A Medway Christmas Alphabet: X is for ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’

‘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.

CTMF - All our Forts

CTMF’s ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’ from their 2013 album All Our Forts Are With You sees the coming together of two motifs from Billy Childish’s musical palette: the twentieth century’s two world wars being one; instrumental interludes being the other.

There’s been a long strand of references to World Wars One and Two (often focusing on German participants) in Childish’s music since The Milkshakes appeared beside a German Junkers Ju 52 on the cover of their 1984 album The Milkshakes in Germany.

(Is it just me, or does “Junkers Ju 52 sound like a bingo call?).

Since then, there’s been a cheerily named Headcoats album, The Messerschmitt Pilot’s Severed Hand – together with a song of bearing the same name – and The Buff Medways’ entire visual presentation revolved around band members dressed as soldiers from The Great War. One album was even named 1914 after the year in which that conflict began.

The Musicians of the British Empire continued with the military theme – both in dress and song: one particularly obvious example being ‘Merry Christmas, Fritz’, inspired by the 1914 ceasefire, from that band’s Christmas 1979 album.

So the appearance of a CTMF tune referencing the 1943 attack by small Royal Navy submarines (the ‘X-Craft’ of the title) on the German battleship Tirpitz makes perfect sense.

‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’ consists of a guitar line imitating the regular dot and dash pulses of Morse code.

It’s played over Wolf Howard’s incessant, thunderous drumming. All of which makes for an intense, claustrophobic sound perfectly recreating – through the medium of music – a life of tension beneath the sea.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: W is for ‘World’s End’

‘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.

Lupen Crook - Pros and Cons

My introduction to Lupen Cook came in the form of songs like ‘Dorothy Deserves’ and ‘Lest We Connect’, songs which revel in a macabre disarray and manic chaos.

And there’s much to like in the songs: fantastically, imaginative tunes full of fast moving musical ideas and lyrics spat out with machine-gunfire rapidity.

But for all the allure of the havoc and disorder, it’s the songs which slow down, pull back and mull things over which make the more lasting impression.

Certainly this is the case with the songs from Waiting for the Post-Man which Lupen Crook recorded as a solo, largely acoustic project – a means by which to grieve over the loss of his close friend, Matthew Stephens-Scott. It’s a beautiful, beautiful album, openly honest with its heart carved out on its wrist.

‘World’s End’, from that album’s predecessor, The Pros and Cons of Eating Out, comes from a time before Stephens-Scott’s death; he even contributed a lyric to another song on the record. But, amidst all the whirlwindery of ‘Dorothy Deserves’ and ‘Lest We Forget’, it too gives itself time to meditate – to take a break from all the disarray and discord.

The song is a reflection on the chaos. ‘It’s just here I realise the beast I have become,’ he admits at one point. He’s been ‘thinking dark and desperate things’. Elsewhere, there’s the realisation that he’s been ‘missing out on the best years of this life’. Most telling are lines speaking of how:

One day I’ll find the heart
And with the aid of only madness, wonder when that day will start
A storm so revealing that my thick skin might shed.

Such lyrics betray a quest for sanity: the need to be at peace. Later in Lupen Crook’s catalogue of songs, would come the realisation that being ‘perfectly imperfect’ (‘Note to Self’ from British Folk Tales) might be something to accept and move on with.

But here, in ‘World’s End’, the search has not yet finished. It has, though, uncovered some beautiful gems along the way.

Find out more about Lupen Crook and plenty of other Medway musicians in my book, Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy ‘World’s End’ from iTunes. Find out more about Lupen Crook’s current project, The Lost Film Foundation on their Facebook page.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: V is for ‘The Voyage’

‘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 Flowing - Talk About Wonder

Very often it is, most sensibly, a band’s first album on which they will set out their stall: this is our sound; these are the views we will express in our lyrics; this is the sort of thing you can expect from us until the drugs and drink exacerbate inter-band tensions that, to be honest, have always been present in the band, everyone gets annoyed with the songwriter (and his lawyer) because he’s made more money than the lot of us – twice over – and everyone goes their own way.

Not so alternative folksters The Flowing. The band have already released an album (2010’s Garden of England) and various other recordings – not to mention appearing at many, many gigs over the years.

They have, in truth existed in various forms: from a simple one-man, singer/songwriter act where The Flowing simply was Dave Pickett through to a line-up involving musicians too many to list here.

Since Garden of England, there have been substantial changes to The Flowing’s line-up, most noticeably the arrival of French horn and accordion player, Vicky Price and violinist and oboist Hannah Ellerby, both formerly of Los Salvadores. And on the band’s new album, Talk About Wonder, released a couple of weeks ago, the pair are utilised well from the get-go.

‘The Voyage’, then, becomes a kind of mission statement or manifesto, with both the French horn and violin getting substantially sized instrumental sections.

Even before Price and Ellerby make their presence known on the song, the sound of ‘The Voyage’ indicates an evolution for The Flowing. There’s a richness there, a greater clarity and, most obviously, sound effects: the gorgeous sound of the waves lapping on the shore.

Lyrically, there’s a nervousness to ‘The Voyage’. “Travel for a foreign land,” Pickett sings in the song’s opening line. But this isn’t a power ballad about endless possibilities and new beginnings; there’s much trepidation here.

You might, after all “marry a fine sailor with wealth and misery/silver in your hair and the Devil on your wing”, “the dam [might not] hold up so well tonight” and there’s the possibility “the road don’t hold our weight”.

And yet some form of optimism – some chink of light – does sneak through, however small. Before the return to the opening verse’s lyrics, vocalist Sophie Williams sings about the importance attached to letting “them know I tried” and, most importantly leaves an instruction: “Oh boy, don’t you be afraid.”

The swelling of The Flowing’s ranks may well be travelling into foreign lands, but “The Voyage” proves to be an assured performance, despite the theme of trepidation.

Oh boy, you really don’t need to be afraid at all.

Find out more about The Flowing and other folk acts from Medway in my book, Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy The Flowing’s Talk About Wonder from their Bandcamp page. Find out more about them on Facebook.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: U is for ‘Up in the Air’

‘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.

Ah, the home stretch. Not long to go now. It’s Monday. Christmas is on Friday. But there’s still work to be done. Welcome to the letter U.

The Love Family - Out of Reach

The Love Family’s album, Out of Reach (2011) was a long time coming. The band had originally formed back in the dying days of the 1980s, with members having previously appeared in the line-ups of Swinging Time, Crystal Tipps and Alistair and Millions of Brazilians.

After a few EPs in the first half of the 90s and a song making it to the dizzying heights of the Radio 1 Evening Session‘s ‘single of the week’, the band fizzled away.

‘If we’d have had any sort of management – or anybody who knew what they were doing – we’d have probably done all right,’ Gary Robertson, the band’s lead singer and guitarist explained when I was researching my book. ‘It wouldn’t have been bad. We were pretty good. But it was just a disaster.’

The band’s reunion – and the emergence of Out of Reach – came thanks to the reunion of The Dentists in 2010. The Love Family were invited to reform specially to support The Dentists at their gig in Gillingham’s Beacon Court. The date was 26 March 2010.

‘It kind of awakened something,’ Robertson recalls. And that was how The Love Family came back.

Out of Reach is an album of two halves – both excellent. There are songs from the band’s earlier incarnation, such as ‘Body, Soul, Heart, Mind’ from The Happy Couple EP, the song which had so impressed Steve Lamacq at Radio 1. But there were other, newer songs too.

‘Up in the Air’ comes from the older selection of songs, having first appeared on the Burnt EP from 1992. It’s typical of The Love Family’s brash, thrashing guitar sound, beats all pounded out on six strings as much as they are on drum skins.

And the lyrics are a picture of frustration and irritation. Robertson sings from the point of view of someone dealing with an emotionally stunted antagonist. ‘Is it hard to care or just to show you care?’ he asks in the chorus.

Meanwhile, the verses show our narrator finds it a little easier to express himself: ‘I just want to bleed it out/I don’t want to heal’.

As with the tune, the lyrics are typical of The Love Family’s heart on its sleeve approach to song writing. Songs like ‘Gravity’ and, of course, ‘Body, Soul, Heart, Mind’ conform to this very emotionally honest template.

Not that ‘Up in the Air’ – or any other songs from The Love Family’s catalogue for that matter – sounds particularly miserable. As with The Wedding Present, with whom The Love Family share a similar palette, it wouldn’t be entirely inconceivable for some indie kids to dance to this stuff.

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

You can buy your copy of Out of Reach from Amazon and iTunes. And get more information about the band on Facebook and Twitter.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: T is for ‘Tripwire’

‘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 it’s two songs for the price of one today. Or, rather, one song sung two ways – in two decades.

Tripwire

The Kravin’ “A”s was the brainchild of Glenn Prangnell. His old band, The Offbeats, had reached a natural end, so Prangnell teamed up with Johnny Barker (bass), Bruce Brand (guitar) and John Gawen (later replaced by Wolf Howard) on drums.

Bruce Brand remembers that ‘The Kravin’ “A”s were trying to be a proper beat group. To make it proper-ish.’ They were much rougher around the edges than Prangnell’s earlier group – no doubt in part thanks to the company he was now keeping with former Milkshakes, Mighty Caesars and Daggermen.

But it wasn’t just the sound of the songs that were edgier now; the lyrics became more grizzled too.

And so ‘Tripwire’, from the band’s only album, Krave On (1991), is a searingly angry tirade against a girl whose done our hero wrong. Against a wonderfully detuned piano and a tight early Beatles/Kinks sound from guitars, bass, drums and backing vocals, the lyrics blast out with a furious Lennon-ish intensity: ‘I know you’re just the kind of girl who thinks it doesn’t matter/but my heart’s so angry like I’m on fire’.

The song was given a second lease of life when Prangnell, labouring under the moniker of Groovy Uncle started to work with Suzi Chunk. ‘Tripwire’ formed the B-side to the single ‘Look Back and Laugh’, also an old Kravin’ “A”s song from 2012.

With Suzi Chunk at the song’s helm, the song recalls something of the sound of Dusty Springfield classic. The music is red raw – possibly more intense in sound than the original – and Suzi Chunk belts the song out with all that she’s worth. If you didn’t already know when the song was recorded, you could quite easily be fooled into thinking it was some fifty years older than it was.

Glenn Prangnell’s aim, as Groovy Uncle, has always been to ‘play something we know’ – that was the name of his first album under the name. That doesn’t mean covering existing songs, but creating new, original songs that sound reassuringly familiar.

And in ‘Tripwire’ he’s definitely achieved it. Twice.

You can buy ‘Tripwire from iTunes.

Find out more about The Kravin’ “A”s, Groovy Uncle, Suzi Chunk and many other Medway bands and artists in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: S is for ‘Shield Against the World’

‘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.

Balance Lost - MCAEP

‘This song was meant to be our attempt at doing a ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire,’ Pete Glover of Balance Lost explained at Rochester’s Dot Cafe one Saturday in July 2015. The band were performing as part of the Homespun festival, now in its third year. ‘But some of it sounds more like ‘Steal My Sunshine’ by Len.’

He’s right, you know.

Balance Lost are a two-piece (Peter Glover on guitar and vocals and Matt Hayward on bass and accompanying vocals) with plenty of quirk appeal. Alongside the basic guitar and bass line up, you’ll hear them playing over pre-programmed plinky-plonky keyboard sounds with plenty of bleeps and whirls to maintain even the most hyperactive of toddler’s interest.

They’ll maintain your interest too.

‘Shield Against the World’, from the band’s latest EP, MCAEP, is far from bereft of such quirky accompaniments. In this song’s case, they are positively tropical in feel, conveying the idea of a party on a Bahaman beach through the medium of a Sega Megadrive video game soundtrack.

As Glover indicated with his reference to the Billy Joel song, the lyrics to ‘Shield…’ are intended to convey a sense of history’s progress – or regress. And so the song opens with the observation that ‘it turns out the revolution will be broadcast/Gil Scott-Heron clearly forgot to forecast/the advent of the internet and smart-phones.’

And so it continues, simultaneously marvelling at technological developments (‘we all transmit our own radio station’), while expressing amazement about perpetual ignorance (‘some people think the Berlin Wall is in Beijing’).

But amidst all this there’s the hope that sense will eventually prevail (‘executives accept they’re not so go to jail’), even if this is just a result of ironic, mutual-destruction (‘terrorists will send each other anthrax in the mail’).

It’s a fast moving, clever song, filled with nuggets of wit and something approaching wisdom.

Absolutely brilliant. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Buy your copy of MCAEP on which ‘Shield Against the World Features’ from Balance Lost’s Bandcamp page.

Find out more about bands and artists from the Medway Towns in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: R is for ‘Rome’

‘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 Ambience - Colour in Silence

It’s not all about Billy Childish, you know.

Neither is it always all about the garage bands and punk bands that have come to be synonymous with the idea of ‘The Medway Sound’. Parallel to the long chain of such bands, there have been other bands ploughing entirely different musical furrows: Cenet Rox, Blood Junkies, The Dentists, The Claim, Swinging Time, The Love Family and a whole host of other bands and artists who have sprung up over the last ten to fifteen years.

While some of the these bands have happily just got on with their own thing, others amongst them have had the occasional niggling feeling of irritation with the so-called ‘Medway Sound’. Why be so fixated on the music of the past? Why limit yourself to such a narrow style for so long? Why can’t Medway’s music be recognised for a greater diversity of genres?

Such questions were  asked by The Ambience who specialised in hazy, shoe-gazey sounds, heavy on the distortion and big on spaced out, trippy lyrics. If you could find anything further away from the sound of The Buff Medways you’d have been searching a long time.

The Ambience’s song ‘Rome’, from their 2011 album Colour in Silence, doesn’t sound particularly angry, although it certainly makes its present felt on the album, but the lyrics indicate that maybe not all is well in this part of the Garden of England:

They had a scene there once upon a time before I cared
I still don’t care

is vocalist Joe Liste’s succinct summary of many a Medway band. He then launches into a veiled critique of The Prisoners, Billy Childish, The Len Price Tree and The Bresslaws, whose lead singer, Andy Harding would have been addressed by his congregation as Reverend:

Don’t talk to me about prisoners;
I don’t care much for childish word.
Nothing’s new, the price of three.
The vicar’s songs do nothing for me.

‘I think we provided, in Medway, a different sound to what other bands were doing,’ Matt Ashdown told me when I interviewed him for my book.

‘Other bands were sticking to a Medway sound. Whereas we’re not concerned about that; we happen to be from Medway, and we support what’s going on in Medway, and we like going to gigs in Medway. But we never put ourselves within the category of ‘We are a Medway band.’ We just make music.’

Or, as the song has it: ‘Free flowing is the river/not a pond/not just one flavour.’

Find out more about The Ambience (and many of the bands they weren’t so keen on) in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can also take a look at the band’s (no longer updated) website here and listen to some of their songs on Soundcloud.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: Q is for ‘A Quick One (Pete Townshend’s Christmas)’

‘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, amazingly, we have another actual Christmas song today. Although this is Medway, so it’s hardly going to be Shaking Stevens, Wham or Mariah Carey…

Billy Childish and the MBEs - Christmas 1979

A Christmas album from Billy Childish was never going to be a schmaltzy, tinsel garbed romp through snow-filled streets past log fires and carol singing children.

A large chunk of Christmas 1979, a festive offering from Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire in 2007, is a reworking of highlights from Childish’s non-festive back-catalogue, be they original songs or songs he has covered – with a Christmassy twist added for good measure. And, as you’d expect, it’s no bed of Christmas roses

And so we have ‘Christmas Lights’, a Yuletide-ified version of The Buff Medway’s ‘Strood Lights’, ‘Comanche (Link Wray’s Christmas)’, which is self-explanatory, and album opener ‘Santa Claus’ which takes as its inspiration The Sonics’ ‘Davey Crockett’, a regular staple during the era of Thee Headcoats and Thee Headcoatees. It all makes for a Christmassy tinged greatest hits from Billy Childish and friends.

Amidst all this comes ‘A Quick One (Pete Townshend’s Christmas)’, taking the ‘You Are Forgiven’ section from The Who’s ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ medley.

The Buffs had first recorded a cover of the song, under the ‘Ivor’ moniker, on their album Steady the Buffs. The song, in part a documentation of Townshend’s abuse as a child, no doubt had a resonance for Childish whose own experiences are recorded in his song ‘Every Bit of Me’ and elsewhere.

And apart from a generally upbeat rendition of the song, celebrating how “presents will be given” (in place of “you are forgiven” on the original”) and the excitement of how “I can’t believe that it’s Christmas again”, there are still worrying lines about how “[I] later with him had a nap”; him, in this case, being Santa Claus.

Despite this – and it’s probably a big despite – ‘A Quick One – Pete Townshend’s Christmas’ is bouncy, even joyous sounding tune where the band sound like they’re having a great time of it. We even get an “Enjoy Christmas” at the end of it.

The same level of merriment is definitely not present in the closing song from the album, the title track.

If you ever worried that there wasn’t a Christmas song that met your punk/mod/garage band needs, your search may well be over.

Read more about Christmas 1979 in my album review and buy the album on Amazon or iTunes.

Find out more about Billy Childish, The Musicians of the British Empire and plenty of other music acts from Medway in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

 

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: P is for ‘Pop Star Party’

‘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 Prisoners - In From The ColdThe Prisoners were two bands.

There was one band who wanted to keep everything authentic: to recreate the sounds they had heard on recordings by The Small Faces and The Nice and put their own spin on. And there was the second band that craved commercial success – of MAKING IT.

Sadly, as this was the 80s, the era of Duran Duran, The Style Council and ABC, it was unlikely both bands could co-exist harmoniously. There would have to be give and take. And eventually, the fight between the two sides of The Prisoners destroyed them.

The Prisoners’ albums reflect this tale in an all too neat way. Album one, A Taste of Pink, was recorded on a budget, entirely self funded; album two, The WiserMiserDemelza, saw The Prisoners signed and having real money thrown at them (while creative control was removed); their third album, The Last Fourfathers, often regarded as their best, sees them go independent again – and win back their creative control; and their final album, In From The Cold, finds the band trying their luck with a label again.

It could only end in tears.

‘Pop Star Party’, to be found as a bonus track on In From The Cold, finds the band at its bitter end.

The song was recorded as a parting shot to their record label who, they felt, had let them down. And although, on signing to Countdown, a subsidiary of Stiff Records.

The Prisoners had had to make compromises they were none too happy about, but things weren’t helped by the unfortunate timing of In From The Cold‘s release: Stiff went under around the same time as the release date – so there was little that could be done to even promote or sell the album. For some time it was just a “lost” record.

Against this backdrop, out of a sense of utter frustration, The Prisoners decided to call it a day.

‘Pop Star Party’ commemorates the end in spectacularly vitriolic fashion. Never known as a particularly happy bunch – DJ and music journalist Steve Lamacq remembers them specifically for their grumpiness: ‘the most sullen, angry, embittered and endearing four-piece I’d ever heard’, he writes in his book, Going Deaf for a Living – this song more than any other shows just how grumpy they could be:

You’re the biggest load of fakes that I’ve ever seen.
This is a farewell to your lies.
You’re finished taking us for a music whore…

It was a spectacular way to go out: a band at their peak as a group, regaining complete control of themselves and their music for one final bridge burning hurrah.

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

You can buy In From the Cold from Amazon or iTunes.

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