A Medway Christmas Alphabet: H is for ‘Holy Man’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

And so, with that in mind, let’s all listen to a song that takes a pop at men of the cloth…

Bob Collins and the Full Nelson - Telescopic Victory Kiss

It seems like only yesterday I was writing about Bob Collins’ contributions to a song about distancing yourself from someone else and moving on. And it seems like only yesterday that I was talking about how that particular guitarist had been part of a band – the Dentists – that celebrated living life in all its fullness.

Oh, wait…

Twenty – that’s twenty – years after the demise of The Dentists, the desire to move forward and an absolute repulsion at being held back remain massive themes for Bob Collins, now fronting Bob Collins and the Full Nelson. See, for a brilliant example, ‘Holy Man’, fresh from his newly released album, Telescopic Victory Kiss.

Collins may be a guitarist first and foremost – it’s no surprise that a guitar takes pride of place on the album cover – and the obvious standout moments on Telescopic…: ‘Sunshine of Your Soul’, ‘Emily’ or ‘Your Star is Fading’, for example, see the ex-Dentist on barnstorming form with his weapon of choice.

But his abilities as a lyricist and vocalist should never be underestimated – as can be proved with the album’s final song which strips everything back to its barest basics.

Just as ‘Beautiful Day’ from The Dentists’ album Heads and How to Read Them, documented exasperation with the imaginatively challenged (‘Only you will ever understand/only things that you can hold in both your hands’) , so too ‘Holy Man’ exposes the fraud of someone who claims to know better: ‘You don’t get just why I feel alive’ runs the song’s opening gambit.

Line by line, the song’s villain is taken down: a man who claims to represent something so big is shown to be staggeringly small: ‘no sign of joy, no trace of menace/paraphernalia – that’s all there is’ goes one particularly telling lyric.

Instead, our hero would prefer to go it alone – feeling alive and making decisions for himself.

It’s a beautiful song – a perfect album closer – and fantastic when performed live; it’ proved to be a highlight (for this writer at least) at the recent launch of Telescopic Victory Kiss.

Despite its sombre mood, despite the accusations and vilifications, ‘Holy Man’ is a fantastically optimistic song, celebrating the possibilities just being alive can present; a humanist’s hymn to human endeavour.


A Medway Christmas Alphabet: G is for ‘Gas’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

The Dentists - Behind the Door

In 1994, four shadowy looking figures gathered beside Kingsnorth Power Station wearing protective clothing and gas masks.

The Dentists were recording their only music video, ‘Gas’ from their album Behind the Door I Keep the Universe.

The director’s idea for the video ‘wasn’t amazingly brilliant,’ says the band’s bass player, Mark Matthews:

‘His main this was about people wandering around in their hometown in gas masks.’

Gas masks! ‘Gas’! Geddit?!

The song itself is absolutely nothing to do with an outbreak of chemical warfare in the north of Kent – which probably made Matthews’ task of ‘hanging upside down at bloody Kingsnorth Power Station at half seven in the morning [in the] freezing cold’ even more annoying.

‘This cannot be rock ‘n’ roll!’ he remembers thinking at the time.

Instead, what ‘Gas’ is about is the end of love. A couple have had a good time (“Hey, what a gas that was”), but there’s no future for the pair of them (“Things just seem so wrong/and that can never change” and “When you turn around/I can see such pain”).

Most other tracks on Behind the Door… are relentlessly upbeat and optimistic. Apart from their final album, Deep Six, where the cracks were beginning show, that was the way with much of The Dentists’ songs: a celebration of limitlessness, often using the vastness of space as an entirely appropriate metaphor.

Nevertheless, even on a song about the end of a relationship, The Dentists manage to put a positive spin on things in ‘Gas’. Mick Murphy may be singing about putting an end to a doomed relationship, but why should that stop the ex-couple from taking a step back and “harbour the thoughts as you go”, remembering all the good things they had: “stop and look/it’s out of this world” he sings at regular intervals.

And while the future is doomed for the couple, that doesn’t have to be the case for the individual components of the former pairing: “They world keeps spinning every day” so let’s just make the most of it is the clear message.

Just how much solace the dumpee can actually take from this remains an interesting, unanswered question – but it remains a particularly Dentist-y way of ending a relationship, complete with jangly guitars, driving drum beats and smooth, indie-pop vocals.

Marvellous stuff.

Find out more about The Dentists and plenty of other Medway bands and artists in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: F is for ‘Forget It’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Wheels - Forget It

My discovery of Medway/Canterbury band Wheels was the happiest of accidents. That’s what most musical discoveries are.

One Saturday when, no doubt, the Gills were playing a home match which my girlfriend was watching, I decided to head over to Gillingham myself. A singer-songwriter called Didi Bergman was going to be performing at The Barge. And as I quite liked her music, it seemed like the decent thing to do.

Ms. Bergman seems to be something of a catalyst for stirring (and sometimes re-stirring) an interest in Medway music. Phil Dillon – who you’ll often see at various Medway gigs armed with his trusty camera – will tell you that it was through her that he rekindled his love affair with music from the area and discovered Hospital Bombers, a band fronted by Chris Austin, a pivotal player in Medway music until his untimely death in 2013.

My 2010 visit to listen to Didi’s beautiful, delicate folky songs may not have led me to Chris Austin, but it did lead me to Wheels. And for that, I guess I owe Did Bergman some debt of gratitude.

Wheels were a band which didn’t quite fit into any genre. They were folk-ish. But there were Latin American textures and sub-Saharan rhythms. Their songs sprawled on and on forever – in the best of ways – with something new and interesting always guaranteed in the next few bars.

In reviews I wrote of Wheels shortly after my introduction to them, I ended up using the terms Prog-Folk and Math-Folk. I also described them as shambolic – again, in the best of way – and they actually seemed to like this description.

[Forget It from Wheels on Myspace. Yes, that’s right: Myspace! Remember that?]

‘Forget It’ comes from Wheels’ album of the same name, released in 2011. It’s typical of many of the songs from the record with its themes of suspicions exchanged between “us” and “them”.

Both ‘Forget It’ the song and Forget It the album champion non-conformity. The message is clear: you can’t rely on “them” – whosoever “they” are: corporations, organised religion or even ones peers – to help you be true to yourself. “In the shadows of doubt we’ll hide until the flame’s gone out”, Rew Oates sings on this track. ‘Forget it. Forget it. We’ll have to find our own way down.”

And it’s an escape that will prove far from easy: “you can’t hear the wind fro the clamour of the cars round here/we could talk through the night, but only if the lights have gone out”.

For all the doom and gloom of the lyrics – the sense of persecution at the hands of those who want you to conform – ‘Forget It’ doesn’t sound like a sad song. The South American feel of the song – thanks in no little part to Neil Sullivan’s intricate guitar playing – adds something of a fiesta feel to the proceedings.

Even this works within the non-conformist ethos. Why be like all the other bands with their strict adherence to verse, chorus, verse, chorus structures – with the occasional bridge thrown in for good measure – when you can just wander off the beaten track and create something far for interesting and utterly unique?

Given everything that’s been said above, it will come of little surprise to hear you can’t get Forget It from the usual suspect retailers like Amazon or iTunes. And since the band parted ways in 2012, following the farewell release of their EP, ‘Get Out Claws’ (also very good), it’s not like you’ll be able to pick up copies of the CDs at a gig.

But if you can beg, borrow or steal a copy of Forget It, do so. It will be a very sensible decision indeed.

Read more about Wheels and plenty of other bands and musicians from Medway in my book: Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: E is for ‘Every Bit of Me’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Thee Headcoats - Every Bit of Me

And today’s offering is particularly unfestive. ‘Every Bit of Me’ by Thee Headcoats is as unforgivingly cheerless and intensely harrowing as it is possible for a song to be. But given the subject is a very personal account of child abuse, that should be of no surprise.

Thee Headcoats had the most prolific career out of any of Billy Childish’s bands. And it proved to be particularly varied with everything from the comedy of Sherlock Holmes-themed singles to the most gruelling of personal confessionals.

It’s into the latter of these categories that ‘Every Bit of Me’ fits. For all the knockabout humour of ‘Headcoat Lane’ and ‘My Dear Watson’, it was during his time in Thee Headcoats that Childish started to use his music to address his own painful past.

Recordings from 1992 found Billy Childish explain how he was “too afraid to start to admit this needy heart” (‘Too Afraid’ from In Tweed We Trust) and that “because I was weak, I destroyed my world/because I was weak I went berserk” (from the same album).

Some of this could be explained because “my daddy was a drunk because he hurt so bad…I drown my heart just like he did” (‘I’m Hurting’, again from In Tweed We Trust).

But the culmination of these confessions  can only be the single, ‘Every Bit of Me’:

He was 40 years old inside my jeans.
I was nine years old and feeling unclean.
He told me it was a secret to keep to myself.
I wanted to hate him but I hated myself.

It is a gut-wrenching experience even to hear the words recalling such abuse – the sound of a still-beating heart being torn from a child’s chest. And as the song unfolds, it’s clear there are repercussions many years down the line: “I want to blame the world but I blame myself/I want to hate you all but I hate myself.”

But even through this experience, there’s an awareness and understanding  of – possibly even an empathy with – the perpetrator of these sick crimes:

He was hiding under my mother’s bed.
I blackened his eye till it was pissing red.
He whispered ‘I love you’ but he didn’t love himself.
I wanted to hate him but I hated myself.

The relentlessly graphic lyrics alone are enough to inspire revulsion and sickness at what a boy in the first decade of his life had to go through. But the pain – the sheer heartbreaking trauma – is only intensified by the music that accompanies it.

The grainy, angular, thrashing guitar is enough to make your ears bleed. Bruce Brand’s drums thunder and pound through the tune as if there is no tomorrow. And the shouty, louty chorus of “with every bit of me”, hollered out by the three band members, makes a compelling case for why this has to be one of the finest punk songs ever spewed out into the world.

Johnny Rotten may once have sung about there being “no future” on ‘God Save the Queen’, but that was just comic book stuff compared with what we have here. The pure anger convulsing through ‘Every Bit of Me’ is surely what punk was invented for.

It’s unlikely this song will ever get played too regularly – even in the most die-hard of Billy Childish fan’s homes. It’s just too dark to bear repeated playings.

Nevertheless (and, quite possibly, because of this), it has to be one of the best songs he has ever written.

Find out more about Billy Childish, Thee Headcoats and many other Medway bands and artists in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy ‘Every Bit of Me’ from Amazon or iTunes.

Further reading: This is New Art School!

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: D is for ‘Decembered’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Only, in this case, the song for the day is actually just a little bit festive. Well, it’s called ‘Decembered’ and it’s got a flurry of bells appearing in it. If it worked for East 17…

Brigadier Ambrose - Decembered

Brigadier Ambrose’s single, ‘Decembered’ came out on 10 December 2007. To be honest, apart from its title, its release date and the aforementioned chimes, there is little in the way of Christmas about the song.

But what it lacks in chestnuts – or Cliff Richard – roasting on open fires, it more than makes up for in bile and frustration with everyday mundanity. It is, in fact, a gloriously typical Brigadier Ambrose song.

Among the gripes which lead singer David Goggin sneers and snipes about (in the best of ways) are: the correct way to eat brie when you’re having trouble removing the rind (“it’s bad etiquette to cut off the nose/so I’m told”), the perils of living in a hard water area and the social discomfort of being near someone who is visibly upset (“you sit alone in your pants and you sob and sob/I’ll shy away and get on with my things”).

The frenetic, chaotic nature of the song is just one of its many charms – a psychedelic trip of the most warped kind. There can be little wonder why this – and other Brigadier Ambrose songs found such critical acclaim.

Stuart Maconie was a particular fan, playing them on both Radio 2, with Mark Radcliffe, and also on his 6 Music show, The Freak Zone. There were also outings on XFM, a flirtation with the Mercury Music Prize with their album Fuzzo and, of course, a death defying trip to appear at Latitude.

Find out more about this and other Medway bands and artists with my book, Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy ‘Decembered’ from Amazon, Bandcamp and iTunes.

Further reading: Brigadier Ambrose: ‘Jambon Dandy’ review.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: C is for ‘Call Me Dave’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society - Art and Science

A strangely apposite offering today – in the light of the vote cast in the House of Commons last night.

‘Call Me Dave’ comes from Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society’s 2014 album The Art and Science of Phrenology. Having resolved many of the band’s internal frustrations documented in the previous album, 2012’s On the Brink of Misadventure, The Art and Science… sees Turner direct his attention to the wider world.

Today’s featured song is one of the most obvious examples of Turner as social commentator. There are no prizes for guessing who the ‘Dave’ of the title is. And with lines like “I’ll kiss your ass but understand all this will pass”, it’s not too difficult to work out who the song’s narrator might be.

I don’t care for you at all
I’m so tired of feeling small
One day I’ll put you through that wall
I don’t care for you at all

runs the chorus (and, in fact, opening few lines) of the song. It’s followed by allegations of the song’s villain being “a liar and that’s the truth” and “you’re never as good as your word”.

Against a magnificent background of banjos and detuned pianos, the song’s narrator is left feeling like  “it’s getting hard staying alive/since you stole my self-belief”. In fact the whole song is a tirade directed against the powerful from the manifestly powerless.

And on a day when many will be scratching their heads over what has been decided in parliament – and what it might now mean for our country and the world – I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society find themselves revisiting the song in the days and weeks ahead.

There are, after all, quite a few people who are “tired of feeling small” at the moment.

Find out more about Stuart Turner, Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society and many other Medway musicians in Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy The Art and Science of Phrenology, from which ‘Call Me Dave’ is taken directly from the Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society website  or iTunes.



A Medway Christmas Alphabet: B is for “Bela’s Kiss”

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Funke and the Two Tone Baby - Battles

Today, Day Two of this alphabetical extravaganza, finds us considering the letter B.

Looking through my list of songs beginning with B, I find there are quite a few ballads in Medway’s back catalogue: Pete Molinari’s ‘The Ballad of Bob Montgomery’, Sally Ironmonger’s ‘The Ballad of Flying Isaac’ and Thee Headcoats ‘The Ballad of the Fogbound Pinhead’.

There’s also Stuart Turner’s ‘Ballad of the Gliding Swan’, The Spartan Dreggs’ ‘The Ballad of Robert Walser’ and Theatre Royal’s ‘The Ballad of Tommy Hall’.

That’s as maybe. But the song I’ve gone for today doesn’t feature the word “ballad” at all. That said, ‘Bella’s Kiss’, by Funke and the Two Tone Baby, is a ballad of sorts. Here, with more detail on the song, is a short extract from Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway:

‘Funke and the Two Tone Baby specialise in a fusion of blues and folk. Their 2012 album, Battles, is a richly textured affair. ‘Bella’s Kiss’, the album’s first song, is an enticing piece of grizzled blues with a raspy harmonica accompaniment.

‘It’s a self-assured start to an impressive album.  The song’s title is a play on the name of a Hungarian killer of some 24 women, Béla Kiss. And so the lyrics outline Kiss’s sinister motive:

‘Dear ladies, I’m seeking a wife.
She’s got to be rich, got to have no ties.
No-one who will care about
No-one who will miss
When I put your lights out.’

Read more about Funke and the Two Tone Baby and many other Medway musicians in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

And you can buy the album, Battles, on which you’ll find ‘Bella’s Kiss’ from Amazon and iTunes – and other places – of course.

In news hot off the press, today it’s emerged the book sits alongside Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink and Richard Balls’ Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story as one of US music magazine, Goldmine’s books of 2015. In fact, it seems to be one of their best 50 things from the year, full stop. Which is nice.

Look out for tomorrow’s blog. Which will, of course, be all about the C-word. Or rather, a song beginning with C.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: A is for “Alien”

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

There’ll be one a day during advent, culminating with a whopping TWO as an extra Christmas treat on the big day itself. That will, of course, mean finding songs beginning with  Y and Z, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

In the meantime, let’s start with A.

Singing Loins - Here on Earth

‘Alien’ is the penultimate song from The Singing Loins’ last album, …here on earth.

As with much of the album – and many of the band’s albums in general – ‘Alien’ is a celebration of humanity – however frail, however imperfect. The extra-terrestrial of the title finds himself quite enamoured with the people of Planet Earth. ‘I’ve grown to quite like them/the sad contrary human’, he confesses over a gorgeous interaction between clarinet, guitar and bassoon.

This in turn gives way to the rawest, most gloriously cacophonous of lo-fi codas, compellingly beautiful in its ugliness: much like the album as a whole.

Read more about The Singing Loins in Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

Buy …here on earth from Damaged Goods, Amazon or iTunes.

Don’t forget to book 23 January 2016 in your diary: Medway Eyes presents The Songs of the Singing Loins at The Barge, Gillingham, 8.30pm.

This is the new art school

sandbrook on tv

While I was writing Do it Yourself, I was also reading a couple of great big, thick tomes by Dominic Sandbrook on British history in the late 1950s to 1970. And I saw some similarities between what I was read about art colleges in his book and the stuff I was finding out about the origins of The Pop Rivets and co. in my research.

Sandbrook’s latest series, Let Us Entertain You, has prompted me to revisit these similarities. Find out more in a piece I’ve just put on line: ‘This is the new art school‘.

Never Mind the Mercury Music Prize…


As all musical cognoscenti the world over will know, the Mercury Prize will be awarded this week. It’s a funny old award which creates a great deal of excitement during the approach of the ceremony and – quite often – a great deal of bafflement afterwards.

In the past it’s seen M People triumph over Blur, Primal Scream and Paul Weller and Speech Debelle rise from obscurity to win the award – only to return to obscurity immediately afterwards. And given their time again, the judges might think twice about giving the award to bargain basement one hit wonders Klaxons in 2007.

Never one to miss out on even the most fatuous of tie-ins, I have a question: what’s your favourite Medway record of the last twelve months?

It could be a single, an EP or an album. The only constraints are your choice should be something released by a Medway act (or act originating from Medway) in the last twelve months. So that’s November 2014 onwards.

Head over to the Do It Yourself page on Facebook to post your nomination – along with a reason.

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