Thursday, 22 December 2011

Saving the best 'til last.

When I was a kid I always liked to save the best until last. Eating a roast dinner I'd plough through the other stuff and save the meat until last. Actually I still do that. I do the same with my kids at birthdays & Christmas: their best present is always the last one they'll open. I was more than a bit chuffed, therefore, that 2011 saved the best 'til last for me. I'd never admit in writing just how many albums I buy in a year in case my wife happened to read this, let's just say it's probably more than is prudent. I've picked up some absolutely brilliant music this year but the album of the year for me wasn't released until 10th December. The other music I've enjoyed this year will be the subject of a future post but this post is about The Cundeez and the album Lend Wiz Yir Lugz. To put it bluntly, it's fucking brilliant. (Too blunt? OK, it's really rather jolly good.)

I've mentioned the Cundeez before in my post God Save The Queen. Their page describes their music as "unashamedly performed in the raw Dundee dialect and combine punching guitars, pounding drums and occasional bagpipes to produce a sound free from the shackles of genre." That description is way more articulate than anything I could come up with so I'll stick to my thoughts on the album itself. 

The first of 11 tracks, Caleil,  is an absolute beauty. Atmospheric and moody with a hint of menace; pipes, drums and guitars combining almost hypnotically. It sucks you into the album, laying the band's Scottishness bare and almost daring you to form preconceptions as to what will follow.

What follows is another 10 tracks of that make consistently powerful, compulsive listening yet display an unexpected variety. Track 2 is Summer of 78, the first of 2 Clash-inspired tunes. I was a little apprehensive on reading this on the sleeve before listening but needn't have been. These aren't the insipid covers that some bands use to pad out an album. They have taken inspiration from the Clash and woven it into tunes that are very much their own. 
Third up is Mr E Go, an absolute belter of a tune. For me, Gary Robertson's vocals are probably at their most powerful on this angry track. His thick Dundonian accent can seem impenetrable but rewards careful listening throughout the album, as demonstrated by track 4 Oary Tull Eh Deh, a defiant pledge of allegiance to their home city. 
Track 5 is the brilliant Yir Talkin Shite, probably the record that more than any other has summed up this last year for me. Lying politicians, religious hypocrites, despots, journalists and even the hateful Cowell get the musical kicking they so rightly deserve. I've posted the video before but in case you missed it here it is again:

Next up are the melancholic Fortune Street and driving Sehturday Night; two tracks with a different feel but both with lyrics that are cleverer and more thought-provoking than you might at first expect. These two are followed by the second Clash-inspired track This Is Britain, another storming indictment of modern British society. Once again, although the Clash inspiration is evident this is a Cundeez tune through and through.

Track 9 is Fightback, a defiant expression of the band's working-class-and-fucking-proud-of-it attitude. I bemoaned the lack of political expression in today's music in a previous blog post. Well this album has it in spades and is so much the stronger for it. This is music that speaks of the society we've allowed ourselves to become and is a much needed articulation of the anger many feel at the seemingly endless tide of effluent we're expected to swim against today.

Second last track on Lend Wiz Yir Lugz is Keyboard Gangsters, a solid kick in the balls for those tossers who sit at their pc's contributing nothing but bile and insults to the online world. We've all come across them: the racists, the pricks, the haters - 'hiding in their house' and 'got no life, got no mates'. I'd hate to have to choose a favourite track from an album that really doesn't have a duff tune on it but this would be a strong contender! 

The album opens with the pipes and closes the same way: Haggis Man is Black Sabbath's Iron Man - improved with bagpipes! From first to last this album takes you by the throat and doesn't let go. I defy anyone to listen to Lend Wiz Yir Lugz just once.

So there you go - my first ever album review and my album of 2011. Do yourself a favour, get on Amazon or iTunes and buy this album. If the Spirit of Christmas hasn't been ground out of you yet buy it for a mate too! They'll love you for it.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A bomb skare in the dread zone.

It's my son's 10th birthday next week but he's getting one present early. Danny Buster will attend his first ever gig tonight, the awesome Dreadzone are playing Exeter again. If you haven't seen Dreadzone live you're missing out, they are without doubt one of the greatest live acts I've ever seen. Despite them never achieving a whole lot of chart success I'd put them up alongside The Blockheads & Madness in the top 3 of my 'seen live' list. Here's a taster of what Dan can expect tonight:

I couldn't find many decent YouTube vids of them live, probably because anyone at a Dreadzone gig is too busy bouncing to be bothered filming it! Alongside Little Britain, this is Dan's fave Dreadzone tune:

When I asked Dan what he wanted to wear to the gig he seemed a bit concerned. He asked if it was ok to wear the t-shirt of another band to a gig, thinking it was like footie; he said you wouldn't wear a Man U shirt to a Chelsea game. I wouldn't wear a Man U shirt to clean out a cesspit but that's besides the point, I assured Dan he could wear any shirt he wanted to.

So Dan will be proudly sporting one of his most treasured possessions tonight - his Bombskare t-shirt. Dan sat in with me on my SFR show a few weeks back and absolutely loved it, he'd been nagging me for ages about joining in on the (internet) radio. I play a fair bit of Bombskare, quite simply because I think they're the best ska band around today. 

Dan mentioned in the chat-box that he loved their stuff and the band sent him 2 t-shirts, some stickers and a signed cd (which I've put in my cd cupboard, for safe-keeping obviously!) When Dan did his own show a couple of weeks later he played Bombskare again and also played Dreadzone. Like all proud Dads I love that my son shares my interests and think it's absolutely brilliant that a band would take an interest in a kid as young as Dan. Getting that package from Scotland made his month let alone his day! Like they said when I thanked them, anything that helps foster a lifelong interest in music has got to be worth doing. Thanks chaps.

I don't do New Year resolutions as a rule but this year I resolve to see some live music every month. If Dreadzone are touring again we'll be there. I'm definitely going to catch The Simmertones again coz they were bloody brilliant a few weeks ago but top of my list is to get me & the lad to a Bombskare gig - I think a summer holiday in Scotland may be in order (do they have a summer in Scotland?)

Update: the gig was as awesome as I'd hoped. The band put on a blinding show, the venue was great - good to see Dreadzone at the Phoenix instead of the Lemon Grove, the crowd were good natured and enthusiastic and the amount of attention Dan got made him feel really special (his words).

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Music Therapy

I lost a very dear friend this week after a long, brave and hard fight against cancer. As well as being someone I counted as one of my closest and best friends he was also my wife's beloved Dad and grandfather to my kids who absolutely adored him. As well as my own pain and grief at losing someone so close it has been devastating to watch my nearest and dearest going through the agony of loss. Seeing a man we loved so much be cut down by such a cruel disease at an age when he should have been enjoying life to the full and reaping the rewards of years of hard work has been almost unbearable at times.

After saying my goodbyes I left my wife with her Mum & sister and came home to give the kids news that I knew would devastate them. After lots of tears and hugs I settled the kids to bed and sat alone with my thoughts. Knowing sleep wasn't going to happen despite being exhausted I tried to occupy myself. I don't drink so drowning my sorrows was out. I tried putting the TV on but couldn't concentrate and found myself getting angry at the glib shite that passes for entertainment on the TV. So I opened the cupboard and took out a box of records.

As well as sharing a close friendship and the love of a family I was lucky enough to share an interest in music with Stew. I got my love of ska & reggae from the 2Tone era which coincided with the time in life when I started buying records in any number. My LP boxes are full of albums from the early 80's onwards; Stew being a few years my senior had a record collection that made me weak at the knees when I first saw it. While I was in nappies he was buying the albums that inspired the very movement that would come to have such an influence on me years later. Such was the generosity of the man that over the following years every birthday or Christmas he gave me an extra present of an LP that he just knew I would love. 

None of the records Stew gave me are what a collector would class as mint, or even good in most cases. These were records that did the rounds at parties, records that were bought to be played and enjoyed with friends and not just stored in polythene slip cases and handled with kid-gloves. To me this makes them even more special. Their value to me isn't something that can be measured in pounds and pence. As well as the music in those grooves, every hiss & click, every scratch and jump on that imperfect vinyl is a little link to the life of a wonderful man who I am going to miss so much.

I sat up until 4am the other night, just playing the records Stew has given me over the years. I've often heard the term 'music therapy' but know little about it. What I do know however is that when I eventually went to bed I still had a  great sadness weighing on me but I also had tears of joy in my eyes having been transported by those vinyl gifts back into the company of a very special bloke. Ta Stew.


As a postscript, a few months ago I was asked if, when the time came, I'd write something to be read at Stew's funeral. I haven't put pen to paper on that yet so don't know where that will take me, but I do know that Stew chose this piece of music to be played. It says it all a lot better than my ramblings ever could I think.