Julian Cope: St Julian

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    Musically many great things have spawn from the city of Liverpool with some obviously making major impacts on the direction and life of music. One giant moment is often overlooked or under- appreciated though and that is the formation and subsequent demise of Crucial Three. The punk rock band was a swift breath in the history of UK music which left without posing any footprint in the dirt of rock or a live note explored in its six weeks of existence. What it did do was make the first step for three important figures to ignite their creative imagination. From its brief life came forth singer Ian McCulloch obviously to be famed with Echo & the Bunnymen, guitarist Pete Wylie who went on to make equally impressive sounds and flavours through the varied guises of Wah and his solo work, and the ‘genius’ Julian Cope. The future Teardrop Explodes frontman maybe a flawed genius but lyrically and musically deserves to be placed within those realms. Equally there will be as many who will offer the other extreme of opinion on the ‘eccentric’ artist but for those he ignites the passions of he is one of the true greats.

The re-release of his St Julian album in a deluxe edition triggers all the rapture and pleasure which was rife around the man at the time and through those heady Teardrop Explodes days of the late seventies. Bringing forth arguably his finest moment as a solo artist certainly commercially, complete with a second disc of B-sides and re-mixes which graced the singles from the album, the release is a potent reminder of the often puzzling but always dramatic imagination and intriguing talent of a man who turned pop rock into an art form, even if often it was not seemingly appreciated sadly.

From those fleeting moments at the very start Cope formed UH? and A Shallow Madness with McCulloch which led to a permanent rift and antagonistic relationship between the two when Cope sacked the latter from the group, and also Nova Mob with Wylie, all again short lived bands. 1978 saw the formation of The Teardrop Explodes with drummer Gary Dwyer, organist Paul Simpson and guitarist Mick Finkler. Cope was the principal songwriter and bassist with a vocal delivery which was as magnetic as it was striking. Two impressive albums and a clutch of acclaimed singles, including Reward which achieved their highest chart entry of 6, followed as did instability in line-up as well as an indulgence in drugs. Cope himself verged on teen idol from the enterprising and successful debut album Kilimanjaro but the band failed to replicate the same triumph with the darker and more expansive Wilder and after a failure to make a third album and a disastrous tour, they split in 1982. The following year Cope began working on his first solo album World Shut Your Mouth, a release which left fans satisfied but failed to spark great positivity from elsewhere though it contained songs which generally held the pop spark of the Teardrops releases whilst being something which seemed to expose personal depths and the struggles of Cope whilst attempting to clean himself up. The 1984 record failed to sell with any strong purpose as did its successor Fried which arrived six months later. It offered a rawer side of his creativity and something new but repeated the lack lustre performance of his first in drawing appreciation and sales outside of his core fan base. Its failure led to Cope being dropped by Mercury Records who had released both albums.

With a new manager Cally Callomon encouraging his final clean-up and a new image and attitude, Cope signed with Island Records UMG_CD_BOOK_SADDLE_JUL00.qxtand released in 1986 St Julian. With a line-up of guitarist Donald Ross Skinner, drummer Chris Whitten ( ex-The Waterboys), and bassist James Eller (ex- Teardrop Explodes) beside him, Cope emerged with a ‘rock god’ persona though even at the time there seemed a delicious tongue in cheek mischief to it all. The songs within the album were big hearted encounters with bulging rhythms, insatiable hooks, and a drama which was compelling. It is one of the classic pop records of the era and anyone who begs to differ should indulge in the rampaging energy and swagger of World Shut Your Mouth, the sultry and compelling elegance of Planet Ride, and the belligerent rock track Pulsar with its Stranglers like snarl all over again. Singles like the fiery Spacehopper, a track which was borne out of writing sessions with Ian McCulloch years earlier, and the pulsating Trampoline, as the album as a whole, stood tall and above the majority of the other now termed classic eighties pop tracks of the time without puzzlingly retaining the retrospective and deserved grand acclaim the rivals bask in.

In hindsight surveying the mass of work from the man since and his apparent and exploratory ‘drive’ to go against the grain and stretch the underground pleasures of sound and creativity, as well as the B-side tracks which supported the singles from St Julian, one wonders if Cope was truly comfortable in this period though with songs rich in his always dramatic and evocative lyrics and sounds which invigorate and thrill with intelligence and instinctive contagiousness, you could never tell. The second disc at times supports the thought with songs like the Celt folk rock voiced Disaster, the mesmeric Almost Beautiful with its ambient majesty , and the dirge toned post punk challenge Warwick The Kingmaker delving into other provocative areas of Cope’s songwriting and invention. A mention for the brilliant cover of the Pere Ubu track Non-Alignment Pact has to be made, the song a classic already given an equally towering breath from Cope to have the passions sparking.

The years and releases since has seen Cope rightfully not compromising in his artistic vision and invention whilst keeping to the shadows to produce music which has ebbed and flowed in stature but is always riveting. Real success has eluded him musically though one senses he is not bothered and is more at ease with his creative powers than in those earlier times. He has also carved out a big and probably more recognition soaked career as a writer of underground music critique/ exploration and on the wide investigative scope of Archaeology and antiquarianism. St Julian is his finest moment for a great many and as the tracks swoop like gods to rile up and split open the heart into rapture it is hard to disagree.

http://www.headheritage.co.uk/

10/10

RingMaster 04/02/2013

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Damn Vandals: Done For Desire

pic Marcus Maschwitz

Anticipation for the debut album from UK rock band Damn Vandals was on a real high after their widely acclaimed Beautiful Mind EP earlier in the year. Could the band match or even improve on what was a remarkable release? Quite simply the band has not only stepped on from the release but to our mind they have with Done For Desire blown it out of the water. The release is a certain front runner for album of the year and is destined for classic status once its might and sheer excellence dawns on the music world.

The London based quartet of vocalist Jack Kansas, guitarist Frank Pick, bassist Adam Kilemore Gardens, and Chris Christianson on drums, has pulled in comparisons which range from Echo and the Bunnymen, Buzzcocks, Pavement, and he band has been suggested as the English version of Queens of The Stone Age. As Done For Desire sent surges of euphoria through the heart with each and every song though the main thought for us was that surely Damn Vandals are the reincarnation of the Fatima Mansions. With the same sharp and imaginative craft lyrically and musically as the outstanding Irish band Damn Vandals add to the carefully shaped caustic and ingenious breath the irresistible addictive hooks of a Teardrop Explodes and the earnest incisive passion found in the previously mentioned Echo and the Bunnymen. This makes for stunning songs and sounds which trigger the fullest thrills and evoke the deepest pleasure whilst vocally Kansas, his voice a glorious hybrid of Cathal Coughlan, Pete Wylie, and Ian McCulloch, adds emotive tones drawn from deep within his heart to wonderfully ignite the already impressive lyrical invention.

Produced by Julian Simmons (Midlake, The Phenomenal Handclap Band, Ed Sheeran, Guillemots, and Goldheart Assembly), Done For Desire immediately leaves one breathless with excitement through opener Revolution / Rehearsal. The lead single from the album leaps upon the ear with slashes of guitar and a bass which prowls the tune like a wolf licking its lips. As Kansas asks questions and provokes with razor sharp lyrics through his impassioned vocals the track boils the air with high voltage energy and scorched melodic strokes to trigger aural addiction, something the album eagerly and persistently builds upon.

The following As Seen On TV bristles with electrified rock intensity whilst again the bass of Kilemore Gardens invites tingles with its dark and burly tones. There is a slight Max Raptor feel to the song and alongside its predecessor the song soon unveils a thrilling diversity within the music of Damn Vandals.

As the likes of the provocative Kids Want Guns and the darkly wanton Sex It Narcissus tease and throb within the ear there is nothing but compliance before the mesmeric presence of the band. The second of the pair takes one on an edge of the seat journey through shadows and a hugely charged musical imagination as potent as it is impassioned.

Though every track is a masterpiece the brilliance of This Amazing and The Revenge Of Spider Toothy hold the heart with an orgasmic power. The first swerves and sways with deliberate mischief within its pulsating energy and the perfectly gathered siren driven hooks and melodies. The track ignites the atmosphere with such fiery enterprise and rhythmic hypnotism brought with immense skill it is hard to see why the song as a single a while ago did not see the band instantly elevated to essential listening.

The second of the pair is a brilliant blend of garage punk and psychobilly. Sounding like the secret offspring from a union of The Cramps, The Horrors in their formative years and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, The Revenge Of Spider Toothy stomps over the senses with sheer majesty. The guitar of Pick always outstanding throughout the album leaves trails of flames with his magnificent play on this song whilst the drums of Christianson stalk the ear like a caged animal.

Closing track Beautiful Mind taken from the previous acclaimed EP makes an end as irresistible as the beginning of the album. It swirls around and through the ear like a stunning sunset of sound, its heated magnetism leaving one bursting to the seams with adoration for it and the release as a whole. As much as one looked there is not a single element which the band can be pulled up on within Done For Desire, it is as near to perfection as one can get. If this does not make Damn Vandals one of the biggest presences in UK music then something is seriously wrong with the judgement of people.

Ringmaster 26/07/2012

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The Secret City : Self Titled

The bio for Australian band The Secret City states ‘they create dreamlike adventures that will take you to places of sweet serenity, or throw you into the pit of a nasty nightmare. You will be entertained, shocked, inspired and awed by this original and unapologetic band.’  To be honest it is hard to be any more accurate than that. Most bios and info sheets accompanying releases over play and exaggerate to varying degrees and they would not be doing their job if they did not, but in this case the words are right on the mark. The self titled album from the Sydney trio wraps itself around the senses and thoughts with cloaks of mesmeric charm, a provocative strength, and at times with a challenging intrusion but it is an experience from first note to last which engages every aspect of a person to bring forth imagery, emotions, and as they claim a sense of adventure.

Vocalist Rusty Lynch and guitarist Brendan Morello have collaborated as songwriters for over a decade but it was say the band, with the addition of keyboardist Alex “Ted” Cape that The Secret City found its true unity. Their time together again from their own words says it has been ten years of writing songs, the forming of five different bands which one presumes means line-up wise, and the release of four EPs and two albums plus a continual multitude of gigs. This has brought an evolution within the band and to their craft accumulating in this their third album and a release which is they say superior in every aspect to what came before. Never having come across the band before we have to take their word on that but the fact that this release is so impressive and strikingly created and comes with such imagination and passion it is hard to offer any doubts.

Produced, engineered and mixed by Michael Carpenter at Love Hz Studios, he also contributed bass, drums and percussion and more to the album, The Secret City captivates attention and feelings from its very start. The opening song My View From Here saunters in with a confidence in its melodic grace and a sure intent to mesmerise its recipients. With an eager yet restrained pace it slowly envelopes the ear gradually expanding into a full and vibrant impassioned piece of songwriting. Vocally Lynch reminds a little of Pete Wylie though with a wider range and his delivery is a seamless and complimentary energy within the now vast charms of the song. Without exploding into a full charge the song ignites feelings and an enthused energy within, an uplifting and evocative track which has one drooling.

The excellent and equally compelling Souless follows and is even more impressive. With an open warm heart and a keen swagger it takes one on a journey of warm and honest reflection. Whether the songs and lyrics are borne of personal experience from Lynch and Morello only they can say but there is definitely the feeling that the revelations are spawn from a real and emotional life. The song is wonderful, vying for one of the best heard in recent times anywhere and one of a few on the album making a very inviting entry into The Secret City.

The likes of the pop laced Considerable Love, the Coldplay liked spiced Where Will It End?, and the folky and elegant This Is For You, embrace with a tenderness and defined invention that leaves nothing less than mesmeric satisfaction. They also as with each song on the release bring diversity and an intriguing unpredictability as well as a continual question of who the album reminds of. As the dramatic and bold power of the first single from the album Barrage of Absence stomps into view with its bulging melodies and epic atmosphere,  the revelation of who The Secret City remind of breaks through. Not so much in sound but the striking atmospheres and revelatory depths the music reaches is a close cousin to those created by nineties band Fatima Mansions, and with reflection there is also a similarity in the way Lynch expresses the heart and poetry of songs to Cathal Coughlan and a no finer compliment can be given to band and music.

The finest track on the album A Call confirms our comparison as well as being an invigorating and blood pumping treat to feast upon, its rock driven intensity and catchy freshness sheer joy and easily a rival for best song. To be honest the album did not fully engage until its third play onwards though the initial introduction was full of intrigue and open invitation to return but given more company the album unveils an immense imaginative craft and invention for a fully rewarding experience. The Secret City is a band that does not just make music and songs but creates evolving light and darkened gests.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Secret-City/270623946291067?ref=ts

RingMaster 12/05/2012

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