Monday, May 18, 2015

R.I.P. BB King 1925-2015

The tributes for BB King were flowing over the weekend after the blues legend lost his fight for life last Thursday (May 14 2015). The list of awards and honours he received over the course of his 89 years speaks for itself, but perhaps the highest praise offered was the short and succinct description of him as “the last of the great original Mississippi bluesmen” … which certainly seemed to be the most common tribute doing the rounds on social and mainstream media during the hours immediately after news of his death started filtering through.

I don’t profess to be an expert on King but his standing within the genre and his wider contribution to all things “rock” certainly made him the most visible “blues” icon of my own lifetime. Many will remember him for his signature tune ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, some latecomers will only know him for his collaboration with U2 on ‘When Love Comes To Town’ (or indeed his high profile work alongside Eric Clapton), but authentic and genuine blues fans will have a much wider spread of BB King delights to choose from when he’s recalled in years to come.

Me? Well I’m neither a King novice nor a huge fan, but I was lucky enough to see the man in his pomp back in 1994 – a relative heyday at the positively spritely age of just 68 – with a performance at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. I’m pretty sure that gig was part of some form of jazz (or blues) festival because around the same time – quite probably the same week – I had the pleasure of meeting Nina Simone (enjoying an extended chat with her over breakfast, no less – a long story and one I may expand upon one day) who was also passing through Glasgow.

A few years ago, when writing about my favourite all-time gigs, I rated that BB King gig as the 3rd best “concert” I’d ever attended (at that stage) and those words stand as the best I can offer here in the way of a personal tribute:

"I remember getting into some trouble for not taking my soon-to-be-wife to this particular gig on account of the fact that I “didn’t think she’d be into it” ... or just plain “didn’t think” (you decide!). If memory serves, this was part of a wider Glasgow International Arts Festival taking place at the time, and I went with a work colleague from the hotel I worked at. I recall being in awe of the venue itself but that was offset by the fact that we were sitting down throughout. Suffice to say I was a little frustrated, but the sound quality was fantastic. BB King (85) toured NZ last month to mixed/poor reviews so I guess I was quite lucky to see the Blues Legend at the relatively young age of 68. I actually hadn’t anticipated this gig being quite so funky (James Brown-esque to the point of King’s on-stage entourage including a dedicated dancer – almost a JB-lookalike – improvising on all of the Godfather’s best shuffles) but such is King’s range and versatility I really shouldn’t have been surprised. It was a special night of classic Blues, Gospel, and pure unadulterated Soul at its very best. And oh man, what a guitarist!"

R.I.P. BB King (and Lucille).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Terrorball stuff ...

Hamilton-based producer Gareth Pemberton releases music under the Terrorball moniker, and over the course of the past few years he’s been responsible for some of the best original (and remixed) electro funk ever made in this part of the world.

In fact, Pemberton is so prolific it seems like every few months there’s a brand new Terrorball digital release to enjoy, usually on a name-your-price basis.

His latest (2015) offering is called Birds On Fire, and I reckon it’s his best work yet. Check out the Terrorball bandcamp page (click here) and pick up a download of Birds On Fire … and I can recommend just about anything else from the smorgasbord of sound on offer.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Earth City Rockers ...

I need to draw your attention to a couple of new releases on the Earth City Recordz imprint.  

The first is a mini-album called Freeze, which comes from Sufi dub specialist Celt Islam. It features six older but previously unreleased electro B-Boy-styled tracks, all of which go some way to documenting the musical journey traversed by this remarkable artist over the course of the past decade. As such, Freeze represents something quite different from past Celt Islam releases, and I think that probably makes this release even more essential for fans. However, if you’re a complete newbie to the music of Celt Islam – and no regular everythingsgonegreen reader should be (assuming I still have my regular reader) – then Freeze itself might not be the best place to start due to the fact that it’s relatively raw and experimental. It works best as an archive document, something that amply demonstrates a starting point and the path taken to get to the level he operates at nowadays. I couldn’t help but notice a comment on social media from the humble artist himself (speaking about the title track on the new release): “here is something I did many moons ago … I am not the world’s best turntablist but hey I give it a good go.”

You can pick up a copy of Freeze from the Earth City Recordz bandcamp page (click here).

Celt Islam is of course Manchester-based Muhammad Abdullah Hamzah, and one of his other musical projects is the Psy-dub/electronic venturing Analogue Fakir, which also has a brand new mini-album (seven tracks) available on Earth City Recordz (click here) called Liquid Dunya. Some of this stuff really does defy labelling, so I’ll defer to Earth City’s own description of what’s on offer … “a fusion of western and middle eastern influences combined with a futurist Islamic dub attitude … open the doors of your mind to Electro Sufism.”

I think that might just about cover it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Planet Key Part 462

Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water … there’s this, the Electoral Commission deciding to waste more time and more money appealing last month’s High Court ruling on Planet Key (see here).

MEDIA RELEASE Monday 4 May, 2015
Wellington musician Darren Watson has re-released his controversial 'Planet Key' single on iTunes and at The songwriter made this decision after hearing that the Electoral Commission intends to appeal the recent landmark High Court ruling in favour of Watson and video maker Jeremy Jones.
The Commission has said the “appeal is limited to questions of law” and it was “not seeking to challenge the findings in the [Planet Key] decision as they applied to the particular facts in that case.” However, Watson and Jones say that if any part of the ruling is overturned the effect on their work, and potentially for all other artists in New Zealand, will be to essentially silence political comment.
All royalties from Planet Key sales from May 4th will go to the Red Cross' Nepal earthquake appeal fund.
“The more folks buy it the more we can hopefully send a message that freedom of expression always prevails when it comes to an individual's comments, songs, writing, and actually all kinds of art” says Watson, “it's ridiculous that we STILL have to fight for this!”
The single is available here.
The Electoral Commission says there is an inconsistency between the ruling of Justice Mander in the Electoral Commission vs Greenpeace last year and Justice Clifford's decision in the Planet Key case.
Jeremy Jones says the cases are completely different. “I reckon it's common sense that the Greenpeace ruling re: 'advertisements' can still apply to political groups and the like … we're just a person who made a song, and a person who made a music video. We're not a political 'third party'.”
Jones has made the music video available to watch again from his Vimeo page, but he hopes people will also buy the single to support both earthquake recovery and the principle of artistic freedom in New Zealand.
All paid downloads count toward the song's chart position. When Watson pulled Planet Key from sale in August to avoid potential prosecution it had reached #5 in the Official NZ Top 20 in a little over two weeks with almost no commercial airplay.
Release Ends
And so it turns out that there’s always some things in life destined to end badly (love being one certainty, and arguing with blinkered bureaucrats often being another). When one side becomes so entrenched in its position you just know it’s going to drag on until they’ve squeezed the life out of it. When one side refuses to let go and becomes blind to the overwhelming weight of facts in the matter. Even when every man and every last rabid canine in the world can see the bloody obvious …
Well done Watson and Jones. Not only can they see the big picture and what’s really at stake here in terms of artistic freedom, they’re happily donating sales proceeds to the Red Cross Nepal appeal at a time when further publicity will surely only enhance sales of a single they’ve already made a not insignificant loss on. Full respect.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Subbass and More Dub ...

Continuing on the path of dub righteousness (ahem), here’s another free or name-your-price digital download album featuring more state-of-the-art global electro dub flavours. Brand new from the Germany-based net label Subbass, More Dub collects 16 tracks from like-minded artists across the globe, to present a truly international set of electronic, dub, ethnostep, and world music tunes.

Well worth a donation, and of a consistently high standard throughout, the best stuff here comes from Dub Size, Hi Towa, Illegal State of Mind, Ben I Sabbah, and SPCZ. Check it out on the Subbass Bandcamp page (here), and if you like this, have a listen to the Ethnostep series of albums on the same label from a few years back, volumes 1 to 5.

Guest Post: The Definition of Soul

Methven-based artist and musician Pania Brown went to the recent Paolo Nutini gig at the Powerstation in Auckland (April 6, 2015). I asked her in advance if she’d like to jot down a few words about it, but evidently there were no words to describe how much she enjoyed it. Until now. Weeks later, she’s finally calm and composed enough to share what turned out to be a procession of quite grubby thoughts …

I’ll just get one thing out of the way, so we can move on. Paolo Nutini is ridiculously good looking, and I don’t think anyone, anywhere, would disagree. Certainly not the loud Scottish man last night at The Powerstation in Auckland who shouts out words to that effect. I already knew it before seeing Nutini live, and I admit it may have swayed me to listen a little more intensely when I first became a fan (so sue me I’m shallow).
But you have to know you’re hot when not one, but two male Scottish voices yell out “Paolo, you’re really good looking”, and later, another “take your shirt off”. At least he has the decency to not take his shirt off (damn!), smile sheepishly, and just roll into another song.

For the record, there were just as many blokes in the audience last night as there were women. But maybe not in the front row. And maybe, only because they were there with their girlfriends? I almost felt bad for him up there trying to get the masses to listen to his music, and I wondered if his looks do more to distract, but then I thought ‘fuck it’ and just enjoyed the fact that the music was great, his voice was sublime, and it all came in an incredibly aesthetically pleasing to the eye package. Tick tick tick!

Before going to Auckland for the concert I was on the phone to a friend who didn’t know who Paolo Nutini was and asked me what kind of music he does? I hate to pigeonhole music (#pop #acoustic #folk #spacejazzacidblendhouse #bullshit), so I ended up saying soul/blues/rock and left out the innocuous sounding “pop” which seems so insulting. Then I got to thinking that I left out “funk” and how hard it is to label a Scottish soul singer/songwriter of Italian descent, and how hard it is to categorise Nutini. I was surprised initially to hear he was headlining the recent Byron Bay Bluesfest, and I remember thinking, is he “The Blues?” …

And again, it’s hard to label certain music, and why do we try when it’s easier to just enjoy?

Paolo Nutini’s name makes him sound more like an Italian footballer than a singer. He was born in Paisley, Scotland, to a father of Italian descent who ran a fish and chip shop and a Scottish mother. Somewhere in that mix he got great looks, a voice which is as gravelly as a well-trodden road, and soul in spades.

Where does this mysterious “soul” come from? Not just from the southern states of America, and not from the colour of your skin, although anyone who sings like this has no doubt listened to the likes of Sam Cooke, Al Green, or Aretha Franklin somewhere along the way.

Turns out soul comes “from within”. And as Nutini says, his songs come “all from observation”. That’s soul enough for me. For what it’s worth, here’s what a Google search says about soul:- “emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance”. So there.

“Scottish soul” however might seem to some to be a contradiction in terms, but if you ask the Internet for a list of names you’ll come up with Annie Lennox, or Emeli Sande, or a list of older vocalists, none of whom I’ve even heard of. I always thought the term “Northern Soul” referred to the working classes of England but it seems it seeped over the border to Scotland (or vice versa?). Basically you can be a soul singer if you’ve been there, done that, survived so far, even if scarred for life and you sing like you mean it. Paolo Nutini’s a soul singer.
Nutini can’t dance he tells us (and it’s true). He moves around the stage and the 9-piece band (especially the horn section), do all the dancing you really need. He’s softly spoken, and that, combined with his thick Scottish accent, makes it difficult to understand him when he’s chatting to the audience – unless you are in the front row (which I’m not). I do catch that his mother’s in the audience as he dedicates a song to her (‘Cherry Blossom’?), and that he went swimming today and swam into the end of the pool (“don’t smoke before you go swimming!”). This comment elicits much guffawing from the smokers in the audience (and those young kids who have no idea what everyone’s laughing about but are desperate to fit in). It is well known that Nutini likes the marijuana, and is open about smoking it “every day since 16”.

The set comprises of the old and the new. He plays interesting and enjoyable versions off his latest UK No. 1 album Caustic Love, and then very different and sometimes shortened and mixed up versions off the previous two albums, These Streets, and Sunny Side Up. It works for me, although too many slower songs mid-set make the evening drag slightly. I love the groove of ‘New Shoes’ and ‘Scream’ and want more of that, although his voice is better when more isolated.

Many people go to gigs and are disappointed when the songs don’t sound exactly like the recorded versions, but I’m the opposite. I like it when they are delivered in another way, and god knows it must make it more enjoyable for the artist to play around with the originals. Nutini obviously enjoys himself, and immerses himself in the music and boy can he sing!

My favourites have always been ‘Candy’ off These Streets, and ‘Iron Sky’ from Caustic Love, and I am not let down by either. The highlight would be ‘Scream’ at the beginning of the gig … an amazingly funky song which even has the boyfriends jiggling around awkwardly on the spot, vying for attention (good luck with that!).

The concert lasts two hours. The encore is polished and well rehearsed, if a bit mellow. It strikes me what an amazingly well behaved crowd Kiwis are (not that everyone here is Kiwi). We clap when expected. We politely call out songs and comments when you should. One guy politely throws a shoe very carefully to (not at) Nutini during ‘New Shoes’ and it is politely thrown back later. We stomp and clap for the encore and are rewarded. We leave politely, and all in all it’s a good old night out. I remain stunned by the depth of his vocals at the end of the day.

Set List:

Bus Talk (interlude)
Let Me Down Easy
Coming Up Easy
Alloway Grove
Jenny Don’t Be Hasty/New Shoes
Looking For Something
Better Man
These Streets
One Day
Cherry Blossom
Pencil Full Of Lead
No Other Way
Iron Sky
Tricks Of The Trade
Time To Pretend
Someone Like You
Last Request

On the way to catch the plane back home (to Methven) the following morning, I had the pleasure of a conversation with an older couple from Manchester who now live in North Wales and had been travelling around New Zealand as part of a cruise. They were heading home. I mentioned I had been to Paolo Nutini and it turns out their son Benjamin Thomas Taylor (you can look him up, his artworks are on the Web), painted the amazing picture of Paolo on the cover of his latest album Caustic Love. Yes it’s a small world.

Yes I am practically best friends with Paolo now, yes we are going for a beer later and I’m going to stare to the point of creepiness …

All words and pictures by Pania Brown.

Pania’s previous contribution to everythingsgonegreen can be found here.

Incidentally, there have been no reported public sightings of Paolo Nutini since his Auckland appearance, and I personally refuse to believe reports from Pania's neighbours that extensive DIY renovations are ongoing in the vicinity of Pania's basement.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Head Like A Hole

A few weeks ago I got to meet and chat with a couple of guys who might otherwise be described as Kiwi Rock Legends – Booga Beazley and Nigel Regan from renowned Wellington band Head Like A Hole, Aotearoa’s finest purveyors of that glorious genre we know and love as Stench Rock.

The Head Like A Hole story is a wonderfully chaotic tale; friends form band, band establishes a huge cult following, band travels overseas, band becomes consumed by the whole sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll ethos, band self-destructs, band stops being a band for almost a decade, band reforms, band’s comeback album goes top ten, band follows up with 2015 album Narcocorrido (“drug ballad”), and then, what must surely be a career highlight: band – or two original members thereof – get to meet me!
As you can imagine, I had quite a lot of source material to work with, but my chat with vocalist Beazley and guitarist Regan barely skimmed the surface, and I’m quite sure there’s a thrilling book just waiting to be written about the exploits of Head Like A Hole. In the meantime, you can read my words over at NZ Musician (here).

One of the things we discussed was Head Like A Hole’s relationship with cover versions. Beazley even suggested a HLAH covers album is a distinct possibility in the future. Here’s one of their best covers (originally by The Clean), a perfect way to kick-start New Zealand Music Month: