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November 2016 – upcoming gigs – The Scaramanga Six in Winchester and London (5th, 12th) with A Formal Horse, The Bitch, The Fiascos and Zen Motel

2 Nov

Following a period spent spawning, recording, dispersing around the country, essaying the odd solo gig or micro-festival appearance, and carrying out whatever grim and murky business keeps them afloat in between shows and records, the various members of The Scaramanga Six have reconvened for a couple of autumn dates in southern England.

The Scaramanga Six, 2016

Still stubbornly insisting on being a quartet (one which won’t refund a third of your ticket price, so don’t ask) and still possessed of the most ferocious fraternal-twin-brother glower since the heyday of the Kray brothers, the Six continue to mine a rich and rewarding seam of murky kitchen-sink rock drama: like a small belligerent family of pub singers who’ve rushed the stage, mugged the house band and grabbed the mike in order to settle a few scores and tell a few hard tales in public. With Tony Bennett, The Cramps, The Stranglers, Cardiacs and Pixies amongst their crowd of musical influences (the sartorial ones include Moss Bros funeral directors, glam rock queens, small town wide boys and absinthe dandies), they’re still toting around last year’s album ‘The Terrifying Dream’, a collection of songs based on skull-rattling nightmares (some of which may not have anything to do with being asleep).



 

I’ve always liked the Six, right for the time I first encountered them and got the opportunity to dub them one of the country’s “most timely” rock bands – expressing inflated smalltown-British bile and huff with better tunes than anyone else. Fourteen years later, you’d have thought that they’d have lost that particular title; and it’s true that their ebullient theatricality has allowed them to sidestep strict reality any time they like. (As far as being state-of-the-nation signifiers goes, they were always more ‘League of Gentlemen’ than ‘This is England’.) But as long as there’s a supply of twisted romantics with alarming habits, touchy self-deluders going off the rails, and sinister broody men as likely to harm themselves as much as others, the Scaramanga Six will have material to juggle with and ram home; and whenever it runs short, they’ll fill the gaps with bullish tales of self-reliance in adversity (who says their Yorkshire base hasn’t rubbed off on them?) or one of bass-player Steve’s gonzo rockabilly bawl-alongs. God knows what they’re making of the poisonous post-Brexit seethe. It’ll probably provide them with enough inspiration for a double album.

  • The Barn @ The Railway Inn, 3 St. Pauls Hill, Winchester
    SO22 5AE, England, Saturday 5th November 2016, 8.00pm
    (with A Formal Horse + The Bitch) – information here and here
  • Pure Rawk @ The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England, Saturday 12th November 2016, 7.00pm (with The Fiascos + Zen Motel) – information here and here

The two shows this month bounce off different aspects and intimations of the Six. At Winchester the emphasis seems to be on art rock. The main support coming from sparkly Southampton band A Formal Horse, whose continually flexing music tosses math and prog ideas around under Hayley McDonnell’s crystal clear folk voice, a bounding conceptual glitterball. I couldn’t find out anything about the other support band, The Bitch, but with a name like that it’s unlikely that they’ll be playing detailed chamber-folk or be led by a woman with a concert harp (although, on second thoughts, it would be wonderful if they were…)


 
In contrast, the London show and supports – courtesy of promoter Pure Rawwk – are absolute Sunset Strippery. The Fiascos describe themselves, variously as “filthy punk rock’n’roll from The Cronx, south London”, “Motörhead in a sweet shop” and “Social Distortion playing to get out of jail. They feature former members of Spizzenergi and the Brijitte West band, plus ubiquitous go-to-drummer Robin Guy (the onetime Rachel Stamp/Sack Tricker who’s filled in for everyone from Sham 69 to Rancid, Faith No More and The Bay City Rollers). Gleefully trashy and explosive Essex hard-rockers Zen Motel (pals with the Wildhearts) open the show with a rare acoustic set.



 
In both cases, the Six are likely to be glowering at the top of the bill and bringing the weight; like elder brothers, or dangerous uncles.
 

REVIEW – Alex’s Hand: ‘This Cat Is A Genius (A B-Sides Compilation)’ mini-album, 2013 (“mostly tarry, and it sticks to things”)

17 Apr
Alex's Hand: 'This Cat Is A Genius'

Alex’s Hand: ‘This Cat Is A Genius’

Sometimes barrel scrapings are as much part of the meal as anything else from the barrel. In the brewing industry, that’s how you get sludgy yeast spreads like Marmite. Yum. Or not.

Meanwhile… we’ve met Alex’s Hand before. They’re yomping Seattle-ites from the scruffiest, carney-est end of American Gothic; something like a junior Primus, Zappa and Residents rolled into one, abruptly zombified, and crammed into the fustiest old suit in Abraham Lincoln’s trunk of hand-me-downs. This EP of B-sides (so they call them – they’ve only ever put out one EP) certainly seems like barrel scrapings. It’s mostly tarry, and it sticks to things. It’s shapeless, it’s distinctly umami, and you might not like it.

That, of course, is the point. Alex’s Hand tend to revel in everything they do, both their moments of genuine artistry and their dumbest chunks of musical blubber. ‘This Cat Is A Genius’ is a pre-release teaser of off-cuts from their debut album (‘Albatross Around The Neck’). It shows off (if that’s the right word) their sludgier leanings; their most precipitous rants; their Melvins side. It sounds as if while the goofy fuckers were messing around in rehearsal, some vicious bastard poisoned their coffee – but they enjoyed it so much that they sent out for more and left the tape running.

What the band’s actually doing is dealing with the departure of Slurrp, their ontime lead guitarist and horn-razzler. Drummer Nic Barnes and bass-bothering microphone pest Kellen Mills drop their stage-names, pick up the pieces and tumble onwards; various buddies help Kellen out with the guitar parts; but it’s clearly been a blow. You can all but hear Alex’s Hand bouncing off the ropes. However, they’re not ones to miss out on a dark chortle, even at their own expense. Nor are they scared of turning a setback into a challenge. If they have to have a period of floundering, they’re damn well going to get something out of it, even if they have to milk it ’til it bleeds. Rolling away from a relatively tight rock stance towards something doomier (or at least more rubbery), they’re taking the opportunity to map the underside of their development as they go.

One of the last two tracks from Slurrp’s last stand – ConserveNow! – is six-and-a-half near-atonal minutes of Melvins-style strain: a lurch-along instrumental of fuzzed grunge bass and wobbly guitar, like a sick freight train careening along a lost stretch of railway. The other, Ants, is a collapsing shack-load of wreckage-guitar and free-form word association. While Slurrp sifts through sluggish, raging clumps of feedback in the background, Kellen’s schizophrenic basslines jump and ebb between laid-back mooch and irritated attack. He also mutters beady-eyed, half-cut stuff into your ear – mostly about giants and UFOs, although at one point he does complain “words are stale, empty – they lack a certain sensuality.” Much of the ‘This Cat Is A Genius’ shares this playful pissed-off stance – a complaining laughter; clever-dumb; slumming in drunken despondency and enjoying a grump. Kellen plays the role of educated-and-unravelling to the hilt, offering flashes of self-mockery through the filter of booze vapours and the pinch of bad shoes.

Dear Me’s clench of lumbering punk disgruntlement mingles King Crimson feedback skitters with a collapsing, anti-play perversity. Inside itself, the song’s at war – halfway through, Kellen grabs a guitar and launches doggedly down a different tunnel and into a different tune. On the headache blunder of Train, he’s scouting for empty bars in order to avoid conversation, moping about insincerity like a touchy teenager: “wish I was happy listening to people with nothing to say. / Lying assholes with so much money / really are dead inside – / they pick my brains as they lie.” Longtime ally Ben Reece (of Step Daddy) drops in again to add wracked, protesting electric guitar and some needling ‘Marquee Moon’ edge as Kellen’s drunken soliloquy heads ever further downhill and then kinks back up shit creek, screaming about “blackest diamonds” and falling into the sea.

While the odd glancing zinger falls out of this kind of lyrical mess, Kellen’s verbal squalls and cracked mumbling are generally just another bit of colour. What he says is less important than how he says it; or just how the words hit the wall. Impression (featuring another temporary guitarist, Shadough Williams) sounds like a lobotomized David Byrne tripping over Black Sabbath. Nic drums on bottles while the music flinches between runaway bursts of samba and foot-dragging sludge-metal. Kellen dismisses another waster in smudges of sardonic detail: “he smokes his cigarettes, douses them with side-effects… / Stand to deliver, his parents used to say – / started out rich and pissed it all away.”

On Penticide, the band paddle around in a splatter of sprained, detuned instruments – piano, melodicas, glockenspiels – while Kellen’s rambling narration casts a cockeyed look downtown. Scribbling a vicious political cartoon of a “crack-whore free-market” full of hapless fools pushing “shit-stained zombie shopping carts”, he also rips himself and his peers ragged. “Welcome to the half-baked bistro… / conspiracy countdown coffee-shop collective,” he husks, before tagging himself as “a dying maverick with a bad attitude… / like Merce Cunningham took a shit in a wine glass.” Mocking his trashed, anti-heroic slide from high culture to garbage, the band break into sarcastic applause.

Confounding all this sarcasm, the final moments come close to delicacy. Sad Little Skeletons is slender, thoughtful and melancholy; initially, it’s not much more than distant birdsong and overheard chat, accompanied by lonely bass melody and shavings of rhythm guitar. For once, Kellen sings gently, setting aside the drunken howls and the scatter-shot smartarsery. Clarity renders his conclusions even bleaker. “Thoughts will come / then fly away. / These emotions are so thick, / like this life just makes me sick. / These piddly little humans, driving their cars / on the freeway… / Sad little skeletons; broken, but don’t realize they’re lost.” The rise towards a tangled noisy fanfare and the drowning of the words in yell and distortion initially comes as a relief. Then you go back and listen to it again, hearing the weary breathing and the tiredness that smacks of reality.

Part-broken, smeared, and devilled by little gouts of waspishness, this isn’t the easiest collection of songs and slurs to get along with. But there’s plenty to scoop out anyway, especially if you like hearing the wilful awkwardness of a band who enjoy stretching themselves out of shape and balance, and who can fit that in with the big boots and barfly lunges. If you enjoy feeling as if you’ve been dipped in an uncomfortable goo, that’s a bonus.

Alex’s Hand: ‘This Cat Is A Genius’
Alex’s Hand (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only mini-album
Released: 15th April 2013

Get it from:
Bandcamp.

Alex’s Hand online:
Facebook Twitter Bandcamp LastFM

Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’ album (“those red-hot gravelly tones”)

23 Jun
Cay: 'Nature Creates Freaks'

Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’

On a quick listen you might be tempted to put Cay straight into the femme-noise box, however much you thrill to them. There’s the loose-wired slangy racket of the two guitars, the American-styled punk roars of instruments and voice, the general “let-off-the-leash”-ness of this album. Not least, there’s the striking vocal and visual presence of Anet Mook up front; defiantly anti-glam but compelling the attention anyway, ripping the frets out of her guitar and scorching her vocal chords with her flammable yell.

There’s also the album’s clutch of rackety singles. The mixture of pattering, jangling drag-racer suspension and blazing gasoline riffola in Better Than Myself; the pure punk venom of Princes And Princesses which all but drags a friend out of the comfort of collusion, spitting and chiding (“perverted decent little thing, I hate your guts cos they don’t exist”) prior to burning away with her down the road as if trying to rewrite ‘Thelma & Louise’ as guitar flare. The violence of Neurons Like Brandy, which feeds off a familiar Nirvana-ish alternation of quiet and loud, but sped up to a unnerving back’n’forth flick between stroke and punch; all to display the swerving of a love shot through with pills and booze, bonds and walls, focus and absence… of contradictions that won’t hold, but won’t break easily enough.

Not that the album tracks give much away to the singles, either. Reasonable Ease In Chilled Out Conditions leaps around its cage with enough aggression to punch out my speakers, and possibly my lights too. Cay attack the song as if they’re trying to singlehandedly relaunch punk in a shower of crunching bass and Uzi drum slams. Here, Anet sings like a suave skinning knife: her harsh, vicious slurs crack like a whip, and she chews words like gum. “And all the snow will melt away, / another week’ll come to stay, / to help you pull your little scam… / ‘Cos in the end you’re leaving like a sound! To be honest, I don’t know what the fuck she’s on about (cocaine madness, perhaps) but when Cay can fire it fifty miles up into the air via ten million volts of guitar I don’t particularly care.

There’s enough unleashed rage here to satisfy the grrlpunk board, though the fact that the other three Caypeople are men might brand them, to anyone drawing up the passports, as more Blondie than Bikini Kill. Yet… there sounds as if there’s more to Cay than just a femme-fronted burst of punk power which’ll burn itself out in a sorry gulp of lost fuel in a year or two. The truly compulsive thing about Anet’s voice isn’t the anger; it’s the permanent note of astonishment that cuts through those red-hot gravelly tones. It’s a yelp of instant reaction to anything (whether it’s introspection or copping an insult). It makes her someone who’s always on, always with the nerve to jump back or jump in.

In counterpart, there’s the detail work performed by Nicky Oloffson, Cay’s deceptively quiet-mannered guitarist and lateral thinker. He brings the odd noises, the jazz-chords that slip questions in; the art-textures that clink and keen in the mix, the sweet strums and battered song-sighs that break up the heat-blasts. Cay might have more of a chance of a commercial breakthrough than most – there’s an arresting hookyness balancing their controlled chaos – but there’s clearly an art-rock band evolving inside this tight, powerful metalcore package.

As well as the usual punky suspects, Cay’s love-list includes the evolving, protean King Crimson. This is a good sign, and explains how they can pull off such a wondrous effort as the album’s title track – a beautiful mix of punk power-chords, an ecstatically bruised and revelatory vocal from Anet, and a long moment when the rock rolls aside to reveal a heartfelt swathe of inner-space guitar melodies. On the rougher end, it also explains the parade of tempo-chopping riffs on Senseless – skirting points from Purple Haze and ‘Larks Tongues In Aspic’ through to Nomeansno and fully enraged hardcore punk, with a slam of alarm bells.

And then there are Anet’s lyrics, which dodge gesture politics or party rhetoric (of either kind). Most of the time they’re both simple and opaque. There’s some ragged individualism, some slippage between connections and independence. More often, though, they’re a discombobulated and shifting matrix of ideas, truths and motivations (with a hefty sprinkling of drug talk and quarrelling). They show life as it tends to appear to the over-curious – suspect; tenuously woven together. Something blurred by the changing loyalties and dependencies of unsettled lives where there are more questions and rejections than there are answers.

On the country-ish billow and scrub of Come Out, Anet is certainly questioning, though she’s questioning no-one in particular unless she’s trying to put a face onto the forces of chance. Cay seem to accept the unreliability and conflict in human flux… and unusually, they even accept their own. In the middle of the colossally aggressive guitar screams and sardonic vocal squalls in Reasonable Ease In Chilled Out Conditions, Cay slip gently into a embracing strum while Anet sighs “when we both come down, when we’re both worn out, / that’s where we should meet…”

A moment of unlikely grace, but then Cay are a band with unexpected depths.

Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’
EastWest Records, 3984277462 / 3984277461
CD/vinyl album
Released: 17th June 1999

Get it from:
CD or vinyl best obtained second-hand; files streamable from Bandcamp.

Cay online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM

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