Monday, 13 December 2010

Pama International Interview

I caught up with Sean Flowerdew at one of Pama International’s last five shows and had a chat about the last ten years with Pama International, his label Rockers Revolt and The London Ska festival he will be organising. 

The first of last shows was in Newbury yesterday?

It was a kind of hometown show, I used to go to school there and our singer Finney still lives there. It was very enjoyable, a great venue and good crowd.

How come now after ten years it seemed to be a good time to take a break from Pama International?

I’ve been working solidly for the last ten years, twenty four seven, on Pama International and over the last couple of years we haven’t really done ourselves justice as a live band; we’re a good band but live we haven’t improved as much as our recorded sound or at the same rate. It’s also getting much harder for us, venues and promoters to make the money we each require from live shows as purse strings tighten. Ten years is a long time, I need to sit back and relax for a while.

Are you going to be focusing on your other projects?

Yeah Rockers Revolt will be releasing an album a month in 2011, it seems mad that no one is buying records anymore and we are releasing more than ever, but it’s good as long as we keep realistic about how many we expect to sell it’ll be fine.
I’m also concentrating on writing a lot more and will be doing some bits for the BBC, some writing with Lynval (Goulding) for his solo work and writing with a few of the older Jamaican guys we have previously worked with. So I’m going to be busier than ever.

How hard is it to balance the band and record label, does music end up dominating your life?

Yeah pretty much, Rockers Revolt was set up as a vehicle for Pama so we could cut out the middleman and would only have ourselves to blame if things went wrong. We did an album for Trojan Records and we sold more of them than they did but we have never had a single royalty from them. We have now started to sign more bands to the label so things are starting to look exciting.

Are there new signings for the New Year?

The first release will be by a band called Intensified who are celebrating their twentieth year. They make ska rocksteady and the album will include a documentary of their twenty years. Maroon Town are ska meets hip-hop meets funk meets latin. Lenny the Pama guitarist is in a band called the Sidewalk Doctors, which is a rocksteady thing. Babyhead and Pama International Meets The Mad Profesor (rewired in dub) have just come out making a strong end to this year. It’s been good we’ve got Pama meets Ron Tom on the way and he has just done an album for Roots Manuva, which was Mojo’s seventieth album of the year.

I heard you’re organising a ska Festival next year too?

The London International Ska Festival next Easter is taking up a hideous amount of time at moment. For the four days I’ve booked over a hundred and thirty flights and had to sort ninety visas and work permits for the artists from all over the world. It’s something ska music has needed for a very long time and I’m aiming to put it back on the map.

Do you listen to the newer breed of ska music or do you stick to the more traditional styles?

It’s an incredible music style, the festival aims to show where it came from with the early R and B through to the Jamaican innovators through to ska punk through to the people who are taking the influence on further.

How was being the first band in thirty years to release something on Trojan Records?

It was a real honour to be able to release something on such an iconic label. My only demand in the deal was to be able to use the Trojan logo on the release, that was the only thing I wanted to see. It doesn’t matter what the music sounds like the Trojan logo will encourage people to buy it as the label has such a strong reputation. It also opened some doors in the way of collaborations. It was an honour, but the business side was terrible, as the label has been passed onto different owners they have all inherited an amazing musical legacy but haven’t run the label in a way anyone gets paid. There must be classic records, which have sold thousands of copies, and the artists who recorded them haven’t received their dues.

Are there three records that have changed your life or inspired you?

The Specials – Ghost Town, I remember watching the video on Top of The Pops as a kid and thinking ‘wow, what is that?’ the imagery was so dark and it has such a memorising tune.

I’d have to pick a Madness track because as a kid I was a huge fan and was even in the Madness fan club.

I would have to pick some old soul track it would have to be something by Otis Reading, he was the greatest singer of all time. These Arms Are Mine or Pain In My heart, one of those two, they’re both brilliant.

Who were the last band you went to see?

For pleasure I saw the Skatalites, I hoped it would be great but it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. There were only two of the original band left, the drummer Lloyd Knibbs and the Sax player Leicester Sterling. They were nowhere near as good as when I last saw them back in the nineties. For me, because I love them so much it was disappointing, I usually try and manufacture bills to get support bands on I like as that’s the only chance I get to see people play.

Who would you recommend checking out? 

Not too sure on new acts, obviously everything on Rockers Revolt, we are going to put out something by Dave Wakely from the Beat. his first ever solo single is great and I’m playing a lot of that, I’m also playing some keys on a few tracks on the next King Blues album so I’m listening to them and they’re sounding amazing.

Talons Interview

How’s the tour been so far?

It’s been good so far we have mostly been touring on weekends due to work commitments and studying. It’s sort of worked out well cause in theory people come out on the weekends more so the gigs have been well attended. It’s slightly less fuel efficient, but the routing has been pretty good. It’s nice to spread it out and have something to look forward to every week.

You’ve just released the first record (Hollow Realm) and it seems to have been received very well (I haven’t read a bad word about it)?

From the reviews we have read the feedback seems to be positive, we are very pleased with it as a record and it’s great to see our hard work pay off. The weird thing is thinking of what to do next, after spending so much time creating a record we are happy with after deciding to take it seriously and work towards the full length.

How long did it take to record such a complex sounding album?

The process itself was over ten days in a residential studio in Wales; it was quite nice because we were purely recording from ten till ten every day. It was really good to do nothing but play and record music. Before we even went into the studio we had the track order and the whole album written as a piece of music. The concept had been considered and the way it would flow from start to finish had been planned. There was one track which we ran out of time to record in the way we had planned so it was recorded in a basement in Leeds. We were worried this would make it stand out and differ in sound from the rest of the album but fortunately it worked and a few people have singled it out as their favourite track. It’s an acoustic track and technically there’s only two of us playing on it.

How does that translate into the live show if only two of you are playing on it?

We are still in the process of working out how it will work live and we are trying to develop it into a full band sound. A the moment, of the eight tracks on the album we have played six live and the two that haven’t been tried are that one and the last track, which is ten minutes long. We are going to wait until we get into Europe before we drop the ten-minute track and hope people don’t say ‘that’s so boring’. With the two people song it would be nice to keep it as a live treat and re work it for the full band.

Does the live and recorded sound have any variation?

Live we are far more brutal; although this is the first time a producer has got our sound properly. Obviously the recoding is clearer and you can here each part, and live you can only sound as good as the sound engineer at every venue.

To me the album sounds very theatrical and there’s a lot of suspense?

We like a lot of post rock bands but we wanted to take the best bits of what we are all into and try and break the loud, quiet, loud, quiet formula. We always say we are closer to post hardcore than post rock as the dynamics shift very quickly and obviously the violins add another element.

Where do you take influence as a band?

Everyone likes different music, there are classical influences on our violins along with a lot of folk. As a band we are all very into the National and Bon Iver who are both fronted by incredible voices.

Do you spend a lot of time together as a band?

We went on a night out together the other week and ended up in a nightclub where the first song we heard was Dido’s White Flag, which obviously went down a storm. We probably spend less time together now we have contrasting schedules with work and studies but we do enjoy each others company. We are having a lads day out watching Villa and Arsenal tomorrow.

Who would you recommend at the moment, Brontide seem to come up with every review as they are also instrumental but there isn’t a huge similarity between your musical styles?

We listen to Adebisi Shank and Fuck Buttons as far as instrumental music goes, but we have a wide range of influences.

Do your varied influences ever cause arguments?

We only argue about music together when it’s a band on the van stereo. When it comes to the creative process we debate with each other but we have never had a proper argument over any part of a song. We’ve always been really happy with the out come of everything we’ve recorded.

If you could record a film soundtrack to any film ever what would it be?

Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls! But seriously Twenty Eight Days Later. People have said you should soundtrack the next Batman film or the end of the world or whatever because we have lots of dark tension in our music. We would say some really horrible film, a David Lynch would be good. Twin Peaks would be amazing to soundtrack, the TV series would keep us working forever. It would be incredible to record forty hours of music. Inception wouldn’t be too far removed from what we are capable of making, there were dark harrowing moments we could emphasise.

3 albums that have inspired or changed your life?

We all have really specific music taste, Limb Bizkit – Significant Other as it made me realise heavy was OK, Bon Iver’s first album was amazing and I can’t think of a third record. Kid A by Radiohead is my last one as it’s a near perfect album.

Blink 182 – Enema of the State as it was the first album I bought, Weezer’s Blue album and probably Rage Against The Machine’s self titled. I don’t listen to any of these bands anymore but they are what made me get into music.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless, my favourite album, Secondly Sonic Youth – Evil and The Strokes – Is This It as it was the album that made me listen to alternative music.

It’s a cliché but Something About Airplanes by Death Cab (For Cutie), then Autolux – Future Perfect, of recent years Arse Factor Four self titled

3 Dollar Bill by Limp Bizkit was one of them, as when I was just getting into heavy music I sent my Mum out to buy me the new one and she came back with the first one which was a much better album. For similar reasons White Pony by Deaftones and finally Slipknot’s self titled album. I haven’t listened to any of them for over a year but they did all play a part in making me love music.

Sergeant Peppers by The Beatles was the first album I saved up to buy with my own money. Stop Making Sense by Talking heads and Red Medicine by Fugazi, which I first listened to when I was thirteen without realising how important they were.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Pama International Photo Special

All credit for the pictures to Andy Hall the full set can be viewed here

Pama International @ Soundhouse 28th November 2010

After starting my weekend watching brutally beautiful instrumental music I was heading to Birmingham to watch something completely different. Over the last ten years Pama International have been instrumental in the sound of ska, dub and reggae in the Uk and were the first band in thirty years to release a record on the legendary Trojan Records. The show was the second of the last five Pama International are playing before they take an indefinite break.

Despite having the services of Sir Horace Panter and Lynval Goulding of the Specials for their live shows, Pama International deserve to take all the plaudits as a band and after ten years of hard work they have earned the right to this.

After two reasonable support acts Pama International took the stage and caused the room to instantly fill out. The sign of a good band is to attract a vast range of fans, and the age range within the venue was great to see and showed that, despite being relatively young for a reggae or ska band, Pama had obviously balanced their sound perfectly.

The blend of soulful vocals, heavy bass, choppy guitars and smooth keys was enough to make you forget about the cold weather outside and transport yourself to warmer climates and better times. From the off it was apparent that despite it being time to take a break Pama International wanted to go out with a bang and everyone put their all into the entirety of the show. As tracks flowed into each other effortlessly I realised just how many great tracks the band have released during their extensive career. It was also interesting to hear how the bands sound has developed throughout the years and managed to stay fresh and exciting.

It is always a mixed bag of emotion watching a band play a farewell show, and this was no exception, no matter how intense the live set was everyone knew it would be one of the last. However, with such a talented group of musicians on a stage together it can only be a matter of time before they decide to record something new, either as a band or with other projects.

It was an honour to see one the most underrated bands in the country again, and a shame that it will be the last time for a while, but as far as live performances go this was the highlight of the five I have been lucky enough to see, each with a different line up.

I can only wish everyone involved in Pama International every success in whatever they choose to do in the future and hope for a reunion sooner rather than later.

Many Thanks to Andy Hall for the Pictures

Talons Photo Special

Credit to Andy Hall for these ace photos you can see more of his good work here

God Damn Photo Special

As previously all credit to Andy Hall for the photos and you can check more out here

Talons, God Damn, Killer Yogi & I/O @ The Flapper Birmingham 25th November 2010

Last weekend started with a bang, which was accompanied by some beautiful violin playing and brutal guitar lines. I was of course in Birmingham watching Talons, who are one of the UK’s hottest musical prospects.

As I got onto the train with Andy (who took all the pictures) we watched all the unfortunate Vampire Weekend fans getting into Wolverhampton for the show at the Civic. These poor young souls didn’t realise what they were going to miss in Birmingham for a quarter of the price. In truth we didn’t know quite how incredible the night and line up were going to be, but both Andy and I were blown away by ‘Hollow Realm’, Talons’ debut release, from the very first listen.

As we arrived at the Flapper to find a frozen canal and ice covered tables we were glad to be tucked away in the small back stage area with the band for an interview (which will be up shortly). The first two acts Killer Yogi and I/O played interesting sets, which were well worth watching. I’m looking forward to seeing both again, especially as now I know what to expect I will be able to formulate a full opinion on them. 

Wolverhampton’s finest God Damn were the first band to properly blow us away with their very individual sound and manic live performance. They’re a band I have seen numerous times and have never been disappointed by the live sound or performance. My description on the night was classicrockhardcore which sums elements of them up perfectly and does nothing for others. The band are a soundclash between individual styles and techniques which comes together into something very original and well worth checking out. 

Tonight was an example of one of the most irritating things about living in Wolverhampton, and Birmingham having such a good live music scene. As Talons took the stage I had a quick glance down at my watch to see we only had half an hour of their set to watch before the mad rush to the train to get back home again. During that half hour the band made me feel almost every emotion possible without the need to use a single word. The level of aggression that comes through every instrument is balanced by the moments of immense beauty and backed up by uncomfortable suspense. 

I thought I knew what to expect from the live performance after listening to the record numerous times but it turned out I was wrong. The live performance increases the intensity and general brilliance to alarming levels and as I looked around the audience the entire front row was looking on in amazement. 

For six people to convey such emotion through instrumental music is astounding and if you haven’t seen Talons live you should track them down in a town near you soon. If you can’t make a live show buy their debut album ‘Hollow Realm’ or at the very least add it to your Christmas list, you can’t be disappointed by something so incredible.

Cheers to Andy Hall for all the pics you check the whole set out here  

Friday, 29 October 2010

Rosie Jones and The Mystery Machine - Greatest Hits (Got, Got Need Records)

Rosie Jones possesses a voice which is instantly likeable and I find it hard to believe her Greatest Hits only totals three, but that’s how many are available on the download of that name through Got Got Need Records.

All three tracks offer something beautiful in a different way and move perfectly together as a three track. Opener ‘No one but me’ offers textbook folk fronted by soulful vocals making every lyric instantly relatable. This effortlessly moves into ‘Roll on’ which starts with an almost gospel element before taking on an honest folk sound, once more focusing on soulful vocals. ‘Tennessee’ is a perfect conclusion and honest lyrics are tinged with humor, again the vocals create a relationship with the track.

Rosie deserves to take a place amongst the new folk scene alongside the Laura Marlings and Mumford and Sons. It’s awesome to hear a folk influence taken and molded into something individual. If I were to make comparisons I would recommend this to anyone who likes Laura Stevenson and the Cans, Boat To Row, Midnight Mile or Laura Marling, and anyone who enjoys folk or acoustic music of any kind.

These three tracks are enough to make me want to hear much more from Rosie and her Mystery Machine.

The Breadchasers - Time to stop (Offcut Records)

This debut album from Nottingham based The Breadchasers is only the second to be released on Offcut records which is owned and run by Jimmy The Squirrel front-man and artist in his own right Liam O’Kane. As you would expect from hearing JTS or Liam’s work the record has a strong reggae and ska influences.

From the off it’s apparent that this record is going to be good, the intro has a laid back tropical feel to it and moves into the first full track seamlessly. Vocally it’s always nice to hear a local accent coming through rather than a singer trying to sound like they’re from somewhere else. The vocals are multi layered and at times the passion comes through in a rough sound which would be at home on any punk record. 

As the album progresses the style is consistent without becoming boring, there is a definite combination of old and new styles of ska music. Vocally there is a vintage edge to the style which bears comparison with Terry Hall, Squeeze or Suggs without sounding like an imitation. Musically there is an incredible mixture of first, second and third wave ska with a very British feel mixed together with the obvious reggae elements. There are definitely small influences form the skacore of the early noughties with Capdown and Shooting Goon as obvious examples these are combined with a stylish mix of Skatalites and Slackers. The main comparison I personally found immediately on listening to the album was with many of the acts on Asian Man Records in the USA.

There are definite elements of Let’s Go Bowling, The Chinkees and Skanking Pickle in amongst the vast influences on the Breadchasers’ strylee. For me the three above bands are responsible for taking ska into another level where it wasn’t all about brass lines and upstroke and it’s nice to hear this come through in music with brass and upstroke to continue the progression.

There is a lot of depth to the record and it is musically incredibly complex, the brass-lines help to back up the points made both musically and vocally. At times the brass is used to create further rhythms allowing the musical depth to really shine through. At times the combination of brass, deep bass and organs create a tropical dub feel to tracks which adds balance to the whole album.

This is a record, which will be sure to warm your bones on cold winter nights. Considering it’s the first record from The Bread Chasers it’s pretty obvious there will be big things to come from this band in the not so distant future. 

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Random Hand, Detached and Liam O’Kane Photo Special

Random Hand, Detached and Liam O’Kane @ The Flapper Birmingham Monday 18th October 2010

It was Birmingham’s turn to host Random Hand and enjoy their first taste of Thirsty & Miserable’s unique style of promotion. Considering it was a cold Monday night in the middle of October the turn out was very impressive and the room was filled with the right kind of people who watched every act intently and showed appreciation with some deafening cheers.

As Liam O’Kane took the stage to begin the night he began to play to an empty room but before the first song was over he had attracted the audience away from the smoking area and the bar. Liam’s solo performance was balanced equally between songs from both Jimmy The Squirrel (the band he sings for) records and his two solo full lengths. The stylish and individual way acoustic music is approached makes for a perfect warm up act and gently prepared the audience for the next two acts. It is impossible to discuss Liam O’Kane without mentioning how good his voice is live, his level of passion and vocal range are outstanding.

After the gentle warm the audience were ready for something louder and Detached certainly took this feeling and ran with it. The intense brand of skacore delivered by these Welsh youngsters is equal in passion and musical skill with the perfect balance between intense guitars and complex brass lines. Although Detached are a young band, with only one EP release to their name so far, the potential the band have is limitless, snappy song writing and the aforementioned musical skill combine to create a fantastic live performance.

After such great performances from the support acts the audience were more than ready for Random Hand to take the stage. As they tore through their hour long set there was no opportunity to notice time pass as the perplexed audience watched every song grow in intensity. Before long the passion and energy coming from the stage transferred into the audience who danced for at least two thirds of the set and encouraged more and more people to get involved.

As you would expect from a band of Random Hand’s quality and reputation their live set was tight and accomplished. Words cannot do justice to the passion and intensity all four put into a live show, it is a sight that has to be seen to be fully understood. The balanced set included tracks from ‘Seething Is Believing’ which is soon to be released, and with tracks from the two previous releases including the ever popular ‘Anger Management’ and ‘Scum Triumphant’. The connection between band and audience created a perfect atmosphere.

My only regret throughout the show was that every act didn’t play for longer as they were all so good. These are another three bands you need in your life; go and watch them play live for the full experience but if not buy a record or get on Myspace/Spotify/Last Fm.

Max Levine Ensemble, Men Diamler and ONSIND Photo Special