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After 50 years the label is as iconic as ever

After 50 years the label is as iconic as ever

Island Records could be argued as one of the most influential music labels in not only the United Kingdom, but the rest of the world. Fifty years on from its small Jamaican origins, BBC4 has created an enthralling documentary on how Island has evolved and progressed into the label we know today.

Interviews with creator Chris Blackwell, Bono, Rita Marley and Cat Stevens make this a complete and satisfying ninety minutes, offering insights into signings that might otherwise be forgotten. With a huge showcase of classic performances and tracks, you’ll find yourself humming along to the hits of your generation without fail. Even if viewers are unfamiliar with the music industry, there is no reason to turn this down when the narration of Island’s history is so simple and clear.

Island Records started out as a UK import label of Jamaican ska music, but grew into a home that any creative artist could sign onto. Offering freedom and unlimited time with producers in the studio, Blackwell continuously discovered acts that resonated with the underground music scene. Hearing the stories of how Roxy Music, King Crimson, U2 and Bob Marley & The Wailers were founded one after the other is almost unbelievable and will hopefully strike a chord with the generation too young to remember Island’s beginnings.

Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records

Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records

In an age where record sales are falling and the trust of labels is diminishing, it’s refreshing to hear this heart warming story of a few men who simply loved releasing high quality music to the world. Towards the end of the programme I found myself slightly tiring with the interviewees and less interested in the artists (the signing of the Sugababes was lacklustre to say the least) but it managed to hold together until the end running time. After this fascinating documentary is Island at the BBC, which shows footage of Island artists performing at the renowned British broadcaster.

If you’re a fan of any artist signed to Island, or simply looking for something better than a game show on a Saturday night, this trip down memory lane is well worth taking.

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Available on 12" vinyl and CD

Available on 12" vinyl and CD

Reclusive singer-songwriter Justin Vernon has taken a slightly unorthodox route into musical acclaim. His debut album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ was recorded almost entirely in a remote cabin, isolated from the world after falling sick with mononucleosis and breaking up with his girlfriend and band.

Without even intending to write or record, Vernon came across the French name Bon Iver and experimented with music in a bedridden state. The result was a haunting, echoing acoustic debut that somehow comforted and frightened the listener all at once.

Blood Bank was released in January 2009, a follow up four track EP that branches Vernon’s lyrical themes into new ground. While ‘Flume’ was sombre in tone “I move in water, shore to shore/ nothing’s more” this EP’s title track is full of hope. In a chance meeting that leaves him caught in the snow with another woman, the words are uplifting and speak of innocent feelings. It’s a shame that the unnerving electronic scratches and scrapes have been removed, but in the song’s context it works just fine. The ghostly humming and minimalist chords sway into the intro and as soon as Vernon opens his mouth, you know that all of his signature elements are in-tact.

Fans are rightly sceptical that after so much success, this EP is just a way to keep people’s interest ticking over. The inclusion of a backing band means that this short collection feels more generic, understandably a safe bet after such an experimental predecessor. Without the background ambience of Justin Vernon moving around his cabin or the harsh weather just beyond the windows, some of the atmosphere that made his work so desolate has been lost. However, the Fleet Foxes style of vocals and sweeping pace means that even with a small step backward, this is a rung above the rest

Justin Vernon, 28, from Wisconsin

Justin Vernon, 28, from Wisconsin

It falls to the a capella ‘Woods’ to really bring out the glimpses of Bon Iver’s mastery. Harmonised with multiple layers and repeated time and time again, it never grows old as the lyrics spin out for nearly five minutes. Beach Baby is a fairly standard affair, sounding very reminiscent of Blindsided from his previous release.

Cryptic lyrics of “But don’t lock when your fleeing/ I’d like not hear keys” will leave even the most keen enthusiasts with differing interpretations. The 16 minutes running time ends with Babys, a track with a teasing piano introduction just waiting for the vocals to ease back in. The lyrics exit on a moral high, leaving Blood Bank with a strange sense of resolution.

Newcomers should definitely check out the superior ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ first, but this EP is still a worthy addition to the American’s portfolio.

The Dykeenies

As I walked into the Cellars Bar in Portsmouth, I have to say I wasn’t expecting much. The venue looked barely bigger than my lounge, and nobody milling about looked like the type to go to gigs. So why were they here to check out a band NME Magazine have said could be bigger than The Killers? Scottish band The Dykeenies were set to play tonight, in a bar that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Only Fools and Horses. NME have said The Dykeenies are “Scotland’s biggest and best new band… a weird and utterly brilliant hybrid of The Killers and Panic! At The Disco. Only they’ll probably end up bigger than both.”  I was here to find out how true that was.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that the first support act were all wearing matching suits with added neckties. I didn’t catch their name, and to be frank I’m glad I didn’t. They were just like every other indie band breaking onto the scene.

The second support act were a lot better. Telegraphs are from Brighton, and they burst on to the stage with an energy and excitement that’s rare to see at gigs this small. A girl and guy singer combination worked really well, with great harmonies and swirling guitars. Vocalists Hattie Williams and Darcy Harrison were particularly impressive, and they got the crowd going with handclaps and head nods all around the venue. New single I Don’t Navigate By You is out now and was the highlight of the set, along with The Rules Of Modern Policing and Your First Love Is Dead. Telegraphs are definitely a band to check out and are sure to go far in the local gigging scene.

And then the moment everyone had been waiting for. The Dykeenies came out to possibly the best song ever – I Am The One and Only by Chesney Hawkes. By now the gig had got horrendously hot, with people stripping off left right and centre. The band emerged with cheeky grins and wine, and from then on it was sure to be a great gig. They opened with new free download singleAre You With Me Now?, which was quite a risky move. Surprisingly many people already knew the words; these were hardcore fans. The band had such a great energy about them, with frontman Brian Fire cracking jokes and bassist Andrew Henderson also on great form.

This is a band that could’ve gone either way live – with their synthesizers and ambitious vocals, they would either be one of the best or one of the worst. And thankfully, they were the former. Fire was better live than on their album Nothing Means Everything, from which they played singles Stitches, Clean Up Your Eyes and New Ideas, along with album tracks Things You Cannot See, Pick You Up, Feels Like Sleep and Waiting For Go. New songs were also well received, with Traps gaining the best reception after singles Are You With Me Now? and Sounds Of The City. Fire showed off his lyrics with clever lines such as ‘If you help me through this I’ll hurt you I promise’ – you can see where the Panic At The Disco comparison comes from. Guitarist Steven Ramsay was also impressive, with drummer John Kerr getting the most flack for getting the rhythm wrong on song Feels Like Sleep. The fans didn’t seem to mind – the mood was jovial by this point, and more than a fair few of the audience had had quite a few shandies by then…

Without meaning to take anything away from the band, I didn’t expect a lot from this gig. I didn’t think there would be many fans, and I was scared that they wouldn’t live up to the quality of their album. Thankfully I was blown away, and I would recommend going to see this band to anyone. Their new album is set to be a scorcher.

Full setlist:

  1. Are You With Me Now?
  2. Things You Cannot See
  3. Pick You Up
  4. Square Balloons
  5. Stitches
  6. Traps
  7. New Ideas
  8. Fade Out In The Sun
  9. Feels Like Sleep
  10. Sounds Of The City
  11. Clean Up Your Eyes
  12. Awake
  13. Waiting For Go

More info can be found about the band here

The Telegraphs can be checked out here

To check out who’s playing at Cellars Bar, click here

When you think of the UK hip hop scene, usually you don’t think of two white middle aged men sporting beards or sideburns. This is with good reason though, because Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip aren’t your usual UK hip hop act. Hailing from Stanford-le-Hope in Essex, the duo have more than made a name for themselves after competing with Rage Against The Machine for the audience at this year’s Reading Festival.

Their most recent album, Angles, was released earlier this year, featuring their signature track “Thou Shalt Always Kill” which broke into the UK Top 40. So what makes these two unique? Unlike the stereotypes of their genre Scroobius Pip rhymes with passion and intellect, producing prose that can be both comical and thought provoking within an instant. Dan le Sac on the other hand is in charge of the sampling and DJ decks, occasionally unleashing his own voice in tracks such as “Look For The Woman”.

On the 29 of October The Old Fire Station opened its doors to the student demographic in Bournemouth. Inviting the cold in for an evening that would be both different and more entertaining than the usual clubbing culture, at first glance it seemed like the turnout might be poor. Rest assured though when Kid Carpet came on for the headline supporting act, the floor filled. An electro musician from Bristol, the male in his twenties was quick to introduce himself and a snippet of the array of instruments he was about to use.

“This here is my guitar. I have to strum the air like this for it to work see.” Holding a small neck from a guitar, he points to the bottom where an infra-red sensor is placed. Quickly he waves his hand in front of it, once up and once down in quick succession to show the difference between an upstroke and down stroke. It sounds ridiculous, but as soon as it’s accompanied by a series of melodies the concept seems genius. Walking round the stage with jarring movements, Kid Carpet has as much if not more energy than the crowd he’s performing to. Which is a good thing, because before long the once placid degree hopefuls are bouncing up and down and cheering when a new recognisable sample comes in.

Merchandise is being sold in the corner, subtlety being plugged by the artists in between their songs. T-shirts, albums, flyers and even LP records are scattered across the table in the dimly lit corner. With good reason, being in an economic climate where album sales are lower than ever, this is the time for artists to make their wages and spread the word for themselves.

Once his half hour is up Kid Carpet puts down the fisher price tape recorder that he’s been using for his last song, bowing graciously and taking up the microphone originally meant for him to sing in. “Are you guys ready for Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip?” He calls out to the crowd, to which he receives a well deserved roar. “Then my job here is done.”

You wouldn’t think that The Old Fire Station could get any busier on a Wednesday night, yet somehow the first sighting of Dan Le Sac on stage brings a throng truly worthy of the headlining partnership. As they announce their gratitude for having us all packed into such a tight space, with true respect Dan Le Sac is already sporting one of Kid Carpet’s t-shirts. It’s great to see the music community supporting one another. Adjusting his trucker hat Scroobius Pip is ready and their first track “Beat that my heart skipped” begins, instantly sending the audience into a chant of “Boom, boom, boom.” With a smile Scroobius Pip raises his microphone stand into the crowd, giving the ok sign to show his approval. It’s easy to see that these two enjoy the music they make and both Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip pull off their opening with poetic flow.

‘Magician’s Assistant’ and ‘Angels’ bring a much darker tone to the set, sending Bournemouth into a hushed silence as the themes of suicide and violent points of view are explored. The lyrics show a depth that is probably more mature than many poets their age, but in a musical context it also adds to the mood and overall entertainment. This is where the mix of prose and hip hop links so well and they quickly change the mood and address this with “Fixed”. The song uses a riff from Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp” to comment on his argued shallow climb to the top of the charts and the current state of UK Hip Hop.

They leave their most famous song “Thou shalt always kill” until the latter half of their set list when they have finished some of their playful banter. Using a large book Scroobius Pip reads like a prophet, turning the pages as he raps over what he believes society should and should not adhere too. Strangely though, even with a call from the crowd for the song “Tommy C” they leave it out of their performance, perhaps unprepared or simply running out of time. As is now customary to nearly any gig, they are brought back on for an encore after exiting and saying thank you to The Old Fire Station.

As if on a whim Scroobius Pip calls out for Kid Carpet to return to the stage and the trio ignite the crowd once more with a hardcore version of “Nightclub” by The Specials. Perhaps an odd choice of song for some, but the students seemed to show their approval by producing a mosh pit any metal band would be proud of. Although not mainstream or stereotypical enough to please everyone, Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip is definitely an act worth checking out if you’re prepared to spend some time with it. For a weekday evening I left the student bar with a grin plastered across my face, knowing that the eight pounds I had spent was more than value for money.

So, I went to see the Wombats the other night – Tuesday 27th May – in the Mandela Hall in Belfast. It was an awesome gig to say the least; great atmosphere, great music and a great venue. I really enjoyed the night.

The interesting thing is, though, that I’m not really the biggest Wombats fan in the world. I bought the ticket a few months ago because I was offered it and it was only £13.50, and I thought I’d just go because I love live music so much. At this point I don’t think I’d actually heard The Wombats except for maybe one song.

I spent the next few months listening to them and getting into the band. I really like their sound and, although they’re pretty mainstream I do think there’s something fresh about them. Plus, as a diehard Beatles fan, I could never say no to a liverpudlian accent.

I was talking with a friend, who was at the gig and in pretty much the same situation as me and we both agreed that seeing a band live was a great way to first get aquainted with them.

On to the gig itself though. The band were really good. They opened with the wonderful and well known Girls, Boys And Marsupials and continued along those lines, with their awesome mix of indie pop and beautiful harmonies. The atmosphere really added to the experience as it does at any gig and this was mostly due to the Wombats themselves. You could really tell they were enjoying themselves and that makes you enjoy yourself too.

The support band were pretty awesome too. They’re called General Fiasco and they’re from Belfast. They had some really nice songs and the singer has a great voice. Check out their myspace to listen to a couple of their tunes. General Fiasco

All in all, the gig was fantastic. I’d reccomend it to anyone to go and see them. They won’t be back in Northern Ireland on their current tour but you can catch them at Oxegen, Glastonbury and T in the Park, to name but a few of the festivals they’ll be attending. If you get the chance go and have a look. It’s definitely worth it.

Dan

September 2017
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