Archive for August, 2019


People watching is also a great inspiration for writing. In his formative years as a writer, Jack Kerouac would sit in a bar or cafe and at speed write detailed sketches about his surroundings, the fixtures and fittings, the history and imagined backstory of the place in question. Again, The Railway Town offers a low grade version of such iconic ideas. And just like the bubble of my vision of sharing a coffee with Tom Waits busts into a slightly right wing, English cafe, my Kerouacian ideals are replaced by a chain coffee shop on the lower reaches of the main drag.

And whilst there are cooler, independent places more worth of my time and money, Baila in Old Town, Darkroom Espresso and Barristacats in the less salubrious parts of the town’s rough and ready heart, it is to Cafe Nero I am continuously drawn. 

For a start it is named after a mad emperor, one who famously and probably quite apocryphally, played the fiddle whilst The Eternal City burned, but mainly because its large glass frontage means that I have a glorious window on a not so glorious world. The coffee is good, the snack options fair and the staff all seem picked to match a few certain criteria.  They are generally female, attractive, slightly alternative looking and with that glorious, slightly unpinpointable (hey, Cervantes and Shakespeare made up words too) accent of someone who speaks fluent English as a second language, that evocative, mid-European burr. All of which works for me and also makes me miss Berlin.

But outside is where the action is, a bustle of people to-ing and fro-ing for work, lunch-grabbers and shoppers,  mixed in with The Greys, those people who seem to just be hanging around looking for opportunity or relieving boredom through hijinks, hustle and hassle, dressed in the drab sports gear that is their uniform. I’m sure that they too had ambition once but I guess at some point had it surgically removed by an unlicensed doctor operating above a kebab shop in Gorse Hill because they needed the cash for speed.

The pleasant surroundings of this establishment are put into sharp contrast by the fast food joint opposite whose use of primary colours on the facade seem to create an audible noise whilst below a line of mobility scooters are parked up like a scene from The Wild One as their supersized Marlon Brando’s tuck into another full English still unable to make the connection between fried food and weight related issues. “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against? “The answer is quite possibly salad.

All fodder for a book I may never write but all thoughts that I feel the need to get out of my head to make room for other, more bill-paying, assignments.

Banksy-Nighthawks-810x399Writing is a very solitary process that’s for sure. And as much as I like being the master of my own work space, that breaks come as and when I chose, that the coffee pot is three feet away from me and I don’t have to deal with any awkward encounters whilst waiting for the toaster to ping, it can start to send you a bit stir crazy. There has been more than one occasion when I am sat at my desk perhaps scribbling another short review of an American alt-country band who may not be quite reinventing the wheel but are reinventing Ryan Adams, and I realise that I feel off-kilter, ebbing and that it probably stems from the fact that I haven’t left the house for three days. Not good. It is at these times when I head into The Railway Town and find a place to be sociable (at a distance), get some air, a change of scenery and watch the world go by for a while.

It is usually an excuse for a fried breakfast and whilst there are some nice places to chose from I usually aim a little down market and head for Pappas. (You will have worked out by now that I’m using the Kerouacian system of changing the names of people and places, local readers will work things out, non-locals won’t care.) In my head, I’m a writer of note slumped over a plate of chilli, getting buzzed on black coffee trading quips and cigarettes* with Tom Waits (hence the title) in a late night Denny’s, in the early 80’s …and for some reason it is all happening in black and white. The reality is very different.

The reality is I’m surrounded by bald men in big shorts and Bench t-shirts having burgers whilst their wives bang on about the shopping, the housework, the holiday, the kids and every niggle in-between. At least two of the tables will be spouting Brexit rhetoric, deriding anyone who looks different from them, despite being in an eatery run by a Turkish family. There’s a table of white street gangsters, their whole speech pattern seeming somewhere between Hounslow and South Central…fa real, blud!…and between it all the botched and the bungled, the lost and disenfranchised all go about their unadventurous existence.

Still, they do a great bacon and eggs and that’s what really matters.

*I’d take up smoking just to compete the picture **

** I’d forgotten just how much fun footnotes are ***

*** I’ll stop now. 

They say “Writers write” a statement to the fact that you can only really consider yourself a writer if you are actually producing work. And write I do, music reviews and promotion, travel articles, local news, even content for games designers is part of my working day. But where as that is how I earn my living there are so many other things going on in my head, mainly inspired by my walks into town to get lunch that I thought, as a form of exorcism, I should use this blog as a receptacle for such wittering. It’s not important, I doubt if anyone really cares to read it but sometimes I just need to empty my brain of the niggles and nags of life so that in its uncluttered state it can world more freely.

Writers write…and so shall I.

mail-1It’s got to the point now that any time I find myself coming back to Wasuremono after any significant time away from their music, it feels slightly like coming home. Or at least returning to a place that you didn’t realised you had missed until you find yourself surrounded by its radiant charms. And Wasuremono’s charms are many and as the album opener, title track and recent single Are You OK? washes over me with its hazy, soothing sonics, its slightly oriental, descant vocal harmonies and its blend of the quirky and the ethereal, all seems good in the world.

But knowing that familiarity breeds contempt, the band have always, whilst moulding a wonderful signature sound, used those particular traits merely as a springboard, a launch pad from which to explore some wonderful, tangential musical ideas. Roads less travelled and all that. Even structurally they are happy to do their own thing and whilst most bands seem work from the guitars outwards, Wasuremono prefer to work from the rhythm section up. Phoebe’s bass in particular providing deep rooted melodies upon which guitars add chiming beauty, keys wash around, behind, between and beyond the root notes and drums are happy to emphasises the groove with little show or bluster. Having four voices also gives the band a wonderful dimension and it is the way they layer these vocal textures as much as what they actually sing which really grabs the listener. Vocals aren’t just about communication, they are also instruments in their own right and if you don’t agree, consider this album lesson 1. Make that lessons 1 to 11.

Lonely Type has a wonderful Cure-like feel, yes, a band I all too often reference when reviewing their music but not a bad band to tip your hat to, A Lesson To Learn is full of skittering beats and resonant lead vocals and Nothing is Easy sees them play it straight…well, as straight as they are able…to create something which already feels like an underground anthem, if that isn’t indeed an oxymoron.

Whilst it is easy to pick out post-punk fingerprints and Bowie-esque subversions, Wasuremono is very much a band of the here and now, although their here and now might not be quite where everyone else’s here and now is. But that is what makes their music so great, it’s modern but not conformist, it references the past without pillaging, plundering and plagiarising, it looks to the future but doesn’t feel the need to try to invent new genres. In fact Wasuremono is what pop music could be if only people were brave enough to stop following fad and fashion, convention and convenience. Think about how great the world would sound if everyone started to follow their lead? No, really think about it….

a1637603134_16One of the great things about Grasslands’ broad sonic scope is that the music seems to genre-hop brilliantly, ignoring the rules and regulations, fads and fashions of any particular style and yet tipping a hat, in this case a wolf-themed one, naturally, to many. It’s a trick he is able to pull off live, though then his wonderfully chaotic manipulations of the massed technology he has assembled around him tend to send him down some very improvised routes. This EP is, as expected, a more disciplined, but no less mercurial, affair.

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68605259_1745210538955896_7744477048650858496_nIt’s always fascinating to track an artist’s evolution over a number of years and Tamsin Quin is someone who has followed a wonderful path as a musician, artist and performer. To be honest, it’s always been in her, even in the early days a certain charm and charisma, humour and confidence was obvious and the songs where always there, but like any journey it takes a while to bed in, get comfortable and develop that meaningful stride. Scandal is the sound of Tamsin Quin being…well, just more Tamsin Quin and its glorious.

Her songs have always featured the universal subjects of relationships, of love, loss and longing but have also always done so in a very mature way. Not for her the histrionics and drama that the pop world is filled with nor the cliche and bravado of the rock world, for though her music is best described as roots pop, it is the roots element which she leans toward lyrically. The music is accessible, pop aware and easy on the ear but lyrically she taps into older, more mature ways of discussing those subjects and Scandal is the perfect example of this old folk-wise head on young pop shoulders.

Just the sweet and spacious acoustic guitar to rest her voice on, her vocals are both soothing and   alluring in equal measure, like a whisper in the ear from someone close, reassurance with just the right amount of excitement. And even the language she choses takes her a step above a lot of the competition, mythologising the everyday world into a place filled with outlaws, tyrants and villains, vagabonds and scoundrels. But it is the spaciousness that really seals the deal, those gaps where the notes are allowed to fade away into the distance, the breathing spaces between the words all building atmosphere and anticipation. Perhaps if, as they say,  less is more, then more less should make for much more more…or something, I’m not great with adages.