Sunday, 16 December 2018

Mick Dillingham Interviews : Burning Ferns

Hailing from Newport, Wales, “Burning Ferns” return with their second album “Public Mono” and what an absolute delight it truly is. Overflowing with a embarrassingly rich abundance of elegant, heart stopping melodies and top end musical invention. It’s a beautiful multilayered captivating Psych Pop masterpiece on which the band never put so much as a toe wrong from blazing start to breathless finish.

Oh there's so much creative depth to enjoy in this effortless pleasure of a listening experience.  “Public Mono” is quite some rare achievement and Burning Ferns are quite some special band to be reckoned with. I could sum up the album with one word and that word would be WOW! 
Time to sit down with chief Fern Anthony Gray and talk about it all.

> What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?

"Music figured heavily when I was growing up. My parents were separated and they both had record collections. My earliest "this is the best thing ever" moment was the Magical Mystery Tour gatefold album with the book inside. I think was about 7 or 8 years old and I had no clue what the hell it was all about but I loved it. It was simultaneously beguiling, cool, funny, strange, wacky, daft, silly and it sounded incredible.

Prior to that what sticks in my mind are things like 'I Want To Teach The World To Sing' by The New Seekers which I remembered from a TV advert, 'Tiger Feet' by Mud which we had on a 7" single. Also 'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' and the theme from Bagpuss, which used to make me feel nostalgic, even though I was too young to have anything like the depth of experience that would warrant nostalgia. I can remember being told to shut up quite a lot because I'd incessantly repeat song lyrics and get on everyone's nerves."

> Which music artists first made you sit up and take notice?

"My first proper obsession was The Jesus and Mary Chain. I was about 14. I went full black, Chelsea boots, leather trousers, bad spiky crimped hair and brought ALL their records. I went to see them illegally in Bristol with my mate Jon Hatfield who was really responsible for turning me onto to the whole thing.

Both him, my brother and my sister were all heavily obsessed with music by this point. My brother Matt would buy a lot of records and was heavily into Punk and New Wave, he was always going to gigs and still does. My sister Emma was a full on Goth who was obsessed with Marc Almond, Gary Numan and The Clash. Everyone in the house loved The Ramones. The Mary Chain took pop simplicity and turned it into a motorbike and sidecar of melody and white noise and they looked cool as hell.

They played with their backs to the crowd and started riots. It was an irresistible act of rebellion and for me it was ours because it felt new. It took its influences from some of Punk, but also a great deal from 60's art rock and ended up opening the doors to The Velvet Underground, Pebbles and Nuggets compilations, Can, The Stooges and also eventually Bowie."

> When did you start playing an instrument?

"I saw a Black Kay Les Paul copy in a music shop window when I was 11. I asked for it for Christmas. I didn't really play it. I liked to just look at it. I used to put it next to my bed so it was there in the morning when I woke up. I had no idea how to play it or how to start playing it. My brother Matt knew a bit though and showed me Smoke On The Water.

He ended up playing it way more than me. Eventually he went on to play guitar for The Darling Buds and toured America with them. The Kay Les Paul gathered dust. I never had an amp for it, so never really realised what it was capable of doing. Then someone, an old boyfriend of my sister's I think, left an amp round our house. It was a Vox AC30 head and cab. An incredible sounding amp.

Then, when I was obsessed with the Mary Chain, my friend Jon came over and we started mucking about with this amp. That's when I realised an amp makes all the difference. I got a new guitar, an Ibanez Roadstar, a black one and a DOD fuzz pedal. The pedal was the key. You can create melody with a fuzz pedal while making mistakes, even the most clumsily fingered dead chord sounds great with a fuzz pedal."

> When did you start writing songs?

"I realised you could make up your own stuff quicker than learning other people's. I wish I still had the tapes of me and Jon in my bedroom doing 'King Neptune'. All the lyrics were 'King, King Neptune Queen, Queen Aqua'. It wasn't really a song, it was just noise and not many words. If I could have a time machine I'd go back and watch this, it'd be hilarious.

Recording stuff into tape recorders made me realise that putting something relatively listenable together wasn't that difficult after all and two guitar tracks sounded better than one. At the age of about 17, I got a band together with another friend, Guy, who played bass. We called ourselves 'The Egg'. It was just us two and a drum machine. We used to play open mic nights in the Forge and Hammer in Machen, a local pub which catered well for local bands and musicians.

I only wrote about 5 songs for The Egg. Eventually we recorded them in a mate's studio and played a battle of the bands at Chapter Arts in Cardiff which at 17 felt like a big deal. We didn't win, or come second or third. You can see, a pattern of failure was established early."

> Were you in any earlier bands?

"First there was me and Jon in my bedroom, then there was The Egg, then there was a band that had no name which consisted of Jon again, Brychan Todd (Ferns Bass/ Keys wizard) and Brychan's brother Meirion. ( Side note ! - Brychan went to University in Liverpool, then moved to London and ended up playing for NME/ indie darlings Astronaut and also worked for Creation Records for a while!).

 After the band with no name was College in Swansea, where I played guitar for a band called Solar Bud. The Solar Bud experience was crazy, we did lots of gigs and wild Biker festivals. Then back to Newport and some time as a Roadie and Guitar Tech for a band called Suck on a UK tour with Newport's Dub War.

Then I started making music on a Computer with an old friend called Craig Lewis and also did various projects with some other Newport people. I eventually found my way to Burning Ferns' amazing sleeve artist Gareth Blayney and ended up playing Bass for a recording outfit that he conceived called The Hypnotrons.

He wrote great songs and it was pleasure to play on them. By now, both me and Gareth both knew Crazed Monkey Alike drummer Carl Bevan from Newport's 60ft Dolls, so I ended up doing various things for him too.

I played some bass on some tracks he recorded for a project he had called 'Taisty Bone' after the Dolls had split. This is how I met Nathan Abraham (Abo) from the Ferns who had been guitarist in Newport's Rollerco and Veltones amongst other projects."

> How did the ferns get together?

"In between recording snippets of editable things for Carl to play with me and Abo, we would play songs with each other. Then we started to socialise more. Then one night after many beers we decided we should do something together.

I'd discovered how writing songs on the acoustic guitar was by far the best way for me to give birth to an idea. So I started writing songs and every week we'd go to a studio and record them. This first incarnation was called 'The Good Time Milk'.

> Talk about the first album

"One of the best things Nathan and I came up with as The Good Time Milk was a song called 'Crunch Time'. This was a sea shanty style allegory to the dodgy pirate like machinations of the deregulated banking sector, who'd caused the crash of 2008. At that point I think we knew we had at least one good song.

That song was the launch pad for nine or ten others. Crunch Time, in its eventual recorded form and those nine or ten others would not have seen the light of day had we not invited our, recently repatriated to Wales old friend, Brychan Todd to play bass and get real with some arrangements. He was up for it and we started messing with some stuff I was bringing down to the studio.

We got it together with local man about drums. Simon 'Slim' Short and recorded a four track demo EP in 2011 called "Crunch Time In Shangri Las With The Sand Demons". Imaginatively it had the songs Crunch Time, Shangri Las and Sand and Demons on it. Three of these would make it in re-recorded form onto our first album See Saw Seen.

We sent the Demo to Country Mile records, a local open minded Indie record label who'd put out stuff by the legendary John Langford, my brother's wonderful Gimme Memphis and the amazing Ash And The Oak. We arranged to meet Ray from Country Mile in the Pub, he loved it. We agreed to record an album."

> How was it received?

"See Saw Seen was received way better than we ever expected. We knew what we were doing was quite niche and we didn't expect the kind of national interest it attracted in Wales. Crunch Time got 'Single Of The Week' and ended up being played regularly for about a month on Radio Wales and we got great reviews from the likes of Buzz Magazine.

Then wider interest happened from places like Canada, Australia, Japan and the US. We didn't sell thousands of copies, but it was amazing to know there were total strangers on other parts of the planet who dug what we did!"

> There’s quite a gap between the two albums ..what happened in those years?

"We were mainly in work and being parents, while every Thursday returning to the studio and working on a steady drip of new songs that I was coming up with. We didn't have many weeks off, we're just really slow. Eventually, we had an album's worth of stuff we were happy with, so we decided to start recording it on Thursday nights.

Whilst doing this there was still interest in See Saw Seen and we were playing the odd gig and doing some Live Radio appearances. Me and Abo did a turn on Radio Wales one day and Dave Corten Tweeted how much he enjoyed it. I identified him as another Newport musician.

We were looking for a stand in bass player because Brychan was expecting his second child. Because Dave had expressed an element of enthusiasm toward our nervous live acoustic performance, which was very nice of him, we decided we'd ask him to stand in on bass during Brych's paternity leave. He obliged and ended up staying, because we always had a third vocal harmony and an acoustic guitar on our recordings, and he was alright, you know?"

> While the first record is excellent the new album is epic, a dazzling high concept masterwork, chock full of superb musical invention.  Talk about the recording

"Thank you very much! That kind of comment makes the fun of creating this stuff extra worth it!

We decided that we could take control of recording the vocals and guitars and just have the Drums and Bass professionally engineered by our old compadre Richard Jackson. It'd save some money, which we didn't have and would mean we wouldn't have to squeeze the singing, guitars etc into paid engineer time.

It would take longer, but we didn't care it was still fun! We also had a great idea of what we hadn't done so well on See Saw Seen, so we gave ourselves time as an opportunity to try to improve. For instance, we took the keyboards more seriously, because Brychan is also an amazing keyboard player as well as Bass player.

At times it was laborious. At other times it was absolutely hilarious. We have hours of edited out laughter from corpsing during vocal recordings. We've clearly identified Dave Corten as having a wind issue.

From a song writing perspective, there was definitely now more nuance to the arrangements, better instrumentation, better chord progressions and richer harmonies. The ordering of songs was really important, because we wanted to treat the album as a whole thing that had a real feeling of a beginning and an end."

> What are your favourites on the record?

"My personal favourites are ‘Made Of The Sun’, ’0’s & 1’s’. Made Of The Sun’s got interesting melodic properties. pushed on by a great combined Vibes / Rhodes sound courtesy of keyboard maestro Brychan. I’m pleased with the chords and the singing. It’s also got an extended synth note that bleeds out of a held vocal note after the middle 8.

It’s nice to play live and it transferred to recording pretty well. With slower songs like that, it’s hard sometimes to capture the right vibe, but I think we did it. I like '0’s & 1’s' because it’s a bit angry while still being a bit Psych Pop and has an interesting chord progression. Then it changes into something different, with great slap back echo on the Drums, introduced when the tempo drops."

> How does the song writing process work with you, where do you lyrical ideas come from?

"Either words, then chords or chords which get mumbled over until some semblance of a potential melody happens which I can write an appropriate lyric to. Sometimes I get strings of ideas quickly, sometimes I get no ideas at all for weeks on end.

Listening to new things can help, as can picking up a different guitar. The lyrical ideas tend to come from everyday stuff I’ve been thinking about, or just from everyday experiences. This presents lots of different subjects from the internet of things to (lately) people thinking it’s a good idea to behave like lobsters and celebrities acting like wild over sexed bonobos."

> Are you slow or prolific?

"I’m either Prolow or Slolific, see above."

> What would you say were your biggest influences?

"The Beatles, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, The Byrds, Gene Clark, JAMC, Beck, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, SFA, Elliot Smith….I could go on…."

> Future plans?

Slim Short has now left as drummer to pursue other projects. We are seeking out a new drummer and have some promising prospects. There are 4 new songs on the go, which is nearly half an album, or an EP!. There’s an animal theme happening currently. I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but I’ll keep you posted!

You can listen to both albums here. Public Mono is available from all good online Record Emporiums and can be listened to on the likes of Spotify et al. CD Baby have the album to buy on download or CD here.

You can also support the label, by buying it from Country Mile Records themselves, here.

Checkpoint Charley - Pomp, Twaddle And Bombast : Songs 13 - 24

It's good to be back and I hope the spate of Reviews, up until the end of December, help you to decide on Christmas Presents or offer up great things to utilise your Record Tokens. I know, I know, I meant iTunes or Amazon Vouchers.

I've been meaning to tell you about this album for the past few months, but that's nowhere near as long as I've been waiting for this follow up album. 13 years! Count 'em! The comeback was trailed earlier this year with the Great Mind Jedi Trick EP. Six months on and the golddust has arrived.

When you've waited so long for a second album, there's a worry that it won't be quite what you hoped it would be. Not a worry in sight. Kevin Packard and Jesse Anderegg, the songwriting duo that are Checkpoint Charley, have fashioned up a fantastic Pop Rock album.

Songs 13 - 24 has a firm foot in the Power Pop camp, but the album goes much further than that. Comparisons will be made to Jellyfish, as so many do, but this is closer to the great Pop Rock of the 70's or the poppier end of Brit Pop. Maybe it's more apt to settle on a modern day Badfinger with less songs about love and more hooks.

Produced in Nashville with an all-star cast of guest players, there's no let up on the melody from the opening Pure Power Pop of Acting My Age to the closing, Into The Sun, which you can imagine a Boy Band queue wanting to cover it.

In between, there are plenty of surprises. Adam And Eve could be Gilbert O'Sullivan, Young And Naive is almost Muse. The slower songs, Tomorrow and Lazy work beautifully. There's a fantastic Steel Guitar twang on 559V, a real singalong strum of a song with a fine lead Guitar, Pilot like , Riff.

She's All Mine is The Monkees doing Glam Rock. The two standout songs though are Child's Play and Facing The Music. The former has an almost Christmas like chime amongst the Power Pop charm. The latter is a splendid affair, a real anthem. Lighters out etc. 13 years is a long time to wait, but Pomp, Twaddle And Blast has been well worth the impatience.

Those who want the physical product. The CD is available from the band's website here. It is also available from Kool Kat here. A Vinyl Version will be available in January. The album can be heard on all the major streaming sites and samples can be heard here.

Monday, 10 December 2018

There's A Big Stir Going On

I thought it was about time that I wrote more about Big Stir. There are many kindred spirits around, but the success and growth of Big Stir makes me stand back and applaud the most. The growth of the collective over the past two years has been heart warming to say the least.

The Big Star Label Album Roster is now Nine Artists strong, you can find more details here. The wonderful Weekly Digital Singles will see number 8 released this week and has already featured Lisa Mychols, Michael Simmons, Karla Kane and Lannie Flowers. These two song singles cost a bargain One whole dollar here.

Big Stir have also made it a mission to bring the Community together. Issue 3 of The Magazine is about to hit the streets, Rex and Christina host a Weekly Radio Show on Woody Radio and most relevant, they are bringing labels together. The links with both Spyderpop, Futureman Records and Karma Frog are a joy to behold. It's long needed, the scene maybe small, but it is fragmented, that is being addressed with Big Stir at the front of the barricades.

The monthly Showcase continues in Burbank and Croydon with some fantastic names. The likes of Lannie Flowers and Danny Wilkerson were at the recent Burbank show and John Borack spins the Burbank tunes. All of this is happening whilst The Armoires finalise their second release.

I remember in IDHAS's early days, beseeching them to bring their entourage to the UK. I wanted the UK to witness their West Coast Monthly Live Showcase. Come they did, centring a UK Tour around Liverpool's 2017 IPO Festival. As they toured the country, the line ups were incredible. The Stateside Touring Circus consisted of The Armoires, Plasticsoul and Hux And The Hitmen with David Jaggs of The Ragamuffins at Manchester and the UK's finest joined them as the tour rolled on.

Spygenius, The Fast Camels, mylittlebrother, Toxic Melons, Artisam, Charms Against The Evil Eye and Sunshine Bloom joined in with the Fun. The Tour was so successful that a Spin Off UK Arm of Big Stir was started in the South, fronted by the excellent Spygenius.

The Big Star Britannia version has already seen the likes of Anton Barbeau, Blake Jones And The Trike Shop, Picturebox and Nick Frater added to the appearance list and there are plans are afoot for further Big Stir expansion in both America and the UK.

There's no let up from the label with new releases planned for Anton Barbeau and also the highly anticipated new album from Kai Danzberg, which has a January Release. In Deed and Leslie Pereira And The Lazy Heroes have also been recently added to the label's roster. As IDHAS expands, you can bet your life that it will have a link to Big Stir.

Rex and Christina, I Salute You!

Thursday, 22 November 2018

I Don't Hear A Single Volume 56

Volume 56 is now on Mixcloud. The format is still new songs in continuous mix. No artist intros. I've thought of adding them, but people say they like the hour long no break model. I will sound out people if that needs to change.

There is so much great new music around, that this week I've extended the hour long normality to 78 poptastic minutes.

The playlist details are on here and by clicking the Mixcloud tab. You can listen to the previous adventures on Mixcloud here.

The new talky 2 hour radio show is not too far away now, details will be posted on IDHAS and it is completely different to this.

This week's show features 23 superb songs. Details of how to listen to number 56 are provided by the link after the playlist below :

01 Cinderpop - Saline
02 Bill Lloyd - Working The Long Game
03 Jim Lea - Lost In Space
04 Lannie Flowers - Doin' Fine
05 Andy Partridge - Humanoid Boogie
06 The Sunset Spirit - Mary Jane
07 Mick Terry - Emily Come Back
08 Mayday Parade - Never Sure
09 Fernando Perdomo - We Were Raised With Headphones On
10 Car City - Connecting The Dots
11 Downstate Darlings - King James
12 Gleeson - Through The Motions
13 Medicine Head - Forgive And Forget
14 Peter Baldrachi - Change
15 The Wild Wild - Mrs Low
16 Kimberley Rew - Chain Pub
17 Mikah Wilson - Sunshine Grooves
18 Karla Kane - Goodguy Sun
19 Cleaners From Venus - The Children Of Waterloo Square
20 Leafy Seadragon - Disagree To Disagree
21 Super 8 - Drive You Home
22 Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness - Teenage Rockstars
23 Pat Buchanan - Sandbox

I Don't Hear A Single Volume 56

Friday, 9 November 2018

Mick Terry - Days Go By

It's been a long wait since Mick Terry's excellent debut album, The Grown Ups and although I knew this was coming, it's been a real impatient wait. I'm also a big Jim Boggia fan, so their collaboration seemed like a match made in heaven.

What has transpired is an incredibly mature album, very different to that poptastic debut. Yes those Pop Sensibilities are still present, particularly on the magnificent show stopper, Emily Come Back, but Days Go By goes much further.

This is a real Singer Songwriter album with nods to Motown and Philly, particularly on Arthur's Tale with it's Temptations like feel and Everybody's Talking. Riverbend is like Jackson Browne with a crack Country Rock band.

Pop's A Dirty Word is great 70's Pop Rock, there's a fair few name checks to remind you of this, it's very Elton John, in fact and Elton and Billy Joel spring to mind on a fair bit across the album. Rocking In The Photograph is Terry at his pop best with it's Madness like piano, a sort of take on Ben Folds.The Glitter Guitar makes you think of Pilot on Magic and January.

Stars is in Easy Listening territory and features some great Slide playing, Friends Like That has a Toto like intro accompanied by a splendid Brass Chorus accompaniment. Ignorance Is Bliss has a melancholic beauty in it's stripped down way, with a wonderful Pedal Steel solo.

The album was recorded in London, Philadelphia and New York and that shines through with the influences on display. Boggia's presence glows too. But for all this variance, it's Terry's trademark pop that shines through on the magnificent, Emily Come Back, one of the best songs that you'll hear this or any year.

You can listen to and buy the album here. It is available on Vinyl, CD or download. The CD is available on the Kool Kat label in the States and Elsewhere here.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Semisonic - Feeling Strangely Fine 20th Anniversary Edition

20 years since Feeling Strangely Fine! Wow!  Released here in the UK at the back end of Brit Pop, Dan Wilson finally got the success that he deserved. He was no newcomer, almost 37 on release on this, the band's second album.

I'd got in to Trip Shakespeare in late 1986. I'd got really fed up of the UK scene, New Romantics was not for me and after brief respite courtesy of Glasgow, it became all dance nonsense. Through the 80's I'd concentrated more on the States and Canada and a few fellow music fans exchanged tapes via Pigeon Post.

One such tape had Applehead Man on it and I was hooked all the way through to the end. I still consider Lulu to be one of the great lost Masterpieces. After being dropped by A and M, Trip Shakespeare called it a day and via Pleasure, Dan Wilson and John Munson formed Semisonic with Drummer, Jacob Slichter.

Pleasure had released an EP, which was followed by the Semisonic debut album, Great Divide. The debut is a fine album, although it felt very different to the Psych of Trip Shakespeare. It was this follow up that hit the bucks.

It was aided by two big singles, Closing Time in the US and Karaoke favourite, Secret Smile in the UK. The album is a fine thing indeed, obviously the two great singles are present, but the rest is pretty dandy. The hypnotic keyboard riff of Singing In My Sleep, probably my favourite song on the album.

Never You Mind is Billy Swan Piano Rock, great Pop. This Will Be My Year, a Slichter Song, is all Jangle and Riffs at pace, it's an absolute corker. California simply weeps. All 12 songs stand next to each other wonderfully. Of The Four Bonus Tracks, Beautiful Regret has long been a favourite of mine, certainly hints of Trip Shakespeare here.

The band recorded one more album, 2001's All About Chemistry, a much lighter softer affair, that to be honest was sadly a tad dull. From there on, Dan Wilson went on to an excellent, if infrequent, solo career. However is work as a Writer and Producer for the likes of Dixie Chicks, Pink and Taylor Swift. He also wrote three songs on Adele's 21, most notably Someone Like You.

Fans will be disappointed to only have 4 Bonus Tracks added, all of them B Sides. It's known that there were around 60 demos for Feeling Strangely Fine, but only 20 were Studio Recorded and apparently, only these 16 mixed originally. But maybe the other four would have been welcome.

However, it is worth noting that the original album sound was really iffy, unfeasibly loud which distorted a couple of songs. I don't know if that was because of the mastering or the way it was recorded with the band. All that is solved here.

I know most of the cool people will already have the album, but the master is great and it's also available for the first time on vinyl. This is also a great time for a generation on to catch up on one of the great 90's albums.

You can buy the album on CD Download or Vinyl everywhere. The likes of Amazon offer a free download with a physical purchase. There are also still some Special related items available on the Pledge Music Site here.

Cinderpop - Bricolage

When Music Forums list inspired groups, I often rightly see The Sugarplastic, XTC, The Orgone Box, Ooberman etc, but I rarely see Vancouver's Cinderpop and I have no idea why. They are as equally important and at times more inventive.

Kevan Ellis remains one of the great underappreciated talents. Cinderpop's Back Catalogue stands comparison with anyone and for those of you who have missed out, Bricolage offers you the opportunity to repent and join the Church Of The Poptastic.

This is a Best of and includes their most recent 2017 recordings, Saline and Ephialtes And The Greeks. These two songs bookend the selection of what's gone before. The band's albums were always highly original, so gathering a selection of songs makes them seem even more eclectic and rightly so.

Dead At The Side Of The Road probably sums them up best, it's magnificent, but even that doesn't give you much of an inkling of what you are about to witness across the other 15 tracks. Yokahama and Yogi Bear are gentle Psych Pop, Oliver 8 and Blonder are in your face Indie Rock Outs.

Bumblebee is like a Psyched Up They Might Be Giants, Cinnamon Winter and Folding Time are in The Sugarplastic Territory, the latter almost Prog. Bastion Cooper could be The Orgone Box, Ephialtes And The Greeks is Folk Rock.

What you have here is a collection that would grace anyone's collection and is guaranteed to get you raiding the internet to find their back catalogue. Carlsberg don't do bands, but if they did they'd probably be Cinderpop.

You can listen to Bricolage here and buy it at all good establishments.