Heart and Foo Fighters kick it out


Heart’s Nancy and Ann Wilson, rocking out.

Foo Fighters have been spending the week on Letterman as his resident band, and yesterday pulled off an awesome cover of Heart’s classic Kick It Out, a pumping track they released back in 1977. What made the cover special was that Heart’s siblings and Seattle rock royalty Ann and Nancy Wilson were there to race through the track with them, and the energy was awesome.

Here’s a clip.

I loved Heart as a kid, thought the sisters were both stunners, and saw them live at Wembley Arena in 1990. Now, in 2014, Ann is 64 and Nancy is 60, but they’ve still got it. Indeed Ann, who wrote this track, still has one of the best female rock voices I’ve ever heard. It’s so great to see them continuing to rock their socks off.

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The agonising enigma that is Emilie Nicolas

Emilie Nicolas.

Emilie Nicolas.

Earlier this year I wrote a little introduction to Emilie Nicolas, a great little singer from Norway who at the time had pushed out a couple of tracks on SoundCloud called Grown Up and Nobody Knows. She also had a track on Spotify, called Pstereo, which has since been pulled for Australian subscribers for some reason. It’s all a bit frustrating, because what little I’ve heard of Emilie I’ve absolutely loved. But finding more of it is proving impossible.

While browsing the Iceland Airwaves line-up for 2014, which sadly I’m not going to be at, I was flushed with jealousy for all those that will be there when I saw Emilie will be performing on the bill.

I immediately went on the hunt for more from her, and once again drew a blank, but I did find this live performance of Pstereo performed for the brilliant NRK P3 channel last year, which is an excellent and at the same time depressing example of how good she’ll be when she plays at Airwaves. The drum part is particularly magnificent in this live arrangement of the song.

A whole show will no doubt provide more than the three songs I’ve heard so far and, with some luck, propel her to greater heights and perhaps Australian shores. After all, nobody down here knew who Ásgeir was when he played Airwaves in 2012 when I attended, and he’s been Down Under a few times over the past 12 to 18 months.

Let’s hope Emilie treads the same path, otherwise I’ll have to seek her out somewhere in Europe on my next trip over. I’m addicted, and I need more.

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A plea to Australian music festival organisers: It’s time to grow up

Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits (via Instagram / @foraggio)

Ah music festivals. You either love them, or you hate them. In Australia, I’m unfortunately starting to fall into the latter camp, thanks to a combination of rule-hungry authorities and the largely immature people they attract Down Under, most of whom seem more interested in getting drunk and stupid than they do listening to some great live music in the great outdoors.

I’ve been to a few festivals, and most recently attended Austin City Limits Music Festival which, after Iceland Airwaves, is arguably the best I’ve ever experienced. It runs across two weekends, featuring some great and diverse acts, and caters for a huge crowd of music lovers. Attendance in 2013 averaged 75,000 per day, and I suspect this year was no different, despite a rainy second Saturday that probably kept a few at home. Sunday, though, was rammed full.

But there were no crazy lines for food, toilets or drinks. Everything seemed to work really well. And from what I saw, there was very little trouble – no fights between shirtless teens fuelled with bravado after a couple of light beers and ready to punch on. There were no kids slumped over kerbs, wrapped in the consoling arms of their slightly less inebriated friends. Why this is even more amazing than you might expect is that on the ground, the presence of police and security was so minimal, I barely knew they were there.

At the entrance, a few cops on pushbikes made sure people got in OK. They helped with directions and “policed” the crowd, as they should. There were no dogs sniffing everyone for drugs. No surrounding of frightened kids, intimidating them with questions about their age, or some other nonsense. There was a bag check at the entrance, of course, but once inside, nothing of note to deter you from having a great time. Get inside and enjoy yourself was the general feeling from everyone.

And the whiff of weed was thick at every stage, but no cops or stewards came rushing through the crowds to eject those partaking in green-tinged pleasures, and it’s not even legal in Texas yet. Indeed, festival goers passed around their joints reasonably freely, stranger to stranger, striking up great chats in the process, with smiles and laughter the result, not insults and fists. Kids walked through the park with parents. Babies were carried in slings or backpacks, their little ears protected by mufflers. I saw enough prams in there to suggest a creche was running nearby, too. In fact, come to think of it, Austin Kiddie Limits is in there, providing fun for families away from the crowds as well. Kids under 10 get in free with a fully-paid adult. Genius!

People carried camping chairs inside, rugs, mats, chilling by the stages of their choosing. Groups had flag bearers to make them easy to spot from distance, flown on extendable posts that stretched high in the air. Beer was full strength, beyond full strength in the craft beer tent, where alcohol volumes in some of the tipples nudged the 9 per cent mark.

And when the music played, everyone seemed genuinely interested in it, sang along, commented to each other on the merits of what they were hearing, regardless of whether they knew you or not. No mindless chat about boyfriend trouble in your ear, but a respectful crowd, all there to listen and enjoy. Each stage even had a signer for the deaf, who danced and rocked on while also signing the lyrics of Pearl Jam’s powerful tunes, or Eminem’s angry raps. I’ve never seen that before, but it was brilliant.

As an experience, Austin City Limits was as pleasant as any I’ve encountered, musically or otherwise. This city’s reputation as the “live music capital of the world” has been deservedly earned, and more than 200 live venues in this relatively small place is testament to that. People here know their shit, and love it in equal measure, and they often can’t wait to share their love of it with anyone who will listen.

So why am I bringing this all up? With the summer festival season coming soon to Australia, I guess this is an appeal of sorts to authorities there perhaps to come here to Austin and learn how to run an outdoor music event properly, not in the amateurish fashion in which they do now.

Everything that is done at the entrance of Big Day Out, St Jerome’s Laneway, and other festivals I’ve been to in Australia, was pretty much not done at Austin City Limits. No dogs, no confiscation of chairs, flags or water bottles. No over-zealous ejections when joints were lit up. No drink tokens that never add up. Police helped people rather than looking to bust them for something trivial. Stewards did the same, and danced along when they could to the music.

Conversely, local authority thinking in Australia seems to dictate that if you remove the fun before it’s even started, everything will be all right. However, that tactic generally tends to put your average festival goer offside. It promotes the very thing it’s designed to avoid – trouble.

Kids try to sneak things in, get angry when they’re caught out, drink too much because they’re upset about being policed so tightly, bad elements turn up to exploit those kids further, and the whole thing generally turns to crap inside a fews hours. The music plays on in the background, but it’s almost a sideshow at times to the behaviour of the buffoons in attendance.

And I remember at Laneway this year umbrellas being confiscated at the entrance. And it was raining in Sydney. I mean seriously. What the hell? “Bring a poncho,” they tell you. Umbrellas do get in the way for other festival goers, admittedly, but you get my point. People wear Camelbacks at Austin. And guess what; they fill them with water!! Would never happen in Australia. Off your back and in the bin. You can also pass in and out of ACL five times in a day if you want. No pass outs of Australian festivals. Why?

It’s depressing when you know it can be done so much better. So come on, Australia. Why not practice the laid back attitude the world misguidedly things characterises our nation. Make festivals worth going to. Provide some venues for bands in Sydney particularly. Renovate pokie rooms into live venues. Toss out the machines and bring back the humans. Loosen the reins on us all. Let life be lived, rather than controlled.

It’s not going to hurt us. On the contrary, it’ll improve us greatly.

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Mercury Music Prize picks talent from another planet

FKA twigs

Could FKA twigs win this year’s Mercury Music Prize?

The Mercury Music Prize, whether you’re British or otherwise, is commonly recognised as one of the awards that actually means something. It was set up as an alternative to the Brit Awards, the UK’s glittery Grammy equivalent, or a celeb-fest with an audience of screamers if you’re more cynical. The Mercury Music Prize labels itself as the “music equivalent to the Booker Prize for literature and the Turner Prize for art”, an indication of its high-brow self worth.

It’s fair to say the Mercury Music Prize has picked some pretty awesome albums since its inception in 1992. The inaugural award went to Primal Scream for Screamadelica. Portishead won in 1995 for the breathtaking Dummy, Gomez in 1998 for the fabulous Bring It On and the award blasted Elbow into a whole new level of global fame off the back of its release of The Seldom Seen Kid. Other winners include Suede, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey and more recently alt-J and James Blake. There is no question for me that those judging this thing have some bloody great taste, and it’s always heartening to be reminded that the homeland is continuing to produce music of the very highest calibre.

In case you don’t know, each year, 12 albums are short-listed for the prize by a judging panel of music industry people, and generally they’re all bloody fantastic. Quite how they choose a winner is beyond me because the field is always filled with such varied genres. There can be, though, only one winner.

Picking that winner for 2014 will be no less challenging than it has been in previous years, with another eclectic dozen of artists listed plucked from the initial 250 entrants, seven of them in the mix with debut albums. After criticism for picking out established artists, the panel of judges have gone for some newer faces this year, but in a year that has to date produced some quite spectacular new works, that’s not such a surprise to me. It’s been a great year for new music, not just in Britain but globally.

Here are the nominees and a line from me on what I think of the tunes they deliver:

Anna CalviOne Breath: A super record, in the mould of PJ Harvey or St Vincent. Not my favourite on the list, but well worth your time and certainly a stunning debut.

Bombay Bicycle ClubSo Long, See You Tomorrow: Perhaps my favourite on the list, but I’m a long time fan of these guys. They’ve changed it up a bit for this, their fourth release, and in a very positive way. It’s indie pop, with an edge, and I’ve always thought the Club had a unique sound. Perhaps the prize would alert the rest of the world to their talents.

Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots: We all love Damon. His debut solo effort is more Gorillaz than Blur, but as good as anything those two projects produced. But is it different enough to make it stand out? Not for me.

East India YouthTotal Strife Forever: At first listen, it’ll pique your interest, and William Doyle certainly has talent to burn when it comes to electronica. Grates a little as an album for me, but individually, the tracks can be awesome if the right mood strikes, and I’m not even a techno fan.

FKA twigsLP1: One of the best records you’ll hear this year, perhaps ever. This is something truly different, mesmerising on every level and utterly absorbing.

JungleJungle: Funky, fresh and fun, with some killer grooves that will have your butt wiggling. There is a hint of The Go! Team at times, but without the same delirious energy. Roll the windows down this summer, though, and blast this out to the world.

Young FathersDead: Perhaps my least favourite on the list. It’s hip-hoppy, but fails to take off for me at any point. Lyrically, it’s great, but rhythmically, it didn’t land a punch for me.

Kate TempestEverybody Down: I’ve got a soft spot for Kate, because she’s from Brockley, South London, where I grew up. From rapping on the night bus, she’s now set to win a big prize, and deservedly so. He rhymes are magnificent, delivered with wondrous skill. Storytelling has never been so damn cool. Trust me.

GoGo Penguinv2.0: It’s great to hear jazz with a modern twist, and these three lads deliver that in spades. Drummer Rob Turner has exceptional feel, which holds it all together from start to finish, but the compositions are super lovely.

Nick MulveyFirst Mind: Folk with a tribal twist, Mulvey has a fine record on his hands here. Studied in Cuba, studied Africa, and it all comes through here. He’s been nominated before with Portico Quartet, and his solo tilt is fully deserving of the same honour.

Polar BearIn Each and Every One: More slightly off-kilter jazz here, but it lacks the sophistication of GoGo Penguin. Still, it’s interesting if not spectacular, and at times sounds like a tune-up.

Royal BloodRoyal Blood: Rock out time to finish things off. This has hallmarks of Muse, Jack White, and a Tom Morello guitar tones at times. It’s a toe-tapper for sure, and will have heads banging everywhere it’s played.


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Alt-J releases third tease for new album

Alt-J has released it’s third track from the upcoming This Is All Yours album, and every time one more track appears, I get more excited, largely because they’ve all been so good. Behold Every Other Freckle.

Bring this album on already. It’s coming out next month, in case you were wondering.

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Freakish guitar skills on show

Jacky Bastek has entered this original composition, Idyll Of Hills, into the Lowden Young Guitarist Of The Year awards.

I wouldn’t normally highlight something like this, but it really is an extraordinary piece of music. There are shades of Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel in here, for sure, but Bastek could certainly carve out a niche for herself as a professional musician if she keeps up this sort of playing.

I’m not sure how old she is, but she has to be younger than 25 to enter the competition, which makes her playing all the more impressive.

Some of the other entries into the competition are also excellent. Check out Matteo Brenci here, playing another original track Raindance.

And here is Rhythm Shaw playing The Opening Act, with no discernible lack of dexterity.

Ricardo Gama’s entry is called Beautiful Demon.

What’s striking about all of these entries, and you can see many more on the Lowden Guitars Facebook page, is the percussive use of the guitar by these players, and the imaginative use of harmonics. Not a frequent listener to guitar soloists, I tend to forget what a versatile instrument it is.

I look forward to hearing who wins the competition. One thing is for sure, the judges are going to have a hell of a time picking the best. There certainly is no lack of guitar-playing talent out there.

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Nothing But Thieves stealing my heart

Nothing But Thieves

Nothing But Thieves

Nothing But Thieves have popped up on my radar recently. Originating from Southend, Essex, this song, Graveyard Whistling, is from an EP of the same name and has me very interested in what these schoolmates are up to.

The first thing to hit me were the vocals of Conor Mason. This kid can sing. I’d put him in the league of Thom Yorke, Chet Faker, Erik Hassle, even Jeff Buckley. I don’t know how old he is – he barely looks out of his mid-teens – but he’s got a serious gift.

The band lists Buckley as a heavy influence. You can certainly hear that in this track, but what I like about it is that it’s not just a straight up, alt-rock song. It’s produced beautifully, with thought, allowing the song to build wonderfully to its ultimate crescendo. Lyrically, it’s interesting, too, which is not something you can often say about young bands. Tackling the futility of religion is a challenging sandpit to play in, but a line as simple as “if you don’t believe, it can’t hurt you” proves these guys are not afraid of questioning the world and all that lies within it.

For another listen at Mason’s lovely voice, here is a live track, Lover, Please Stay, showcasing his ability pre-production. Buckley reborn? I reckon so. His falsetto in particular it spine-chilling.

And here is another track demonstrating these kids’ ability to craft a cracking tune. This is Emergency, which was from another EP, If You Don’t Believe, It Can’t Hurt You, released in October last year. Recognise that line?

I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys, and with an album in the works, it looks like we will later this year.

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alt-J is back, with Miley Cyrus?



Yes you read that right. alt-J has teamed up with Miley Cyrus, and released a track Hunger Of The Pine as it prepares to release a follow-up album to 2012’s An Awesome Wave, which created exactly that when it hit the mainstream later that year.

The upcoming album, This Is All Yours, is set for release in mid-September. While something special will be expected of the English wizards of chopped-up beats and melodies, a collaboration with the world’s most infamous twerker, Miley, was probably not on that list of expectations. But, fear not. It’s not strictly a collaboration. A sample of Miley’s 4×4 is all we hear through this track, a refrain of “I’m a female rebel”, the opening line from her banjo-driven hootenanny. Permission was sought from Miley herself by the band, and she said she was a fan so “go right ahead”.

Thankfully, alt-J’s use of the line is nothing short of brilliant. It works perfectly in the moody, dark, dub vibe of this new track. A cracking preview of what’s to come. Time to get excited I reckon, folks. September can’t come soon enough.

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The music of a World Cup

Zinedine Zidane - Vaudeville Smash

Zinedine Zidane, by Vaudeville Smash, wins the 2014 Musical World Cup for me.

Every time a FIFA World Cup comes around, the musical world jumps on the bandwagon. Some of the worst most uninspiring songs you’ve ever heard crawl out of the woodwork every four years, but some of the best most rousing tunes also rise up like the hand of god, and score a vital winner in our hearts and minds. Here’s a look at just a small selection of 2014’s efforts ahead of the tournament in Brazil, and a prediction on where they might end up in a World Cup tournament of their own.

Zinedine Zidane
Vaudeville Smash feat. Les Murray

All bias aside, this is your musical World Cup Winner!!! Vaudeville Smash has, indeed, smashed this one straight into the top corner from 30 yards. What a track. It would make Georgio Moroder proud, and could even have Daft Punk throwing off their helmets in wild celebration. It’s just awesome, and celebrates one of the true heroes of the world game in France’s Zizou, among many others, all read out in tones only my magnificent colleague Les Murray can deliver. None of this rubbish about coming together and raising your flags. Let’s celebrate a star of the game, and one that ended his World Cup career by head-butting an Italian opponent on the biggest stage of all. Big, ballsy, bright, bloody brilliant! This is 2014’s World In Motion, and a joy to behold.

Bass Like Home
Lily Allen

Unlike England at too many World Cups past, Lily Allen is a certain contender for the musical World Cup final with this track, which she has called her “unofficial World Cup song”. It’s as patriotic as they come, and everyone with three lions on their shirt will undoubtedly dig the lyrics. “Who gave you Shakespeare, who gave you Lennon, who gave you Gazza, twistin’ your melon,” she sings in her inimitable London accent. “God save the Queen with a pint of lager.” Hear hear. There is also mention of “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. We’ve been doing it since way back in the day.” Added to a thumping club beat, it’s all a quality celebration of two of England’s greatest loves: football and music. The call of “move your feet” through the song might come in handy for Rooney and his pals in Brazil, too. Bravo, Lily. Encore.

We Are One (Ole Ola)
Pitbull feat. Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte

It’s got that predictable Brazilian beat to kick things off, this one. Then Pitbull starts pouring the lyrical wax, rapping about how the World Cup brings us all together. It’s all about waving flags, loving each other, and when J-Lo chimes in, Australia’s Tim Cahill gets a grab in the video. And no, not a grab of J-Lo. This one doesn’t make it out of the group stages for me. It’s stale, and it’s all been done before. We Are One, but we are bored by this. Lucky for Pitbull, he might get mistaken as David Basheer on his travels and earn back some of the respect he’ll lose for producing this ordinary tune. Hang on. Did he have any respect in the first instance? Who knows?

La La La (Brazil 2014)
Shakira feat. Carlinhos Brown

Calling in the help of her hubby’s professional footballing pals, Shakira embarks on her second World Cup journey after the smash hit of 2010 Waka Waka (This Time For Africa). Colombian countryman Radamel Falcao is missing Brazil 2014, perhaps as a result of the embarrassment caused by featuring in this video. Having said that, he’s not alone. Lionel Messi, Neymar, Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas and Mr Shakira himself, Gerard Pique, all stand and look awkward at some point in this clip. The song is all about the game and how it’s played, which is good and a change from the norm, and Shakira shows her own chesting-down chops without a single mention of “small and humble breasts”. Good enough for the Round of 16, but certainly likely to lose in extra-time through a lack of stamina from there. This track is, though, contributing to a good cause, with some of the profits going to the World Food Programme’s School Meals programme. So that’s nice.

The World Is Ours
Gaby Amarantos/David Correy/ Wisin feat. Paty Cantú and David Correy

This is the official FIFA World Cup 2014 Brazil song, sponsored by Coca-Cola. But you might want to mix that black liquid with something stronger to get through listening to it. Peppered throughout with lively Brazilian beats, that’s about as good as it gets. It’s got a rousing clip of World Cup action, fans having fun and looking unrealistically happy, but the auto-tuned lyrics are nothing short of woeful, and it’s all far too poptastic to be remotely fantastic, like the tournament it stands for. Standing tall, seven billion stars, coming together, bla bla bla … (that last bit was mine, by the way) it’s just got no attacking impetus and fails to score. It probably only qualified as a result of some dodgy deals, and is found out horribly in the group stages. No wins, no draws, no points. Or should that just be, no point.

Ricky Martin

Given the time he spends in Australia as a judge on The Voice these days, Ricky Martin would have to be a Socceroos fan by now. His World Cup ditty is about the same level as Ange Postecoglou’s team: seemingly full of promise to the faithful, but unlikely to produce a long-lasting memory and short of impact to those that know better. It’s all happy and smiley, sunsets on Copacabana Beach in the video, everyone dancing around. He sings about us all coming together, raising our banners to the sky. It’s that same old story of togetherness that singers waffle on about when it comes to World Cup time. We get it, guys. Enough already. Write us something that will get us pumped for a game, not something we’d dance to on wobbly limbs in the dying embers of a wedding reception. You’ve done it before, Ricky. Cup Of Life was a belter in its time. A possible quarter-final contender, but only through a lucky break in a penalty shootout. From there, it’s all downhill. Sorry Ricky, but Go Socceroos, because Puerto Rico aint qualifying for a World Cup anytime soon.

Greatest Day
Gary Barlow and Gary Lineker

Former Take That frontman Gary Barlow has teamed up with former England captain Gary Lineker for this one, England’s official World Cup song. It’s a good “laff”, features players past and present, pop stars married/divorced from players (hello, Cheryl Cole, or is it Tweedy again now?), a couple of Spice Girls not married to players in Geri Halliwell and Mel C, and even England’s 1966 hero Sir Geoff Hurst, among others. The song was originally a Take That song, and doesn’t sound half bad, but it’s a bit of a sop-fest. It’s more useful for staring wistfully through rain-soaked windows than it is for getting the blood pumping for a World Cup game. It’s got a triumphant chorus, though, and England fans might get goosebumps when the commentary overlays come in. A classy semi-finalist maybe, but not up to a place in the final. All star power without the penetration. Sounds a bit familiar as an England fan.

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Jetta is taking off


Jetta is flying high.

Born in Liverpool and now based in London, 23-year-old Jetta is starting to make a name for herself. And, believe it or not, Jetta is her actual name. She’s done a fair bit for someone of her few years, including playing the role of backing singer for Paloma Faith and Cee Lo Green. But through all that time, she’s also been writing her own music.

It’s started to surface over the past 12 months and it’s very very good. It’s pop, essentially, but it’s got an edge that really appeals to me. It’s heavy on the electronics, but also features some terrific beats and, of course, vocals.

Jetta was given a computer as a kid with the music production software Logic installed on it, and from that day forward, she’s been composing. Her family is a musical one – her mother was in an acapella group and her father was a sound engineer. Early influences included The Police, David Bowie and Marc Bolan. She soon got turned on to Destiny’s Child and other artists of today. She fancied the Backstreet Boys as a kid – hey. nobody’s perfect – but all of that has given her a great base from which to write her own tunes, not least an obsession with Annie Lennox in her Eurythmics days. You can certainly here that through some of her songs.

This week she released Operators to the public as a free download, probably the best of the tracks I’ve heard so far. If I’ve got one criticism of it, it’s not long enough and needs another chorus at its end. It’s such a catchy segment of the song, I just want to hear it over and over again. See what you think. Personally, I’m obsessed with it.

Her 2013 tune Feels Like Coming Home was featured on Google’s Zeitgeist clip celebrating the same year. At time of writing, that clip had been viewed more than 31 million views. Chalk up another one by watching it here:

You can hear the full song here, and it’s an absolute cracker.

And while we’re on the subject of videos, check out Jetta’s clip for Start A Riot, which is also pretty sweet.

Crescendo is the name of the EP Jetta is planning to release on 24 June this year featuring that title track and all those featured in this post. The excitement of that, of course, begs the question: when are we going to get full album? With such a great mix of soul, pop, rock and other genres all tangled up in her tunes, whenever that day comes it’s sure to be a good one. She’s working on writing it all right now with Jim Eliot, who’s done stuff with MIA and Ellie Goulding in the past. I reckon this, though, will trump all that for him. Jetta will take off and she’ll fly pretty high, I reckon.

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