Saturday, 31 January 2015

Chrissie Hynde live at Koko, Camden, 16th December, 2014

Brass in Pocket was instantly put onto one of the first compilation tapes I made, as a teenager, in the 90s*, at a time when I was digging around for music from the past that fascinated me. It's strange that I never pursued the band beyond that one song, somehow, until recent years. First, acquiring the band's debut LP from someone who was happy to pass it on. Then, late last year, I was curious about seeing Chrissie Hynde live, when a date was announced in London. I have a friend who is a great fan, and the idea of seeing a strong voiced female performing really appealed. I don't have enough musical heroines, least of all whom are frontwomen. I instantly booked up, despite the hefty fee, as I was working my socks off and deserved some fun.

I bought Chrissie Hynde's solo album, Stockholm, amazed that this album was not only recently released, but was her first solo work. It's a marvellous album! Strong, deep, low female voices are the ones I love best, maybe because I more easily match that if singing along. The album lit up my world, felt strident, ace. So many good tunes, excellently produced, and with her brilliant voice and lyrics to the fore. It's odd that at the age of 34 I should be seeking strong female icons to admire**, but I revelled in finding Chrissie Hynde to be just this, last autumn. A couple more Pretenders albums on vinyl were bought up in secondhand record shops, and many instances of singalongs and euphoric dancing followed... until it was time for seeing Chrissie live.

I don't know all that much about Chrissie Hynde, personally. The music stands strong alone, for me, and that's also what counts. I've heard negative things said about her, derision, but I'll go with forming my own opinion based absolutely on her musical output.

It felt genuinely exciting to be heading over to the gig, and I rarely feel that old, pure, innocent feeling about gigs. My friend felt the same. We were instantly engrossed by the range of merchandise on sale at Koko, sweatshirts and fanzines. I bought the fanzine style programme right away, it was only £5 too, rare to find such things so affordable! Gazing at a T Shirt resplendent with a full length Chrissie Hynde rocking out with her guitar, I just thought how rare it is to see the image of women with guitars, on T Shirts, in culture, anywhere...

Seeing Chrissie Hynde centre stage, with guitar, blew me away, too. I cannot apologise for saying all this, because what I felt are revelations, and that's to be celebrated. I found myself dumbstruck and thinking: just when have I seen a female, right up in the centre of attention, playing rock music, leading a band, all eyes on her, screams of adulation from both women and men? People were just shouting her name. She replied with a playful 'f*** off', which was hilarious and humble. She had so much presence, and her voice was incredible. Her guitar sparkled gold and felt like an emblem to me and my friend. We both left the gig, saying how we wanted to pick up our dusty guitars and play music again.

Since this gig took place, in November, last year, my friend has bought a new guitar from Denmark Street, and I have been there to pick up new strings and music books. I like to think that we've both become more powerful, impassioned, inspired, driven!

It was a really emotional gig. I loved hearing all the songs from Stockholm. You Or No One is fabulously 60s shimmery girl-group pop. Like in the Movies is really cool. And, Dark Sunglasses has a great pop hit sound.

I wasn't expecting Pretenders Greatest Hits territory, but we were privileged to be gifted Don't Get Me Wrong, a pure groove-along. Then there was Back in The Chain Gang, which has really grown on me lately. We also got Precious (!), and a pre-Christmas present (alas without faux snow), in 2000 Miles.

The dance at the end that the band did 'for the grebo fans' was surreal, and felt like it showed humility towards the Pretenders' roots and a sense of fun for the original fans. I can't escape mentioning: that pout! Chrissie pouts away to perfection, as she ever did.

I'm looking forward to the wealth I have to read about and hear from Chrissie Hynde, in interviewee mode, and musically. And to dancing my vegan boots till their worn, again, some time...

Found a gig setlist for that night, here.

*The song was wedged in between Teenage Kicks by the Undertones, and Somewhere in my Heart by Aztec Camera... I took a little while to improve on the ways of mix tapes...
**Interesting to note that Chrissie Hynde was 34 years old when Don't Get Me Wrong was in the charts. Inspiring to know!
Early on new year's day, I played some old tapes, and found myself feeling a pang of poignancy, hearing 1963 by New Order. It is one of the songs that bridged the way from commercial dance music to more guitar based stuff for me, as a young teen. Essentially, going from, say, MC Sar and the Real McCoy to The Smiths!

I got transported back to January 1995, and my absorption in the single as its video played on The ITV Chart Show. I don't remember the video being quite so quirky (it stars Jane Horrocks larking about), but I do know that the tune was one that had me heading to the music shop straight after the TV show, to buy the single. And I still have it, on tape. The cover is ace:
I seldom write blogs harking back with nostalgia, but I think this year will inescapably remind me of the magical year I started to discover a good deal of the bands that would mean so much to me. I find myself reflecting on how odd it was in 1995 for me as a provincial (and female) 14 year old to be listening to stuff like Billy Bragg, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Mega City Four, Joy Division, Members, 80s synth pop, obscure early 90s indie outfits... I would unearth all this music through borrowing from the local library, raiding my aunty's compilations, reading music books and magazines, listening to 'retro' radio, secondhand record shops, market stalls with bootlegs... 

It was weird to be young and yet be heading backwards in time, then, and in an unprompted way: rare. Whereas now, it's taken for granted, with all that's available online, everything's reassessed and everything up for grabs. Back then, at my school, there were either dance fans (Helter Skelter, Nicky Blackmarket, Dreamscape, rave), or metaller kids (Iron Maiden, or Nirvana), and in between, just your current chart pop fans. I was totally alone in my corduroy flares, velvet suit jacket and Nick Drake tape from the charity shop. But this was what was to come... the borrowing from the past, the music revivals, the reissues, the album special gigs. I didn't know it then but what The Stone Roses' second coming, and then Pulp, Blur and Oasis and the like did for indie guitar music, in making it mainstream and entwined in popular culture and fashion was the beginning of all that, and nowadays, looking back to previous decades is more the norm. In general with all music, not much is left unearthed, left to the alternative or to the dusts of time...

I remember how ethereal Killing Moon by Echo and The Bunnymen seemed to me at that age, when I saw the video on TV:

It's just nice to think back fondly to how otherworldly it all seemed to me, and how secret it all felt, how I was almost enjoyably alienated in this sepia musical world that I could only find scant traces of, that I really had to dig around to discover, because there was no easy click of a computer button and instant access to history and details. I spent a long time listening to The Cure, for example, without any idea of what the band looked like. The only way I could obtain a poster of Robert Smith was later when I got my dad to photocopy an album sleeve, as borrowed from the library. Of course, the following year, they made a return to the fore, and I could live in the present moment, even see the band live, and meet Robert Smith himself...

I was muddling through and finding my own way independently, without any guidance or notions. I went out on a limb, and I actually had more in common musically with my 40 year old music teacher, who used to daub Fall lyrics on the whiteboard of a morning, and hum Smiths songs. It was more likely that any taping of albums I wanted was done via my dad's mate at work (in his 40s), than via anyone of my own age (Blackmarket Clash comes to mind).

So perhaps kids are luckier now, in a sense, as archive stuff is much more easily accessible and distributed... and widely welcomed.... But I still cannot help but feel a kind of warm romance to think back to my clandestine discoveries, my grappling with the unknown, and my mixed up music fandom, and all my delight within, all the same.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Pop Guns, at The Borderline, 22nd November, 2014

The buoyant return of The Pop Guns was one of my favourite gigs in recent months. I was familiar with a couple of records and a flexi disc care of my boyfriend, who is a long time fan. Waiting for The Winter was the song I knew best: melancholy in sentiment yet soaringly bright, hopeful pop. I was looking forward to seeing the band who'd hit their stride in one of my cherished periods for indie (the start of the 90s).
I was also thrilled to take the chance to get over to the Borderline off the Charing Cross Road in London - one of very few gig venues remaining in that once thriving area. We've just lost the 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street, and we were forced to say goodbye to the once dependable, pivotal Astoria and LA2, as well as the fantastic basement bar Metro (indie club extraordinaire + spotlight for new bands). The Borderline was a great choice for gathering the band's original fans, as well as new ones, in an atmosphere akin to a student union circa the 90s. Big 80s pop hits played as we waited, mixed in with new wave bands like The Go Gos, and the Buzzcocks.

As soon as Wendy Pickles and band stepped on stage, their sense of jubilance to be playing together for a crowd could be warmly felt. If memory serves, it was City Lights, the opener to their newest album that dazzled us first. Bold, strident, twinkling and tuneful, it felt like a well-worn favourite. Lovejunky had a similar effect, so immediately catchy, kinetic and smoothly sung. It's a song worthy of indie club playlisting and delighted dancing.

Wendy's singing was complemented with brilliant effect by Kate Mander 60s girl band backing style, or lending strength with joint lead. This had resonance with me, as this sort of female-led, jaunty, jangy, guitar pop is all too rare in current times, and we need more. There simply hasn't arrived a new female indie singer who is equivalent to Wendy Pickles or, say, Amelia Fletcher, another longstanding indie great. At times, I found it hard not to be reminded of the great Amelia Fletcher. Wendy too has the knack of singing with a full, genuine smile, which only makes the Pop Guns' songs seem all the more gleeful, giddy, model pop, much like Amelia's many ace bands over the years, Tender Trap/Marine Research/Heavenly/Talulah Gosh.
Waiting for the Winter was received with appreciative ebullience by the audience. Pleasant heckles about 80s and 90s Pop Gun gig memories came along with other older songs.

I ought to add that the Pop Guns are not typically sensitive, gentle, jangly indie pop -there is a real sense of punk influence at work, which thrives when played live. Guitars are as threshing, thrashing as the Buzzcocks. At times, The Pop Guns are more akin to the heavier moments of The Wedding Present than anything from Sarah Records.

But, given there is also the reminiscence of Amelia Fletcher and jangly indie pop, it did come as a huge surprise to witness an encore that night of Wendy Morgan expertly rapping (!) A Tribe Called Quest's hot song, Can I Kick It....! She sang an unfaltering version of the 90s novelty hip hop song. It was the perfect bit of pre-Christmas fun. It turns out the band recorded it as a B-Side years ago.

I don't bother much with thinking about albums of the year type lists, but Pop Fiction by Pop Guns was a highlight of 2014. It lends memories of that perfect indie pop from the early 1990s, but also sounds very now, and is very essential, emotional, confident pop. The charcoal drawn album cover also gives smitten delight: