Sunday, 14 February 2010
“Three Drinks Ahead”: The Further Adventures Of Vodka Boy
Words by Phil Sky
It’s June 2008 and I’m sitting cross legged in the thick grass at the bottom of Beacon Point. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in the pale sunshine, a peaceful moment sitting with friends and a picnic, a light breeze rustling through the pond reeds. It’s also the first time I heard Thistledown, debuted here on Vodka Boy’s “Back to the Land” tour. It was one of those fragile moments when everything feels right in the world. At the end of the year the tour was immortalised with a live LP and Dill from the Dudebox wrote a glowing article on the band, but for me that performance of Thistledown was the highlight of it all. Perhaps it was the same for everyone there, maybe that’s why Thistledown became an instant fan favourite; between the broken hearts, the loneliness, the lies and the regrets, there’s always something to smile about, something beautiful.
Forty-five miles north of London, the big sprawl of Milton Keynes spreads out across the Buckinghamshire farmland; in the 1960 and 70’s three existing towns and fifteen villages were swallowed up to build our mutual hometown. Matthew Taylor used to play the Winter Gardens and other long-disappeared venues back in the early 90’s with pre-Britpop groundbreakers Rhythmic Noise Pollution and then toured with Sebastian Windsor who briefly got back together in 2009 but I sadly couldn’t make their only tour date. Martin Ibbotson also played in Sebastian Windsor and I played with them both in short lived super-band Stone Circle. From Wolverton to Bletchley, I’ve toured with The Further Adventures Of Vodka Boy countless times, joining them for the ups and the downs. It was in the Sunset Lounge in Newport Pagnell in February 2008 that I first heard Tell Her Lies, a slice of riotous Latin infused punk. It was the week after Diane came back from New Zealand and two weeks after me and Matthew recorded Space Punk Goddess with Nikki on vocals for our soon to be released double album. It was also in early 2008 that Grahame got a gig down at the Living Room in the Hub and we all tried to get in and support him but the bouncers on the door wouldn’t let us in on account of our footwear and we all grimly retired to Wetherspoons and vowed never to step foot in the Living Room. But things change, time heals all wounds and months and years can find you seeing things in perspective. Nearly two years later Vodka Boy were on the other side of the Living Room doors, performing their new regretsong.
In March 2007 I was playing bass in the now legendary Stone Circle with Matthew and Martin. We played the Zaks club in Wolverton before it burnt down and at the end of our set Dan angrily put his drumstick through his snare and the next day he was out of the band. Down to a three piece we rehearsed in the backroom of the house in Pennyland where Matthew and me recorded Sick Of Stickney and next to the room we recorded Don’t Let The Winter In a year later and where Stone Circle played both their first and last gigs. It was hear that we first played I Want You along with the other Stone Circle rarity Mavis and Silas. 2007 was also the year Facebook swept the nation and got a word check in Vodka Boy song Knee Deep In New Leaves. I particularly remember the song being played at the legendary Korfstock 2008, probably most remembered because it was followed up that evening with the Vicarage Party. We played songs under a canopy next to the face painting stall and Brian and Cathy came along.
Summer 2009 turned out to be the one, the long hot summer of love we’d all been waiting for. Matthew and Simon and Helen and Diane and Brian and Caroline and Grahame and Cathy and me all headed off to France. Back home, our stage at the Waterside Festival was the most successful yet. We played two gigs together at The Enigma Tavern; we took it in turns to headline. It was here that Vodka Boy played Me And The Heron for the first time. That summer it felt as if our waterways were being invaded by herons, I couldn’t remember ever having seen so many. It was at Furzton Lake that I bumped into Matthew’s brother Chris and we commented on the abundance of herons standing sentry, motionless at the waters edge.
At some point in 2008 it seemed that ace Seth Gordon documentary "King Of Kong" was being watched by everyone. I had to borrow Simon’s copy just to see what all the fuss was about. The documentary is also almost my only contact ever with the shadowy world of Donkey Kong. I remember the song bouncing along at Vodka Boy’s afternoon set at Waterside 2009. 2009 also saw the debut of a new Martin song in the band. There’s only a few Martin penned songs in Vodka Boy’s back catalogue, one of them famously being former Stone Circle rocker I’m So. But when I first heard Close My Eyes it was in the Living Room toward the end of last year during a particularly tumultuous time in my life. The lyrics could have been about dozens of things but during the song I found myself thinking of the people around me and how much harder life would be without them and I like to think maybe that’s what the song is about.
One of my best Vodka Boy memories is of seeing Dakota Steps performed live at the Vicarage Party in July 2008, seeing Matthew and Martin bathed in red light on the stage that Wayne built in the grounds of the old Vicarage. We’d both performed at Korfstock that day where Vodka Boy had performed two sets for some indifferent korfers but their performance at the Vicarage Party turned out to be one of their greatest triumphs. We all sat down on the grass to watch and found we were ironically sitting next to the same girls who’d run the face painting stall at Korfstock.
It was in July 2007 that Matthew first brought to our attention on his blog the mysterious stickers that began appearing on lamp-posts all over Milton Keynes with the slogan Your Sister Stayed Over. It was nearly a year before any of us had any idea of their origin.
At a recent gig at the Sno! Bar, James who used to drum with Sebastian Windsor joined Vodka Boy on stage with a beat box. I remember James’ wedding in 2007, Matthew got me into a conversation with a mate of his who’s also an avid reader of his blog and we soon got into a conversation about James’ stag do, a trip to Krakow that neither of us were at. But it was Matthew’s description of the fading summer sun setting behind the trees at Birkenau that lived with me the longest, finding beauty in such surroundings proving there is always something to smile about, something beautiful.
So what about the new album I’ve completely forgotten to review? It’s awesome! It’s a lo-fi masterpiece; great songs, great music. Check it out dudes! ;-)
Monday, 1 February 2010
“Rumours”: KIDS PICKED LAST
First of all, how exciting is it to be able to queue up in HMV and buy an album by one of your favourite local bands? “Yes, young man. I’ll take the Ladyhawke and Animal Collective albums from your “2 for £10” deal. And the slightly disappointing latest Muse album for a reasonable enough £5 too please. Oh, and while I’m here, I do believe I’ll pick up the new release by fantastic MK synth-rock combo Kids Picked Last, if you’d be so kind…” Sweet!
Monkey Kettle-watchers will be more than familiar with KPL by now – not only did they play at both the MonKeyVision Song Contest and the Monkey Kettle Stage @ The Waterside last year, but their anthem “Never Leave Me” also graces the wonderful “Monkey Kettle & Friends Vol. 2” compilation which has recently come among the world.
At their age though, twelve months is a looong time for a band, and while “Never Leave Me” and the accompanying “Death On The Trance Floor” EP were a chirpy punk-pop treat, this is an altogether harder-edged collection. Technically I suppose you’d call it a ‘mini-album’ – its eight tracks last a mere 23 (and a half!) minutes – but it’s long enough to see a definite progression has taken place.
Overall, the synths which seem to sometimes split opinion (but that're one of the major selling points for me!) are more integrated than on previous recordings – they’re part of the whole aural cake rather than being the generous top layer of sugary icing, if you’ll allow me the metaphor… And the rest of the sound is heavier, harder, more muscular. The Kids have beefed up! For the first time it’s obvious how good the choppy metal guitars are too. I’m pretty sure this maturing of their sound’ll give them wider appeal – as their impressive gig schedule for 2010 so far would seem to bear out!
Since the last EP there has also been a line-up change, seeing Toby step out from behind the drums and join Joel (“guitar & screams”) at the front, resulting in a new Linkin Park-style dual vocal scenario, one ‘soft’, one ‘hard’ as it were. This allows KPL 2.0 to be both intense and melodic at the same time, a neat trick if you can pull it off – such as on the chugging “Kite Flying” where one vocal is Auto-Tuned pop stylee and the other vocal seems to be gargled through a broken sink full of rusty water. Not to mention the exuberant crowd-chanting too – I bet that one is a killer live!
But despite the screaming and shouting, there are still pop sensibilities in the mix too. My favourite moments are still the ones where Ashley’s synth programming is to the fore: the short instrumentals “Intro”, “Rumours (reprise)” and especially the euphoric “Luced” help break up – or regulate at least – the intensity. The confident (and brilliantly-titled) “Fat People Are Harder To Kidnap” stands out: the chunky thud of the bass & geetars complemented well by the ravey electronics and the genuinely constructed tune. “To Infinity And Beyond” is good too – as close as they get to an epic ballad. And “Pirateze” is probably my favourite track, the lyrics finally intriguing, the vocals cracking with emotion and the synths (again) colouring everything fabulously sour. There’s a great bit of weird guitar / keyboard meshing together in the middle section and outro too.
Kids Picked Last are still not the finished article, as I’m sure they would admit themselves. But with “Rumours” they’ve moved another big step closer (“One Step Closer”?) – and it’s great fun watching them evolve. Right now there’s a “blipcore” remix of “Kite Flying” on their MySpace which makes me grin like a goon. How many MK guitar bands would try something like that? Not many. Skillz.