Thursday, 26 November 2015

Top Tens: Arms & Hearts Top Ten Punk Rock Influences

Yesterday Arms & Hearts released his brand new EP Set In Stone. Reviewed here. To coincide with the release he told me his top ten punk rock influences.

The Gaslight Anthem: When a bandmate of about 4 years ago showed me ‘The 59’ Sound’ I was hooked. I had always liked some punk rock, but never had I heard something that connected to me on a deep emotional level as that did; from that first guitar riff to as soon as that chorus kicked in, the pure emotion in Fallon’s vocals. From that point I decided I wanted to learn to sing and write my own songs from that, my interest grew the more I discovered. The Gaslight Anthem and Brian Fallon’s other projects essentially became the soundtrack to my penultimate teenage years and the basis for my songwriting, whilst also introducing me into this scene and lead me on my journey to discover most of my other influences.

Chuck Ragan
: Chuck Ragan was a big game changer for me. The original idea for Arms & Hearts was to start it acoustic and then make it into a full band, but Chuck showed me that you didn’t need drums and electric guitars to sound fucking huge! I find his lyrical concepts and styles really intriguing and inspiring; ‘Covering Ground’ is one of my favourite albums. Fun fact; I met Chuck at one of his shows at Gorilla in Manchester and I happened to have been pretty intoxicated at the time. I remember it was in the toilet, and I remember it was pretty awkward… and he probably thought I was a weirdo.

Dave Hause
: I remember discovering Dave Hause through the Revival Tour, which Chuck and Brian were a part of. I used to spend hours on YouTube watching the full concerts wishing I could be a part of it, then myself and my friends Sammy Battle, Emma Hallows, Harry Woodrow and Sam Lyon have since done a similar concept and shows with our collective group To Anywhere. I remember being completely blown away by his voice and the passion he puts into his performances, as well as how much I could relate to his lyrics, especially in his album ‘Devour’ which me and my best friend spent a lot of time driving around listening to.

: Matt Goud aka Northcote is one of those acts that just blow you away. I first saw him supporting Dave Hause in Manchester, the second time was when he was with a full band and my friend Sammy Battle supported and the third time was when I got to support and it’s probably my favourite show that I’ve ever played. Matt and all the other guys were super nice to me and my first meeting of Matt was him walking into the dressing room singing Pharrell William’s ‘Uptown Funk’ to himself. He’s such a positive guy and it shows in his song writing. One of the reasons I think I connect with his songs so well is because they’re so positive and hopeful, which can makes a nice change; it was a little insane and such an honour to play a show with one of my favourite artists. ‘Hope Is Made Of Steel’ is probably one of the best albums to come out this year and I recommend it fully.

The Lion and the Wolf
: Tom George, known just as well under his alias The Lion And The Wolf is an amazing songwriter, as well as a good friend. I first met him when I supported Billy The Kid as part of To Anywhere and then the first three dates of my first ever tour were with him. He has taught me so much and I am big time indebt to him for all the help and advice. His songs are also something to withhold and he has never been afraid to discuss the sadder things in life within his lyrics. The album ‘Symptoms’ remains a big influence on my work.

Bill Hicks
: Although not a musician, the comedian Bill Hicks has inspired me on my opinions on certain topics. One thing that has always stuck with me is his opinion on musicians, as he says ‘Play from your fucking heart’. It’s an order I try to obey with every show.

Frank Turner
: Frank is generally a brilliant Folk Punk songwriter. The fact that no matter how successful he gets he still (from what I’ve seen) remains down to earth and a genuine person. ‘I Am Disappeared’ and his general ethic inspired me to tour for the first time.

The Menzingers: ‘The Obituaries’ was the first song I was introduced to and I fell in love with this band since then, later reinforced when I finally bought the album ‘Chamberlain Waits’ and had my heart torn out by the song ‘Time Tables’. The lyrical content of full on honesty, and of heartbreak, really finds its way into my writing. ‘Burn After Writing’ is my go to cover song at shows. 
Red City Radio: I think I was first introduced to Red City Radio at high school before The Gaslight Anthem or any other bands, but I don’t think I appreciated them as much as I do now. To me, they’re one of those bands that mean so much to me and I don’t think they have a bad song. From the ‘We Are The Sons And Daughters Of Woodie Guthrie’ to their latest self titled release that has nothing but bangers. My favourite song of theirs is ‘Show Me On The Doll Where The Music Touched You’ which contains the lyrics ‘I am fucking unstoppable, I am a fucking juggernaut’ which can without a doubt can get me out of any rut. They’re such a huge influence to me because they have such catchy choruses with some of the most inspiring lyrics. I aspire that one day I will be as good as a songwriter as those guys.
The Roughneck Riot: One of those bands that no matter how wasted they get they can still play perfectly, and I have witnessed this on several occasions. All of them are super nice and have helped me loads. Their songs have such a serious subject matter within their lyrics, but combined with the catchiest melodies I have heard from a band in that genre, have inspired my own song writing and performance in a lot of ways.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Album Review: Flaked Out by Triple Sundae

Triple Sundae are a five-piece melodic punk band from London and Kent. Recently, after a year of hard work, they released their brand new EP Flaked Out for ’pay what you want‘ on their Bandcamp page. I had a lot of anticipation for the release, this is what I thought.

The first of the three songs on Flaked Out is Everything's Cool. The song starts out with a simple chord progression before some slowly paced vocals. This was quite a surprising way for the song to start but not as much as a surprise as what came next: the tempo of the song picked up and horns were introduced. Horns! On Triple Sundae's Facebook page they describe themselves as a melodic punk band so the horns were quite the surprise. They really took the song up to another level though, a fantastic start. The horn section is used throughout the second song Combust as well. This song has a massive hint of We Are The Union about it. Mixing melodic pop punk music with brilliant brass blasts. There aren't many UK bands playing music like this so it was very refreshing. The final track, Last Time, was the highlight for me. The song starts off with a quick tempo before some fast-paced vocals that really got my feet tapping. There is also a feeling of some angry emotions during the song that give it an extra layer and helps you really connect with the song.

Flaked Out is a fantastic EP from a band that are on the rise. Triple Sundae should be very proud of this excellent release.

Stream and download Flaked Out here: 

Like Triple Sundae here:

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Art of Punk: Rockets Are Red

There is one punk rock poster designer that I have been a huge fan of for years and he is still one of my absolute favourites. Previously working under the name El Jefe, Jeffrey Everett is a designer and illustrator now heading the multi-talented design agency Rockets Are Red, based outside Washington, DC.

I first came across his work in 2010 when he worked with The Gaslight Anthem to produce album artwork and merchandise for their third album, American Slang. I remember being completely in awe of these poster designs and wishing I could have them all for my walls – but also greatly aware that I couldn’t afford such things as a poor student! (Ironically, now I could probably afford a few but don’t have the wall space in my tiny flat.)

Since then, Rockets Are Red have produced poster design and other merchandise for the likes of Against Me!, The Bouncing Souls, Brand New, The Menzingers and Social Distortion, plus working with The Gaslight Anthem again for their fourth album, Handwritten.

More recently Rockets Are Red have been working with Frank Turner to produce a collection of posters for the autumn (fall) US tour, including a show at the legendary 9:30 Club – note the inclusion of Josh Burdette. These posters were available at their respective dates but a handful are also available to purchase online. I really love how the colour palette remains the same throughout these posters but the scene is different depending on each location of the gig – which really makes them seem part of a series. As a long-time gig-goer himself, Jeffrey really has a great understanding of the North American punk world and captures elements of it brilliantly in his designs.

As well as designing for Frank’s US dates, Rockets Are Red have designed a poster for the current UK and Europe tour. The poster is supposedly limited to just 15 copies per show so I am really hoping I’ll be able to get one at the London date on Thursday! Although I imagine they are probably all going to have been snapped up.

You can like Rockets Are Red on Facebook here.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Album Review: Obsession Transgression by Millie Manders

Ska pop songstress Millie Manders is back with a brand new EP called Obsession Transgression. Since the release of her last EP The Free-P back in January, Millie has worked tirelessly performing live and recording a brand new EP. I had the opportunity to give it a listen and here is what I thought.

Obsession Transgression is also the title of the opening song on the EP. This song is a brass filled track, which accompanies Manders’ punchy vocal style brilliantly. It really adds a lot of upbeat tempo to the song and will get a party started. The strength in her vocals really shines through as well as Manders belts out a big chorus. The next song, Teddy, has a much darker edge to it. It's about being overly possessive in a relationship and ruining things because of it. There is real venom and bite in Manders vocals, a far cry from the style of the opening song. Musically Teddy is really held back, this adds a whole load of tension to the song which really helps set the scene for the theme of the song. The third song is named Bacchus and is another really restrained ska pop song. Millie's band add a good backing to the song but it's really her singing that does most of the work here, doing a great job carrying the melody of the track as well as really showing off her great range of vocals. Obsession Transgression finishes with the song Long Gone. The opening of the track has a riff that reminds me of early 90s films when you get people walking down the streets of New York at the beginning of the movie. It's a cool riff. The riff pops up throughout the song, often leading to a big emotional chorus from Millie Manders’ astonishing vocals. She also manages to throw some quick, rapid-fire-like vocal sections during the song, which adds another string to her bow.

Obsession Transgression shows that Millie Manders is set to become a star in the ska punk scene. This young woman has a lot of ability when it comes to writing varied and memorable songs and with every release she manages to uncover even more of her seemingly unlimited potential.

Buy Obsession Transgression here:

Like Millie Manders here:

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Album Review: Back To The Drawing Room by Smokey Bastard

Back To The Drawing Room is the brand new album from Reading's folk punks Smokey Bastard. Smokey Bastard are a band that have been around for a few years now, previously releasing 2011's excellent Tales From The Wasteland. That album is fantastic so I was super excited for a new release. 

The album begins with a song named Archipelago. From the outset Archipelago feels heavier than anything on Tales From The Wasteland. The Celtic influence is apparent immediately with some fast banjo playing kicking things off before some excellent vocal exchanges get the party properly started. The vocals sound like they come from everywhere, something I adore. The second song, Rats, starts with a long, folky intro before the vocals come in. The verse is slow-paced and bouncy then the song morphs into a punk rock jam for the chorus. The shifts in key keep the song interesting and add a sense of wondering about what's next. Baba Yaga is an instantly memorable song. It's a fast, fun song about a creature named Baba Yaga, who comes from Slavic folklore. The song is about being aware of the Baba Yaga and running from it if you see it. As songs go it's kind of random but also very creative and a fantastic time. It's always good to see bands draw influences from all sorts of different things. 

Faster Than Light is more of a full-speed, Celtic punk song. The tempo is high throughout the majority of the song with all manner of instruments involved, including some fantastic accordion playing. There is a great storytelling feel to the song that really makes you believe you're living out what's happening in the song. The bass and drums are given a chance to shine during the fifth song Screens. They rumble and pound away during the verses in the song before the electric guitar adds a heavier layer for the chorus. Screens has a series of highs and lows throughout that I've come to expect from a Smokey Bastard song, it's becoming a bit of a trademark for them. South Australia offers a break from all of the hard rocking action. It's a traditional sea shanty that shows off the bands great skill at harmonising. Rotter sees a return to the folk punk fun with the banjo and accordion leading the way. This song feels a lot more restrained than the previous tracks on the album, but gives a sense of building up to something bigger. 

The something bigger comes with the next song Alcobatical, a song that reminds me of my favourite Derbyshire ska punks Lightyear. If Lightyear played folk punk this is exactly what they would sound like. This song also has far more of a conventional poppy sound which makes it far more accessible even if you're not a huge fan of this style of punk rock music. The penultimate song on Back To The Drawing Room is titled Jester. This song adds a horn section to the party to give the band yet another dimension. It really ups the tempo and makes me want to dance. I'm not sure whether to skank or do an Irish jig though. I imagine live this causes all kinds of glorious confusion and carnage. Can Of Worms is the final song on the album -I enjoyed the jumping from traditional folk instruments to the more traditional punk rock instruments at the beginning of the track before combining to create some strange kind of folk 80s metal sound. 

Back To The Drawing Room is a very entertaining album from start to finish. It has a varied sound that you don't often hear with this genre of punk rock. If you're looking for something different to the likes of Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly then Smokey Bastard are the band for you. Representing a burgeoning scene involving bands such as Roughneck Riot, Ferocious Dog and The Lagan, with Back To The Drawing Board Smokey Bastard prove they are among the very best in their genre.

Buy Back To The Drawing Room here:

Like Smokey Bastard here: 

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Album Review: The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us by Beach Slang (by Dave Chivers)

I'd noticed a lot of buzz about Beach Slang online recently and I wanted to find out what all the noise was about. I'm typically very wary when there's a large amount of hype surrounding a new band, primarily because, like any good punk, I don't want to follow the crowd but also because I've been disappointed so many times before.

Listening to the open track Throwaways, I was worried that I would soon experience that familiar feeling again. I definitely liked the tune but the distortion on the vocals was off-putting and seemed unnecessary. Nonetheless, there were flecks of Samiam and Jawbreaker jumping out at me, which gave me hope that I'd soon strike gold.

Unfortunately the first single, Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas, was underwhelming. It starts off strong enough but as soon as the 'aaahhhs' kick in, it weakens. It's just too indie rock for my tastes and I could easily have dismissed the band if this had been the first song I'd heard. Fortunately for me, it wasn't. 

After Noisy Heaven I started to adjust to the vocal effects, and I started hearing some perfectly poignant lyrics - 'Most of the words get stuck in my mouth but I mean all the ones that punch their way out'. There are obviously so many songs about the live scene and touring, but this one felt unique and anthemic.

Ride the Wild Haze elevated my optimism further; it's charged with unadulterated punk rock energy and carries a message that is easily relatable for music (and weed) lovers. For me, there was a hint of the Lawrence Arms (Hey, What Time Is 'Pensacola: Wings Of Gold' On Anyway?) about this one that made it all the sweeter. I expect this will be (or is already) a crowd favourite – 'Get high enough to feel alive'.

Too Late to Die Young introduces a refreshing acoustic element at the right point, with vocal effects kept to a minimum. Although a token acoustic track has become somewhat of a standard feature of punk rock albums, this charming ditty adds great value. The gruff vocals blend nicely with the soft melodies. The chorus is particularly uplifting and I knew I was starting to become a fan by this point, singing along after only a few listens.

The next offering I Break Guitars sealed the deal for me. Like a rougher and tougher Jimmy Eat World song, it delivers a massive punch almost effortlessly. It follows a general theme running throughout the album about loving music, being young, wild and alive. Young & Alive spells this out in no uncertain terms and continues to throw out charming one-liners – 'Go punch the air with things you write'.

My enthusiasm dipped slightly during Porno Love. Mainly because I could relate to so many of the previous lyrics and then I'm suddenly hearing about California, which I've never cared about. It's certainly melodic and shows off a more ambient side to the band. I could imagine it being played during an emotional driving scene in an artsy indie movie. I felt it could have ended after 2 minutes, although it would be quite cool for a crowd to join in with 'it's heeeeeaaaaven'.

Nostalgia and angst blast back through in Hard Luck Kid, which provides listeners with a clear-cut, catchy chorus. I would prescribe this for any lost and lonely punk rock teen.

Dirty Lights didn't do much for me at all and, to be brutally honest, I was glad it was at the end so I didn't have to keep skipping it. The effects on the guitars in the intro make them sound out of tune and the vocals later repeat that melody, which just left me feeling irritated. Of course this may well be one for other types of fans and it could appeal to a wider audience.

The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us is definitely an album to be proud of. The songs have been carefully crafted and they're presented succinctly and sincerely. You may feel slightly miffed by the fact there are only 10 tracks and almost all of them are well under 3 minutes long. Yet I see this as another great strength of theirs; they avoid filler wherever possible. Beach Slang have a mature and engaging style and they demonstrate how punk rock doesn't need to be in fast or aggressive in order to be powerful. One of my favourite lines from the album, pretty much sums it up: 'If rock and roll is dead again, how come I can't stop listening?'

Stream and download The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us here:

Like Beach Slang here:

Friday, 20 November 2015

Marilyn Got Me A Thinking About Some Things

Today my good friend Marilyn was moaning about the price of tickets for Busted's reunion tour being a costly £52! Yes Marilyn likes Busted but she's lovely so we won't judge her. This got me thinking about the costs of gigs and I worked out that by the time we finish the year I willhave gone to five festivals for around £60 and seen well over 100 bands in the process. Why on earth should Busted tickets for just one gig cost so much? 

This got me wondering how much tickets are for other big acts. To get an answer, I took to Facebook and asked my friends what the most amount of money they've spent on a gig is. The average price appeared to be between £60 and £100, which is staggering to me. One person even paid £180 to see Bon Jovi! I like Bon Jovi but to pay that much I'd want them to come and play in my living room, with wind machine, dancing girls and whatever else happens at a Bon Jovi concert. What I found most staggering about the responses I got was how the high costs didn't seem to bother anyone. As far as I'm aware not a single person who answered my question is a millionaire so how can they be happy to pay so much?! Also, what do you actually get for an expensive gig that you can't find at a reasonably priced gig?

I'm pretty sure that the majority of people reading this will be used to going to little punk shows where tickets rarely cost more than £15. The most I've paid for a gig tickets this year was £30 for NOFX, Alkaline Trio, Lagwagon and Capdown at the Brixton Academy. For me that seemed incredibly steep but I reasoned that for £30 I was getting three of the most legendary bands to come out of the American punk rock scene in the past thirty years and Capdown - a legendary band from the UK's own fantastic scene. That works out at less than £10 for a band, which is very, very good. That's cheaper than all but two of the gigs that people mentioned when I originally asked my question about ticket prices. I have to imagine that at those gigs it was all about the headliners and the other acts were people the majority of the crowd had never heard of. Now let's go back to the cheaper gigs I was talking about. In September I attended the Camden Underworld for Random Hands final ever gig. That ticket cost me £14. Perfectly reasonable for one of the most popular bands in the ska-punk genre but then you had Sonic Booms Six, who are legends in their own right, and Faintest Idea and River Jumpers, two of the brightest up and coming acts in the country. Combine that with the fact it was Random Hand’s last ever gig so it was guaranteed to be one of the best gigs of the year. That night was filled with four fantastic live acts, plenty of singing, dancing and a lot of emotion. Also the Camden Underworld is not the biggest place in the world so you can actually see the bands you are watching. A few years back I went to Frank Turner’s Wembley Arena show and as much as I enjoyed it, it could have been anyone on stage playing as we were so far away it was hard to tell. I spent most of the gig watching the screens rather than the stage, if I wanted to watch a screen I would have waited for the DVD to come out. I love a cheap and small, intimate gig. Who has ever said intimate gigs are rubbish? Nobody, that's who! I like being able to see the emotion on a performers face during a gig and I like being able to see that without paying a days wage, spending my whole day queuing to be at the front of a packed crowd and getting pinned against a barrier by a few thousand people behind you who also want to get as close as possible. So, for lots of money you can waste your day and get squashed or get a really terrible view from far away. Doesn't seem worth it to me.

There is always the argument that you get a lot more of a show at a big expensive concert. You get whole dance troupes, lightshows, fireworks, flying drummers, circus performers, balloons, costume changes, lap dances, choreography and mixed in with all of that people performing songs. I'll admit I've never been to any shows that have any of the things listed but I can't help but feel like they take something away from the actual music part. Isn't that what the main point of a music show is, the music? I want to come away from a gig remembering the feeling I got from a certain song rather than seeing Miley Cyrus take her clothes off or seeing Muse play music along with a huge light show. I'd prefer to come away after tearing up at Wrecking Ball or doing my best air guitar to Plug In Baby. Sure all the extra bits are cool but it sometimes feels a bit unnecessary. I'm sure that a big part of ticket price goes towards the production part of a gig. All of those extra bits must cost a lot of money but surely it's better to scale back the production and have cheaper shows for your fans? After all it is because of the fans artists keep getting to live such amazing lives.

Something I always find quite ironic is that the concerts that cost the most money are for the artists that need it the least? Whereas the smaller acts, who still have jobs that pay for touring and recording records and making merchandise and other costs that come with being in a band are cheaper. How does that make any sense? I was at Manchfester in October and the band Bangers headlined. Bangers are from Cornwall and drove all the way up to Manchester to play for half an hour. I obviously have no idea what they got paid/if they got paid but I imagine a lot of the money went towards fuel costs so I really can't imagine it was an especially profitable gig for them. But that didn't stop them putting everything into their performance. The same can be said for every band that played that day and pretty much every band I ever see. They can't be making a lot of money from touring but they put everything into their shows regardless. They don't do it for the money, they do it because it's what they love doing! How many times do you hear or read about the big megastar multi-millionaire pop stars kicking off because they're tired, or the crowd aren't reacting how they want, or they don't have the correct nuts backstage, or their dressing room has the wrong door handle (that might be me exaggerating to make a point) and then putting on half a show because of this but happily taking the money of the very willing and loving fans. That just wouldn't happen at a cheap punk show, if something goes wrong (which if often does) you just get on with things and make the best of it. Sometimes these mistakes make for the most memorable of shows. I can't help but think if you're earning more money you should put more work into the show.

This post is turning into a bit of a rant but I think I've made a valid argument against expensive ticket prices. Next time you're thinking of shelling out a day's wage for a gig maybe check out some gigs at some of the smaller venues all other the country. They'll be a lot cheaper and you'll come away just as entertained, plus you will be putting money in the pockets of folk who need it a lot more.

After I finished writing this column I sent it of to Avon for editing and she returned it making a very good point. She said that punk shows are too cheap and that is why bands also have to work to make a living. That's is a really really good point, one that I quite naively overlooked. I know I would happily pay a bit more to see my favourite bands, obviously not the stupidly high prices that some bands/promoters ask for but definitely more so these incredibly talented and dedicated people can make a living doing the thing that they love and that I love.