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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 30th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
I’ve had a Sheffield hangover for months now. No, I wasn’t at Tramlines. It was a product of an incredibly short, 24-hour flying visit to the City of Steel to see some guys I’ve come to know. I always say that fate must exist and it works in mysterious ways, because the afternoon I spent in Sheff, I was skulking around the town centre trying to find a copy of the local and beloved Sheffield Exposed free entertainment magazine. It took looking into and inquiring at some 15 different establishments until I finally chanced upon what I was looking for at Bungalows and Bears bar on Division Street.
Maybe such a magazine exists in Washington but since I don’t live in the city proper, I’ve never seen anything like Exposed. I imagine if you’re young and you happen to live in a hip, happening place like Sheffield, this is the kind of thing that becomes your regular bible, especially if you are into music, as there are always features on local bands, giving them their due. This kind of grass roots, region-specific focus strikes me as something very English (or is it something very British?), an appreciation of what is local, great and under your noses, and it was through this copy of Exposed that I learned of The Hosts. You couldn’t miss them. There was a huge, full page photo spread on the band, opposite to a very funny Q&A.
Though I’ve been advised that at least one of the Hosts’ members has alighted for Coventry, the Hosts appear to have been cut from a similar cloth to city brethren High Hazels (who I profiled in July in this Bands to Watch) and the Crookes. Something very peculiar to the city is that for much better than worse, Sheffield’s music scene has pockets that feel like they’ve been stuck in a time warp. I say this lovingly, because the bands I’ve mentioned have taken all that was good from what I have always considered the golden age of pop music songwriting – the ’50s and ’60s – and renewed my faith in music today by turning into something of their very own. The 8-year old version of myself, the one that was in love with the Beatles and ‘Please Please Me’-era Paul McCartney, would never have believed that years later I would have the chance to witness such an embracing of what went before, but with a fresh twist.
One listen to the Hosts’ ‘Give Your Love to Her’ (a live performance – in suits! – courtesy of Exposed is above), their current single on indie band champions Fierce Panda and related Label Fandango, and you will agree with their press release that this five-piece is “the missing link between Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley“. The latter is a quite apt comparison, with the Hosts sounding not unlike solo Hawley’s pre-‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ output: brilliant grandeur in orchestration, with a sweeping lead vocal ready made to overwhelm you in a warm cuddle. Quite literally, with the words, “take her in your arms, don’t let go…take your love to her…”
Further, the godfather of Sheffield cool himself must be an unwavering supporter to the band, having produced earlier song ‘September Song’ (promo video below), which is quite appropriate since we usher in the new month on Sunday. “So I was waiting for you to close your eyes / so I could say goodbye”: you hear that noise? That is the sound of me sobbing. Two simple lines placed in a chorus, and yet so powerful in emotion. These days, you can guarantee whatever you find is on Radio1 and MTV being sold as a “love song” (note I used quotation marks) is oversexed and cringe-inducing. It’s like the men doing the songwriting have forgotten that the way to a woman’s heart is not by being vulgar but by appealing instead to appeal to the fairer sex’s love of beauty, and that includes in song. But not everyone has fallen prey to this disease. The Hosts, along with evidence from other Sheffield bands of late, show everyone else how it’s done. There is an art to this. And when it’s done well, it’s gorgeous.
The Hosts’ debut album with a title yet to be revealed is due to be out on Fierce Panda later this year, so we’re told, so there’s nothing left to do but wait. This is one music fan and editor who can’t wait for that release. The fact that all three bands – the Hosts, High Hazels and the Crookes – appear already to be mates makes it all less pie in the sky that maybe there will be some amazing Sheffield band tour in the future as well.
Update: as of 26/11/2013, they’re now called The Orielles.
Every so often one comes across a band that so perfectly defies expectation – and, occasionally, reason – that they deserve to be written about just for that. The Oreoh!s are just such an act. Comprising sisters Esme and Sid Hand-Halford on bass and drums, respectively, and Henry Wade on guitar, this Halifax-based three-piece are notable for being the youngest in age I have ever seen on the professional circuit: we’re talking between 15 and 17 years of age here, folks. Not even old enough for a refreshing post-gig lager. Which in itself isn’t a special talent – after all, we were all young once – but what’s more intriguing is that they’re actually a really good band. My thoughts on their appearance at Liverpool Sound City are already out there, but after the buzz of that weekend had died down I had the opportunity to sit down and have a listen to their independently-recorded EP ‘Sunny Daze and Sleepless Nights’. [Our copy was handed to me personally by the band themselves at Brink cafe on the third day of Sound City 2013. Eat your heart out, Lammo, with your Bloc Party demo at the Franz Ferdinand gig outside the toilets at the ICA. – Ed.]
Slightly dodgy puns aside, this recording really shows the depth of ability that these three West Yorkshire youngsters display. ‘Truth Be Told’ (stream above) is the opener – after the riffing builds into a decent garage-band groove, the beautiful crystal-clear voice of Esme is introduced, at once powerful and delicate, with a fine knack for a catchy melody. The lyrics advise, “do it all before you get old”, a surprisingly mature sentiment considering the singer’s tender years. ‘Deduce’ (video at the end of this post) is the standout track, and one that rollicks along at a fine pace, with a massive serving of fizzy guitars, tinny drums, and Esme’s lovely vocal. This could genuinely be an underground garage-rock classic – slightly lo-fi, incredibly catchy chorus that comes round exactly the correct number of times, deceptively basic yet heartfelt musicianship. A real triumph. And just to show they can do downtempo as well as up, ‘Midnight In Paris’ is a delicate ballad based around squeezebox rather than guitar, and again that surprisingly mature sentiment is clear to hear.
The Oreoh!s have been a pleasure to discover. All four songs on this EP are great and show incredible potential. It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating here – if they’re this good this young, how good will they be in a few years’ time? Let’s hope that they’ve got the staying power to properly realise their potential.
The Oreoh!s’ EP ‘Sunny Daze and Sleepless Nights’ is available from the band’s own merch store.
Drenge have been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.* But opportunistic recommendations from politicians aside, what’s all the fuss about Drenge? With a slender lineup consisting of brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless and nobody else, the Sheffield pair conjure a mighty brick wall of distorted guitars and scarily thrashed drums. If vocal styles could be patented, Nick Cave would be filing a suit against Drenge for his singing on latest single ‘Backwaters’ (video below): the drawled, echoed vocal will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, but the portentous riffing belongs firmly to 2013’s post-punk scene. The lyrics are pretty impenetrable, but the disturbing video evokes the violent energy of disenfranchised youth: all vandalism, alcohol, and casual violence, to the incongruous backdrop of dry stone walled countryside.
There’s to be an eponymous album in August, featuring both singles and their B-sides. Lead-off track ‘People In Love Make Me Feel Yuck’ can be previewed on Soundcloud (play it in the widget below); it’s funkier than either of the singles, and perhaps the closest Drenge have yet come to a love song (although apparently the album will showcase their tender side in a track improbably called ‘Fuckabout’). ‘I Wanna Break You In Half’ is perhaps the most outrageous recording yet, boiling over with bile (“If you had a soul I’d like to eat it”) and monstrous guitars. Drenge do what they do very well – the question is whether their schtick can be extended over the course of an album without becoming repetitive or stale. However, there can be no doubt that this will be spectacular live, and in this, Tom Watson does indeed have a point. Drenge have a headline tour scheduled for late August onwards, and are playing countless summer festivals before then, notably the main stage of Kendal Calling in just a couple of weekends’ time.
‘Drenge’ by Drenge is released on the 19th of August.
*Tom Watson MP, the self-appointed policeman of the country’s free press, was forced to resign his position as general election co-ordinator of Her Majesty’s Opposition over the union seat-fixing scandal, when it was revealed that the union-backed candidate for the allegedly Unite-rigged Falkirk seat was his personal office manager. In his resignation letter, Watson argued wrongly that it should be acceptable for party leaders (and therefore, presumably, prime ministers) to attend Glastonbury, before recommending Drenge as an “awesome band”. He was correct in his recommendation, as he was in his selection of Glastonbury headline band in this article for Noisey. But that doesn’t mitigate the fact that political resignation letters are for resignation, not discussions of popular music. The Drenge reference in this context is one part vanity, and one part attempt to deflect attention from the far more serious hot water that Watson finds himself in, a tactic that has been partly successful in the short term. In that way Drenge have found themselves being “used” for political purposes, something that bands rarely appreciate. No wonder they were so underwhelmed.
I’m as big a fan of wonky time signatures, innovation and bands going out of their way to be the next Radiohead/Arcade Fire, by ripping up the laws of music, as the next cardigan wearing muso. But sometimes, and it’s become all too often these days, I want music that isn’t hugely challenging, but is instead just enjoyable and a good laugh. Plus, I look really silly in a cardigan and can’t really get away with calling myself a muso, because the first album I owned was by Hanson and I REALLY liked Busted.
Enter stage right Melic: a four-piece rock band from London whose sound is gloriously simple and yet so funky, it has your body curving and grooving like a serpent in the middle of being charmed. The songwriting on their single ‘Nowhere I’d Rather Be’ is the perfect example of their bluegrassy hippishness. It’s a rock song, with an absolute instant hook, which will stick in your brain as long as that Slush Puppie brain freeze you got yesterday, because IT WAS JUST TOO WARM TO NOT EAT/DRINK IT QUICKLY. Mark Hitchcock’s guitars are soft enough to keep the song grounded, but with that vibrant edge to it, that has the song almost threatening to get a bit heavier.
It is tremendously clichéd to say that songs like the aforementioned are made for summer days like the continuous bout we are experiencing/suffering (delete as applicable) at the moment. But with a cold beer in one hand, a rack of ribs sizzling on your BBQ and your stereo (yes, people still have stereos) on in the background. Well, quite frankly, there’s nowhere I would rather be than listening to this song right now.
‘Nowhere I’d Rather Be’ is one of two singles of a double-A sided release (the other is ‘Folowers’) out now. Melic’s debut album ‘An Hour to Anywhere’ is out on the 5th of August on Beatnik Geek Records.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 17th July 2013 at 12:00 pm
Header photo by Russell Bates
2013 marks the fifth year of celebrated Sheffield music festival Tramlines, with this year’s proceedings kicking off this Friday the 19th of July. While the locale itself has been known as ‘Steel City’, many of the up and coming bands the city has spawned sound anything but gritty and hard. And that’s just fine by me. Let me explain…
If you happen to have the wonderful privilege of being present this weekend for Tramlines (or maybe you just happen to possess an incredible imagination and love the North like I do?), close your eyes in the middle of Sheff and quite possibly you will hear the dulcet sound that several bands from the area have independently cultivated. It is a sound of a time gone by, when life moved slower and you could stop and smell the roses because you weren’t worried about checking your (smart)phone for texts. This is also the kind of sound that is entirely unreliant on studio trickery or swish electronics. When you have really good songs and the beautiful voice of a lead singer, the only things left you really need are the rock band basics of guitars and drums.
One of the bands at the forefront of this movement is High Hazels. Like the Crookes, High Hazels’ band name is ‘borrowed’ from a real-life place in Sheffield: the High Hazels Park east of the city centre. Naming yourself after a beloved park – one of of the many nice, leafy spaces that make Sheffield less ‘Steel City’ and more inviting – lends your group an entirely unpretentious air, which also applies to High Hazels’ music. What’s probably most astonishing about this band is that even before they ever played a live gig, they were already getting plaudits from local hero Jarvis Cocker and Radio2 plays by BBC presenter and indie star maker Steve Lamacq. In an interview last winter with Artrocker, frontman James Leesley noted his reverence for the songwriting and musicianship of Simon and Garfunkel, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise when you hear the gorgeously reflective ‘Five Weirs’ and the melodically upbeat ‘So Strange’.
But the song that hooked me from the start was the first song the band ever recorded, called ‘French Rue’. For a start, the title itself has two meanings: “rue” in French means “street”, but it’s also used here to express regret in the Robert Frost poem ‘Dust of Snow’. The beginning chords usher in the song so sweetly as a ‘Lady’s Bridge’-era Richard Hawley might have done. As most pop songs go, its main theme of lost love is not new. However, ‘French Rue’ is lyrically rich, expressing separation using the sun, sea, stars and sky as cues to indicate this without being obvious.
With the gently strummed guitar lines and nicely drummed rhythm underneath, it’s a winner. The song’s bridge “I float on seas of emotion, coated in the weight of my devotion / I float on seas of emotion, our love suffered from some slight erosion” deserves special note as well, proving elegant rhyming whilst comparing the pain of heartbreak to permanent physical changes in landscape is not only possible but indeed, works really well and in a way you might not expect.
This is the first year Tramlines is charging the paltry entry fee of £6/day but if you’re skint, not to worry, as High Hazels are playing four entirely free shows: on Saturday they play the Cathedral at 3 PM, Western Park Bandstand at 5 PM and the Shakespeare (yes, *that* Shakespeare) at 8 PM, followed by an appearance at the Bowery on Sunday at 3 PM.
With enough sleaze to bankroll a grotty Camden strip club and the kind of groove that would have got you a cult following in the ‘70s, Clang Boom Steam are rolling a brilliant train of sludge onto the scene. We’ve got phallic metaphors throughout and a voice that could be a carbon copy of the legendary Richard Hawley on his most recent record.
Together then, this makes up Liverpool-based Irish band Clang Boom Steam, a group who have cobbled together some seriously sexy sounds. Songs like ‘Weird Bint’ (awful name) morph from groovy slow burners, with the pace of Adebayo Akinfewa on a slow day, into massive all-encompassing rock belters, with manic drumming and some silky slick bass lines. Then you’ve got ‘Dirty Lines’, drawing influences from bluegrass and injecting some desert swagger. It’s not got Homme levels of swag, as they’re let down by the fact they’re from Liverpool and not Austin, Texas.
Hometowns aside, Clang Boom Steam have a got an exciting sound, that they have definitely made their own. The Queens of the Stone Age influence is prevalent, but not overawing, and it shows that their debut release id definitively their own release and not a collaboration of re-hashed ideas. They’re a more refined version of The Computers in many ways, with tighter songs and writing, combined with the ability to produce a killer riff in the space of around 2 minutes.
Give them a go if you’re a soul fan, a rock fan, or are just need something to filthy up your life and make everything a little darker.
Clang Boom Steam’s self-titled debut album will be out on the 22nd of July. Stream song ‘Weird Bint’ below.