Tag Archives: Tiny Wood

November 2017 – upcoming free rock gigs – Tonochrome back in action in London (25th November); All Hail Hyena host a quadruple-headed evening in Preston with Dirty Bare Feet and Soldato plus the return of Sleepy People for their first gig in sixteen years (11th November)

2 Nov

Tonochrome, 25th November 2017

Tonochrome
The Spice of Life, 6 Moor Street, Soho, London, W1D 5NA, England
Saturday 25th November 2017, 7.30pm
– free entry – information

London progressive pop band Tonochrome have been away for a while – they were last onstage towards the end of 2013. This new gig towards the end of the month is something of a return and reshuffle – it’s their first with the newest in a run of bass players (Andres Castellanos), and an opportunity for singer Andres Razzini and his other cohorts (keyboard player Steve Holmes, drummer Jack Painting and, on guitar, transdisciplinary musical wanderer Charlie Cawood) to show us the latest developments for a promising band. Over an increasingly interesting pair of EPs, Tonochrome have explored glam pop, aspirational indie and a touch of expansive prog, building towards a definitive, textured statement. I don’t know if they’ve got there yet, but this show is free, so get in and see what they have to offer.


 
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Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato, 11th November 2017Hyena Inc. presents:
Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato
Ships And Giggles, 3 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England
Saturday 11th November 2017, 7.00pm
– free entry – information here and here

Meanwhile, up in Preston, herky-jerky odd-rock band All Hail Hyena (who’ve made an initial name for themselves by storming and/or organising assorted Tim Smith benefit gigs) continue their work as promoters Hyena Inc. via a free DIY gig celebrating “one night of pop-punk-rap-reggae-soul-psychedelic space ska nursery-rhymes rock lo-fi metal bossa-nova prog tri-fi music from four diverse and very different brilliant northern bands”. As well as putting on the night and providing the lollipops, they’re performing themselves, bringing new songs of “neon lipstick, the thrill of a stolen kiss, and powerful pop ballads infused with filthy guitars and hot sex”. The gig will be closed by another growing Preston institution, Dirty Bare Feet, playing an audience pleasing “myriad of rap, soul, reggae, dance, pop, disco and jazz”; and opened by Chorley hard rockers Soldato (“four hairy northerners making noise with wood and wire”).




 
Of most interest to me, however, is that this gig marks a long-overdue return to live action by Tyneside underground heroes Sleepy People. Teasers and tinkerers at the coalface of psychedelic pop, they’ve always been a wilfully eccentric bunch; mingling the countercultural clowning and cosmic glissandi of Gong with bursts of twinkling synth melody, pulses of ska and post-punk guitar chug, set off by moonstruck flute and held together by Paul Hope’s odd yet jaunty songs (which chunter along like sugar-frosted tank engines). The last time they trod the boards was back in 2001: reunited with original singer Tiny Wood (better known as the frontman for ongoing cult-glamsters Ultrasound) they’re seeing what the contemporary world offers them, and vice versa.

Sleepy People, 11th November 2017Despite a strong work ethic Sleepy People never got as far as they should have done during their first lease of life; partly thanks to a constant stop-start of personnel turnover (with Paul and Rachel Hope the only consistent members) but also due to their continual goofiness and repeated nose-thumbing at any conception of cool. Daevid Allen might well have applauded, but the insouciant clowning tended to obscure surprisingly thoughtful songwriting which – while it happily dipped into a soup of esoterica from Gurdjieff to Freemasonry – frequently raised an arch, quizzical eyebrow at contemporary concerns. Among the tales of the frieze of myth and of men turning themselves into birds, the Sleepies also sang about the encroachment of shopping malls, about futile attempts at freezing yourself into immortality, or about modern-day nightmares in orphanages and retirement homes. At other times they’d cast numinous halos of wonder around everyday occurrences (a winter walk home which slowly becomes freighted with significance; the joy of a child running across a beach; or, perhaps on the same beach, the uncomprehending travails of a newly-hatched turtle perilously navigating by the moon).

Things can only be improved by the ongoing reunion with Tiny (who actually rejoined for part of the band’s final stint as Blue Apple Boy around 2002 before they called it a day). Striving to be Wakefield’s own David Bowie and its David Thomas; possessed of a hulking, dramatic stage presence; singing in foreboding and flinty tones like a pop crooner reincarnated as a battlefield crow… he’s always been the best, and the edgiest, foil for Paul’s songwriting. The tail end of the Blue Apple Boy period saw them writing together, Tiny’s more personalised art-punk anguish proving the perfect sour complement to Paul’s sweet, playful tunefulness: let’s hope that they’ve kept that up for the revival.

As for Sleepy People on the web, they’ve still got much to improve on their Facebook page (you’re better off checking them out on Wikipedia) and embeddable delights are few and scattered. Here’s what I could come up with, though – a twirl through Halfway World (with Tiny’s original replacement Phil Sears); recent rough’n’ready rehearsal footage of Every Wave Is Higher On The Beach and Nicky’s Little Army; and half an hour of grainy, raucous footage of a Tiny-fronted band lineup in 1993 (complete with three-fifths of the original Ultrasound).





 

Ultrasound: ‘Welfare State/Sovereign’ single, 2011 (“a defiant desire to simply grow, like a gnarled tree”)

4 Sep
Ultrasound: 'Welfare State/Sovereign'

Ultrasound: ‘Welfare State/Sovereign’

Holy shit. Yes. Why reform without true purpose, and how much better when you’ve grasped it? In the wake of a riot-torn English August (and twelve years after imploding into a cloud of soiled tinsel) Ultrasound burst back into life, their idiot-savant knack of transmuting outsider vanity and navel-gazing into shared Britpop anthems now regenerated with a vengeance.

If they’re still harking back to the ’70s with their punk-raw attack, their epic classic-rock scale and their dirty storms of psychedelic sleet, that’s fine. It’s not as if the worst parts of the 1970s aren’t already washing back to us: the flailing economy, the strikes, the embezzlements and resentments. Rudely uncoupled from the lives we expected, shoved back to childish helplessness, punch-drunk with the rage simmering under our good behaviour… perhaps we need some growling mongrel ’70s spirit to grab onto.

It seems appropriate that it should come from these guys; the tangle of scraggy-looking oddballs who, back in 1998, briefly seemed to be stumbling into the role of people’s band – flaws, delusions and all. Back then their hulking singer Tiny broke all of the rules for being a pop frontman (too old, too weird and unpretty, too gloriously fat). Yet he played both Peter Pan and Pied Piper to a slice of teenaged music fans, who found inspiration in the way he stood stubbornly in the heart and guts of his long-past adolescence and sang out its fear and wonder. Then the band imploded and died in a welter of recriminations, self-indulgence and selfishness; and as their collective corpse bounced chin-first down every hard concrete step they’d climbed up, we watched them crash from inspiration to sorry memory, from joke to obscurity to lonely pub quiz question.

Several pop generations on, they’ve picked themselves up, casually blinked away a decade, and returned in full flush with a double single concentrating everything that made them great in the first place. Welfare State (vulgar, inspirational, coming in like The Who carpet-bombing ‘The X-Factor’) is a rallying call for Tiny’s army of “filthy, fly-blown fools.” It’s also a celebration of the band’s return to action and a two-fingered statement of dole-culture entitlement. It resonates eerily with the grand smash-and-grab which blighted the English summer of 2011, especially when a burglar alarm bleeds into the psychedelic stew midway though.

Don’t expect consistency – only a few breaths away from eulogizing heroic working mums, Tiny can exult “we’ve never done a day’s work in our lives” as the band cook up a flaring riff behind him. But as they rage at suppression and disappointment, and as the song turns into a sweeping cavalcade of outcast celebration (“We are the greasy unwashed scum, we are the paupers on the run”) it’s hard not to be carried along.

It makes more sense set against its parallel flipside, the Dennis Potter-inspired anthem Sovereign: here, Ultrasound expose a mucky vegetable heart in a soup of soiled aspiration and strayed Catholic imagery. In comparison to Welfare State’s foolhardy confidence, it starts in shit and sins and only gradually grows roses. Initially stars, notes and shame all melt downwards out of a vast gloomy sky while Tiny pleads for hope – “All this mess and grime and snail-slime / makes life…” By the climax (with volatile bassist Vanessa Best adding her magnificent soul howl, and the sky lit up with blazing guitars), it’s somehow turned into the Ascent of Man: transfigured out of guilt into an invigorating, painful rush of honesty.

There’s still no sign that Ultrasound have grown up – that, I suspect, would be missing the point – but their desire to simply grow, like a gnarled defiant tree, has never been stronger.

ULTRASOUND: ‘Welfare State/Sovereign’
Label Fandango, ULTRA001t
7-inch vinyl/download single
Released: 29th August 2011

Buy it from:
Label Fandango or iTunes.

Ultrasound online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud

Blue Apple Boy (with Tiny Wood): ‘Salient’ album (“a fistful of hallucinated tabloid pages”)

6 Nov
Blue Apple Boy: 'Salient'

Blue Apple Boy: ‘Salient’

Change your name: it doesn’t always change your problems. Take Sleepy People, for example, who hauled their lively kaleidoscopic music around an unrewarding British indie circuit (and through a dozen fragile lineups) for a decade. In 2000 they relaunched as Blue Apple Boy, yet retained their perennial instability. Within a year, bandleader Paul Hope was stalled back home in Newcastle minus a singer and half of his musicians.

Sometimes, though, you can take advantage of the problems. At the same time, Britpop anti-hero Tiny Wood (the former frontman for indie-glam stars Ultrasound) was also back in Newcastle, his former band smeared across London as a smouldering Icarus-heap of terminal wreckage and recriminations. Before all that, back in the mid-’90s, Tiny had been the original Sleepy People singer: now he and Paul had common wounds to lick, common sympathies, some comforting nostalgia. Perhaps they even shared, and enjoyed, some affinity-building stubbornness. A mutually beneficial team-up must have seemed so logical…

All of which leads us to the Blue Apple Boy debut album, ‘Salient’ – effectively, a Sleepy People reunion, with the additional expectations of an Ultrasound sequel looming over it. Even before a note is heard, this album struggles with the conflicting yanks of cult-pop demands. Blue Apple Boy make as much hay as possible from Tiny’s cult-hero status, but risk a spurning from aggressively heartbroken Ultrasound fans (who might just crucify a hero who won’t do what they want of him). In practice, ‘Salient’ makes the most of these pressures and contradictions. It’s not quite what’s expected, yet it’s firmly familiar and keeps its own defiant identity to the end.

As with Sleepy People, the songwriting remains predominantly under Paul Hope’s control, and it’s his particular psychedelic quirks that dominate the record. All Systems Fail and Who’s That Calling are typical of this: cute and melodic, in-your-face playful; and leaping off in odd, sometimes vexing, directions as they caper and strive for your attention. Peculiar stories are flourished at you like a fistful of hallucinated tabloid pages. Riffling through assorted newspapers, Paul tracked down real-life accounts of sleepwalkers, bridge-fallers and other unfortunates: re-filtered through the Hope song prism, these tales suggest a tilted world in which people constantly stray off into the margins, crumpled and bizarre.

Whatever other changes the band have gone through, their free-romping jolliness remains intact. They retain their twitchy rhythms, their chugging power-pop guitar lines and their fairy-dust spangles of keyboard, (this time, provided by Vietgrove’s Norman Fay). Paul’s wife Rachel Theresa is still on hand to add her twirling cascades of flute and bubbling analogue synthesizer. In the space of a single song, Blue Apple Boy are likely to traverse space-rock, ska, post-punk and light entertainment. They’ll mix up, with equal affection, the memories of Magazine and The Monochrome Set with those of dusty archive clips of ‘Children’s Hour’; or fuse the nervous thresh of Cardiacs with the sitcom jingles of Ronnie Hazlehurst.

The band’s tinges of eerie head-spinning sound and fairytale absurdity – all very English – also nod to Syd Barrett or, more often, Gong. Despite Tiny’s top billing and Paul’s songwriting dominance, there’s occasionally a communal Gong-family feel to the album, and on three tracks, Tiny is absent altogether. It’s Rachel who provides the spun-sugar lead vocals to The Moon Is Hungry’s Gurdijieffian bossa-nova; and to the hokey-cokey, carousel-prog of Leave The Mud For The Worms. On Apples And Pears (a brief whimsical interlude of psychedelic innocence and nursery babble) Paul and Rachel’s children provide chatter and giggles.

Yet at the heart of the album is the return of Tiny – who has never seemed more at home anywhere than he does here. While Ultrasound had their moments of true connection and emotion, they were ultimately victims of their own grandiose quest for scale and significance: at their worst, they’d belly-flop into grotesque navel-gazing parodies of arena-rock. ‘Salient’ proves that Tiny’s brooding outsider tendencies and flinty tones turn out to be better in smaller environments, posting beady jabs of art-rock from halfway up the pole.

In addition, Tiny displays a knack for adding sardonic, solemn depth to even the most whimsical ideas. Carefully souring Paul Hope’s sonic candy, he highlights the dirt and scrapes lurking behind the playfulness. If Rachel has always been Paul’s most loyal musical foil, Tiny’s always been the one to add grit to his fancies.

For instance, a song about the disorientation and horror of retirement homes (Sunshine Valley Paradise Club) has almost too much musical gamesmanship going on. There are bundles of instruments falling out of the cupboard; there’s a spooky careen of a verse leading into a chorus like a ’70s sitcom theme wrestling with Iggy Pop, then tumbling down the stairs. To cap it off, there’s a dirty great plume of polluted guitar noise from Richard Green (another ex-Ultrasounder and former Sleepy Person, passing through with a psychedelic razz). Yet it’s Tiny, teetering between dignity and hysteria, who reaches through all of this romping and draws out the song’s humanity; the failing dignity of the elderly narrator, the chintz and decorum which rubs shoulders with the sinister.

At other times, Tiny shoves his way through a song like the bastard bare-knuckled offspring of Howard Devoto and the young Peter Gabriel. On Hanghar, Blue Apple Boy deliver a dogged psychedelic pelt along the reality faultline. While a bossa-nova flute-and-birdsong break sweetens the pill for a moment, Paul’s choppy blunt-razor-punk guitar and Tiny’s snarling slides across the melodies make it flit edgily between freedom and menace, vision and insanity. “Seeing the door that’s carelessly open, sliding like a shadow you move… / Light as a feather you’re sailing / while they’re nailing your face to the floor.”

Across the album, Tiny proves to have many more strings to his bow. He lends a junk-Sinatra majesty to the moonstruck marine gloom of Every Wave is Higher on the Beach, with its midnight compulsions and harbour lights: while its cryptic lyric is actually about spawning turtles led astray and into peril by human encroachments on their world, Tiny makes it sound like the return of a disorientated prodigal son. On the sinister sleepwalking fantasia of Dead Man Walking, he snarls over the spasming riffs like a resentful marionette. When he’s simply interpreting a song, though, he adds no more than implications, fine though they are. When he’s given a hand in the songwriting – adding layered lyrics to Hope’s musical inventiveness – he focuses the whole band onto something more pointed.

On the two occasions when this happens, Blue Apple Boy rise above their eccentricities to blaze out two Tiny-scaled anthems for the lost and sidelined (“Born from hope to homelessness, I think / Life is just a kitchen sink…”) As theatrical as anything Ultrasound offered, they recapture that band’s zest in spitting from the outside. These two songs also see Tiny fully focused – a surreal, self-appointed martyr; a champion of car-crash lives at the sharp end of a brutal universe. One of them, Cold War, is even explicitly billed as a follow-up to Ultrasound’s blisteringly romantic Stay Young. It sounds like the evil twin of a Christmas single – stately, but apocalyptic. Tiny struggles though a blasting, suffocating winter-of-the-soul: as people die in the snow around him, distant heartless bells tinkle.

The other song, Jump Start, has already had a few trips around the block. Previously (with different lyrics and frontman) it was a jittering, paedophile-panic single called Freak. Transformed by Tiny, it becomes a cavalcading anthem of blockages, resurgences and blown chances. “The golden door, / it shuts in your face and you’re always poor.” As melodies veer and crash around him, Tiny delivers a sardonic twist on the ageing underground spirit – “Citizen Smith went to heaven, and everyone else drove to Brighton / Cleaner, greener, newer – and I’m frightened…” Maybe it’s a portrait of the Ultrasound collapse; maybe it’s just Tiny voicing a sudden sense of the cold wind that suddenly blows around ageing romantics and freezes the Byron out of them.

Either way, it encapsulates the way this late, reconciling album works. There are bumps in the dream. If handed a nasty twist in the tale, sing it out with your own twist.

Blue Apple Boy (with Tiny Wood): ‘Salient’
Soma Sound, SOMASOUND002
CD album
Released: 28th October 2002

Buy it from:
Best obtained second-hand.

Blue Apple Boy online:
Last FM YouTube

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