Monday 28 July 2014

Ben Watt - Hendra

I never really 'got' Everything But The Girl.  My ears just couldn't get past the pace, the jazzy pretensions and later on the Techno-lite sounds. I don't know whether it was the student connection, the apparent miserable-ness and navel gazing that seemed to prevail through the tracks and the performance, Tracey Thorn's voice.  Or a combination of all these, and perhaps other factors which just left them residing in the "I know they exist, but I'm not really bothered about hearing them" pile.
Alternatively, maybe it was just a result of my own narrow-minded prejudices (surely not?) which after hearing a couple of early tracks, I never went back and gave them a proper listen.

So, for whatever the reason, the idea of me owning an album by Ben Watt would seem somewhat unlikely.
However after hearing "Spring" earlier in the year, and now the latest single "Forget", I took the plunge and purchased the parent album.
The general feeling of idiocy and ignorance is difficult to explain when your internal prejudices are shot down in flames, but it was that feeling that overtook me on hearing the album in full.

The two songs mentioned above are worth the entry fee alone, but add to that tracks like "Hendra", "Nathaniel" and "Golden Ratio" and what there is here is one of the most enjoyable listens I've heard this year.
The music is jazzy, folky, laid-back, thoughtful, encompassing fuzz-guitar indie rock and excursions into electronic sound backing.  For simple "rule of thumb" comparisons think: Brian Eno, 70s West Coast, with echoes of Pink Floyd and New Order (this is a representative 'first thoughts' comparison list, not a definitive statement)
(I realise these words aren't exactly doing a great sales job, but I'm trying my best to avoid the word "eclectic").

There is an air of melancholy throughout, exemplified by lines such as:

"I wish I'd studied harder now,
Made something of myself,
But instead I'm just a shop keeper,
But I mustn't blame myself"
(from "Hendra")

"You can push things to the back of your mind,
but you can never forget"
(from "Forget")

"But every mirror just tells the time,
Can you name a great fighter over 49?
I should douse my flame for the young mans game tonight"
(from "Young Mans Game")

 but none of these are delivered in a down way - there is a noticeable acceptance, which I suppose can be considered as a positive melancholy (if there is such a thing?).
The production is simple, plain and honest - none of this using the mixing desk as an extra instrument, or layering tracks to create an un-performable live track.  The arrangements, instrumentation and playing are straightforward and uncluttered.  In short, an understated and relatively low key release.  But at the same time a triumphant collection that deserves a wider listening base than it may receive.

2014 is gradually becoming a golden year for new releases, and this one is bound to be in the running when the ever-present, always expected "Annual Best Of The Year 2014" gongs are handed out.

In the interests of balance, I have re-visited some Everything But The Girl output, but have found nothing to alter my previous views.  So whether you like EBTG or not, this album is highly recommended.



Saturday 12 July 2014


I've always pronounced it "Newcastle", in the way that those from the South (or should that be civilzation?) pronounce it.  Although I have noticed that many news readers have started to apply regional accents and have started to say "Newcastle".
Well, however it is pronounced it is this city that has been subjected to my ongoing quest to visit as many independent record shops as possible.
Actually, the purpose of the trip was to move my step-daughters stuff out of her University Halls of Residence pending her moving to a new shared house in a couple of weeks (fortunately, it's not me who is making the return trip).

Observations of the journey:
  • it's a bloody long way
  • why does my SatNav want to send me along the M40? M4, M25, M1 and keep going is surely the most direct route, but no Mrs SatNav Woman has decided that I should go A34, M40, M42, M6, M1.  Seems a bit convoluted to me, and I think she threw a major strop when I proceeded down the M4 towards Slough (in fact she didn't speak to me again until Luton)
  • it's further than I thought
  • Upon arrival in Newcastle (via Gateshead) the first thing that you notice is that East side of the city (Jesmond-area) appears to be one big Motorway Interchange.
  • Without wishing to re-enforce the stereotype, as I passed York, the sky turned grey and it started raining (It's grim up north etc ...)
So, freshly ensconced into the Hotel room, I use the wifes Tablet to search out the record shops the city has to offer.  Excluding, the ever-present (and often hilarious) HMV, there are seven potential shops to visit.
Of this, I discount 2 immediately as one is a sheet music specialist, and the other is more of a Vintage Clothing store than a specialist record shop. 
Next problem, a quick recce of the area, and it looks like 3 more of the remaining five may not have a bricks and mortar presence anymore (or I just missed them - I'm not a local, but I am English and a bloke, so therefore refuse to ask for directions).
This leaves just two shops on the list (Reflex and RPM Music).
At this point, I become slightly apologetic, and confess that from a starting list of 7, I only managed to visit 1 shop.
That shop was Reflex, a small (but perfectly formed, and as I discovered a perfectly stocked) unit down a side road, just up from the station.  Came away with a couple of additions, but could easily have spent a few more hours (and lots more £) in that fine emporium.
There is now a simmering frustration/annoyance within me that I didn't get to the other shops.  Maybe a return trip is needed, although there is something against this - did I mention that it is a long, long trip?
I also visited the once mighty, now generally laughable, HMV.  The store itself boasted a 70% Stock Clearance Sale (due to Store re-location).  "This might be interesting", I thought.  To answer in a few words - it wasn't!
Yes, there were some serious price reductions on some items, but not on the main stock.  What was reduced was the detritus that had been clogging up their store room and they had never been able to shift.
So what did I get?
Not as much as I wanted to from Reflex, and not as much as I'd hoped for from HMV.
The one main addition, that will now be forever linked to Newcastle in my head, was 'HQ' by Roy Harper.

Roy Harper is a name I knew, but had never knowingly heard.  He has released 22 albums in nearly 50 years of recording, and I have only heard "Tom Tiddlers Ground" and his vocal contribution to Pink Floyds "Have A Cigar".
So why this album from 1975?  Before venturing north, I had ordered a 2005 compilation ('Counter Culture') from an internet retailer with a "flexible" taxation relationship with the UK Exchequer, so I wasn't looking for a career spanning retrospective, but this album contains the one other song Roy Harper I have heard of (if not heard): "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease"