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.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: O is for ‘One More Letter’

‘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 Daggermen EP
What would you do with a time machine?

There’s the obvious stuff, of course. You could go back to July 1888 and try persuading Mrs Hitler she’s got a headache. Or perhaps you could head back to 1555 to see if Queen Mary really was the spitting image of Dennis Waterman.

Then again, it could be fun to find Cellar Number Five beneath Rochester Bridge at some point in the mid-1980s and see if The Daggermen are rehearsing down there.

Maybe it’s me over-romanticising things, but there seems something just a little bit magical about the tales you hear about three lads kicking up a storm in a room not tall enough to stand in. If the stories are to believed, whenever the doors were open, there was a party going on down there.

It wasn’t just The Daggermen who practiced down there. It’s where a band called The Pressure went to rehearse (and have their amplifiers cannibalised) and where The Prisoners recorded ‘Gravedigger‘ – which features as a bonus track on their final album, In From The Cold.

And it wasn’t just down in ‘The Hole’, as they called it, where the party happened. Wherever they went, The Daggermen took the chaos with them. Their performances at The Nag’s Head saw them get thrown out by the landlady, Angie Minto. They would try to secure gigs under an alternate name, but she soon got wise to it.

The band would take their play fights – or bundles – out onto the street, or even across the Channel to France. And they would wind up overseas promoters by making out they were too drunk to perform.

The Daggermen form a cornerstone of much of the music that followed. Two members, Johnny Barker (bass) and Wolf Howard (drums) in particular have appeared in many of Medway’s bands from the 1980s to the present day: The James Taylor Quartet, Johnny and the Bandits, Goodchilde, The Kravin’ “A”s, The Prime Movers, The Solarflares, Dodson’s Dogs, Micky and the Salty Seadogs, Sergeant’s Mess, The Vandebilts, The Musicians of the British Empire, CTMF and, most recently, Senior Service have featured either or both members of the The Daggermen’s rhythm section. And it was a fondness for The Daggermen that saw Billy Childish form The Buff Medways alongside Barker and Howard. The Buffs even released an EP tribute to The Daggermen.

‘One More Letter’ comes from The Daggermen’s EP, Introducing the Daggermen released in 1985. It conveys all the frantic energy you would hope to find from a garage band who practiced in a cellar and terrorised landladies with play fights.

The song hurtles along against a basic blues chord progression with all three band members throwing everything the have into it: David Taylor on guitar and vocals, Johnny Barker on bass and Wolf Howard smashing into his drumkit like it would be of no use come tomorrow.

Writing about it doesn’t really do it justice. You’re just going to have to listen to it for yourself.

Find out more about Jon Barker and Wolf Howard’s latest project, Senior Service (also featuring Darry Hartley and Graham), on their Damaged Good page.

Read more about The Daggermen and many, many other bands and artists from Medway in my book: Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

 

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: N is for ‘The Night Had No Terror For Us’

‘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.

(On second thoughts, maybe I should have posted this one nearer to Hallowe’en).

Hand of Stabs

Should you ever have any trouble getting yourself – or a small child – to sleep, you might be tempted to go to Youtube and find any one of a large selection of pieces of soothing music, up to eight hours or so in length, to help secure a restful night’s slumber.

There might, entirely conceivably, exist some reason why you might want the exact opposite: to stay awake all night in a state of restlessness and unease; Should you wish to subject yourself to such self-inflicted insomnia, may I recommend the work of Hand of Stabs?

Hand of Stabs are a band like no other. But that’s almost implied in their name. Not for them the conformities of a couple of guitars, a bass, a drum kit and someone of vocals. Instead, their line-up is advertised as follows:

Captain Rex Standish – signal
Jocelyn von Bergdorff – interference
James Worse – pulse

In practice, this means creating sounds and – yes, I would call it music, from all manner of objects, most notably a bicycle wheel. And the result is haunting, eerie and really rather beautiful.

‘The Night Had No Terror For Us’ is typical of their atypical sound. It can be found on the Medway Eyes ME5 compilation from 2013.

A Theremin’s howling ill-wind gathers pace around wheezing squeeze boxes, the most minimal of percussion and a gentle clatter of playing card against bicycle wheel spokes. Added to this is a barely decipherable, distorted with echoes and reverberations until it sounds like a the loneliest of platform announcements at a long forgotten railway station.

Despite the name of the piece, there is something rather terrifying about it: a creepy, other-worldliness which doesn’t fit in with our understanding of what music should be. This, of course, makes it all the more compelling and fascinating.

File under “Don’t have nightmares”.

Find out more about Hand of Stabs on their FacebookBandcamp and Soundcloud pages.

Find out more about music from Medway in my book: Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

Of course, James Worse, of “pulse” fame, will be familiar not just to lovers of experimental, warped music, but also as a rather astute political commentator. As the following video shows (see 30 seconds in).

A Medway Christmas Alphabet – the story so far

A-M
Tradition dictates that the lead up to Christmas comes with some form of countdown – or, strictly speaking, a countup – often involving chocolate.

Here at Reviewage Heights we don’t have any chocolate on offer (as I’ve eaten it all myself), but I can point you towards a song for every letter of the alphabet – with two to come of Christmas Day.

As we’ve reached the half way point – and you might have missed some on the way – here’s the songs that have featured from A to M.

These songs are in no way meant to represent a “best of” – although I would maintain they’re all pretty darned good. But hopefully they do give a broad overview of the wide range of music Medway has had to offer over the last few decades.

So, here we go:

A – The Singing Loins – ‘Alien’

B – Funke and Two Tone Baby – ‘Bella’s Kiss’

C – Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society – ‘Call Me Dave’

D – Brigadier Ambrose – ‘Decembered’

E – Thee Headcoats – ‘Every Bit of Me’

F – Wheels – ‘Forget It’

G – The Dentists – ‘Gas’

H – Bob Collins and the Full Nelson – ‘Holy Man’

I -Theatre Royal – ‘I Believe in Father Christmas (Don’t Get Me Socks)’

J – Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris – ‘Jump at the Sun’

K – Frau Pouch – ‘Krakthulu’

L – The Claim – ‘Losers Corner’

M – Broken Banjo – ‘Might As Well Be Hell’

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: M is for ‘Might as Well be Hell’

‘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.

Broken Banjo - Repeat OffenderBroken Banjo can always be relied upon to kick up one hell of a decent blues-rock storm. And, on more than one occasion, they do themselves an injury in the process. Back at the Nags Head launch night of the Medway Eyes compilation, ME5,  guitarist and singer Liam Lynott managed to inexplicably split his forehead open mid-set.

Such are the risks associated with the life of a heavy rocker. It’s unlikely these problems have ever affected the likes of Joan Baez.

Broken Banjo’s latest EP, Repeat Offenders, presents plenty more opportunities for band members to do themselves injuries. If one of them doesn’t inflame their vocal chords, reduce their hands to bloody stumps or impale themselves on a cymbal, they’ll probably end up bursting a blood vessel as pure rage and self-loathing courses through their body.

It’s a fantastic display of anger mismanagement as injustices are addressed (in ‘Caroline’), and a sense of self-hatred leads to the bottle (“drunk again – it’s the only way I know” as one lyric puts it), or simply a feeling of absolute confusion (see the fantastically raucous ‘Hide Your Face’ with its chorus of “I’m guilty/I hate me/I love you”).

The one let-up appears in ‘Gone in the Morning’ with its Tom Waits-on-amphetamines growl describing a night of unadulterated hedonism.

Although Broken Banjo are heavily steeped in a Led-Zeppelin venerating blues-rock tradition, there are diversions from that path. ‘BirdCage’, a plea to “get back with me”, is text-book grunge with its quietly brooding and then explosively noisy formula.

Meanwhile ‘Leros’ is much more restrained, a beautiful, if tortured account of how ‘I can’t live – I won’t live – without the girl from Leros’ which only unleashes its full arsenal at the very end. They’ve caused each other pain but now it’s over “my broken heart has turned to sand”.

The mix of grunge with blues-rock, the combination of set backs and self-recriminations, climax spectacularly in ‘Might as Well be Hell’:

For all the trying and failing,
For all the train-wreck flailing,
For the all the words I’ve swallowed,
All false prophets followed,
This might as well be hell.

It’s a grim, intense blast of angst that goes well beyond the usual caricature of emo self-absorption. The barbed-wire guitars, the bottom of a whiskey bottle vocals and the written in blood lyrics all point towards some dark place you really don’t want to go.

It’s bleak stuff – but then some of the best music out there is just that.

You can buy the Repeat Offenders EP direct from Broken Banjo’s Bandcamp page.

Read more about the abject misery of Medway music in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

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