Wednesday, 25 February 2009

MK Music Awards 2008

Here at the marvellous Monkey Kettle HQ, we like to regularly reward local arts “things” with our praise – and never more so than via the annual Monkey Kettle Awards. And as our tentacles have stretched further and further into the Milton Keynes Music Scene, we’ve encountered many great bands and musicians. Starting from the latest Awards (2008), Monkey Kettle is therefore proud to announce that the Monkey Kettle Award for Best MK Band or Musical Act will be sponsored by The Dudebox – officially the Music Arm of the Monkey Kettle… erm… multi-limbed organism.

Previous winners of the award for Best Band include the fantastic 75% Lip who won the first award back in 2001, teenage epic-rockers Neara, the legendary Jimi Volcano Quintet and two different bands from fantastic local musician Beanie Bhebhe: The Ideas and Modus Vivendi. So it’s an elite group to be amongst. And in the last twelve months we’ve seen some really really good local bands, many of whom are good enough to have won this coveted title. Honourable mentions must go to: hip-hop crew Raw Pride; precociously-talented young acoustic star Josh Timmins; mysterious concept-rockers The Road To Corm; the incredibly emotive cello-rock of Speeding Mellow; heartaching singer-songwriter Ellie Walsh; and genius ivory-tinkler Grahame Sinclair. However… there can only be one winner (and two runners-up). A difficult choice, but we made it.

Without further ado therefore, The Dudebox Award for Best MK Band or Musical Act 2008 goes to…

"No-one knows exactly where he came from or how long he may stay. All we know is that three years ago Rooh hopped off the back of a freight train heading north and rolled into town, a guitar slung over his shoulder. The first time I saw Rooh play, he had the sunset slot on the main stage of Dudefest 2007. As the warm sun dipped below the horizon on an epic day of rock n roll, the entire field sat enraptured by his perfectly assembled blues tunes. Rooh plays like a seasoned bluesman from another time, people just don’t write music like this anymore. But there is no imitation in Rooh, he’s not copying the skills and ideas of the past, he’s adding to their canon. This is the real thing, music that could only come from watching sunsets across the desert from the back of a rolling train, with nothing in the world but a guitar in your hands and a song in your heart. Approached with honesty and modesty and delivered with cool and style, Rooh isn’t making things easy on himself, but this is the music in his heart and he’s staying true to it."
- excerpt from Dudebox Magazine - June 2008

The runners-up for 2008 are:

Alain Proviste
"French Semi-improvised Retro-Future Jazz Space-fusion. "I think that is my proper style," mused the 7ft French dude from behind a pair of impenetrable wrap-around shades. In one hand he holds a glass of red wine, in the other a hunk of bread and cheese. In the year since Alain Proviste first landed on our planet he's given us the inspired jazz of The French Troubadours alongside his own inimitable side project that melds impossibly groovy jazz to a kind of progressive constantly shifting ambient rock. Seeing him play the Dance Tent at Dudefest 2008 was a mesmerizing experience. This is music best absorbed in a dimly lit club and through a haze of smoke. Its just that kind of cool."
- excerpt from Dudebox Magazine - August 2008

The Stylaphonics
"Outside the club is a huge stretched limousine; its goth-black and there's a jacuzzi in the back. You know, just because they CAN! As we pull away from the red carpet, leaving a trail of paparazzi photographers running behind us - me sitting with my back to the driver with The Style and Ms. Danger coolly sitting on the back seat - I have to shout down the length of the vast vehicle to make myself heard. Anyone who grew up in the eighties and says they weren't influenced by The Stylaphonics is a liar; we all grew up wanting to play the stylaphone like The Style or dance in the school disco like Ms. Danger. Cool and enigmatic, The Style single-handedly made guitar playing uncool and stylaphone playing cool. Even keytar players couldn't compete when it came to getting the girls. In school it was pretty straightforward; if you were playing the stylaphone you were getting laid and it was all down to this band. Controversial from the start - if you only listened to one stylaphone based band last year then it really should have been this one, all the rest are just cheap imitations!"
- excerpt from Dudebox Magazine - September 2008

Friday, 20 February 2009

"Everything Picture" : Ultrasound

(SONGS FROM UNDER MY BED – Lost Classics Rediscovered)
by MMT.

#2“Everything Picture” : ULTRASOUND (1999)

I happen to know - cos I’m one of those types - that the album I listened to more than any other in 1999 was a prog-heavy double LP by a third division Indie band (and I mean that in a good way!) fronted by a ageing behemoth. Introducing… “Everything Picture”.

Ultrasound are one of those late Nineties Indie bands that no-one seems to remember now. I suppose it was a long time ago. The main songwriters and focal points of the group were youthful bearded guitar-and-multi-instrumentalist Richard Green and the imposing figure of Andrew “Tiny” Wood, the twenty-stone, thirty-something lead singer. Initial press coverage often focused overmuch on the “anti-star” image of Tiny and less about the music.

They were signed to Nude in 1997, also home of the slowly fading Britpop front-runners Suede. And there are definite comparisons between the two bands – both contained “colourful” frontmen and both distilled Glam Rock influences through an Indie filter. But where Brett Anderson’s voice was arch and almost (?) over-camp, Tiny’s could be equally affecting, but could go further, cracking with keening emotion. And where Suede’s main weakness – their lyrics – prevented them from being a truly great band, Ultrasound shone. Suede’s lyric sheet read like a cartoon version of itself: “petrol sky beautiful trash slum dwelling sky high across the sci-fi city, you and I” etc. Ultrasound’s words are almost matter-of-fact, mundane but somehow glorious.

The opener, “Cross My Heart” eases you in slowly, but it’s the clarion call of “Same Band”, their debut single, which really grabs your attention. Joyous guitars, an uptempo wide-grinning stomp. This is not the closed-down music of the post-Britpop dad-rock malaise – this is music with wide horizons and big ideas. The cover art consists mainly of paintings daubed by members of the band. I don’t think Embrace ever managed that.

And if that was impressive, “Stay Young” ups the ante even further. Opening with a grooving organ pattern and distorted Gary Glitter samples, Tiny breaks into a truly anthemic paean to the beauty of rock n’ roll youth – “My advice to all you boys and all you girls is never try to be old / I wanna Stay Young” – which touches the heart while nimbly avoiding disturbing the contents of the stomach. This is where the Glam Rock heart of the album lives, but it conveys the fleeting tragedy and self-mockery of the genre rather than the tiresome stodge: “Gary Glitter’s gone to seed / so who will lead us now?”

The first side of the album (on tape anyway – yes, I still have tapes! Of course I do!) closes with the stormy “Suckle” and its “life is cruel / but I am kind” wistful petulance. And once the main body of the song dies down, with that particular storm raged out, there’s a new dawn of calm instrumental to take us to the interval.

My hunch – though it is only a hunch, based on the writing credits – is that the Glam influences came more from Tiny Wood, and the Prog angle more from Richard Green. The second side kicks off with my favourite track: Green’s “Aire And Calder”, a harmonic gallop through the world of canals in Yorkshire (??) which spirals off into a fantastic building solo and climax worthy of any overblown Seventies Proggers. But good. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. And maybe that’s what the record-buying public didn’t buy into at the time: even as late as 1999, Prog still had the whiff of impropriety about it, though maybe now in 2009 it might have fared better.

The album carries on at this same high level: the sumptuously scrappy “Sentimental Song” swoops between highs and lows quite rightly recognising that “we all sing along”, and climaxing with a suitably catchy refrain of “la la la la la”s. “Floodlit World” is poppier, but with a weary ruefulness which I still find utterly charming. The jagged “My Impossible Dream” continues in the same vein of cynicism which partially (but never totally) kills the belief in romance and beauty. And then plays out with a tender organ awash with weird audio samples and clips from radio programmes and probably other places. One of the last samples, looping on and on is someone mumbling “maybe… just maybe” in a sad tone. It’s great.

The final (and title) track is another abstract mini-epic which descends into an orchestral whirlwind of screaming, groaning, snatches from previous songs on the album, and industrial strength feedback, though before that it’s also almost soul music at times. Astonishing. And a sad pointer at where this fascinating band could have gone next, maybe?

Because “Everything Picture” turned out to be the only album they ever released, but if you’re going to only make one album, you might as well make it a sprawling experimental double full of grandeur, poignancy and heart. Ultrasound split up in October 1999, the same year, and none of their subsequent bands have reached even this negligible level of fame and critical acclaim since. Funny old game. But seek it out, if you can.

* - An Ultrasound fan site which may not have been updated since 1999!

* - an appearance of “Stay Young” on Jools Holland slightly stripped of the magnificence of the album version, but the closest you’re going to get on YouTube. “Floodlit World” is a slightly nicer song from the same show:
but missing the last minute sadly.