Tuesday 14 September 2010

All the News That Fits

Much to catch up on. First, reviews in Uncut of Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan’s latest opus, Hawk, and the new Ray LaMontagne album. There's also a meaty feature in the latest issue about Paul Simon’s Graceland; it isn’t online but is in stores NOW. As is my meeting with venerable thesp (and wearer of dangerously tight shirts) Simon Callow, which appears in the new issue of The Word magazine, alongside my chats with the likes of Cerys Matthews, Cathal Coughlan and Ride's Mark Gardener.

What else? A highly enjoyable pop at the Libertines in the Guardian and lots of lovely stuff at theartsdesk, which celebrated its first birthday last week and goes from strength to strength. I review John Grant, The Phantom Band, Phoenix, Steve Mason and write about lots of other goodness. While you’re there, check out Jasper Rees's excellent interview with Michael Sheen and Chris Christodoulou’s jaw dropping photo gallery of orchestra conductors in action.

Also, highly pleasing reviews of my Kate Bush biog, Under the Ivy, continue coming in. The Irish Times judged it “the best music biography in perhaps the past decade... an absorbing, painstakingly researched and downright fascinating book”. Q awarded it 4 stars and called it “respectful, fascinating and full of insight...”, while RTE's prime time arts show Arena settled for “definitive”. For all the latest visit the book's blog.

Thursday 5 August 2010

American Beauty

It's been all about American legends lately, as the following flurry of hyper-links suggests.

First up there was an examination of the roots of Elvis (P not C) featuring contributions from the wonderful Paul Buchanan; then fascinating chats with Rosanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson, plus a review of the latter’s recent Edinburgh show over at
theartsdesk, where I also contributed to a round-up of the month's best new albums. I’ve also reviewed some telly: a great documentary on Merle Haggard and new BBC Four comedy The Great Outdoors.

P.S. I’m now on Twitter (oh yes, always one step ahead of the throng) if anyone fancies dropping in.

Friday 9 July 2010

Top Bird

“Initially you could sense that it would be more convenient for other people if I were to continue to collaborate with Tricky,” she says. “‘That works, why change it?’ I try to gravitate to people who are less fearful than that and will get behind you. You have to keep a strong mind and not be limited by other people’s bullshit and perceptions. No one can know your potential until you show them.”

A chat here with Martina Topley-Bird, who is back with an utterly beguiling new album Some Place Simple; and some slightly woozy words with the equally fearless Rickie Lee Jones here

Thursday 24 June 2010

Art & Acorns

“It’s not incidental that No Ghost was recorded in a cottage in the back of beyond in Quebec, the kind of place where phone signals peter out into static. On occasion the songs here are almost hypnotically hushed. At other times they’re both louder and more unhinged than ever before. There’s always been muscle in The Acorn’s music, now it’s simply more pronounced.” My Uncut review of The Acorn’s No Ghost is now online.

Also, a ton of my film, music and TV reviews can be viewed over at theartsdesk.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Steady As She Goes

Glancing up from a Dickensian pile of work so tall and precarious it's threatening at any moment to topple down to the ground like one of those over-sized pub Jenga games that used to be all the rage, I note with a moderate degree of interest that my Uncut review of the new(ish) Hold Steady album, Heaven is Whenever, is now online. That is all.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Thorny Questions

"Tracey Thorn’s new solo album, Love And Its Opposite, is a quietly extraordinary record, eschewing the fireworks of grand passion to explore the niggles and neuroses bubbling below the surface of many long-term relationships." I talk to Thorn about her ace new album here.

I also recently caught up with Sandi Thom, who’s gone from much-maligned internet ‘sensation’ to gnarled Blues warbler. Odd. More here.

Friday 7 May 2010

There’s some wonderful YouTube footage of Kris Kristofferson receiving a gong at the 1970 Country Music Association awards. He lopes on stage with his hair covering his shoulders and his trousers hanging from his hips, scratching his head and grinning at an audience of bow-ties and comb-overs who gasp and giggle at this upstart hippie freak. He’s monosyllabic, but the message to the Nashville establishment is clear: welcome to the future. We’re going to start doing things a little differently around here.

On today of all days, it feels comforting to be in the company of an old leftie firebrand. I talk to Kris Kristofferson for the Guardian here.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Simon Says, Hold Tight

A couple of pieces appearing in the Herald this week. One an interview with Craig Finn of the mighty Hold Steady, who have got themselves back on course with Heaven Is Whenever; and another with Harper Simon, son of Paul, who has made one of the year-to-date’s most elegant and engaging albums.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Coco, Without Pops

You can’t fault her dedication. A couple of years ago Sumner, who performs as I Blame Coco, posted a song on YouTube called "My Name Is A Stain", in which she sang: ‘Forget my dad, you need to hear my band!’ It now embarrasses her slightly – “I don’t regret it because it records a moment of time, I just don’t listen to it” – but she stands by the message.

I speak to Sting jr. here

Thursday 29 April 2010

Bush, Baby

My new book, Under The Ivy: The Life & Music of Kate Bush, is published next week by Omnibus Press. I will still be updating this site with news of other work (such as today’s Duke Special piece) but I’d imagine that most of the action in the immediate future will be taking place over at my new blogsite for Under The Ivy, which can be found here. As well as posting the odd extract there, I’ll be adding reviews, news, extra info etc. as and when appropriate. I hope to see some of you over there.

A long, adapted extract from the book forms the cover story in this month’s Uncut, concerning the circumstances surrounding the making of Bush’s 1985 classic album, Hounds of Love. In that issue I also review the new Hold Steady album and a few other bits and bobs, and there's a great interview with Merle Haggard by Andrew Mueller. Go find.

Sir Duke

Witty, eclectic and often dazzling, The Stage, A Book And The Silver Screen acts as an elegant rebuttal to anyone who would argue that the trend for consuming music in bite-sized chunks has dulled the ambition of songwriters. One album, The Silent World of Hector Mann, takes its cue from Paul Auster’s 2002 novel A Book of Illusions; the other features songs Wilson wrote for a new stage adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, while the EP features the first ever recording of five songs written in 1950 by Kurt Weill for an abandoned musical version of Huckleberry Finn.

I venture inside the dazzling mind of Duke Special

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Rokia's Road

Rokia TraorĂ© has always seemed most comfortable creating at trysting points, darting between different worlds without ever quite belonging to any one of them. The daughter of a Malian diplomat, as a child her favourite locations were airports, “this middle point between two places; the idea of leaving a place to go to another one was the most interesting part of my childhood”. As a musician, too, the singer and songwriter gets a creative kick out of being in transit, moving from Mozart to Billie Holiday, from folk to jazz, in order to escape what she calls the “kind of jail” of world music.

Read my interview with the sublime Rokia Traoré here.

Friday 23 April 2010

A Tangled Web

You can read my – somewhat truncated, though much tweeted - feature about the inner workings of band websites in today’s Guardian. One of the artist’s featured, Sam Carter, is well worth checking out. He won best newcomer at this year's BBC Folk Awards and his website is here.

Here’s a clip of him in action, doing sweet justice to a John Martyn classic.

I also review another promising folkie - and another John Martyn fan - Dan Arborise at theartsdesk.

Friday 16 April 2010

Oh Sister

Fahey has always seemed suspicious of mainstream success, identifying more with Patti Smith – “a guiding light” – than Ginger Spice. Born in County Meath to Irish parents, she was raised in London and feels like a “weird hybrid of two cultures. I’ve got an Irish passport but an English accent; I think that’s a key factor to who I am. I’m an outsider wherever I go, but I’ve made my peace with that.”
I talk to the wonderfully contrary Siobhan Fahey about reviving Shakespears Sister - and refusing to play Stay.

Monday 12 April 2010


"Despite the fuss and fluster, Marling comes across as a cool customer. At one stage she quite reasonably points out: “Nobody knows what I’m really like unless they’ve been with me, just like I don’t know what you’re like when you’re not interviewing.” Fair enough. She is collected and self-assured, with the suggestion of something more impulsive and elemental lurking just below the surface. A lot like her music, in fact."

I speak to Ms Marling - no longer blonde, now a demure brunette - about religion, fame and the trials of having a Top 5 album in I Speak Because I Can.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Back! Back! BACK!!

Right. Crikey. Been a while.

Ridiculously busy what with one thing and another, with more news to come soon on lots of new writing and the next book. But first, catch up time.

To summarise:
  • Big piece in the Guardian on poetry and music, featuring Mike Scott and WB Yeats (pictured).
  • Big piece in the Herald on Lou Reed.
  • More pieces in the Herald, on Toumani Diabate, John Hiatt, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Brendan Benson and Angie Stone.
  • Some pieces on theartsdesk, including a review of a beguiling Karine Polwart gig and some words about some albums here and here.
  • Lots of stuff in the last few issues of the wonderful Word, including interviews with Ash, Lou Reed again, and reviews of a fab new chamber-opera concept album by Anais Mitchell, as well as some books and DVDs.
  • And some reviews in the new issue of Uncut. Look out for more from me there.
Let's not leave it so long next time.

Tuesday 23 February 2010


I’m blogging over at the Guardian on Richard Thompson’s appointment as the artistic director of Meltdown 2010. Come and add your thoughts here.

Swede Swede Music

"There is something eternally refreshing about catching a band on the first show of their first tour after the release of their first album. Banter remains untarnished by overuse; smiles appear spontaneous and gratitude genuine; mistakes are swatted away with a giggle and a sly curse. Hope – that most intoxicating of emotions – fills the air like the scent of fresh cut grass. When the group march off stage at the end of the set and plonk themselves behind the merchandising table, it almost seems churlish not to hand over your cash, if only to buy into the dream that, right now, everything seems possible."

I review First Aid Kit’s Edinburgh show here, and talk to the audaciously talented and impressively composed Klara Soderberg here.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Art Attack

This week at theartsdesk I talk to the brilliant indigenous Australian singer Gurrumul, who made the best-selling world music album of 2009, and review Jonathan Meades’ fearless, provocative and highly perceptive film essaying the less-than-peachy state of the Scottish nation. If you any interest at all in music and the arts, you must keep an eye on theartsdesk. It's updated several times daily and features some of the best writers and writing anywhere.

Poetic Justice

"I’m New Here is not the summation of Scott-Heron’s career. It does not tie up the loose ends of his talent, nor is it assured enough to count as a rebirth. It’s not a singer’s album, nor a musician’s album. It’s barely even a poet’s album. It is, however, a survivor’s album, and one that doesn’t shirk from laying bare the cost of making it through a world of darkness. The merciless gaze Scott-Heron previously turned on the soul of America and society’s manifold ills has now been aimed squarely at himself."

In the Sunday Herald I review the extraordinary album that marks the return of Gil Scott-Heron. He's coming to Edinburgh in April. Miss him at your peril.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Go Down Easy

Last week we held a One Year Wake for John Martyn over at theartsdesk, to mark the first anniversary of his death on January 29, 2009. In the piece I recalled the time I visited John at his home in Thomastown, and also relived the hours after his death, when I spoke to many of his friends.

Also on theartsdesk, I review the really rather wonderful debut album by Swedish sisters (pictured) First Aid Kit, called The Big Black and the Blue: Fact: there is no harmony quite like a sibling harmony. Nice jumpers, too.

Finally, closer to home, I sneak down an alley over on Glasgow's south side to relive the glory days of Park Lane studios with,among others, the lavishly sideboarded Justin Currie of Del Amitri, a band I still love just a little despite myself. More here.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Once Upon A Time A Song....

I’ve started a new blog, over at: http://onceuponatimeasong.blogspot.com/

I've always been fascinated by juvenilia and baby steps; beginnings, after all, are usually more revealing and certainly less guarded than endings. This new blog is intended as a place for songwriters to discuss their very first forays into composition; from the gory details - title, lyrics, chords, the full pack drill - to less concrete impressions of what they learned from the experience and how they now look back at their earliest scribblings, seen through the prism of years of hindsight and experience.

The first few entires are now up, and I’ll be adding to them regularly. Please go over and have a look and leave a comment. I think it's going to be fascinating...

Killer Confidential

Phew, it’s been a while. Christmas, work, and the vicissitudes of life have got in the way of regular updates. There are some exciting new things coming up, but first an update of stuff that’s already happened in 2010.

In Sunday’s last ever – boo hoo – issue of Observer Music Monthly, I reviewed the new Corinne Bailey Rae album, The Sea, which is a strange old album, at times brilliant and at others the aural equivalent of filing your nails. I also contributed to the American Legends feature, interviewing around 15 of the stars – Ray Davies (Jerry Lee Lewis), Steve Earle (Kris Kristofferson), Charlie Watts (Sonny Rollins) and many more – who agreed to talk about their heroes, all of whom have been photographed over the past twelve months by Jamie-James Medina. You can read their contributions and see the pics by visiting here.

Over at The ArtsDesk, I interview the African-Portuguese singer Mariza, a wonderful vocalist who has done much to bring fado, her country's intensely poetic indigenous music, to the a mass global audience. And finally, I interviewed Fyfe Dangerfield for the Herald. I’ve never been a huge Guillemots fan, but his new solo record, Fly Yellow Moon, is a very nice piece of work indeed.