Logan Lynn premieres new live EP: Unpeeled: Exclusive

Portland-based musician Logan Lynn has announced a new 4 track live EP, Unpeeled, to be released January 31st on Banana Stand Records. This is a brand new format for the multifaceted Logan Lynn, who has never before released a live record/performance like this. Unpeeled also marks his debut with Portland’s Banana Stand Media, a staple of the Portland / Pacific Northwest that works to preserve the live sounds of the indie music scene.

Lynn, who is also a producer, filmmaker, mental health advocate, and LGBT activist, partnered with actor-comedian and podcaster turned producer friend Jay Mohr on 2018’s multi-media project My Movie Star which included a short film and a double album of new material featuring an eclectic and impressive mix of guest stars including The Dandy Warhols, Jerrid James, Rian Lewis, Tiffany and others. Here, as in 2016’s Adieu, Lynn’s music is incisive, clear and evocative, leaving no stone unturned in its quest for authentic expression and love. But in a departure from that record, Lynn no longer sounds isolated. My Movie Star invites more voices to the party.

Unpeeled features stripped-down versions of songs recorded for My Movie Star. The two songs we’re premiering make a perfect introduction to the four track release, as both offer simmering statements and heartfelt expression as they grapple with emotional place and health, and questions of trust: “Are you my movie star? (or are you my sorrow…)”

DISARM Magazine is pleased to offer this exclusive premiere of the first two videos, for the songs “Underground” and “My Movie Star”, recorded at Portland’s Classic Pianos, featuring GLASYS on piano.

Unpeeled: Logan Lynn – “Underground” from Banana Stand Media on Vimeo.

Unpeeled: Logan Lynn – “My Movie Star” from Banana Stand Media on Vimeo.

We can also reveal that the four tracks to be included are:

  1. Underground (Live)
  2. My Movie Star (Live)
  3. Like Before (Live)
  4. Big City Now (Live)

Look for this exciting new release on Friday, January 31st, 2020!

Midsommar: DISARM’S Best film of the Year, 2019

Midsommar is a story of a young woman coming-of-age, through devastation and mute grief, careless life choices and while being dropped into the strangest of settings she must try to survive by her wits. Or is her own trajectory prearranged, rigged, cast by a community and her friend who invites her there? Midsommar is not what the clips, memes and trailers show, though they show some eerie, riveting and beautiful scenes. Nor is it what the film critics who fail to get it and are not actually interested in interpreting it tell you it is: how they claim it fails or falls short.

Midsommar is something new. It is a daylight-drenched folk horror film full of actual twists in a genre which has made a tired cliché of twists. Its unique tricks of genre begin before the film itself: its poster, featuring a still of a woman’s face in tear-stained anguish, is itself a red herring. What appears to be another in an infinite line of women we’ve seen for more than a generation now in dirty tear-stained horror (bait for the horror film fan) is seen in hindsight as a still of its star mid-cathartic primal scream. She’s, for once, not alone. This is coded, like so much of the film, like so much of many great films. Midsommar is not a pale imitation of The Wicker Man, or of anything. The urge to label it as such is one of desperation, for its point of view is incisive and blunt. Midsommar is full of sleight of hand, like the poster, like the marketing, efforts that ultimately add to the pleasure of close watchers in need of unexpected catharsis and rescue from the darkest corners of our psyches as it enrages others who tune out and reject the film’s arguments and plot points, ones that are nuanced and designed for close watchers, not the jump-scare crowd that needs a ear-shattering violin note to know when to react, who need to feel they would outwit all the villains before them. Our biggest enemy is often our own drives.

The jokes, memes and silly, giddy love that have followed Midsommar, often promoted by young women but also those who just get it, including some of the leading creaters of off-beat film (like Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro) are all real and valid, because the social critiques of the film reached their targets: their own audience. Their subjects. Millennials grappling with life direction and hope. People in bad, lazily long relationships. Women who need a primal group scream, who are tired of being let down and hurt past the point of registering an expression or mustering up an argument. People who endeavour not to be cliches: the bad tourist. The ugly American. The dilettante anthropologist. The reality TV reject who disappears and is forgotten, early on, making a fool of themselves.

Midsommar, Ari Aster’s drastic departure from Hereditary, was designed to alienate viewers (and reviewers) most comfortable with the accepted norms of storytelling in film, TV, graphic novels and pulpy thrillers: wherein a wife may so often not have a word of dialogue, may be murdered in a pre-credits sequence, need not be named, or exist only as a framed picture for the male hero to launch his lone-wolf vigilantism, consequence and morality free. It feels custom-made for the half of the audience who have spent their whole lives silently suffering untold depictions of girls and women being choked, smothered, dragged, struck, beaten, terrorized, killed, and stuffed in suitcases or tossed in trunks or over bridges into shallow creeks as if they were all but crumpled cigarette packs. This has been women’s lot in film, that women have had to accept as reflections of ourselves, until very recently. This increasingly casual, visceral and realistic violence against women has passed for entertainment since the golden age of cinema darkened over the grande dames who once made our humble grandmothers stand taller and risk a bit of red lip for their modest waitressing jobs, allowed our mothers to question their assigned roles in the turbulent 1970s, and made ourselves turn from movies to 1990s music for role models where, as few as women were on big stages, they (and we) seemed, for a season, unkillable.

Midsommar hit a public nerve that is strikingly familiar to the one struck by The Witch. That film was appreciated by people who love all things folk horror, as well as those who appreciate the difficult and honest-to-goodness travesty of justice that was life in witchcraft-era Salem / New England, especially for girls and women (the dialogue is taken from real trial transcripts of the time that led to death sentences as tools of lawless social control, of regulating women’s behaviour and of managing unsexy community-wide crises like bad crops and firewood shortages). The trials also served as public entertainment in long, dark days of chilly misery. In The Witch, the obscure verbiage of Salem is disturbingly uttered by a cruel, milkless mother, two creepy, demonic twins, and a hubristic father who cannot even grow corn. The girl’s choices are being sold into servitude and left prey to the whims of an employer, or slowly dying from starvation; or could she break free of her goat pen of a life and embrace the woods? What’s not to love?

Like Midsommar, The Witch is a pitch-black comedy for an underserved audience. The Witch contains a few disturbing scenes – a very few in horror terms – one of which involves the fate of a plump baby stolen by a witch. This provoked men online to cry out in horror at this “terrifying, awful film” – a mystifying reaction in a storied film history (and real life) of full sized children and women brutalized regularly. This reaction echoes in the objections to Midsommar. The Witch is a film with a final girl you are meant to root for. If you don’t, there may be something askew in your view. It’s a great coming-of-age film for lovers of sharp satire, which I thought we all were becoming today. The Witch is not in the least scary, unless you are rooting for the wrong party.

Similarly, Midsommar’s protagonist is not in a position of control of her world. Dani (Florence Pugh) begins the film in mostly mute grief and clad in grayed-out depression-wear, her unhealthy but passive relationship with her longtime college steady a farce (to nervous laughter of date-night viewers who find it too relatable). The film sets its own rules early on: all the violence is disturbing but measured and used economically. These deaths matter, or have causes and effects. (This is a rare distinction that elevates a film.) Remember, death, even fictional death, should shock us. We should still know how to feel.

This story begins in our real post-everything world: where we hang on too long to young love in a search for family; everyone is medicated some way; disturbances spill over too often into suicidal impulses and prescriptions are beta-blocking and failing everyone. And like The Witch, Midsommar carries a very strange strain of pitch-black comedy and social critique that holds the whole narrative in delicate suspension. This critical eye must be appreciated to fully get or enjoy the film. For an end of term summer trip which is half-way a lark for Dani’s friends (her boyfriend and his buds, on which she’s tagged along) the landscape is ripe for tropes of horror film and of real life alike: the ugly, loud, disrespectful American tourist. The affable Brits who somehow always know how to find a pint. The shitty friend who thinks he can cruise into your hard-earned work as a lark. The friend-zoned buddy who would probably love the girl better than the guy she’s with, if only she could see him. But the visitors have been drawn here by unseen criteria and selection modes, like sociology teaches eager students how to do. They have messy love lives or flexible morals. They have time to kill. They are naive and entitled.

This film must be viewed through two important filters: Dani is grief-stricken through the first two acts. This informs her motivations, her decisions, and her performance. She is not played as charismatic but flatly, and is not any more likable than anyone else. The other filter is the knowledge that the group is zonked out on various, unfamiliar homemade hallucinogens from the moment they leave their car on a dirt road through to the film’s conclusion. The pleasant, smiling community in quaint white embroidered linens deign to explain their closed sect and way of life only a little, with their norms and rituals unfolding in a time-stopped daylight haze, but what becomes abundantly clear to us is that these folks are expert chemists with a raft of manipulating powders, potions and teas, which are usually enjoyable and accepted by these visitors born into the post-pharma generation.

I’m not sure you’re supposed to relate or root for anyone in Midsommar, of if the film invites you to stand apart in judgement; begin assigning value to their lives and prescribing punishment for their ways and transgressions quietly and dispassionately. This is a challenge to one’s attachment to the character stakes, but also one that is important to our “witnessing” of the rituals and rites of the film. It also challenges the experts of horror and of anti-hero cinema and TV. Whoa, did you see yourself in the wrong character? Oops! This gets under the skin of the viewer who sees a new version of the helpless baby in The Witch as someone who has a close encounter with a bear. Why would we identify with a fool? Life is not fair. We know this already, too well. Each character in Midsommar has a fair chance to show their mettle and become useful in various ways. It may be that the land consumes everyone, but agency is possible along the way. Where are the heroes?

The best of current horror often dwells and engages with the monstrous nightmare of grief. The small community which is the native home of Dani’s friend Pelle is one that has clear rules about life and death, gender roles and child rearing which are shown as flawed and also objectively pragmatic. Their death ritual is perhaps objectively preferable to the nightmares of lengthy illness, but to witness it or to anticipate it personally is deeply troubling, brutal and frightening. What Midsommar does so well is provoke in deep and meaningful ways, rather than push buttons for the sake of shock value (which makes the “pointless” and “nothing happens” critiques more disturbing as one ponders the appetites of the writers holding those opinions). We can stay outside Dani’s perspective if we wish, given the luxury of a healthy, intact family of origin; a trustworthy friend or partner; a purpose. Or we can dip a toe into the friendly but seriously competitive maypole circle: what choice would we make at this point or that? Would we pass this challenge or fail (as most do)? This film is interactive, maybe troublingly so. We can also seek identification (or more likely) stand in judgement of Dani and her friends as they cross each trial to the presumed (or even cheated) finish line: Do they listen? Are they respectful visitors or embarrassing louts? Do they leave the land as they found it?

Larger rituals are being carried out over this particular Midsommar celebration than can be anticipated or gamed by anyone unfamiliar with them. There are important goals to be achieved, ones straight out of the world of agriculture and farming, harsh rituals that exist in reported anthropology of numerous “uncivilized” cultures of the world, and ones that speak to primal (/”uneducated”) beliefs to keep harmony with the earth and respect the ancestors, something the modern world has utterly failed to do. There are mating rituals, exalted positions, and sacrificial lambs, all on a gently precise schedule that the viewer is pulled seductively into, in the bright, endless sun. Watching the film closely, you are treated to hallucogenic film effects: the leaves breathe, we lose our appetite for the strange, suspicious, decorative food, the sense of time is confusing. We want someone to win or lose the maypole dance and form opinions about people’s worthiness or performance (even in games that might be rigged). We fall into the crowd in crisp white, finding our own level and limits within the space of the film. Where do we laugh? And why? What bothers us? And what doesn’t? What happens when the seer can only produce scribbles and so people begin making up laws? This and other details are not relegated to folklore. They are the scary realities of politics even in 2020, of corrupted media, of unfair families. The fear is real.

Midsommar is chock full of ideas like this, rich with careful and affecting symbolism that you can pluck at will (or miss). Dani, numb with grief and loneliness, sees the world she’s visiting quite differently than her male counterparts. She notices the details, like women do. She takes time to read the writing on the barn walls, while anthropologists argue and making a mess of things around her, missing both the wider story and important details that might save them. Midsommar is a timely statement on male privilege and notions of authority, as well as the place of natural and fraudulent talents and instincts under pressure (school pressure. Relationship pressure. Pressure to conform). Dani’s friends come from a rarefied, cosy and still largely old/white/male academic world, and are unprepared for spaces not custom built for their comfort. Through this, Dani floats free, a young woman in a state of transformation she never asked for, but one that all girls of her age or situation encounter, always in an unplanned way.

Like all “final girls” of horror and of crime-as-entertainment, Dani is ultimately alone with only her wits to help her, and must draw on something inner, primal and buried. The way Midsommar plays out tells the truth: that some things are predestined. That life isn’t fair. That people lie when they tell you “take this, and you will feel no pain”. That it’s always good to offer to help out as an invited guest. That you don’t always know how the sausage is made, but that it’s better to know, even thought it may make you recoil.

At year end as in its season, Midsommar is a beautiful, kaleidoscopic anomaly in a world of formulaic and green-screened infantilism known as Hollywood today. You can wax poetic on the colours of light sabers and the exact shades of superhero capes these days, forcing kiddie-lit to impersonate art as if box office has ever correlated to the zeitgeist, the underground or sea changes, but that’s a lie. To dismiss a seriously beautiful and artful film like Midsommar seems like an aggression directed at art itself (and at new, upstart filmmakers) as people attempt to classify the film they don’t like because it hit them square in the cajones as frivolous and feminine, unserious and frilly. As if half of us weren’t bone tired of living in a world of green screen flatness and brown washes, fantasy and sci-fi all merging into dull backgrounds of unlovable otherness. As if we weren’t full of primal need to see reality: things made by hand, scenes full of wooden tables and chairs, even strange yellow painted houses we aren’t supposed to (and hope we never will) enter, in our dreams and imaginations. Films like this remind the un-easily amused who we are, what life means, and keep us sharp and present. They go against all the grains of genre, and for that they are the most interesting thing going in the art form, deserving the longest and most acute gaze.

Midsommar draws and comforts people who are drawn to and comforted by filmic elements like clean design and interesting costuming, out-of-time rhythms and fresh-painted artfulness; it does not pander to the dull desires of fans of any genre. The film is to be exalted for its achievements in genre-breaking, audience affecting, and art: a rare and welcome foregrounding of set design, cinematography, and the particular challenges of an almost 100% outdoor shoot set in the blinding midday sun, with silvered mirrors bouncing off the smiling faces of benign evil, forcing us to look just a little bit harder, and overcome the glare bouncing back at us.

Jacqueline Howell

Solidarity in Song – Billy Bragg, Cambridge Junction

Review by Sally Hamilton

Something is rotten in the state of Britain: its core values, identity and heart have been gradually and insidiously eroded by three and a half years of uncertainty, deception and denigration.

Back then, we rarely considered our position in Europe; it was simply a fact, both geographically and emotionally. We were tied to our neighbours by invisible links which were rarely questioned or discussed by the general population, let alone challenged with any appetite for change. But the righteous hubris of one man changed all that. A reckless political gamble threw the cards into the air and as we continue to watch them fall around us, with a new word – Brexit – now firmly ensconced within our lexicon, a polarised society has arisen amidst the biggest political and constitutional crisis since the Second World War and the fabric of our society is being systematically destroyed.

Our windswept, rainy, grey island has pulled up the drawbridge and Europhile dissenters are drowning, not waving, in the moat. Mainland Europe has never felt so far away. Social media has become a playing ground for trolls and propaganda; colleagues argue amongst themselves around the water-cooler; mates ‘un-friend’ those they have happily coexisted online with for years, arguing over something they never realised would or should matter and the rest of us shout out our frustrated diatribe into the vacuum created by our own safe bubble of concurrent allies.


And so we look to those who feel what we feel, who echo what we say, and who provide us with a sense of unity when we feel abandoned by the ones we elected and the ones we didn’t. The political pundits and the left-wing journalists; the writers and the activists; the poets and the singers – these are our light-houses, our beacons of hope as the storms of dissent continue to rage and iconic amongst these, remains Uncle Bill.

Billy Bragg has been writing, playing and singing both his own and others’ protest songs for almost forty years and has always been at his best when skillfully verbalising the struggles he sees around him and the frustrations he feels: a musical barometer for the zeitgeist of our generation. An opponent of racism, fascism, sexism and homophobia, his politics and his music are inter-twined, with his sets as likely to provide us with a stern pep talk and some liberal banter as they are a trip down musical memory lane.

After trialing the idea of a three night residency in select North Eastern American states, Bragg has brought the idea to the UK. Using this format, he is able to explore a wider back-catalogue than a usual tour would allow and is also, as he pointedly explains, crucially able to reduce his carbon footprint. The format of the triumvirate shows follows a ‘career spanning’ first night set, followed by albums one to three and four to six over the consecutive evenings and has been met across the UK by sold-out venues, with many devotees attending all three nights.

Billy Bragg Cambridge Junction

A dark Tuesday in late November sees the first night of Bragg’s residency in Cambridge, a left-leaning, politically active city he has visited many times before and where he is welcomed warmly by those of us who crave the unity of the crowd; a sense of solidarity in these ever-confusing times, as the countdown to an unwanted General Election and the threat of No Deal cliff-edge Brexit looms ever closer. Launching straight into “Sexuality”, Bragg knows how to get the crowd onside but despite this, the audience requires some warming-up – and he knows how to work us, moving swiftly into the first of three Woody Guthrie covers, “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”.

By the time Bragg arrives at “Milkman of Human Kindness”, we are signing along; “Valentine’s Day is Over” is spat at us angrily as he reminds us of the significance of respect and amusing light relief is provided in the self-deprecating humour of “Handyman Blues”.

But of course, sing-along classics aside, we are also here to listen to Bragg talk about the things that matter: about the issues of the day, about his fears and concerns, his advice for our sanity and his attitude towards the situation we find ourselves in. Telling a tale about a couple outside New York’s Bowery Ballroom who lambasted him for ‘talking too much’, I conversely find myself wishing he would talk more and I doubt that I am alone in thinking that I would happily pay to hear Bragg without his guitar, such is the powerful message of his confident diatribe and his warnings against the most dangerous state of all: apathy.

Most compelling is Bragg’s explanation of his recently published pamphlet, The Three Dimensions of Freedom, in which he argues that freedom does not equate to unadulterated autonomy of speech and that in a time where our very democracy is being questioned and challenged, we must be mindful of the responsibility which freedom brings – and question its very notion. By alerting us to the way in which freedom of speech as a concept is being stretched out of shape by the powerful, Bragg suggests that with it must also come accountability and equality – the three points of this triangle being mutually inclusive. It’s an effective proposition and is exactly what the audience needs to hear from their front man tonight: the sincerity with which he approaches his subject, his crowd held silent as we ponder the import of his words. In this moment we again feel the stirrings of hope, we sense a connection and we feel as though, to quote “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”: ‘when the world falls apart some things stay in place’.

However, Bragg is keeping his most powerful musical polemics until last and we are treated to “I Keep Faith” (a reminder to us all), “Why We Build the Wall” and a wonderfully alternative version of “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward”, sardonically geared for his weary British audience: ‘we shake our fists in anger and respectively suggest that we take our money from Trident and spend it on the NHS…but if Brexit comes to No Deal, you know we will be the first people who voted to put sanctions on themselves. No one knows how many children Boris Johnson sired or can remember how many times his lies have got him fired, but I will tell you this mate, I know how this will end, when he does to Britain what he’s done to his ex-girlfriends’. We laugh but it’s through gritted teeth.

Bragg’s encore provides us with a final burst of solidarity in song: “Power in a Union” and “A New England”. I am warmed to see a young couple excitedly make their way to the front; they weren’t even born when Talking to the Taxman About Poetry was released and yet they are here, their fists in the air, chanting along with an audience of parents and grandparents. Theirs is the generation that the music of Bragg and his peers must target, there is power in a union and there is also hope in the young: so energised by the concerns of the day, so confident in their voice. They are not ground down or jaded, yet they are the ones who have been let down, whose futures have been put under threat and their vigour is inspiring.

We are not the ones who are looking for A New England but we are looking for a more tolerant, equal and empathetic one and in this, we must all act together: ‘it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand, there is power in a union’.

Billy Bragg @Billy Bragg


The Watchmen at The Danforth Music Hall

On Saturday, November 23rd, The Watchmen’s fans gathered for an assured good time at at the Danforth Music Hall. Set amid the sweet spot between adjusting to winter darkness and the full-on holiday season, this evening was an occasion for friends to get together for one big night out of Canadian Rock and Roll from one of our greatest bands who disbanded in 2003 but have played together occasionally since 2010.

The Watchmen packed their set list full of gems the crowd knew by heart, and still found time for some surprises that reminded us that Daniel Greaves has an incredible vocal range and versatility: on this occasion there were nods to Billy Bragg, Spirit of the West, Bob Marley, and others amid a rapid fire set of The Watchmen’s own classics.

The twin high points of the evening encompassed the story of music in its highs and lows. The band adapted their planned set on short notice to pay tribute to the late John Mann of Spirit of the West, with an unforgettable cover of “Political” dedicated to “The Spirit of John”. The rendition was inspired, a proper tribute. People in the crowd danced wildly or cried discreetly in the moment. Another surprise came in the form of a (long delayed) gold record presentation for their 2001 album Slomotion. Everyone in the room got to feel like friends and family, celebrating this milestone, no easy feat in a country this large and spread out. Celebration is so important and often denied artists, and it felt really special to share the moment with a band who deserves much acclaim. It all reminded us that this band is one of the few holding the torch left by The Tragically Hip, their contemporaries, who can take us on emotional and musical journeys with an ease that seems effortless.

The Danforth show covered all the albums we know and love, featuring Slomotion most heavily with five songs. The selections from that album and Silent Radar are sing-along anthems their fans have held dear for twenty years, and are now burnished as Canadian rock classics.

The evening was fluid with spontaneity: A bit of “I Can See Clearly Now” a dash of “Superman” a hit of “Between the Wars” (for aren’t we still, and always, between wars of some kind or another?) a mention of a song that brewed from an inspired moment “at a sound check in Grand Bend” making us think of the famous camping party spot of our youth, and picturing the band right in the thick of it and still finding time for innovation, a guest vocal from a boy who appeared to be a young friend or Greaves’ son, an acoustic cover of “Highwayman” on piano and an unheard of double encore (after house lights had been brought up) which sent us off into the night with a gorgeous rendition of “Redemption Song”.

Words by Jacqueline Howell.  Photos by Dave MacIntyre and Jacqueline Howell.

Images in Vogue and The Box at Revival Bar

On Friday, November 22nd, two of Canada’s early New Wave stars played a double bill together at the luxe, warmly atmospheric Revival Bar (783 College St.) in Toronto. These bands have been out of the scene in recent years, but have lately reformed for occasional gigs. The crowd at Revival is full of solid supporters, lifelong fans and friends, and the vibe is happily electric.

As kids of our own era know, these two bands (each different but complementary in sound) represent a very exciting time in our nation’s music history. The early 1980s was a fertile time for young bands in our cities; the intercontinental, breezy, cool “Hollywood North” of Vancouver, the well-established, gritty rock and roll city that Toronto then was, and the specific aura brewed out of Montreal and Quebecois French culture, a place that visitors always describe as very European and very different from everywhere else in Canada.

Images in Vogue were one of our first video stars. Not only were new wave bands pioneering new sounds and instruments (a sound represented as well out of Canada as anywhere in the world) but there was a new demand for video content and a sophisticated appreciation for filmmaking techniques in cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, where we had our own film industry. Suddenly bands needed to have a clear image not just for an album sleeve or a gig but one that needed to read well for television, on repeat. The bands that mastered the growing pains of the early music video world are few, but top among them were Images in Vogue, and The Box (and The Spoons). In the video era, these bands were able to translate their ideas through the tricky video medium, another hurdle to the rocky road bands travel to get their music out there.

Images in Vogue mastered the image: Dale Martindale achieved the goth / new wave / arty hair all others only dreamed about, and even made it look natural on him. He accompanied this, for a time, with large black framed glasses which rendered him some kind of early cross between Morrissey and Robert Smith that all the girls fell for. The video image and the looks of boys became foregrounded at this time (for better of for worse) but then as well as now, what stood the test of time was the music. Voice. Tunes. Melodies. Vibe. Images in Vogue, with “Lust for Love”, “Call it Love”, “Save it” and “So Careful”, crafted catchy tunes that stayed with us forever, carried on the unique and gorgeous vocals of Martindale (which only in hindsight do we realize had clear tones of Bowie).

Images in Vogue put in time with four EPs before their album release, In the House (1985) which charted in Canada and won them CASBYs for Album of the Year and Group of the Year in 1986. They achieved something that the era was grappling with industry-wide: how to be alternative and cutting edge but also popular enough to warrant label interest and that of the masses. All of this is at least ten times as harder to achieve in a country as large and spread out as Canada, as it is in the U.K. and the U.S.

The Box were something different, but also tapped into a trend of the global, and rapidly international zeitgeist. In that period, we had Nena’s “99 Luftballoons”, sung all in German (later re-recorded in English, an inferior version) the staying power of Blondie’s “Rapture” and “Sunday Girl” with their nods to downtown Manhattan ‘bedroom French’, and real accents being allowed to enter into the once-flat Americana of rock and pop music. British bands were starting to sound British, and French music was now curious, cool, dark and heavy, in the form of exactly one band: The Box.

Jean-Marc Pisapia (an early member of Men Without Hats) formed The Box in 1981, and would go on to steadily assault the charts with a string of hit albums, singles and videos. For us, the best example of The Box sound is the unforgettably chilling “L’Affaire Dumoutier (Say to Me)” which recounts, in French-only dialogue, journalistic-narration, and the sung chorus, a murder of a woman, the surrounding media circus, and the role of insanity in the murder. In similar fashion to Nena’s deeply atmospheric cold war remoteness undercut by a young, passionate and vividly alive voice suggesting everything we longed to know about cold war Germany, Pisapia’s vocals offered a crash course for the curious in Francophone attitudes, voices, and stories.

Like all music needed to be to break through at this point in time, the music was cool but accessible, if on its own terms. In “L’Affaire Dumoutier”, the band acts out the plot of the affair, like bands are so often required to do in their videos, but here they seem natural, compelling, and like a trailer for a movie we wanted to see more of. Their faces are interesting, the accused eyes’ hollowed and his face gaunt, the police detective full of road-weary sadness.

The Box is a great band whose work holds up today, and tells timeless stories that also point to an exciting time in Canada’s music landscape.

At Revival, Images in Vogue emerges as strong and fresh as ever, with “Call it Love”. There are rows of seats set up for the performance but everyone is standing at the front and surrounding the stage. People are dancing, selfie sticks (?) are bouncing, and the energy is happy. (How I loved the dancing merch table girl…) One never knows what to expect after so many years, and rust on vocals and instruments would be understandable and forgiven, but there’s no need. Dale Martindale sounds 22, album perfect, and the full band is on point. He plays to the crowd like a natural front man, one who is at home on stage, any stage, and ought to be there in a sustainable capacity. As the opener the set is slightly abbreviated but leaves us wanting more, more, more. (This reporter gets star struck meeting with Martindale. I’m twelve again. He tells me that tonight he’d worn a shirt from one of the band’s videos on stage. Understandably, the white tux from Lust for Love was not deemed appropriate.)

The Box comes out and runs through a full set of their classic hits that still enjoy radio play today. There’s some guitar on guitar action as singer Pisapia leaves the stage to mop his brow, looking every bit the same cool police detective character out of the “L’Affair Dumoutier” except grinning wildly, feet away from his audience, enjoying the show himself.

The room feels friendly and spirited, and both the venue (which also serves as an event space) and these bands should be sought out whenever the opportunity presents itself.

We kids who only knew this music through our televisions knew nothing of industry, of struggle, of the brutal nature of trying to be an artist in those days or now, we saw only a sheen of high, black hair, fresh faces, and VJs inventing a new form of entertainment and journalism that was supposed to be as lasting as any other that resides on TV, but is now a relic, locked down in some vault somewhere and reduced to memory and frayed VHS snippets. But now we who loved and love music know better. We know that bands were people, most of whom, had to re-enter the world and make an ordinary living, that all those video spins did not profit them, only the advertisers, the owners, and us kids bopping at home. So to see these bands who conquered all of that and can come out now and rock us like this, is a reckoning, even to those of us invested in the recognition and celebration of our own, misunderstood, mistreated 1980s musical history and culture. We have these wonderful artists walking among us. We should give them more to do. They are worth it.

The Images in Vogue and The Box show at Revival was to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities, Canada. Listen to Images in Vogue on their website, where they are also offering a deluxe box set. The Box has announced a Closer Together tour for 2020 – 2021.

Words and photos by Jacqueline Howell

Adorable: The Band You Love To Love, Live in London

There are few occasions when an audience is aware that this gig is the last gig; that after tonight, a band will never perform these songs again. Most of the time such decisions take us by surprise – we realize we’ve not seen so-and-so play in a while, look them up, see that they have decided to ‘take a break’ and retrospectively realize that the last time we saw them, really was the last time.  

Not so with Adorable, who earlier this year simultaneously announced that they would be reforming to play again, whilst being clear that these gigs – 25 years after they last performed – would not be heralding a new beginning but would instead denote a closure. These dates were not to signal a coat-tailing of the continuing popularity of the ‘90s revival movement which so many of Adorable’s peers have indulged in, but would mark a taking back of control, as singer Pete Fij remarked when first promoting these shows: ‘when we originally split up in 1994 it was because of dwindling sales, press indifference and a label that didn’t want us anymore. 25 years on, we’re planning on going out on a high – to play some shows that are a celebration of our time together, and exit this time on our own terms!’ 

After initially announcing just two dates – one at Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, the other in London – the band were overwhelmed by the response they received and quickly added three more nights between the two cities. This was to be a brief two-town tour before the four band members again split up and returned to their ‘normal lives’. 

Adorable formed in 1990, on the back of Baggy and the rise of Shoegaze and a couple of years later signed to Creation where they released their two albums in quick succession. Whilst the band’s career in Britain did not take off as might have been expected, in part due to the destructive power wielded by the whimsical music press, the chance of a fresh start in the States beckoned with a signing to major label SBK and a 30-plus date tour. Here too however, Adorable were blighted – this time at the mercy of SBK’s laughably inappropriate/sadly ill-advised (take your pick) marketing campaign, which tipped them as ‘the band you love to hate’, a goading torment which still stalks Fij to this day. With the rise of Grunge and Britpop, the musical landscape within which Adorable had thrived was shifting and by 1994 it was – apparently – all over.  

For those of us who identify with musical sub-genres of the early ‘90s and who can chart a lifetime’s memories of loves and losses to the records we bought and danced to, bands like Adorable have been deeply missed and remain they ones by which we choose to define ourselves: to use a hackneyed but apt phrase, they really do form the soundtrack to our lives. Whilst Fij went on to form Polak and more recently recorded two beautifully brittle and emotionally raw albums with Terry Bickers, Adorable’s songs and their ability to transport us back to those smoky dimly-lit venues have remained a powerful force and so with these dates being announced, the opportunity to be a part of it for a final time, was too important to pass by. 

It is of course impossible to know how Pete Fij, Kevin Gritton, Robert Dillam and Stephen Williams must have felt in the run up to and duration of these gigs – buoyed on by the enthusiasm of the crowds, even before they stepped on stage but also aware that this would be a final chapter and that however powerful the reception, there would be no repeat. This is part of the paradox of course and one which serves to make these dates unique.  

After two nights at the social cooperative which is Yorkshire’s Hebden Bridge Trades Club, the London venues provide a less austere comparison, with Friday and Saturday night’s sets coming from Bush Hall – a chandelier draped, mirror-bedecked Edwardian dance hall; and Sunday’s from The Scala, a majestic Deco ex-cinema, proudly standing amidst the squalid, messy hinterland of Kings Cross.  

The stage lights are dim and fuzzy and there is something about the intimate, beautiful venues which don’t prepare us for the power of the wave of noise which pours through us as Adorable take to the stage and the ferocity with which they hurl through their back catalogue. With the passing of the years, it was easy for the music press to dismiss Shoegaze as an inconsequential, dated musical genre, overtaken as it was by the more bombastic sounds of the late ‘90s. But hearing these tracks again live and the wall of sound that these musicians produce, we can’t help but acknowledge how vital this connection between musician and audience is, recognize the talent of these performers and also, sadly, realize how brief their hold on fame really was – two years and two albums. 

This does not sound like a band who have not played together for a quarter of a century, nor is the material outmoded; indeed the music they produce remains visceral and shocking in its intensity, an incredible world of feedback and shimmering distortion that catches the breath and holds the audience en-rapt. It is no surprise of course that Shoegaze has made a comeback and that a new generation is experiencing it for themselves and there is a bitter-sweet irony in knowing that were Adorable recording today, their story may well end rather differently. 

The audience know what is coming of course – ‘Sunshine Smile’, ‘Homeboy’ and ‘Sistine Chapel Ceiling’ all get their turn and the band lurch from track to track with barely a pause. As ever, the screaming beauty of ‘Submarine’ and ‘Road Movie’ are clear highlights for me and the only moment of respite is granted during Fij and Dillam’s gentle guitar and vocal duet of ‘Summerside’ a melancholic paean to broken love. On Sunday night, as Fij stands back from the mic to utter the track’s final words ‘killing the love from one another… one another.. .one another’, Dillam turns to him and spontaneously places a tender kiss on his cheek and I feel my chest constrict with the sad beauty of this movement. I feel like a voyeur, witnessing the connection between these two men, a moment so intimate and private, which seems to speak volumes about the journey which has led to this instant. 

During his tours with Terry Bickers, Fij plays the garrulous and charming raconteur, spending as long setting up the story behind each song as he does performing them, whilst his ex-Creation colleague looks on with the taciturn restraint of a tolerant uncle. Here however, whilst equally in his element, we see a different character in the singer’s persona – controlling the stage with stern growls and gesticulations, wielding his mic stand and screaming out his words. If ever a front man epitomized the definition of a brooding stage presence, it is here (I am fully prepared for Pete to laugh); and it appears to me that he has found a cathartic outlet, an expression of anger and venom, perhaps a final laying to rest to the demons which blighted his band’s demise and which have haunted him to this day. 

There are barely any phones on display on Sunday night, the audience is collectively enthralled throughout the set, united by an awareness of the fragility of this final moment in their beloved band’s history. The intensity is such that when the quartet return for the encore and announce that they need to re-play ‘Favourite Fallen Idol’, rather than finish on a mistake (third time lucky as it turns out), our laughter is a nervous release of the tension we hadn’t realized we were feeling.  

The set ends with Fij reminding us that the intention of these dates has not been to make a fresh start but to ‘rewrite history’ and as ‘A To Fade In’ fills the room, the lyrics deeply resonate with those of us who have gathered, audience and musicians alike, to pay homage not just to a moment in time, but to the people we all were, to the hopes, dreams and stories of a generation and to remind us to grab that moment while we can, because we too may have another chance to re-write history: 

I don’t want to be faded skin 
I don’t want to fade out 
I want to fade in 
I want to fade in 

Can you see me? I can’t see myself 
Can you hear me? I can hardly hear myself 
And I don’t want to be a faded memory 
All I want is to be me.

Sally Hamilton

Photo by Dave MacIntyre from Hebden Bridge, Night 2

Iwan Gronow Second Guess – Single Review

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.

Jacqueline Howell

Adorable Reunion: Nights 1 & 2, The Trades Club

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.

Shiiine On Weekender Year 5

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 Live at the Danforth Music Hall

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.

Jacqueline “Forever and a Day” Howell

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