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This review first appeared in The Fly on 29/11

It’s maybe too early to predict just how far Alt-J are going to be catapulted into the stratosphere following their Mercury win but tonight, performing to a packed-out Ballroom, they feel like a sensible victor.

When frontman Joe Newman murmurs through geometric love-song ‘Tesselate’, the utterance ‘three points, where two lines meet’ feels like a fitting metaphor for a band who don’t so much embrace different sounds as Pritt-stick them together into a beautifully sculptured lump. The foreboding piano and a cryptic loop reminiscent of The XX‘s beautifully isolated ‘Islands’ is gripping, as lyrics both sensual and sadistic mesh together: ‘Yes they’ll nosh the love away, but it’s fair to say/You will still haunt me.’

During their quiet, introspective moments Alt-J share cosy a capella harmonies not unlike Fleet Foxes or Local Natives – a well-worn path to pleasing critics, perhaps. But, on tracks like ‘Fitzpleasure’, they take the formula and send an electric current right through it, with Newman’s lyrics bursting out his throat with the ferocity of a man at an exorcism.

It’s their reluctance to be pigeonholed which remains Alt-J‘s greatest weapon. While ‘Interlude I’ and ‘Bloodflood’ lack the resonance of the band’s bigger songs, they are blissful and intimate in a small venue like this, though that could get lost in bigger, loftier spaces. Elsewhere, ‘Breezeblocks’ is a bawdy sing-a-long cloaking sinister undertones.

Strangely, when the band choose to cover Kylie Minogue‘s ‘Slow’, there’s a moment of clarity unlike any other tonight. Maybe it’s because the lyrics aren’t dissimilar to those in ‘Tesselate’ – it doesn’t feel like foreign territory. Or maybe there’s something in how comfortable Alt-J are with sounding like a pop act, something much of this year’s shortlist tried so hard to avoid.

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This review first appeared in The Fly on 29/11

It’s 7pm, and we’re in Heaven. It’s very quiet, which makes sense, because main act Clock Opera isn’t on for a couple of hours. But it’s also worrying, because the very excellent support act Bright Light Bright Light is on in about 15 minutes and the place is, to be blunt, pretty dead.

Heaven’s big stage, arching brickwork and cavernous feel aren’t the most inviting venue if nobody’s there to fill it yet. That, and BLBL (aka Rod Thomas) isn’t known for being low-key – especially as he’s just finished a 2 week tour with the Scissor Sisters. Demure, Lana Del Gloom-Pop this ain’t.

In fact, BLBL specialises in endorphin-pumped pop – comparisons with Erasure and The Pet Shop Boys seem fair. It’s big, loud but introspective, which has drawn obvious comparisons with Robyn, too. By the time he takes to the stage in an excellent Hawaiian shirt (basically telling November to do one), Thomas unleashes an intense, 30-minute set peppered with big, clever songs from his debut album ‘Make Me Believe In Hope’. And with that, the crowd is suddenly ten times the size.

‘Disco Moment’ and its cathartic chide of ‘you make it so hard to be around’ has a brutal honesty among its pulsating, dizzying disco backdrop. ‘Make Me…’s lyrics are straight to the point, rarely cryptic, and show Rod at his most exposed when he’s swaddled in synth music. It’s a brilliant set, quick, intense and sudden, but BLBL’s impression lasts far longer. This is disco, soul, pop and dance music etched into the DNA of one of the most exciting and overlooked records of the year. And it’s in this cavernous room that it really shines, filling every shadowed corner and, as his name suggests, illuminating all the dark spaces.

Chris Mandle

This interview first appeared in The Fly like, last week.

Hi Chris de Burgh. How are you?
I’m grand thank you. I’ve been having a look at some of these chats and I’m excited. It’s funny and irreverent, which I like. I was amused and delighted, I don’t want anyone to think I am stuffed up.
Are you having a busy day?
I have just got off the phone with a newspaper actually. We talked about an item from the film Alien that I bought at an auction. It’s the chestburster that jumps out of John Hurt’s chest, covered in blood and gore.

So you like your films blood-splattered and violent?
I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of horror, actually. So much is created by special effects these days, it’s just unconvincing. With Amageddon, it ain’t even a real spaceship, do you know what I mean?

What are you doing today?
Well I have got another chat later, and then I’m spending the afternoon working. I’m going to be going to Sardinia soon, with my daughter. She was a former Miss World, and the first Irish girl to be on the cover of Playboy. We’re launching the new Volkswagen Golf 7 over there. It’s a very nice car – 100kg lighter than anything they’ve done before, I’m told, the metal is heated to 700 degrees and the alloy is pasted on, so its much lighter and more fuel efficient.

Do you get a lot of perks being Chris de Burgh?
I think back when Lady In Red was a major record – well, it still is – I was offered all sorts of red cars, you know, but they were pretty crap. If I don’t like the car I won’t drive it, so it’s a bit pointless giving me it! In the US they used Lady In Red on the WeightWatchers advert, they paid a lot of money for that.
We would like to note that you are renowned for taking journalists to court over defamation and winning. Have you got a bad relationship with the press?
You cant expect everyone to like what you to do. I remember reading two reviews from a gig I did in Montreal. I am much admired and loved in Quebec, I have done 2 or 3 shows in a 15,000 seat arena. One review said I was fantastic and one said I was dreadful. And I thought ‘this is just an opinion’. The fans have to buy the tickets and these critics are told to go by their editor, so they’re not genuine fans, they’re not expected to write a rave review. With Facebook, you get instant feedback from your fans. That’s more important to me.

Have you got any advice for readers who want to sue someone for defamation?
Once you have a very good defamation lawyer, why not? Go for it! These people [journalists] need manners banged onto them. You see what the Leveson lot get up to and my jaw feels slack thinking about the hypocrisy in the industry.
Are you quite passionate about the phone-hacking scandal?
I’d say the real villains are the dyed-in-the-wool lads. It goes back to the adage ‘theres only one rogue reporter’ – everyone knows there was more than one. Once you tell a little bit of a lie, you can get away with it. I admire you for being young and wanting to be a journalist. I think there are very few things that make me want to puke as much as a tabloid journalist defending phone hacking.

You also sued Ryanair once. Was it something to do with their terrible food?
Ryanair is dreadful but because its cheap, people put up with it. They suggested my daughter was a racist for an off the cuff, innocuous comment. The sad thing about it is I was prepared to lose the case, but it meant a lot for the little man, if i may use that pejorative. Theres no right for them to protect their good name.

So who is the most famous Chris de Burgh fan?
I suppose Princess Diana. It’s hard to put my finger on who would be second. I did find out that Gorbachov was a fan of my music, and I met him. He was charming, he made history, that thing of bringing down the berlin wall. And I’ve performed for Liverpool F.C before, I keep in touch with some of them. Roy Hodge is a lovely man.

Where was your least favourite place in the world?
I’ve been around the world several times, and I cant think of anywhere I really disliked. When I was 12 I moved to an 800-year-old castle in Ireland which my grandfather, General Sir Eric de Burgh owned. We had no light, no heat, no water, no furniture, but it was good at that age, running around outside. We eventually turned the castle into a hotel. I also spent a term at a boarding school in Carlisle, which was interesting, because it was bloody cold in the winter and the spring.

What was ‘Chris de Burgh’ like at school?
It was an all boys school, although they introduced girls later. Your future Queen of England attended. For me, it was 800 boys, and testosterone was quite high. You could bottle it. The bad thing about having guys incarcerated together means there is a lot of attention on girls when you see them on the high street on a Saturday afternoon. They become exotic. I am sorry, in a way, that education of females was lost on me. Being friends with girls is a great way to learn the complexities of the female mind, you don’t have to regard them as sex objects.

Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your life living one day of the week, which day of the week would it be?
I’d pick friday. its right on the edge of the weekend and people are more relaxed. They see the weekend and think ‘I am going to cool down’.

Thanks for chatting to us, Chris.
You take care!

Soundtracking a Hollyoaks advert ranks pretty low on the credible musician’s bucket list. But you can plant a big tick there for Stealing Sheep, whose hypnotic harmonies reached even more ears after ‘Shut Eye’ accompanied Channel 4’s perma-tanned teens as they frolicked in a field. ‘Into The Diamond Sun’ is folky and whimsical enough to cast them as an all-girl Magnetic Zeros, but they flicker along a much wider spectrum, one with synthy wails and surreal psychedelic plonks. The one consistency is the formidable trio’s elegant vocal harmonies, often chanted like playground poetry, that bind these songs into an album of wonderful surrealism.

4/5

Tonight we’re in Kensington, West London, at a nice little bar/theatre that smells like a school assembly hall, all in the name of work. Standing among middle-aged men whose three-quarter length shorts barely conceal sunburnt shins, it feels like the perfect venue for some lighthearted whimsical folk music.

Credit due to Smoke Fairies then for, among other things, making music that loosely falls under ‘folk’ without a pretentious straw hat in sight. Yes, Jessie Davies and Katherine Blamire’s dulcet tones are delicious and dreamy and often full of whimsy, but second album ‘Blood Speaks’ was bolted together with throbs of bass, heavy drumming and wild electric guitar bits that suggested raw spirit and an untamed haircut – Mumfords, they certainly ain’t.

Throughout their set tonight there’s a steady, bluesy pulse, showcasing the band’s elegant voices well; their shrill harmonies can be haunting (‘The Three Of Us’) and other times perfectly pleasant (‘Daylight’). But it’s really let-down by the atmosphere, or lack of – the set is incredibly one-paced tonight and, after the half-way point, the solemn music and airy vocals begin to feel sombre and disengaging. The gap between stage and audience grows wider, there’s little interaction, and it becomes easy to feel detached from a band who aren’t doing a great deal to reel you in.

For all their latest album’s grungy moments and pockets of ferocity, it’s disappointing that none of it makes it onto the stage. Of course, this is Kensington, and we’re drinking pear cider by the bottle, so maybe it’s a question of choosing the right time and place; certainly the crowd seem to enjoy themselves. But Smoke Fairies have the capacity to be far more corporeal than their name would suggest.


3/5

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This interview originally appeared in The Fly a few weeks ago. I think I conducted the interview during the really hot friday on that nice weekend, so it was probably published eight days after that. You’re welcome.

Hello, Ana Matronic.
Hey! How are you?

OK! How good are you at DIY?
I’m pretty good! I can change a lightbulb and rewire a lamp. I’d say I have a rudimentary knowledge of DIY. Apart from Scissor Sisters I’m in a light show called The Joshua Light Show. When you’re in the light show “business” you need a lot of knowledge, I work on a giant overhead projector. But DIY is simple enough. Righty tight, lefty loosy, you know. It’s a pretty good mantra for life.

Great advice. Your latest single is called ‘Only The Horses’. How much do the Scissor Sisters love horses? 
Well actually Jake [Shears’] Mom and Dad breed racehorses back home, and my mother and her husband Ron own a horse. They did have two, but one died. I don’t ride horses myself, but I would love to.

But why ‘Only The Horses’? Why not ‘Only The Cats?’
I find horses fascinating and scary at the same time. They’re sentient beings, very powerful. And they have massive mouths and strong back legs. I’m with you on cats, though. I like cats. I think I’ll end up being a crazy cat lady when I’m older.

How much do you love the UK?
Oh I really love the UK! The thing I love is the culture. We’re doing loads of publicity for the new album, but when I get some free time I’ll be visiting loads of museums and exhibitions. I’d like to go to the Science Museum, there’s this great exhibit about alchemy. I’ll be visiting the tate, too.

Do you have a favourite part of London?
Well I like going to Portobello Market, seeing all the vintage stalls and stuff in Covent Garden. I don’t know much of London but I do know Shepherd’s Bush. A friend of mine was living there and I really love it, it reminds me of Brooklyn. There’s a lot of immigrants and a real mix of people, loads of great restaurants. Shepherd’s Bush is keeping it real.

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened at a Scissor Sisters gig? 
We have some amazing fans, so there’s always something unusual going on. But when we were last over in the UK we did a show at Shep Bush and we had a marriage proposal, on stage, by a man to his girlfriend. And this man happens to have the faces of all the Scissor Sisters tattooed on his back. My face is on his back. And yeah, he proposed to his girlfriend during the show. It was the least we could do, he had our likenesses on his back.

What did she say?
I loved how she responded to it. Her answer was “You can’t see tits on the radio”*, which I thought was brilliantly nebulous.

Are they always friendly fans?
Well, we have some bizarre ones too. There was a group of guerrilla drag queens who interrupted a performance in Copenhagen. They burst on the stage, and one of them was wearing a pair of trousers with a hole cut out in the crotch. We didn’t notice at first because there was a sock covering it, but it was quite a show. From the neck up, he was very Gollum-esque and he was frightening, to say the least.

Was there a ‘situation’?
I think I said something like “You’re more show than me, but this is my show. Leave please.” I don’t want to be extreme, ultimately he was very supportive of us. I’m from New York, if you get in my face I’ll tell you.

How do you find the UK’s passive/aggressive approach?
It’s different. There’s a way of being over here that’s like “Don’t rock the boat.” If you’re upset about something here you can’t be direct about it. Personally speaking, if I’m acting like a cunt, just call me a cunt.

Do you like the Queen?
I am in love with all Queens, so of course I love Miss Elizabeth too. I respect her, she is a very strong, committed person, and I think she is great. I am excited as an American can be, but I’d call myself a Royal Enthusiast. Most of the Brits that speak about the Jubilee have been talking about the traffic, and how bad the roads will be. I do enjoy the pomp and circumstance.

What else do you do when you’re not being a Scissor Sister? 
I am working on writing my first comic book, so for that I’m reading a bit about the Middle East. The comic is set in Oman in an archeological dig, so I’m studying that, and the history of Arabia. I don’t have a title yet, but the main character is a mathematician so I’ve had to read up on loads of maths stuff, all the characters are so academic. My next script will be full of salt-of-the-earth types.

Anything a bit less heavy-going?
I’ve been reading this book about colour, which is a natural history of the palette, and the lady who wrote it goes through each colour and talks about the pigments, it’s really amazing. White is all about titanium, and the make-up they used in olden times was made from titanium ground down, so it was all very toxic and cancerous. Also, purple is a very strong colour, because it’s associated with royalty, so wearing a lot of it can be intimidating.

Do you have any advice for anyone who has suffered extensive sunburn?
Okay, what you need to do is first go to Boots and invest in some really good sun screen. I’m talking at least SPF30. I should know, because I am fair with British heritage. Then go to a health food store and get some essential oils, like lavender. Stick it all over your sunburn, it will cool the stinging and lavender helps make you sleepy. It will give you nice dreams.

Finally, have you got any amazing useless trivia?
Did you know in France, their word for dusk, or magic hour, is “Entre Chien Et Loup” – it means “between the dog and the wolf”. I find that really evocative, the dogs own the day time and the wolves take ownership at night.

*‘Tits On The Radio’ is a Scissor Sisters song, so this is funny on two levels.

‘Magic Hour’ is out now on Polydor.

This interview first appeared in The Fly on May 08.

Guy Connelly is a man who has a beard, but unlike a lot of people who have beards, Guy Connelly is also an excellent musician in a musical-project-type-outfit called Clock Opera. I saw him play at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen in November, which was magic in a sort of grown up way. Then I reviewed his album in March and didn’t like it. When not discussing artichokes and double decker chains (see below) I told Guy why I found his album felt a bit uninteresting, and he seemed to find some coherence in the incoherent point I was trying to make. What a gent.

Hello Guy. Where are you right now?
I’m at St Pancras station, we’re about to do a small gig as a warm-up for Camden Crawl this weekend. We’re on this stage at 5pm, right in the middle of rush hour.

Does St Pancras have good acoustics?
It does. There’s a guy playing some music nearby, it sounds very good.

Really? Give us a live review please…
Er, yes. It’s quite ethereal, whispery… beautiful music. The whole place is very dreamy, I’m just walking along on the phone to you. Playing a gig in a station feels a bit dream-like.

When was the last time you went on a train? Apart from an underground one?
Oh man, it’s probably been a while. I remember it being a double-decker train, though, but I might be confusing it with that film I saw, where Jake Gyllenhaal had 15 minutes to stop a train bomb. You know, the one where he kept going back in time to the start of the fifteen minutes.

What!?
I can’t remember the name [it was Source Code, Films Ed], but it was like that train. I was on the bottom ‘deck’ of the double-decker train, if indeed it was real at all.

Given the options of the ‘standard’ deck and the exciting upper-deck, it seems you made a poor decision regarding where you sat on the train.
Yes, I suppose I couldn’t enjoy the view as much. Wherever I was going, I’m sure the view would have been good up at the top.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone?
A long time ago. I’d love to write more letters but I never have the time. When I was visiting my dad’s house though I found a sealed letter that I’d written, but never sent.

Who was the letter for?
My best friend at the time.

What does it say?
I have no idea. Maybe I should send it, and pretend it took six years to arrive. The real question is… why didn’t I send it?  Also, I found an old camera at my dad’s with the film still inside. I really want to get it developed and see what’s on there.

Can you still get photographs developed?  Maybe at Boots?
Yea. If I ever get round to it, I’ll send you one.

What did you have for lunch?
I had a posh cheese and artichoke sandwich. It was basically a cheese toastie with artichoke added. I would recommend it, I mean, it was pretty standard but the high quality ingredient was very good.

Would you recommend artichoke to The Fly readers?
I absolutely would, yes.

What does artichoke taste like?
I don’t know, that’s like asking what the colour green is to a blind man. Just have some in a salad or something.

The UK has been gripped by ‘Bank Holiday Fever’. Do you enjoy bank holidays?
I’m usually working them. I have no idea what a bank holiday is! I have to ask crowds what day of the week it is.

Are the-
Source Code! That was the film with Jake Gyllenhaal.  [We know. Smugness Ed]

Amazing. Bank Holidays are great, but what is ‘the vibe’ like at your gigs? Are the fans more excited on a bank holiday, for example?
I don’t actually think we’ve played one before. I suppose there’s that elation a having an extra day off… but a bank holiday Monday is basically a sunday night, isn’t it. There may be an air of regret, if they’ve misbehaved. I will ask them how they feel.

If you had to spend your life living one day of the week forever, what would it be?
Thursday! Every day for me is a Thursday night.

Thanks Guy!
Thanks!