Iwan Gronow, the singer-songwriter and bass player from bands such as The Mutineers, Haven, and Johnny Marr, has today released his 3rd single as a solo artist called “Highest Symbol”.
Iwan had this to say about the new song.
“Highest Symbol is a term used in cards. I never set out to write a song about the issues of gambling.
It happened by accident. Some time ago I watched a program which stuck with me. A story about a man who had a stable career and family and lost it all to gambling. It was something I couldn’t get out of my head. Highest Symbol is about the dominance of betting and gambling within our society. Whether it’s online, at the bookies or casino gambling “there’s no sense in lining your pockets green, it won’t stop the lying and the running fees”. It approaches the false hope “sea of dreams” the loss “you left and failed to mention what threw you out” and the danger “roulette a sense to rush” fuelled by gambling.
The Highest Symbol video directed by Emily Jade Hagan tries to capture this sense of undeniable risk, loss and loneliness. We tried to show how everything can quickly disappear, how a past life can turn to a distant memory “The Highest Symbol, Highest Symbol will save the urge, will save the urge. The Highest Symbol, highest symbol will fade and burn, will fade and burn”.
With the release of the new song, we took the opportunity to ask Iwan our DISARMing questions about his music, art, travel, and life in general.
So check out the new song and read the interview while you listen.
DISARM: What are you listening to right now?
Iwan: Jehnny Beth, Warmduscher, Nadine Shah, Anna Calvi, BC Camplight, and She Drew The Gun
What was the first LP/tape/CD/MP3 you can remember owning, buying, or obsessing over?
My dad use to make Blues and Rock cassettes of artists such as J. J. Cale, Robert Cray, Hendrix, and Clapton. That really got me into the guitar. The first tape I bought was very heavy. I’m not going to pretend to be cool, but it would have been a band like Slayer or Sepultura, Ha! I grew up in Cornwall and metal was very popular around that time.
Are you loyal to vinyl or CD/Digital formats?
Recently I found all my CDs in the cellar. I cleaned them up and put them back on the shelf. I try to buy vinyl when I can. My dad has very kindly let me borrow some of his collection. I go through phases of books and vinyl. It depends if we’re gigging or I’m writing. That side of music takes up most of my time.
What bands are hardwired into your musical DNA?
In the Haven days, we were heavily into Velvet Underground, Skip Spence, Stooges and Peter Green. So I guess they have really stuck with me.
Why do you live where you do? What is your favourite journey?
The late great Joe Moss is the reason I am where I am. We threw everything we had into a van and turned up at his doorstep. Joe kindly let the whole band (Haven) stay in his house until we got sorted. I think he was slightly gutted as it meant his trips to Cornwall would be less often, ha! He loved Cornwall.
My favourite journey is when my wife and I get the chance to go back to Cornwall and see the family. My dream trip would be New Zealand. We were lucky enough to tour there with Johnny. It’s a great place to run; it would be good to go back. South America is ace as well, especially the gigs. Great crowds.
What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Going for a long walk, catching a film, reading and playing my acoustic.
What is essential for your go-bag (plane/train/automobile/tour bus)?
What do you do with 4 hours of free time in a new city?
Go for a run as I think that’s the best way to see a new city and find your bearings, although I generally get lost, ha! Go for food with our tour group.If we’re near water, I head straight to it and spend time there, sometimes even go in. Doviak and I did that a couple of times on the last American tour. Always feel better by the sea.
Who/what got you into playing music?
My dad was a singer in a punk band called The Wolfboys. They were signed to Rocket Records so there was always guitars and vinyl around the house. From a young age I was really intrigued by the guitar.
What was your most memorable day job?
I use to work at a fish and chip shop in St. Just in Cornwall. My job title was ‘fish boy’. My friends had fun with that one. Think my pay was £1.50 an hour.
What advice should you have taken but didn’t?
That’s a tough one. I try my best not to have regrets as it can have a negative affect and I try to learn from situations that may not have turned out how I wanted.
What should everyone shut up about?
It would have been the ‘B Word’ (editors: Brexit) but that’s kind of done now, which is something I’m very sad about. Personally I will always see myself as European.
What is getting under your skin at the moment?
We are at present in very unsettling times. My pet peeve would be people that don’t listen to expert advice, especially health advice. The NHS need us more than ever and we should be doing everything we can to support them.
Who are your perfect dinner guests, living or dead? What’s on the menu?
Would love to have dinner with the late great Arthur Lee (Love) and Iggy. I would cook a veggie roast, ply them with wine and get as many Rock and Roll stories out of them as I could.
Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Miss Havisham from the Charles Dickens book Great Expectations, I studied in college. She was super dark. My favourite quote of hers is “Break their hearts, my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!” I always felt there was a bit of humour there which I liked.
Tell us about one of the best live gigs you’ve ever attended.
Recently we played the Rock En Seine Festival. The Cure headlined I was blown away by them especially Robert Smith, his voice was flawless.
What are your must-reads?
I mainly stick with books. David Bowie – a life by Dylan Jones, Salt Path by Raynor Winn. At the moment I’m reading The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather. Johnny also got me into the writer Yuval Noah Harari. For light relief, I really like the Off Menu Podcast by Ed Gamble and James Acaster.
What’s something that you consider a mind-altering/reality-reframing work of art?
Anything by Joan Miro. Me and my wife went to the Miro Exhibition in Barcelona; mind blowing. I also like Wassily Kandinsky’s work. Upward is a particular favourite.
What does the next six months look like for you?
Unfortunately due to recent events, our touring and festival schedule has thinned out. Right now people’s safety is far more important. We are booked into to play with ‘The Killers’ in the U.S. in August. Until then, I will be mostly writing and preparing for the single release on the 10th of April.
Editors: Fingers crossed we’ll see you at the Toronto date with the Killers!
It’s been said about musical or film icons: “Never meet your heroes.” Agree or disagree?
Iwan Gronow has just released his second single, “Second Guess” following lead off “In the Mire”. The former member of Haven and current member of Johnny Marr’s band has offered something altogether new and different within those two songs, demonstrating range and deep references of an in-demand musician who’s honed his ideas for some time, brewing them until time permitted them to come forth.
“Second Guess” is a darkly cool, instantly memorable track, full of atmosphere, and dark wave that is yet melodic. The driving beat is one some would call throwback, but those in the know would simply call it great, full of sounds we miss and never stopped needing to hear. For comparison one could look to early Erasure and Depeche Mode, both pioneers of New Wave that invented their own climates and atmospheres in their sounds. Music like this reminds us that synth music is so much more than the name suggests when layered just so, with tones of high and low, deep and ethereal.
Like “In the Mire”, the music has an urgent message and feels strongly connected to the earth. Here, Gronow examines what we do when we second guess ourselves: brew feelings or restlessness, we open up space for disconnection – in love, and even in ourselves. It’s part of decision making, but drives us mad. The dance beat has always been the best way to ponder the harder questions of life and of our natures. Turn it up.
There are some reviews that come easy, even have become happy new traditions. Due to a resurgence in U.K. Indie and the strength of some legendary 1980s & 1990s bands making the rounds, our opportunities for music coverage (& experience to see bands live) at home in Toronto is currently robust and regular. A time loop has lately closed. A formerly bitter reporter has seen the light. Everyone still at it is there for all the right reasons – and not only the cream that rose to the top of a heartbreakingly difficult industry – but these days, it’s even more refined: the creme de la creme. The musicians we’ve always loved have, by now, conquered a lot of life, and are here to tell the tale, up on stage. Not one line is throwaway anymore, even the most danceable New Order refrain can cause an intake in breath. We get it now: How fleeting inspiration and art can be, no matter what we wish or believe when we are young. How bands are usually burned out and broken up before we’ve even found them. How everyday survival makes bricklayers and couriers and booksellers out of our unsung poets, our would-be giants, and how it only deepens them, and our love, when we know the poignant back stories. This is not an easy story to write, because it is so very singular that it’s almost sacred.
Enter, to all of this context, the story of Adorable. It is one we’ve followed closely and celebrated here in the recent past, with Pete Fij’s work with Terry Bickers as a duo of several albums’ output and live shows we even got to see (itself a miracle, and we heard an acoustic version of “A to Fade In”) before that, when there was no story ongoing but the graciousness of Pete Fij and Rob Dillam to sit for lengthy interviews about things that happened once, times done and gone, even as the former band members were still in touch and on good terms. Before all of that, Adorable was the band that got one of the rawest deals music itself has ever delivered to young men of talent, poetry and dreams. They had such promise, and not the sort of band cursed with potential, either (that damnable faintest of praise) but realized potential. Proven worth. England owed them a living! Despite the band’s experience with their label and some shockingly ill-advised promotional tactics someone dreamed up for an American tour, Adorable still produced two solid albums of beautiful music Against Perfection and Fake. Whatever else Adorable did or didn’t do, they can be compared to even our number one lost musical love gone-to-soon, The Smiths, who, legendarily having never released a bad track and having put their very best on wax, left us with a catalogue, however brief, they can all be proud of, forever.
But in the case of Adorable, these facts add to the sting of great, unsung, unheard bands. It’s that bittersweetness that feels a part of their utterly romantic DNA, their songs full of cresting highways and vintage cars one loved like a person, and links back to young love’s adventures. The barkeeps that have seen it all, the profundity of the “Sistine Chapel Ceiling”, the classic movie references romantically interwoven into the imagery and the images of the artwork that was produced in Adorable’s short time on the scene. They were so great. Everyone missed them. Even now, up and down their own country, we fans act as missionaries for the good word along our tour to see them, getting them played in a legendary Manchester music-scene pub, across from the former Factory Records. We say as if it’s a casual fact instead of a part of our religion, to the young but savvy barman: this is a great band you don’t know about, and should. So the story of Adorable is a sweeping vista; a well-loved, perhaps magical white leather coat; a guitarist who can still take air because he’s so joyous to be right here with his friends; a story of loss and some kind of redemption on their own terms; a story of love. The good ones are never easy, and are often crushing.
As if all the secret whispers of their devoted fan base has proven that social media is good for something, Adorable announced three gigs in the spring, the first to take place in the historic, intimate and atmosphere-soaked Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, and a further two nights at Bush Hall in London. The word spread like a fire, and the tickets were snapped up within five minutes. Suddenly, the fans of today got to be a pressing part of the incredible and important lore of this band. Who got tickets, who didn’t, and what it all meant to these four men who were shown (in five minutes) in the most tangible way there is, what they needed to know (but one never can be too sure of, in the unreal world of online fandom): that they are loved and missed, very, very much. (Later it will be revealed, in the storied walls of the Trades, that people in our group of day one ticket buyers have come from places as far as Japan, across Europe, the States, and some madmen road trippers from Belgium, who did a non-stop sleepless ricochet (as told to us by our local barman.)
The result was a boost to a band that deserved such a lift to see them through to their goal: three nights, and no more, fitted into autumn school break, to try to minimize family disruption. It was understood by all the fans, from the first, that it was not to be the start of a return of this band, but a much-deserved bit of anniversary love, and equally, a forthright bit of closure. We are all entitled to write our own ending, if we are able. And so they would. But the ticket sellout that crashed websites, required some scrambling. A second date was added to Hebden, and a third to London. The whole week would be one of playing and traveling down the country. All these tickets were rabidly absorbed as well, with it now being one of those sport fans on the road joys: How many nights did you get? Will you go to London as well? in utter euphoria, pretending it was a casual, everyday thing. Because that’s joy. That’s Christmas-style spirit, and it even comes with the gift you’ve always longed for. One they said didn’t exist.
And so the first week of November would belong to Adorable for the first time in 25 years. Music fans rallied for one another, plans were made, and the summer months were spent in a surreal haze. Can this really be? It’s hard to get your head around. It’s all so unexpected. Fans like us have a story that matches so many others even as they are deep and precious: This was our wedding song. I looked for you for years after seeing a single video on TV, and found it again in the late 1990s. We danced to “Homeboy” every weekend for five years in the best, tiny club our city ever produced, and many more besides. Like all good music, the songs of Adorable easily and seamlessly soundtracked our lives for years and years, their unfinished story continuing undimmed in so many lives, on circuitous, romantic and stoic routes; we ourselves could share even more stories private and magical of musical healing and health crises, but we won’t. But as you know, the greatest music is part of your deepest sorrow, most difficult hurdles, and happiest days.
Today’s story of Adorable is entirely, beautifully organic, and their fans are connected in the deepest of ways: the online, and later, social media world is important to the trajectory that would see us all gather again. We are well past the pine barrens of the aughts, when only stolen music showed up on Napster and its lessers, mislabeled: insult to injury. We hung on to signposts like Fij’s post-Adorable project, Polak, which produced characteristically great tunes. Fate allowed some of us to catch Fij & Terry Bickers in their newest project as a duo, on occasional tours and an appearance at an important new Indie music festival, Shiiine On Weekender, that we certainly believed and expected was the one chance we’d ever get to hear “A to Fade In”, played heartbreakingly, on acoustic guitar. The membrane of artist and fan is thin these days; your hero might thank you for giving his music an airing, or invite you to a film club, or share personal stories that are worthy of being printed and bound, from a Facebook post. The world is weird and good now, and it creates strange opportunities for the weird and the good out there who never thrived under corporate rule and never would, or should. The walls of old, the industry (of which artists are shaped into the products) have crumbled, leaving everyone who loves music bare and unashamed, the phonies and the grifters easier to spot. We are all in it together, everyone’s intentions are purer, there’s less interference to just create and do the thing and share the results, and love has triumphed over money, for what it’s worth.
And in this climate, a little crack opened up in our reality about a long gone band. Adorable’s members were not the first to know about their debut record getting a re-release in the spring of 2019 by Music on Vinyl – one driven by all of the steady community-building going on of late around them- but this event was a catalyst for a reckoning. Anniversaries matter: We are still here. We still have love. We still exist. You are all here with us, our friends and family, our community. Raise a glass…Without a label or record deal, there were now new kinds of opportunities, bespoke ones, and ones that favoured artistry and quality of experience for all in attendance, over cash. They only ever wanted this, one imagines. To play their music and to have it be art, not product. Thus came the dates in out-of-the-way (and so perfect) Yorkshire and London: the city that must always be conquered if you can.
We can now say to anyone and do say in disbelief to one another, that we were there, for those first two shows in a gem of a place we’d barely heard of, in a venue with its own special history, legacy, and layers of salt-of-the-earth to boot, with newer friends all with the same intentions and music appreciation, from disparate places, ourselves over from Canada, all around a table like family hashing out music stories like old friends, while a canal-wet dog called Ava hung close by and people filled that room up with electric anticipation no matter how far the journey. Those of us that were greedy / lucky enough to see two shows did it right: for after so many years it takes more than two hours for the surreality to calm down and to be present (coupled with, in our case, intercontinental exhaustion). The shows of both nights at The Trades are excellent, shimmering, and vivid, the music shockingly relevant and pressing today, as ever, unsung classics. At this juncture I decide, and probably disclose to a passing pub dog, that Adorable’s debut rivals that of Stone Roses, and I mean it. This band stands tall against any band of its era, and then some, and truly should have earned the chance to be part of the new classic music of its time, and of the wider canon. And it still can be. It must.
While it doesn’t dampen the show in any way, night one (mostly by comparison) reveals the expected nerves of such an evening. Fij’s energy is tightly-coiled, his stage banter is minimal, and in this beautifully intimate venue, his eyes seem to see everyone in the room, directly, at one point or another, leveling a serious and intense gaze from beneath his hair. He is intense, and intent tonight, his live energy (that many have never seen before) at odds with the recent online persona fans have gotten to know: affable, open, calm, and funny. But he has something deep to prove to himself tonight. He is listening to every note and is, perhaps, fraught with the knowledge that people here tonight have over two decades of anticipation in their back pockets, have traveled many miles and spent all you do for such adventures, and all the sorts of concerns that a sweetheart allows to trouble his mind, so long having not been a rock star (if ever). As for the Canadians, one of us is able to be in the moment and needs to be to shoot photography, the act in itself a centering. For the other, friends (quite rightly) look out for her, one-eyed, like dads, as if she were a toddler on the loose, here standing on the banquette in a prime place her kindest of friends has made for her, now standing with her guy shyly almost-weeping, then bombing around the room, losing pints, stepping on coats, a mere child. The emotion is overwhelming, the tears frozen somewhere in the ducts, the massive fear of the moment passing her by so tumultuous that it nearly does from sheer, all-nerve anxiety. But she’s happy, and full, and it’s breathtaking. Our example is a dichotomy no doubt echoed around the room as people are cloaked in the immense layers of “Breathless” a song that defies explanation, and the peak of fast-slow-fast early 90s greatness: “Homeboy” that is, as ever, a tour of our young hearts. This isn’t just love and fondness. This band performs pitch perfect and note for note sounding as if they’ve teleported from their Uni days. One can only hope that the ripples started here, this night, echo to the people out there who’ve yet to discover Adorable but will become devotees once they know better.
Night two is something different. It has all gone well. Even an artist hard on themselves and thinking themselves rusty (never) has to admit that, and release himself from the imposed tension. Adorable here and with us is now becoming a tiny habit, gaining a sense of elegant however brief ritual, as some people, or even many people, are back again, the nerves having burned off of everyone and the mood feeling a little like that thing music fans long for but simply doesn’t exist in this world: A replay; a two-hour encore. Tonight,”Sunburnt”, a stellar b-side, is subbed in for “Feed Me” (Fake). Fij is relaxed, more effusive, and his humour is evident, engaging casually with call-outs during a tuning, keeping control of the room in that gorgeous way that only the mightiest of pure poets can ever do, with wit and ease. On this occasion Robert Dillam takes flight, and Fij looks worryingly close to flirting with an audience dive. As packed in as they are, is this crowd that sharp tonight when it comes to coordination of hand and eye? We in the booths with what passes for a bird’s eye booth exhale as the singer seems to think better of it.
Our corner is full of all manner of fans, friends, and the sort of people in between that form the essential core of extended family of all bands. All are humble and natural about these intersections or their connection to Adorable, for everyone who is present has a deep link to this band: their fine music, and our love for it. Their truncated legacy, their deserving celebration. A man who is an entire music video unto himself startles everyone in his vicinity by being absolutely lacquered drunk, almost bonelessly swaying and bobbing to and fro from – where else, standing in a booth, and constantly seems about to but never falls. Remarkably, he still knows and sings every word to every song, his eyes shut in rapture, only opening to connect and grasp strangers’ hands in joy every fifteen or twenty minutes. Guess what? He “LOVES THIS FUCKING BAND.” His proclamation to us is our truth carried through the room. He’s a wonderful slice of humanity, a musician himself, and just for once he’s not alone with this music.
The entire room is different tonight, we are different, the world is different. People seem freer, more lubricated and a bit wilder, as even a mosh pit forms in its exact, expected spot, while girls hold onto their front of stage perches, unbothered by laddish “spontaneity”. Pete Fij doesn’t miss a beat when someone calls out from the middle of the room to play a certain song, mid-tuning, without an upwards glance, he lightly informs that the request cannot be fulfilled with only two band members on stage, and also, that number had already been played. Beauty is only fleeting, which is why artists for all of time have tried to pin it down, in paintings, in literature, in song. Euphoria is either spontaneous or earned; certainly, something you wait for. Adorable deserves to know of the unwavering joy they’ve delivered to us down the years. They leave us shattered with joy, an adventure that is once in a lifetime, worth the wait, and simply glorious.
With heartfelt thanks to Adorable, The Trades Club, and Gareth.
Word by Jacqueline Howell. Photos by Dave MacIntyre.
All the single ladies looking for a thick-necked, beer-swilling late forty-something male need look no further – Shiiine On Weekender is here for you. It is also here for those of us who spend the other fifty one wasteland weekends of the year willing it to be mid-November – our chance to escape the daily grind, indulge in a bit of hedonistic nostalgia and hang out with ‘our people’ once more.
From a fairly low-key start in 2015, this gathering of the tribes of Indie, Rock and Dance has gradually transformed; with this year bringing more acts, over more stages and for longer. If you fancy starting your day off with comedy or a film show; afternoon hip-hop Karaoke or a pop quiz; an evening of up-and-coming bands or stalwart festival favourites; club nights or sing-along cover bands, there really is something for everyone. Cleverly arranged to avoid clashes for headline acts, the whole event successfully manages to appear effortless; bands start on time, changeovers are smooth, the staff are wonderfully friendly and relaxed (this year, Levi is Shiiine personified – full of high-fives and contagious enthusiasm) – the festival goes from strength to strength.
Part of the joy of Shiiine On is the anticipation – making a playlist for the long journey down to Somerset (get caught behind a tractor on that final road to Minehead and you’re in for a slow, frustrating trek); getting the card to your chalet and your yellow and black festival wristband; tasting that first, tantalizing drink of the weekend; loving the obsessively organised Excel spreadsheets which help us work out who we are going to see and when and setting ourselves the challenge of staying up for Steve Lamacq. These are the moments we anticipate all year; grabbing a drink, heading into the Skyline Arena, the hazy blur of noise and excitement, music reverberating off the walls before the main acts have even begun: all our Friday nights lead to this moment and the promise of what is to come over the following few days. We have food, booze, tea and Berocca. Shiiine On Weekender…we are ready for you…
Having read so many positive comments about Ivory Wave, I was keen to see the Birmingham five-piece with their modern take on the acid-house dance music of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. First up on the Skyline Stage they attract a large Friday afternoon crowd and their contagious Happy Mondays vibe is perfect to warm things up. On next and following the up-beat dance theme comes Reverend and the Makers, a perfect, energizing Friday evening choice and my only regret is that being lower down on the list means a shorter set for The Reverend’s own form of catchy indie pop and electronica but with Cast and Lightning Seeds still to come, the night is only just beginning. Headliner Ian Broudie is blighted by sound problems and the set starts slowly, the band working hard to overcome technical issues but hitches are resolved and the crowd is fully engaged by the time alternative culture’s football anthem ‘Three Lions’ is belted out as the band’s closer.
I’m keen to catch Deja Vega after seeing their ferociously raw set last year on the Sunday afternoon and this time they are playing the much smaller, dive-like Jaks at the back of the arena, an interesting choice after last year’s Skyline slot. Their debut album has been on the turntable at home for weeks and hearing them in this dark, claustrophobic venue really emphasizes the searing, at times overwhelmingly powerful sound this three-piece creates. The atmosphere is unlike that of any other set I will see this weekend – wild and unpredictable, screeching guitars and frantic punk screams and as singer Jack Fearon leaps into the audience, leading us into a psychedelic trance as he spins amongst us, the sound from the stage fills the room in a frenzied crescendo. The mood is electric and this is what live music is all about.
As we head towards the early hours, King of the Slums are forced into a shorter than planned set due to a broken guitar amp and we head upstairs to dance venue Reds to catch Transglobal Underground, although frustratingly we must miss Apollo 440 as 1 AM beckons us next door to Centre Stage to catch The Wedding Present’s penultimate show of the year. David Gedge and his ever-revolving Fall-esque troupe of players are on excellent form tonight, with heavily pregnant Danielle Wadey playing her guitar slung low to the side; ripping through their set with the usual intense energy. The crowd love this band and tonight You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends is our Shiiine mantra: music, memories and friends, this is why we are all gathered here.
A rarely seen November blue sky, the sun hanging low, forces us off site and into the eccentrically English seaside resort of Minehead, sticks of rock and Crazy Golf momentarily beckon, but it’s not long before we are in the pub, lured by our Irish friends, one of whom has flown over from his adopted home of Seattle to join us and later, surrounded by fellow Weekenders we head back to the site, itineraries in hand.
Hearing great things about the sets by Steve Mason and Idlewild (you have to eat and sleep at some point, however…) I am keen to see Turin Brakes’ early evening slot. Having slid off my radar after the first few albums, I am surprised to hear that the London four-piece released their eighth studio album last year and I’m glad I manage to catch them tonight: the sound is tight, the band charm us with old favourites and the tempo rises with each song. The set’s standout track is definitely Black Rabbit from 2016’s Lost Property, the power of which gets me right in the solar plexus: it is just stunning – powerful, beautiful and intensely moving. I leave wanting more.
I remember seeing Embrace around the time they released The Good Will Out, playing a free outdoor gig near Leicester Square in London; I wandered down after work one bright summer evening, wanting to see what all the hype was about, enjoyed the gig and the album and that, I thought was that. Fast forward over twenty years and here I am, barrier-hugging and allowing myself to be pulled into the crowd’s enthusiasm on this Saturday night as they belt out the favourites, charming and funny, effortless performers, the tone just right for the sing-a-long crowd: ‘it’s been a long time coming and I can’t stop now’ and I allow myself to be caught up in the moment, as Saturday night on the Skyline Stage draws to a close.
Bob Mould plays an intense late night set on Centre Stage with a focus on solo material but with the welcome inclusion of some Sugar and Husker Du tracks and the room is packed out and ready for Jim Bob who is here with his usual self-deprecating charm, to play 1991 album 30 Something. I’m sure we would all have laughed at the time if we had been told that one day there would be moshers and stage-divers to one-man acoustic renditions of Carter classics and yet here we are and the crowd shouts back every word at their beloved suited and booted singer, whose witty puns and rapid fire one-liners are rejuvenated in their current stripped-back format.
We forget that we are now in the early hours of Sunday morning, eager for more music, more memories. These now follow with the appearance of Niall O’Flaherty and his Sultans of Ping. Bedecked in pink-leopard print trousers, O’Flaherty prowls and stretches across the stage, acerbic and wittily sexual whilst his audience beckon back as one ‘Sultans, Sultans, Sultans’: University Lecturer by day (whilst internet surfing I come across a link to Rate Your Lecturer, which provides me with the following amusing comment from one star-struck student ‘I think he’s too attractive to be a lecturer, so it’s sometimes distracting during the lectures’); charismatic, pouting pop minstrel by night. It’s Saturday and we are all in love.
After keeping to our word and managing to stay awake for (at least a) part of Steve Lamacq’s annual indie disco, we are up and ready for The Clone Roses’ appearance on Centre Stage at lunchtime. Cover bands are a welcome addition at Shiiine On and this Stone Roses tribute band, who I have somehow missed on previous years, go down remarkably well – the room is packed, we sing collectively and I have a tear in my eye during This Is The One: this after all, is a moment we have waited for all year.
I’m keen to see Jesus Jones on the Skyline Stage after their initial Shiiine On visit in 2016 which came just as they were emerging from a fifteen year hiatus. Having watched them in various venues since and marveling at the passion with which they perform, it’s wonderful to see the size of the crowd who have gathered here this afternoon and the band whip through their set with energy and enthusiasm, singer Mike Edwards lithe and virtually unchanged since the early ‘90s.
Early evening and the mood in the arena is electric, we know what’s coming. It is Stourbridge Sunday and the Holy Trinity of West Midland indie alternative bands are soon to take to the stage for a much anticipated event; the first time that the three giants of the era have appeared on the same line up: Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Shiiine On darlings, The Wonder Stuff.
I am biased and for any hyperbole I must apologize but these bands are my youth, icons of my formative years, the musical accompaniment to life’s ups and downs and this evening’s line-up is going to be hard to beat. Down at the front for PWEI as they storm through an electrifying performance of second album This is the Day, This is the Hour, This is This; I step back for Ned’s and watch the crowd around me, enjoying the atmosphere, the familiar refrain kicking in at the start of each track, as singer John Penney holds the stage: at last they are here and I doubt that this, their first Butlins visit, will be their last. I close my eyes for a few seconds; I can feel the energy and excitement around me and it is breath-taking.
Finally, it is time for The Wonder Stuff, who have appeared – in various guises, both as a band and in stripped back acoustic form with Miles Hunt alone – at every Shiiine On Weekender. Hunt reminds us that the band have just released their ninth studio album but sardonically assures us that we won’t be hearing any tracks from it tonight. He knows what his audience want to hear on this Sunday evening: drunk, tired and emotional, high on the adrenaline of three nights of musical memories, eager to shout and sing and dance away the evening while we can before real life creeps back in… and tonight we do all those things and the band are better than I think I have ever seen them. Mark ‘Gemini’ Twaite and Malc Treece are back and we again throw our arms in the air at the familiar refrain: ‘You know that I’ve been drunk a thousand times, and these should be the best days of my life’.
I feel as though the Skyline ceiling will lift right off, such is the reciprocal energy created between band and audience, the love we share for these performers, for the memories they have created over the years, for the mix-tapes and the club nights, the hotly-anticipated new albums, the tours and the lyrics we have sung along to in the car or shouted out, arms held high, at gigs and at festivals, stretching back through the years and bringing us to this point. All of these emotions, memories and connections are shared, by all of us, right here tonight by this band that we hold so dear and they can surely feel it too.
For of course, it is the audiences who help to make this night and the weekend so special; because after all, it is the people you meet along the way, fellow Indie music fans, arriving from all over, that are so key in making the Shiiine On experience unique. Looking back at my musings for Disarm after last year’s weekender, I am reminded of these moments and this year is no exception.
Shortly after wandering into the Skyline Arena on Friday we encounter a friendly gang wearing Shiiine On Weekender Appreciation Society t-shirts, one of whom is Laura, who I would bump into various times over the following few days. Shortly after this, I find myself standing behind a guy I had chatted to (and mentioned here) on the same night, last year. We had spoken about our favourite bands – I had told him I had not heard The Rifles before, he had assured me that I would enjoy them, we met each other’s friends and all danced together. Like homing pigeons, we all have our favoured vantage points at gigs and it seems that he and I share the same one, for here he is again and remembering one another, I thank him for last year’s recommendation.
Here is the guy I similarly recognize from previous years for his ‘Until Sally I was never happy’ t-shirt – I spot him before the Clone Roses set on Sunday and we have a chat; my name, his t-shirt, the band: it all makes me smile.
There is also my barrier companion during The Wonder Stuff who it turns out has never seen them before, brought along by his mates, now fully converted and vowing to acquire the back catalogue. We bond over the remarkable set we are witnessing, I laugh at his shock at how wonderful this band are, chastise him for never having seen them before, for having disparaged them and now, here he is, blown away and thanking me for sharing my joy with him – over thirty years on and these bands still have the power to garner new fans.
And there is first timer David from Amsterdam, via Brighton, attending with his Shiiine On veteran friends, who I get chatting to during Sultans of Ping. It turns out that we are both Wedding Present Fans and confess to one another that we have each seen this band more than any other; our murmured conversation about the Indie music we love and his kind words, make me smile when I need it.
These and so many others, are the people who help to make this weekend special, who we connect with due to shared passions. They create the feeling of unity which brings out the goose bumps when you’re standing together, watching the performers you love, the musicians of your formative years; when you feel a tightening in your throat at the immense power that music has to transport you, the impact that the opening bars of a song can have, forcing you back to when you first heard it, all those years ago.
Thank you to all those people: to the ones I spoke to, those I danced next to and the ones who turned to me during our favourite bands’ choruses and belted the words out together – all of you make Shiiine On unique and just maybe, I’ll bump into you, stand next to you and sing along with you, again next year.
With thanks to Sally Hamilton for the words, Sally’s partner for the photos. The Canadians WILL return for the 2020 installment. Mark my words.
Peter Hook and the Light’s tours have grown with a clear sense of devotion and a work ethic that won’t quit, since hitting the world stage seven years ago. You’ve had to be there, and there could mean so many places where long time fans feel the same way: devoted to the New Order catalogue unfolding sequentially through each tour, and gobsmacked at hearing Joy Division’s music live after so many years, in all its urgency, grit, and singular power.
One cannot help but note the storied career of Peter Hook while the usual suspects – Toronto’s best music fans – who by now finally mostly know each other, against local custom – wait and discuss competing biographies and tours with the devotion of British football fans. For this is our football. Our only sport: music and its peaks and troughs, tragedy that courses through this story’s origins and even us kids like a marble vein, and the resistance to grief that New Order invented out of ashes, their improbably going ahead to New York in full shock and despair (and commitment) and discovering the saving powers of early dance club music, which they absorbed fully into their blood stream and packed in their duffles home to England, is like Camelot to us 80s kids. There is no story like the New Order story, and while it’s often sad and feels so public and yet personal to millions, it never, ever gets boring, in large measure thanks to this man and what he’s lately built.
Tonight Hooky has brought us Technique and Republic, as well as a full separate closing set of JD songs. The set list feels raw and new, considering they’ve been touring it for months elsewhere and our stop is almost at the extreme end of the run. Lead vocals are traded off between Hook and (Monaco band mate) Pottsy, who has added much to the show since he joined, with his better-than-the-real thing Bernard Sumner vocals that thrill and delight some very tough customers who memorized every note decades ago. There seems to be a few moments of confusion about who and when sings which parts, but no matter – these shows, songs, instruments, and Hook’s sheer will never have rust on them and never will, and their authenticity is always so refreshing to see that it works. The format Hook has chosen for these yearly tours is a risky one: instead of playing the tried-and-true hits, of which New Order has so many, and perfecting a formula that might be an easy one, he starts over each time with an intention to recreate full albums and see where the night takes the band.
Full albums were never arranged to be performed live at all, and not in album order, that trend that has become the (no doubt maddening) formula in the recent years of our formative music’s live resurgence. Technique is one of New Order’s very best let it play albums, but unfortunately for this writer its tracks are light on signature Hook bass lines and truly blinding moments of euphoria that we’ve become so spoiled to enjoy this close for some years now. It’s an addiction, the best kind. And we are used to getting so much of the pure stuff. It’s not a point of pride to say one misses the Substance tours, as nothing on earth can compare to that playlist, culled as it was from the best and most popular of a decade that shaped our very heartbeats and lives there still. And no real fan stops there.
Because the moments always happen. Second song “All the Way” hits in brand new ways, with its clear, pure poetry, written by a young man that resonates more with years on us:
It takes years
to find the nerve
to be apart from anyone
to find the truth inside yourself
and not depend on anyone
A surprising highlight of the evening is the rarely (if ever) played “World in Motion”, helped quite capably on guest vocals (we hear) by a mate of the band’s young son (well done, lad!) And while the crowd dances and bops and hollers for allsorts, there’s one particular glowing moment of private joy where we stand, in the form of “Regret”, which is a song that sparked love that is now in its 25th great year. It is a monument for just us two, who’ve been closer than we ever could have dreamed to this legend and now stand swaying at the back of the room.
The music of classic Technique and better than you may remember Republic is all much missed and holds up so gorgeously. The Hook shows over these years of true graft that new and hungry bands should envy and aspire to have seemed to build a solid group of us returners as well as continuing to awakening new/old fans who were under the misapprehension that our music was from a bygone time and lives only in YouTube now. This, friends, is not nostalgia at all, not a blip, but offers powerful encouragement. The word of Hooky’s stunning shows has spread so delightfully in the old-fashioned manner – hand to hand and word of mouth, that it’s become something of a resurgence of the immediacy of our 1980s culture itself, hard as that is to quantify. You had to be there.
Ride takes the stage at Toronto’s jewel, the Danforth Music Hall, like visiting old friends. This is one legendary British band who never forgets us, not in the period of recent global shoegaze resurgence or once they began recording new music again in 2017, with return visits on both album tours since. This venue feels a bit like a secret, where so many great British bands we could largely only long for in the 1990s as we pored over back pages of NME and Select magazine, have found their way regularly in recent years.
They enter to “R.I.D.E.” beginning a nineteen song set confidently with two more brand new ones: the shimmering “Jump Jet” and the infectiously jangly, harmonious and optimistic “Future Love”, rounding out their opening set with the eternally fresh, still urgent call to creative soul action: “Leave Them All Behind”, its extended outro firmly setting tonight’s musical mood. We are in for a treat, with classics and new tracks seamlessly mixed, a range of moods and sounds blended together with mastery, and all of it united by Ride’s iconic harmonies and tight-as-a-drum rhythm section.
The new record (the band’s sixth) is the extremely well received This is Not a Safe Place, their second new album in two years (2017’s Weather Diaries was their first since 1996’s Tarantula). Six new songs are played tonight, including one for the very first time (“End Game”). There’s the blistering, driving and psychedelia-tinged “Kill Switch” the exciting driving dance beat of “Repetition” and “Shadows Behind the Sun”. “Eternal Recurrence” sounds as if it could have emerged from any era of this band, and all the new music is stunningly impressive. It is the sound of a band – still united today with all four original members – who still have much to say, who won’t be pigeonholed by genre, era, or scene – the hallmark of true artistry.
The rather foreboding yet presciently titled This is Not a Safe Place speaks to this precise moment of late 2019, at the close of the first twenty years of a new century, so far from the defiant optimism of the 1990s we remember. The title suggests: Don’t get too comfortable. Stay alert. Be ready to move. It seems to connect to 2017’s Weather Diaries, then a darkening global moment when we were, perhaps, still looking for signs mystical, tribal or elemental, to save us. Ride’s new message is received clearly by the realest communities, global ones, a people united by music, values, critical thinking ability, and taste. Music is still a powerful form of protest, of rebellion, and of activism. It shakes us awake from the 24-hour news scroll, and fortifies our spirits for the daily onslaught, the next bad headline, or the gloom that’s come to rest on our shoulders too permanently. This album and its messages are sure to top the best of lists for this year as well as inspire both emerging bands and Ride’s contemporaries alike to create something new, urgent, and fearless in 2020, in defiance of all the noise.
The rest of the set is judiciously spread across the strong back catalog, including: “Chrome Waves” “Chelsea Girl” “Twisterella” “Drive Blind” and “Vapour Trail” (custom designed to ricochet you like a DeLorean back to whatever age you were in 1990). The crowd may not be too familiar with the weeks’ old new album yet, but they are committed and enthusiastic throughout. It is always heartwarming when lager louts don’t push forward for just their favourite old song, but a crowd settles into some sort of harmony for two hours. It is the ideal, and somehow, in the alchemy of rock and roll, it’s influenced by the artists themselves.
Shortly after the show, the band casually reconvenes at a nearby pub, itself a local institution that still welcomes new and traditional music to its small stage. Here, music talk is avid and casual, all barriers removed, as Ride’s harmonies still run through our heads and a few keen-eyed fans suss them out for a shy hello. The band are gracious, chill, and the epitome of cool, standing right there at a neighbourhood local, at ease with all of it: life, music, us, and the road, their home away from home.
Back for its fifth outing on a drizzly Saturday in late May (well it is Manchester and it is a British bank holiday) comes the Gigantic All Dayer: a rollicking celebration of indie favourites from the 80s and 90s. Combine a clutch of bands, DJ sets courtesy of Pop Will Eat Itself’s Crabbi, ample real ale, and plenty of ageing indie kids eager to rediscover their youth and you have the perfect opportunity to step back to a more carefree time, if only for a day.
Placed early on the bill but filling the venue immediately, are electro-rock favourites Jesus Jones; Mike Edwards as lithe and energetic as ever, snappy in fitted shirt, instantly energizing the crowd with the collection of hits we’ve all been waiting for. Having released sixth album Passages in 2018, the band have been touring extensively – they played Brazil earlier this month – and are clearly energized by the enthusiastic early afternoon crowd.
“International Bright Young Thing” “Real Real Real”, “Who? Where? Why?”, and 1990’s “Right Here, Right Now”; the latter, an apposite choice for those of us Brits who are suffering from Brexit malaise and a sense of trepidation at what the future may bring. A song inspired by events across Eastern Europe in the late 80s and influenced by the band’s experiences whilst touring in Ceausescu’s Romania in 1989, it can’t help but feel like a warning to us all – thirty years later and the message of those optimistic youths still strikes a powerful chord.
Gigantic favourite Jim Bob, resplendent in sparkling jacket and red sunglasses to match his patent Doc Martens is here to rattle out Carter hits; accompanied solely by acoustic guitar and ready wit. The crowd love him and readily recite back a litany of quick-fire droll lyrics from the band’s back catalogue, echoing exuberantly: ‘in a bar Johnny drinks, Johnny drinks, Johnnie Walker’ as he launches into “Prince in a Pauper’s Grave”. We hear an amusing (and probably apocryphal) tale of band rivalries between Carter and The Bluetones, from back in the day when such stories shifted copies of NME and Melody Maker off the shelves; and as one we joyously chorus back the words to the band’s 1992 anthem to the outsider: ‘The gypsies, the travelers and the thieves, the good, the bad, the average and unique, the grebos the crusties and the goths and the only living boy in New Cross’.
Next up, John Peel protégés, The Bluetones, with Mark Morriss rocking his own brand of devastating geography teacher chic. Having reformed in 2015 after a four year hiatus, the band have toured extensively as well as the continuation of Morriss’ solo outings. You only have to listen to them belt out such beloved indie-pop classics as “Bluetonic”, “Cut Some Rug”, and “Marblehead Johnson” to be reminded what a enchanting band The Bluetones are, providing confidently skillful musicians, incredibly catchy tunes, shrewdly self-deprecating lyrics and Morriss’ charismatic, ready wit. The latter’s onstage banter as ever charms his crowd, self-effacing asides lampoon the band’s heritage as being relegated to Heart FM radio fodder, as he mock-laments the releases that ‘no one’ bought. “Solomon Bites the Worm” and “Never Going Nowhere” are joyful reminders of a time when alternative indie-pop entered the mainstream and ruled the air waves, and the set comes to a powerful close with “If”, a wonderful sing-along crowd pleaser from second album Return to the Last Chance Saloon.
So, on to festival circuit favourites, The Wonder Stuff, with a new line up to join Miles and Erica and tie in with recording their next album: bringing back sorely-missed and much-loved Malc Treece on guitar with Pete Howard on drums and Mark Gemini Thwaite on bass. The anticipation in the room, fueled by beer and excitement, is clear and when Miles Hunt arrives, suited in 1940s style high-waisted trousers and natty braces, the room erupts with a roar. It feels unbelievable that it’s thirty years since Hup but this is a set of crowd-pleasing hits rather than an album outing and the band tap into the crowd’s energy perfectly, as “Mission Drive” commences the set. This is one of those special performances – the symbiotic relationship between band and audience causing the momentum to build with each song.We know every word, we anticipate the next track, stage and audience full of smiles, the atmosphere elated. ‘Donation’ sounds particularly vehement and scathing tonight and the crowd sings along to every word as ‘Ruby Horse’ leads into ‘A Wish Away’ and ‘Unbearable’, followed by a rambunctious outing of ‘Give Give Give..’ The superb set comes to a close as always with a fiery and powerful foot-stomping outing of ‘Ten Trenches Deep’; fast and furious, Erica’s violin scratching staccato sounds as the crowd stamp and clap their approval.
Tonight’s final act – I hesitate to say headliner, as in a sense all performers today bring equal weight to the bill – gives us Echo & The Bunnymen. Following Miles Hunt’s post-punk outfit was always going to be a big task for Ian McCulloch, hardly the most Echo & The BunnEchloquacious of frontmen. It takes a while (and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from the crew) for the band to appear and by this point the euphoric energy created by The Stuffies has dissipated somewhat, making me wonder at the prescience of the billing order. But Mac is in good form tonight, reassuring the crowd that he is in a ‘fantastically good mood’. There is a lot of rather incoherent mumbling and at times it feels as though we are watching a technical display of musicianship rather than a festival performance but nothing can deny the beauty of hearing these songs live – as fresh now as they were thirty, even forty, years ago. The crowd adore “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and “The Cutter”, and when Mac announces ‘this is the best song ever written’, we are treated to a tender rendition of “Killing Moon”, the band illuminated by a cerulean glow, dreamlike and Gothic; a perfect finale to a day which has united us once more in a shared love of what must surely matter most – the power that music holds to captivate and bring us joy.
Thirty years later, Disintegration is both transformative and transcendent. The chronicle of a break down and survival has grown with us into a uniquely life-affirming artistic statement.
DISINTEGRATION, as is the fashion these days, is celebrating an anniversary. Or is it a birthday? With passing time, with invented mini-holidays for all and sundry, and with the ease of online, free of the discomfort of the “Happy Birthday” song, we celebrate these milestones of new classic records.
We fans celebrate them wholeheartedly. Disintegration’s anniversary is couched within the larger anniversary of The Cure themselves: a band at the milestone of 40 with no signs of slowing, a band with a face unlined and gaze still sharp, and one with a voice THE SAME as ever, as clear, even singing in the same youthful key. The Cure’s legacy is not bronzed and flattened, rather, it’s a vivid one, an event in defiance of time, age, and expectations. The Cure’s recent milestones have been marked in their own way. Conceding to the rare public spectacle, there they all were at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (providing a mini concert and even an unlikely, endearing meme for forever fans and casual observers, both). Celebrations more personal included Robert Smith’s curation of Meltdown Festival in London last summer, followed shortly by the legendary concert (/mini festival) in Hyde Park in July (filmed by Tim Pope for a future feature-length concert film) which saw 50,000 of us singing entire verses like football chants while the intro notes were still issuing into the shimmering heat wave atmosphere. Among many other cues, a DISINTEGRATION fan will never hear a stray neighbourhood wind chime the same way. It sets off “Plainsong” in our hearts.
None of The Cure’s 40th Anniversary events have been anything other than what feels appropriate for a band immune to branding, hype-resistant, stoic and incorruptible, whose genre is CUREMUSIC and CUREMUSIC only. This band, like few others, has moved into the difficult digital and downright messy social media age with their own unique take on grace. There are only rare, gem-like all-caps updates from on high. Occasional, mannered calls for pressing issues of the day. Do vote. Tour news, sent out just once, needing nothing more. The communiques are never mundane or shallow – and so millions choose to read them as personal correspondence.
April / May is the traditional season of new Cure releases, so we’ve had a lot to mark and celebrate along with the 40th. It’s also the time of year that the band’s founder celebrates (or ignores, for all we know) his birthday. In my home, we’ve re-named Record Store Day Robert Smith Day, as it fell on his birthday last year. And these last few have been special, so we’ve got to celebrate what we can, don’t we? We’ve lost too many artists we’ve loved blindly and fully, their lyrics tattooed across the skin of countless fans, their tours embedded in the fabric of countless lives, names out of songs bestowed upon a generation of babies, so many artists at once an indelible part of us, yet gone too soon, often painfully, even brutally. It seems everyone knows loss first hand now, as well as the universal pall of the Black Star, or a Firestarter, impossibly, extinguished. So we must rally for ourselves and our allies and our few worthy heroes like never before, with deeper context than rock and roll music was ever meant to carry, and especially, far beyond the industry’s low expectations for the too often dismissed post-punk “80s” which was called then “new wave” or dismissed by sneering critics as “haircut” music. Through all of this roller coaster of life we met The Cure’s music. And in the years since, we’ve continued to find new facets of The Cure, and prismatically, ways to understand our own lives.
DISINTEGRATION is, reportedly, an epic journey through early-mid life crisis. Is this common knowledge? From reliable sources? From the source himself? Or have we intuited it? I’ve only ever taken liner notes as plain fact. You feel it, though, it permeates the work, with an urgency: an artist nearing age 30, having worked a lifetime already building this strange, beautiful creature, faced with his worst critic, the one inside, and pivotal questions both artistic and personal – ones not so different than the turning 30 moment that keeps us all awake. Do I marry? Have a family? Is love lasting? Is my best (work / life) behind me? Why do I feel so Goddamned old? What am I meant to be doing, if not this?
DISINTEGRATION came after a marathon run of albums and increasingly endless tours – at an output beyond the layperson’s comprehension- since the band’s formation in 1977. It marked a private breakdown not seen by us in the crowd, in the world: fans, devotees, Walkman owners. We were not consumers then. Not users. We scrambled for concert tickets- then just $15, tour T-Shirts and programs if we were lucky. We bought records or tapes, whatever our suburbias supplied us with – only looking at picture discs and imports. Music press was sparse in my part of the world, and we pored over any interviews and photos we could find, then, so limited and intriguing. There were never live photos of The Cure, just some studio things we cherished like fine art, sketched and tried to replicate, hung on the wall. A still from a TV appearance. The one with the flowered house dresses. This band was vividly alive in their Tim Pope-directed videos, a full carnival, and immense on the record. But on the wall, they were still, inbetween. A mystery. We were not the armchair quarterbacks and all-knowing experts fans claim to be today. We did not hold scorecards or make demands. Who would hear us? We were mannered. We waited, we showed up on time, we wore out vinyl discs, then tapes, and finally CDs.
My generation (at the time of DISINTEGRATION, angsty teens with our own sheen of faux-cool) had no inkling, then, that our beloved artists got depressed. There were only heavy metal car crashes and the sad slow death of Karen Carpenter, haunting in life and death, for reference. Despite what outsiders might say about our so-called “gloomy” music, we interpreted it correctly: as cathartic, as artistically profound, as art. We didn’t imagine young, strong musicians as ill, or that they might be white knuckling through addiction and withdrawal. We were naïve pre-Behind the Music VH1. No one knew how many musicians were wrecked from the pains of the road, or cratered occasionally with boredom, loneliness, and artist-torments they suffered, maybe cold-turkey, to enable creation itself. That the realest, who leave it all on the stage night after night, too-often burn out, the downside of making it. That fans turn on artists in their necessary evolutions. Even this band who mined and explained the depths of despair, hallucinogenic love / lust / pain / anger / the madness of young feelings to us, were miles and layers far away from our experience. We never thought to explain their significance to ourselves, and if we had, it would have included embarrassing-still baby-fat-cheeked words leftover in our vocabularies from the 1970s. Words like “magic.”
England, to Canadian kids, was just an imposing land mass. The Cure was an impenetrable entity. Our small reality was as detailed as veins, and as unremarkable. But we grabbed on tight to this music. It was our version of beach party music. We liked how it changed the air in the room like no other music. It was, like no one else, romantic and cinematic, befitting our dramas. It said what you weren’t supposed to say if you were a good girl or boy. It said it plainly, openly, bravely. It said it angrily, coldly, sarcastically. It showed us that even if our own diaries met their correct fates of being ripped up regularly, that such a thing was worth sharing when done artfully: with a twist, with a beat, and with a purpose. We were moved. Changed. Radicalized towards independent thought and authenticity which is not necessarily pretty, but is also beautiful in its way.
We knew from DISINTEGRATION that raging out musically was cathartic, and cool. The Cure asserted their firm place in the world by saying “we are allowed to be dark and messy and we demand to exist, whether you like it or not.” And there was no like, only love. We’d never heard such authenticity before that was our music. The Cure’s sounds and worldview was, by now, both an intriguing puzzle, and somehow touched us at our small, suburban knotted cores of still-malleable, still fragile self-identity. We were the five percent of the culture who connected with outsider music, innately and unconditionally fell in love with a few men in makeup, and dropped our beliefs in daddy-knows-best for something more sideways, eventually leading to our own voices. Post-Cure, we didn’t need the radio anymore to tell us or reflect back to us what was good. This music was passed, in Toronto, hand to hand, or experienced live more than through the radio or MuchMusic, (our MTV). We were casualties of end-of-the-century religious upbringing, first-children–Dr. Spock- experimental kids, or midlife and publicly obvious “accidents” of illogical middle-class unions. We were all a sausage roll away from English or Irish (or both) roots. Yet, we were disconnected and felt rootless. We never visited those places. Our elders did not look back. But something called to us. Something not touristic. We were, like our first role models at home and school, quietly sad, innately raging, and good actors. The Cure, and DISINTEGRATION found us at the exact moment we needed them, articulating something wordlessly brewing in us, and the world, shaking something loose.
Ever since the South Park kids shouted to the planet that “DISINTEGRATION IS THE BEST ALBUM EVER”, capping a first-season episode (1998) which featured a very game Robert Smith himself going with the flow, it seems easy to imagine that this assertion has always been a globalized, accepted truth. This is not so. What South Park did was remarkable. It took something that felt like a secret code of the underground and shouted it from prime-time television, signaling the first anniversary of sorts for this or any modern record, then a precocious nine years old. The Cure, always workhorses, found much outward success before and after DISINTEGRATION, a record which might have been intended as a sign-off but instead would engrave their legacy among fans, young bands, and artistic souls the world over, and thankfully not the mainstream. The Cure, and DISINTEGRATION, would yet remain stubbornly apart from the terrible machine of the industry and the desperation of the encroaching digital age. They were still too weird for the boring and the mass market, and up to then, most of their music had suited only “College” radio in North America. They were, then, always cool and never overplayed. “Friday I’m In Love” broke that format forever, signaling to us fans that they could, if they wanted, write a hit justlikethat, too. The Cure would never don wacky costumes at the behest of some slimy advertiser, let their most profound song sell soda or luxury cars, appear as a school dance band on a teen drama to embarrass us all, or otherwise get cozy with the unbeautiful, crummy world of marketing. They undoubtedly turned down legions of offers that would have compromised their time and ethics. And ours. Instead, the music of DISINTEGRATION turned up very occasionally and somehow perfectly. For no reason at all, Adam Horovitz’s character in cult classic Lost Angels (1989) careens down a road in the Hollywood Hills, taking his mother’s car and sealing his fate to be committed to a mental facility, to a sliver of “Fascination Street”. That song and its appearance in film is curious as an American-only single that was a big hit on Alternative radio across North America. It’s a great song, a ramble, one that let the wider world know this was a band of skilled musicians that could do mysterious things with guitars.
It happened just like other people’s Beatlemania, only without the mania. Our manias were the underground kind, the buried under-pillow, repressed, dark sort. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that one can see the painful teenage crises that were innocently dark, like the depths of DISINTEGRATION’s journey. That the kids we were, were not alright, at all, but treading water, who dodged curses and serial killers and cars with indifferent, alcoholic shrugs. Liquid courage. Drunk words, sober thoughts. We never fought but we slammed, we threatened, we railed. We scribbled. We prayed, still. Most of us made it out.
In between albums, The Cure went to their private lives (I presumed, in “The French Countryside“, for some reason) and we went on with our own micro dramas. Having spent our youth immersed in The Cure, DISINTEGRATION, while immense and addictive, was just the latest bounty in a solid run of our life’s soundtrack. We loved KISS ME, KISS ME, KISS ME just as much. The TOP, too. The dark early trilogy we fell into after HEAD ON THE DOOR, my group of friends’ entry point. STANDING ON A BEACH kids. After DISINTEGRATION, WISH (a treasure) would feel like a natural progression. DISINTEGRATION’s legacy that has vaulted it past most of the entire era’s offerings as well as other Cure records in the public imagination happened just as organically as the fact that we’ve all grown up together, still here, still listening, still connecting. It helped that they were never playing against anyone but themselves and their demons.
DISINTEGRATION, like classic literature, is a record that you can pick up all these years later and find that it crackles with the same electricity as ever (if not more). We change, it waits. It’s for all who recognize that records over 45 minutes long have at least twice as much pressure to be great, that they are risking the wrath of all critics, but pay long odds. For we are not frustrated children anymore, enjoying a healthy outlet for our anger and pain, navigating hormonal waters and Romeo and Juliet recreations (only with anemic endings). We are tired now. We’ve seen all sides of love, that thing you can never bypass if you are human. We’ve been hurt in ways that may leave permanent scars, that can’t be junked like an old yearbook. We’ve made vows that we’ve intended to keep, Lovesongs, gone all in. We’ve known the spider-nightmares with no adult to shake us safe from, because we are supposed to be the adult, now. We’ve grappled with homesickness, prayed for rain, swam in the sea, and maybe know too much about how to drown. We’ve lost people who didn’t beat back the monsters under the bed, outside us, within, that can come to threaten any one of our tender brains. And too many of us have lost the irreplaceable: mother. The dog. Or the one person who always saw you as the child full of promise you were supposed to be. The losses are unfixable. We can only go on.
DISINTEGRATION is a record for happiness, too. It’s the rarest of records. For those past the turmoil of their youthful ways, their wrongheaded ideas of home life, who’ve found some peace, there are few pleasures greater than listening to “The Same Deep Water as You” hand in hand with your long-time love while it storms outside. There comes a point in life, a well earned, battle-scarred day, when you might breathe a sigh that you no longer miss the kiss of treachery, and can simply marvel at the bareness of all this feeling spun into wax so many years ago that will outlive you all, and that you know will be timeless. That maybe the best band of your time is only now being fully understood, written about more deeply, with perspective, at last, its inimitable music styles at least tentatively attempted by the new new wave of young bands who know that nothing will ever replace the guitar or the drum. That the only lasting, worthy voice must be singular and not one remade by A.I.
DISINTEGRATION held teenagers and adults aloft and made us feel better. It was healthy. It was lengthy. It was just right. It has a rhythm that is one perfected by The Cure alone, one that drives writers to try to translate this gift into their prose and always will. It’s the sea itself. It’s a great wave. It rolls in. It creeps out. It sweeps, and it rocks. There is happiness, and there is despair. Back and forth. Refreshingly, startlingly honest. There’s the unspoken: but then he speaks it, he murmurs it, he screams it, he shakes it in the light and transforms it into something tolerable. Then shimmery. Then pretty. Then no longer afraid. Suddenly, even anthemic. It’s still magic. Not cynical sleight-of-hand. Not cheap, threadbare, charlatan trickery, but real magic. Alchemy. Sorcery. Witchcraft. The dark contrasts cleanly with the light, in perfect balance, and there is nothing more beautiful.
The Cure are playing select festivals this summer and a new album is in the works.
Shiiine On is the festival of a generation – such is the narcissism of youth that we all believe our movement to be ‘the best’, but given the popularity of 90s based music festivals such as Gigantic and Indie Daze, the reformation of so many much loved indie stalwart bands and the resurgence of the era’s fashions (not that I ever moved on much in that respect); those of us who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s could well be right in assuming that our time, really was the best time.
Shiiine on, a name which of course references the House of Love (who played this festival in 2016), taps successfully into that sense of passionate nostalgia we all feel; it unites us for a weekend every year (and more, if you include recent additions of the Hull-Amsterdam cruise and this year’s one day event in Birmingham). It gives us a chance to escape the daily grind, to feel at home among our people and to indulge in a bit of fairly (depending on the strength of your liver) harmless hedonism and indulgent reminiscence. The venues are a great size, offering a perfect selection of spaces to watch and dance to your favourite bands and now in its fourth year, Shiiine is still going strong.
It is 5:45 PM with people still arriving and the beer not yet fully flowing, when orchestral pop group My Life Story take to the stage – a slimmed-down version of the band, with five members rather than Jake Shillingford’s grand thirteen piece collective of old. This is a great choice for the Skyline Stage, although I do feel they could easily warrant a later slot further into the weekend. As ever, Jake is energetically flamboyant, snappy in checked suit and white boots, with high leg kicks and ostentatious mic stand acrobatics; rattling through the hits from 1993’s debut single “Girl A, Girl B, Boy C” through “King of Kissingdom”, “Sparkle” and the wonderfully acerbic “If You Can’t Live Without Me Then Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?” and culminating in live show favourite “12 Reasons Why I Love Her”, playing cards flung high into the crowd, our enthusiasm ignited for the weekend to come.
Next up, Sleeper (I shy away from the Britpop tag) – back on tour and in the studio after a nineteen year hiatus and with promise of a new album. Prolific in the mid-90s with eight top 40 singles, this witty band’s return feels apposite in a time of industry dominated generic female singers, for despite the famous t-shirt’s quip, this is not simply ‘another female fronted band’. Louise Wener, once so loved by teenage and 20-something men clearly (given some of the comments around me in the predominantly male audience) still lights a spark. Unencumbered by industry pressure, Wener appears less stylized these days, relaxed and feisty, full of smiles and moves, the band tight and enthusiastic. The spark lit by My Life Story has exploded and the Skyline arena is alive as we sing back at Wener our generation’s theme tunes: “Vegas’” “Inbetweener”, “What do I do now?” and “Sale of the Century’”
Tonight’s headline are Shiiine returners Shed Seven, amazingly twenty four years down the line but – with a new album out in 2017 – still very much on the scene. They always attract a large crowd here, with Rick Wittter’s sinewy snake-hipped dancing and a back catalogue of anthemic crowd pleasers. They may not be this reviewer’s first choice but they’re a great live band and perfect for tonight’s crowd.
This weekend however, is all about pacing and plenty of music takes place after the Skyline’s 10 PM curfew if you venture out to the other venues: Centre Stage, Jaks, Reds and Inn on the Green. Tonight Reds see Shiiine’s first outing for 1990s festival favourites anarcho-punk Back to the Planet, more Ska than I remember and great fun for those of us who like a bit of grunge with our dance. A quick peek at Mozza’s favourites, Bradford and it is off to bed, in preparation for day two.
It’s easy to forget that the Shiiine experience isn’t solely about live music and that daylight hours bring plenty of things to do other than sleeping off hangovers: there are the exhibitions (this year a fascinating selection of black and white prints by engaging NME photographer Pete Walsh) and a retrospective featuring grainy gig shots of iconic Baggy dance band Flowered Up, along with press cuttings and original posters. Then there are pub quizzes and an interview with Steve Harrison, manager of The Charlatans and founder of Dead Dead Good Records; not to mention the Pool Parties and Crazy Golf.
Whilst previous years have relegated Cud to the 1 AM slot upstairs at Centre Stage, this year they are promoted to the Skyline, playing the much more reasonable – and less inebriated – afternoon slot. As ever, their performance is one of perfect pop, “Purple Love Balloon” an explosion of fun to start off Saturday afternoon; Carl Puttnam’s jerky hip thrusts and wildly eccentric stage presence charming his crowd. Cud are a fantastic live band and their current tour of set lists chosen by their fans – Just The Good Ones – is testament to the value they place on their audience; here inviting one of their stalwart fans to join them on stage, with only the logistical issue of getting up there, precluding a full fan invasion.
I hadn’t been aware of The Rifles before the announcement of their Shiiine performance and had been slightly surprised at their inclusion on a bill advertised on the basis of being a predominantly 1990s based music festival. A large crowd had gathered and I am assured by the bunch of lads I get talking to at the front, that I wouldn’t be disappointed. They are right and I’m not. The Rifles are a good twenty five years younger as a band than the majority of performers here, having formed in 2006, but their fast-paced Indie rock style fits well with their cohorts and they’re one of those bands you suddenly realize that you do know after all.. “Local Boy”… ahh yes, that song, that’s a great track!
Next up are Black Grape: Shaun Ryder has played at every Shiiine in one form or another and this year he and Kermit are back, although sadly no Bez this time. Black Grape’s 2016 performance was slightly shambolic but tonight’s set is tight and perfect for the Saturday evening crowd. Ryder prowls the stage, Kermit ever-smiling and exuberant and the crowd sing ecstatically along to “In The Name of the Father” as well as tracks from 2017’s Pop Voodoo. Ryder and co are loved by the Shiiine audience: we grew up on Happy Mondays and the Hacienda; on the excesses and the colour; there is something incredibly heartening and joyful about seeing Ryder now, free from the demons of the 90s and his unique stage presence and remarkable back catalogue unite us once more. We are the generation who only need to hear the opening notes to “Wrote for Luck” and “Step On” and we are doing crazy dancing, transported back to student discos and smoky clubs.
There are always plenty of bands to choose from at Shiiine and whilst this reviewer didn’t catch Skyline headliners Ocean Colour Scene, reports are of course, excellent. Reds sees dancing into the small hours with the a Post-Punk line-up of Brix and the Extricated, The Godfathers and Chameleons Vox, culminating of course with Steve Lamacq’s annual indie disco. The beer is flowing, the floors are sticky.
Rise and shine campers! Finding the 11 AM pub quiz has been put back half an hour and all tables are full with eager competitors, we head over to Inn on the Green to see Uke2 play their usual late morning slot. They have become a bit of a Shiiine institution and after all, what’s not to love about three men playing versions of indie hits on ukuleles. The crowd sing along to Stone Roses and Oasis classics; yet again we are united by a love of great music and happy memories.
Lunchtime brings an early slot for Mark Morriss at Centre Stage, a solo slot this year after 2016’s Bluetones performance. Morriss is tired and hungover, asking the audience for Vitamin C tablets, dressed like a geography teacher and utterly charming. His deadpan, self-deprecating quips delight his crowd – a large gathering for the time of day, a fact which clearly astounds and pleases him – and the mixture of Bluetones classics and Morriss’ solo material provides the perfect antidote to a late night, easing us gently in to Sunday afternoon. Morriss’ set is one of the highlights of my weekend, his words and music both tender and invigorating and it would take a hard heart indeed not to laugh with a man who mocks his own moustache and references Absolute 90s whilst sending up his own band’s hits.
Heading over to Skyline, Deja Vega are playing their first set of the day. This band (another I had missed on previous years and was keen to discover) are a revelation, raw and loud, psychedelic and fiery, this three-piece make an incredible sound. I spot Miles Hunt watching from the back and he later name checks them during his set, noting that he needs to finish so that he can catch their second performance of the day – this is an exciting new act and I too am keen to hear more.
Next stop brings us a trip down rap-rock memory lane with Senser, a band redolent of festivals and squat parties, fueled by politically charged lyrics and heavy dance beats; “Age of Panic” and “Eject” going straight for the jugular with their still powerful lyrics: ‘propaganda written out on the pages daily, I see the system as it crumbles before me, I see the system as it dies’.
A quick return to the chalet (this weekend is brought to you fuelled by a lot of strong tea) and it’s out to catch Stereo MCs, a band highly anticipated by this reviewer after I re-fell in love with their high energy electro dance pop during their 2015 Shiiine appearance. Rob Birch is as lithe as ever in trademark baggy jeans and baseball cap and marvellous singer/dancers Cath Coffey and Aina Roxx bring the band bang up-to-date with their incredible style and irrepressible energy. This is a band you can’t help but dance to, the pace doesn’t let up and the hits flow – it could be easy to underestimate the impact this band has had, with their blend of hip-hop dance and electronica and my only regret is that they aren’t given a longer set.
However, the energy created by Birch is about to be harvested by Shiiine stalwarts Peter Hook and the Light, back for their third appearance and for whom an impressive crowd has gathered. Hooky seems to be on a constant tour and arrives in Butlins after a European jaunt culminating in Poland; but his band’s energy never seems to wane. We are treated to a crowd-pleasing selection of both Joy Division and New Order tracks with the former’s “Transmission”, “She’s Lost Control” and “Shadowplay” sounding as visceral and raw today as on those original recordings, now unbelievably almost forty years old. For this tour, Hooky’s son Jack Bates has been replaced by Yves Altana from Oscar’s Drum (Altana’s recent collaboration with Kitchens of Distinction’s Patrick Fitzgerald – a band who had originally been due to play at Shiiine – hopefully next time please). New Order fans of course get “True Faith” and “Blue Monday” as well as “Temptation” and “Ceremony’” Hooky in trademarked loose-limbed crouching pose, stalking from stage right to stage left, singing directly to his front row, the crowd bouncing high on the adrenaline created by the electrical charge of live music.
As final headliners, Orbital may have appeared to be an unusual choice for a weekend of guitar-based Indie dance and whilst the light show is undoubtedly top class, standing at the back, the vibe appears to be lacking. However, this is the kind of musical experience you need to throw yourself into and doing just that and heading down to the front, the atmosphere is electric, heavy bass beats, each track looping and morphing into the next; urging you to close your eyes, feel the music, lose yourself on this Sunday night.
And so to the weekend’s closing party, with Miles Hunt an inspired choice, this time bringing a solo acoustic set to those of us happy to stay up and sing along to a well-loved selection of Wonder Stuff classics. Hunt knows his crowd – acknowledging that this gang want to hear ‘the old ones’ and his Centre Stage crowd adoringly sing back every word, as we are taken back to the start with first Wonder Stuff singles “It’s not True” and “Unbearable” and so through thirty years of music by one of the most loved and iconic bands of the Indie scene. ‘Give give give, me more more more’ we yell back at our front man, smiles dimpling his face as he gives us exactly what we are here for, giving us hope when he urges us to ‘have a word’ with the organizers for next year.
This festival is one which, maybe more than any other, truly unites bands and their music with their fans and is one where you just need to look around you, at the smiling faces and the happy crowds, to feel that connection. There are the lads I chat to before The Rifles, one laughing as he tells me ‘we’d never get on!’ when discovering that all the bands he loves, are ones I don’t, and so introduces me to his mate who shares my love of New Order and who has never seen Hooky play before. I am pleased when I later spot the same guy, catch Hooky’s t-shirt when hurled into the crowd and give it to his beaming, New Order loving mate. Then there is the guy who comes up to express jovial envy at my The The t-shirt on Friday night and the girls who tell me they are tired just watching me dance, at some point on Sunday evening, offering me their Fit Bit for a laugh. And there are all the smiling faces I notice when I glance around during a set, to see a crowd of like-minded individuals all singing the same line, to the same song, with the same joy.
This is the wondrous feeling of unity you get, the goose bumps emerging, when hundreds of people sing along with their musical hero as he utters those unforgettable words, the anthem of a generation: ‘you know that I’ve been drunk a thousand times, but these should be the best days of my life’.
‘Life, it’s not what I thought it was’, but every year, for a weekend in November, it feels pretty much perfect.
Words by Sally Hamilton. Videos by our friend and Shiiine family member, The Cobbie
Johnny Marr at The Phoenix in Toronto, October 19th 2018
The hardest ticket to get of the last two years in hand thanks to the kindness of others, we make our way to Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre early, a place rich in 80s and 90s history for us, one which offers a variety of experiences depending on what time you arrive and where you plant yourself and how you manage those first moments. The merch table is a blur as we attempt to “coolly” gallop the hallway into the main venue and manage to secure a spot at the front, where our photographer will shoot the first three songs from the crowd. There, the best front crowd we’ve seen in years gathers amiably, shoulder to shoulder, no pushing, like it’s indeed our youthful days again, when nothing could sink our spirits, floating on Doc Martins’ indestructible souls before the British bands that were all we cared about.
But we never saw Johnny Marr or The Smiths, back then. And no one we know in this city ever did, either. It’s the stuff of legend.
The new era of Johnny Marr’s music and the band he’s built over a decade or so is like everything the uber-cool and laid-back iconic guitarist has ever done in his musical life over the decades: seemingly effortless, but the end result of a lot of hard work built upon a foundation of an innate and original talent. Now on his third solo record, Call the Comet, the singular guitarist whose sound is the most identifiable in the history of British Indie has grown into the front man he always could have been, but perhaps preferred not to. Timing is everything, and no one knows that more than a brilliant musician.
Marr has launched his solo career with care and grace, something much missed and sadly devalued in the world of music today. Seeing his 2014 Toronto show for second solo album Playland, jaws around the room dropped to find what a spectacular live singer he was, something neither assumed or even needed when one can play and compose like he does, and with the music he’s given us. On the long wait for his return, the music, band’s vocabulary, and vocal comfort level has grown exponentially on display tonight, as evidenced by the current setlist, now equally divided between musical periods past and present, Smiths and Electronic songs sitting comfortably next to the solo material, each fitting astoundingly well together. A Johnny Marr show could take many turns through the projects he’s been part of since The Smiths era, all of which would be welcome and interesting (The The, Modest Mouse, Billy Bragg to name a few) but this tour is (coolly) about centering and grounding the Johnny Marr narrative in the larger musical landscape. On that front, Marr has always mostly let the music do the talking while other artists noisily clamored for control of a recent history which is much misunderstood. Those in the know will observe the delightful and just slightly pointed inclusion of the beautiful “Getting Away With It” in the set tonight, a song slowly decoded by fans who wanted to know more about Marr’s point of view on then and there and them.
An issue near and dear to our mandate at DISARM is to question and correct the accepted idea that music from certain eras and genres is “classic” and important while others, particularly the 1980s and 1990s, is just “retro” or trendy. And dismissed as unimportant. This lie persists well past the onerous commercialized Baby Boomer tripe of our youth that devalued classic music for my generation, and into the now-retrospective period of narrowly and cynically defined nostalgia for our beloved 80s, one that is continually reduced to terrible wigs, completely silly wardrobes and one or two perfect songs they don’t deserve. Almost no one gets it right (I’m looking at you, Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why). While The Smiths enjoyed the precarious & fraught position of media darlings in their brief ascendancy in the early 80s, and a universal mourning period followed (of the kind the media loves even more than christening “Best Ofs”), the social media age has flattened and reduced so much understanding about a generation’s art form into memes – the lowest form of humour, commentary and contemporary fandom.
The greatness and originality of the music made by The Smiths (in an incredibly short period) is untouchable but is something hard for outsiders to place in today’s faux nostalgia which never could make commercial fodder of this music, these artists, or indeed, an entire youth culture movement that extended into the early 90s. To those of us self-raised on it, who’ve followed the work of Johnny Marr through to Electronic, his guest appearances across music and through to his formalized solo career of today, there are almost no words to articulate the joy of music that says what we struggled to as teenagers, silently supernova-ing inside, hearts breaking daily, that scored our operatics on the front porches of our suburbias, as we spun, untethered, out into whatever of the world we could afford to see, understanding so little about the specifics of British life but knowing innately what it meant to dance our legs down to the knees alone in upstairs rooms of ugly houses in nowhere places, and to want to flee.
Johnny Marr’s music was and is the sound of mobility despite what you might have been given and resistance in the face of oppression. He holds the guitar as lightly as a key, one that unlocks everything inside a generation, and now, a next generation who has been raised right. There are mothers and their grown daughters in this crowd, singing along to the words old and new. It is a joy to see. Marr arrives on stage without fanfare, launching immediately into “The Tracers” followed breathlessly into “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. And therein lies the tone of the evening. It’s all here, it’s all good, and it will all be present. This is not a man who has ever liked to be idle, a man with much to say (musically), and much to do, a bundle of controlled, directed energy, a light in the darkness. The only nostalgia is that your teenage self feels healed note by note, no longer sad and reeling, but here, alive, mere feet away, and so is he: relevant, alive, soaring vocally and musically creating sounds no one has ever been able to imitate, that are his very own language that we think belongs to us because it was long ago imprinted upon our psyches. Artists who take care of themselves and their art only improve with time, and this is an artist in his prime, free of baggage and full of life.
Marr’s band for the past few albums and years is a tight, fluid unit, made up of long time friends and musicians who’ve worked together for many years: Iwan Gronow on Bass, Jack Mitchell (both ex-Haven) and Doviak on guitar. They look just right, and they sound like a unit. Doviak switches to keys to allow us to die and return as ghosts for “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” among others, and Gronow (who gave us an interview which follows this report) handles backing vocals. As expected, recent single “Walk Into the Sea” is an expansive, anthemic tune, and there are subtle shades of The Smiths in the new record, because why wouldn’t there be? Johnny Marr is as much The Smiths as anybody, perhaps more.
Johnny’s closing words to us are “We win.” And what more needs to be said?
During Johnny Marr’s Toronto tour stop, bassist Iwan Gronow took time out before soundcheck to chat with us about the new album and the tour, which will now embark on its UK leg to close out the year. Asked about how the group came together, Gronow told us that Marr had produced music for his previous band Haven, which also included drummer Jack Mitchell, and they had worked together as far back as the period when Marr had joined Modest Mouse in the mid-aughts. The collaboration developed organically, and the group worked quickly to put together Johnny Marr’s second solo record Playland, which was partially written and recorded on the road. An impressive three years was spent touring Playland. With Call the Comet, more time was taken building the project (as the band was off the road). This is evident in the layered sounds and the big ideas explored on Call the Comet. Gronow confirms what we’ve always believed as listeners and fans “Johnny’s always looking forward.” And, as we would find out that same night “singing better than ever”, a fact never in doubt but nonetheless astounding to hear first hand because most artists can sing well or play well but few can do it all, well, at once. Gronow describes the new music perfectly: it’s “cinematic” a “complete sound” and the live show is getting tighter all the time, in that push and pull that only fellow musicians with their perfectionism that sails over our heads understands. Gronow is enjoying both the new music that he’s been part of building as a band and “the back catalogue”, a term I mull over while being gobsmacked by said catalogue in a rousing, riveting, two hours that sees our own underappreciated (but maybe gradually more appreciated) quiet genius Kevin Drew take the stage (a surprise since he was also at the New York stop) for a duet on “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” By the show’s four (!!!) song encore, we’ve had the big celebration we’ve dreamed of forever, we want nothing more than to do it all over again, but we know we’ll keep it close to us as the best intimate show we’ve ever seen in our lives.
With special thanks to Johnny Marr and Iwan Gronow.