Sheffield’s 65daysofstatic opened up a brave new world to me nearly 10 years ago, with their now seminal second album ‘One for All Time’, which pounded at the senses in such relentless fashion that my ears nearly exploded with joy. The pioneering instrumental outfit rightly made the national headlines this past week, after receiving a grant from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and responding to the Government’s PR posturing with a scathing critique of their support of the arts (or rather the lack of it). It seems somewhat fitting that directly after reading their article, that I should discover John Douglas aka Gloams, an exciting grassroots artist based in Manchester, who shares a similar musical DNA to 65dos, combining elements of post-rock, electronica and drum ‘n’ bass.
‘Who’d 4Get U‘ is an elaborate and intricate composition, beginning with a single lilting guitar, before quickly growing in pace, like hurried footsteps running towards the one you love. The echoing thump of a bass drum frenetically rises in and out of the shadows, before it reaches it’s ultimate crescendo. ‘Pheromone‘ is quite simply an expansive masterpiece, featuring some of the most beautiful textures and soundscapes I’ve heard outside of Sigur Ros – this is music at it’s most widescreen and colourful. Seemingly out of nowhere, Gloams has unveiled a debut collection of tracks that demonstrates not only a technical brilliance, but an undeniably ambitious and emotional approach to songwriting – we should embrace him with an open heart.
A rare pink meadow grasshopper was recently spotted in inner-city Salford by Dr Luke Blazejewski, an independent film-maker and urban wildlife specialist. I can only imagine the excitement he must have felt that day, knowing it’s discovery could be an important piece in understanding, documenting and protecting our environment. It gives us a fascinating insight into how, when left alone, a small ecosystem can be a breeding ground for life at it’s most magical and unique.
When I think about it, what Dr Luke and I do isn’t all that different. For the past 8 years, I’ve tried to document Manchester’s music scene, with it’s sprawling diversity, hidden secrets and ever-changing landscape. Undoubtedly a new name to most, Tom Hardwick-Allan is my latest find, every bit as beautiful as a rare pink grasshopper. From the early raw bedroom demo’s of ‘Li’ and ‘Unwritten Confession 2’, where Tom’s baritone vocal crackles and glows into near oblivion, to his more recent experiments with drone and industrial noise on ‘Cold Clear Sky’ and ‘When You Die I’ll Think Of You As The Sky’; it’s clear to me that there is something special at work here. Still only a teenager, and at times bringing to mind Dean Blunt at his most understated and emotive, these developing ideas are fragmented but undeniably affecting.
‘Snakes Fucking‘ is a bleak but darkly euphoric introduction to his world, with it’s chiming guitars and bellowing trombone, seemingly unsure of itself but unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Using google translate to dehumanise his voice, the unnatural patterns of speech are at odds with the track’s lyrical content, which reveal a painfully intimate cry for help. All too aware of it’s contradictory nature, it’s hard not to find yourself disappearing into Hardwick-Allan’s lonely post-modern depths with relative ease. The video only enhances this experience further, with it’s minimalist and clinical grey room, in stark contrast to the private self-reflection on offer. As the track progresses, a Pinocchio-esque long nose is revealed, perhaps hinting that the lines between the real and the unreal are often closer than you think.
Tom Hardwick-Allan releases debut EP ‘When Waiting’ in August via Tru Luv https://truluv.bandcamp.com/
For a few days now I’ve been hearing a strange muffled noise emitting from the confines of my flat, and last night I was really struggling to sleep because of it. I was too tired and unsettled to seriously investigate, instead deciding to take refuge under my pillow and pretend like it didn’t exist. This morning, my senses far more acute, I established the sound was coming from the ceiling above my bed. I reached up high and banged my fist against the exterior… the noise increasing tenfold… as did the realisation I was now sharing my home with a gang of bees. I could see them hovering around outside my window, and I felt automatically connected to them.
The humble worker bee is Manchester’s most recognisable cultural symbol; you’ll find them here decorating our brickwork, bridges and bins. It’s fair to say the bee represents the industry and collaboration of our creative scene – just as much now as the mills and factories of our past. People here tend not to make a big deal about what they are up to, all the best art is hidden away like beautiful honey… only when the hive is disturbed will all the bee’s emerge. Paul Blake is the kind of person who reflects this modern landscape – an engaging character, you’ll often find him out with his partner Kyoko Swan (Kyogen/PINS) at local shows, supportive, positive and clearly inspired by the artist’s he surrounds himself with.
Pain Threshold, his own musical project, is a highly personal affair; a slow dissection of his mind and mortality. The song-craft and emotive lyricism found in standout track Being and Nothingness are wrapped in experience and understanding… a world weariness that feels almost inescapable. This bold and beautiful approach is reminiscent of the early MONEY recordings, with all the same raw and poetic qualities to his work. It’s time for this bee to make some noise.
I read an interview recently with No Fear Of Pop’s Henning Lahmann, in which he discussed the current state of music blogging. I don’t wish to sound bite, because it’s definitely worth reading the article in full, but it certainly made me reflect on my own approach to music writing and reinforced my reasons for doing it. The joy for me has always been in the act of discovery – I would simply not be comfortable being another regurgitating industry-fed voice. I’ve always believed in championing the new, the obscure… the kind of artists that don’t have a PR company behind them from the beginning.
With that in mind, I’ve been keeping this one to myself for a couple of weeks now… a secret I’ve been wanting to share but couldn’t quite find the right words to do it justice. A collaboration made in Manchester, ‘It’s All Over‘ is a truly magical composition between electronic producer THeory (Tom Hallett) and singer Zoë Violet (Zoë Mcnamara). THeory’s glitchy and glistening beats are both subtle and engaging, underlying a delicate piano led piece that is brought to life in startling fashion by Violet’s soulful, Morcheeba-esque vocals. Her performance feels effortlessly controlled, with enough space and light in it to highlight a rare fragile quality, and a small glimpse of this future star’s true ability. It’s hard not to get excited by two promising young artists that clearly compliment each other so beautifully.
For the last few weeks, my life has been lost inside a chaotic mess… clothes, books and pieces of paper strewn across my bedroom floor, a mountain of food wrappers and unwashed plates gathering dust. I’m in self-destruct mode and something needs to change. Writing has always been such a positive outlet for me but lately I’ve been avoiding doing the things I love. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate, my eyes straining into the dim light of my laptop screen… fingers fumbling across the keyboard trying to piece together my thoughts. Even listening to music has felt like a chore.
The band that I so often turn to in times of disrepair is MONEY. Having watched them from the very beginning, I feel a personal connection with their journey, which culminated in the release of debut album ‘The Shadow of Heaven’ (Bella Union) and a momentous performance at M.I.F in 2013. It was a strange experience staring at Jamie Lee’s naked torso as I danced next to Hayley Cropper, a sea of Mancunians singing every word of ‘Letter To Yesterday’ with me.
Lee’s dark poetic lyricism, with it’s moments of intimacy and inner madness were always a focal point in my love for MONEY, but hidden deeper within the musical layers was the tender work of shy guitarist Charlie Cocksedge. Now in the process of revealing solo material that he wrote in between touring, it’s clear from these blossoming compositions that Cocksedge is the sun to Lee’s moon… a creative dynamic that works beautifully in harmony together, but individually is just as captivating.
‘Be‘ is a 10 minute instrumental piece that delivers subtle melodies and the kind of twinkling progressive sound that delicately brings your imagination alive. With influences ranging from Nils Frahm to Jonny Greenwood, Cocksedge’s ambient noise is a slow-burning and expansive world, as emotionally powerful as it is technically brilliant. Music like this will always be there for me when I’m struggling, like tiny fragments of light managing to find a way through the cracks in my head.
I guess it irks me a little when I see those (now traditional) click-bait think pieces about the death or “stagnation of guitar music”. I mean, I appreciate the argument being made… the music industry does seem intent on championing the bland over the brave, but surely it’s up to us as music fans to dig a little deeper, to invest in the bands we love?
Living in Manchester, it’s hard to argue against a city that has produced MONEY, Everything Everything, PINS, Kult Country, Dutch Uncles, WU LYF… and that’s not even acknowledging our deep and rich history, or the wider underground scene as it is today. It would be pretty easy to critique each band individually, but what isn’t debatable is that guitar music is well and truly alive here, from the bedsits of Whalley Range to the bunkers of Salford.
I See Angels are one of my more recent Mancunian loves, having been transfixed by last year’s ‘Artificial Sunshine’ EP. Songwriter Paul Baird is clearly growing in confidence, capturing his hopes and fears so beautifully in each and every delicate strum. New track ‘Master Of The Sky’ glistens effortlessly in emotion. Baird’s vocals sound like a trembling Thom Yorke trying to find his way out of a dream… an almost disparate loneliness trapped inside a magical and cinematic landscape.
When I have trouble sleeping, I tend to go on huge soundcloud binges… often bringing lucrative musical returns. Manchester producer Bhrisc is one of my most recent late night discoveries, and with Mary Anne Hobbs already taking any interest, I’m clearly not alone in my way of thinking. Describing 6550 on her 6 Music show as a “descent into darkness”, his take on modern techno knowingly exploits a sense of loneliness and alienation. L.A Arch is all smokey textures and industrial noise… you quickly lose yourself in the repetitive droney beats. Bhrisc’s production is cold but emotional; a thudding and fragile detachment from reality.
Having moved to Manchester in my 20’s, I found myself drawn to a thriving alt-folk scene; Twisted Nerve, Humble Soul, Red Deer Club… all big inspirations to me, promoting between them a truly mind-blowing collection of talent that included Jane Weaver, Voice Of The Seven Woods, Nancy Elizabeth, Liz Green and The Moulettes. Finding unexpectedly beautiful new sounds on my doorstep became a regular and humbling occurrence.
It’s starting to feel like a new generation could be emerging… Elle Mary, Coasst, Tekla and Tom Hardwick-Allan… all young artists I would encourage you to investigate on this site. The discovery of Rosalie 23 is another indication we could be in for a memorable 2015. A neo-classical harpist with an operatic vocal influence, her music displays a warmth and tenderness, but it’s never afraid to pull you towards darker territory. Stay is characterised by a distinctly organic energy, like leaves spinning delicately in an autumn wind.
With the cold winter nights starting to set in, and Christmas fast approaching… I figured it’s the perfect time for me to give my first gift. Tru Luv is proud to announce the release of Insular, a beautiful 3 track electronica EP, by Manchester based Espher. Available to download free now: https://truluv.bandcamp.com/album/tl002-insular-ep.
Lead single ‘To The Sky’ received its premiere to critical acclaim on Clash
On a personal note, my friendship with producer Ben Pearson, goes far beyond an appreciation for his music – although it certainly brought us together. We first met in 2010, when I was promoting The Strange Death Of Liberal England & Patterns (then called Elmo Logic) and a band Ben had been playing with were booked to open. Their songwriter unprofessionally decided to pull out pretty much on the eve of the show. Ben kindly offered to step in with his own project Swansong, and even though he’d never played his own music live before, I was impressed by the performance. Cath Aubergine, a legendary Mancunian music writer, also saw something that night, enough to make me think he was worth keeping an eye on.
A couple of years later and I’d found unexpected musical success in Christian AIDS/Stay Positive, but now I was back in Manchester and in need of a new creative outlet. Ben was in a similar position, and with Moses Gold we found that direction. I knew quite quickly that Ben was a diamond in the rough, his technical ability unquestionable, but what set him apart was the emotional heart at the core of his electronic compositions. An inspiring and passionate man, he was able to bring out the best in me, making me feel comfortable and helping me to believe in myself during my lowest moments. I loved working together on tracks like ‘Powder and Blood’, ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Visions’ … hopefully these creations will stand the test of time.
Espher as an artist in his own right is starting to blossom. His ongoing a/v series of musical Fragments are definitely worth investigating (there are currently 22 tracks on youtube) as a clear insight into the direction he is going, a more minimal and ambient body of work influenced by Nils Frahm. In the New Year, Ben is moving to Australia, and I’m going to miss him not only as a creative partner, but as one of my closest friends. I have every confidence he’s going to continue to do amazing things.
There is no greater pleasure for someone like me, than to see a Mancunian act like Bernard & Edith find themselves in the position of beginning 2015 signed to Bella Union, deservedly about to find bigger audience. I distinctly remember the first time I met vocalist Greta ‘Edith’ Carroll down at the SWAYS Bunker, her warm personality left a real impression, shining brightly in a room full of chattering people… and together with her talented partner, a/v artist Nick ‘Bernard’ Delap, they have created a musical project unlike any other.
This is pop music with a uniquely northern imprint, defined by Greta’s jazz influenced vocal, unconventional and darkly delicious. Nick’s beautifully experimental soundscapes, produced with field recordings and basic instrumentation, add texture and mystery. It’s an artistic marriage made in well… Whalley Range. I’ve done my little bit in supporting Bernard & Edith along the way, having promoted them back in 2013, and written about them here on numerous occasions… so it feels fitting today to support and celebrate the official launch of WURDS at The Eagle Inn, Salford tonight. 8pm