Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Speed Kings ..... These Animal Men

So it’s the beginning of 1994 and with the royal death of the Madchester scene still being felt we find our music horizons looking quite fruitful (even though we didn’t know it at the time).  As par of the course that is the British music industry we find the local music magazines with front issues with spikey, skinny speed snorting indie bands being touted as the “New wave of the new wave”. Was it all going to end horribly? Or was it going to turn into something more beautiful?
Bands like Shed Seven, Elastica, S*M*A*S*H, Manta ray and Echobelly who were all emerging in 1994 suddenly started being touted as the New wave of the New Wave, but there was one band who never get the recognition they deserve. This band was Britpop before it was called its namesake, some people call the new wave scene of 1994 “Britpop but without the good bits”. But if you listen closely you will hear bands that were trying something radically different that had been heard in the Madchester scene from a couple of years before. But today I would like to bring your attention to one band who was at the start of it all and who are seldom mentioned.

I would like to introduce……. These Animal Men.

Forming in 1990 they gained interest with their early singles that depicted young angst, drug references and boners!  Eyebrows were first raised with the single Speed King was released raised with its front cover showing a dinner plate full of a white suspicious powder with straws stuck in it, this didn’t go down too well in my local Our Price. For a time my world was filled with Adidas tracksuit tops, gazelles and punky bands wearing Skinny leather jackets (I’m a chunk so take skinny with a pinch of salt). The first time I heard them was the single Speed King with all its drug references spunky distorted guitar and “am I bovered?” Vocal style. With a sound that would be sadly lacking in other bands in later years it sounded totally stripped of production and sounded like a one take recording. Taking references from the new wave era of the late 70’s and early 80s but also the mod movement of the 60’s we find a band that never stopped for breath and with their debut album (Come On, Join) the High Society we find an album crammed with songs that burst with enthusiasm and youth.  Supercharged indie rock was the way forward and with a performance on Top of the Pops performing Speed King the future look bright for the band but then something happened …… Britpop!
As with quite a few bands of the era when the music press get bored they attack! And this is what happed to the band and the papers announced the demise of the new wave scene that they so called created. Britpop was king and would rule for the next four years and the band knew this and adapted to the scene change and would go on to release their second album Accident and Emergency in 1997. With a new sound and a new outlook we find the band with a distinctive rockier, more glam soundscape and a band who have reinvented themselves to fit in with the current music scene.  But alas the music press was gunning for them once again and gave the new album poor reviews and continued to slate them with the same lines that they used when the band first came on to the scene.

This was the fate of many bands of the era, many say it was the fact that the scene was flooded with mediocre bands and sound-alikes. I completely disagree, I have always blamed the music press for the demise of Britpop and the loss of many bands who should have shined and been given the chance to grow.  Like many bands These Animal Men disbanded and would be forever be written about on music blogs just like this one.

Do yourself a favour and hunt down both albums and you will find a band who were forerunners of one of the most exciting parts of British music since the 60’s.  You can also do yourself another favour and NEVER read what is printed about bands, if you like the sound of something then welcome it with open ears and don’t get bogged down in the music presses babble!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Everyday i look a little more like .... Silver Sun

Ok so through the 90’s us British music lovers were awash with bands who provided a poppy 60’s influenced sound that made all our lives something special for a very short period of time. Then there were bands like the one I’m writing about today who found fame in the charts with a sound like no other band. Yes that sound was pop but looking back now it was a British version of power pop and had an American tinge surrounding full-blown fuzz guitars and Beach Boy harmonies.

I would like to introduce Silver Sun.

Writing a pure pop song under 3 minutes is a very hard thing to do. The Undertones did it with the simply perfect Teenage kicks some 18 years before Silver Sun came on the scene but to have a whole album crammed with 3 minute pop perfections was a tall order but the band did it with their self-titled debut in 1997.  Ok so not all songs are under the three minute mark as some waver slightly over but I have to hand it to them for perfecting an album that constantly gave me an ear worm through 1997. I still credit Silver Sun for making me buy my first fuzz pedal for my guitar and every song I would write sounded like a cross between Slowdive and Iron Maiden (I don’t even like Iron Maiden!).  
As I’ve said before their self-titled debut album was pop perfection in my eyes. With tracks like Lava with its distortion and harmonies to the softly sung Yellow Light we found a band who could write very, very catchy singles and to top it all off create an album that sounded like a best of compilation.  British music was booming at this place in time and Britpop had reached it's middle age in 1996 and this is when bands started to find their own sound and Silver Sun were a prime example to this fact. They had a sound like no other band of the time, I used to like to call it “Mono vocal guitar stereo” as they had a knack of making their songs sound one dimensional but introducing other instruments in wide stereo, sounds great on headphones!  So with the release of the album they released four singles with it and each one just jumped of the shelf when I wondered into my local Our Price (a now defunct record shop for the non-British reader). The single covers saw a retro 50’s/60’s sci-fi landscape of giant ants, Band members and an overly tanned television presenter.

The band toured  behind the album throughout 1997 and 1998 supporting most of the bands that we loved at the time and released their second album Neo Wave in late 1998. With this release they scored their biggest hit Too Much Too Little Too Late which was a cover of the Johnny Mathis song.  And then they were dropped by their record label. Yes that’s right we hit the dreaded year of 1998, the year that the Britpop balloon finally popped and most record labels washed their hands with their bands.  But unlike most bands Silver Sun continued to record throughout the 2000’s with the albums Disappear Here, Dad’s Weird Dream and the latest album A Lick And A Promise in 2013.

I like to read other blogs about Britpop and the music scene around this time and while some are fantastically written I have the feeling that they actually didn’t live in Britain over this period.  Maybe it’s just me and maybe I was a music anorak back then but I seem to remember things slightly different to what im reading. Yes Silver Sun were a small band but they had a major impact on the scene at the time and were quite prolific with the music papers and the radio. I even remember my local record shop running out of copies of the single Lava on its first release and I even used to play it at my local indie night when I used to DJ for a local pub and I always got a great reaction when I played them.

So when you read about "The greatest Britpop band that you’ve never heard of" just take it with a pinch of salt and enjoy the music as it was intended. YES there were bands who didn’t make it and bands that also remained small but ALL of them contributed to the scene and helped paved the way for the bands of today.

Silver Sun shone brightly for the time they were in the public eye and helped a fledging music scene to rise above and put Britain back on the map and show the rest of the world how it’s done. You might not regard Silver Sun as Britpop but let’s just split the word up shall we?

Brit Pop……… I rest my case.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

What is this feeling?........ Speedy

Can you mix power pop with clever lyrics and trumpets?
In 1996 you could and you could make it sound like the best thing to ever float into your ear.  Today I am going to write about a band that started its journey in the middle of the Britpop movement but did not reach the heady heights of the other bands surrounding them.

I would like to introduce…… Speedy

So its 1996 and we are roughly midway through the whole Britpop thing and a band emerges from nowhere to release one almighty Britpop anthems. In my opinion they were the greatest lost Britpop band, well not lost as such as myself and many, many others found them and held on tight awaiting their debut album. What’s the sound of Britpop? Blur, Oasis, Pulp? Well no actually to me Speedy captured the spirit of the whole thing and made a sound that resonated through the entire movement. They had the crunching guitars, clever lyrics, trumpets oh! And they had a female drummer Bronwen Stone who I fancied the hell out of!

So signing to Arista in 1996 they would go on to release a string of classic singles including Time For You, Anytime Anyplace Nowhere, A Day In The Life Of Riley, Time For You and the classic Boy Wonder. I remember seeing the band on a kids show performing Boy wonder and it was one of those rare moments when you knew the song instantly even though it’s the first time you’ve heard it. It’s a fantastic slice of pure pop on its purest form and a perfect example of what Britpop was about in its song writing and its delivery.  But alas as most things Britpop the band were dropped before they had a chance to release their debut album even though it had been recorded. The band slowly faded away around the later part of the 1990’s until…….

They seem to be back, well sort of.
The band have finally been able to release their debut album and it’s found its way on to iTunes.  The band played the Sheffield Leadmill at the beginning of April this year to support the release of the album and have no further plans to reform.

So get yourself over to ITunes and purchase a piece of Britpop that never was (But should have been). In this album you will find a band who were never truly let to shine and band who were at the top of their game even before that started. Some bands stumble through life writing mediocre music with albums full of filler but in Speedy you find a band who had a knack of writing hit’s that were never meant to be.

Some bands have luck and some have talent, have a guess where Speedy are placed.

News from Nowhere

Download the album from iTunes

Boy Wonder

Anytime, Anyplace, Nowhere

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Get ready for the judge in me ……..Embrace

To say this band was a minor sensation is like saying the Britpop explosion was a small movement somewhere in the early 1990’s. Despite what was written about them at the time and what you might read on the internet this band was Big and was the epitome of Britpop and band who has gone through everything to be at the top of their game.
Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce Embrace.

Hailing from West Yorkshire the in 1993 the band would go onto produce 5 studio albums, 23 singles and gather a huge following of fans from all over the world. I first heard them through their early EP’s around 1997 when I used to visit a local record shop where on that day they were playing the Fireworks EP in all its glory.  I was hooked from the very first play and bought the 12” vinyl even before the song had reached the 2:00 minute mark. The band had a sound that for me set them apart from the other bands of the era as they had such a sweeping, open sound that felt so much bigger from a five piece band.  So as some people might have seen on this blog I rarely make references to Oasis as I was not a massive fan of the band apart from their debut album but Embrace always was referenced as an Oasis copy and this to me is an injustice. Oasis was the poster child of the Britpop movement for some but Embrace was the face for me and my mates and many other kids of the 1990’s. I always used to say “Oasis didn’t invent guitar music ya know!” when Embrace was pigeonholed with the likes of oasis and the other so called Dad rock of time time. Unlike Oasis and Co these boys could write a tune with lyrics that meant something, not knocking Oasis as they wrote some cracking tunes in their early part of the career but Embrace wrote songs that I could relate to.
With songs like One Big Family with it’s in yer face bass line and distorted wah-wah hiding behind the heavy drum beat we would find a chorus that would be sung at full volume at every indie venue on a Friday night. From the rock heavy songs like One Big Family and Last Gas we would find a more gentle open side of the bad in songs like The Good Will Out and my personal favourite Fireworks. Music that has been stripped back to the bare essentials always gets me interested and here we find a band in their comfort zone writing arena filling ballads and its where I think Embrace shines. Just like a good album should their debut A Good Will Out builds up from the opening intro to the huge single Come Back To What You Know to the touching That’s All Changed Forever to the title track The Good Will Out. Now this is the way to end an album, like the Stone Roses before them with I Am The Resurrection we find the band produce a song that would be played as an outro at every indie clubs closing hours. From the openly meaningful lyrics to the softly played trumpets the song builds and builds to a crescendo of La, La, La’s at the 4:08. I think I may have found the perfect Britpop album and in my eyes a perfect album in its own write.
With their second album Drawn From Memory we find the band at the top of their game but with the Britpop movement now gone the future was unclear for the band. Even though the new album was sitting at number 8 in the UK album charts the sales were slow and like other bands of the era it seemed that guitar music was being dropped left right and centre. With the release of their third album and Britpop pretty much dead we find the band being dropped by their record label in 2002 and things seemed over.

But like they say “you can’t keep a good dog down”……….

In September 2004 they released the album Out Of Nothing and earned them the title of the Comeback kings of Britpop and would go on to release a song that would once again project them into the limelight once more. The single was Gravity and was originally written by Chris Martin from Coldplay who became friends with lead singer Danny McNamara when Coldplay had supported Embrace a few years earlier. The song would go top 10 in the single UK charts and would make the album reach Number 1 in the album chart. This would repeat for the bands fifth album This New Day and produce the bands biggest single Nature’s Law and the band would be at the top of their game.

So it’s now 2014 and with their new self-titled album just released it's looking good for all Embrace fans around the world. There are some bands who shine and fade away and there’s bands who give up at the first hurdle. But Embrace have been constantly battling through everything the music business can throw at a band and have come out the other end victorious.

Do something good today and go out and purchase one of the best back catalogues from the halls of British music and I guarantee you that you will fall in love just like I did back in that record shop in 1997.



Last Gas

Monday, 7 April 2014

Everything must pass the change is ……. Cast

So when Lee Maver's from the La's sang the immortal words “Everything must pass the change is cast” who knew that it would lead to the birth of one of the biggest bands of the Britpop era.  It’s true that I mostly write about the less popular bands of the Britpop explosion but I cannot pass up writing about one of the iconic bands from that moment in time.

So a year after he left the La’s John power set up his new band Cast in 1992 and after a few line-up changes and support slots they signed to Polydor in late 1994 just in time for the British music scene to explode. If you look back now at the band when they first hit the charts they had four incredible singles taken from their debut album, each will impose a vision of those fantastic days in the early 90’s. The first single taken form their debut album would be Finetime and would set the sound for the band over their first two albums and would storm the charts to the heady heights of number 17. Least we not forget how hard it was for a band to reach anywhere in the top 40 but with the British music scene starting to change and bands rebel against the grunge movement of America it was a prospect that would shake the charts and put bands in the top 10.  Finetime is a one of a handful of songs that mean Britpop when you first hear it thump through the speakers with its chest punching beat and distorted guitar combined with John Powers’ scally vocal. This song meant the world to me and to this day still does, it had everything an indie song of the early 90’s should possess. The single to follow this would be a song that was kicking around when Power was in the La’s and would be the song that shoved the band into the limelight. Alright was the single and it would be forever featured on every Britpop complication album ever released and it’s no wonder why as it was one of the catchiest songs of the era. Two more singles would be released from the album that would seal the deal in finding a new audience for the band with Sandstorm and the soundtrack to a broken heart Walkaway.

After releasing the Single Flying the band had reached the top 10 in the Uk charts and would be ready to release their second album Mother Nature Calls in early 1997. Shaking the sound of All Change they embraced the rockier element that would be found in some of the bands of the era. Reaching the top 10 in the album charts it would include the three top ten singles Guiding Star, Free Me and Live The Dream and finally the last single to be released from the album I’m So Lonely. So with Britpop fading and the British music scene imploding we find Cast releasing their third album Magic hour. With a sound that mixed beats and samples with the traditional indie fare it was moving away from the sound of their debut and as a result of the dying scene the album was not promoted as much as it should have been.
So finally in 2001 the band release their final album Beetroot and was sounding like a completely different band altogether. Acoustic, Loops and Flutes was my first thought and I never gave it a chance as I lost all enthusiasm with British music at the time. The band disbanded in 2001 and went their separate ways.

Maybe it was my fault or maybe it was the influx manufactured teen pop that was awash in the charts that would ruin my love of British music at the time.  Now I have had time to reconsider my actions and listening again I find a band who were trying something new and approaching song writing techniques and music making from a different angle and for this I love them. So with the band reunited and touring behind the 2011 release of their album Troubled Times things are looking good. It’s good to know that they are still around playing and making music because without them we wouldn’t have the memories of our beloved Britpop and we wouldn’t have the chances that bands have today.