Thursday 15 November 2012

Clandestine Classic XXXI - Dalliance (live)

SeamonmstersThe thirty-first post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirrelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I love The Wedding Present. They're right up with Morrissey as acts that I've seen live the most. In fact tomorrow they'll claim that number one spot for themselves outright, as I go to watch them perform their album Seamonsters in its entirety.

Seamonsters is a funny old album. Released a barely creditable 21 years ago, in the eyes of many it really crystallised a more evolved Weddoes sound. The pure jingle jangle of George Best and Tommy had been left behind, as had the attendant C86-ers it attracted and, via the stepping stone of Bizarro (also bloody excellent, since you ask), David Gedge and his ragged, oft-changing band arrived at this heavier, more intense sound. Vocals were even lower in the mix, if that was possible. Trademark bittersweet Gedge lyrics became still darker. There is enough fuzz and feedback to satisfy anyone in their right (or wrong) mind, perhaps unsurprising with Steve Albini at the helm. All this and more - darker, heavier, brooding. Still recognisably Wedding Present, but not the bright jangly Wedding Present of their earliest recordings. This is a Gedge more cynical, more world-weary, more fatalistic/pessimistic/realistic/all of the above. And it's solid too - this, more than any Weddoes album before or since, feels coherent and stands as a unified body of work.

All of which makes choosing a track from it for today's Clandestine Classic more difficult. I was going to choose Dare first, then Lovenest, then Octopussy, then Dare again. And they are all beyond great. But in the end I chose Dalliance. Why? Because it is the archetypal Seamonsters track - heavy, dripping with menace in it's dark lyrics, full of fuzzy guitars and just the lightest jangly motif to remind you who you're listening to, and with vocals hidden down in the depths, only truly revealed with headphones. And what lyrics! Witness the chorus where Gedge sings:

But do you know how much I miss you?
It's not fair after all you've done
That I'm so...
I still want to kiss you.

As John Peel famously once said, "The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong!" And this is a love song... but not of the hearts and flowers variety. More of the bitterness and resentment variety, telling the tale of a love gone bad from which one partner has moved on and one has not. Even the dalliance of the title is ironic, given the broken romance referred to was seven years long, not just a fly-by-night thing. Ironic or, perhaps, just one more twist of the knife.

You can find the original version of Dalliance on the remastered and expanded version of Seamonsters. However, in honour of the fact that I'll be watching Gedge and company perform this live tomorow night, and because a fair proportion of this blog's regular readers are quite likely to have heard Dalliance already, here's an excellent quality live recording, courtesy of the mind-boggling mystery that is YouTube.

Monday 12 November 2012

Sarah Dobbs on the art of Killing Daniel...

Killing Daniel by Sarah DobbsKilling Daniel by Sarah DobbsI know, I know, two interviews in a month. But don't worry, the sky's not about to fall or anything. It's just that this month has seen the launch of Killing Daniel, a rather fine book by a rather fine author, Sarah Dobbs. I don't want to give too much away just yet, so maybe a review will have to wait for a while, but what I can say is that I can't think of too many books that are set in Manchester and Japan, nor can I think of too many books that open with a murder so distinctively (and unsettlingly) described. Got your interest yet? Good. I can also add that this is far from vanilla crime fiction - it is contemporary, literary fiction, struck through with Sarah's memorable descriptions and beguiling prose style.

So you get the picture? This is a book that needs to be read. Want to know more about the author first? Well then, you're in the right place, as Sarah was kind enough to give me this interview between launches...

New Amusements: As an introduction, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sarah: I'm a writer - I think I'm just about allowed to say that without a little flutter of not-really-but-I'll-pretend-until-it's-true! My novel, Killing Daniel, was published by Unthank Books on 5 November. I also write short stories, some scripts. I also teach, paint, take photographs, stroke cats, lust after dogs, not in a weird way. Get drunk on two glasses of wine (as that poor lady I wobbled into at the recent launch might testify!) This be my public apology.

NA: What is your book about?

S: Essentially, a teenager called Daniel dies and in some way the novel is about the implications of that on the girl he loved. She becomes obsessed with tracking down his killer. I suppose that's the 'thrillerness' about the novel. But it's also about loss and friendship, the power of the past and the choices we can make in the way we live our lives. It's a hopeful novel, despite a quite difficult and dark subject matter.

NA: When and why did you begin writing?

S: I was half this size and the reasons are many. The ones I'd allow to be googled forever are this:

  1. My mother wanted to write books, I sort of got it in my head that I'd complete that ambition.
  2. I was big into all the point horror as a kid. They never ended the way I wanted them too. All these unhappy endings, no no no. I wrote the endings I wanted in my head. I suppose it goes on from there, wanting to write a book that completely satisfies me as reader. Not that this one does, perfectionism, big positive and negative for writers.

Sarah reading from Killing Daniel at the Norwich launch eventNA: What genre do you prefer to write in?

S: I don't care. I want to write something that either starts off as, or becomes, an obsession.

NA: What is your biggest writing achievement to date?

S: Aw, I would say Killing Daniel (the novel). I was pretty proud of getting a story on the BBC a few years ago, the Ghost in the Mechanic. I thought it was all going to snowball from there. It did not.

NA: What inspired you to write Killing Daniel?

S: Ah, yes. I wanted to tell Daniel's story. I wanted to write about Japan. Explore a culture I didn't know at all and perhaps get to know one I knew vaguely and one I knew well (I hope I'm still talking English!)

NA: Who is your favourite author, and what is it about their work that strikes a chord with you?

S: I'll respectfully be greedy here. I have a thing for the Murakamis (Ryu and Haruki). Some I love, some not. I like translated fiction - I suppose there's something that grasps me about the gaps between how something can be told in one language and in another. What story do we get? I think that's mimetic of the process between text and reader. I also sucked up Ray Robinson's Electricity. The detail is gritty and gorgeous. Maybe it struck a chord because of the way I thought (I was an MA student back then!) I could, or wanted, to write. Ditto Graham Mort. His prose is a puzzle of layers, the details rendered like a Rothko or a Turner, depending.

NA: What book are you reading now, and would you recommend it?

S: I'm reading Carys Bray's 'Sweet Home' a short story collection that is not sweet. Yes I flipping would. It's scarily well written, very well controlled and thoughtful. I was so pleased I bought it - I think it'll make my short story teaching so much easier!

NA: What are your current projects?

S: I'm sketching out something secretive but brilliant (she says), working on a screenplay with a friend, drawing together a short story collection and just generally plodding on.

NA: Where and when do you do most of your writing?

S: I flipping built myself a sleek writer's room complete with two desks that hug half the room, inspirational photographs and comfy chair. But I do it on the couch. In front of Gray's Anatomy. I know, it's a shame.

NA: What would you say was the hardest part of writing your book?

S: Getting the right way to tell it. Killing Daniel went through so many drafts, so many POV changes, loss of characters, addition of characters, a million different endings, a million different reader perspectives. Out and out nightmare. Which is why I wore a sparkly dress on launch night. You're damn right I'm celebrating!

NA: Who designed your book cover – and was the cover something you deemed important?

S: Tommy Collin designed the cover and many other lovelies, such as Killing Daniel postcards and fortune cookies. I kid you not. That was cool. But yes, I was a bit of a pain in the arse when it came to the cover. I can see why some publishers might not include authors too much on the process. I wanted it to match my vision (I know I sound like a pleb here, but it felt so important). Eventually, Tommy came up with a cover that matched his vision, and then I realised I had a new vision. It's gorgeous.

NA: Where can we buy the book?

S: Amazon, iBook, Waterstones, Powells, Barnes and Noble and from Unthank direct

NA: Do you have a website or blog where we can keep tabs on you?

S: - please pop round for a visit. I'm nice.

NA: Your best advice for other writers?

S: Write what you need to write. It won't work otherwise and also, it's a bit pointless, isn't it?

NA: And, finally, do you have anything else that you’d like to say to everyone?

S: Support small publishing! Can I say that? I feel like I should be wearing a cape with Unthank across the chest. They've worked tirelessly on this. Plus it's one of the ways that unconventional and brave writing gets a chance. You might never go back... :)

So there we are - a great book by a great author. Do me a favour, go and buy it now, and I promise I'll leave this interviewing lark to pro's, and get back to writing about music. Deal?

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Vote Obama! And Nina Baker!

If you're American hopefully you've voted once today already, and in the right way. Either way, stick around, maybe I can convince you to cast another vote too...

Beguiling songstress Nina Baker - a Kate Bush without the leotard [Photo (c) 2012]Earlier in the year I went along to the small but perfectly formed Reepham Festival where I saw, amongst others, a certain Nina Baker. She was performing in the church, an atmospheric venue well suited to her soaring vocal style. Nina is a singer-songwriting pianist, so comparisons with Kate Bush and Tori Amos are, naturally, obligatory. Personally, I think there's a touch of Aimee Mann in there too, and that can only be a good thing.

As I write this, Nina is on the shortlist for MTV's Brand New Unsigned 2013 competition, and needs your votes to win (hence the somewhat shameless Barack-referencing headline, in an attempt to attract more readers). If the Bush/Amos/Mann comparisons aren't enough reasons to vote Nina, let me add that she is a beguiling performer and, in an age of identikit, Cowell-moulded, X-Factor bland fly-by-nights, her talent and songwriting are both original, honest and refreshing. An on top of that, she seems like a lovely person too, being kind enough to grant this humble blogger an interview. And here it is...

New Amusements: Hi Nina. Let's start with a bit about you - the bio, if you like. Where are you from, how old are you, when did you start singing/playing, and how long have you been performing?

Nina: I am 25, born and bred Norwich girl who resides in sleepy Wymondham and not so sleepy Leamington Spa. I have been performing on stage from a fairly young age, but only started playing the piano when I was 14 when my grandmother bought me one for my birthday. I was a singer in a few function bands after university, but in 2010 I thought that I would get up there with my piano and perform solo. Not looked back since!

NA: Being a female, piano-playing singer-songwriter with a soaring vocal range, I bet you get compared to Kate Bush a lot (not least by me). What other comparisons do you get?

N: I get a whole number of comparisons – Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Regina Spector, Alicia Keys, Ellie Goulding, Alannis Morrisette, Adele, even Leona Lewis – it depends what I am singing, when and where I am singing, sometimes my sets are very mellow, sometimes they are very peppy, other times they are just belting from start to finish! Depends when you catch me!

NA: Are such comparison flattering or can they be obstructive?

N: Fantastic to be compared to such wonderful artists. Though in many ways I do not want to be compared to others as my voice is certainly not the norm and stylistically I like to think that I am a little different. Sue Marchant of BBC Radio, who I respect immensely as an oracle of all music, often refers to the "Nina Baker sound", which is as high a compliment as you can pay me.

NA: And what of your musical influences? Who do you listen to in the car? What do you belt out in the shower?

N: I was brought up to the East-End singing of my Grandmother and the Motown collections of my parents. This has clearly influenced my song writing which despite the genre switches has roots in the soul and blues camps. I don't tend to sing in the shower, I do enough of that on an evening! I'm proud to say that in the car I don't listen to music, I am a big fan of Radio 4 - their plays are brilliant!

NA: You're currently nominated in MTV's Brand New for 2013 poll. How did that come about, and how have you found the experience?

N: My manager has contacts at MTV Europe and they made him aware of this competition, so we talked about it and decided to enter it with hours left till the deadline. We put up a video that we recorded with the band at EPIC Studios only days before and we were not were not expecting anything to come of it. Was shocked to make the list and since then it has been an utter rollercoaster of emotions. Excitement at being selected, appearing in the press, on tv and radio coupled with absolute terror wondering what will happen! On top of this I have been touring with my band, so we have been travelling lots, promoting the MTV vote during the day and playing hard at night - I'm exhausted quite frankly!

NA: Has being in the MTV poll led you to think differently, or try anything new, in how you market yourself and your music?

N: I have certainly changed my way of thinking, I have been more of a marketeer than a musician over the past few weeks. I have never been one for self-promotion, I like to let the music and others do that. But in a competition so tight, with the rewards so potentially high, everyone you meet can be an influence on your destiny. This competition will come down to individual votes I am sure, so getting individuals to vote has been all I have been focussed on. Very hard when you are a solo performer and you do not have other people to spread the load. Fortunately the response I have received from the community and on social media has been brilliant and they have really kept me in this competition when at the beginning many didn't think that I had a chance.

NA: What can we expect from your forthcoming album "Quite Frankly"?

N: The best album of 2013! No, in all seriousness it will be a fantastic album, we wanted to create the 2013 version of "Jagged Little Pill" and I am confident that we have done that, in no small part due to the tireless efforts, creativity and vision of the band (Simon Dring, Fredy Solstice, Adam Moore, Owen Morgan), my management and I. From start to eventual finish it has taken two years, it has 13 tracks of all shapes and flavours from the upbeat stuff that will make you want to dance to the haunting anthems that will leave you stunned and feeling empty. We have a cross-pollinated rock, jazz, skiffle, pop, blues, classical, swing, it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but please trust me, it works! Listening from the album from beginning to end you are taken on a real journey and we have aligned the tracks to take you by the hand on this path of highs and lows. We have over 300 people who have featured on the album, we have brass sections, string sections (supplied by Bellowhead), the Voxettes, the Ebbw Vale Male Voice Choir, The Kings Gospel Choir and even my producer Nick Brine (Artic Monkeys, The Darkness) with some leg-slapping. It's an epic production and a really good listen - no fillers!

NA: My first experience of you playing live was at this summer's Reepham Festival. What have been your most memorable live performance experiences?

N: Reepham festival was a highlight in many ways as I played in a beautiful church as a duo with my guitarist Adam Moore, that will certainly be one of my memories of the year. But in terms of best live performance of the year it certainly has to be at The Jam House in Birmingham, the music venue owned by Jools Holland. I was already fairly nervous being asked to play there as I know how particular they are with their artists. I was also playing solo which ratchets up the pressure that much more as there is nowhere to hide and no room for error. But what really set the stage was that I was part of a night for female singer-songwriters and the standard was just out of this world.......and I was the headline act! No pressure there then! As a performance it was the most perfect and most complete show I had ever done, in that moment I managed to capture the years of practising & performing hundreds of times and my stage craft was as polished as it could be. The crowd loved it, I gained a lot of fans that day and in the coming weeks I was invited back to perform, with my band, and again we delivered our best performance to date.

NA: Talking of playing live, according to your Twitter feed your rider is tea and scones. And in "Single Bed" you sing "I'm happy just me, with my bourbons and tea." There's a definite theme emerging here! So if you could meet anyone, from any time, for tea and cake, who would it be, and why?

N: I am a huge fan of Rowan Atkinson and John Cleese, to have either of these round for a cuppa would be the greatest day ever. There is a little old lady in my village that makes cake and sells them in the local shop - I would buy one of these, most probably the banoffee sponge, which provides the most incredible attack on the senses!

NA: And finally... anything you want to add? Any message to the readers of this blog?

N: Basically.....Please vote for me! I am just a humble girl from Norwich with a piano. I don't have a huge marketing machine behind me, nor a wealthy benefactor, everything I have done has been self-funded and I have reached this level through sheer hard work and undying determination over three years. Not had a day off in that time, it has been all work. I would love to have that big break to make the lives of my band and manager that little bit easier and the album is dedicated to someone very special to me and so it needs to succeed. This competition could be life changing for many people, so please vote and please tell your friends! Xx

You can find out more about Nina at and, more importantly, you can vote for her at MTV's Brand New Unsigned 2013 competition right here. Please make sure you do, before voting closes on the 12th of November. You'll be doing a favour for a real talent, and taking a stand against the homogenisation of the charts too, so exercise your right to vote... exercise is good for you, after all. Your reward is this fine video...