacuum cleaner I think! In January 1993, I saw them at a former cinema called Röda Kvarn (Red Mill) by Karlstad Town Square, very close to the recording of the ‘Impeccable Selection’ EP".

Ugly Jake 1991 feat. Guest Mattias Bärjed
The Noodlers promoted a local gig for the legendary Gothenburg based Punk Rock band Union Carbide Productions, fronted by the charismatic and unpredictable Ebbot Lundberg. Both acts were heavily influenced by Iggy & The Stooges and Hellberg explains further. “We put on the infamous Union Carbide gig at the university (in Karlstad). When they started to play those 90 people or so who had paid for tickets just ran out of the venue. They fucked up the PA totally, Ebbot broke about five microphones, Björn Olsson fell asleep and got his guitar wired up in the lighting rig and it fell down, I think they played maybe 5 or 6 songs”. The Noodlers also gained a reputation for some pretty wild and chaotic behaviour as David Liljemark witnessed. “I remember Lund Student Union where Björn Olsson was a guest and saxophonist Simon Jedvik was wearing a lizard costume. Simon told me recently that at Värmlands Student Union in Lund, Mattias brought along a teddy bear suit and wore it during their soundcheck. Luckily he noticed that the stuffed belly made it hard to play guitar so he skipped it for the gig itself! That was probably just after the album was out (which I thought sounded weaker than their live assault). I think that was when I bought a cheap homebuilt guitar at a flea market; it didn’t work so I donated it to Mattias to smash on stage. Chrougen in Lund, possibly 30th November, which is King Karl XII’s day, an old King that neo-Nazis have taken a liking to for some weird reason and they take to the streets to demonstrate. People were scared to go out and it was almost like a ghost town outside, but I would not let that stop me from going to see Nymphet Noodlers".

Nymphet Noodlers, Jäger in Karlstad '96 - Photo by Åke K Back
"It was a brilliant freak show gig; Mattias reminded me that they wore dresses and Hellberg slipped over in some puddle, which amused him a lot. I do remember Mattias ripping out his guitar strings during the freak-out coda of ‘Rights’, the great track they used to finish off the gigs with. I have a recollection of an electric hand mixer being used on the guitar during the same song at some other gig, possibly Arvikafestivalen 1993. They and Einstürzende Neubauten totally owned that festival. At Arvikafestivalen the following year, they played rather late, starting at 02:20 at night and they had those damn striped shirts. Jedvik was gone, and the intros had changed. It was less chaotic and more “musical” after this makeover, which I wasn't very keen on. Still great, though.”

Not to be deterred by their first chaotic attempt at putting on a gig for Union Carbide, the Noodlers invited them back to Karlstad again as Hellberg explains. “We had arranged another Union Carbide gig in 1991, we had them back and this time the crowd stayed. I talked to Ebbot about producing us and he saw us play in Gothenburg, he was into it and in 1993 he produced ‘Impeccable Selection’ our four track demo EP”. A year later Ebbot went on to produce their debut LP “Going Abroad” and there’s no doubting that his influence looms large over these recordings, not least in his prominent backing vocals on tracks such as “Sane”. Ebbot was justifiably pleased with the “Going Abroad” album, which still sounds fresh and exciting to this day. Indeed once at a TSOOL after-show party, I was getting Martin to sign the album cover and as soon as he had finished, Ebbot grabbed it and signed it too, proudly announcing, “I produced this you know!” There's no doubting the Noodlers made a lasting impression on Ebbot, especially their talented keyboard player as Hellberg admits. “I remember Ebbot called me when they did the last Union Carbide Productions tour, ‘do you think we could use Martin as keyboard player for UCP?’ I said, ‘Don’t ask me, ask him’, so he did and Martin joined them and then he was under the wings of Ebbot”.

One of their heroes also fell for the Noodlers. Wayne Kramer from the MC5 declared himself a big fan of the band. “I’d sent the LP to his record label” Hellberg told me, “and before a gig of his in Gothenburg there was an interview in the local newspaper and Wayne said ‘I’ve got to see Nymphet Noodlers, they blew me away’. So we went to the Club while he was sound checking and met him and he was like ‘hey, my brothers!’ and he was really nice to us. We got T-Shirts and signed CDs; he was so sweet to us. I played guitar with The Hellacopters on their first US tour in 1998, Wayne met us in LA, that was a feather in my cap among the Hellacopters guys, and he joined us on stage for two songs”. However, despite this high profile patronage and a superb album under their belts, Nymphet Noodlers unexpectedly fizzled out and I asked Hellberg why. “We recorded the LP and we toured Sweden, Norway and Denmark but never outside Scandinavia. We were totally out from the scene in Sweden at the time. It was all Shoe-gazing, Blur and Oasis and we were doing Stooges, MC5, and even weirder arrangements that were too over the top for the usual Rock crowd. We kept touring for a while but the press and media didn't write anything about us and I must say that Mattias changed quite a bit for a while musically. He started to write other songs and he joined another band from Karlstad called Mindjive and things just fell apart for Nymphet Noodlers”.

In the meantime, Union Carbide Productions had also split up and Ebbot was busy putting together his next band The Soundtrack of Our Lives along with former UCP guitarists Ian Person and Björn Olsson. They had been dabbling in various short-lived projects such as Black Balloons, Levity Ball, Charlie Don’t Surf and the KB Johnson Quartet and had the blueprint in place for their next adventure. As I mentioned earlier, Ebbot was certainly impressed with the Nymphet Noodlers and if you listen back to their “Going Abroad” album, in particular the tracks “Unlimited Sympathy” or “Father”, they could almost be a bridge between the later Union Carbide Production songs such as “Golden Age” and what would follow with The Soundtrack Our Lives. So, the three of them invited Martin Hederos along for the ride and his classical training and genius in orchestral arrangements allied to his bubbling 60’s style Hammond organ would go on to become vital components in TSOOL’s sound. Ebbot completed the rhythm section by plundering two Gothenburg based bands, The Electric Eskimoes for Bassist Kalle Gustafsson Jerneholm and Whipped Cream for Drummer Fredrik Sandsten. Then in 1997 when Björn Olsson decided to leave the band to pursue a solo career, Ebbot went back to Karlstad to take Mattias Bärjed from Mindjive.

Soundtrack of Our Lives photographed by Paul Slattery
This line-up would last until the band sadly called it a day in December 2012 and would be most familiar to those who got into TSOOL via their third LP “Behind the Music”, which would prove to be their international breakthrough. Unsurprisingly with Hederos & Bärjed in place, “Behind The Music” bore a few recognisable hallmarks of the old Nymphet Noodlers' sound. In fact, one of the best-loved songs on the album “Nevermore” had its roots in an unrecorded Noodlers song called “Sentimental Teenage Bullshit” and another Mattias Hellberg co-write “Age of No Reply” was arguably the standout track on the patchy follow-up “Origin Vol. 1” album. Indeed, there had been some definite cross-pollination going on even earlier and Mattias Bärjed admitted as much to me in our interview for Retrosonic Podcast. “When I think of the TSOOL song ‘Magic Muslims’, actually Björn Olsson told me this, back when we were recording the “Going Abroad” album in 1994, me, Mattias Hellberg and Jan the bass player were staying at Björn’s apartment and I don’t remember this but apparently I sat with his guitar and just improvised some riffs. He told me later “I played that riff, I took that from you” (for ‘Magic Muslims’). I don't remember but Björn is a genius so I don't care!” 

Hellberg & Nikke Ström, The Fur Heads - ©Retro Man Blog
So, what about the other members of Nymphet Noodlers? Singer Mattias Hellberg embarked on an eclectic, if somewhat restless, solo career releasing albums either under his own name or with some superb Psychedelic-Soul projects such as The Fur Heads and The White Moose. Perhaps his biggest success was when he got back together with his old Nymphet Noodlers friend and colleague Martin for the duo Hederos & Hellberg. Initially they recorded a demo album to help them get some low-key gigs in bars and clubs but it was snapped up and released by Gravitation Records in 2000 to great and unexpected acclaim. Their set, entirely made up of stripped back, baroque cover versions of classic tracks by bands and artists such as The Stooges, Rolling Stones, Dylan and The Velvet Underground became a huge hit. Acknowledged by Iggy Pop and invited on tour by Ryan Adams, this success would ultimately lead to their downfall as demand for shows started to clash with Martin’s busy Soundtrack of Our Lives schedule. Hellberg’s love of World Music also saw him working with Ugandan-Swedish Soul singer Jaqee and with the Dub Reggae Rock outfit Kanzeon and in 2005 he was asked to sing with legendary Swedish band Nationalteatern’s Rockorkester for a summer tour and has been a full time member ever since. His talents as a guitarist also saw him in demand and he has toured and recorded with The Solution and The Hellacopters and even helped out The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Recently he has been playing sold out arenas as part of Swedish superstar Håkan Hellström’s backing band and touring with Norwegian band Janove.

Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala, December 2017 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
Bassist Jan Martens went on to form The Jan Martens Frustration and Rocket ’99 and he is now working on new material. Drummer Jesper Karlsson also helped Jan with The Frustration and has, until the sad and untimely death of Robert Dahlqvist early in 2017, been in Dundertåget and before that Thunder Express and Diamond Dogs. Mattias Bärjed did not stay still even when he was in The Soundtrack of Our Lives; his love of classic Heavy Rock saw him form Free Fall along with ex-Noodler Jan on bass, vocalist Kim Franson and the excellent drummer Ludwig Dahlberg from The International Noise Conspiracy. He also went on to become a well-respected movie and TV soundtrack composer and I would definitely recommend getting hold of the mind-blowing “Upp Till Kamp” soundtrack album. He has also been playing packed out stadiums in ex-Broder Daniel singer Henrik Berggren’s band and has toured with Swedish Punk legends The Refused.

Mattias Bärjed
However, it is Martin Hederos who has been the busiest of all the ex-Nymphet Noodlers. He has become the go-to person for an impressive list of Artists desperate to utilise his expertise on the keyboards and violin and his skills with orchestral arrangements. He has worked with Anna Ternheim and Sofia Karlsson and last year finally released his first solo album of piano music. Some of the highlights we have seen him involved with over the past few years include a superb, intimate gig with Nina Persson from The Cardigans at the Ystad Theatre and a full on extravaganza with Ane Brun at the Forum in Kentish Town. Then there was a great show with Tonbruket at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston last February, which was something quite special. In fact, it is down to Martin that we find ourselves here in the charming University town of Uppsala on a crisp December evening looking forward to witnessing a rare Nymphet Noodlers reunion. The band have played a couple of shows over the years since they split up but this was certainly their most high profile appearance of the lot. The gig was the culmination of a yearlong residency by Martin as guest curator at the Uppsala Konsert & Kongress, where he put on a series of musical and cultural events throughout 2017. We were warmly welcomed by the venue’s Director Esbjörn Mårtensson, a classical musician who went onto run Sweden’s big performing arts awards ceremony the Polar Prize before taking up his role at the UKK. He first got to know Martin when he invited The Soundtrack of Our Lives to perform a selection of Led Zeppelin songs in front of 2006 Polar prize-winners Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page no less. Esbjörn also happens to be the dad of Hugo, the drummer in the excellent Stockholm based Psychedelic outfit Side Effects and also, in a nice piece of synchronicity, with none other than Ebbot Lundberg’s current backing band The Indigo Children. There was a pre-gig reception and speech where Martin was thanked for all his hard work over the year and we were treated to a nice bonus as Mattias Hellberg joined him on stage to recreate Hederos & Hellberg and play a moving version of the Stones “Shine A Light”.

Hederos & Hellberg, Uppsala December 2017 - Photo Retro Man Blog
I bumped into Nymphet Noodlers original saxophonist Simon Jedvik and I asked him if he was going to be making an appearance. Simon was very self-effacing and laughed off the idea telling me that he originally left the band because he felt he was just not quite good enough to keep up with the Noodlers. That and an arm injury meant that he decided to call it a day. I think he was being modest as his sax playing on "Going Abroad" is damn good. Anyway, it was nice to chat to Simon and it meant that I managed to get another signature on my album cover! His place at the gig was to be taken by Mats Gustafsson, the well-respected freeform Jazz saxophonist who has played with Sonic Youth and Jim O’Rourke among many others. Mats joined Martin on stage to run through an instrumental number before we all moved upstairs for the main event. The venue itself is surprisingly good for a modern conference centre; it has a nice atmosphere with an excellent sound and light show throughout. The sense of anticipation builds as the band, Mattias Bärjed, Jan Martens, Martin Hederos and Jesper Karlsson appear and they start up the slow intro to “Sane”. As it builds to the powerful, crashing chords, Mattias Hellberg suddenly bursts on stage.

Mattias Hellberg
He is the perfect front man, compelling and charismatic. Of course he has such a great voice too, soulful but still raw and powerful, he really is one of Sweden’s most underrated singers. He plays a mean harmonica too! I have only really seen Hellberg play quite laid-back shows either as a duo with Hederos & Hellberg or playing guitar and singing with The Fur Heads, so it is great to finally get to see him in what appears to be his natural habitat. He has the lithe moves of Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop and looks totally at ease up front leaning out over the crowd, encouraging more reaction. The band sound amazing, so powerful and contemporary that you forget their hey-day was actually back in the early to mid-90’s. Mattias Bärjed’s guitar spits out some wicked fast paced riffs especially on a couple of old unrecorded songs, first of all “Fake Moustache” which wouldn’t be out of place on Free Fall’s album and then “Ron Asheton” which certainly sounds like a fitting tribute to Mattias’ Stooges guitar hero. The band temper their aural assault with the Bluesy swagger of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin kind and the rhythm section of Jan Martens, with his thunderous John Entwistle style bass lines, and Jesper Karlsson’s tight and solid playing means they also have a serious groove. They play a good chunk of the “Going Abroad” album including the title track, a bizarre comedy instrumental interlude with Mats Gustafsson’s Sax adding a great avant-garde touch. Martin is his usual blur of energy behind his keyboards and it’s exhausting just watching him play.

Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala, December 2017 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala, December 2017 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
A snaking “Divine Curse” and the powerful “Unlimited Sympathy” are just two of my highlights of a great set and they end with the immense “Small Town”. The band come back for an encore of “Beautiful Day” and one of their earliest numbers “Rights”. They are called back for more and reprise the night’s opening track “Sane” this time with Mats' mind-blowing Sax that elevates the song to a different level and it’s over all too quickly. After the show, I asked David Liljemark what he thought about the reunion, his first Nymphet Noodlers show for about 22 years and how it compared to those early days. “It was amazing! One of the best gigs I've been to! They were better than ever, which is saying a lot. Hellberg walking out among the crowd and so on was good to see, standing on the drums, posing with the tambourine and being back to his old rock star front man antics. Back where he belongs! The absolute highlight in a set full of them, was 'Rights' - absolutely devastating - and 'Small Town', of course. The atonal part of 'Divine Curse' got a good boost by Mats G too! 'Slow' many classics. Hope they'll play again soon, but I won't hold my breath. Now, let's hope this UKK gig and all sorts of archive stuff gets released in some way!" 

Mats Gustafsson, Uppsala, December 2017 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala, December 2017 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
I agree and sincerely hope that the overwhelmingly positive reaction and the fact that the band seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we were in the crowd, might tempt them to get Nymphet Noodlers back on a more permanent basis. They may finally get the credit that is long overdue. You can see more photos from the reunion show over at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here. There are also some videos up at our YouTube channel here.

Nymphet Noodlers Reunion Set-List UKK December 2017
Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala, December 2017 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
With thanks to David Liljemark, Hans Selander, Daniel Eriksson and Esbjörn Mårtensson. All colour live photographs from Uppsala copyright Retro Man Blog, Soundtrack of Our Lives at Slussens Pensionat by Paul Slattery, live photo from Jäger in '96 by Åke K Back from Cat & The Underdogs and all archive material courtesy of David Liljemark. You can find loads of Soundtrack of Our Lives related material in the Retro Man Blog archive and previous episodes of Retrosonic Podcast. For more information on all the Bands and Artists featured please click on the highlighted links throughout the feature (or below) to access their official web-sites or Facebook pages:

For the ultimate story of Union Carbide Productions I would recommend getting hold of  Issue 16 of Mike Stax's excellent Ugly Things Magazine. We also help to run The Soundtrack of Our Lives Facebook group over here, not just for sharing memorabilia and archive material but for news and updates on all the ex-band members current projects. You can still listen to/download our special Retrosonic Podcast episode from 2012, where Mattias Hellberg takes us on a thoroughly entertaining journey through his eclectic musical career...