Laura Marling: Short Movie review – Crackling with electricity

You’re probably quite bored of hearing us prattle on about how Laura Marling is the best singer-songwriter of her generation. We’re almost bored of saying it ourselves. But what else can we do?

After flashes of promise on her debut, Marling released the best break-up album of the decade five years ago (Sorry, Björk). She followed it up with the more conceptual if slightly less melodic A Creature I Don’t Know and the sprawling and dense – but ultimately rewarding – Once I Was An Eagle.

The big tease with Short Movie has been “Marling Goes Electric”. There’s been that striking press shot of the singer caressing an electric and gigs in rock dive bars, but that’s not really what’s happened.

Read the full article at Digital Spy

Ride live at the 100 Club for War Child: Tremble with a sigh

In the nearly two decades since Ride split, Andy Bell and Mark Gardener have kept busy. Bell filled theatres with Hurricane #1, and arenas and stadiums with Oasis, before his stint in Beady Eye. Gardener stuck with Loz Colbert and formed The Animalhouse, and after their split kept his hand in with solo records and production work.

It’s not their later excursions that have caused the dizzy excitement for this reunion though. The pair’s work for a couple of years at the start of the 1990s has grown and grown in stature. After some words from Xfm DJ John Kennedy, a brief set from Fake Laugh (terrible name – perfectly pleasant electric singer-songwritery twang) and a War Child video, Mark and Andy step onto a live stage together for the first time in a long time.

Read the full article at Digital Spy

Blondie, Ramones, Dolls: Luke Haines’s verdict on New York in the ’70s

This year, Luke Haines completes the third chapter in his recent concept trilogy with New York in the ’70s, described by its author as a “mythic re-imagining of the New York Rock n Roll scene 1972-1979”.

It swiftly follows 2011’s 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early ’80s and last year’s Rock and Roll Animals (“I’m getting off on work at the moment,” Haines admits).

To mark its release, Digital Spy caught up with the ex-Auteurs frontman and rattled off a list of the biggest New York names from the 1970s, asking him for his verdict on each, while giving you a Spotify playlist to listen along.

Read the full article at Digital Spy

The Indelicates – In Conversation

“Once in a corridor in Memphis / Was a singer took a breath
And wrote the birth of the teenager / Now we come to write his death”

– ‘The Last Significant Statement To Be Made In Rock ‘N’ Roll’

PIFL has been here before. Ever since we bought our first cassettes from Our Price we’ve been bombarded by scribes in print and verse telling us that pop is dead. At the same time, we’ve seen a barrage of magazine front covers pledging its rude health, usually while hailing some fourth-generation facsimiles of rock ‘n’ roll as our new favourite band.

What’s unusual about The Indelicates is while their lyrics proclaim the first view, their records have nevertheless reawakened our faith in modern rock music. After a few sharp single releases, their bitter, witty and rather fantastic début LP, American Demo, came out in April.

The Indelicates

“I’m alright about the album now,” says Simon – guitarist, singer and songwriter. “I was really unhappy about it the week before it came out, I just felt really exposed. Like I’d walked out on stage at the school play without knowing any lines. Now it’s actually come out I’ve stopped worrying about it.”

Listening to the album, you can understand why its release could make its authors feel a little bit vulnerable. While the lyrics of most of the big guitar albums this year have been so banal they may as well be replaced by humming, American Demo presents a pretty personal take on love, life, drugs, politics and rock ‘n’ roll itself.

“I’m the most right-wing person I know, by a clear margin,” Simon claims. It’s a bold statement – and not one usually heard from the lips of musicians under 30. He’s responding to a review of the album on a weblog which denounced the band as rabid left-wing feminists. It also suggested Julia – pianist, singer, songwriter and also Simon’s partner – would be best served embarking on a solo career, leaving him to write for Mojo. He doesn’t seem too enamoured with that idea.

“It really upset me,” he confesses, “It really did bug me to the point where I had to talk about it in interviews and on stage.”

“It’s really offensive to me because I’m not stupid,” Julia adds. “I’m not just a female singer and when someone says that what they mean is: ‘You’ve got a great voice I didn’t listen to a word of what you were saying’. I mean fuck off! Seriously, what gives you the right to say that to me?

“It’s always men of a certain age – it’s always ‘industry professionals’. They’re maybe late thirties or whatever, they’re just trying to pull is what it is. They’re trying to be your friend and you’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to be your friend if you’re not going to be polite!'”

The Indelicates - We Hate The Kids

The other members of the band don’t get much of a look in, outside the music. But on stage in Manchester a few hours after this interview, drummer Ed van Beinum, bassist Kate Newberry and guitarist Al Clayton come into their own. As a group they take the songs up a level, giving them a harder-edged, glammier sound than on the records.

Al especially bounces around the venue like a dosed-up Gummy Bear, offering the crowd more than just the frontpeople as a focus. Do the other members feel deprived of a voice as well as a place on the front cover of their own album?

“No, because they hate talking to people, so that’s the price,” Simon jokes. “They don’t mind,” Julia reckons. “I think they like being the rhythm section – they all joined up because of that, so they don’t want to be in the ‘public eye’ as such, though they do on stage.” Simon explains their absence from this interview simply. “They’re our words, so it’s up to us to take responsibility for what we said.”

“‘Cause if we can’t have a better world / Then at least can we be right?”
– ‘The British Left In Wartime’

Back to the politics. Simon may describe himself as right wing, but he doesn’t talk like Nick Griffin and The Indelicates aren’t exactly Skrewdriver. In fact, the band recently donated a track to REPEAT fanzine’s “fuck the BNP right off” compilation.

Along with Julia’s timely swipe at post-feminism that is ‘Our Daughters Will Never Be Free’, the album contains a couple more out-and-out political moments. ‘Better to Know’ is unashamedly pro-liberal, pro-awareness, while ‘America’ hacks at the unthinking antiAmericanism that has consumed much of the British left. We wonder if songs like that make the band feel set apart from other musicians.

“Yeah,” says Simon, “But I’d probably be embarrassed to do it if I didn’t feel a bit out on a limb. ‘America’ especially is something especially that I care about really. You do get this constant stupidity from the left which is really disappointing and irritating – which really does bug me. It’d be very easy to write songs about how I don’t like George Bush, because of course, no-one likes George Bush. Just as it’s very easy to shock the Daily Mail, but it’s kind of pointless. That’s what they’re for – the Daily Mail – to be shocked.

“Anything that kind of runs against the grain of what the people you’re talking to believe on the whole it seems a lot more worthwhile, so if you’re having a go at the people directly in front of you, at least you’re not just talking to the choir.”

Simon Indelicate

At PIFL, we don’t want bands to echo our politics, that isn’t the point. We want them to either leave all to one side, or actually show some evidence of thinking for themselves before shooting their mouths off. At the very least, we want them to recognise the contradictions inherent in their preaching to their post-teen fanbase. The Clash used to talk about equality, but they also tried to live it. Most guitar bands in Britain seem focused on three things: their careers, deflowering teenage girls and drugs.

“The popstars who write operas / And make fatuous remarks
The theory quoting upstarts/ Who snort fairtrade coke in parks”

– ‘America’

“Coke is the least ethically produced crop in the world,” Simon claims. “People’s feet can get burned off when they have to tread it in acid otherwise they get shot. People won’t go to McDonald’s but they’ll buy coke.”

If another major rock band said something about drugs, groupies or politics that betrayed a single bit of independent thinking, then maybe they’d become worth listening to.

The Indelicates up on the roof

“The bands of this generation are a lot less radical than those of their parent’s generation,” Simon adds. “And that in itself suggests a reversal of something which was once interesting and made changes in society as a voice for youth. It stopped being that when Kurt Cobain shot himself and became just a method of selling pieces of plastic to teenagers.”

He adds that it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be said while setting words to music – The Indelicates would be pretty neutered if that were the case. But he thinks the notion of rock ‘n’ roll as a force of rebellion has run its course. There is no longer any evidence of it.

Julia takes up the thread. “I think indie music’s dead too. Anything indie scene as it was – as in independent, an independent scene. With the alternative scene in America the difference is phenomenal. The alternative scene in America consists of a vast number of different things but they’re really supportive. There’s all sorts of labels that are basically small businesses that will come and support that, whereas in England ours died.

“Ours died and possibly became pop music which is fine – that’s what happens – but people forget there was a reason it was indie music. That it was independent – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

She adds that people have often told her and the band they will go far, but she doesn’t want to be forced to take that path. “I should be allowed to be independent,” she sums up. After a short stint on Sad Gnome records, the band signed to indie label Weekender, and we wonder if this was always part of the strategy, to allow the band to maintain their freedom.

The Indelicates - The Last Significant Statement To Be Made in Rock 'N' Roll

Apparently not. Simon admits, “we always wanted to release it on a massive label”. Julia agrees. “In terms of sound, it’s not not-commercial, though maybe it is in terms of lyrics. But I don’t really have a problem with many people being able to buy your music. The more people that hear about it the better really.

“It doesn’t bother me being on an indie, because you have a lot more control over what happens, but generally I think if a big label ever wanted to sign us up we’d definitely say yes. And we’d say yes having thought it through. We’re not dumb, so we think about it.”

“When they pin me to the wall, I’ll say
I’m with America / With godless America”

– ‘America’

The band headed to the States earlier this year to play at the South by Southwest festival. While the event itself was something of a dull industry get-together (Simon: “No different from the Tory party conference, just lots of men in suits walking around with badges on, talking about fringe meetings and how excited they are about everything.”) the surroundings were something else.

“I really liked being in America,” Julia says. Her dad worked for an airline and she was born in Saudi Arabia, living her early years on compounds way out in the desert, much like army camps.

“I’m really used to vast amounts of space and, when we went to Texas there’ was a part of me that was like… it’s so nice,” she continues. “So nice to look to the horizon and it’s just immense, it’s such a good feeling. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to do that because if you live in a city all the time, you don’t get that.

“It’s really really freeing and it also makes you feel like you could survive it, if you’re a positive person – which I am, generally. You think ‘I could do this, I could walk through this desert and I’d be fine, and I could work it out, I’d be able to stand alone’.

“I think there’s a lot of that about America, despite it having loads and loads of problems. There’s something about that, about you feeling able to do something.”

“The dark days ahead / And the blood on the bed
And the cover of the NME
They gave us a cheque/ And took us by our necks
And swore undying loyalty”
– ‘New Art For The People’

Back to Blighty. Does being on the front cover of Britain’s oldest surviving pop weekly mean anything anymore? Simon thinks yes, Julia disagrees. “To be fair, I never read the NME and I was never into indie music,” she admits. “I was into dance music and classical music.”

“But I didn’t grow up somewhere cool!” Simon responds. “Where I grew up, the NME was like a lifeline and I find it really difficult to slag it off because it meant loads to me as a kid.”

“I just don’t like the NME because I don’t like music writing,” Julia counters. “I find the NME to be particularly bad, but I don’t find Plan B that different. They’ll be like; sounds a bit like this band, and this band and this band. It’s not that I have a problem with it as such, it’s just that it doesn’t make any sense to me.

The Indelicates - The Graduate

“That’s what I mean about it not meaning anything. Maybe it means something to some people, but I think it means more in terms of business than anything else. The Wombats are on the cover, therefore they’re going get big for the next six months. And then they’re going to get shot down in flames and I think part of me feels a bit sorry for them because quite a lot of them are just kids.”

There are still some bands out there that impress The Indelicates; among them The Flesh Happening (Simon: “They’re amazing. It feels like watching Bowie, but with this more aggressively queer, really disgusting edge, a really proper edge, something that really is quite shocking.”) and former Sad Gnome labelmate Lily Rae. But despite the obvious musical allusions and reference points, when you get to the lyrics, The Indelicates sound like nothing else in British pop right now.

“I’m bitter and twisted/ Unaddressed and unlisted
And all of our plans came to nothing, it seems”
– ‘Point Me To The West’

“I try not to lie with everything we do and I think we succeed in “I try not to lie with everything we do and I think we succeed in that,” Simon says. “I mean, I don’t necessarily think I’m a particularly good singer, and I’m an alright guitarist – I’ve been practising long enough. I don’t think there’s anything we say that isn’t something we’ve thought through properly. It’s intended honestly, I think if we could be financially stable whilst not lying to people, that’d be good enough really.”

The Indelicates - American Demo

The cover of American Demo features Simon and Julia behind a freshly-painted white line, bucket and brush in hand. It’s a bold cover, and like much the band does, it makes bold statement.

“Being out on a limb – the cover of the album is mainly designed with that in mind – because I take responsibility for everything I said,” Simon explains. “It goes into why the week before releasing the album I felt terrible, just terrified and unpleasantly naked. But, I wanted to be on the cover, and to have Julia on the cover as well, going ‘Yeah, it was us’.”

Special Needs interview for the unpublished State of Play magazine

There are changes taking place in Needs headquarters. By the time you read this article, Special Needs may well be known under the snappier moniker of The Needs. More importantly, however, the band will also be back on the road and, all going to plan, on the verge of releasing their first album.

The Needs have been bubbling under the surface for quite some time now. They’ve picked up positive reviews for their first few singles, and ever-increasing praise and attention from fans and media alike, but for a while things seemed to have faltered. “I think in a sense our honesty has been our biggest downfall,” lead singer Zachery thinks aloud. He’s wrong of course – it is in fact the band’s greatest virtue, but we’ll get back to that later on.

Zachery, guitarists Andrew and Daniel, bassist Phil, drummer Neil and I are hunched around a table in a pub on Kilburn High Road in north west London – a pub that Andrew notes is “the same pub which we used to go to two years ago when we were playing in London every week”. He’s concerned that the band haven’t yet spread their music as far and wide as they would like. All that is about to change.

Later this year, industry wrangling permitting, The Needs will release their recently-recorded debut album – and, considering a lot of preconceptions about the band, it promises to surprise a lot of people. Whether or not you’ve heard the band, it’s highly likely that you’ve seen their name bandied about, either in the music press or the broadsheets.

There’s an image of The Needs being part of a collective of other garage rockers in the London area, all making similar post-Strokes music aiming at the lowest common denominator, and it’s fair to say that this band, for one, resents that. Andrew wryly comments, “It’s as if they think we’re idiots, like we sit around sniffing Pritt Stick, but we pay council tax. We’re not buffoons.”

Daniel adds that the image of the band was invariably “London, ramshackle, sloppy rock’n’roll, and it’s never what we were.” The album, however it sells, is set to banish those types of comments for good. The band elected to work with Ian Grimble as producer. Zac tells us that “there was a couple of people, kind of trendy east London rocky-type garage producers, that we spoke to about doing it, but we wanted that big, full sound. With the stuff that Ian has done in the past, McAlmont and Butler, the Manics’ Everything Must Go, he was able to get that.”

The album has a very lush sound to it – it’s full-on but tender too. Andrew calls the songs “aggressive lullabies”, a perfect description, telling us that “me and Daniel always used to talk about Spector and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, who were really powerful but soft at the same time… You can ram your fist into something, and it’s kinda like the energy of that, but it happens in slow motion. I think when you do that it becomes something special.”

The hope is clearly to make an album that lasts, that isn’t just a burst of energy and aggression, that “you can have a great song and you can do it with energy, but energy only lasts five minutes. The album’s got a real tenderness to it, a real softness, and that lasts for years.” There are gorgeous flourishes all over the album – from the music-hall piano on “Martin’s In A Fix” (played by a man named Paul Beard, now touring with one James Blunt), to the layered a cappella breakdown on “The Girl From The Laundrette”, this is an album that does have that softness, an album that will last.

To date The Needs have put out three singles. Their first, “Sylvia”, backed with “Tarts”, is a record they try to disown. “If anyone tries to claim it was a single release we’ll sue them,” Andrew says, trying to look stern but not succeeding. “It was a demo that got put out.” It’s a bit rough around the edges, certainly, but it isn’t a bad record. However, the follow-ups, “Francesca” and this summer’s “Blue Skies”, give a much better indication of what and where The Needs are as a band. Spector-esque sound with melodies that drag you in with their sweetness, disguising a lot of melancholy and sadness in the words crooned by Zac.

The words to these songs mean something, and often enough, once you strip away the harmonies and tunes, there’s a lot of darkness there: “We’re just struggling to survive, trying to make the best of it. That’s the way everybody is, and if we sound like The Monkees when we do it, then that’s the intention. ”I press Andrew further about the lyrics on one of the standout tracks on the album, “Angelica”, a song which unusually for The Needs marries some rather bleak lyrics with a tune that doesn’t let you avoid the harshness of the words, but instead forces you to confront them.

“It’s about a place in the north called Annesley. My dad used to work there in the same factory for 20 years. The whole mining community disappeared and was replaced by a Kodak factory, making film for very cheap cameras – that was the place which held the fabric of the community together, and it’s been closed down. I talked to my dad about six months ago when the song was written, and he was a manager there, only him and three people left, just clearing out the lockers. That’s what that song is about – the passing bell for the death of a community.” I find out later that the pit in Annesley was in fact the oldest in the country, set up in the 1860s, making the subsequent collapse of the community in the area seem even more poignant.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. If these songs were nothing but misery wrapped in melody then there really wouldn’t be a point. The recurring theme here is one of escape – of realising that the world isn’t perfect and wondrous all the time, that sometimes it seems like everything will disintegrate, but that you can also try to get away from all of that. What the band aren’t saying is that escape is as easy as a trip to the funfair.

The British seaside pops up repeatedly in The Needs’ lyrics, but its place there is often misunderstood. Andrew notes that “it’s very apparent that people seem to think that we think the seaside is some sort of Mecca, some sort of opportunity. ‘Tarts’ was never intended to be some sort of song where we’re 17, life is terrible in the city, let’s go and live in Skegness. The whole point of that song is that life is pretty hard, but living there isn’t going to make it any better. The whole point of it is the death of the English seaside – a flippant kiss down the arcade, and it just meant nothing, it was raining and there was nothing around.”

Daniel adds that “the seaside used to be something, but now all it is a glorified fucking arcade machine on the seafront… Maybe it wasn’t better, but it was a place where people went to congregate, and now all it is is the cheapest, tackiest place in the world.” Andrew retorts, “You get there, and it lasts three minutes before you get bored. Someone has a ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hat, and you flip it off and there’s nothing behind it – if you’re lucky there’s a bald patch.”

So escape, if it’s possible, is not to be found at Butlins it seems (and thank heavens for that), but where does that leave us to run? Well, the music is certainly part of it. Andrew mentions Suede as the band that inspired him to pick up a guitar and form a band: “Just to walk around the village I grew up with in a ridiculous dyed black quiff, and you get into that mentality where you think all you have to do is walk down the road and you’re something.”

Later, when talking about their own band, that desire to similarly inspire other people with music is clear: “If things go to plan there’ll be a generation of young people who’ll be able to walk out of houses and comb their hair properly, and think something is possible. Maybe if it’s just 20 or 30 people in Kilburn who say that there was a great band that used to practice down here and we used to walk past there every day, then maybe there is a hope.” But it’s not just the music. Hope and escape are ideas strong enough in themselves to get people through life, and the lyrics are full of these thoughts: “Hold on, hold on,” “I can do anything,” “We’re not broken yet, we’re not letting go,” and simply “Run away, run away, we’ll run away.”

Andrew, talking about the last single, explains that “‘Blue Skies’ wasn’t blue in a Sid James, luminous skies way, it was blue like Billie Holiday, and that’s what the song meant, ‘I’m really really fuckin’ blue.’ The whole song was just an escape from misery. And funfairs and heartbreak wasn’t an optimistic thing – it was like a snapshot between being sick in the toilets and kicking your heels running outside the pub.” The tightrope between happiness and despair.

In the past few turbulent years there have been times when everything seemed to fall apart, when all the hope in the world appeared to disappear. Phil accepts that “the band’s the one thing that keeps us together, and sometimes that doesn’t even look like it can”. Last December the band had just signed their album deal and seemed, as ever, on the cusp of something important, when the band visibly fell apart on stage, at a gig to celebrate some of their fans’ birthdays, no less.

There were fists flying, recriminations yelled and, later, apologies hollered across the venue while the crowd watched disbelieving and open-mouthed. In Andrew’s summary, Zachery, more than a little worse for wear, “turned up as Batman and tried to maim me onstage”. It sounds bizarre, and Zac admits that “we can look back at it now and laugh”, but “at the time it was terrible, it was breaking all of our hearts”.

Zac concedes that he’s undergone some drastic self-improvement since that night, and the lyrics of the song “Convince Me”, written in the aftermath of the incident, are a testament to that: “Convince me you’ve changed” is the chant pleaded in the chorus. There came, it seems, a point where it became clear to the band that, in Zac’s words, “we realised that it’s the only thing in our lives”.

Late last year in the NME Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell took some rare time out from fluffing his own ego to claim that Andrew Pearson was the man who should be in that paper’s “Cool List” of 2004. Andrew, with a smile, remarks, “It’s often said, by himself, that he’s a genius, and that was confirmation of his talent, his insights, and his visions of the future.”

Daniel notes that the rest of his comments were also rather perceptive, Borrell acknowledging that The Needs are “one of those bands where it feels like they’re breaking up every time you see them”. While both Zac and Daniel accept that genuine vulnerability and a certain volatility on stage is perhaps a necessary requirement for a band to remain honest and exciting, all are happy that the band have taken a step back from that edge they seemed so close to falling from last December. The first thing Andrew says today is, “The thing I’m most proud of is that we’re still together, and we still play together, we still enjoy it. We’re still trying to get somewhere else, still trying to write better and better songs.”

Since then the band have enjoyed mixed fortunes. The last single, “Blue Skies” sold well but should have charted higher, and while the album sessions and accompanying tour have been a clear success, behind the scenes label difficulties have delayed its release slightly.

Despite these minor setbacks there’s a quiet confidence about this band – not the arrogance and brainless swagger of some, but an assured self-belief that this band has the songs which will compel people to take notice. As Zac simply says, “The songs are great songs,” and on their release, snobbery, misconceptions and cynicism about The Needs will evaporate.

Earlier I described the honesty of the band as their strongest virtue. The reason for that is the honesty in the songs they write and the music that they play. To jump on a bandwagon and grab the headlines is easy enough, but the success it brings is transitory and empty. To stick to the truth in making the music that you want to make, and in the words that you use, is far more worthy, and will always be recognized in time.

When talking about the production of the album Andrew calmly states, “I doubt there’s anyone in London, a band, that could come and sit in this pub and write a better song than we could.” Playing back the songs that The Needs have produced this summer, it would take a brave man to disagree.