Herb's London Report


October, 1998


by Herb Wright
TransAction's London Correspondent

Ever since Creation Records supremo Alan McGee- the man who signed Oasis- said in June"there will be no record companies in 5 or 10 years time", the UK music biz has been shitting itself. Could it be true? Signed bands were getting dropped, A&R departments culled, sales were down, no-one (as usual) had a clue where the music was going. And yet 35% of music globally is UK-originated. So what's been occuring?


photo: Kenickie

Like everywhere, it's manufactured bands and MOR stuff that dominate charts. When alternative acts like Catatonia or Garbage break through, we say ooh you're not indie anymore, which is probably quite a relief to them. Exactly the same is about to happen to Republica, who are full of cyberglamour and just unleashing an album of great pop/dance crossover tunes Speed Ballads. Singer Saffron throws her voice about like she's won the lottery. The indie press are already grumbling but Republica deliver what the the people want (not like your porn-peddling Republicans!). On the other hand, Newcastle's great blousey all-girl hope Kenickie may have buggered their international stardom chances by delivering an unexpectedly sophisticated album Get In- not enough radiofriendly whoppers but, wow... the range of moods and styles.

photo courtesy of Shirley Manson Worshipers' Page

When alternative acts like Catatonia or Garbage break through, we say, 'ooh you're not indie anymore....'


What makes for indie-cred and big sales is"commitment" and it's the Manics leading the field this year with their 2nd album since the dissapearence of cult member Richie. It's called This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours which is a quote from dead cult socialist Aneurin Bevan, which about sums up where they're coming from- politicized yet profoundly humane and with the poetry of the Welsh valleys in their veins. Another big guitar band Ash who used to be the best of the teenagers, have gone all committed and mature with new album Nu-Clear Sounds, which rocks like it's on steroids and slips into passages of breathtaking beauty. To think, they once recorded drunken throwing up in a bog for a b-side! Best up-and-coming guitar band with tunes to die for has to be Annie Christian- they will be big, you heard it here first. And it's about time Ballroom went bigtime- these thin Camdeny lads do tortured guitar soul with a grace rarely reached by Richard Ashcroft.


Ash's Tim Wheeler
performing at Reading Fest, '98

by: K. Bernard


Another big guitar band Ash who used to be the best of the teenagers, have gone all committed and mature with new album Nu-Clear Sounds, which rocks like it's on steroids and slips into passages of breathtaking beauty.


Sadly missed will be Dodgy, perhaps the last great joyously Beatlesey English band, who've broken up leaving a curious single Every Single Day which has a twist of Beck about it. Course, it's the Beach Boys who are the fashionable influence these days, eg in the increasingly sickening harmonies of Silver Sun and others, or else through weird collaging of sound like Salako who sound uncannily like Japan's #1 Brian Wilson fan Cornelius (or at laeast like dreamy-period Floyd).

Worthy of a quick mention is Belle & Sebastian the mysterious Glasgow outfit somewhere between a group and a collective- new album The Boy With The Arab Strap is more gentle and real than the delicate/misunderstood sort of youth it evokes. That's the sort of thing that should get nominated for the highbrow Mercury Prize for best new UK music. This year they considered Pulp, big rappy Asian Dub Foundation, dancey mix wizards Propellerheads, heart-throb Robbie Williams and Catatonia as well as the usual obscure modern classical/folk stuff. Gomez won as their garage- recorded album Bring It On was considered"authentic". Now these lads are a fine band with their lazy irreverent tunes, but as the Sunday Times pointed out, it sounds rather like"tobacco-spitting Louisiana hobos" at work.

Right now the labels are scrambling for female fronted stuff and serious Radiohead types. Plus they reckon the keyboards 'n'drum-machine 80's pop revival is for real this time.


Okay, what about new stuff? Right now the labels are scrambling for female fronted stuff and serious Radiohead types. Plus they reckon the keyboards'n'drum-machine 80s pop revival is for real this time. It all became clear at this year's In The City in Manchester, Europe's big Music Biz shmooze/convention every September. Hundreds of delegates, musicians, meetings, seminars, talkshops etc, and everyone pretending it's rock'n'roll by getting pissed in the bar of the swank Crowne Plaza hotel literally till dawn. It was at the gigs that A&R were out to spot tomorrow's bands. I checked out over 20 myself, and here are my faves- JD & Rick are fronted by Jo, an intense sunbleached blonde, banging away on an acoustic guitar. They're big on different percussion- apart from various drum loops there's a selection of African drums and of course Jo's leg verily jumping the beat off the stage. The sound is delicious- Joni Mitchell for the 90s, sweet hippyish songs about summer rain and things- but with urgency, a strong bassline, and that percussion. Probably the best band @ ITC.

Screeper is a Portsmouth combo with machines doing loops Žn' big phat sorts of beat, fronted by a guitarist in a velvet-jacket. Their dance/rock crossover can go on a bit, but sometimes hits a vibe of runaway power. Astrohound was a 4-piece playing psychedelic-tinged rock-pop, with a definite 60s mesmeric feel to it- likely to go somewhere.


What makes for indie-cred and big sales is"commitment" and it's the Manics leading the field this year with their Second album since the dissapearence of cult member Richie.


Bellatrix was beset by sound problems, difficult to hear theatrical Eliza's vocal acrobatics above the crazy oft-Sugarcubes-like wall of sound. One in 30 000 of all Icelandic women are in the band Bellatrix (that's 4 by way), but they do have a bloke drummer and these girls are hot! Myormay has an Oriental youth fronting a 4-piece combo with a big, rocky sound. The slow numbers run deep- songs like Clear have the emotional power of Radiohead before they became self-indulgent. The Alchemicals was fey boys with shaggy hair and cool shirts, solid guitar riffs and Bluresque pop tunes, psychedelic tinges and hints of the 60s, loads of confidence. They're the closest to the dream Camden band, but they're desperate not to be associated with Camden!

Cay were thrash punk attitude, grunge looks and an acetylin torch of charisma in Dutch full-on screamer/guitarist Anet. With her crimson hair, wasted 40kg skeletal frame and squathouse dress sense, she could be 1999's alternative sex symbol (her guitar says ŽDead Century'). Sometimes the band just make noise, sometimes it gets quite Pavement. And then the manic noise machine around her skirts silence, and she sings quietly ŽI don't want to freak you out/but the music's too loud/ and the lights are too bright'... there's a whole other level here. Amazing.

Younger Younger 28s won the ITC Unsigned Bands. They were atrocious- 80s revival stuff complete with cheesey keyboard guy motionless in shades. The tunes are dull and small. The two girls sing like Shampoo but there's still a bit of work to be done co-ordinating their less-than-ambitious choreography, which extends little beyond arm-swinging. The judges' point in voting them the winner was probably that we're OD'd on deep talent, yet it's shallow manufactured stuff that fills the charts. Ah well.


Background photo: The Manics' RIchie Edwards
by Karena Bernard

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