Friday, May 14, 2021

The Loft - Ghost Trains & Country Lanes – Studio, Stage And Sessions 1984-2015

While there have been a couple of compilations devoted to The Loft before now, Ghost Trains & Country Lanes, which was compiled by the band and contains 16 previously unreleased tracks, is by far the most comprehensive and a definite must-have.  Back in the early days of Creation Records, The Loft was considered one of the most promising bands on the label.  Unfortunately, after recording only seven studio songs that were released over two singles, the band broke up onstage in the middle of a song at the Hammersmith Palais during a tour opening for the Colourfield. Those seven songs open this 2-CD collection and definitely show their potential by perfectly drawing together elements of post punk and jangly guitar rock (the song “Your Door Shines Like Gold” off the second single is worth the price of admission all by itself).  This era is also represented with four cuts from a September 1984 BBC Radio 1 Session with Janice Long, only one of which had been recorded for the two singles.  Amongst the three that hadn’t been recorded in the studio were “On A Tuesday” and “The Canal and the Big Red Town" a couple of songs that most likely would have been huge hits had they been given the chance before the band imploded.  There is also a live ten song set from August 1984 (all but one of these had been previously unreleased).  Surprisingly the band reunited in 2005 and showed they hadn’t missed a beat releasing another two song single, which is also included here along with three previously unreleased songs that were recorded at that time.  The final four cuts here are from another BBC Session, this time with Gideon Coe in September of 2015, which was 35 years after the band was initially formed.  Three of these songs are from those first two singles and while they stand the test of time, you can definitely here the maturity in the band’s performance.   

(Cherry Red Records)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Interview with The Distractors

With the release of their debut Subversiv DekadentGhent (Belgium) four-piece The Distractors have hit the ground running with twelve cuts of raw, ragged no-frills garage & punk laced rock 'n' roll.  In this recent email interview with vocalist/guitarist Philip Malcolm (aka Lobster Johnson) he covered everything from their history and recording during the pandemic to the Belgian music scene and more.  

Can you give me a bit of history on the band?

I hadn't been in a band in 20 years after a show I promoted for some John Peel type band went bad and I ended up getting beaten up for the door by their manager. They're not around any more and I stole loads of their songs, so fuck them. In that time period I moved to Belgium, started playing again and met Yves (De Molotov, bass). I think he used to play in a surf band way back and we started bouncing ideas off each other. I was going to a lot of shows and getting really sick of a band saying "here's a song!" Playing it and then saying "Thank you! Here's another song!" and I wanted to have a kind of party band with some sort of theatrical element and really make people feel they were part of the show, not just watching us play songs like it wasn’t important if they were there or not. I think we roped in Golden Hands (Sven) and Jonah (JP9000) around January of 2019 and had our first show in June. People really seemed to respond to the idea and the way that we want to play like we're headlining some mad festival or a stadium show for 20 of our friends in a bar. 

From that we got booked for a Saturday night show at Gentse Feesten, which is like a mad 10 day long party in the city of Gent, (shows everywhere, all free) in a bar and the place was insanely full, hot and sweaty. There were people outside because they couldn't get in. Now, I'm not saying that was our burgeoning live reputation, it was the start of their Saturday night of madness, but by the end I think we surpassed our own and a lot of other people's expectations and we kind of got some word of mouth buzz and respect from some people who I look up to like crazy. 

The record happened because Darren who runs Trash Wax was delivering some vinyl to the Garbage Bags (check them out too!) in February 2020 and I got him wrecked on that mad 8% Guinness we have here and basically nagged him into letting us do an album. 

You recorded the album in just three days in October, which was between lockdowns due to the pandemic.  What can you tell me about that whirlwind process?

It was always going to be a very quick process, not least because we were skint. The cool thing about Peter Snakeboots who recorded it for us in his awesome analogue studio, is that he really doesn't like to mess about. He just said "This is gonna sound like a live, dirty rock n roll band" and he just took a listen to us in the room, twiddled the amps a bit, knew immediately which mics to use and how and then we just bashed it out. There aren't really that many overdubs on the whole thing and the ones that are there were the most painful part of the process for me. It's exactly what it sounds like, a tight-as-frog-booty live band picking up and playing, dropped notes, open strings, vocal fuck ups were all encouraged. 

In the end it was like a long work-day. We all got in at 10 and knocked off about 2230. Its mad, because I'm a fucking terrible employee and have always just turned up and fucked off at the earliest opportunity but this kind of showed me that I am capable of graft.  The weirdest bit was that the curfew here was 11 at night at that point, so we were all clockwatching the last two hours to get home on time not to get arrested. We also weren't 100% sure if we were legally allowed to be there as only "professional" cultural activities were permitted. That definition is as vague as it looks so I think we were half expecting a SWAT team to kick the studio door down and haul us off to amateur musician jail with a load of dad-cover bands who were still messing about in their garage that weekend: Truly a fate worse than death. I think the whole scenario gave it a sense of urgency that i think comes through in the sound. 

I went back and mixed it for 2 days in December. Pete does this cool thing where he takes the original tape, puts it onto his computer, mixes it and fixes some of our more glaring errors then records it back onto some old 1/4 inch tape and bounces that onto the computer as the final mixdown. The difference in the sound from raw digital to taped is night and day. Anyway, he has this stack of about 200 reels of 1/4 inch tape and tells us that his cousin is a bailiff and repossessed it from a guy who went to jail for pimping and various other unsavory stuff. Pimp tape. Tape repossessed from a dangerous criminal. For the record, Subversiv Dekadent was taped over his copy of "Unforgettable: The Best of Nat King Cole". Sorry Nat. 

Were all the songs already written when you went into the studio or were some of them written during those 3 days?

We're not Radiohead (gasp! End interview!), so writing in the studio is a luxury we, quite literally, couldn't afford. Everything was written and pretty well drilled by the time we got there. The only spontaneity on that score was that we decided not to record two songs and we dropped another one whilst we were recording it. That left us a song short, so we did “Long Live The Dead”, which I was adamant we weren't going to record out of fear that The Reverend Horton Heat would sue me. Come at me, Horton Heat. 

How does your songwriting process tend to work?

I dream of being asked stuff like this! 

Normally, I get an idea for a riff or a chorus and mess about with it until some sort of structure falls out. I've long since stopped worrying about originality.  I'm not trying to take music to strange new places, I'm trying to take it behind the bike sheds and get it pregnant.  I'm also always scribbling down little lyrical ideas. With the first lockdown I had about 20 half finished ideas and about 80 post its with these lyrics on them, so I stuck everything up on the wall and just started to see what talked to what.

So then I'll come to rehearsal with the idea, or I'll record a demo and send it to everybody, then Yves takes over. He's got this great ability to pull my songs apart, move bits about, get rid of dross, add bits in and what comes out the other side is usually different to what I began with. Jonah, our drummer, is also the best musician in the band so he always has an interesting take on things too. 

Was it hard going into the studio and recording without having more time to test some of the songs live?

Climbing a palm tree is hard, recording songs you haven't played live, by comparison, is pretty swell. I think everything on the record, except “Everybody Hates Poetry”, “You'll Never Take Us Alive” and “The Night Is Young (and so are you)” have been played live. I don't think we're really in a position to be cutting material on audience reactions, given our average crowd is about 100 people. I think that's a dangerous route to go down as well: Self editing based on what you think people want from you. I am a student of pop music and as trite as it sounds, I want to make music I like. I want it to offer something I'm not getting anywhere else, otherwise what am I making it for? 

Most of your songs have a solid garage and punk sound with some surf rock elements at times, but ”Evil Mariachi” has a really strong surf rock vibe to it and really stands apart from the rest of the album.  What’s the story there?

“Evil Mariachi” is a Sven song, that's why it sounds different. He started coming up with riffs and making his own demos and then we went through the same process as my songs in rehearsal. He's a much better guitar player than me so his songs are normally a bit more complex or have more layers than mine.  “You'll Never Take Us Alive” was the other one from him. That's probably my favourite song on the whole thing. It's funny you mention surf music as Ghent has more surf bands per capita than anywhere on earth, it's insane how many surf shows you could go to here in a month. 

The band wasn’t together long before the pandemic started. What kind of impact did the pandemic have on the band?

We're still living it! We haven't all been in a room together since November 1st when we wrapped the recording. It is, to use a technical term, a fucking pain in the arse. We haven't practiced, we haven't played at all, we've had loads of cool stuff cancelled... But it's the same for everybody. We're going to have a beer on Friday (May 14) when the album comes out (digitally at least). That'll be the first time we've been able to get together with everything here being closed from early October until May the 8th. 

Your music begs to be heard live, but unfortunately due to covid that has been a no go for over a year.  I read that there are recordings of your last show before things were shut down.  Any chance we will be able to hear that?

It's like drunken bootleg quality, I wouldn't put it out unless we cleaned it up quite a lot. There's 4 or 5 covers on there too. It's also quite confronting... We're by no means perfect as a band, tightness to me is everybody starting and stopping at the same time. But there's a load of clangers all over that recording. I think it's part of the spirit of the band though, we play hard and that means we hit the odd bum note. In my head it sounds like that Replacements live album that came out a couple of years ago. Warts n all. 

Your bio says you’re “the third best punk band in Belgium”.  If you are number three, who is number one and number two?

That was a lie. I made it up when I was trying to put some streaming shows together via a large American platform. It was a lie that was so banal and, at the same time, so ridiculous I assumed nobody would ever check on it. Congratulations you're the first. 

For the record we probably are the third best rock n roll band in Belgium. The second and first are both Blackup. 

How is the music scene in Belgium?

Ghent is kind of like a little island in Belgium of off-kilter culture. All human life is here. There's a load of cool Rockabilly type stuff (Garbage Bags, Grave Brothers), cool punk stuff like Blackup, so much instrumental surfy stuff like The Akulas and Fifty Foot Combo. You've got the daddys of the scene like Deus and Soulwax... Sioen does some cool stuff in a really interesting, independent way without much mainstream support. 

In that way, I suppose Belgium is like anywhere else. It's the lowest common denominator stuff that ends up on the radio. I'm under no illusions that we're going to be on these stupid "Lets pretend we care about artists who can't work" shows on TV from the music barn in Antwerp, but as a nation we must be able to do better than Whispering Sons.  Other members of the Distractors quite like Whispering Sons and I'm sure they're lovely people doing their best. 

I read something about a cafe there in Ghent called Misterioso putting together an album and you will be contributing a song.  Is that going to be a new song or one from the album? 

Misterioso is my local bar, it's like 80 metres from my front door. We've played there twice and the owner is a good friend. The record isn't from the bar, however, it's a crowdfunding project with all the profits going to the cafe to help them back on their feet after 8 months with no income whilst the brewery still want their bit every month. 

The idea was from Jens De Waele who plays bass in Fifty Foot Combo and about 73 other bands. Then his girlfriend and my girlfriend and a few others got involved and it's a whole thing. The heart of it is a limited edition record with songs donated by bands who have played there, who drink there or, like me both. Our track is “The Night is Young (and so are you)”, there's stuff from Blackup, Garbage Bags, Pauline Verminnen, The Grave Brothers and most importantly Paul Couter who died recently and was an absolute legend of Belgian music (He's best known for his 80s stuff with Arno ,TC Matic  and Tjenscouter) who had his base above the bar and ran the sound for all the shows. 

If people want to buy it or just contribute to helping keep open a place where a lot of cool bands started out or hang out they can get on it here:

Do you have anything else you would like to share with readers?

Only the unconditional love of the Distractors, and the fact that they can always get in touch for info, bookings, fabulous gifts or empty promises at

That and they should buy the album Subversiv Dekadent, via our bandcamp or the TrashWax website. 

May the Distractors be with you!

(The Distractors - Facebook)

(Trash Wax Records)

L7 - Wargasm - The Slash Years 1992-1997

Following their debut release on Epitaph Records and it's follow-up on Sub Pop, LA's L7 signed with the major label Slash Records for three of their finest albums, which along with eleven bonus tracks, can all be found on the new box set Wargasm - The Slash Years 1992-1997

Produced by Butch Vig, Bricks Are Heavy, their first release on Slash, finds the band perfecting their mix of punk, metal, grunge and on “Mr Integrity” even a little surf guitar, all the while maintaining a melodic hook (see their biggest hit single “Pretend We’re Dead”) and the everpresent sneer in both the lyrics and vocals.  Bonus cuts on disc one are an edited version of “Pretend We’re Dead” and the B-sides “Lopsided Head”, “Freak Magnet” and with “I Used To Love Him”, their slightly altered take on Guns ‘N’ Roses. 

For their next record Hungry For Stink the band enlisted Garth “GGGarth” Richardson as producer, and while they follow a similar path, this time the overall sound is a little heavier, a little more abrasive and aggressive and a little less melodic, but all in a good way. Standouts include the single “Andres” and the semi-psychedelic tinged “Stuck Here Again”.  Bonus cuts this time around are a live version of “Baggage”, an edited version of “Stuck Here Again” and two B-sides - “Punk Broke (My Heart)” and “Interview”, which is an almost 14 minute radio interview that has to be about the most bizarre interview you will ever hear.

While there are moments that harken back to their previous releases, their final release on Slash, The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum found the band moving in a more experimental direction.  Produced by Rob Cavallo and Joe Barresi and largely recorded as a three-piece after bassist Jennifer Finch left (Belly’s Gail Greenwood filled in on bass on some tracks) the sound here is more stripped down and the band is tighter than ever.  Songs like “Drama” and “Must Have More” (the latter of which borders on doom metal) show they can still be as heavy as they’ve ever been, while others like the infectious near pop of “Moonshine” (complete with a countdown intro from none other than Lionel Richie) and the quirky acoustic tune “Me, Myself and I” show a new side to the band.  As for the final batch of three bonus cuts there is the (Piss Off Version) of "Drama" and two B-sides in the form of the outstanding spaghetti western tune “Guera” and the straight-up rocker “Worn Out”, both of which would have been right at home as album cuts.  

(Cherry Red Records)

Sunday, May 09, 2021

 Ghoulies - Reprogram

With the release of their latest 7“  Perth’s Ghoulies present another collection of songs quite unlike anything I’ve heard before.  In just over nine and a half minutes the seven cuts on Reprogram are a cacophonous whirlwind of saccharine sweet synth-driven punk that even though they are the epitomy of chaos still manage to drip with hooks.  

Interview with Mark J Gidden

In 2019, following several years as a member of several different bands, Mark J Gidden released his debut solo album.  Now he is backed with his sophomore effort Fool Yourself.  I had the chance recently to do an email interview with him to talk about this new release along with a few other topics.  

Can you tell me a little about your musical background?

Hi Geoff, I joined my first band was when I was 17 and still at school. We were a three piece called 'Virtual Earth', but the problem was we all played guitar! I don't think we had the patience to learn covers which is is why we just started to put chords together and come with our own grunge-influenced tracks. We did one gig after hiring a drummer and after that I was in a couple of bands at unit before forming the Peterborough four-piece 'Traveller' in 2000. We won a local competition and after that I played drums for 'Emery' before relocating to St Albans. By that time I was focused more on songwriting and recording and after signing up with Nub Music I finally released my first album in 2019.

The arrangements and musicianship on your new release Fool Yourself are really strong and I really like the way the guitar sounds throughout.  Did you play everything yourself or did you have contributions from other musicians?

Although my first album included some collaborations, this second one
was something I wanted to put together on my own, as a bit of a challenge to myself! The oldest recording "If You Can" was recorded in a studio with an Engineer doing all the hard work and me just playing the instruments, but all the other tracks I recorded and mixed at home by myself. There are a few sampled instruments (including the drums) but the guitars are my trusty Jaguar and Pacifica!

I read that you performed alot of these songs at acoustic shows before recording them.  Did you even contemplate releasing them acoustically or was that just more of a way of getting them worked out before you recorded them?

I am keen to release an acoustic compilation at some point, but I think most of the songs have more 'impact' with a full band sound. In fact I'd love to get a band together so I can perform them closer to how they sound on the album, something for me to try to arrange in the future. For now I'll carry on performing with my acoustic guitar and hope that people like those stripped down versions as well as the album ones.

From time to time I hear a bit of an 80‘s/90's alternative vibe and a little glam (your vocals at time remind me of Brian Molko from Placebo and Trevor Tanner from The Bolshoi).  Would you agree with that assessment?

I'm definitely influenced by music from that period and am a big fan of Placebo, their first record is one of my all time favourites. Other singers that I am influenced by are Brett Anderson from Suede, James Walsh from Starsailor and Mark Greeney from JJ72. 

How does your songwriting process tend to work?

Most new songs start with me messing about on the acoustic guitar, which I do most days, and if I like something I'll quickly record the song idea on my old cassette recorder - I'm very old school that way! Most days I won't come up with anything, and most things I record never get turned into a song but I'll listen to these demos months later and the best ones will get short listed for inclusion on an album. Sometimes I'll be lucky and get more than one song idea from the same session - “St John” and “Non Profit” from the new album were both song ideas from the same day.

Over the years you’ve played in quite a few bands. How would you say being a solo artist compares to that? 

Well I like the freedom to spend more time on writing and recording and less time on rehearsing as a solo artist. There are also fewer arguments! But nothing can beat playing live with a band, it's much more fulfilling than standing up there on your own. And having others around you also takes the pressure off the performance.

What kind of impact did the pandemic have on your music?

It's certainly made it harder to get the music to new fans without being able to gig, but I'm very lucky that I've been able to keep working outside music and being at home more gave me the time to complete the album earlier than I might have done otherwise. I've really missed going to other people's shows though, so can't wait for things to get back to normal.

Now that live shows are starting to happen again and people are getting out more, what are your plans for the near future?

I'll likely be joining in with some open mics in the local area to start with and see how it goes from there.. Nub Music put on a great event in 2019 with several of its artists on the bill so I'm looking forward to something similar happening again. When things are 100% back to normal (hope that isn't wishful thinking!) I'd like to put a band together for a few shows.. let's see what happens!

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

Just to keep checking out new bands and other artists - there's so much good undiscovered music out there! And stay safe..

(Mark J Gidden - Facebook)