It’s all been a bit serious around here lately, and we’re sorry! Yes we know you just want music reviews, you don’t want hard hitting (or not very hard hitting) articles on politics, life on the breadline and inequality, you just want a good time right?
Well today we’re going to bring you some good news, despite the fact their unemployment figure are over 3% higher than the national average, and the vast majority of their football teams are in, at best stasis and at worst terminal decline, the North East is currently giving the musical world many reasons to be cheerful!
With 6 Music heading up that way for their annual festival it seems as good a time as any to take a look at what’s going on up there. We’re starting off in Durham, it might not have much in the way of musical history, with all due respect to Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon,but of late there’s been something of a revolution. The likes of Martha, ONSIND and No Ditching have created their own scene, the members are pretty interchangeable but all the bands have their own niche within it. ONSIND specialise in acoustic-punk protest songs, No Ditching are the female fronted face of a North-Eastern version of Riot Grrrl, and Martha are the most accessible and poppiest of the lot, serious topics sold via the medium of delightful indie-pop songs.
Sunderland might seem to spend it’s life living in the shadow of it’s big black and white neighbour to the North, but in recent years it’s arguably been the more interesting city for music, ever since the Futureheads burst onto the scene it’s been a home of fascinating pop music. That is showing little sign of letting up, The Lake Poets might be an odd name for solo artist Martin Longstaff but he’s a fascinating prospect, his debut EP Honest Hearts is a series of beautiful downbeat ballads bringing with it a slight Americana twinge, reminiscent of the likes of Tom McRae and Damien Rice, it’s rather splendid!
Not to be outdone Newcastle has it’s own new stars coming out of the woodwork, we’re particularly fond of Grandfather Birds, they play a brand of angular-art rock that recalls fellow Geordies Kubicheck! and Lanterns On The Lake.
Even Middlesborough are getting involved via Toyger a delightfully complex Maths Rock band, reminiscent of that odd Oxford scene that gave the world Foals and Youthmovies. With more established acts like The Unthanks, Maximo Park and err Sting, still knocking around the North-East is currently as interesting as any scene going, it’s about time everyone went to have a look!
SLUG is the pseudoynm for the work of Mr Ian Black. A former member of Field Music it’s perhaps no surprise to see the brothers Brewis involved, both as producers and members of the live band. The live band is completed Rhys Patterson and bassist Andrew Lother, who’s also in Field Music. Those guys get everywhere!
The sort of off-kilter pop music perfected by Django Django & School Of Language, wonky rhythms, stacatto stabs of guitar, tight vocal harmonies. The press release claims we should be hearing “inspiration from film soundtracks, abstract and minimalist music but also the rock and funk chops of Led Zeppelin and Funkadelic.“ The bass playing certainly contains some nods to the funk era giving the album a delightful bounce however the influence of Led Zeppelin seem to be conspicuous by its absence. To our ears it’s the oddly wonderful middle ground of surf-pop and disco, uncharted waters as far we’re aware.
Well as you may have realised from the intro being one long love letter to the North East, SLUG are from up that way, Sunderland to be more accurate. Rather sadly a quick view of the wikipedia page suggests Sunderland’s most famous author is Lewis Carroll who err…went there sometimes, their most famous painter is L.S.Lowry who was an….errr frequent visitor, and it’s most famous theatrical story involves Carry-On star and gambling addict Sid James, who died on stage in Sunderland, but belive it or not was actually from South Africa. Their musical history is more impressive with the likes of Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics and all of Kenickie being from there.
Ian Black claims to be “a merrily disruptive force on the North East music scene for over a decade” though it’s only in recent time SLUG have emerged. Debut single Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped In Plastic arrived in September last year, with the debut long player RIPE on it’s way in April on Memphis Industries.
Ian’s clearly been listening in his stints touring with Field Music, he seems to have picked up the Brewis brother’s knack of making music that’s both fascinatingly odd and surprisingly accessible at the same time. Few people can ever have combined so much into one debut album, it goes from the swooning, cinematic, orchestral movement of a track like Peng Peng to the bombastic-funk of Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped in Plastic, a song that sounds like a hyperactive version of Bends-era Radiohead, without so much as a pause for breath! Best of all is Greasy Mind, a slithering down-beat prog-disco number given a pop edge by a guitar line reminiscent of the best bits of Bloc Party. It’s a complex album and absolutely charming!
There’s the odd moment when he veers a little too close to the Field Music play book, and Weight Of Violence does sound a bit like someone’s first marimba lesson, however when he ploughs his own furrow as on the brilliantly bonkers new single Running To Get Past Your Heart, equal parts atmospheric Timber Timbre cinematics and tUnE-yArDs wonk-pop, it’s rather compelling!
RIPE is out on the 13th of April on Memphis Industries. SLUG play a series of dates in April including a show at The Lexington, see their website for details.