On: Meeting your idols

I’ll start by making a bold statement, I Am Kloot are the best band you’ve probably never heard of.

Unfairly passed over for the Mercury prize in 2010, losing out to one hit wonders “The xx”, I Am Kloot have been steadily releasing classics since 2001. The songs ooze personality and kinship, the musical talents of Peter Jobson (bass) and Andy Hargreaves (drums) fit John Bramwell’s lyrics, vocals and guitar to a tee.

I was introduced to I Am Kloot in 2009 by an ex-girlfriend, at the now defunct Cardiff Barfly when John Bramwell played a solo gig, as he regularly does between albums. Before the gig started we were smoking outside and she pointed out to me – after he had gone back inside — that the guy who had been enjoying a fag a metre from us was he who we had come to see tonight.

I Am Kloot were the 3rd most listened to band, 2011-2013 . 2,726 listens.— Last.fm, @charmingman

Since then the band has been a staple on my iPod, Spotify and have spent many drunk nights contemplating, commiserating and crying to. It’s perhaps ironic that the music somebody introduced me to also helped me through a lot of what I went through because of the relationship with that person.

So in December ‘13 John Bramwell announces another solo tour, a few dates dotted around the country at a leisurely pace, I get my tickets for Cardiff and Bristol — Bristol in February ‘14, Cardiff in March. I look forward to them mightily.

Finally the Bristol date comes along, I get on a train and make the hour journey there, to my second city. I had never been to the venue before, The Louisiana. As I walk there from the train station it starts to piss down, I run the final 200 metres. I get to the venue and taking cover from the rain, famililarly smoking a cigarette is John Bramwell. Smiling like a goon I say “Hey!”, he says “Hello” back and retreats inside, I caught him right at the letters.

The venue is small, 200 people or less. John and his support artist have to fight through the tightly packed crowd to get to the stage. For the first half I position myself as closely to the front of the stage as I can get. Did I forget to mention I went alone. It’s too much of a personal experience to take anybody who doesn’t know the music.

The second half starts late, I know my train home is at 11pm and the gig is supposed to finish at 1030. The songs keep coming, I’m entranced, it overruns, it’s 1030, I try to decide whether it’s best to be responsible and leave or stay and be gratified futher. I choose the latter.

I’m all caught up in a one man brawl

He comes off stage at 11pm. I’ve missed my ride home, but I have options, so I decide to wait until the 130am service back to Wales. John has a big queue of people waiting to sign albums, t-shirts and have photos taken with him. I stand at the bar drinking, just watching the queue disperse, watching how he interacts with fellow fans — a lot of them have met him before, talk about previous gigs, have their photos taken and leave the venue.

I buy my fourth pint and retreat to the outside, benches on the main road, to smoke and read, just passing the time until I can get home to my bed.

It’s coming up to midnight, closing time, I buy my fifth pint of cider and smoke what must be my 400th cigarette. I’m drunk enough now to talk to other people about what a great gig it was, the venue is emptying now, only about five people left. The Louisiana finally closes and John Bramwell emerges from the main doors. He lights a cigarette and says “Hello” to the small group I’m stood talking to, consisiting of a male/female couple and a drunk Bristol uni student originally from Manchester.

John and his manager join our group and get involved in our conversation, I think we’re talking about local venues and how they’ve been strangled, John agrees and talks about some of the brilliant, tiny places he’s played over the years. I offer him a cigarette. He fumbles around with the packet for a few seconds, takes one and I offer him a light.

He starts to talk about the gig, how well it went and the rain is “so pissing depressing”. The next 45 minutes pass quickly, we’re laughing and joking, John tells anecdotes about famous rock stars and poets — some which start with a disclaimer “Don’t put this on the internet! If this ends up on the internet I know where it’s come from!” to which I put my hands up and give him my word I will not repeat.

His songs are personal to him, but resonate with me. He puts to words what I feel but could never describe, and he does so with character and style, and now we’re laughing and joking like mates.

I finally succumb to the sixth pint, but I feel like it’s okay because he’s pissed too. I say “Your music has seen me through some shit, thanks”. He replies modestly and we move on quickly, for I am embarassed and we are men. I ask one question that had been burning, “How did you film the video “Over my shoulder” to which he gave an excellent answer — “I stood on a spinning platform in front of a green screen all day, feeling like a prick”.

It was coming up to 1am, we’d been talking, smoking and drinking for nearly an hour. The rain was screaming down, the bar was closed and I was dying for a piss. But I couldn’t leave. When would I get this opportunity again? I offer him another Marlboro red, he takes one and lights it up, thanking me on passing the pack back.

The owner of The Louisiana popped his head out of the door, John shouted at him “Can we get some wine to take back to the hotel?” and who could deny him? Wine was provided.

We talked some more, about music politics, bastard record companies, asshole music press and who are some of the best and worst “stars” to come into contact with.

Since John is from “oop north” and I am a massive Morrissey/The Smiths fan I decide to bung this into the foray. To my delight he tells an excellent story of being at one of the first Morrissey solo gigs in 1988, and agrees that despite sometimes being a bit of a cock, Morrissey is true musical royalty.

It’s 120am, we’ve been chatting for too long, if I miss this train I’ll have to spend 80 quid on a hotel — reluctantly I say my goodbyes, he says he has to leave too. I step into the rain, put my hood up and run to the train station with the biggest grin that has ever graced my face and he gets into his manager’s car.

I fell asleep on the train and almost missed my stop. I didn’t care.

Stop thinking it over and stick your suitcase in the van.

Originally published on Medium

Call me morbid, call me pale, I’ve spent 28 years on your trail

The Smiths

30 years is a long time. I haven’t been alive 30 years yet, though I have been exposed to a band for almost that entire time. My father bought a first edition vinyl in 1984, 6 months before I was born, of a band that were relatively unknown at the time. He wasn’t prospecting – I don’t think- he just bought a lot of albums, a hell of a lot of albums.

The record was the self-titled debut from The Smiths, a quirky northern band fronted by a bespectacled, gladioli waving boy with a distinguishable voice. Their style was very different for the time – jingly jangly guitar riffs, heavy drums padding the background and bass solos to wrap songs about the moors murders and yearly fairs in Rusholme, an inner city area of Manchester. By contrast at that time Duran Duran were on boats with synthesisers singing about some Brazilian girl and Spandau Ballet were putting out an ode to a precious metal.

I now have this record, and I daren’t play it. Although it’s been played before, I stick to Spotify or the MP3 recordings I made of it through a USB turntable (the only time I’ve played it). I don’t want it to scratch or crack, I want to pass it on to my son one day, so he can get the same enjoyment out of it that I did, and still get – that is of course if record players can still be found in 15 years’ time anywhere other than on the landfill heap.

It’s said that the best things are the shortest lived, and this can be vouched for with examples like the TV show Fawlty Towers (only 13 episodes, but a world renowned classic) or the movie career of James Dean (3 movies, but forever immortalised). The Smiths were only together for 4 years, and in that time put out 4 albums, but they are culturally one of the best known bands and widely sourced as “inspirational”, and Morrissey voted 2nd “Greatest living icon” in a 2006 BBC Culture Show poll.

People that grab on to the media tagging of The Smiths – and Morrissey in particular – as “miserable”, “depressing” or “sombre” have clearly not listened to more than a few tracks, as in their short history they managed to produce songs that covered the entire emotional spectrum.

There’s a track for every mood. If you’re happy, The Boy with a thorn in his side; depressed, Asleep; feel like dancing, This Charming Man; silly, Vicar in a Tutu; anti-establishment, The Queen is dead - I could go on.

I will concede that The Smiths did put out a good dose of depressing, upsetting or just plain sad songs, but they managed to disguise a few of them well by mixing high noted guitar riffs with particularly unhappy lyrics, Girlfriend in a coma & Unhappy birthday.

But seriously, Frankly Mr Shankly - which is an attack song – is one of the happiest and funniest of the mid 1980’s (and since); without The Smiths my world, and the world in its entirety would be a much gloomier place.

The post title is a lyric from the song Half a Person

Why I think “Viva Hate” is the best debut album ever…

It’s because I can imagine buying the album – fresh, crisp and new – unheard – putting it on for the first time and the music starting, “Alsatian Cousin”; a new beginning, a phenomenally strong track which was Morrissey truly announcing “WORLD, I AM STILL HERE”. This launches, without a pause, into “Little Man, What Now?”, the story of a child star become irrelevant and insignificant, confined to re-living his glory days through daytime chat shows, a true marvel of songwriting finesse.

This has to be one of the best lines from any song, ever, and because it’s said with such gusto and knowing charm;

A note upon his desk:

“P.S. Bring Me Home And Have Me!”

Leather elbows on a tweed coat

- Oh! Is THAT the best you can do?

So came his reply:

“But on the desk is where I want you!”

To celebrate Record Store Day (today, April 23rd), EMI have re-released the “Suedhead” single (the Mael Mix). This follows hot on the heels of the re-release of Viva Hate on March 26th.

Local state of mind

What is it about a good local parody that brings out the (virtual) crowds? Uploaded to Youtube on Tuesday, it is now Friday and already there are features in the Metro, talk about it on Welsh TV and endorsements from local celebrities like Rob Brydon. I am of course talking about “Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind)”, a cover of Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind”, replacing “New York” with the Welsh city “Newport”.

Like the Goldie Lookin’ Chain before them and Taff Wars, who did a series of film parodies in the Valleys, the video has had massive success – being viewed over 300,000 times in just three days – 150,000 views in 12 hours from Thursday evening to this morning. Even as I am sat here on a train writing this post, just pulled out of Newport station, somebody has the song as their ringtone.

What makes a parody so successful is that they appeal to what a person knows; where most people share a common knowledge and it almost always comes down to where a person lives, where they feel most comfortable.

Like a rock band who rouses a crowd by shouting the name of the city that they are performing in, a campaign can be successful by letting people know that you know what they know, it makes a person feel like they are a part of something (unlike David Camerons “Big Society”).

There have undoubtedly been parodies of songs and films about other parts of the country, or the world, but I have heard of hardly any of them – simply because they are not targeted at me – being from Wales, I would not feel the same about a parody of Leicester or Glasgow as I do of a song about Swansea or Merthyr.

Watch “Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind)” on Youtube.

The Smiths Indeed – Indeed!

My obsession with trying to time portal back to the Hacienda on July 6th 1983 is seemingly endless.

Clwb Ifor Bach was taken over by quiff-sporting addicts looking for a way to get back, just like me. A Smiths tribute band is an odd phenomenon, the good ones will emulate particular eras of the bands brief history, using dress to map the time-line. The Smiths Indeed did not disappoint in this.

The first half of the show, “Morrissey” sported a trademark flowery shirt, no doubt picked up at a hospice care shop not unintentionally. This was the main part of the show, the reason The Smiths Indeed are on tour, to perform a full rendition of the epic album “Meat is Murder”. Released 25 years ago on valentines day, perhaps not totally ironically with romance inspired tracks like “I want the one I can’t have”, the band took on the challenge and succeeded in their attempt to beautifully emulate the great masters of the pencil and quiff. Their rendition of “Barbarism Begins at Home” was every bit as humorous and danceable as it was in 1985 when Morrissey and Marr did their amazing jig (see video), “Andy Rourke” captured it perfectly and I was certainly moving around in a very similar fashion, which may have looked very odd if to any other band.
Finishing off with the title track, the haunting “Meat is Murder” which was cut short, missing out the leading 3-minutes of abattoir noises which probably doesn’t work as well live the song was perfectly executed and a fitting tribute to a track that was so controversial 25 whole years ago.

After the break the band came back on to raucous applause, seeming to have completely won over the crowd. This half would be dedicated to the bands other work, with classics like “How Soon is Now?” and “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and to my surprise, a song that was recorded as part of The Smiths very first recording sessions with Troy Tate but is not on any of the original albums (but which has since appeared on compilation albums), “Jeane”, this was a delight to hear.

So, overall a very good night and I would definitely recommend that any Smiths or Morrissey fan does not pass up the chance to see The Smiths Indeed if they come within 50 miles of their town during their tour, details of which can be found on their website, http://www.thesmithsindeed.co.uk