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The perils of patronage

During the recent Mercury Music prize press blitz, you’d have been forgiven for thinking John Bramwell, better known as I Am Kloot, was only in the running because he was pals with Elbow’s Guy Garvey. The media, looking for an angle, decided the comparision between the struggling indie band and the massively-successful indie band was the hook on the story. Garvey, for his part, saw a chance to get his mate some attention and commendably did his utmost to promote him. After all, he’d been there himself during the ‘Chris Martin’s favourite songwriter’ period. But does it actually help in the long-term?

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Paul McCartney – Hampden Park, Glasgow

Writing about anything Beatle-related presents a problem; what to say that hasn’t already been said? There doesn’t seem to be a month where some new book promises revelations but in the end simply re-treads over the story. There also isn’t anybody out there who doesn’t have an opinion on the fab four. Simply put, people know what they feel about the band. There are no agnostics to convince.

So to review Paul McCartney objectively is almost impossible. I know and you know what the songs are. What they sound like, how they fit together. There is no mystery. Some reading will be fans, others vehemently not. But everybody reading will know what the fuss is about, even if they don’t agree with it.

It comes down, simply, to what it is; some of the greatest popular music ever written, played by it’s composer. Is it played badly, competently, or well…that’s the question. The answer is none of the above. It’s played astonishingly.

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Noel Gallagher: Solo Artist – What the world’s been waiting for?

He probably wouldn’t thank you for the comparison, but Noel Gallagher has been the Ryan Giggs of music for years now: although he played for someone you couldn’t stand, you always thought he seemed a good bloke personally. If you want to torture this one out further, you could say both of them started brilliantly, dipped severely in form but then came back to reach vaunted elder statesman level late in the day.

But the news today that Gallagher’s first shows as a solo artist – as opposed to solo shows, which he’s been doing for years now – will be held next month in London for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Always a musical classicist (or conservative, depending on your viewpoint) is it too late to expect much more than the status quo?
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The Songs That Saved Your Life – The 60s: Helter Skelter

BeatlesAh, the 60s. In the second part of our series, Scant Regard argues the case for one of the Fabs most out-there tracks defining the decade. Must have just pipped ‘Needles and Pins’.

So the 60s have become synonomous with the dawning of a new musical outlook – the movement from rock n roll to, well, everything we know as mainstream music, happened in the decade that if you remember, you weren’t there. Could anyone alive in 1960 have predicted the power of music that made 500,000 people descend on a rural NY farm 9 years later to do drugs, have sex, oh and watch some cool bands?

It’s not just the music that came out of the 60s that is so astounding, it’s the pace of change which is staggering.

The living embodiment of this change were, of course, the fab four themselves, The Beatles. Now, a lot of you popular music bashing philistines will criticise me for being obvious, but, frankly, I don’t give a shit. Cliches become cliches for a reason. For me, nothing embodies this change, and gives a clearer indication of things to come for all of our ears than ‘Helter Skelter.’

This song is a revelation whenever you listen to it – it’s noisy, and rambunctious and fucking good. But think about where it came from: released in 1968, just 8 years after the band were formed to play rock n roll covers, and marks, for me, the sheer force of the talent brought together so advantageously to make up what would become the best band in the world.
Helter Skelter is raw, it’s loud and it’s visceral.

Think back to the fact that 5 years earlier, these four mop tops were playing Buddy-Holly-light to teenage girls. And forward to the fact that it in another 9 short years we’d be spitting and calling the Queen a fascist on Top of the Pops.

It is cited by some bands as the beginning of heavy rock, and it was written by a balladeer, apparently. And for me, it’s the best example of how the 60s changed our musical landscape forever.

The Friday 5 – As sure as eggs are eggs; 5 musical truisms

Flaming Lips - EmbryonicWe live in a crazy world. Everything seems to be liquid now; nobody knows what the future holds. Nothing is as it was and it never seriously threatens to settle. It’s easy to feel disconnected, as if the lead is there but you haven’t been plugged in.

Luckily, there are some things you can rely on. The Friday 5 is one of them. When we remember to do one. Continue reading

The ELM ‘Claim to Lame’ Game

Icons. Bloody Icons. That’s what these so-called pop stars are to us. We mere mortals, scrabbling about on our uppers looking for a break, are turned into sheer shivering wrecks in the presence of greatness (and, in this modern world, there is nothing which proves greatness more than celebrity.) Just to touch the hem of their garments would fill us with a deep and unmistakable joy which nothing – not drugs, religion or family – could match. And being around them, gaining fleeting access to their gifts…well, it’s mind-blowing.

Maybe you were standing in a lift when Paul McCartney got in and was blabbing about how they were getting back together to record ‘Free As A Bird’. You could well be the bloke who shouted ‘Judas!’ at Bob Dylan in Manchester. Perhaps you saw New Order just after Ian Curtis passed away and suggested they go electro.

But we don’t want to know about that.

No, here at ELM, we are looking for the worst example of Rock Star non- interaction out there. Maybe you know someone who once stood behind the bloke from Menswear in the queue at the Little Chef. Maybe your Dad’s mate’s best pal’s daughters ex-boyfriend once went out with someone who did the make-up for Mis-Teeq. Perhaps you got a horse-racing tip from a roadie who once nearly worked for the Pigeon Detectives but had a big dominoes game the second night of the tour.

Basically, we want the crap, the utterly pointless, pathetic brushes with non-fame that you nearly had. The more esoteric the better, the more removed the more it turns us on. Anyone can meet famous people. What’s the bloody point? They are all boring bastrads anyway. The prize for this is a signed copy of a 12-inch red vinyl copy of ‘Swords of a Thousand Men’ by Tenpole Tudor, which may not be given out as it sort of very much doesn’t actually exist.

I’ll kick us off; an ex-colleague used to work with someone who was once engaged to a man who made a pair of trainers for Kanye West before he was famous. FACT.

Okay, now it’s your turn; keep that crap comin’…..

The Friday 5 – And The Drums, the Drums, the Drums, the Drums

As sure as night follows day, as certain as Sarah Palin about shooting things, as reliable as a Guy Ritchie movie being awful, yes folks, it’s the Friday 5. Today we’re going to get with the beat and celebrate those who power the music we love so much, who hammer out the rhythms which appeal to the primate in all of us. Today we celebrate the much maligned drummer.

Why do drummers provoke such ire? They are often portrayed as thick, unhygienic sorts who leech off the talent of the others in their groups. For instance, let’s look at this classic drummer joke about The Beatles;

In The Beatles

John was the brain

Paul was the heart

George was the soul

Ringo was the drummer

People who wish to disparage them often point to Phil Collins as an example of why drummers should be hated. Which is a pretty conclusive argument, to be fair, but then again, look at Sting but no-one despises bassists, do they?

Possibly it is because of the bother bands go to to get a drummer when they first get together. Everybody has mates who own a guitar, who can sing a bit so it’s easy to get started. Bass is basically guitar without solos, but drums? How many 14 year olds own a drum kit? So after long, fruitless searches, bands find a drummer, who generally plays in about six bands precisely because he owns a kit. They must treat him with respect lest he takes his sticks and fucks off.

So a few years down the line, the band get some success. The drummer, who has long since jettisoned the other bands, is now reliant on the songwriting skills of another band member. And for that band member, well, it’s payback time….

But the drummer can be a thrilling part of any band. Honestly. Today we look at some top-notch exponents of the art hitting things with sticks to make a living.

Keith Moon – You can’t have a list like this and not have the resident Who loon in it. Famously a complete nut job off the field, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was a simply sensational drummer. His fills on songs such as ‘Substitute’ are just incredible, as much a part of the song’s greatness as the guitar or vocals. Once drove a car into a swimming pool, a feat made even more impressive by the fact the pool was on the second floor. Was also the inspiration for Animal from the Muppets. That, frankly, ensures immortality.

Reni – Stone Roses sticksman and the man responsible for the loping, grooving sound which categorized the bands success after the charisma black hole that was their early work. His gimmick was the fisherman’s hat, dutifully copied by many a pretend scally in the early 90’s. Apart from being an incredibly fluid drummer, he also contributed backing vocals which were a distinctive part of the Roses greatest era’s arsenal. Affected pretty deeply by the split, Reni claimed he was throwing the drumsticks in the bin and wouldn’t play with no-one no-more. And, to be fair to him, has pretty much stuck to that for over a decade.

Topper Headon – Drumming is a pretty tough gig at the best of times, so to do it when completely out-the-game on opiates is rather amazing. Headon’s military-drums-gone-mental approach to his kit helped elevate the Clash from the punk hordes and was to remain a feature through all the eras in the band. Headon was no mere tub-thumper however; check the subtlety of his work on the dub styled ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ for example.

Bill Berry – There is an argument that R.E.M. have never been the same since the generously eyebrowed one decided to swap his drum stool for a porch chair and retire to his farm. And they’d be right. As well as being an accomplished drummer, Berry also bought excellent vocal harmonies to the band, was a songwriter in his own right and, most of all, was the bands conscience (he infamously got Michael Stipe to change the lyrics to ‘Welcome To The Occupation’ as he felt they were too direct.) Another one who seems to have no desire to return to the stage soon.

Charlie Watts – A jazz drummer in his youth, which is seemingly in the Crimean War era, the man behind the kit is by far the most likeable Stone. Consider the evidence;

* He sketches every hotel bed he’s ever slept in.
* He collects cars but doesn’t drive, so just sits in them and stares out the window.
* He punched Mick Jagger for referring to him as ‘My drummer’.
* He didn’t take drugs for the first 20 years of the band and then got addicted to heroin in the 80’s.
* He wears a cravat.

The man is pure, undiluted rock’n’roll royalty.

So the next time you hear a drummer being laughed at by a cocksure front man, think of the dudes mentioned above and remind him that without the man at the back, there would be noting to dance to and we’d all be listening to annoying willowy women paying acoustic guitars and wailing about the environment and stuff. And you fundamentally cannot pull to that type of thing. At least not somebody you’d actually want to sleep with.

Anyway, enjoy the weekend, ELM is off to Nashville, believe it or not, so we’ll see you Tuesday!