Thursday, 16 July 2020

Meet Jenny McLaren from synth-pop outfit Spray

Spray are pop maestros. If you've not heard them yet, it's a sin.

Spray make music for people too sceptical to surrender to dancefloor hedonism but too smitten by electronic pop's fluorescent history to reject it entirely. 

Their textured instrumentation recalls Chris Lowe at his best while lyrically they nudge us into an ecstasy of demystification redolent of the KLF. Fans of a tradition of sardonic indie-pop might find nourishment here, too.

Featuring Jenny McLaren who delivers lusciously uplifting vocals, and pop producer / keyboard boffin Ricardo Autobahn, Spray are defined by almighty melodies and lyrics that excoriate the daftness and bigotry of mainstream discourse.

Mavericks without a mainstream, their songs glitter with the promise of the lost futures encoded in 80s synth-pop. 

Have a listen to our selection of Spray songs that follows. 

But first, a chat with Spray's singer and joint lyricist Jenny McLaren.
How are you keeping during lockdown?
Very well, thank you. I was furloughed from my day job and used the opportunity to try and do all those things you’ve never got the time for usually, sorting out cupboards and watching box sets.

Oh, and writing new music. Spray also filmed a few "live in the lockdown" videos which were fun to make and people seemed to enjoy.

What entertainment can you recommend to us for lockdown viewing, listening, reading?
I watched all seven seasons of Parks and Recreation and would highly recommend, though you can quite easily not bother watching the first season. It gets so much better from season two. I’ve been reading quite a few graphic novels over lockdown, and would recommend The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. It is beautifully illustrated, has a wonderful sense of humour and you actually feel like you’re learning something too.

My favourite author is Christopher Brookmyre and so would urge anyone to try one of his too. I was supposed to go see Faith No More in June, and have been listening to them a lot, have a look for their most recent album Sol Invictus, it’s brilliant.

How did Spray come about?
When we were both in our early teens, John had a keyboard that he noodled around on and started recording the tunes he made up. Our mother heard some of these and thought they were good, but might benefit from some vocals and suggested to him that I had a nice voice. We plugged headphones in instead of a microphone in those early days.

John mentioned on Twitter that Spray have had a couple of approaches from major labels – could you tell us more about those, please?
While we were in the Cuban Boys, EMI were keen to release Living In Neon, but we left EMI to go to BMG and subsequently licensed the album to the legendary US electronic label Ninthwave instead.

Why did you abandon the album title Thrown Out of Film School? (We liked it a lot.)
We liked it too, but it was a line from a song that ended up not making the final cut for Failure Is Inevitable, so it didn’t feel as appropriate.

How do you decide your live set?
To start with it was just the songs that we thought most people would know, and as we’ve played more, we’ve tweaked that set list, replacing songs that maybe didn’t work as well with newer ones or interesting covers. Once Failure Is Inevitable came out, we chose a few we thought would work well live to include and they have quickly become favourites with the crowd.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Wimbledon gig, a slightly unusual venue, which suited us down to the ground. And the lighting was fabulous, so we got some great photos from it too - which we use at any given opportunity.

Which Spray song feels most personal to you?
Ooh, that’s a difficult one. I think from the more recent tracks I would have to say Get A Load Of This Guy, but there are many to choose from.


We're interested in your other musical projects, besides Spray and The Cuban Boys, and guest vocals on Helen Love. Do you have a discography of your one-off and other projects you've contributed to?
I don’t think there’s an official discography, but off the top of my head, I do a lot of vocals for Daz Sampson: The Woah Song and Teenage Life, to name but two. And I’ve contributed to The Barndance Boys and Ricki & Daz projects. You can hear me on Flying High by Filo Bedo and The One I Love by Relapse and I sang the theme tune to The Bloody Mary Show, A Being Being Loved.

I’m sure there are loads more, maybe I should get someone to update my Wikipedia page!

Do you play guitar on Spray songs?
I’m really not that good, I should practice more, but I believe it is my handiwork on a very old track called You Eat One Lousy Foot And You’re A Cannibal.

Would you ever want to make a rock album with Spray or anyone else?
I would love to do some rock, but I think my voice is better suited to pop. I think it’d have to be a different project than Spray, but never say never.

Would you describe yourself as a nostalgic person?
Even though I am in a band that is heavily influenced by the eighties, I would have to say no. I love old music and still listen to a lot of it, but I also really enjoy new music and the way we innovate and move forward with new techniques. I would never wish to be back in a particular time, I prefer to look forwards and enjoy what is to come.

What was your relationship with John when you were growing up?
Typical siblings I think, we didn’t really get on until we started making music together in our teens. And that turned out pretty well.

What's your favourite fashion item from the 80s?
The 80s were not kind to fashion, but if pushed I would maybe go for a batwing top.

Would you and John ever like to make Spray's equivalent of It Couldn't Happen Here?
Yes! We would love to do something like that. Back in the Cuban Boys days we made a short film called From Ennui to Blasphemy which I believe you can find on YouTube.

What's your experience of living in Liverpool?
Fabulous, it’s a fantastic city, lovely welcoming people and a great waterfront. I enjoy living by the water and there are some great restaurants and bars. I cannot wait for them to start re-opening.

What's your experience of going to clubs?
I‘m not a big clubber, I prefer drinks and food with friends for an evening out. Though I do love to dance.

Are you creative in non-musical ways?
I love Lego and have quite a few sets on display, though is it really creative if you're following instructions? I am a big fan of Sim and City building computer games, The Sims in particular and have a great time building and decorating their homes. Not sure if you’d class this as creative, but I do also really enjoy cooking, I make a lovely curry and do like to experiment with food.

What are you most looking forward to after lockdown? Do you have touring plans?
As previously mentioned, definitely a meal out with friends will be first on my list. But we will absolutely be getting back to gigging when we can. We already had a few plans for the end of the year prior to lockdown, but will just have to wait and see how that pans out.

Whose idea was it to include the word 'milquetoast' in You'll Never Be Forgiven?
That would probably be Ric, if there’s ever a word you need to look up or Google how to pronounce, that’ll be him.

You sing 'I wonder where the wonder goes', but please tell us some things that you think are wonderful.
Chocolate, wine and good friends. There’s definitely a theme here.

For a great interview we did with Ricardo Autobahn of Spray, head over to GodisintheTV zine.

As an introduction to Spray, we recommend this megamix sampler:

For lyrical prowess, try I Always Wanted to Say "I Always Wanted to Say That."

And here's one from the new EP, an anthem for our times, You'll Never Be Forgiven.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

And Also The Trees @ Southbank Centre, London, Saturday 23rd June 2018

Much like post-punk legends, The Chameleons, I never considered I'd get the chance to see And Also The Trees perform live. I had heard the band mentioned alongside The Cure, and that Robert was friendly with and a fan of And Also The Trees, that the two had toured together - and Lol Tolhurst had produced the band at times. Moreover, that the musical similarities were/are striking. Only in recent years did I hear about the band being active, and - though I missed the chance to see them at the Garage in London a couple of years ago - I started picking up their music at record fairs and online, and became quite fascinated.

That Robert Smith selected the band for his personally curated roster at his Meltdown festival this summer was a brilliant piece of news. An intimate venue, too.
So it was that I sat a couple of rows away from the stage, bathed in amazing purples and glowering reds, entranced by winding, textured, emotively woven musical soundscapes.

Singer Simon Huw Jones cut a stark figure in his frock coat, waistcoat and romantics' pale white shirt. Suddenly, a creak like the coffin lid of a vampiric creature in some gothic tale. 'I like that,' he announced. It was people creeping out to the bar, the heavy doors cranking. The noise came again. 'But not too much.' We laughed aloud.

But the mood was mostly beautifully sombre, dreamy, and filled with silent awe.

Saxophones, clarinets glazed the songs that were generally heavy in bass and drums. 12-string guitar pickings sounded flamenco-like at times yet still gloomily beautiful. Keyboard strings also iced the set.

It felt like the best band you could see, the closest you could get, to seeing The Cure. My Bloody Valentine might have been pedalling away and creating sensory noise in another building nearby, and Suzanne Vega sounded golden caramel wonderful next door in snatches as I passed by, but And Also The Trees created amazing atmospheres, tension, emotional release, poetic phrasings, all delivered with vocal intent, and it was incredible.

Nice one, Bob, for booking them! (I bet he enjoyed a few glasses of lemonade with the band afterwards).

Support band A Dead Forest Index were not only aptly chosen by name but pleasingly evocative and musically innovative, on a similar wavelength, too. Sadly no guest spot from Bob Smith, but maybe that is happening at today's big gig he's doing.

Belly, live @ Shepherds Bush Empire, Thursday 21st June, 2018

I have been a fan of Belly since I first heard the band on The Evening Session on Radio One in 1995. King remains a classic indie-rock album with all their best tunes on. Tanya Donelly possesses one of my all-time favourite singing voices - low, rich, high, sweet, strong, vulnerable, warm, ecstatic, fearsome.
Missed the first part of the show - it was a stupidly early start, I hate to say, with no support band, which had not been clear on the tickets/when booked. A meeting up went slowly and we had to leg it in one song from the interval before part two.

I love venues like The Forum and Shepherds Bush Empire - old cinema theatres, grand, art deco (at least in the Forum's case). We need to treasure and keep using these venues, and not lose them. The plush cinema seats are great, and even from the back - wherever you're sat - you have a grand view.

I was not so miffed at missing out as I had seen the band in their first reformation show in two decades, this time last summer, after all. They blew me away then, as they did tonight.

I adore the new album. Tanya's honeyed voice, the melodies, the themes of the songs. There is no doubt that Belly's return is fantastic.

Bassist Gail was on fine, energetic form, as usual, and Tanya was equally mobile and keyed up as she wielded her guitar. Gepetto was a storming starter as we sat down with our drinks.

Many of the star tracks from King were rocked out again and again across the night. I kept hearing a tease of the opening notes and key to Superconnected but that came later. It is one of my favourites. I sang my heart out about angel wings and throwing clothes around.

Feed The Tree was another fond highlight, and I was caught up in its chorus as ever, enjoying Tanya's demand that some feller take his hat off to her when he's speaking to her.
The light shows were brilliant - confetti-like, snow-like at times, glittering on the stage floor. Later on, rainbows (I know from Tanya's Twitter she is a staunch LGBTQ ally).

I had wondered if there would be antidotes to the American President's current policies towards innocent children in need of help. As I type, there has been condemnation by the UN that Trump's policies amount to 'toture' - the camps set up which keep young, vulnerable kids - some of whom are disabled and not getting their needs met - confined from their parents while their parents are treated like criminals, simply for seeking a safer, better life. And, sure enough, both Gail and Tanya spoke out against Trump - and looked to the day when the US and the rest of the world are free of him, punching the air in fighting spirit.

New songs Human Child and Shiny One sounded brilliant and, live, they had sing-a-long attraction.

Full Moon, Empty Heart was the great surprise of the night. Those killer vocals and melodies, that incredible voice of Tanya Donnelly's. It also struck me just how much the band rock - loud!

An amazing night, and so lucky to have the band back. A band I have loved since 1995, but never thought I'd see live, as I was just a year or two too young for gigs then, and they broke up soon after King. I have followed Tanya's solo works and adored all her songs, though. I never went to the Throwing Muses' reunion gig in recent years as I pined for Belly and I think they are a band that should be celebrated and remembered much more.

Inspired by Labour Live

Real Love by Clean Bandit is my summer anthem now. I may be a few years too late, but I just saw them performing live in a park in Tottenham at a gig in support of Labour, and they were a total revelation.
The song lent such an anthemic, apt feel to the event - the hope and good of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn! The band's performance added to the feelings of hope and optimism, and also gave a party atmosphere to the evening.

I had just had the most ridiculously stressful and shitty day at work, with all kinds of drama and horrible incidents. Which had made me late for the gig I was so looking forward to. I needed this night of peaceful messages, hope, solidarity, and love of Labour.

I needed to walk right in the festival gates just as Jeremy Corbyn was delivering his speech, and see his kind face, hear his support and feel the sense that things will change because we so desperately need them to so that so much suffering can end for so many people.

I was only catching the tail-end of the festival, had missed out on seeing Potent Whisper, Owen Jones, Kate Osamor, and many more speak and perform - but it was still such a brilliant feeling to be there, walking around, enjoying the positive mood, having a nice drink, being outdoors in the lovely summer's heat, seeing familiar faces.
We rushed out to buy an album by Clean Bandit. I wouldn't normally go for such sleekly produced, soulful dance, but they are really amazing and their first album feels like a best of, with catchy tunes galore! I love the mix of guest vocalists, and also the blending of classical instruments - violin, electric violin or viola, cello, and heavy dance beats and electro glitches.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Paul Draper @ Electric Brixton, London, 8th March, 2018

I never thought I'd hear these songs performed, hear of Mansun again. More than 20 years on, pink light glowed with appropriate celestial splendour to gesture in The Chad Who Loved Me, strings all swaying. Totally absorbed and in awe, I felt sheer gratitude. I was basking in younger years, taken aback, knew all the words.
The album I'd first heard from a library loan, the band I'd seen on the covers of the NME. Mansun represented, replicated a whole other world. Pen pal circles, adoring fanzines with ridiculous titles and frivolous expeditions, my first music festival, instant friendships in Freshers' Week, and all the blissing out to their music, words, revelling in characters and ridiculousness...

Mansun were one of the first bands I saw at a gig venue. They weren't like other bands, they toured relentlessly and favoured small places where fans greeted them with fervour. They came to my humble hometown Milton Keynes! Played in the local leisure centre. Summer holidays 1998 - that early July afternoon, I decided to dye my hair cobalt blue, wear it in two plaits. Second-hand army shirt, cord flares, purple Doctor Marten boots, maybe a baggy t-shirt, and off I strode with glee. I'd meet a pen pal or two there, get there a few hours early to enjoy the clamour for the band. A 45 minute walk later, and I was joining the circle of female fans who travelled up and down the country to see Mansun. Excitable stories about encounters with band members, here a fanzine tale about tinned soup, flyers for our latest fanzines exchanged, postal addresses noted and promises of letters so we could keep in touch (no internet in our family household till 1999). I remember days like that crystal clear and fond.

Mansun were this perfect embodiment of the kind of dreamy, zany, brilliant parallel world you could escape into as an aside to your sixth form studies.
Back to the beautiful gig. It was simply special hearing Paul Draper's silken voice again. And some of the solo songs swirl about like the most elegantly melodic and shimmering of Mansun classics. We heard a hotch potch of chosen songs from Paul's recent career, rather than a straight-up rendition of his entire debut solo album. The collection of songs we'd waited years for, kept hearing about, then crept up and arrived of a sudden..

Opening with Don't Poke the Bear may have had an ulterior message due to some recent upset, but let's just think on the music and that night. It was a gem to hear Paul announce that he was about to play "a string of B-sides." A long lost, forgotten art. Mansun ruled supreme with B-sides, and it was the best of their art. Memories of Everyone Must Win blisteringly closing live sets chiming in my ears in distant memory... I took a lot of quiet moments to remember fond times, people I'd been afforded to meet purely because of the band.

More blazingly bright lights, seering sapphire and purples - the trademark Attack of the Grey Lantern purple... strings and bliss.

I'd been giving the old album a spin in the kitchen in the last week and I was gearing up for Taxloss. Got to dance about for that one - climax of electronic wigging out. Remembering those: "We're a Taxloss" Mansun fanclub t-shirts - never did buy one but probably still have the postal order form in a box of momentoes somewhere!

All night, just kept thinking how special it felt to be hearing Pauls' voice and these songs again, as well as the new songs. It's hard not to think track by track and write on and on but every song was truly momentous. Had never heard You, Who Do You Hate? played live, it really kicked in.

More nostalgia and dancing beyond my years for Wide Open Space - total bliss. I'll use that word again and again.I was fourth or fifth row down the front, like the old days, good view and bit of room to manoeuvre, there was no way I wasn't moshing for old time's sake to Stripper Vicar with its killer chorus and lyrics. Less thought about the pulled muscles in my sides from doing so, as I type this now, the better. I was probably alone in pogoing and I still don't care. All this too-cool attitude, posing still... I was there to feel the years fall away and enjoy myself and it was the best feeling to just let go and not care like when I was in my teens and 20s. I wore heart on sleeve with my 1998-circa Mansun fan gear. I had drawn the line at wearing the old army shirt and added safety pins on the arm though... Mansun's image changes were legendary, it must be recalled and celebrated and I loved indulging in all that in my teens.

Disgusting was intriguing to hear live, and then it was into another mosh-a-thon with She Makes My Nose Bleed. Only thing missing was Steve Lamacq back-announcing it on the radio!

Naked Twister was swirly and squally as of yore. Then a massive sing-a-long to Egg Shaped Fred, with Paul joking about the lack of lyrics at the end... na-na-na-Na-na-Na-na-na.... 

Dark Mavis was epic and it was one of several moments on the night where the humour of Mansun shone through so much - and I realised how lost it must have been outside of the dedicated fanbase. The descriptions, the wryness, but in such straight-up delivery. The subtlety. I found a lot of hilarity in the lyrics of the album, as if understanding them all anew.

"You can kiss his vase until the end of the month" sung over and over was a high point.

I exited the fray, but I was keeping an ear out just in case. I mean, a band so famed for quirks and B-sides and so much oddity... The familiar piano riff kicked in and a great big sing-a-long ensued, music hall style... "The lyrics aren't supposed to mean that much, they're just a vehicle for a lovely voice..." All the arms aloft and silly delight, it was fantastic and the best end to the night. I finally got myself a long-sought-after roses t-shirt with Mansun logo, so beautiful.

Sir Draper said he'd see us all "next year" for a rendition of the album Six... I'm counting on it!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Brix and The Extricated @ Oslo, London, 3rd November, 2017

My 5th Brix gig! She's a legend of The Fall. Backed with other revered former members such as Steve and Paul Hanley, the band just gets mightier and mightier.

I had a different song from Brix and the Extricated's first album in my head each day in the week leading up to this, and the week after. It's an outstanding collection of new songs, livid with grinding bass and alive with the powerfully confident vocals and surefire lyrics of Brix.

Old Fall songs are in the mix live - but just three make the album: LA, Feeling Numb and Hotel Bloedel. All of which, Brix co-wrote or wrote. Hotel Bloedel was actually the first song Brix wrote - before she even met Mark E Smith. It was the song he first heard that inspired him to call her a "Genius" and invite her to join the band - when she played him a tape of it in his car one night, after they met in a bar, post-Fall-gig. So any detractors who think The Fall is all about Mark E Smith and his ego can do a runner. Brix is a talented component of The Fall past, and a remarkable force right now, on stage and performing once again.

She'll draw you in with her hectic vocal delivery, all full of intent and infused with a smashing passion and defiance.

Something to Lose has a Fall clatter intro and bursts into a percussive, driving grind, Brix carefree and singing to us directly. Steve Hanley's bass playing is obviously an almighty part of the force of the band too.
Damned for Eternity and Pneumatic Violet are catchy as hell. And Brix's persona as frontwoman doesn't need to convince anyone. She asserts her vocals half-rap style, strutting around the stage, here a punch to the air for emphasis, here a kick to emphasise her words.

I love her new t-shirt that suggests a double-meaning: LIVE.

Perhaps the best moment comes as Siobhan Fahey - one of her old pals in pop - joins the band on stage to duet with Brix. If a member of Bananarama singing Totally Wired kitted out in glitter is any Fall fan's idea of crossing a line - bring it on. Brix and Siobhan are having a ball, reeling off the lines normally ranted out by Mark E Smith. It feels like necessary defiance, rejection of the bullshit notion of only men being allowed to own guitar music and that it must be done SERIOUSLY!

But that's a fun gig climax, when everyone's clearly had a few. It's not to be forgotten that Brix is a songwriter to be taken seriously and in her own right. I celebrate every gig, every time she sings out and crushes all the times women were never afforded equal respect and the chance to take centre stage with guitars. Brix is brilliant, and bring on her rightful recognition in rock stardom.

Penny Pepper, author reading @ The Dublin Castle, Camden, 1st November, 2017

Penny Pepper's memoir First in The World Somewhere is a must-read book, written in impassioned fashion about all the awakenings lent to her from punk, London, sex. All notions of living a life defined or confined by a disability were vehemently rejected. She lived independently with her partner in crime, Tamsin, performed gigs, wrote erotica, went about everything on her own terms. As she pointed out, if punk was about breaking down barriers, it had to be inclusive of disabled people.

On this Rock n Roll Book Club evening at punks' favourite the Dublin Castle, she delighted us with anecdotes, confessions, poetry. Sat alongside a beloved, autographed image of Morrissey which is framed and sat atop a lacy tablecloth (as he'd wish), she tells us about their letter exchanges, and how she overcame her shyness by becoming the singer and writer Kata Kolbert.

We get the privilege of hearing some of her songs recorded in the early 90s, along with Smiths favourites and punk and new wave classics. Penny describes her own songs as "punky, folky pop."

Penny rips into a poem called Fucking Special, where she slams the idea of having "special" schools, and the rest of it, as a disabled person. It's an incredible, powerful moment.
She reads choice pickings from her autobiography, and chats with fellow author and Smiths devotee Julie Hamill about how letter writing transported her away from the misery of her home life as a teen. She admitted to building up a "tense obsession" with Morrissey, recognising herself in his lyrics: "If the people stare, then the people stare..." She was used to being stared at.

She said how everything he said made her feel understood, singing about being an outsider, and toeing the line against Thatcher in grim 80s Britain. He told her she wrote beautifully, sent her rare vinyl - perhaps aptly, it was Barbarism Begins at Home. And Moz even wrote her a happy birthday greeting in green crayon once! He once invited her to a Royal Albert Hall gig by the Smiths, offering her "every kindness and assistance" - which was all great, sitting in the special box seats, until she could not get out at the end...

Julie has some personal messages for Penny - including one from the once editor of Jamming! magazine. She'd written to him in the 80s, contesting that if the publication was really about "breaking down barriers," as its strapline claimed, that ought to include disabled people getting access to gigs. Tony Fletcher's message to Penny tonight read: "Jamming provided you with a soapbox - but you're the one who stood on it."

Her memoirs were based on her personal diaries of the time - influenced by Anais Nin! Great to hear that Penny's diaries have now been placed in the National Archives.

She writes in her book about feeling imprisoned, stuck at home with her parents, due to having still's disease from birth, which affects her joints and means she uses a wheelchair. In those days, she says, if you were disabled, you either lived with your parents or in a care home. She demanded independent living and got it, describing how she and her friend Tamsin - also disabled - had "fire in our bellies" and wanted to live just like others in their 20s, drinking vodka, partying, having boys over, cooking for themselves.

And, when it came to writing, she says it took her a long time to realise that she had as much right as anyone else to do so - and it's the same with her having a sexual identity. She hates media perceptions, how biased and damaging they are.

"How I am, how I was - I was loved. It took me a long time to get there," she says.

Hear snippets of Penny reading on Unbound publisher's website.