The National, Grizzly Bear and more on their all-star Grateful Dead tribute album

Five years in the making, The National’s mammoth all-star tribute to the Grateful Dead is finally complete. Uncut talks to the many and varied artists – among them My Morning Jacket, Lee Ranaldo, Yo La Tengo, Grizzly Bear and Dead outrider Bruce Hornsby – about the enduring power of Garcia and co’s music, and the challenges of turning on a new generation. “This could be a bridge,” says Aaron Dessner. “All this is about the future of this music.” Story: Rob Mitchum. Originally published in Uncut’s May 2016 issue (Take 228).

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Once upon a time there were two bands called The Warlocks. On the West Coast, one set of Warlocks changed their name and became the standard-bearers of the psychedelic scene. On the opposite side of the country, the other Warlocks changed their name, sang of even harder drugs, and pushed the limits of experimental rock.

One Warlocks became the Grateful Dead, creating and influencing a jamband scene that survived stubbornly on the fringes of mainstream rock. The other became The Velvet Underground, founding fathers of punk, alternative and indie rock.

For 50 years, these two lineages remained almost entirely separate, two rock tribes that rarely cross-pollinated. But this spring, a massive new charity tribute album curated by members of The National promises to reconcile these Warlock descendants, officially welcoming the Dead into the stable of indie-rock influences and, perhaps, setting the band’s legacy for its second half-century.

Day Of The Dead, in the works for almost five years, comprises more than five hours of covers from a roster that reads like a Coachella poster. Members of indie forefathers Sonic Youth, Wilco and Pavement, modern-day headliners My Morning Jacket, Mumford & Sons, and The War On Drugs, and left-field contributors such as composer Terry Riley, African legends Orchestra Baobab, and ambient experimentalist Tim Hecker appear, all paying tribute to a band that was once toxic territory for the indie-inclined.

In its size and scope, the compilation also cracks open the stereotype that the Dead and their post-Jerry Garcia spinoffs were little more than country-rock noodlers, a travelling museum of tie-dyed ’60s nostalgia. Lesser-known components of the Dead’s sound – pastoral folk, avant-garde noise, prog complexity, jazz-level improvisation – come to the fore as artists interpret more obscure pieces of the Dead’s long history. “We wanted to explore some corners of the Dead’s catalogue that people don’t know about,” says Aaron Dessner, guitarist for The National and organiser of the compilation. “We wanted to shine a light on the songwriting as much as we could, but also the experimental aspects of the Dead, and do that across their whole history, from early output to latter-day Dead, and the last great songs they wrote.”

The Allman Brothers Band – Live From A&R Studios, New York

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The Allmans became New York City’s adopted house band in 1971, thanks primarily to Bill Graham, who booked them into the Fillmore East whenever possible. On August 26, two months after headlining the venue’s closing weekend and a month after the release of their breakout LP At Fillmore East, the bandmembers set up as they would for a session in the big tracking room of Phil Ramone’s A&R Studios for a live broadcast on free-form New York station WPLJ, with the renowned producer personally recording the set to eight-track tape.

During the 67-minute performance, the road-tested, high-revving band were firing on all six cylinders, emphatically displaying their unique approach, a seamless fusion of tightly structured roadhouse blues and adventurous, musically elevated improvisation at once primal and sophisticated. The Allmans’ instrumental makeup – two guitars, two drum kits, bass and keys – and their ability to launch into epic explorations out of the song framework had been pioneered by the Grateful Dead, but nobody, not even the Dead themselves, could touch this heady, virtuosic crew on the concert stage, as denizens of the Fillmore East had discovered to their mind-blown delight during the previous year and a half.

The broadcast has been heavily booted from compressed off-the-air recordings, triggering endless debates among the fanatics as to whether the A&R Studios performance rivals or trumps the At Fillmore East and closing Fillmore shows. Now, with the first official release of the recording, newly mixed from the multi-tracks, we can finally compare them on a level playing field. Ramone’s sound is tighter and drier than Tom Dowd’s bright, reverberant Fillmore recordings, bringing a greater sense of intimacy to the interaction, and mix engineer Suha Gur has wisely placed Duane Allman and Dickey Betts’ guitars to the left and right channels, respectively, bringing enhanced drama to their enthralling give and take, and inviting headphone geek-outs. Unlike their stage setup, the players arranged themselves in a semicircle, enabling them to closely follow each other’s moves, rendering the interaction even more nuanced. The resulting performance is as close to perfection as the original lineup ever achieved.

Bandleader Duane Allman’s setlist for the broadcast mirrored what The ABB played in their live performances throughout 1971, but the climactic “Whipping Post”, which stretched to 23 minutes on At Fillmore East, was dropped because of time restraints. You can sense the players warming up their musical muscles on the standard set opener, Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues”, before kicking into gear on Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More”, with its strutting groove and howling dual slides, which leads into a taut and fiery take on Gregg Allman’s “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’”.

In the Layla-like money solo that propels the number to its wild-ass payoff, Duane pulls back hard against the beat as if he had stick-um on his Coricidin bottleneck, and the band slows the groove right in sync. Here you get the distinct sense, which continues through the rest of the performance, that Duane is conducting the band with his Les Paul and his body language. Gregg switches from B3 to piano on Elmore James’ “Trouble No More”, the combination of his barrelhouse plinking and the second-line groove transporting the song from Chicago to New Orleans. The guitar interplay is especially delectable on a scalding run-through of the James-penned “One Way Out”, as Betts progressively jacks up the establishing riff while Duane darts in and out like an agitated wasp.

At this point, the band further ups the ante. Berry Oakley provides the glue throughout a sublime take on Betts’ instrumental “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” with a percolating bassline that’s mathematically precise, McCartney-like in its melodiousness and deeply funky, as the band seamlessly rolls through the instrumental’s shifts in tone, texture and intensity. For my money, this is the definitive live version of the piece.

Gregg’s vocal and Duane’s slide solo conspire to bring a captivating soulfulness to the T-Bone Walker slow-blues mainstay “Stormy Monday”, deepening the mood at a serendipitous moment, just before Duane steps up to the mic and spontaneously pours his heart out in tribute to R’n’B sax great King Curtis, who’d been stabbed to death in front of his Manhattan apartment two weeks earlier. Duane and his fallen friend had done a lot of session work together, and both had played with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends during a previous WPLJ broadcast.

After raving about Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder’s performance of Curtis ’64 classic “Soul Serenade” at the funeral, Duane decides on the spot to do the song and figures out on the spot to combine it with Willie Cobb’s “You Don’t Love Me”, which the Allmans regularly performed, though it hadn’t been part of the night’s setlist. Thus begins a stunning 19-minute musical exorcism during which Duane leads his bandmates through the stages of grief in a medley that stands as one of the most emotionally withering performances of his all-too-brief career. From there, they close the set with a rendition of the band-composed “Hot’ lanta”, reaching a free-jazz-like intensity in an ecstatic expression of release.

The A&R Studios set would be Duane’s final performance in the city where he’d cemented his greatness. Two months later, on October 29, the 24-year-old artist died when he lost control of his Harley back home in Macon, just after cashing his first ever royalty cheque.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

The 20th Uncut Playlist Of 2016

Some songs that may, in a small way, act as a balm in these times of fear and derangement. Please especially check out the new tune from Scott Hirsch, who some of you may recognise as the regular bassist/engineer in Hiss Golden Messenger. Following William Tyler, Phil Cook et al, he’s the latest member of the extended Hiss family to branch out solo: if you liked the Golden Gunn collab with Steve Gunn, or indeed JJ Cale, this one may well be for you…

Follow me on Twitter @JohnRMulvey

1 Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (Dead Oceans)

2 The Avalanches – Wildflower (XL)

3 Rosali – Good Life (Siltbreeze)

4 Tamam Shud – Evolution (Anthology)

5 Psychic Temple – Plays Music For Airports (Joyful Noise)

6 Head Technician – Zones (Ecstatic)

7 Marielle V Jakobsons – Star Core (Thrill Jockey)

8 Hans Chew – Unknown Sire (Divided By Zero)

9 Chris Abrahams – Fluid To The Influence (Room40)

10 Cass McCombs – Mangy Love (Anti-)

11 The Skiffle Players – Skifflin’ (Spiritual Pajamas)

12 Various Artists – Quiero Creedence (Decca)

13 Haley Bonar – Impossible Dream (Memphis Industries)

14 Teenage Fanclub – I’m In Love (PeMa)

15 Christine & The Queens – Chaleur Humaine (Because)

16 The Grateful Dead – Live At Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO 7/8/78 (Rhino)

17 Scott Hirsch – Blue Rider Songs (Scissortail)

18 Danny Brown – When It Rains (Warp)

19 Sarathy Korwar – Day To Day (Ninja Tune x Steve Reid Foundation)

20 Horse Lords – Interventions (Northern Spy)

21 Rafi Bookstaber – Late Summer (Woodsist)

22 Cool Ghouls – Animal Races (Melodic)

23 Sam Coomes – Bugger Me (Domino)

24 Natural Information Society & Bitchin Bajas – Autoimaginary (Drag City)

25 Hieroglyphic Being – The Discos Of Imhotep (Technicolour)

Anohni – Hopelessness

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As the 2016 US Election looms and the possibility of a President Trump draws closer like the clack of jackboots on a marble floor, the consensus from the centre-ground of American politics is that Barack Obama has done a reasonable job under difficult circumstances. But as the outgoing President visits Cuba and dances the tango with Michelle in Argentina, it pays to be reminded that, when considering the exercising of American might, a deeper and more nuanced story is there to be told.

On “Obama”, the sixth track on Anohni’s new album, Hopelessness, the artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty reads from the charge sheet: spying, execution without trial, the punishment and banishment of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. “Obama, Obama, Obama,” she chants. The backdrop is a miasma of pulsating bass and distorted radio static, but her tone is neither excoriating nor abrasive. Instead, “Obama” feels like a sort of contemporary spiritual: an aching lament for the optimism of 2008, and what happens when that collides with pragmatism and realpolitik. “All the hope drained from your face,” sings Anohni. “Like children we believed…”

Anohni is the new identity assumed by Antony Hegarty, the England-born, New York-based transgender artist and musician who came to wider attention when she won the Mercury Prize for I Am A Bird Now in 2005. The change in name coincides with a shift in style. Past records as Antony & The Johnsons have explored a sort of rich, operatic chamber music, but Hopelessness tears all that up like old linoleum, setting Anohni’s fluttering falsetto amid beats and electronic textures, hard and soft.

Assisting Anohni here are two new collaborators, Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke. Oneohtrix – real name Daniel Lopatin – is a Brooklyn-bred arch conceptualist whose avant electronica, influenced by philosophy and internet culture, has been dubbed “vaporwave”. Hudson Mohawke, meanwhile, is Ross Birchard, a Glaswegian producer who has ascended to the top table of hip-hop and R&B production, making beats for Kanye West and Azealia Banks, amongst others. This is, of course, not the first time Anohni has worked with electronic musicians: her friend Andy Butler invited her to sing on Hercules & Love Affair’s immaculate disco throwback “Blind”, a genuine UK Top 40 hit in March 2008. But Hopelessness seizes on this new sound palette of glimmering synths and boom-clap beats with gusto.

The first thing that hits you about Hopelessness is its sense of urgency. This is an album about rapacious consumerism, environmental destruction, the brutality of conflict, and our personal culpability in all of the above. But while you might fairly call some of Antony & The Johnsons’ past work introspective or esoteric, this album is bright and immediate, grabbing you by the lapels and demanding a response. Take opening track “Drone Bomb Me”. A whoosh of effervescent swells and snapping beats, it finds Anohni exploring images of masochism and Christ-like martyrdom. “Blow me from the mountains/And into the sea…” she sings. “Blow my head off/Explode my crystal guts/Lay my purple on the grass…” It is hideous and beautiful, both at once.

This sort of imagery – of extra-judicial killing, self-sacrifice and the brutal exertion of power – recurs throughout the album. “Execution” is a tenderly sung paean to state-sanctioned killing that finds Anohni pleading “have no mercy on me/Please don’t have mercy…” On “Watch Me”, a song about creeping surveillance, she serenades a Big Brother-like “Daddy” who has all her best interests at heart: “I know you love me/’Cause you’re always watching me.” Meanwhile, “Crisis” surveys the brutal recriminations of the War On Terror. In the hands of some, the breadth of its empathy might come across as naïve or facile: “If I tortured you brother, in Guantanamo/I’m sorry/Now you’re cutting heads off/Innocent people on TV…” But the song’s deeper message – that cycles of violence can only be broken by love and forgiveness – is difficult to fault, and it’s hard not to get swept up in those glittering plumes of electronics that guide the song to a gospel-tinged climax.

If sonically speaking, this feels like a clean break from Antony & The Johnsons, there are also plain points of continuity. On 2009’s The Crying Light, Hegarty drew lines between queer identity and the green movement, songs like “Everglade” and “Dust And Water” finding succor in the rhythms and geometries of nature. Hopelessness takes this affinity with the natural world and twists it into glossy trauma. “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth” rages vainly against the forces that destroy our environment: oceans clogged with plastic, “the rotten bodies threaded gold”. On “Marrow”, human bodies are defiled: oil sucked from skin, hair burned, faces injected with chemotherapy. But perhaps the record’s most remarkable moment is “4 Degrees”. Taking its name from the amount climate scientists project that Earth will have warmed by the year 2100, it is deeply moving, conjuring terrible visions of animals “lying, crying in the fields” to an apocalyptic rhapsody of horns and booming war drums.

If the imagery employed on Hopelessness is often unflinching to the point of abhorrence, it merely highlights the terrible positions that we sleepwalk into daily. It also insulates the album’s message against accusations of finger-wagging or preachiness. If the world is fucked, Anohni is quick to acknowledge that she – and by virtue, all of us – are culpable. On “Drone Bomb Me”, calling down that firestorm she sings: “Let me be the first/I’m not so innocent/Let me be the one/The one that you choose from above/After all, I’m partly to blame…” The title track states its guilt more bluntly: “How did I become a virus?”

It may have been easy, in the past, to sideline or typecast the music of Antony Hegarty: this is niche music, outsider songs for safe spaces. But Hopelessness is bigger and bolder than that – an accessible album tabling the big questions, the sort that few artists and fewer politicians dare to tackle. Like all of Anohni’s music, it is a call for a shift in consciousness, to a warmer, more empathetic way of thinking – and one that feels more pressing than ever. Generous of spirit and cutting-edge of sound, Hopelessness is a statement for our times, and one that will not be easy to dismiss.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page appear in court over “Stairway To Heaven” dispute

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Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have appeared in court in California to deny plagiarising elements of their 1971 track “Stairway To Heaven”.

Page and Plant are being sued by a trust representing a founding member of the band Spirit. Representatives of the Spirit guitarist Randy California, who died in 1997, claim that Led Zeppelin borrowed a distinctive down-picked guitar progression from the 1967 track “Taurus” when writing of “Stairway To Heaven”.

You can listen to the track below.

The BBC report that the band’s lawyer, Robert Anderson, claimed that the progression in question was a “descending chromatic line… something that appears in all kinds of songs”. It is a “commonplace” musical technique which “goes back centuries”.

Mr Anderson added: “[Page and Plant] created Stairway To Heaven independently without resort to Taurus or without copying anything in Taurus”.

The same BBC report describes Page and Plant as “relaxed and attentive” during the court case, stating that Page even “leaned back and closed his eyes, his head nodding gently” while the courtroom was played a recording of his 1971 track.

The trial is scheduled to last four or five days.

Robert Plant was forced to cancel his appearance at the Meltdown festival in order to attend the proceedings.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

Bon Iver announce Hollywood Bowl show with Patti Smith

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Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver have announced a one-off headline date with Patti Smith at California’s Hollywood Bowl.

The show will take place on October 23, with Patti Smith & Her Band and Hiss Golden Messenger also on the bill. The show marks Bon Iver’s first headline gig in America since the band’s appearances at the 2015 Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin.

This follows the band’s brief string of Asian dates, as well as four acoustic performances at the Sydney Opera House’s VIVID Live series. You can watch professionally shot footage of “Michicant”, “Heavenly Father”, and “Creature Fear” from these gigs below.

After announcing the news and details of a presale on Instagram, the band’s newly designed website seemed to crash with demand. The band tweeted: “sorry for any technical issues but everything is up and working now”.

Patti Smith, meanwhile, is currently on a world tour, performing her 1975 album Horses in full. On July 1, she will bring the performance to London’s British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

Paul McCartney pays tribute to Wings guitarist, Henry McCullough

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Paul McCartney has paid tribute to Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, who died aged 72.

McCullough died on Tuesday [June 14] after a long illness. His live music agent Nigel Martyn said the guitarist never fully recovered from a severe heart attack suffered four years ago, reports The Guardian.

In an official statement, McCartney said, “I was very sad to hear that Henry McCullough, our great Wings guitarist, passed away today.

“He was a pleasure to work with, a super talented musician with a lovely sense of humour.

“The solo he played on ‘My Love’ was a classic that he made up on the spot in front of a live orchestra.

“Our deepest sympathies from my family to his.”

McCullough grew up in Portstewart, Northern Ireland. As a member of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band, he performed at Woodstock and his later credits include work on albums by Roy Harper, Marianne Faithfull, Eric Burdon and Donovan; he also appeared on the original cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar.

His 1975 solo album Mind Your Own Business was released on George Harrison‘s Dark Horse label.

McCullough’s voice can also be heard at the end of Pink Floyd’s song “Money” from The Dark Side Of The Moon.

He also briefly played with Dr Feelgood, following the departure of Wilko Johnson.

McCullough played with Wings from 1971 – 1973; among the songs be appeared on were “Live And Let Die”. He left just as the band were about to release Band On The Run following a disagreement with McCartney; though the two men later reconciled.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

Introducing Uncut’s Ultimate Music Guide to The Beatles

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Early April, 1965. The Beatles are filming Help! at Twickenham Film Studios, South-West London. After a day’s work, John Lennon and the Melody Maker’s Ray Coleman lock themselves into the Beatle’s Rolls Royce. The road is blocked with fans, but the chauffeur cuts a swathe through the screaming crowd as they take swings at the car. “The way I see it,” says Lennon, “is that they bought the car, so they’ve got the right to smash it up.”

It is hard – even now, over five decades after it all began, and 50 years since “Revolver” was released – to overestimate the impact, strangeness and delirium of Beatlemania. The pages of NME and Melody Maker are full of frequently mind-boggling stories, as Brian Epstein allows reporters to be embedded into the band’s entourage, engineering an intimacy that also ensures the Beatles’ charm will shine out of every issue. The band didn’t just make better and more inventive records than their contemporaries, they gave better and more inventive interviews, too. The Beatles didn’t just revolutionize music, they revolutionized the business of stardom, of how celebrities might behave, and how their audience might relate to them.

This is the substance of our revelatory Ultimate Music Guide to The Beatles: an incredible cache of features from the archives of Britain’s massively influential music papers. As is our current habit, we’ve upgraded the previous edition into this new deluxe model. It’s on sale in the UK on Thursday, but you can now grab a copy of The Ultimate Music Guide: The Beatles from our online shop. In there, you’ll find week-by-week reports from those epochal American tours: Chris Hutchins spends a day on Allen Klein’s yacht with the Stones (“Then Jagger played Bob Dylan’s latest single ‘pressed secretly for us eager maniacs’ and danced on deck in the extrovert style that identifies him onstage”), before heading over to Shea Stadium and the Beatles’ dressing room.

Alan Smith hitches a lift from Bedford with Paul McCartney and ends up having an all-night session in a random Bedfordshire village, needling Macca into describing himself as “pleasantly insincere”. And mere weeks before his death, Brian Epstein gives a remarkable interview to MM’s Mike Hennessey. Over a few swift years and a fistful of old magazines, you can trace the evolution of music journalism as well as the Beatles, as a new candour about drugs and sexuality gradually replaces the PR-controlled boosterism of old.

There is, of course, plenty more in these 148 pages, not least sizeable reviews of every Beatles album, filed by Uncut’s current team of writers. It’s a considerable challenge to find fresh perspectives on this most analysed of bands, but hopefully we’ve found some new angles to approach the preposterous riches of their catalogue. After all, as John Lennon complains in a 1965 interview with Melody Maker, “People talk a load of rubbish about us…”

 

 

 

“Chips” Moman dies aged 79

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Lincoln “Chips” Moman, the songwriter, producer and studio owner responsible for countless hits that came out of Memphis in the 1960s, has died aged 79.

According to a report on Memphis, TN news site The Commercial Appeal, Moman died at a hospice facility in his hometown of LaGrange, Georgia on Monday [June 13]. The news of his death was confirmed by Memphis Mafia member, Marty Lacker.

Born in 1937, Moman was discovered when he was 17 by Sun Records artist Warren Smith. Moman went on to become one of the architects of Stax Records, recording the label’s early hits by Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and William Bell.

He split with Stax in 1962, and set up Memphis’ American Sound Studios.

Between 1962 and 1972, American Sound Studios produced more than 120 chart records. Under Moman’s guidance, the studio house band — guitarist Reggie Young, drummer Gene Chrisman, pianist Bobby Wood, organist Bobby Emmons and bassists Mike Leech and Tommy Cogbill — worked on hits for Dusty Springfield (“Son Of A Preacher Man”), Neil Diamond (“Sweet Caroline), Bobby Womack (“Fly Me To The Moon”) among many others.

Elvis Presley recorded “Suspicious Minds”, “Kentucky Rain” and the From Elvis in Memphis album at American Sound Studios with Moman.

Moman also co-wrote (with Dan Penn) Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and James Carr’s “Dark End of the Street”.

After American Sound Studios closed, Moman relocated to Nashville and became a songwriter and producer. Among his credits, he produced the Highwayman, the supergroup comprised of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

The Associates – The Affectionate Punch/Fourth Drawer Down/Sulk reissues

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The brilliant, frustrating career of the Associates is not short of myths. Summon a Top Of The Pops clip of “Club Country”, their second hit from May 1982, and the captions will suggest that the band used to record with cups of coffee taped to their heads, while “at least one of their songs was recorded in a bath.” Famously, singer Billy MacKenzie, a breeder of champion whippets, kept a hotel room in London for his dogs. He had a Rolls-Royce, because it was good for his voice. Sometimes in hearsay the Rolls-Royce is expanded to a fleet of classic cars, sometimes it’s the burgundy 1962 Mercedes 220 SE convertible the Associates bought as a company car, to save on taxi fares. In truth, bass-player and producer Michael Dempsey was the legal owner of the Merc, and he confirms that MacKenzie did take the wheel once, crashing into a fence.

The symbolism is too obvious. But if the career was a beautiful car crash, what about the wreckage? What about the music? The Associates proper made just two albums and one compilation of experimental singles. MacKenzie kept the name after he and his musical co-conspirator Alan Rankine split in 1982, but the essential work was a result of the supernatural chemistry between the two men, coaxed into its fullest expression with the assistance of Dempsey, who has overseen these reissues, bringing new clarity to the records. (The albums are expanded to double CDs, too, though all but a handful of the extras have been released previously.)

Sulk, we know, is an unfinished cathedral rather than a flawless masterpiece, but it has never sounded better. The sonic approach to that record – start with the hook, throw in the kitchen sink and keep on building – suggests it could have been a victim of the production excesses which have rendered so many 1980s pop records unlistenable. But the Associates were often perverse, always askew. They embraced contradiction. The rhythms sound out of time, even when they aren’t. The tunes are bright, the words are dark.

Dempsey suggests now that the Associates weren’t a typical ’80s band, but had more in common with the experimental pop of the ’60s and ’70s. Check the punky cover of Barry Ryan’s grandiose 1968 hit “Eloise”, an early demo. “That was us connecting with all that we loved about ’67, ’68, all these pop records like The Love Affair, ‘Rainbow Valley’ and Paul and Barry Ryan,” says Rankine. “All these big bombastic records – they had big brass, they had big strings, and if it wasn’t Phil Spector, it was still quite a wall of sound.”

Those aspirations may account for the Associates’ ambivalence towards their first album, The Affectionate Punch, which they made twice, somewhat pointlessly. When they announced their arrival with an impudent cover of “Boys Keep Swinging”, their debt to Bowie seemed obvious. The strangeness of their version of the song has grown more pronounced, and Punch no longer sounds like a Bowie tribute. In the light of what was to come, it feels understated, but the components are in place. Musically, it is playful, as Rankine rolls out cinematic soundscapes for MacKenzie’s icy lyrics. It’s all a bit sci-fi (“Logan Time”), gender-fluid (“A Matter Of Gender”, “A”) and quietly compelling. The despair of “Even Dogs In The Wild” is delivered as a finger-snapping torch song with a siren guitar and a whistling solo. What’s most notable, thanks to Dempsey’s studious remastering, is how vibrant it all is.

The group left Fiction after their debut, but stayed on for six months in the flat provided by the label in St John’s Wood, recording singles for Situation Two as a means of keeping afloat in London.

“We had somewhere nice to stay but absolutely no means of getting food, sustenance, nothing,” says Rankine. “So we were going around nicking the milk off Paul McCartney’s doorstep, and nicking the rolls that were left outside the corner shop.” The compilation of those singles, Fourth Drawer Down, is an extraordinary document on which the sense of mystery deepens, and the commitment to sonic experiment becomes more pronounced. “Kitchen Person” is a rolling thundercloud of gloom and exultation within which the flamboyant, charismatic MacKenzie appears to be examining shyness, while Rankine assembles a soundtrack soaked in exotic menace; the manic mood, in this pre-sampling era, was created by playing at half-speed and then running the tape at full-tilt. “Tell Me Easter’s On Friday” is a stumbling, extraordinary procession, and there is no obvious comparison to the song’s marriage of Rankine’s far eastern motifs and MacKenzie’s shower-stall croon, but you can just about detect a thematic empathy with Joy Division. But “Easter” is followed by the instrumental, “The Associate”, which is like the theme to a non-existent ’60s spy thriller. So that would be Joy Division channelling John Barry in outer space.

Then there is Sulk, on which the group’s splendour is fully realised. It is ornate, unsettling, joyous and playful. For years, Dempsey worried it had become unlistenable, thanks to unsympathetic mastering. “You’d take it into the master room, and the guy looks at his meter and goes white; he doesn’t know what to do with it, and usually he would err on the side of caution.”

Caution now safely abandoned in the remastering suite, Sulk is revealed as a glorious tapestry of sherbet and fizz. Rankine is clearly in his element, piloting a journey into sound, and MacKenzie has settled into his role as a purveyor of intrigue. They have the cheek to rework the cursed suicide song “Gloomy Sunday” as an electronic croon (and get away with it), but nothing compares to “Party Fears Two”, which is that contradictory thing, an anthem of ambiguity. It’s about emotional dread, or nervous breakdown, or fear of commitment, or something, and it sounds like pure joy; almost as if, for Alan Rankine and Billy MacKenzie, the glorious anxiety of pop music was a way of making beauty out of doubt.

EXTRAS 7/10: Each album has second CD of rarities. Sulk has five previously unreleased tracks, including two produced by John Leckie. Sulk is also available on 180g vinyl.

Q&A
Alan Rankine and Michael Dempsey

What were your impressions on first meeting Billy MacKenzie?
ALAN RANKINE: I heard him a couple of weeks before I met him. He was a diffident character. Quite aloof. He seemed like a fish out of water. Coming from Dundee to Edinburgh he was quite self-preserving until I got to know him a bit better, but that took place over just a couple of days.
MICHAEL DEMPSEY: I half-joined while I was in the Cure. The Cure were on the same label, Fiction, so we’d meet in the bar at Morgan Studios. I also remember meeting them up in Edinburgh, though I can’t see how. I remember meeting them in a bedsit, and sitting round a Dansette record player, with Chris Parry, the Cure’s manager. The Cure were there as well, Robert and Lol, and we were listening to the record the they made, Boys Keep Swinging. Straight away I was impressed.
RANKINE: I remember when Bill came down to Edinburgh. I had a flat I was sharing with my girlfriend – and Bill had to stay where the rest of the band was staying. He came to me after two days, and he said, “Man you’ve got to get me out of here, I cannae take it any more, there’s too much testosterone.” Within two days, Bill was sleeping on the couch in the lounge, and we were listening to Giorgio Moroder and the Munich Machine. So we were absorbing all of that, and Low and Heroes, and the stuff that was happening with Eno and Fripp. Bill and I had so many things to draw on. We loved the cinematic stuff. We loved the way that you could play with people’s emotions. At the same time there was a pop sensibility. Bill and I used to warm up in the studio and we’d do “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by the Stones, or “Brown Sugar”, and Bill would be camping it up, and suddenly we’d just shift and we’d be doing “The Look Of Love” and Bill would be imitating Dusty Springfield.

What was the balance of power in the studio?
DEMPSEY: I never saw Bill and Alan disagree about doing anything. They had an instinctive understanding. Billy would hum whatever he wanted, and within a couple of seconds, Alan would be barking out the chords.

Were you under pressure to have hits?
RANKINE: There was no pressure. “Party Fears Two”, the bulk of that was written back in ’77. But we knew we couldn’t use it in ’77. Nor ’78. Nor ’79. it would have just been a waste. We had to wait until the time was right. Even when it came out it didn’t sound like anything! All of it is just slightly askew. It’s slightly unsettling, but somehow it draws you in. Listen to “Club Country”: “The fault is, I can find no fault in you” as an opening line, and then as the closing line of the chorus: “Every breath you breathe belongs to someone there.” That is quite dark. This is us not wanting to play the game. This is us not wanting to suck on the cheesy foreskin of corporate rock.

The singles on Fourth Drawer Down had an experimental quality.
RANKINE: We were recording stuff like “Tell Me Easter’s On Friday” and “Q Quarters” from 9pm on a Sunday evening, to 9am on a Monday morning. That seemed to bring out this kind of dark quality in the music. On “Message Oblique Speech” and “White Car In Germany” I’m using a water-filled balloon on the strings. It always seemed to me that feedback, if you could control it, was good, but every time you got a good note you had to stop the string in order to get a different note. And this was a way of not stopping the string, you could just roll the balloon around. I would call it “tit speed”. It’s like when you stick your hand out the window of a car and you’re going between 55 and 65 miles an hour and you clutch the air. That’s tit speed. It’s the only way I can explain it. It’s like a really nice tit.

Did Billy want success? He seemed to work hard to undermine it.
RANKINE: Bill liked the good things in life. I just think he wanted it on his terms. But there were aspects of it that didn’t sit well with him. Like having to do the things you have to do.
DEMPSEY: Bill came from another planet. But he named the band the Associates for a very good reason – he told me this – because he liked the free-flowing association of people. He got bored quickly. He wanted to do the opposite of what was expected of him. He was contrary. That makes life difficult, but it makes for good art.
INTERVIEWS BY ALASTAIR McKAY

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

Rod Stewart knighted in Queen’s Birthday Honours

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Rod Stewart will become a knight as part of the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours. The list, this year featuring 1,149 people, also recognised Brian Blessed and Janet Street-Porter.

“I’ve led a wonderful life and have had a tremendous career thanks to the support of the great British public,” the BBC reports Stewart as saying. “This monumental honour has topped it off and I couldn’t ask for anything more”.

Stewart now joins his contemporaries Sir Tom Jones and Sir Mick Jagger in knighthood. In an interview with Radio Times in 2013, he expressed confusion at the timing of their honours, and his indifference towards knighthood: “Well, Mick doesn’t pay taxes here, and Tom lives in America. If my time comes, it will. And if it doesn’t, I’m not bothered.”

Stewart will play three nights at London’s The O2 in November as part of his Another Country tour.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

AC/DC launch their own range of tequila

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AC/DC are to release their own line of Tequila, available later this year.

The band, who last week were the first band to headline London’s Olympic Stadium, have teamed up with Mexican distillers Fabrica de Tequilas Finos to release a “fine” spirit, made from organically-produced 100% Blue Weber agave, called Thunderstruck.

Bev.net reports that the spirit will come in Silver, Reposado and Añejo varieties. It’s scheduled for an American release this year, priced between $29.99 and $39.99.

This isn’t AC/DC’s first venture in the beverage market.

They already have their own French-brewed lager, a “Back In Black” Shiraz, as well as a “Highway To Hell” Cabernet Sauvignon, which blends the aromas of ripe berries, wood aromas, chocolate, and peppermint and a “High Voltage” energy drink.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

The Best Films Of 2016: Halftime Report

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John’s blog on the Best Albums Of 2016: Halftime Report reminded me I really should put together this list of my favourite films so far this year.

Six months in, and we’ve seen a pretty decent crop of films this year. There’s been particularly strong work from some of our favourite filmmakers – Charlie Kaufman, Jacques Audiard, Richard Linklater, Ben Wheatley, Whit Stillman among them – as well as an astonishing debut from Béla Tarr’s former assistant, László Nemes.

I appreciate I’m probably in a minority when it comes to a couple of these – Knight Of Cups! – but I should emphasise this is a personal list. That said, I’d welcome any feedback – and it’d be good to hear your own films of the 2016 so far…

Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner

A Bigger Splash
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Anomalisa
Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

Bone Tomahawk
Directed by S. Craig Zahler

The Club
Directed by Pablo Larraín

Dheepan
Directed by Jacques Audiard

Everybody Wants Some!!
Directed by Richard Linklater

Hail, Caesar!
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

High-Rise
Directed by Ben Wheatley

Knight Of Cups
Directed by Terrence Malick

Love & Friendship
Directed by Whit Stillman

Miles Ahead
Directed by Don Cheadle

The Nice Guys
Directed by Shane Black

Rams
Directed by Grímur Hákonarson

The Revenant
Directed by Alejandro Iñárritu

Son Of Saul
Directed by László Nemes

Spotlight
Directed by Tom McCarthy

Trumbo
Directed by Jay Roach

Victoria
Directed by Sebastian Schipper

When Marnie Was There
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Youth
Directed by Paul Sorrentino

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

Watch Neil Young play “If I Could Have Her Tonight” for the first time since 1968

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Neil Young played “If I Could Have Her Tonight” for the first time since 1968 on Friday, June 10.

Young, who is currently on tour with Promise of the Real, performed the song at the First Direct Arena in Leeds – scroll down to watch footage.

He played the song again the following night at London’s 02 Arena.

The song is from Young’s eponymous solo debut.

Previously, Young had only performed the song once, at the Canterbury House, in Ann Arbor, Michigan on November 9, 1968. That version appeared on the 2008 album, Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968, which was part of Young’s live Archive Performance Series.

Look out for Uncut’s new issue, with an extensive new Neil interview, out soon…

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

John Grant on his best albums and finding his voice

As anyone who’s watched Grant’s magnificent solo career develop across his solo albums will tell you, Grant specialises in bracingly honest songwriting. These LPs have brought commercial and critical success to the notoriously self-critical Grant. But before this solo acclaim, there were The Czars – the band Grant formed in his hometown of Denver, Colorado with Chris Pearson (bass), Jeff Linsenmaier (drums) and guitarists Roger Green and Andy Monley. Here, Grant talks us through his career – both band and solo. “One day, I’ll learn to separate the feelings from the music,” he says. Originally printed in Uncut’s January 2014 issue (Take 200). Interview: Garry Mulholland

________________________________

The Czars
Moodswing
Velveteen, 1996
Welcome to The Czars: purveyors of fine arthouse indie tunes. Self-released, this was recorded in the basement belonging to the producer’s mother.
475a5dac02aa4310842f7ddbecd2db2cJOHN GRANT: I haven’t listened to Moodswing since the day it came out. I don’t really listen to my old music. I was in this hostel in Reykjavik recently and “The Hymn” from the Goodbye album came on while I was sitting there having my dinner. It was like having a conversation about diarrhoea while eating a plate of chilli. The producer on Moodswing was Bob Ferbrache, along with the band. Bob is a bit of a Denver institution; he’s done a lot of stuff with David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower. He was very eccentric… a bit tricky. But he really loved me and I liked him and we had great conversations about movies because we both loved Fassbinder and Herzog. He lived in his mother’s basement and had a studio there where we recorded the first two albums. We didn’t know shit about anything. I was scared shitless to sing in front of anyone. You had to just drag everything out of me ’cos I didn’t feel I had the right to do anything. My singing is very mumbly because I didn’t want people to know what I was talking about. Some of the old stuff I’m really proud of. The reason it’s painful to listen to is because of who I was and how much I didn’t like who I was. The rejection I received when I was young for being a homosexual… that’s nothing compared to the number you do on yourself when you’ve been taught that you are not a human like other people.

Jack White jams with Pearl Jam

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Jack White appeared on stage with Pearl Jam last night (9 June) during their surprise performance at his own company Third Man Records in Nashville.

He played guitar for the rendition of their song “Of The Earth”. The band only played nine other songs, including a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive”.

The gig was an impromptu warm up to Pearl Jam’s headline set at Bonaroo festival this weekend – and was before an audience of just 200.

See pictures below:

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

 

Ringo Starr opens up about “great, kind and loving” George Martin

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Ringo Starr has spoken about George Martin.

Speaking to Rolling Stone, he said: “He was great, and kind, and loving. And understanding of four punks from Liverpool. At the beginning he was the boss. It was so crazy, he was the only man who could press record.”

He was asked whether he had learnt any production tips from Martin, who died in March of this year, to which he replied: “Not really, but I suppose, subliminally, everything – you know what I mean? But I don’t think, ‘Oh, George would have done this,’ or ‘That’s how that goes.’ I just get on with it, really.”

Starr described Martin as “always being at a higher level” than the four and said he was a “great match” for them, adding: “We were lucky to get him.”

He also relayed an anecdote about Martin initially bringing the band songs from other writers for them to cover in the early years (given that being the norm of pop music at the time), but they convinced him to allow them to sing their own songs. “It was very ballsy of us as a new act to think, ‘No, no, we want to do Lennon and McCartney songs,’” he said.

Starr’s All-Starr Band has just kicked off their US summer tour.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

Paul McCartney releases 360 degree photo of tour

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Paul McCartney released a 360-degree photo to Facebook last night, coinciding with the launch of the social media site’s new 360-degree photos app.

The photo was taken on his One On One tour in Argentina at Alberto Kempes Stadium – and is just the first in a series to be released by him.

The post accompanying the picture reads: “Paul in 360° at the Alberto Kempes Stadium in Córdoba, Argentina on 15th May 2016. This is Paul’s first tour photo using the hashtag #OneOnOne360 – there will be more to come…!”

By clicking on the photo, Facebook users are able to see more details as the picture wraps around the screen.

The app allows users to post photos taken “in the round” – and McCartney, along with NASA and The New York Times, was among the first to test the feature.

The photo is just one of a number of high-tech promotional tools he’s incorporating. He also launched a six part Virtual Reality documentary series called PURE McCartney VR to coincide with the release of his compilation album today (10 June).

The European leg of the One On One tour will come to an end on June 30, before restarting in the US in Milwaukee, Cleveland, on July 8.

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

“I just don’t listen!” An audience with Neil Young

“I just don’t listen,” says Neil Young. He is considering the capricious turns his career has taken and whether, along the way, he has ever listened to any advice offered to him by his fellow musicians. “Many years ago, I was touring in England, maybe 1973,” he continues. “I was playing Tonight’s The Night. We had an opening act, The Eagles. Glenn Frey said to me, ‘Why are you destroying your career? You have this incredible record that came out [Harvest], and everybody loves it. Now you’re singing about heroin and overdoses and cocaine and gunshots and blood all over the car. What are you singing this stuff for? Why do you do this?’ There’s no answer. I don’t have an answer.”

Young is currently in the prestigious surroundings of his UK record company, Warner Brothers, for a bespoke event to launch his latest album, Earth – a tremendous live set recorded on tour with his current backing band, Promise Of The Real. Taking place in a bright, airy space in the middle of the building, which also doubles as the company’s canteen and bar, the event consists of a Q&A followed by a playback of the album. The audience consists of journalists, band members and crew and a smattering of celebrities including Noel Gallagher and the actress Caroline Catz.

High up on a wall – decorated to emulate the sleeve for Pink Floyd’s album The Wall – hangs a large photograph of Young, intended to promote tonight’s event: ‘An evening with Neil Young’. In the photograph, Young is depicted wearing a grey suit jacket and a white hat; he looks spruce and clean-shaven, with his muttonchops neatly trimmed and his eyes bright and clear.

“The guy in that picture, he’s scary,” Young says, gazing at this image of his younger self. “That was a long time ago.” He points at his face. “This is now.”

‘Now’ – aged 70, that is – Young is wearing a black t-shirt with the word ‘Earth’ emblazoned on it. Over that, he wears a grey check shirt while a black hat barely restrains his hair, which is gradually turning white.

Earlier, Young has been 20 minutes late arriving – caught in traffic on the motorway, it transpires – and while we waited, Weld – Young’s 1991 live album with Crazy Horse – was played over the stereo system. It might seem a little unfair to stack an album as storied as Weld next to his current live effort. But hearing Weld so close to Earth helps put this new album into valuable context. Both records find Young and his backing bands at their most rapturous and expansive. Promise Of The Real sound not unlike Crazy Horse, and deliver the crunching riffs, deafening major chords and harmonies that have typified many of Young’s best records.

While Weld offered a pleasing summary of Young and Crazy Horse’s many peaks together, Earth has a different agenda. Recorded on last year’s Rebel Content tour, Earth brings together songs from throughout Young’s career that address his lengthy, quixotic history of eco-activism, stretching back to 1970’s After The Goldrush.

“This album is a natural progression of things that started in my head maybe 5 or 10 years ago,” Young explains. “I started thinking about the concerts that I’d done, the songs that I’d been singing for some years and how I’d come round to focus on things that I think matter now more than my own personal life. So I decided that I’d try to put these songs together – the songs that represented something – in a tour.

“I was in the studio listening to live recordings that I’d made. I listened to 25 shows, which ran to 2 ½ to three hours. I listened and listened and picked the tracks that we liked, and those are the tracks that make up Earth. When I listened to all these tracks, that’s when it came to me what I was doing. That if I chose these tracks, we were going to be singing about this thing for years.”

As anyone who has followed Young’s career recently will have noticed, he has taken issue with the McCorporations who dominate the agricultural industry. On his last album, The Monsanto Years, he levied a sustained attack against the with agrochemical giant and their patronage of genetically modified seeds.

“In the short run, coffee gets you going,” he says. “But after a while, you have another cup and it’s like any drug, you start taking it. That’s what they’re doing to the land. At first, it seems more productive because its jacked out of its mind, it’s completely going off. After a few years, it can’t sustain that, so it’s over. What’s the solution to that? Luckily, the scientists have come up with the idea that you just use more of the product, then everything will be fine. So more pesticides.”

The purpose of Earth, says Young, is straightforward. “I wanted to say something on behalf of the animals and on behalf of the organic things on earth that are being polluted by all of these GMO seeds and the diversity that we’re losing through all this.”

Among the album’s highlights are several tracks that have not been performed live since the early Seventies, including “Vampire Blues” and “Hippie Dream”. The former, from On The Beach, is an assault on the rapacious oil industry. Young dates the song: “1973,” he says. “‘Sucking blood from the earth’. It sounds good. ‘I’m a vampire / sucking blood from the earth / give me 20 barrels worth’. That’s cool. Over time, it turned out not to be so cool. Not cool at all.”

Hippie Dream”, meanwhile, reflected Young’s increasing dissatisfaction with the way the Sixties’ ideals had become corrupted. The line, “Just because it’s over for you / doesn’t mean it’s over for me”, was reportedly directed as David Crosby, who was then struggling with a heavy drug habit.

“That was me speaking to a drug addict that was wasting a lifetime,” Young acknowledges. “But it’s not what songs are about. People say things because they feel them, but if you really feel it, really believe it, then everybody everywhere feels that you really believe what you said then they apply it to their lives. It’s not precisely what I was talking about. They have a feeling, they can latch onto that as being authentic and real then they can actually ride and go wherever they want to go with it.”

“I’m a rocker,” concludes Young. “I just sing what I believe and what I’ve learned. I’ve studied it, I’ve spent a lot of time doing that and I take it very seriously.”

EARTH is released on June 17 by Reprise

Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner

The July 2016 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Prince, plus Carole King, Paul Simon, case/lang/viers, Laurie Anderson, 10CC, Wilko Johnson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Gunn, Ryan Adams, Lift To Experience, David Bowie and more plus 40 pages of reviews and our free 15-track CD

Uncut: the spiritual home of great rock music.

Brigid Mae Power reviewed

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In early 1993, the 4AD label released a boxset dedicated to their in-house supergroup of sorts, This Mortal Coil. Within its exquisite art-goth packaging sat four CDs: the first three albums by the band plus a compilation, which corralled all the original versions of songs they’d covered. That disc, featuring Gene Clark, Chris Bell, Tim Buckley and Pearls Before Swine among others, was an exceptional act of curation by 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell. It presented a strand of classic singer-songwriters whose work was at once personal and other-worldly, their music ready to be remade as something that would conform to the label’s ethereal brand identity. Here, the rawest human emotions could be aestheticised, with bespoke “Filigree And Shadow”, and without losing any of their visceral impact.

 

Brigid Mae Power, a remarkable new artist from Ireland, is not much familiar with most of that canon; she has only recently heard Mary Margaret O’Hara, a very useful point of reference. But as soon as her first album for Tompkins Square begins, Power seems to be instinctually channelling that heritage. “I’d cling to these beautiful things, immerse myself in their feelings,” she sings rapturously and, though she’s specifically referring to “the seaweed on the beach, the sun falling down over the sea,” it feels like she could just as easily be invoking a pantheon of spectral influence. The song is called “It’s Clearing Now”, built around the most indolent of acoustic strums, a string arrangement that blurs the horizon like heathaze, and Power’s ineffably graceful, sometimes wordless, ululations. It manages to recall both Elizabeth Fraser and Tim Buckley, while never sounding much like the point they historically intersect – This Mortal Coil’s version of “Song To The Siren”. It’s also the sort of piece that encourages dazzled hyperbole: I can’t imagine hearing a song I’ll like more in 2016.

Power, it transpires, has been making music of comparably rarefied beauty for a few years now. On Bandcamp, you can find a wealth of her early efforts, often recorded in churches and underground car parks, the sessions underscored by ambient noise leaking in from the world outside. The locations suggest a certain conceptual affinity, since Power’s work often has the resonance of liturgical music, and is delivered with a generally uncompromising sense of minimalism and verite. In fact, they were the products of expediency, of recording on a non-existent budget, in pursuit of architectural reverb to give the songs an unostentatious grandeur. A version of the traditional “My Lagan Love” is emblematic, just a creaking harmonium and Power, sounding extravagantly forlorn, far in the distance.

“Brigid Mae Power” brings this talent into focus, taking her from the empty spaces of Waterford to an actual recording studio, The Sparkle in Portland, Oregon, that belongs to the artist and producer Peter Broderick. Given the uncanny charms of Power’s early work, it’s a risky transition, but fortunately these songs are enriched by the process, and neither overburdened nor over-finessed. On “Let Me Hold You Through This”, over a pump organ that evokes the solemnities of early sacred music, Power’s declaration of unmediated love for her five-year-old son is in no way diminished by Broderick’s harmonies.

He does, though, deploy himself sparingly, appreciating the singularity of Power’s vision and the intimacy which contributes so much to her appeal. “Looking At You In A Photo” finds her alone at the piano, meditating on a picture of the child she has brought up alone. He is in his paddling pool, “so happy”, but Power remembers her own contrasting emotions: “I was so tired and lonely.” The infant, she believes, could see she was faking contentment, in the midst of people “who weren’t for us/Though they claimed to be.” It is one of Power’s many gifts that she can render sublime what seems on the page to be awkward, diaristic writing, and she also has a knack of tagging her poignant tales with upbeat conclusions. “We came through it, sweetheart,” she consoles, at the end of “Looking At You In A Photo”.

“Sometimes” is similarly unadorned – again, nothing more than Power and the piano – and even more moving. “Sometimes I just want to collapse into you,” she begins, before losing conventional vocabulary for a while and articulating a state of mind that is both transported and hesitant. Eventually, she ventures the second half of the line, “But I don’t know if you want me to.” The song works carefully towards a resolution, where she can finally trust those welcoming arms as secure.

Like “It’s Clearing Now”, “Sometimes” encapsulates the album’s subtly-implied theme of struggle and doubt transcended, of better times coming slowly into view. At the climax of this hugely satisfying album, Power even gives us that rarity: a happy ending, via a laugh and a dreamy, Karen Dalton-ish folk song called “How You Feel”. Before her words dissolve again into a minute or so of post-lingual harmonies, the last line is one of blissful reassurance: “I feel safer,” she sings, “than I ever have before.”

//

Q&A

UNCUT: What music influenced you? Do you come from a folk background?

BMP: Yeah, I grew up playing traditional music from quite a young age, I played the accordion and was exposed to a lot of different types of music. I was always trying to find my own way of singing, but when I heard Tim Buckley it was like a light went off. It allowed me to sing how I wanted to.

Can you explain what “Looking at you in a photo” is about?

I’ve been a single mum for five years and it’s given me lot of stuff to write about. A lot of tough times happened, and you don’t really get that many people writing about motherhood. But it’s such a huge thing to be responsible for someone, there’s a lot of doubt comes up, and I think I work through that in the songs.