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.