Monday, 8 June 2009

Going Down To Liverpool To Do Something

Yes it's been a while, but we're back again, after some period spent on the non blog life for a while - apologies, we won't let it happen again!

One of the advantages of being able to attend Liverpool's International Powerpop Overthrow Festival is experiencing a plethora of powerpop bands from a pool which is truly international (as the name implies) encompassing musicians the whole length of Scandinavia, many parts of Southern Europe, regions of Asia, the USA and the UK etc, in intimate, cosy surroundings like the Cavern. Any serious music fan will already know how important the Cavern was in terms of rock music history and that musical heritage is still being carried on by the 175 bands that performed last week or so at the IPO Fest.

Since we could only attend the festival on Saturday, Mr Qwerty and I will be highlighting the bands that impressed us the most that day. This particular year the festival took place not only on the back and front stages of the Cavern but also across the road at the Cavern Pub, and round the corner at the Beaconsfield and the Grapes. Since the last 2 places mentioned are fairly close it wasn't impossible to catch the bands that we wanted to see, but a bit hectic, not helped by some skewed scheduling at the further venues, which resulted in us endlessly catching the last song by one band or another for the first two hours we were there.

One such band was Slumberjet (think a little XTC, a little Neil Finn but like neither really other than that knack with an adventurous melody) who we caught for two and a half numbers at the Beaconsfield where the Irish 3-piece were delighting an audience of 2 or 3 interested parties and possibly the pub pooch. This embarrassing turnout must have been due to the crazy scheduling. We'd actually turned up to see the Romeo Flynns, but they didn't even leave the airport owing to some UK entry faux pas. Anyway Mr Q was very impressed with Barry O'Brien's slighty off-centre take on hooky, sometime pastoral psyche pop, and managed to catch them for a few more songs later when they played the Cavern main stage. Recommended is Barry O'Brien's own EP Spark, the 3 songs on the bands MySpace. Can't wait for a fully fledged Slumberjet Record. Soon I hope! More information on Slumberjet here:
The first band to send our collective thumbs aloft were the Edinburgh ensemble Honeybug. This 7 piece fit into an unusual and select niche only previously reserved for the likes of Curt Boettcher (Sagittarius, Millennium California, & Association), Harpers Bizarre, the Merry-Go-Around, the Turtles and Yellow Balloon.

Their harmony drenched soft pop, the level of sophistication and interweave is an awfully rare beast, even in the phenomenal world of powerpop. Thus it was truly a delight to experience their aural brilliance for the first time, from the delightful first song 'Time' which featured just Ni's piano and the bands glorious voices, to 'Anything For You' from their Naked Songs EP. 

Although their own material is very strong, it's arguable whether the real highlights were their crowd pleasing rendition of Jellyfish's 'That Is Why' and later and even better known, the Buggles 'Video Killed the Radio Star.' Both were nigh on perfect, particularly the Jellyfish cover which was frankly awe inspiring.

We are indebted to Debbie's Twitterfriend, Anne Marie for the recommendation and an introduction to main man Nigel Frayling-Kelly. Explore more at

You wait for years for new, well crafted soft harmony pop, then two come along at once.

Piano led by Yani Martinelli, Navy Blue too have a level of sophistication and command of the medium that impresses immediately. The material often recalls the mini symphonies and welded multi-strand short pieces of the Smile-era Beach Boys, the experimental touches of Harper's Bizzare, Ben Folds and Todd Rundgren. I even hear references from as far afield as Harry Nilsson and amazingly, Stereolab. But Madrid's Navy Blue make it all their own, in a rich melle of gorgeous flavours.

The band possess two excellent lead vocalists in the charming Yani Martinelli and lead/back-up singer/percussionist Angel Gago - a finer set of pipes than you could ever wish to meet. Their new album 'At Home' is as charming and seductive as they are. Investigate more at

Mini moved through the club like a clean waft of fresh air, delivering a tight set of dynamic, twisting, turning songs of love lost and unrequited, set to flawless and tasteful, inventive instrumentation.

The material flowed smoothly and effortlessly for half-an-hour of relentless entertainment. The band connected well with the audience and lead singer (and drummer) had oodles of charisma, with bags to spare. Also, great to see a band with two lead singers plus strong vocal harmonies and back-ups - all band members sing - and perform like their life depended on it. Their cover of Cliff Richard's 'We Don't Talk Anymore' was a showstopping demonstration of just how great a powerpop song this was. Mini did the 1980 #1 Alan Tarney penned hit total justice and didn't shortchange us at all when they included all the vocal pyrotechnics of the original, delivered with stunning and appropriate acrobatics!!

Mini were new to us but we will go away with nothing but admiration for their standout song 'Since Yesterday' - a tremendous showcase for the incredible vocal performance and quality of lead singer Scott Richardson and guitar of the Gary Davies. The song has an expansive sound which takes in both Macca (Circa 'Band on The Run') and Stevie Wonder (Circa 'Innervisions/Believe When I Fall In Love') with a dose of psychedelia to tag out with. Unmissable.

Mini's EP with a nice self-depreciating title of 'Must Try Harder' should be purchased immediately - find out more about Mini:

If memory serves, almost one week on, I believe Smash Palace opened with the superb career high 'Steal Her Thunder' from their 'Over The Top' album. A wickedly perfect soaring slice of pop psychedelia that recalls both fellow New Jerseyites 'The Grip Weeds' and (of course perfect PP reference) the Byrds

Although the crowd wasn't huge, Smash Palace can't realise their almost legendary status as the wonderful 'Juliet To Me' (from both the 1st album & the fully realised/rounded version which graces 'Over The Top') was requested by audience member. Leader Stephen Butler seemed genuinely humbled by the fact that some people in England might know their stuff when he asked "How do you know that song?". "Cos I bought the album when it came out" replied the English guy. Yeah Stephen that makes at least of two of us - and I'm sure many more!

The band (formerly the main shakers from the obscure, rare & underrated 'Quincy') continued with 'She' (From the last album 'Everybody Comes & Goes') and a very nice cover of the Beatles 'Hey Bulldog' in recognition of their being at the Cavern. Personally I can't believe how far they've come from that now passe sub U2/New Romantic sound of 1985's 'Living On The Borderline'. and

Unfortunately due to switching from one venue to another we were only able to catch 2 songs by Peter Parker, which was a real shame. His break speed guitar work welds Chuck Berry to Marc Bolan, and chugs and splutters like no other. An arresting spectacle, Parker jerks and quirks like a man who’s eaten tourettes tablets for breakfast. He’s only one man, and although great, I think fronting a band would serve him well. The songs available at and MySpace Vids are gloriously hooky and blew these writers away.

Radio Days, an Italian band from Milan, made a visual statement soon as they appeared - all clad in all black, thin ties, skinny frames and a front line of white guitars. The Band had fabulous stage presence and unstoppable energy! Their set was over way too quickly for us.

These guys had definitely done their powerpop homework. They performed brilliant covers of both the Rubinoos "I Want To Be Your Boyfriend" and a sublime Paul Collins' Beat: 'Rock 'n' Roll Girl'. These covers perfectly placed their own songs which revisits the best in the short sharp shocks of bands like the Romantics, the Ramones, Green Day and of course, the Beat.

My husband and I were pleasantly surprised to find out while doing research for this article that the origins of Irwin Starr from Denmark date back to the excellent Shiner 22. Who? I hear you say, but we had discovered the music of Shiner 22 many years ago (one and a half brilliant albums in 'Mint' and 'Where's The Catch') and often wondered what had happened to them.

Amazingly they still have a web site but main man Fjeder (aka Pete Shiner) now leads Irwin Starr, who were superb BTW. Their song 'Sally Can't Wait' is as solid a gold piece of powerpop if ever you heard some and remained the high point of their hot and sweaty set in the bowls of the Cavern Pub. The audience was a little thin on the ground but was frequently peppered by streams of scantily clad young women on a night out, a sight which thrilled the band enough to make up for the paucity of numbers and provided a few laughs for us in the audience and the band at the irony of the whole thing. See Irwin Starr's Facebook page

Peter and the Penguins are able to capture the essence of Beatlesque harmonies, melodies and song structure without sounding totally derivative of their idols. The exception might be the infectious 'Surprise' which is such a dead ringer for 'Please Please Me' it may as well have been a Rutles song!

However the band more than redeem themselves with very original spin given on their song 'There Goes Pete Best' which tells the story of how the writer is about to get Pete Best's autograph, but has a change of heart when he questions why he'd want the autograph of "...the unluckiest bastard in the world".

The Penguins went down a storm with more than a sprinkling of dedicated fans amongst the throng. Their nifty cover of the Spongetones "She Goes Out with Everybody" was another highlight and prompted our purchase of their latest album 'How To Choose A Sweetheart' at the gig as a souvenir of a great concert. Go to to find out how to get your copy.

Mellowmen were initially the band that compelled Debbie to pick Saturday for the day that we would attend IPO as we'd seen them twice before - again, they were our favorite band of the day.

Their songwriting, musicianship and performance makes one wonder why their name isn't better known. The sheer energy of the show had the audience as much engrossed in the music as the band members were themselves transfixed by something outside our immediate vision (see photo below for evidence). The men of Mellow began with Out Of Shape Part I from their 2004 EP of the same name, a crowd pleaser to the anointed as many of us sang along about just how 'Out of Shape' we were. From beginning to end these guys give their absolute all and by end of the performance are completely hung out to dry. When they come off stage they resemble the MC5 in that classic cover shot from their second album 'Back in the USA'(pic) - although musically they are not at all alike - they certainly capture that energy and commitment.

This time the Men had a surprise for us all when lead guitarist Anders Lofgren came over all Pete Townshend like and suddenly smashed his guitar into splinters in 60's pop-art style. It was certainly a great end to a terrific day!

Best personal surprise of all, Debbie got an advance promo of 4 new tracks of the band from hunk bassist Jonas Lofgren - the contents of which indicate that their projected fall second album promises to be brilliant - can't wait!

It seems churlish to complain, the IPO is a free festival and although he seems a little more aloof than when I first met him 5 years ago in New York, there's no doubt that it's the enthusiasm and drive of David Bash that flies the powerpop flag so large and so high, but I feel that a 7 day festival and 175 bands, while admirable is spreading the goods a little thin. For me, the influx of indie and other extraneous styles sometimes dilutes the artist mix a little too much.

Posted by Mr Qwerty & Debra47

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Happiness is a Warm Fuzz

Here's another record that failed to make our best of the year only by virtue of the fact that it was released too close to the end of 2008 for us to place it in our catchment. Certainly, it would have featured in our top 5 EP's of the year as it's as solid a pink piece of prime modern bubblegum as one could ever wish to find.

The great thing for 'Gum aficionados like me, is that each generation brings something fresh to the genre without taking something important away, unlike the Heavy Metal genre for example which seems intent on removing essential elements piece by piece, dimension by dimension to end up with some ghastly one dimensional shadow of its original reference. By contrast, this fine EP has pedigree which reaches all the way back to Kasenetz Katz & The Archies, thru Chinn & Chapman, Fizzy 80's Electronica, Betty Boo, Hanson, right up to today's Ting Tings.

The Warm Fuzzies hail from the rich musical heritage that is Athens, Georgia, but apart from maybe the odd minor nod to Pylon, buck the lineage completely and serve up their very own slab of delicious dessert.

Their 6-song EP specially packaged in an eco-friendly "arigato pak" comes complete with a comic-style liner (like Bazooka Joe's did) and topped with a scratch-n-sniff (ala Raspberries 1st) that smells just like bubblegum!

As soon as your player hits binary you're up and grooving to the Warm Fuzzies infectious concoctions. References abound, Weezer and The Rentals are obvious pointers, but I hear reaches back to 'Gums' mid 60's inception, plus the idiosyncratic influence of Devo, Cheap Trick, TMBG & that nerdy cool of The Feelies, Presidents of the USA, Wheatus and Bowling For Soup.

So what do you get for the price of your Chewy Chewy few dollars:

  • 'Hey Milunka' opens with a 'Pictures of Matchstick Men' incessant high pitch guitar crochet riff, followed by a run on something which sounds like a resident arcade one arm bandit, then a flutey Casio picks up the gauntlet and gives in to off-the-wall lyrics with a nursery rhyme melody in the classic 'Gum tradition. 'Hey Milunka' is a great opener sitting exactly where the strongest track should - be at the helm.
  • Gotta mention that the Casio sounds like the classic VL1 Tone model (circa 1980) - the same synth as used famously on Trio's 'Da Da Da' and the Human League's 'Dare'. This tiny hand held instument was an innovative little beast which doubled as a calculator - I used mine at school back in those early electro days.
  • 'Space Invaders' opens with fizzy Moog and toy fuzz guitar and addresses that very serious issue of encroaching on your colleagues space in the office. In fact, this could have been the soundtrack to Ricky Gervais' "The Office", later personified by Steve Carell in the US version of the same. "Disorder, ...border, invader".
  • 'Your Dairy King' - employs the band's knack of including great puns in both their song titles and lyrics, plus (in fine 'Gum tradition again) the all important confectionery link. 'Your Dairy King' features brand loyalty in a song which raises the ad jingle way above its usual disposable status.
  • 'Why Do Girls Wear Big Sunglasses' - is perhaps the bands best song other than the hit starter. This manages the stupendous feat of recalling for this writer, both XTC's 'I'm Bugged': "You're all look like insects, in your brand new sun specs" and John Fred/Playboy band 'Judy in Disguise' - all top notch 'Gum references.
  • There's an infectious cheesiness that pervades the whole Warm Fuzzies experience. A fact not overlooked by the band themselves as they celebrate with their collective tongues in their cheeks, when they promote their love for cheese in their sign-off 'Queso Love'.
The band may not have intended it, but for this writer, this is not a million miles away, in concept, from another grand trash aesthetic & artistic project: 'Groovy Neighborhood' by Pianosaurus, produced by the dBs/REM/Continental Drifters shaker Peter Holsapple, where all the songs were performed with vigor and enthusiasm on toy instruments with wonderful aplomb.

The Warm Fuzzies hook-laden guitars, cheesy cheapo synths, grunge pop and magnetic melodies are 'bob-on' fantabulous. However don't go to your local record stores (not that there are any left anymore, anyway) - take a magic swirling trip to your local candy store (although in the UK we call them sweets and we would buy them at Tuck Shops). Anyhow, it's in the Tuck Shop where you'd find the Warm Fuzzies, right next to Swizzlers Love hearts, Penny Arrow Bars and Chocolate Firemen in the box labeled 'Happiness is a Warm Fuzz' - indeedy! Buy, buy, buy.

We've secured a fine interview with the band to accompany this review, which we'll feature very shortly.

Buy Bubblegum at CD Baby
Hear them from our link (above) or at their MySpace site

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Criminally Overlooked But Not Buried Underground

With the phenomenal amount of music released these days from every corner of the industry, it isn't surprising for a band or two to get lost in the shuffle - in fact in this business it's a downright certainty.

The Ravines is one such example of a criminally overlooked record from recent years. As a duty, we felt we should seek it out, dust it down, give it an airing and make you feel as ashamed (as we were) when the proverbial needle hit the groove.

The Ravines first CD Manifesto of a Broken Heart was actually released back in 2005 on the C-Side Records label and harks back to a simpler time musically (ie: somewhat earlier than 2005!). Singer/Songwriter Chris Corney and drummer James Crossley originally met back in 2000 when they played in Peterborough band the Contrast.

Their sound encapsulates Americana crossed with an inherent Britishness. My favorite track is title track Manifesto of a Broken Heart which features a rootsy Keith Richards' guitar and the stuck-to-roof-of-your-mouth catchy riff.

The harmonizing, the jangly guitar, and rumbling bass on the third track Supersize is infectious. Fifth song Best Friends also grabbed me; the harmonies in particular recall the Contrast's greatest song Caught in a Trap, to which of some of these guys contributed, of course

Overall The Ravines material reflects an experienced world weariness of angst and hope dashed with buzzword modernity in the use of language like 'downsize' and 'supersize'. Much of this feeling culminates in the closer The Getaway. A great and sure way to end the album.

If you looking for references you may already know, try these for size: Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls and Scottish bands the Silencers and Diesel Park West. All decent and seminal in their own way.

It is hard not to fall in love with this album, and it will only improve on repeated listens. Roll down those windows when you are listening to this once spring comes and make sure you drown out those hip-hop monkeys at the traffic light.

For full length tracks check out their page here. If you love the bands music as much as us you can purchase their CD at CDBaby .