The Cravats – Dustbin of Sound

When I tell you that The Cravats were part of the Anarcho-Punk movement of the 1980s (they were formed in Redditch in 1977) please don’t dismiss them as one of those aggressive buzzsaw guitar bands like Crass, Dirt, Conflict and Flux of Pink Indians (fine as those bands were). One of the great things about that movement was the vast breadth of music contained within. Bear in mind that the Crass label released music by Captain Sensible, Honey Bane and Bjork’s first (pre Sugarcubes) band Kukl, as well as more melodic bands like Poison Girls, Zounds, Sleeping Dogs and The Mob.

With the 50th birthday of Radio One being celebrated this weekend, it seems appropriate to mention that The Cravats recorded no less than 4 sessions for John Peel’s show. Cravats front man, The Shend, comments (in Ian Glasper’s excellent The Day The Country Died book) that:

…knowing how important the PRS payments were to us small bands, he used to even play two or three tracks a night in order to help us out financially. He was responsible for most good music even being heard in the first place, and I’d actually say he was the most influential person ever in British music; he gave everybody a chance.

In allowing John Peel to work unfettered in this way, Radio One was an invaluable conduit for new music — even if it was only for a few hours in the middle of the night through the week. Here’s the band’s single Rub Me Out  recorded for their Peel session of 10th August 1981:

The band has always been led by The Shend (the only original member and occasional actor, who has appeared in EastEnders, Red Dwarf, The Bill, Men Behaving Badly, and Torchwood amongst others).  He’s now backed up, in proper punk naming style, by Svor Naan on Saxophone (who joined in 1978, so almost original), Rampton Garstang on Drums, Viscount Biscuits on Guitar and Joe 90 on Bass.

I’ve seen their music described as “Jazz punk” and whilst I can hear that, there is so much more here. The new album — their first since The Colossal Tunes Out album of 1986 (so that’s a 31 year gap) — kicks off with King of Walking Away. Some of The Shend’s lyrics can be rather oblique and some of the fun of listening to these tracks is trying to work out exactly what he is going on about. I could just fill this review with quotes from the tracks that I enjoy, such as:

But when you bathe that desire, I’m an electric fire
Balanced precariously on your porcelain rim
Soon I will fall, plugged into the wall,
And watch you thrash about as the lights flicker and dim
I’m the king of walking away.

Is this about “Camoron” and his ridiculous, and wholly selfish decision to hold the Leave Referendum, only to lose it and drop the country right in the mire, and then run away? Maybe.

Batterhouse is a fabulous, bass driven, Jive style song — think Dead Kennedy’s We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now, but so much better. Motorcycle Man starts off as a pretty standard ‘chugger chugger’ track, lifted by a great sax riff: “Overtake the undertaker in his black sedan”100 Percent is another song that benefits from a really interesting sax riff: “I reckon I’m at my best when I’m wading through shit”. And Blurred, which was released as a single earlier this year. For me, it’s about the complete collapse of intelligent thinking. We should never trust an expert, apparently:

Smoke too many cigarettes
I eat too many cigarettes
I drink and drive too many cigarettes
I don’t know what is good for me
I don’t know what is good for me…

Power Lines Up sounds like a track that could have been written in the 80s anarcho-punk heyday: “Power lines up, Power Lines down…Pylon”. Jingo Bells was the first single released from the album back in March 2016 — before the Brexit vote — but I think we can safely ramp up that jingoism quotient by 5 times now.

Bury The Wild has a great guitar riff and a pro-vegetarian theme whereas Bigband is a bit of a rockabilly track all about, well, a big band. Following that there’s Whooping Sirens. All about a nuclear disaster, possibly reminiscent of Fukushima, and then we’re straight into “Hang Them”, on the American alt-right’s rabid calls to legally dispose of all sorts of alleged undesirables, by whatever means — and watch the ensuing executions.

Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them

Big Red Car is all about the driving experience: “Warm and safe in my cocoon, another big bunny in a shit cartoon“. And finally, the most surreal track of the album, apparently written (and I’m taking the lyrics sheet at face value — which may be a big mistake) about a damaged sign that says:

u bish
Will be

Hugely reminiscent of The Stranglers’ Peasant in The Big Shitty — though that might just be me!

This is going to be the most underrated album of the year. I can feel “critically acclaimed” oozing out of the air all around me. This deserves much more. It’s an interesting album with interesting tunes, interesting song structures and interesting lyrics. Do you remember that concept in ‘popular’ music? You’ve got to step back to the halcyon days of John Peel and have a listen to what he used to play to recognise it. But Dustbin of Sound has it in the here and now.

Clearly 5/5

The Len Price 3: Kentish Longtails

We’re all a bit cross

The Len Price 3 deliver a cracking mix of punky power pop, mod and a fair amount of anger on this, their fifth, long player, bringing the sound of the Medway to your home. Kicking off with a diatribe against Billy Childish and writers of reviews generally (not the last time music reviewers cop for some anger) Childish Words gets the album off to a cracking start,. The fact that the tune is well and truly wedged in my brain after only a couple of listens is a good sign!

Sucking the Life Out of Me retains the anger quotient but the pace eases off a little, and we then get a jangling beauty of a song — You Can’t Say Goodbye — replacing the bile with a good measure of pathos. The impressive backing vocals from Neil Fromow are highlighted here, and feature throughout the album. Things in the lyric department look up for the gentler love song Telegraph Hill and we get some enjoyable reminiscing on Saturday Morning Film Show . Whatever did happen to the Children’s Film Foundation?

Then back to the anger with Nothing I Want

I’d like to take your stuff, ram it down your throat,
With your plasma screen telly and your UKIP vote.

Yep. We all know one of those.

Then we’re hit with a brief moment of surrealism on Pocketful of Watches. This gentle sixties-styled track, with it’s ba, ba, ba’s, lulls you into a false sense of security before we launch into the very angry, Ride On Coattails. ”I’ve had enough of it” spits singer and guitarist Glenn Page.

Meaningless Mouth takes issue with the “art” of lip synching and fake, manufactured, X-Factor style “pop stars” and I have no idea what Lisa Baker did to piss them off, but she’s apparently their “Poundland Valentine”. Stop Start Lilly really reminds me of early Who and this is followed by the sing-a-long Paint Your Picture Well. If You See What I See demonstrates the great drumming of Neil Fromow, and we then reach the end of the listed tracks with Man In The Woods. Definitely a good track to showcase for the album and the band have released this video for it;

After a short break we have the obligatory “hidden” track; a rather splendid punky pub-rock style tune all about things we don’t need, apparently titled, after a root around the internet, Sally Ann.

This is a great album. If you enjoy The Who, The Jam and The Kinks, you’ll be very happy. I’m conscious I’ll get a slap from the band for that very lazy comparison…

You dribble words on the printed page,
You kiss me off with the faintest of praise,
I’ve had enough of it.

Redemption hopefully comes with a 5/5

The Waterboys: Out Of All This Blue

Once upon a long ago, I travelled from Swansea to Birmingham to see a much talked-about, but as yet not-really-broken-through band by the name of U2. (Before I go on, I feel I must metaphorically snap my fingers and get you back in the room, because I’m sure you may be are stuck on several things in that opening sentence. None are relevant. Stop it. Stopped? Good. Can I continue?)

Over time and many gigs, I’ve learned to pay attention to the support act, ever since I saw an unknown Squeeze play bottom of the bill behind Radio Stars and Eddie and the Hot Rods back in ’77.  This particular night was another when the magic was spun again, the unknown hopefuls this time an outfit called The Waterboys, and they utterly owned the stage.  They were big, soulful, mellifluous, shouty and captivating. In fairness, U2, who had yet to invent the Blues and for whom Bono was yet to declare himself, if only tacitly, as bigger than Jesus, were actually hugely entertaining. But it was the raggedly ragamuffin bunch of openers that left me restless and wanting more. Shortly thereafter, they found themselves elevated, or demoted depending on how you view these things, to being mentioned in the same breath as U2, as well as Big Country and Simple Minds. It was the era of the 80s’ ‘Big Music’, a label which itself came from an album track (and single release) from The Waterboys’ 1984 album A Pagan Place.

The Waterboys were/are, in essence, Mike Scott and whichever musicians he has around him at any given time.  However, while he is naturally the greatest influence on the band’s sound and direction, he has never been fool enough to ignore the strengths of those he chooses to have as companions. The majestic keyboard sound of Karl Wallinger (who was to write and record She’s The One with his band World Party, later a hit for Robbie Williams) and the subtler saxophone of Anthony Thistlethwaite (long since a journeyman with The Saw Doctors) created a far more interesting framework for Scott’s literary and Celtic songwriting than was evident in the other ‘Big Music’ groups. And perhaps the greatest influence was the addition of Steve Wickham in 1985: a folk-orientated fiddle player, his contribution led to the ‘second era’ of The Waterboys sound, bringing a sweeping folk feel to the rock’n’roll that lasted for several years.

A brief return to a more rock-driven sound was followed by the dissolution of the band and a solo career from Scott. Rekindling the Waterboys’ brand, and with Wickham rejoining, a more experimental sound – more informed by ‘alternative music’ – laid the foundation for the most recent incarnation of the band, as heard on the 2015 album ‘Modern Blues’ and now on this, the magnum opus of ‘Out of All This Blue’.

The DNA here is recognisable, but evolution has helped build a fitter, stronger animal altogether. This work doesn’t ever sit neatly in a category, it’s not ‘Big Music’, it’s not ‘Celtic-folk’ and it’s not ‘alternative music’. Nor is it all of these somehow melded together: it’s something quite different, something that could come only from the building blocks of the past. There is the same literary lyricism, the same heart-baring soulful words from Scott, that as usual reward close listening, but they are wrapped in an eclectic, fuzzy, hip-hop (yes, hip-hop), funky blanket that will have you hypnotised, melting into it’s warm loveliness, and before you know it, wanting to get up and snake and sway your hips. (Dancing? To a Waterboys album? Whatever next?)

Out Of All This Blue is an album that works as a whole, as a throbbing, bopping, hopeful, exposing piece of art that embraces and provokes. I have my favourite tracks: you’ll have yours. Give it a try, maybe sinking first into If The Answer Is Yeah. But if that doesn’t warm you, just immerse yourself in New York I Love You, or Girl In A Kayak: and then float away…

The Fallen Leaves – What We’ve All Been Waiting For.

With summer over and but a few short months to Christmas, our attention turns to selecting the “Best Albums of 2017”. New guest writer, Mark, kicks us off with The Fallen Leaves’ What We’ve All Been Waiting For, released back in April.

As a callow yoof I started my musical journey as a Rude Boy, before moving into the more punky side of things with bands like Stiff Little Fingers. A fellow SLF fan introduced me to The Chords — a punky Mod band I immediately fell in love with. Their debut album, “So Far Away,” was always a favourite but I gradually lost touch with the band over the years. So, whilst listening recently to an interview with The Chords’ ex-drummer Brett “Buddy” Ascott on Gary Cowley’s Punk and New Wave show (Soho Radio) I was excited to hear what he and his new pals (including ex Subway Sect members) were now up to.

The group play ‘Punk Rock for Gentlemen’ but have produced an album (their fourth, released earlier this year, recorded just before Buddy joined) in “What We’ve All Been Waiting For” that is far more 60s Mod than punk — but that’s not a bad thing…

An opening clang followed by dischords and a squeal of feedback leads us into the opening track Prodigal Son and transports us back to the days of The Chords and, rather surprisingly, Rob Green’s superb vocal phrasing brings to mind The Inspiral Carpets. Lazy comparisons aside, it really is an excellent, grab-you-by-the-throat start.

I played in a few bands myself, many years ago, and our French drummer (oh yes, we were very cosmopolitan) brought a cover by a band called The Celibate Rifles (I think) in for us to play. I’m a Man brings this track back to me like an old friend wrapped in nostalgia — a spirited garage punk romp of a song that also brings to mind Medway’s excellent Len Price 3 (whose new album’s coming in September).

Lavender Girl takes us back to the 60s and that mod sound you’d expect, along with a rather endearing reference to The Damned’s debut single New Rose thrown in: again, a long, long way from being a bad thing…

Funny Word then gives us a little switch in direction, its slower, more deliberate bass-led beat pulling us along before we dive back into the 60s garage punk feel — and a bit of Tenpole Tudor — for Taking a View.

Halfway through the album and you may feel I’m suggesting this is all a bit derivative. It really isn’t: while The Fallen Leaves are happy to wear their influences on their sleeves, you feel like you’re listening to a brand-new sound in the most comfortable of slippers.

Jumping into the second half of the album, All That Glitters gives us a military tattoo with a great guitar riff floating through and sustaining it. Promised Land sets off in great Chords style and shifts into a very enjoyable punky/mod tune with a great singalong chorus.

Next up we have Out in a Forest, another moddy track with an unexpected change of pace midway through: it had me nodding my head happily. This – this –  is really not a bad thing…

Motorcycle Girl has the obligatory bike-revving noises — obviously — and some ‘ooo’s and ‘yeah’s. But did I feel like I wanted to be with the Motorcycle Girl? Well, yes, drawn in by her seductiveness, those guitar chops working perfectly, I never wanted to leave her…

Up to now we have mostly had two/three-minute bursts of mod-driven garage punk. To finish with, though, Good Man gives us a six-minute space, space which allows the music to fill out and develop. Proud of its “great riff and great melody”, it’s Rob Green’s favourite and, in his view, sums up the group’s ethos: “that’s our speciality, a great sound with strong melodies and killer choruses”.  Again, I hear The Inspiral Carpets coming through, especially around the “Where’s the good man gone?” refrain. This is not a bad thing…

A thoroughly good album and I have no hesitation in recommending it. You can absolutely hear the influences throughout, but this is not a bad thing: the Fallen Leaves take the sparkle from vintage tracks and sprinkle their own magic to produce an album full of great tunes.

While we wait for the next album — which, we’re told, “is all written” and “will have Buddy on drums, so will be full of energy” — we can catch the group’s live show, next at The Hope & Anchor on Saturday 23rd September. As Rob says: “Come and see us play, you’ll be in for a treat. We are the best group in England.”

Let down by his parents from the start, Mark was only 9 when 1977 reared its angry head. Not to be held back, Two Tone showed the way from Jazz and the Bee Gees (thanks Dad), swiftly followed by an appreciation of punk and ska that has become a lifelong passion. Previously the proprietor of a (now long defunct) online record store, Mark was involved in the promotion and sale of Millwall’s FA Cup final song in 2003 (by the mighty fine Dead Pets) which, as a lifelong Leeds Utd fan, rather rankled.  An enthusiastic photographer, you can find out more at