Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Midlake - The Courage Of Others

It was Bill Forsyth at Minus Zero who got me into Midlake, probably about three years ago. Over the years there've been more than a few records he's insisted I buy and generally he's been right. I found that I was taken by The Trials Of Van Occupanther pretty much immediately, and most people I played it to were of the same mind. My thoughts on the album are summed up in the following:

"It’s a record of magic and otherness. A series of conceptually linked songs set in the American wilderness in the late 19th century, involving a ‘lonely scientist’, in an atmosphere that’s mainly pastoral but at times menacing. Harking back to pre-punk days and gentle psych-folk it has a rich and organic sound that warms and reassures, and its lyrical elisions invite you to join, as part-creator, this second life.

"Comparisons are made, not altogether accurately, to later Fleetwood Mac and America, and the shade of the mysterious Jimmie Spheeris has been invoked by the band itself. However in their spirit of evocation of other times, though not necessarily musically, they are perhaps closest to Tandy and The Band."

That's from the preface to an interview I did with Tim Smith, from Summer 2007, that ran in Rock'n'Reel that autumn (Nov/Dec issue). Tim also talked about their intended follow-up as they'd been playing a new song,‘The Children Of The Grounds':

“It’s a little darker sounding. I think the next album will be darker. Maybe half the album is written. I still have a lot to write but I just want to get started recording. We’ll begin when we get back. We’re still waiting on gear to come in, but now we’ve got a proper studio or at least a space we can convert. We recorded the first two in the living room.

“We’re doing it ourselves again. We’re still figuring things out. It’s a learning thing. It’s a bit of a frustrating process as being fun. It can be so gruelling by the time it’s done. I’m just saying that as it might take us a year. There’s pressure but I’m quite confident it’ll be a better album. I’m pretty sure from listening to the demos. I just think the songs are better. I don’t know if there’s any ‘Roscoe’s. There’s definitely no ‘Roscoe’s in the bunch, but you can’t expect to write 20 of those! We’ll see.”

It's now been announced that album, 'The Courage Of Others', is slated for release on 1st February next year. To quote from Bella Union's press release:

"Midlake’s new album also looks to a slightly earlier, and definitely British, trad-tainted folk sound. It may share the same gorgeously analogue-warm electro-acoustic template as Van Occupanther but it’s a slower, darker and more carved record, both eerier and dreamier...Neither do the new songs feature any hermit-scientists like Van Occupanther, or the mythical Roscoe. The songs that constitute The Courage Of Others, Tim says, are closer to his heart than those of their first two albums because, “I don’t feel I’m looking at the songs through someone else’s eyes. I’ve tried to keep it as true to myself as I could.”

The tracks are:

Acts Of Man
Winter Dies
Small Mountain
Core Of Nature
Rulers, Ruling All Things
Children Of The Grounds
Bring Down
The Horn
The Courage Of Others
In The Ground

and there's a projected short tour of the UK to coincide

Friday 22 January – NEWCASTLE – The Cluny
Saturday 23 January – LEICESTER – The Musician
Sunday 24 January – CAMBRIDGE – Junction2
Wednesday 27 January – NORWICH – Arts Centre
Thursday 28 January – LONDON – Tabernacle

Monday, 26 October 2009

Trent Miller and Ben Thomas

Another trip to the Gladstone. This time to see a double-header of Trent Miller and Ben Folke Thomas. To call these two singer-songwriters will not doubt damn them in many eyes but that's at base what they are. They also happen to be the two most exciting prospects on the London live scene currently, and to have seen them develop (by leaps and bounds) over the last nine months has been a fascinating experience.

Interestingly, and perhaps not without significance, neither of them are English; Trent's Italian and Ben's Swedish; but it takes a while to gather that. What strikes you is their assurance and their familiarity with the varied forms of past American music. Ben with Dylan, Prine, and their ilk; Trent with Robert Johnson, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Thin White Rope (at times there's a clear echo of Guy Kyser to his singing voice).

Trent is driven. He's already put out one album this year - Cerberus - and he's written a load more songs and is adding more musicians. Saturday I don't think he played one song off Cerberus though he did play his Gene Clark tribute song and JLP's 'Secret Fires'. Not coincidentally there's a Trent original of that title on Cerberus which you'll find a fuller review of in BoB#73.

Ben often seems more laid back but it's something of an act. He's now fronting a five-piece band with the ubiquitous rhythm section of Graham Knight and Steve Brookes, the impressive lap steel and slide guitar of Paul Cuddeford, and now added the splendid violin of a young woman called Barbara who's previously played with Dan Raza. He comes over with a simulacra of the stage moves of the early 90s Bob Dylan (when he would have been about five) and lyrically he's not averse to quoting the Zim. This in no way negates the fact that he's an inventive lyricist and has a good eight or nine songs to form the basis of a memorable debut album.

So far there is no Ben Thomas product, though there was a limited edition (of ten) CD in September and there's four-track promo doing the rounds. However you ought be champing at the bit for songs like 'Paradise Lost', 'Can't Live That Way', and 'Hole In My Heart'.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Subscriptions: Join The Bucketfull Of Brains 400

You can now see – on the Facebook group, on the MySpace page, and obviously here - the cover of Bucketfull #73. It features Lucky Soul, The Drones, John Wesley Harding. Achievements In Sound, Rob Symmons, Roky Erickson, Peter Holsapple, Big Star, along with all the usual stuff. It will be published very soon.

But it’s been something of a struggle to get out. Not from content which we’re overflowing with, but finance. For reasons too convoluted and drawn out to rehearse here, though we will put a resume up on the blog shortly, we have been broke and hand-to-mouth (if that) for the last two years or more. How we’ve been able to survive is through our loyal subscribers, many of whom have stuck with us over more than a decade. But most of their current investment is dead, either spent on previous issues or the basic infrastructure of BoB .

So we’ve thought about what we can do to get a bit more cash. In fact to gather enough reserves to ensure we can pay for the next three magazines without even needing to solicit advertising. After doing a bit of basic maths we’ve realised that this is possible to achieve with 400 new subscribers. We suspended subscriptions about 18 months ago due to the uncertainty of continuance but we’re now reopening them in a revised fashion.

So from now Three Issue Subscriptions are now open. For the UK it’s £8.50, for Europe £11.50, and USA and ROW £14.50. You can start with #73, or with #72 (the Jesse Hector cover). Please pay by PayPal (it is easy to sign up for, as a number of our friends can now attest) to the usual email (
There's now a PayPal button below that should make it even easier.

The reality is that if you’ve ever thought of subscribing to Bucketfull Of Brains now is the time to do it; certainly in England it’s going to cost around the same as three beers. We do sadly have to pass on carriage costs to our overseas readers, but in most places it is the only way you’ll be able to get it for a while.

Lastly we would ask you to pass this on to all and any remotely relevant mailing lists or contacts you have or have access to. It’s our 30th anniversary year and we would like to see 31, and while we wouldn’t be quite ready to call ourselves an institution our continued existence does keep the editors out of one.


Sunday, 18 October 2009

Simon J Alpin

Went down to The Gladstone last night to catch a short set from Simon J Alpin. Simon's known more as a very-respected sideman (Teenage Fanclub, Grand Drive) and producer (Kathleen Haskard) though for a period he was an integral part of Willard Grant Conspiracy. He was mainly playing songs from his 2007 album On The Wire. That's a record that still needs to be discovered properly though it did achieve Maverick's album of the month status. Sounding rather like Dan Penn backed by the Rolling Thunder Revue it has an easy rustic grace enhanced with a variety of instrumentation; Simon's lap steel. Josh Hillman's violin, viola, and saw, and a cello too. Robert Fisher, Caitlin Cary, Jess Klein, and the Wilson brothers add backing vocals at different junctures. Well worth chasing up.

Available through his MySpace.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

We Are Only Riders – The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project

We Are Only Riders – The JLP Sessions Project

Here's news of a JLP-based project that's released 11th January on Glitterhouse. The following is all lifted from the press release.

A musical collective of artists who have come together to interpret and in some cases, complete unfinished skeletal works by Jeffrey Lee Pierce

Featuring Nick Cave, Debbie Harry, Lydia Lunch, Mick Harvey, Mark Lanegan, Isobel Campbell, Barry Adamson, Johnny Dowd, Dave Alvin, The Sadies, The Raveonettes, Kid Congo Powers, David Eugene Edwards,

We Are Only Riders is more than just a 'various artists' compilation. It’s a musical collective of artists who have come together to interpret (and in some cases, complete) unfinished skeletal works by Jeffrey Lee Pierce, an artist they were friends with or whose work they admired. Artists featured on the album include Nick Cave, who has done his own solo track, as well as duetting with Debbie Harry, and playing piano on Debbie’s solo track, and added backing vocals on the Cypress Grove track. Mick Harvey contributed to two of the Nick Cave tracks and has recorded a solo track. Barry Adamson plays bass on the Nick Cave solo track and also on the Mark Lanegan solo track, who has also recorded a duet with Isobel Campbell. Dave Alvin is the driving force behind 'Walkin' The Streets' together with Lydia Lunch, a song which The Blasters and The Gun Club jammed on together in the studio after a drunken night many years ago.

About three years ago while clearing out his attic, Cypress Grove came across a bag of dusty old cassettes. He started to sort through them and found one marked 'JLP Songs'. As soon as he put it on he remembered what it was; Cypress Grove & Jeffrey rehearsing material for the album they made together in the early 90’s. (Ramblin’ Jeffrey Lee and Cypress Grove with Willie love'). The album was initially going to contain country songs, but it gradually evolved into a full blown blues album. It was recorded on an old boombox in Cypress Grove’s bedroom, just the two of them on acoustic guitars. The sound quality was terrible, but was good enough to make out the songs, which were excellent. The three country songs were ‘Ramblin’ Mind’, ‘Constant Waiting’ and ‘Free To Walk’. In addition to the terrible audio quality, there was also no level of performance on these recordings, as Jeffrey was merely showing Cypress Grove the material. Releasing these songs from the cassette was therefore out of the question. But if Cypress Grove could get them properly recorded, that would be different. Also, because there were no definitive versions of these songs, and there was no idea how Jeffrey himself would have envisaged the completed work, then why stop at one version? It would be fascinating to hear how different artists might interpret these songs from this most basic and crude of templates – the cassette!

Cypress Grove initially started to contact musicians through their myspace pages. Mark Lanegan was totally into it and was in the studio at the time, so was able to record his stuff quite quickly. Cypress Grove then asked if Isobel Campbell would duet on 'Free to Walk' with Mark, which of course she did. She was so please with it that she added the song to their live shows. Cypress Grove then e-mailed Jim Sclavunos and asked if he thought Nick Cave would be interested, who also agreed.

This would have been impossible without Digital technology, with artists adding their parts all over the world - London, Melbourne, Glasgow, Barcelona, Los Angeles etc. Once word of the Project started to get out, more material became available through family and friends. Jeffrey’s old friend Phast Phreddie Patterson provided a copy of a home made cassette recording he made of Jeffrey doing ‘My Cadillac’ and ‘St. Mark’s Place’, which were actually pre – Gun Club recordings. Also, Cypress Grove was able to obtain the two inch master tapes of some song ideas they had recorded at the end of the 'Ramblin’ Jeffrey Lee' sessions.

One of these was 'The Snow Country'. All they had was Jeffrey’s guitar part and the drums; but no vocals. Cypress Grove had no idea what Jeffrey had in mind for this song but he had acquired some hand written lyrics that Jeffrey had never used, so they matched ‘The Snow Country’ lyrics to the track. Gene Temesy and Mick Harvey came up with the vocal melody and they had a brand new Jeffrey composition from beyond the grave! With the exception of 'Lucky Jim', all the songs on the album are brand new Jeffrey songs.

'Lucky Jim' was on the end of the 'Ramblin’ Jeffrey Lee' tapes and was the very first time Jeffrey recorded this song. In Cypress Grove’s opinion, this version is better that the one that ended up on the ‘Lucky Jim’ album. So although Cypress Grove had a policy of 'no previously released songs – only new material', he felt he had to make an exception for this one. The only problem was the tape ran out after about one and a half minutes. But thanks to digital technology, Cypress Grove was able to 'stitch' an entire song together and then add bass and guitar parts. Debbie Harry added vocals and Chris Stein played Guitar, with Nick Cave’s piano to top of it all. The track listing is as follows:

1 Nick Cave – 'Ramblin’ Mind'
2 Mark Lanegan – 'Constant Waiting'
3 The Raveonettes – 'Free To Walk'
4 Debbie Harry – 'Lucky Jim'
5 Lydia Lunch – 'My Cadillac'
6 David Eugene Edwards – 'Ramblin’ Mind'
7 The Sadies – 'Constant Waiting'
8 Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell – 'Free To Walk'
9 Lydia Lunch – 'St. Marks Place'
10.Crippled Black Phoenix – 'Bells On The River'
11.Cypress Grove – 'Ramblin’ Mind'
12.Johnny Dowd – 'Constant Waiting'
13.Nick Cave & Debbie Harry – 'Free To Walk'
14.Mick Harvey – 'The Snow Country'
15.David Eugene Edwards & Crippled Black Phoenix – 'Just Like A Mexican Love'
16.Lydia Lunch, Dave Alvin, And The JLP Sessions Project – 'Walkin' Down The Street (Doin' My Thing)'