It Was Acceptable In The Nineties #6 – Jane Weaver

This interview was one of myweaversmall first for The Big Issue, and as I remember our chat didn’t exactly generate a mountain of scintillating copy. I put that down to my inexperience and think some additional interviewing must have happened before publication. This might explain the weird bit of Kate Bush-bashing at the end. Whilst not a fan of Bush at the time, I don’t remember actively disliking her, or Peter Gabriel for that matter! Weaver is one of the few performers I interviewed who’s still active today. Looking up her discography , it seems I spoke to her just before she recorded her solo debut album ‘Supersister’ in 1998. However, the death of Manchester Records boss Rob Gretton soon after stymied Weaver’s plans for that album and it  remains unreleased.

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Ask any number of singers what drives them to perform before a room full of strangers and you’ll probably be met with initial bemusement and then the assertion that it ‘just feels right’. But when Jane Weaver began her career at college in Liverpool, singing cover versions at revue nights, she didn’t have that luxury; it didn’t feel right at all.

“People would say ‘You’ve got a sweet voice, get up there’. And I used to hurl in the toilets before going on, I’d be shaking really bad”, remembers the now self-assured singer as she watches the world go by through the windows of Manchester’s Dry Bar. Luckily for the lining of her stomach, things have changed as Weaver has grown more accustomed to performing live. “I don’t hurl, but I still get nervous”, she laughs, drawing on an ever-present cigarette. “Being on stage is dead scary but it’s quite thrilling”.,

That heady shot of adrenalin propelled her in front of a microphone with erstwhile indie contenders Kill Laura. The combination of gritty power pop and Weaver’s implacable tones gained them a live reputation to be reckoned with, and a bit of radio airplay. But like many others before, the band were dropped by their record label. Although initially devastated, the experience hasn’t dampened Weaver’s craving for the pop life.

‘Cinnamon Brow’ – Kill Laura (John Peel Session)

“At the end of the day it’s a business and you do have to separate yourself from that and not let it affect your creativity”.

But it’s only natural that after such a rejection you would want to take stock and figure out what you’re going to do with yourself and it was the same with Kill Laura. By the time they were finished, singer and band had parted company, with it seems the archetypal ‘creative differences’ playing their usual role.

“I couldn’t do a lot of acoustic stuff, because there wasn’t a lot for the band to do” she explains reasonably. “I wanted more of a free rein to what I wanted. I think as a solo artist you can do that, you can have the album with a lot of different sides to it. It’s a lot more difficult in a band”.

Even so, poised to record her first solo album, there’s still a question mark over exactly where Jane Weaver wants to roam. The big, raggy-arsed guitars and nomadic melody of the new CD Scream and Shout aren’t a million miles away from the muscular fret-stomping of her first single We Are Modern. Up against her more recent interest in electronic music, leans the strength of long-cherished guitar heroes like Neil Young and Teenage Fanclub. It’s possible even Weaver doesn’t know where she’s going yet, but whatever route she chooses, it’s feeling and not technique she values.

“I don’t know what I’m playing half the time: I make up chords”, she says, candid to a fault. “I’m frightened of learning what I am playing because I might start thinking about it too much”.

Again, it’s the answer you’d expect from a songwriter anxious not to strangle her muse. Weaver’s attitude to writing lyrics is completely the opposite, comparing it unfavourably to school homework.

“They come at the very last minute, at the eleventh hour. When I’m in the studio, they’ll go: ‘Right, vocal takes’ and I’ll go ‘Can you give me another ten minutes until I’ve actually written them?’ I ended up waking up in the middle of the night, writing a chorus and then going back to sleep, I was so worried that I had to finish all these songs”. And songs are what truly matter to Jane Weaver.

All the singers Weaver lists as heroes are women notable for doggedly pursuing their individual musical path through great songs: Patti Smith, Courtney Love, Kate Bush. Kate Bush?

“The first album I ever got was The Kick Inside, she remembers, lighting up another fag. “I wanted to be Kate Bush. It was just so weird and bizarre, watching her on telly dancing about”.

A Kate Bush fixation we can handle, just so long as she doesn’t begin working with Peter Gabriel. [see what I mean? AM]

 

 

 

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It Was Acceptable In The Nineties #5 – Soundtrack Of Our Lives

Preparing for this interview meant getting a new passport, as I was supposed to fly over to Stockholm to speak to the band. Only after I’d shelled out did the record label’s PR let slip that it would only happen if the interview was syndicated nationally across all editions of the Big Issue.

So instead I applied a stick-on mic to my phone handset, ‘Tinker Tailor’ style, and talked to bass player Kalle Gustafsson…incidentally, I may be a bit slow, but I’ve never got the apostrophe pun in the headline. Anyone?

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sool

While a crowd of British bands sit cross-legged at the end of the century party, trying to suck a last lungful from the collapsed roach of Sixties rock, Sweden’s Soundtrack Of Our Lives possess the underground intelligence required to spark the joint back to life [I had a real downer on Britpop at the time, can you tell? AM] Even so, bass player Kalle Gustafsson isn’t one to intellectualise.

“It’s the music we like the most; it doesn’t matter if it’s new or not. It’s nostalgia, the  music you grew up with when you were a kid” he offers, before contradicting himself. “With some music it doesn’t matter if it’s good, so long as it’s old, like Abba!” Quite.

Extended Revelation, the follow-up to their epic 20-track debut Welcome To The Infant Freebase, may try out all manner of outlandish musical gear from the Sixties and Seventies, but SOOL have learnt what sounds good on them and ignore the obvious totems of the era.

The Kinks and the Stones get a nod, but more dues are paid to West Coast American rock and the roughed-up blues of Captain Beefheart and the Doors.

“It’s more like that whole period”, says Gustafsson, coming clean. “Many people have accused us of stealing things, but it’s taken with love”. That’s all right then.

Luckily, this fondness for all things Sixties doesn’t extend to the stupefying chemical excess that poisoned the arse end of that decade – Soundtrack Of Our Lives are nothing if not a clean-living bunch.

“You don’t want to go into that rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle but if you’re on tour it’s hard not to do that”, admits Gustaffson. “We’re not really impressed with that kind of thing. Anyway we’re too old!”

All well and good, but you shouldn’t be fooled by these protestations of senility. If nothing else, the decision to release their next single Avenger Hill Street Blues via the internet shows that SOOL have been keeping up with current events. [Ee, I remember when my modem had to stop to take on more coal!  AM]

Out in the real world, the band stamp the boards with the unhinged glee of eternal teenagers, egged on by their astonishing front man Ebbot Lundberg.  His burly frame resplendent in a vintage kaftan, he gives the onlooker the impression of a contemporary John The Baptist hitting the disco biscuits.

Gustafsson explains the front man’s appeal: “We really want to give the audience something. Ebbot is quite a legend in Sweden because of Union Carbide” he says, adding unnecessarily, “He’s very confident live”.

The rest of the band shares this full-blooded charisma, the result of apprenticeships in other outfits – in particular the aforementioned Union Carbide Productions and playing every rock dive in Sweden. Twice. As a result, SOOL seem to like nothing better than to put the wind up unsuspecting headliners. They regularly outplayed Hurricane #1 (no hard feelings though: “It was very good vibes” says Gustafsson), made Kula Shaker sound like Lieutenant Pidgeon and, rumour has it, scared off at least one major name band who couldn’t risk being blown off stage. Now they sound good and ready to leave the beer-soaked dance floors behind.

“When we were playing with Kula Shaker it was in really nice venues for about 2,000 people and they don’t exist in Sweden. You can’t let a rock audience into those places because they’d smash the whole place up, they’re so drunk and crazy”, Gustafsson laughs.

Soundtrack of Our Lives are about to tour this country with fellow Swedes, The Cardigans, which wil not only see the band play in prestigious venues like the Royal Albert Hall, but also give them the chance to move on from the Welcome To The Infant Freebase songs, which they’ve been relentlessly promoting, even after Extended Revelation had been released in their home country.

“I’m not tired of those songs,” insists Gustafsson. “Some songs need time to mature: it might take two years to find out the right lyric. It doesn’t matter if it’s five years, if the song comes out good”.

In pop music, five years is a lifetime and Gustafsson [could] sound foolishly unassuming. Yet beneath the surface lies an implicit confidence: Soundtrack Of Our Lives fully expect to be around in five years time, but want their music in your head long before then.

 

 

“I Don’t Have Any Heroes, They’re All Useless”

A review of the Sex Pistols Experience gig at the O2 Academy, Sheffield, 30/5/14.

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Sex Pistols Experience photo courtesy of Mark Watterson

There were times during the Sex Pistols Experience last night, where it really did feel like 1976 again. Was it the ear-shredding metallic volume, the sweat, the spilt beer, or the audience’s dodgy personal politics? A week after elections swept xenophobic, bigoted UKIP candidates to power on a fearsome wave of….nine percent, the semi-super annuated crowd at this gig meet singer Rotten/Nathan’s teasing about ‘looking German’ with un-ironic jeers, also served up for the mention of the French. The anti-Johnny Thunders tirade of ‘New York’ (“Ya poor little faggot!”) elicits ‘Ooh ducky’ limp-wristed gestures from the front row. Meanwhile, drunk heterosexual men whip off their shirts and wrestle sweatily in the darkness of the mosh pit.

Maybe that’s just Yorkshire for you. (Sorry, that’s “Yaaaaarkshire! Yaaaarkshire!”) Here to recapture a moment of blazing, angry youth, it’s impossible to ignore the baggage (and padding) the roaring one-time punks have acquired. Peering out over a sea of chrome domes shining with sweat, singer Nathan’s impeccable ginger spikes and flinty Rotten-stare hypnotise the audience back to the days of the three day week, while ‘Kid Vicious’ has perfected his namesake’s dorky rocker pout-and-sneer cycle and casual naming-of-lady-parts. If anything TSPE play better than the real thing, with birthday boy drummer ‘Paul Crook’ as with all drummers, missing the limelight at the rear, but anchoring the band’s attack. Meanwhile ‘Steve Clones’, resplendent in red jacket and white carnations combo does a fine job of conjuring the Pistols’ heavy, near metallic wall of guitar sound. (Not to mention these days bearing a passing and appropriate resemblance to a younger Ronnie Biggs).

There’s a definite art to a tribute band and an important part is attention to detail. The set begins with a B-side, ‘I Wanna Be Me’ and fits in ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ outtake ‘Belsen Was A Gas’, obscure track ‘Satellite’, (Vicious: “ Play the one nobody knows!”) and the Pistols’ favourite covers ‘Did You No Wrong’ and ‘What’cha Gonna Do About It?’ In the middle there’s a ‘Sid Sings’ interlude whilst Rotten goes a for a ‘shower and a shit’ and his back-from-the-grave bassist can chug happily through Eddie Cochran’s ‘Something Else’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’, morphing into a non-orchestral version of ‘My Way’. When Rotten fails to return, we even get ‘Silly Thing’. All that’s missing is Legs And Co to dance to it on Top of the Pops.

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Sex Pistols Experience photo courtesy of Mark Watterson

If that’s maybe a bit too much detail to recreate the Pistols’ heyday, what happens next actually comes close to completing the mid seventies experience, although without the actual spilt blood that would’ve been likely back then. If you’re the singer in a Sex Pistols tribute band, I’m pretty sure you expect and can soak up a fair amount of nostalgic verbal abuse and hand gestures, although these days flicking the V’s has been the victim of a transatlantic takeover by a rigid middle digit. Another US gig custom that’s made the leap across the pond is throwing beer. Pints of it, and not just by accident out of the mosh pit.

The guitarist takes a plastic pot to the head early on, but front man Nathan seems to be the focus of brewery showers, and from one particular perspiring Sontaran. He’s already chided a previous offender “’I get paid to be a wanker, you’re doing it for zilch”. but working his way through ‘Holidays In The Sun’, the Rotten thousand yard stare begins to look especially convincing, until he breaks off to argue with the chump, then said chump’s enraged girlfriend, after her consort has been ejected from the premises. A word in his ear from Vicious gets the front man back into the song, but when traditional set closer ‘No Fun’ grinds into view, the title repeated in a perfect imitation of Lydon’s robotic bark, you really feel he means it, man. The change in mood soaks into the crowd, who forget to applaud as the band leave the stage, and need Vicious to remind them that if they want an encore they’d better actually do their job and make some noise.

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Sex Pistols Experience photo courtesy of Mark Watterson

A ‘punk’ is USA prison slang for the passive sexual partner in the opportunistic homosexuality of confined men. Punk rock was named that as a label for the weak, skinny, oddball freaks who played angry rock music of the rejected and the outsider. When punk first began in the UK, it was cynical, nihilistic and rebellious, but also basically fun. It was only after the Pistols imploded that the individual punk aesthetic of ruined charity shop clothes and safety pins became streamlined into ripped blue jeans and painted leather biker jackets.That’s also when the unfashionable weirdness and silliness congealed into beery, sweaty machismo. Individuality and anarchy boils down into a rigid digit and airborne ale.

The Sex Pistols Experience make anti-heroic efforts to remind us what the original UK punks sounded like, and how their sly taunting managed to wind up people so successfully. The fresh-faced teenager I saw pogoing in his bright yellow ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ T shirt got the message. Some of the people like me who are just about old enough to have been there first time, maybe less so. Things are never what they used to be, mainly because we forget the details, or twist them to fit where we’ve ended up now. As TSPE depart, the kiss off line to ‘No Fun’ and the Pistols’ career is rewritten for our age of constant distraction and misremembered past.

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been tweeted?”