Falling Head Over Feet (All Over Again): ‘Jagged Little Pill’ And Her Hold On Me

 © Alanis Morrisette, 1995

By Neve Robinson

Warning: This is by no means a ‘professional’ article. It reads more like a personal essay. Die-hard avid Alanis fanclub members, please do tolerate my ramblings, there are some glimmers of Ms Morrissette in here, and not just my diary, honestly…

Recently, I revisited an album that I hadn’t listened to in eons. Do you ever have a record that you once played cover to cover, and you just one day abandoned, never really to be returned to again? Musical maturity seems to dictate that we don’t return to old favourites, that we seek the new, bold and exciting. This of course is completely fine – it’s what we’re all about on this blog, of course. But the nostalgia that ensued from my sitting down and relistening to this record in full was more blissful than even the most sparkling epiphany one experiences at new discoveries. The moment that I shuffled this on Spotify and let it flood gratefully into my auditory nerves, illuminating my ear canals with glorious rainbows and celestial seas…God, I’m even drifting off dreamily into this sentence as Mary Jane plays from my battered soundsystem. I can’t even tell you the incredible contentedness that en-swathed me. I had, within about ten minutes, opened up Ebay, purchased a vinyl copy of this record, and in another tab opened up Google Docs to pen this very article you are currently privy to. The sense of urgency that this rediscovery inspired in me was remarkable. I suppose it is because it is an album that is nothing short of remarkable. This is an album that resonated with me in my youth. An album that, at that juncture of my life, seemed to mainly appeal to my general teenage angst, but upon relisten has touched me in a totally different. That album is of course, Jagged Little Pill, by the imitable Alanis Morrissette. I’m going to link it below. I want you to shuffle it, or at the very least start from the start. Press play, now. I’m hoping I can express my feelings about this record successfully enough that you will begin to see what I mean.

I was putting together a radio show, a show that focused on the year of 1995 (you can listen to it here, for contextual purposes in relation to this article and not for reasons of self-promotion, of course). Having to favour the cleaner-cut side of ’95, my hip-hop choices were slim to none due to the cursed claws of censorship, and I didn’t want to rely solely on Britpop offerings (I am a musical Mancunian cliche, but not that much, honest). I decided to delve more into alt-rock, and then I had that realisation – of course! Alanis! How could I forget her? She was once a dear companion of mine.

When I was about 14, I went through a slightly difficult part of my life. My friends became sparse and few and far between all of a sudden. I had to work myself out a lot. It’s a strangely formative age, being 14. You’re a teenager, certainly, but not quite old enough to do daring things you’d seen the teenagers in Hollyoaks do. I longed for the normal things all 14 year olds do, really. To be pretty (I struggled with this a lot, I wish I could give little me a big squeeze). To kiss a boy (turns out it’s not all it’s hyped up to be). To have legions of loving mates (this eventually sort of happened, but it took me some time, trust me). I was a lanky emo with braces and cripplingly low self-esteem. I was sweet, though. Naive, but sweet. I was finding figuring myself out a little more difficult than I’d initially anticipated. How did I want to present myself? What kind of people did I want to surround myself with? It’s all well and good having an incredibly loving and supporting family who adore you unconditionally, but trying to navigate high school where nobody has to like you and in fact, not many people do? It’s a whole different ball park. I had a real journey of independence to embark on, and by God, was I going to do it. It was either succumb to shyness and self-doubt, or come out of my shell, and be who I had long-romanticised myself to be. I decided to throw myself into creative endeavours and hope that somehow, the world would maybe start working out in my favour – and that perhaps the girls in the P.E queue for rounders bats would stop kicking the back of my legs and verbally pondering my sexuality. They never quite got it right. I wonder what guess they would hazard now.

Slowly, it worked, and my confidence built up. Though I no longer play and lost interest in the craft with age, I played guitar at this time. I didn’t reckon myself to be very good, but I enjoyed it. My dad taught me bar chords and songs that I liked, while I did scales and boring paint-by-numbers Classical Guitar at school. My guitar teacher at school was a bit dull to say the least, and didn’t really want me to tackle more contemporary stuff. But the one thing he did bring me, the one pivotal album he taught me pretty much in full? Jagged Little Pill. This guy was obsessed with Alanis. I’m talking borderline Stan and Slim Shady level. I’ve been lucky to have had the most fortunate of musical educations and upbringings, and yet I didn’t even know who she was before our lessons. My guitar teacher had a specific songbook for the album, and he lent it to me. I’ve always been one for words. I remember poring over the lyrics, marvelling in how this woman that I hadn’t even known existed was somehow opening my mind to experiences and opinions that I either already had, or would go on to have as I grew. The way that she responded to things that I struggled with intrigued me. She was defiant, she was boisterous, she was angry. Her self-worth and respect are evident throughout the record, not just in the way that men treat her, but in the way that society does. A young woman with such a grasp and perspective on herself was, to a lost young lady such as myself, so revolutionary and a breath of fresh air. I had previously aligned myself with musicians who were wracked with self loathing. I guess that’s the allure of being an emo when you’re that age, a strange sense of community. But Alanis immediately made me want to break away from these negative notions I’d long harboured about myself. Within a month or so, my mum had bought me the CD and I had played it until it was adorned with sparkling scratches. I had officially become entangled in the Canadian songstress’ web, and she had become entangled in mine, without ever knowing.

You know that old chestnut, where people say to [insert fairly run-of-the-mill mediocre musician] – “your music saved me”. I finally understood this sentiment. Sure, it can seem silly, cringe or even trite to the more cynical among us. But if words and melodies inspire you, if they offer you support when you’re a bit lonely and don’t really have the comfort of anything else, and really if they spur you to positively grow and adapt? Well, I don’t think it’s a bad assessment to make at all. I don’t think it’s unrealistic, either. Who are we to criticise someone’s bond and personal connection with an artist, even if nobody else really understands it? It’s a plight I empathise with hugely, because I truly do maintain that this album did save me. I slowly but surely came out of my shell. I think on reflection that school and the strange ideals young women are pressured into from a young age really instilled a strange toxic dislike of other girls in me, almost an ugly resentment of girls that I felt were prettier than me and more popular than me. I didn’t understand that we could all be pretty and popular, duh. It’s not a competition. I also think I maybe associated the validation of having a boyfriend with loving yourself and appreciating your quirks far too much, be this from (again) the influence of wider pop culture or just a socialisation thing. I think what I didn’t understand most of all that really, I didn’t need to fully work out my personality just yet to be happy. Everyone has multiple facets of themselves, some parts you will dislike, and some parts that you will love. It’s all about working out a balance that makes you happy. I think Hand In My Pocket really reinforced that for me –

I’m broke, but I’m happy
I’m poor, but I’m kind
I’m short, but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high, but I’m grounded
I’m sane, but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost, but I’m hopeful, baby
.

She acknowledged the good and the bad and accepted all of it and everything in between. Because as she said:

What it all boils down to / is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet.

And that’s exactly it. Why should I, a literal child, have panicked and agonised that I hadn’t worked myself out yet? Why was that a thing? It’s messed up how that’s a thing. Alanis taught me to be care-free, to not worry so much what other people thought of me, and most of all to be happy in myself. That summer, soundtracked by my faithful iPod Nano with JLP loaded onto it, I started to connect with people that really made me feel good about myself. I found a bravery that hadn’t really existed before. It goes hand in hand with a heightened self-worth, that. I made one lovely friend in particular who I would listen to Jagged Little Pill with in her attic, feet against the bedframe with our long tangled hair splayed across the carpet with Ironic blasting. I started acting properly, something I’d always felt too scared to do. And it was the strangest thing. As my confidence blossomed and I started making decisions that were truly for my own self-preservation and not out of fear of fitting in, my jealousy, resentment and bitterness against other girls in my class started to dissipate. That’s the thing about Alanis. Her plight for self-love is never at the expense of others. It’s never about tearing peers or other women down, not even when she’s angry like in You Oughta Know. Her feminism was different to the ‘feminism’ I had prescribed to from young-adult gossip magazines – the “hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend” rhetoric (sorry Avril). With my new found friends and self-assured nature, I slowly stopped being bullied and stopped using music as the heavy, heavy emotional crutch I had used it for in those difficult times. I traded it instead for merely a tool for enjoyment now and then. Alanis was pushed to the back of my memory, and I moved on in my musical journey, eating up new artists and interests with every year that passed. But I never forgot the impact that she had on me, or the way that I saw things at that point in my life. You don’t ever truly forget something like that.

So, fast forward to now. Fast forward to the moment that I sat down, pressed play on JLP and felt a swell in my chest and tears prick at my eyes. God, I sound lame. I’d like to blame this sudden serge of emotion on lockdown, I’d like to blame it on the current difficulties in my personal life and mental health. But really, I think it was more just the shock of it. I’ve been in a slump as of late. Low in self-esteem, low in validation, let down by failed romantic endeavours and friends who frittered away. I’ve almost felt in a similar state to how I did all those years ago, but with more pals, better hair and less eyeliner. To be really honest with you, dear readers, I’m worried that I’m losing my confidence and crumbling away. I don’t feel a particular warmth or love for myself that I possessed as recently as a few weeks ago. That’s the thing with self-love, it fluctuates. And you sometimes need a nudge to get you back on track with it. When I let her words wash over me just now, I heard exactly what I needed to hear. Not The Doctor. It’s strange to have lyrics resonate with you in a completely different way than they did when you first heard them. Alanis wrote this record when she was 20/21 (which in itself is baffling). As a 22 year old young woman, I’m now finding that the lyrics are more relatable than ever. Back when I was 14, I modelled myself on Alanis certainly, but I was yet to experience many of the things that she sings about particularly relationship-wise. But now that I’m at exactly the point that she was at, with many a failed relationship under my belt, I empathise and relate with her lyrics and musings moreso. I use Not The Doctor as a key example of this because it is almost exactly how I would summarise my opinions on recent relationships. There’s a plethora of songs about love and heartbreak out there. But for me, this song is different. This is a song that, were I a gifted Bernie Taupin type, I would write myself now.

I don’t wanna be adored for what I merely represent to you. I often battle with this sensation. That men merely romanticise me, and the moment that they realise that I’m actually just a mess of multiple facets of a personality rather than an idea they disappear.

I don’t wanna be your mother / I didn’t carry you in my womb for nine months. I’ve dated many a man who I have babied, and admittedly lost myself completely in because of this bizarre maternal sense I feel in caring for them.

And I don’t wanna be your other half / I believe that one and one make two. That’s my dilemna now. Trying to rebuild myself without this structure of essentially being ‘part’ of someone else. It’s difficult. It’s weird. I can’t help but feel I shouldn’t even have to relocate myself in the first place.

I could go on analysing all day. I just find it incredible, how so many different feelings and attachments to this record have been inspired in me upon listening with a more mature ear. I understand things I never did. I first listened to this record as a little mouse of a girl. I listen to it now as a strong, self-assured woman going through a rough patch. I feel proud of the journey that Alanis and this album have helped me to embark upon and how far we’ve come together.

Enough about the personal connection, though. Factually speaking, this record is genius. It dabbles in a myriad of genres, spanning post-grunge, alternative rock, folk, indie. Vocally, she more than impresses, with a voice that beggars belief that it is coming out of such a young woman. It’s cohesive, and virtually no track is skippable. She explores addiction, heartbreak, It was nominated for NINE, yes, NINE Grammy Awards. And once again, I reiterate – TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE! I grilled a pizza this evening by putting the oven on the wrong setting. It’s funny how usefully others can utilise their short time on this Earth, isn’t it? It’s even been adapted into a Broadway musical that’s been nominated for FIFTEEN Tony Awards. You don’t need to do the maths. Jagged Little Pill is something special. Her exploration of emotions and truths that she realises throughout the tracks reminds me of the songcraft of artists like Carole King. Her emotional maturity and sensibility helped me and has probably helped countless other little girls in the world. I feel privleged to have had her be so pivotal in my own personal growth. Even young starlets who would grow to be some of the biggest artists in the world felt that inspiration, too – Katy Perry said of the record that “Jagged Little Pill was the most perfect female record ever made.” She said that she related to every track. “They’re still so timeless.” Perry has hit the nail on the head there. Timeless. For a record to have this profound effect on me so many years on confirms one thing clearly to me – this record will always be everpresent in my life. No matter how long I leave her unplayed, she’s something special, and she’ll always be waiting for when I need her.

Alanis Morrissette thank you for your honest lyrics and always being the most wonderful role model. Here’s one thing You Oughta Know – Jagged Little Pill changed my life, babe. I hope you know how many other young girls’ lives you changed too. If I ever have a daughter, this will be the first album I’ll ever play for her, rest assured.


INTERVIEW: The Rowdy Rotanas Are On The Rise, And They Mean Business…

© The Rotanas, 2021

By Neve Robinson

The Rotanas are a five-piece from Cardiff in Wales with some seriously infectious songwriting credentials, offering up a zingy and fearless new recipe for britpop – gritpop. Their latest release ‘Spinner‘ received network airplay on Radio X, Sirius XM, and RTÉ 2FM, as well as repeat plays on BBC Radio Wales and Amazing Radio. The boys are really on the up, and their new single, ‘Manic’, comes off of the heels of their signing to Disobedient Records. To tell us all about what the Rotanas are all about and what to expect from these firecrackers in future, vocalist Harry Watton very kindly had a chat with us and let me ask some truly inane questions. Top banana. So, without further ado, here’s the results of our natter…

Hello, lads! First things first, explain the name – what or who is a Rotana?

I think a ‘Rotana’ is difficult to pin down to a single thing, the name comes from a kebab shop in Cardiff but what a Rotana is, well that’s something only 5 of us have the pleasure of being. It’s a sort of freeness, an ability to forever evade being pinned down to one single identity, it’s a family. You don’t choose your family, that’s kind of like us, we just fell into each other’s acquaintance.

You’ve been knocking about since 2017. How did you all meet? What made you want to start a band up?

As I just mentioned it was kind of just falling into each other’s company. I don’t even remember meeting James, or any of the others really (bar Tommy but that was only recently). We all just kind of started to exist in eachothers lives and The Rotanas were the only realistic outcome of that, I think.

And, if you don’t mind, could you kindly explain ‘gritpop’ to an old fogey like me?

To be honest with you it’s a lighthearted bit of wordplay, PR bullshit. I think we might be something very different to that now, certainly heading that way. It was coined by an old friend of ours under substantial influence. At the time it sounded truly wonderful and personally I did enjoy it for a good while but, like many other things, it possessed something of an infancy to it, we’ve matured now. That being said I think it’ll stick with us for a few more releases, for old times sake. 

You’re Cardiff boys. Are Welsh shows your favourite to play? What’s the best city/show you’ve played so far?

At our level all your home shows are gonna be your favourites. We haven’t yet graced 50k plus arenas around the globe or even the UK for that matter, so 200 ish people you’ve seen once or twice down the local Tescos but never really spoken to, off their tits, rammed into some underfunded, war torn yet homey shed, will indeed, take the cake. Bunkhouse (Swansea) is good, as is Clwb Ifor Bach (Cardiff). Tough to pick a favourite you know. We found a brother there at the Bunkhouse mind, Aaron, so there’s a spiritually charged love for that place. 

Who would you cite as your musical influences? Who are your favourite bands? Guilty pleasures are also allowed, worry not…

I don’t have any guilty pleasures, if I felt guilty about them it wouldn’t be pleasurable.

I think there’s an obvious 90s influence, certainly to our sound. I do think that there’s a lot more influence from further afield, certainly for me 60s and 70s soul/rock and roll/reggae. Not that it necessarily is obvious in our music, but it does influence how our minds work within music and most definitely that has an affect on the choices we make, say, in the studio, for example. 

So, tell us about your signing with Disobedient Records. How are you feeling about it?

Yeah, great bunch, really on it. I’m excited, takes some of the pressures of it all off our backs and allows us more time for the music. Love and peace man.

And your new single, Manic. Lyrics? Sound? What’s it all about, Aaaaaaalfie….?

I think it’s just that, manic. It’s about a nutter, basically. A past friend of ours, turns out he’s just not all there, not in a medical way, he’s just a tart. The sounds big, the verses have a good walking vibe to them, with this hint of cockiness that plays to the ‘nutter’ vibe. It’s big though, real big. The solo is vulgar, you feel a bit rude listening to it. I like that. 

What would be a dream song for you to cover? 

Absolutely jack shit, I don’t think I’d ever dream of covering a song as such. Maybe to perform a song with a band. Imagine getting stuck into a track with The Doobie Brothers, that’d be a hell of an evening.

So what’s the dream for you boys? Where would you like the Rotanas to be in say, 5 years? Professional rock ‘n’ roll stars?

I think just being able to live off it would be nice, which is very humble of me, isn’t it. Of course we all get a tingle in our balls just before we drift off to sleep thinking about the chance of walking out on our second night at Knebworth. But for fuck’s sake, doesn’t everyone?

Let’s end with something silly – snog, marry, avoid, Welsh musician edition to echo your Cardiff roots. Tom Jones, Shakin’ Stevens, John Cale. Hypothetical, of course.

I’ve been told to at least snog John Cale cause he’s from Garnant like Aled, so I’ll have to marry Tom Jones, he’s guaranteed to be a great father to our children, and avoid Shakin’ Stevens cause he makes me anxious.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, The Rotanas! Godspeed and good luck, and I can’t wait to listen to your new record. 

Fuck Aye.

The Rotanas’ new single, ‘Manic’ which is set to be released on 26th March 2021 on all good DSPs. The link to pre-save it is here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Cave’s Confusing ‘Carnage’ Is, Well… Carnage

© Rolling Stone

By Neve Robinson

I love Nick Cave. No, I mean it. I love Nick Cave. That should be abundantly clear to anyone who knows me by now, the amount that I go on about the baritone beast of Bad Seeds fame. Some of his songs are the most special songs in the world to me. In my teenage years, I’d spend hours curled up on my box-room bed blasting The Boatman’s Call, lamenting with the Goth God that people just, truly, Ain’t No Good. I love his writing – see The Sickbag Song, in which his words weave webs of sheer narrative bliss. I love his ambitious collaborations, such as that of fellow Australian crooner Kyle Minogue Where The Wild Roses Grow, with its John Everett Millais music video aesthetic and strange synergy between the two most unique of talents. I think I love most of all his personality, or rather what I gather from it from his appearances in interviews and films like the 2007 epic western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and, of course, Oscar-robbed oligarch of animated excellence Shrek 2. Let’s excuse his recent comments in regards to a certain (rightly) shunned Smiths vocalist, and chalk it down to Cave’s age, just this once please. Because Cave oozes a distinct humility that is especially likeable due to the sheer amount of his creative successes. I have to admit, if that were me, I would be absolutely lauding my talent over everybody. No way I would be hiding my light under bushel. That light would be shining like a lighthouse, baby. So that’s why it is particularly disappointing for me to have to impart some honesty in regards to Mr Cave here, when I tell you that his recent February release, Carnage in collaboration with Warren Ellis, let me down somewhat. I did like it. But I didn’t love it, and I so wanted to. While I don’t deny the genius and usual comedic flair that Cave injects into all of his projects that this one is no exception to, I do question whether this is really just an album of Ghosteen rejects. Most of all, I question what direction is best next for Nick Cave.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I definitely still doted on this record. His mesmerising quality has not been totally lost, worry not. Some tracks did remind me of the theatrical twists and turns of 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, which I liked greatly. White Elephant for me was, definitely, the standout track from the record. Firstly, for it’s lyrics –“I am a Botticelli Venus with a penis riding an enormous scalloped fan” isn’t really the sort of lyric that you forget in any hurry. The threat of “shooting me in the f*ckin’ face if [I] come around here” is quite the deterrent from Cave and his Elephant-tear ammo-filled gun, let me tell you. Secondly, in terms of its technical composition, which is where Ellis’ collaboration choice truly shines – he’s a jack of all trades. He is a master of all instruments, and many wind instruments that I’m not actually sure of are at play in this record. It’s very typically Grinderman, which from Ellis, we can of course expect. But most strikingly his skills sparkle when you consider how many of the tracks sound akin to film scores, with the use of strings. Ellis is known for his scores to Mustang and War Machine. With softer songs like Lavender Fields and the achingly beautiful Albuquerque, which made me want to wail for all of the things that I haven’t yet shed tears over, the piano and strings truly evoke the tragic ending of a black-and-white film that I’ve just made up in my head during the 3:57 minutes I was lucky to be listening to it. Carnage is chaotic, but gorgeously so. It’s surreal. It’s senseless. It’s…like everything Cave does. Special, like I mentioned earlier. Cave feels like your closest friend in the world when you listen to him sing. Not many artists can do that, really. Not many artists are anywhere near in the same league as Nick Cave, really.

But this does not mean that it remains completely unscathed by criticism. Despite there only being eight tracks present on the EP, some certainly felt a bit…rushed. Hand of God, supposedly the lead from the record, is probably my least favourite of it. I found it a bit dreary, and in truth, almost as though Cave was parodying himself. It was far too familiar to so much of his previous back catalogue. It also lacked originality in some senses in that it all seemed very Eno-esque. I was reminded even of some of Eno’s ambient works as I listened to this record, the reflective tracks heavy in piano and less reliant on vocals driving the songs forward. It just didn’t really have that spark that Ghosteen certainly possessed.

I just worry really, that as the years go on, all Cave seems to offer us is content – and perhaps an oversaturation of it at that. Cave consistently churns out record after record. On the one hand, this is testament to his incredible creativity that he seemingly struggles to rein in at times. It seems to burst from the very seams of his brains and shoot right out of every one of his senses. On the other hand, the argument of quality over content could certainly be applied here, as a few of his records I have listened to have felt like excuses to ram records out rather than to actually carefully craft meaningful music. Across his work with The Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party, his solo stuff and his soundtracks, Cave has released 30+ records. More than half, particularly in more recent years, have been a bit ‘meh’. It pains me to say it, as I idolise the man, but I can’t help but wish that he would perhaps go in a different direction with his next work. It’s all well and good collaborating for a fresh sound, but that can’t be achieved when it’s being done with somebody you have worked with for literal years – a former bandmate like Ellis. I want Cave to flex his creative prowess and think a bit more out of the box. He is the best when he is at his most random. If you hear of a collaboration or project that Cave is planning and think, hmm, that’ll be a bit weird, won’t it? then you can guarantee that that will be his next magnum opus.

So. In short? The record was chaotic. It meant a lot, while all at once not really meaning anything. It was a mish-mash of ideas and genres, some of which paid off, whilst others needed a bit more close careful attention and preening to. Here’s hoping that Cave’s next album gives us something a little bit different. Maybe a musical makeover is required for our favourite Aussie. Regardless, Cave still remains one of my favourite humans, and the undeniable King of Black Suit Jackets. I just wish he’d do another Kylie collab. Can’t Get Red Right Hand Out Of My Head, anyone?

© Happy Mag

Listen to Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ new album, Carnage, below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

RORY WYNNE SINGLE REVIEW: ‘Make You Mine’ Melts Even The Hardest of Hearts

© Rory Wynne, 2021

By Neve Robinson

Stockport’s self-proclaimed resident rockstar (or rather, Stockstar…no? I thought that was quite good) is back with a bang! Make You Mine has been on the airwaves for quite some time now – if you don’t know it, get to know it. This seasoned and slightly overloaded reviewer may or may not have had this on the ‘to review’ pile for a while (I sincerely hope Rory doesn’t mind about this gross negligence of mine), but it’s hopefully worth the wait. Why? Well, there isn’t much more for me to say in regards to this record other than positive poring over it – it’s a seductive, synthy sizzler of a single that dreamily oozes from one catchy hook to another. I caught myself humming the chorus as I typed out this review; while I’m sure it’s not a comparison he’s never had before, this indie-pop enigma of a single echoes the likes of Blossoms, which by many a Mancunian’s standards is quite the fabulous feat.

The blanket of lockdown bleakness has been perfectly punctured through with Make You Mine, an irresistible song that tugs at the sides of your mouth until you’re doing one of those things – what do you call them? Oh yes, smiles. Most of us have been strangers to this seldom-experienced sensation for some time given the gloom of recent months. And yet Rory raises spirits effortlessly in just over three minutes. It’s a real talent to have, that, to transform the whole fabric of one’s mornings. That’s just what this song did for me when I played it for the first time. Having been moodily cocooned in duvet domains for a large part of my morning, a decided lazy day, a quick blast of Wynne’s new winner of a track had me up, showered and ready for the day. It seems that Wynne has truly achieved his goal with the song – “The perfect tune to mark a new chapter.” It inspires a real sense of new beginnings. In a year (hopefully) not totally fraught with captivity and miserable masses. But rather, a celebration of Spring, an advent for adventures to come. The track is pure joy, plain and simple.

Is it a love song? Is it a lust song? A mixture of both, I feel. Wynne himself describes it as a “coming-of-age movie lyrically”, and indeed, this would seem an accurate assertion. It’s a bonafide Bildungsroman (look it up, it’s a mint word), a narrative journey of sorts, and I found myself feeling strangely connected to the subject matter despite having little knowledge on the trials and tribulations of love myself. Considering indie lyrics can, sometimes, fall foul to cop-out-cliches and fairly paint-by-numbers production, to have such an intriguing tale behind the words really does amplify its specialness as a track. It’s unique to many records I’ve heard of its genre – and in fairness, I think by now living in South Manchester for the past few years, I’ve heard a lot.

I think what struck me most when listening to it, was how much I longed for live gigs again. I’ve stated this on previous reviews, I’m sure, and I’m equally sure that you are bored of reading this sentiment of mine – but when one hears a song like this, the thought of being crammed in a sweaty swarm of strangers bouncing to the beat is a thought most tempting. Wynne has wowed before with his live performances on his own tour, a triumphant headline show at Liverpool’s brand new Jimmy’s, and a rowdy successful residency of heralded headline shows here in Manchester. The thought of hearing his chocolately, smooth vocals slipping their way into a crowd makes me absolutely itching to return to normality and gigs in the greatest city in the world (no bias, honest..)

I’m hoping, in excuse for my inexcusable tardiness with said review, that this will re-remind people of what a talent Rory truly is. Wynne is one to watch, there’s no doubt about that, and he only grows bigger and bigger in his creative exploits as he experiments with different instruments, genres and vocal styles. I expect furthermore releases in this enjoyable vein – I particularly enjoyed his previous single, Roses (slightly different to the Outkast one, but still properly good, promise). I can’t help but feel Tom Ogden and the gang should probably watch out. Stockport’s new indie titan looks well on his way to rethroning them as Stocky’s finest export…

‘Make You Mine’ is available on all good streaming sites. You can follow Rory on Instagram here, and Twitter here. Listen to this new single below:

My Case In Defense Of Wings

By God, did Mr McCartney love his wife…

©1973, back sleeve of Band on the Run

By Neve Robinson

“Wings – they’re only the band the Beatles could have been!” Ah, the immortal words of Alan Partridge. And how true these words spoken were, by the most righteous of prophets. All joking aside, there is a clear mission statement for this hastily 3AM penned article, and it is this – dear reader, by the end of it, I want you to be as convinced as I am of Wings’ musical genius. Paul and Linda McCartney’s post-Beatle brainchild has apparently long been considered, well, a bit…uncool to like. I remember a long time ago now – four score and seven years ago, to quote a certain Mr Lincoln (not as a trustworthy source as Partridge, I’m aware) when I was seeing a gentleman in a markedly romantic fashion. We had a fiery, vicious debate that genuinely ended in what I can only describe from my end as unbridled rage. And why, you ask? Because the fella in question had the gall to remark these terrible words: “Paul McCartney is a wet-wipe.” I took personal offence to this statement. To disregard some of the most romantic, catchy hooks and loving lyrics of Mr McCartney and his winged vehicle is to disregard some serious, serious tuneage. I can understand Temporary Secretary hate (and, come to think of it, a fair chunk of McCartney II disdain also). But you cross the line with Wings. There’s a myriad of reasons why I will defend Wings to the death. Here’s a few, splayed out in a lovely parade of paragraphs for you. By the end of this, if you’re not convinced of Wings’ genius, well. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll have to banish you to the same dungeon of oblivion that said gentleman was banished to.

Wet-wipe. Wet. Wipe. Hmm. Hmm. Let’s analyse that assertion, shall we? I suppose on face value, wet-wipe just sort of means a bit soft and sensitive, but in a cringey sense. But in reality – what is cringey about being open emotionally with your lyrics, and singing about something other than the rock-n-roll cliche norm of smashing drugs and fornicating en-masse with stunning seventies maidens? Surely there’s something markedly sweet and refreshing about hearing a man sing just about how much he loves his wife, really? After all, it’s worked for Robert Smith thus far, hasn’t it. In 1976’s Silly Love Songs, Paul muses,”Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs / and what’s wrong with that / I’d like to know?” And here, Paul demonstrates my point exactly. Paul is mocking what critics and John Lennon himself had long dismissed him as – just a songwriter who wrote solely “sentimental slush”. Check out what Paul said to Billboard of this song back in ’76:

“But over the years people have said, ‘Aw, he sings love songs, he writes love songs, he’s so soppy at times.’ I thought, Well, I know what they mean, but, people have been doing love songs forever. I like ’em, other people like ’em, and there’s a lot of people I love — I’m lucky enough to have that in my life. So the idea was that “you” may call them silly, but what’s wrong with that?

The song was, in a way, to answer people who just accuse me of being soppy. The nice payoff now is that a lot of the people I meet who are at the age where they’ve just got a couple of kids and have grown up a bit, settling down, they’ll say to me, ‘I thought you were really soppy for years, but I get it now! I see what you were doing!'”

And well…he’s right. What is wrong with ‘silly’ love songs? What is wrong with being so full to the seams of love that you can’t help but let it spill out through your vocal chords now and then? If being a romantic qualifies one to be a wet-wipe then I suppose Shakespeare was a wet-wipe? And the Brontes must have been bonafide wetties by that definition. Don’t even get me started on penguins, man. They have the same bird (no pun intended!) forever, and mate together for life. Cringe, right?! I think one really just really needs to reevaluate their cynicism towards the easy-listening group by assessing whether this ties into their opinion of love as a whole. The newly-dumpeds, the scorned and spurneds, the perpetually single of us. We may indeed be tempted to sh*t all over a band that celebrate and unabashedly love love. But even as someone who at this point is certainly disillusioned by the notion of romance, I can recognise the beauty of it flourishing in others. I acknowledge the happiness that it and sentiments of it inspire in others, especially through a variety of art-forms. Why wouldn’t I want other people to be joyful? I think not liking Wings is a you problem, frankly.

Where does this ingrained dislike of Macca come from, particularly from Beatles fans?! Well, I have a hypothesis of sorts. I really do feel that, especially post-Beatlemania, there’s a strange hyper-masculinity that has developed to idolising John Lennon in favour of shunning the more sensitive, softer songs by Paul McCartney. This isn’t a criticism of the song-writing of Lennon by any means. He was, though questionable of character, an exemplary songwriter and cool cat. However, it seems to me that the Dark Fruits-brandishing, football and Oasis-admiring, Abbey Road-worshipping side of Beatles fans seem to build themselves on Lennon in a way. Certainly, he isn’t ‘cringe’ by any means, and is arguably the ‘cooler’ character – whatever cool is. But it worries me how ingrained in misogyny a lot of his songs and his personal behaviour (in regards to both Cynthia Lennon and Yoko Ono) were. It worries me that this subtle degradation of women is something that resonates with younger male fans and has since the sixties. On Beatles records particularly there’s a stark difference in the songs that he vocalises on and McCartney’s songs – even in terms of his love songs. For example, compare a batch of McCartney vocal heavy songs: Blackbird, Hide Your Love Away, Michelle. Compare these to the experimental, brash, semi-obnoxious (but nonetheless tunes) of Lennon: Getting Better, Come Together, Yer Blues. The harshness in his voice is palpable in comparison to the gentle warble of Paul. Lennon’s lyrics – particularly in his solo foray – glorify predominantly the abuse and use of women sexually, heavy drug use and criticism of war and violence (despite having no issue inflicting this onto his own wives domestically, but I digress). As I say, this hero-worshipping of Lennon worries me in relation to its effect on his younger, impressionable listeners. Since when did being loving, sweet and respectful of women become ‘uncool’ and ‘undesirable’? So what if Lennon never would have done deeply cringe eighties ventures like McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder (linked below…dear God, need I say more.) I’d argue the lyrics and persona of McCartney and Wings as a whole is far more of moral depth, quality and general goodness than any project of narcissism Lennon ever churned out.

Okay, I realise that’s quite a harsh condemnation of Lennon. I do enjoy his music, honestly. I just do not enjoy the Wings slander, and I’ll argue for their case in any way possible – especially if that means critiquing the bizarre masculine paladin-ism of one John Lennon. I sincerely dislike the notion that music has to be deemed ‘cool’ to be likeable. I know plenty of cool people who like Wings, thank you – my housemates Mae and Josh are fellow ardent fans of the Band on the Run, as is my friend Mof (undeniably one of the grooviest gents I’ve ever known), who likes them a lot. Well, a real lot. Check his tattoo out, by Kurt Mitchell. Tell me that isn’t gnarly, or whatever the kids are saying these days…

On a technical level though, and in wider terms of their musicianship, how can anyone defy their talent? I normally feel music and music taste is completely subjective, but in regards to Wings (who I care for in almost a maternal, protective sense) I don’t think it is even up for discussion. They are excellent, fact. They dabble in so many genres: pop, classic rock, blues, even bordering on the operatic in tracks like Live and Let Die. The complexity and showmanship that go into each of their songs is incredibly admirable. I had the pleasure of bearing witness to McCartney live in 2018, when I went to go and see him at the O2. He did a mixture of Beatles, stuff from Ram, and Wings. I remember being so struck at the time by just how many incredible songs Wings have made that I didn’t even know were by them. I particularly enjoyed when he introduced Let ‘Em In as the ‘Postcode Lottery song’ – but also realised that this is perhaps why people don’t really find Wings very, ahem, cool.

To conclude and summarize my essay-structured argument, I’ve left below a link to one of the best compilations of all time, Wings Greatest. A man in a record shop once gave me this for free because reportedly ‘nobody was going to buy it, anyway’. I can’t understand why. From Hi, Hi, Hi to Jet, every song on this is magical in its own way. I implore you, those still remaining unconvinced, to listen to this and deny their genius in any respect. Just because living on a farm in the Mull of Kintyre, knitting jumpers and raising animals for pleasure rather than sustenance, isn’t very rock ‘n’roll, it doesn’t mean that Wings are. The fact that Paul remains unabashedly his lovely self, and the fact that oozes through these sunshine songs, makes Wings all the more likeable to me. I hope you leave this article a bonafide Wings aficionado; and if not, I want to know why not. Come on, I haven’t got all day.

(I think I’ve put more work into this than I have ever put into a piece of university work. Is that bad? Oh, well. For Paul, anything…)

Rockstars And The Rainbow Connection: Some of The Best Musical Appearances on The Muppet Show

© The Muppet Show, 1980

By Neve Robinson

Ah, The Muppet Show. Beloved by everyone from the freshest of flowers to those in the same age bracket as Statler and Waldorf, The Muppets have a strangely appealing quality that spans across well – everyone, really. It’s no surprise then, that from the 1976-1981 original run of the show to even modern Muppet iterations today, even the most golden of musical glitterati couldn’t resist getting involved with the fuzzy friends. Having been host to the likes of Dave Grohl, Charles Aznavour, Harry Belafonte and Weezer, the puppets have performed alongside a smorgasbord of incredible and random guests over the years. Here’s a few of the best fabulously bizarre moments that two entertainment worlds collided over, erm, frog and pig puppets.

Elton John

In 1977, the bonafide king of glam rock and all things fabulously flamboyant graced The Muppet Show stage by playing his classic croon Crocodile Rock in- you guessed it – a swamp filled with crocodiles. In Kermit’s best-selling tell-all autobiography (the greatest autobiography since the likes of Nelson Mandela’s, arguably)  Before You Leap, Kermit states that his mother booked Elton John into the local theatre. While there, Kermit’s mother of course introduced John to the crocodile that inspired “Crocodile Rock.” I think Bernie Taupin was probably in that swamp too, you know. Why didn’t The Electric Mayhem play on more John records?

Joan Jett

Punk princess Joan Jett of The Runaways and The Blackhearts fame produced probably her greatest musical offering yet (and from a legend like her, that’s saying something) when she collaborated with The Muppets in 2016 to sing Bad Reputation. When Miss Piggy suffers a scandalous wardrobe malfunction, the network that The Muppets are represented by is outraged, and Piggy is forced to question everything she stands for. By the end of the episode, Jett helps Piggy remember her worth and empowers her – who cares if the public sees your pig tail, right? And who better to teach Miss Piggy to not give a f*ck than the queen of not giving a f*ck herself. #UnveilTheTail, man.

Debbie Harry

It’s hard to think of anything cooler and more iconic than Blondie bombshell Deborah Harry. But then I remembered that she dueted with Kermit The Frog in 1980, and the result was glorious. Beyond glorious. Here she is singing a favourite childhood song of mine and millions of others, The Rainbow Connection, but she also sang her own classics like Call Me and One Way Or Another. In the episode, Kermit’s unbearably cute nephew Robin’s Scout Troop visit the show and ask Debbie for her help in earning their “punk merit badges”. I’m still hoping to earn mine one day…

Alice Cooper

Make no mistake, there is nothing more shock-rock in the world than erm, singing puppets. Alice Cooper proved this point in his 1978 Muppet Show appearance, claiming to be an agent of the Devil and a Faustian character trying to strike a deal with The Muppets for their souls. After all, I think we can all agree that Kermit has much more soul, personality and good morals than most living souls these days. I can understand why Cooper fancied pinching our favourite Amphibian-American’s. Here he is performing School’s Out. I bet headteacher Sam The Eagle feels a right daft sod now.

Arlo Guthrie

1979 saw son of Woody, folk star Arlo Guthrie, play some of his greatest hits on a farm-themed Muppet stage (mainly from his 1976 record, Amigo). Normally, Guthrie would lend his voice to songs of human rights struggles and social justice ballads. I’d argue that the plight of The Swedish Chef looking for something to cook for a family meal other than his chicken counterparts is…sort of a social issue. Starvation? Maybe? I don’t know if these puppets even have digestive systems, but I digress.

Paul Simon

Paul Simon is arguably the cutest human on Earth. That’s just a fact. So what could be more wholesome than our sunshiney king singing with the cutest puppets on earth?! 1980 blessed us with an episode dedicated to the Simon & Garfunkel folk trailblazer, as he helped Gonzo learn to improve on his songwriting. Though personally, I find Gonzo’s lyricism quite inspiring. “For youuu… I’d wash my hair with stinky glue, I’d fry my legs and eat them too, I’d put a spider in my shoe — for yoouuuu!” I hope one day someone writes a song for me that’s so rich with romantic sentiment.

Johnny Cash

Probably one of the most famous Muppets guests, in 1980 a country-themed episode played host to the iconic Johnny Cash. Cash dueted with Rowlf the dog in Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog, a song surprisingly not written just for the purpose of singing one day an anthropomorphic hound, but rather actually performed live at the famous Folsom Prison concert by Cash. Rowlf ended up taking great offence to the lyrics within, though Cash assured him it was in jest. I think Cash’s greatest beef was probably with a puppet dog, you know. He was a fairly agreeable guy by all accounts. Well, unless you’re Waylon Jennings of The Highway Man. If you’re interested…

Prince

Muppets Tonight treated us to a 1997 cameo from the dearly missed Prince, and what a cameo that it was. He was known as his symbol at this time, so he’s referred to chiefly as ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’. Behold, as TAFKAP creates a song made from the Commissary menu of the hotel he’s staying in. Not sure why he plumps for this rather than Raspberry Sorbet, but I’m not complaining; this is a bonafide banger.

Dolly Parton

Good golly, Miss Dolly! Now here is a Muppet icon in her own right. Dolly Parton is the definition of a country legend (and, of course, an inspiration to the equally pink and fabulous blonde bombshell Miss Piggy herself). Muppet Magazine, a respected publication on a par with the one you are currently privy to, crowned Ms Parton an Honorary Muppet in 1986. She has collaborated with the Muppets many times, most recently in 2012 singing Islands In The Stream with Kermit as her Kenny Rogers. I’ve attached a clip from the 1987 Dolly show, so technically this isn’t a Muppets appearance. But it’s far too iconic to not include. I think Dolly and Kermit make quite the fetching couple, don’t you?

David Byrne

Okay, okay, so this isn’t quite a cameo as such. Talking Heads frontman Byrne isn’t present – or is he? Listen, it would be so wrong of me to not finish on this gem. I’m not going to explain this 1980 classic video; some art is better appreciated as is, you know? Besides, you’d only tell me to stop making sense, anyway. If you know, you know.

John Cooper Clarke, Nico and The Honey Monster: The Bard of Salford’s Brixton Stint, And Why He’s So Skint

A nonsense investigation into the Good Doctor’s finances. It’s 2am…

 © RGR Collection, 1982

By Neve Robinson

TW: Drug abuse, addiction

DISCLAIMER: Before we jump in, it’s worth noting that I’m a huge worshipper at the pointed feet of the Good Doctor. I don’t intend to talk about drug addiction lightly, and I’ve used only really his descriptors of it (which as you can imagine are fairly breezy and borderline humorous). I’ve not seen his bank account, so I don’t know how much or how little moo-la he’s raking in. I’d quite like to, mind. It’s all speculative and in jest, baby, but with some (of course) tragic features. He could be a billionaire for all we know, unwilling to throw a few pennies at a hairbrush or merely a detangler. I just wanted an excuse to waffle about JCC and Nico’s cohabitation for a bit, that’s all...

Beloved punk-poet and general genius John Cooper Clarke has (despite his quasi-celebrity status and sporadic sightings in Dictionary Corner on 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown now and then) never really been a man of much wealth. In his own words, “I ain’t waving the victim flag, but considering the massive impact I’ve had on British culture, it’s f*cking diabolical how poor I am.” While I’m mainly struck by how relatable as statement that is (Robinson’s Records is surely a soon-to-be-staple of the UK music journalism scene now that NME is sleeping with the fishes?!), it also occurred to me how that has bizarrely been the case for a chunk of his career. How can it be that such a revered renegade of his field has, for want of a better phrase, perenially been a bit skint? In his younger, more turbulent years, Cooper Clarke was a notorious heroin addict. Perhaps it can almost chiefly be attributed to this, and his perilous living arrangement with Nico of the Velvet Underground in Brixton, during which time his career took a serious blow and the Good Doctor went into hiding of sorts. Or perhaps the Bard of Salford spent his savings on Sugar Puffs (see below. I’ll explain later on). Regardless, this committed fan is dedicated to a detective’s cause – was it this period that bled the Bard dry? Or is money management just not a forte of the weathered wordsmith?

In the late seventies, it’s no secret that punk proudly ruled Britannia. Safety pins adored the lobes of many a spit-soaked skinhead front row at The Clash’s gigs. The Sex Pistols were sneering at Bill Grundy for being a “dirty bastard” after was leering at Siousxie Sioux live on telly. And the Manchester punk scene was thriving – Magazine, Buzzcocks, and even post-punk icons like Joy Division were emerging whom JCC supported himself. This was a world that Cooper Clarke felt at home in. With his shock of Dylan-esque hair and physique that can only be described as an anthropomorphic stick-figure drawing, he looked the part. And with his Manc drawl, acerbic wit and the possession of a sensational selection of swear words at his disposal, he sounded the part as well. At this point, Cooper Clarke’s career was undoubtedly skyrocketing. He had his only Top 40 UK hit in 1979 with ‘Gimmix! (Play Loud)‘. He supported The Fall and Elvis Costello. He worked closely with dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. It all seemed to be going so swimmingly for the young pin-legged poet. So what was the turning point? By the sounds of it, it was his decline into heroin addiction. He barely performed after 1982 due to this, which he himself attests to – “I didn’t write for ten years. [I was] lost to heroin.” And this lack of creative content arose around the time of his living with Christa Päffgen, better known as German songwriter Nico.

Their cohabitation was for a short spell, reportedly only a few months, in a poky flat in Brixton. It’s unclear how they met, but given that they hung out in similar celebrity circles at the time, it’s likely that it was a bonding based on mutual interests of drugs and words. Though they admittedly look cool as all hell together, make no mistake, it wasn’t a sexual pairing (“heroin isn’t really a sex drug”, Cooper Clarke attests). The two were never at all romantically linked, rather they were in what he refers to as a “domestic partnership”. Both heroin addicts, Cooper Clarke and Nico lived impoverished at this period of their lives; “it was a feral existence,” Clarke explained in a 2012 interview in the Guardian – “I was on drugs. It was hand to mouth.” The two were close friends, and even considered releasing an album of covers under the (working title) of Nico and Johnnie. But alas, their union was a toxic one, as their addictions hindered any hopes at creative craft and worsened each other’s. Initially, their living together “was as settled and domestic as two addicts living in the same place get.” Then, fellow Velvet John Cale moved in for a spell, living infamously off of “vodka for breakfast and then cocaine all the way.” This was the tipping point of the Brixton abode, when Clarke had somewhat of an epiphany.

News got out of Nico living in the neighbourhood. The NME had snapped a scandalous photo of the pair (only joking, it’s the picture at the top), and as a result numerous other addicts began camping outside of the flat and a “tidal wave of j*nkies arrived”. Though Cooper Clarke is grateful in retrospect for the photo being taken because (as aforementioned) it is the proverbial bee’s knees, it made living there and continually smashing drugs unbearable. Cooper Clarke’s finances were dwindling due to the cost of copious amounts of heroin required to function, not to mention the lack of work he embarked on throughout the 80s. What prompted him to move out and to start working again was the poverty that he was living in, as well as his addiction – he had to feed it, which required what The Flying Lizards longed for most – money. So, Cooper Clarke re-entered the comedy circuit by performing again. He took on gigs he wasn’t that keen on taking. As he told the Guardian, “I needed money more than ever, so I had to work. The glamour was flaking off with every new job. I really felt like I was selling my sorry ass.” He likely was referring here to several gimmicky roles he took on in order to nurse his drug habit, roles he wouldn’t have needed to had his career not sadly decelerated due to addiction. That of a DJ alongside the Honey Monster comes to mind (told you I’d explain it). Gradually though, with time and with rehabilitation, Cooper Clarke stopped working to fund this fatal addiction and worked on his kicking of the drug.

The revival of Cooper Clarke’s career is truly something to behold. One can only marvel at his dedication to recovery, and his hard work at maintaining his cold-turkey approach towards heroin. It’s a chapter of his life he’s glad is over, though his poem ‘Get Back On The Drugs You Fat F*ck’ implies his audience thought he was a bit funnier when he was hooked. He tours regularly (I myself have had the pleasure of having an audience with the Doctor thrice, and he puts on a cracking show, let me tell you). He wrote another book with another library of limericks within, The Luckiest Guy Alive. Most inspiringly, really, is how he can talk about this dark period of his life in jest and in his typical humour. It’s a heavy thing, drug addiction, and quite a taboo to talk about. Cooper Clarke strips away that sensitivity that people skirt around addiction with and confronts it head on. He’s quite the positive person, really, and has even acknowledged the tragedy of Nico, too, fairly lightly. She eventually went into recovery, but by 1988 was sadly gone, due to a bicycle accident on holiday. So, this is all very interesting to hear, isn’t it? And very bittersweet, of course. But we’ve still not solved the matter at hand. His career has been reignited – why is he so bloody skint still?

© GQ, 2019

Maybe Cooper Clarke is bluffing. As I say, he could be sat on a goldmine. ‘The Sopranos’ used a song of his in the credits, a feat he proudly boasts at every show of his. Surely that must have made some hefty royalties. And the man offered his services to the Arctic Monkeys, lending them ‘I Wanna Be Yours’. Surely Mr Turner slipped a tenner in Cooper Clarke’s pocket upon meeting? Maybe even a twenty. In fairness, it’s likely he spent a good sum of it on scran. The man loves his pies (see his poem, ‘Pies’). He’s, if you don’t mind my saying so – and he’s backed me up on this in his scribbles – a man clearly struggling with “piling on the pounds”. Perhaps those piles of pennies are going in the pockets of all of the Greggs in the Salford area. Even the grotty one in the Salford Shopping Centre, he’s by no means a snob. I don’t know. Maybe we need to launch a full enquiry into the expenditures of the sole resident of Chickentown (evidently). Or maybe, I need to stop thinking about such completely futile and useless things at 2 in the morning and let the poor fella have a break. He’s a man of the people, and like many of the people, he’s seemingly skint. Makes him even more loveable, no?

I’d like your contributions in the comments, if you’ve managed to make it to the end of this rambling tyrade. Why do you think Cooper Clarke is penniless ragamuffin? Or do you think he’s sitting on more cash than a Southern oil tycoon with a comically large cowboy hat? And most of all, was this unsolved mystery a total waste of my productivity and energy? Probably. But I love JCC, so it’s alright. I’ll leave you with this little treat – it may be bed time for me, but it’s Tummy Time for Cooper Clarke. I wonder if the Honey Monster paid him appropriately?

SWINTON SWINES! ‘No Fightin’ Single Review Sees SWINE Solidified As Not Only Punk Purveyors, But Indie Rock Icons Too

© SWINE, 2021

By Neve Robinson

Imagine The Libertines (circa their shining self-titled era) – no, wait. Babyshambles, yeah. And imagine Cabbage (circa, well, now really). Picture this. They’ve procreated and had a beautiful albeit unruly Salfordian sonic child that just kicks off all the time. Unrelenting. A bit loud. But nonetheless, bloody irresistible. Oh yeah, and it’s wearing a pig mask. Well, that’s probably the most accurate description that I can offer for the raucous Swinton band SWINE’s recent single ‘No Fightin’ – a Valentine’s Day release that’ll certainly have you falling in love with the band brilliantly baptized with a boar’s moniker.

Clocking in at a mere 2:44 minute runtime, the record is perfectly engineered to be as replayable and catchy as possible, much like the punk songs of the seventies they draw their heaviest inspirations from. In their own words, ‘No Fightin’ is an ode to the most perfect imperfection – that of ourselves, and in our relationships with others. “We, or those who we love, or anyone, are not perfect. It’s self reflection to some extent, as some of the lines in the song are things that have been said to me.” So says Michael Blakemore, frontman of the band. The lyrics portray “an unhealthy relationship for both people involved, and a plead for peace.” It begs the question: in life, is there ever truly ‘NO fightin’? Is there any need for said ‘fightin’ (I’m enjoying not using a g on the end of the word, by the way, it feels very rock ‘n’roll of me.) Well, boxers and pro-military American conservatives would beg to differ, but that’s by the by.

SWINE have softened their sound somewhat from their earlier releases with this number. They are a band that are undoubtedly constantly evolving. This single is sort of like pushing our boundaries a bit. “We’ve got a stigma of being wild and chaotic,” says Michael, the vocalist, “but this tune really shows how we can mix it up and incorporate bits of different genres in to our personal sound.” And truly, they have dabbled in quite the myriad of genres here. SWINE’s debut EP ‘Fools Britannia’ is pure punk paradise start to finish, with ‘Pablo Picasso’ a real standout from the record echoing the likes of The Stranglers. Then followed 2019’s ‘They Hate Us’ accompanied by B-side ‘Diluted’ – both tracks building on their new-wave foundation and treading into ska territory. The songs on this record in particular are topical, they’re fresh. They touch on issues of classism, fascism and sexism that work seamlessly with the ska influences interspersed throughout the verses. Later on in the year, ‘Gazza B‘ was released, a song open to interpretation (before listening, I had presumed this was a post-punk ode to Mr Take That himself. I’m still unconvinced I’m totally wrong.) This record is even more different than the last, with more of a sound of the Fall as it is rich with that same strain of fuzzy feedback ferociousness Mark E. Smith possessed. While the band definitely aim for a everpresent undertone of punk rock noise throughout every song they perform, they make effort to mix and merge into a mesh of different genres. I think that’s what makes them so refreshing and intriguing as an upcoming band, this constant exploration and metamorphosis of styles and substance. They refuse to settle on one constant, and to me this is a clear as can be sign of a true crew of creatives.

© SWINE, 2021

So. I’ve got a bit of a quibble with this tune, personally, and I’m going to have to state my case for…well, a fight. My only criticism is that this was released during lockdown. Why, SWINE, why? For you have robbed us of a live reveal! How I would love to experience this for the first time live. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve really listened to a lockdown release and truly hungered for a great gig. And by God, can SWINE put on a great gig. They have somewhat of a legendary stage presence in many Manchester music circles, supporting the likes of Strange Bones in their live outings. I’m yet to experience them for myself, sadly, but I’ve seen videos, and have heard tales from peers of chaotic Lux Interior-level performances. I’d be especially intrigued to see how they would handle this track. It wouldn’t be a typical punk performance, and for frontman who spits spectacularly into a swarm of sweaty sh*tfaced fans behind the mask of a hog, I’d be curious to see how they’d handle a gentler number life. It’s an indie-rock triumph, and while I personally prefer their punky roots, their first foray into indie-rock territory has paid off enormously. Kudos to SWINE, and save me a ticket when things finally recommence so that I can be present to a riot incited by you Swindon lads. Oh to be sweating in a crowd at The Bread Shed, privy to the first live smashing out of ‘No Fightin’. I’ll be fighting to get to the front.

‘No Fightin’ is available on all semi-decent streaming platforms, and the band’s socials are here. Listen to it below:

YNES Single Review: Bedroom-punk belter ‘Better Job’ is a defiant middle finger to Sunak’s stifling of creativity

© YNES, 2021

By Neve Robinson

“I don’t know man, maybe I should get like, a grown-up job, a real job, A BETTER JOB!” Within the first few opening seconds of her new single, the unrelenting, firecracker visionary YNES makes her views clear on Rishi Sunak’s ludicrous suggestion that musicians and other people in the arts sector should “retrain and find other jobs”. And by God, if you weren’t convinced of the ridiculousness of this comment before, you undoubtedly will be after listening to this powerhouse of a protest record. Better Job may well be one of my favourite singles of the year, and we’re only in February.

Why does it pack such a resonant punch and make such an impact on the listener? I should say firstly, that it’s certainly a sentiment shared by countless other creatives who work hard to create content enjoyed and consumed by those criticising them for not having so-called ‘practical’ careers. As a writer, I completely empathise with YNES’ anger. To be denied of the only thing I have personally ever felt I was talented at/had a real motivation to work diligently at for others’ enjoyment, Sunak’s savage condemning of my craft was a kick in the teeth. And what a committed creative YNES is. She has been for many years been working hard at her craft, constantly evolving, spanning every genre from indie-dreamy pop to punk, and gradually garnering up quite the following of her illustrious career. I myself have followed YNES on social media for years now, initially interested by her cool chameleon looks. Even her dress sense oozes individuality and artistry – she looks like a rockstar. She has the voice and the lyrical talent; taking heavy inspiration from artists like Kate Nash, her social commentary is biting and endlessly intelligent. But I think what I most enjoyed about seeing her content, and why I ached to review her new single, was her incredible confidence. She is above all a deeply strong woman, and one I deeply admire; she is one of the most open and honest artists I have ever come across. She is unfazed by negativity, and instead brazenly looks it in the eye and tells it to f**k off. This is why I completely have faith in her lyrics. You can tell how much she cares about the records that she makes, how much passion she has for the words she screams. YNES is no plastic-punk. She’s 100% the real deal, in her ideals and her fierce feminist rhetoric intrinsic to the single.

 © YNES, 2021

Better Job has been a long-anticipated release. After Sunak’s comments, YNES uploaded a 30 second jingle to social media titled Better Jobs. A direct response to Rishi, YNES states quite clearly that “she’d rather die than have a better job” – to be pigeonholed into what the government deem as ‘respectable’ jobs at the detriment of losing her creative spark would be an existence YNES can’t picture herself existing in! The skit gained a lot of traction – a tasty 8k views and an interview on BBC – and it inspired her to write a full song from the foundations of the video. “Having witnessed the subsequent lack of support for the industry regarding Brexit, and just everything else at the moment – I decided to spend Lockdown 3 writing and recording a full track from home,” YNES explained in her correspondence with me. “I know so many people who are feeling dejected and hopeless at the future of the arts, and I really believe that we need to stay passionate – together. I really feel as though the song will resonate with people.” And resonate it has. The song stands up for all of the creative voices that the government encouragement of retraining has stifled. It’s a song that inspires a real sense of unity, a real sense of US VS THEM. It’s a cathartic expression of her own frustration as well as trying to make it clear that our spirits shouldn’t be crushed by the dismissal of our talents. It’s a sentiment I’m behind, I can tell you.

The song also celebrates the beauty of individuality and not succumbing to the cookie-cutter shapes society tries to mold us as workers into, which YNES herself is an emblem of. I think I would describe her as A New Romantic Britpunk Babe, a general glittery delight of a human, or probably just as Annie Lennox’s (possibly) biological daughter. Perhaps an amalgamation of the three. She asks playfully to be taught how to be a “morally upstanding member of society“, which her ethereal alien appearance and non-acceptance of bullsh*t doesn’t quite fit into (dictionary-definition wise, at least). And, nor should it. She offers that maybe she could “wear a tie” – but because she’s a woman, it’ll “have to be a miniskirt“, referencing the misogynistic way women are treated in the workplace as well as a cutting comment on how androgyny is shunned. Gender conformity is a more easy way to be squeezed into the mold of ‘acceptable member of society.’ But that’s just the thing, isn’t it? What is our motivation to play by societal rules, what is our reward? I think I’d much rather be happy in my skin and dye my hair funky colours and be gloriously and unabashedly me than to lose my soul to corporate means. Sparks of light and talent and joy shine through the cracks in this hollow work-obsessed society we inhabit. Sure, most of us “can’t afford to be the next Rolling Stones or Bowie” and have to work jobs on the side. It’s like YNES herself states, “radioplay doesn’t pay these days!” But the difficult trials and tribulations that come with being an artist and keeping the flame lit of our creative endeavours is worth it. And it ironically has entertained and kept sane the very same people that are critical of the industry. So, Rishi, if you want us to retrain, “we’ll all get better jobs – but you can throw away your DVDs, you can unsubscribe from Netflix, and delete your music library” – because without the wonderful artists like YNES of the world, there would be no art to escape into.

YNES’ vivacious vocals and unrelenting guitar riffs make for a DIY dream of a punk record. It is a true testament to the talent of YNES, and I truly wish her nothing but success in her career. I’m excited to see her bloom even more, and I hope to hear records from her similar to this in the future – it’s very unique from anything she’s ever produced, really, and I for one am digging it. Keep being fabulous YNES, and please, please don’t ever get a better job!

© YNES, 2021

You can follow YNES’ social media here and here. YNES’ new single, Better Job, is out today – the 12th of February, and is available on Spotify now. Listen to it below.

“LA!” – The Creme De La Creme Of C4’s ‘It’s A Sin’ Soundtrack

© Channel 4

By Neve Robinson

If you haven’t had your heart broken into smithereens by the Channel 4 sensation It’s A Sin yet, why the bloody hell not? The five part drama is a beautiful homage to the vibrant, vivacious gay scene of 1981-1991 London. It celebrates the incredible individuals living through the horrors of the HIV/AIDS crisis and focuses on a group of loveable friends sharing a flat. Based on writer Russell T. Davies’ own experiences at the time, it even features the real life Jill playing her mother. It is so intensely personal, and in this it enraptures its audience as though we know the residents of the Pink Palace ourselves. It’s the most electrifying television I have seen in years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so connected to a programme before. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s real. But I think that the most poignant part about it all is that above all, It’s A Sin is more about living than dying. It’s a colourful, joyful blur of discos and dancing and just pure, unadulterated love. All of the most gorgeous features of life. And how exactly does this marvelous miniseries convey this sense of vitality? Through its explosive eighties soundtrack.

The name of the series comes, of course, from the eponymous Pet Shop Boys record. A dramatic tour-de-force of a song, it lends itself incredibly well to the series – though it only features once, it packs a punch. It would have been remiss of me to not mention this song. The Pet Shop Boys classic simply highlights just how pivotal the soundtrack is to the series, it is the backbone of it. To really evoke the era, selecting the right music was essential. The sonic glue to the series, if you will. I decided, after a frenzied hankering at 2am to re-watch the series in full, to rank the top ten best tracks of the series. This does not necessarily mean they are my favourite songs (it is a near perfect soundtrack, thus I have painstakingly omitted some absolute facemelters!) Rather, I have selected them based on how well they help to reinforce the setting of the series and how they enhanced certain emotional elements. I decided to not use the aforementioned title track, as I felt it was a bit pedestrian of me. So, without further ado, here are the 10 best sinful songs from It’s A Sin.

WARNING: If you haven’t finished the series yet, here is your CHECKPOINT. There will be slight spoilers…

10. Heaven Is A Place On Earth by Belinda Carlisle

© Belinda Carlisle, 1987

Alright, hear me out on this one. This song is often dismissed as a bit of a cringey school-disco banger; pretty meaningless in its sentiment and fairly repetitive. However, make no mistake. This is a seriously beautiful song beyond its anthemic soulless reputation. In the context of the series, it is incredibly apt. It’s a joyful, carefree and effervescent celebration of freedom and finding sanctuary in your own safe spaces – exactly like Ritchie and the gang do in each other and the gay clubs and bars that they frequent. Carlisle’s first single post Go-Gos, she has said in interviews of the song that “[it] is a kind of hopeful song. I think it’s saying you can create your own piece of heaven on your own patch.” In Episode 4, just before the song is played at the credits, Ritchie is coming to terms with his AIDS diagnosis. He proclaims triumphantly to his friends – “I’m going to live.” Ritchie makes the absolute most of his short time left, and lives life to the absolute full. The song perfectly encapsulates Ritchie’s strength and vitality in the face of such devastating news. The series has now successfully made a special place for this song in my heart.

9. Freedom by Wham!

© Wham!, 1985

Now here is a song that is nothing short of an exuberant exclamation of its mission statement and what Michael himself wants. I’ve always had a soft spot for Wham!, who are undoubtedly one of the sedimentary artists of the charts during the mid eighties – that which they dominated with their infectious hooks and intelligent lyrics. It’s obvious really that Wham! would make this list, with George Michael firmly solidified as one of the biggest gay icons of all time. Ridgeley and Michael’s music was played frequently in most of the nightlife spots the gang in the series would frequent. But in context of the series, I think it fits perfectly. While it was used in a scene where Colin begins his new job. The song is about a woman Michael is dating who wants a more casual arrangement, while Michael is stating that he doesn’t want this ‘freedom’ –“all I want right now is you!” While likely not deliberate, I found the lyrics to echo the relationship between Ash and Ritchie. Both loving one another all along, both unable to control their promiscuity, with the dynamic between constantly changing. Perhaps this is the former English Literature student in me, but this emotive link was immediately clear to me. A great choice by Davies to include this number.

8. Reward by The Teardrop Explodes

© The Teardrop Explodes, 1980

“Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news!” Now that’s an opening line and a half. Your attention is grabbed from the get-go with this new-wave classic. It’s been said that a good soundtrack can really mold and solidify a world that the characters inhabit. This song is absolutely no exception to the rule. The trumpet in this track makes the tempo of it a perfect track to tap bedazzled toes in London’s Heaven. The Teardrop Explodes hit No 6. in the charts with Reward, a song that encapsulates the feeling of male inadequacy and having to settle with the “reward” of normalcy. All of the men in It’s A Sin move to the city not just in pursuit of freedom, but with lofty career ambitions. Roscoe tells Jill: “I’m moving up”. In the end, though they all do achieve some of their goals, most dreams remain sadly unfulfilled due to the AIDS crisis. But through it all, they have each other. This is sort of the essence of Reward in my opinion. It’s the accepting of how things really are, no matter how tragic. The gang have no choice but to accept their circumstances – they have each other through it all at least, and love each other fiercely. Their ‘reward’ is each other in all of the misery. Perhaps this is just my interpretation of this record and I’m way off the mark. I suppose subjectivity is the beauty of music analysis, right?

7. Enola Gay by Orchestral Manouevres In the Dark

© Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, 1980

A complete classic. I really do miss pulling some serious shapes to this in Deaf Institute on a Saturday night, let me tell you. I couldn’t in good conscience omit this elite track from the list. Why is it relevant to It’s A Sin though other than the fact it was a chart-topper at the time? Well, for me it’s about the lyrical content. An anti-nuclear anthem written during the period that Thatcher lobbied to station nuclear missiles in Britain is the perfect soundtrack to a series that features a character urinating into the Iron Lady’s cuppa. Enola Gay is a rebellious, riotous track that caused a lot of controversy in its time due to its dark subject matter. It was even banned from airplay a few times. A synth-pop cheery tune about a nuclear bombing that vexated Thatcherites. Pretty unique stuff, and a song I’m certain Roscoe would have approved of (Ritchie too, even though he voted for her…) More than anything, it’s played during the scene when Ritchie leaves behind the Isle of Wight. It signposts a moment of rebellion personally for him, and I can’t surmise a more perfect song to aid this representation.

6. Feels Like I’m In Love by Kelly Marie

© Kelly Marie, 1979

Disco-dancers and glitter-ball babies are no stranger to this 1979 banger. The song was originally written by the lead singer of Mungo Jerry for – curiously – Elvis Presley! It’s difficult to imagine how different the song would have been had the King not passed prior to him recording it. The record fell into Scottish singer Kelly Marie’s hands and the rest, as they say, is history. The song is played at our very first meeting of the series’ most vibrant character, Roscoe. It was the perfect song to introduce such a vivacious and sparkling person. He is working on a construction site with the radio blasting. The song is Roscoe’s personality to a T – contrasted with an occupation that Roscoe clearly doesn’t suit. It’s a song I was never particularly fond of, but now find myself humming to now and then. Thankyou Roscoe for your love of Miss Kelly Marie!

5. Do Ya Wanna Funk by Patrick Cowley ft. Sylvester

© Patrick Cowley and Sylvester, 1982

New York, New York. If you want a song that transports you into the thriving American EDM scene of the 1980s (cool clubs frequented by gorgeous people in gorgeous attire) then this is easily a standout record. The AIDS crisis in both San Fransisco and New York is touched on a few times during the series, particularly when a beautifully innocent Colin visits with work and is advised to not “go to bed with any boys”. Do You Wanna Funk? is not just a jubilant song to dance to. It’s much more important a stitch in the rich fabric of eighties music than that. Patrick Cowley has been credited (alongside Giorgio Moroder) as one of the main pioneers of EDM music. Sylvester was a R&B singer. Their blending of genres inspired a whole host of records designed to be blissful celebrations of the community. Both collaborators sadly passed away from AIDS, also, with Cowley sadly passing the same year of the record’s release after he began to feel increasingly unwell on a tour with Sylvester. The tragic deaths of both artists to the disease It’s A Sin concerns makes the song even more meaningful in the context of the series. It’s a very important record in my opinion, not just in amplifying the setting of the series, but in terms of defining genres that ruled the decade also.

4. I Feel Love / Johnny Remember Me by Bronski Beat ft. Marc Almond

© Bronski Beat, 1985

Our first Bronski Beat entry is a blistering medley of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Love To Love You Baby interspersed with Johnny Remember Me by John Leyton and the Outlaws. I’m ashamed to say I had never heard this record until the series – nor was I aware that another gay icon, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, featured on it. It’s not played for long in the series, and yet the impact it had on me was massive. Bronski Beat are a perfect blend of disco, synth-pop and new wave magic. By covering a disco icon like Summer and collaborating with a new wave legend like Almond, the result was bound to be glorious. And glorious it is. I was absolutely floored by this discovery and have smashed it every day since (it’s a favoured dancing round the kitchen in my pyjamas track). Something about that discotheque driving beat that really transports me to some of the settings Ritchie and the gang thrive in. It makes me ache and long for nights spent dancing with strangers in sweaty gay clubs until 7 in the morning. The feeling of almost having a family in the people you’re grooving with is one I think is shared by the characters in It’s A Sin. It’s an absolute powerhouse of a pop record, and it’s not the only Bronski Beat classic on this list.

3. Only You by the Flying Pickets

© The Flying Pickets, 1983

It would truly be a sin of me (sorry!) to omit the song that is central to one of the most poignant scenes in the series. I’ll be honest, I’ve never hugely cared for this song – or at least, the Yazoo iteration. It’s a song that’s sadly been relegated to adverts and ‘hold’ music. As a result, I think the meaning of the record was completely lost on me. And then I heard Jill and Ritchie sing it together on karaoke. The version they sing is the Flying Pickets’ 1982 acapella cover – supposedly Thatcher’s favourite song ironically for a group so entrenched in socialism and miners’ rights. This scene was yet another part I found myself welling up at. Maybe because it’s about a relationship coming to an end, about the longing for a person after they’ve departed from your lives – just as Gloria had passed. The scene then sharply cuts into the tragic scene of Gloria’s family burning his family photos. That quick transition from the lovely union of Jill and Ritchie to the cold, broken household of Gloria soundtracked with “want you near me“. Somehow, this song has now been transformed into a beautiful parting song for me. It’s so final and moving, yet something feels so…hopeful about it. I really have to applaud the series for making me come around to records I once dismissed.

2. Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat

© Bronski Beat, 1984

Bronski Beat’s second appearance on this list, I regard this as probably one of the greatest songs of all time. This is not an exaggeration, either – soaring falsetto vocals weaving between a disco discordance make for a record unique to any I have ever heard. In relation to the series, this very nearly made my Number 1. It epitomizes the experience of so many young ostracized gay men: having to flee small mining towns to liberation in more tolerant cities. It’s a semi-autobiographical song; Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat himself moved from Glasgow to London to escape the struggles of being a “pushed around and kicked around, [always] a lonely boy”. It basically epitomizes the entire premise of It’s A Sin. The song is used at the end credits of the first episode – a closeted Ritchie has left the Isle of Wight for the big city, Colin has left a tiny Welsh town a bit unsure of himself, Roscoe has strutted triumphantly away from his extremely religious family. The gang find their family and freedom in each other, in the gay community, in the city. I’m not sure a song more perfectly encapsulates this. Just gorgeous.

  1. Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) by Kate Bush
© Kate Bush, 1985

I knew all along that my number one selection would be this. When I look back on this series and the incredible impact that it had on me, I am reminded of this incredible song. It is so evocative of the pain and yearning that countless men in Ritchie’s position felt. To “make a deal with God and swap places…” When this song was played over clips of Ritchie taking his medication and struggling through his illness I’ll be honest, I completely broke down. I’ve been a Kate Bush fan for virtually my entire life, so perhaps I am biased in this assertion – but she is a total total genius, particularly lyrically. And it is the lyrics of this track that make it so perfectly suited to this drama. I think that even though the song is originally about the differences between men and women when in love, the raw sensuality and emotion is still applicable to the context of the drama. In fact, it is applicable to most situations. This is testament to Bush’s empathetic writing style. One reviewer in the eighties, Amy Hanson, summed up the song better than I ever could – “always adept at emotion and beautifully able to manipulate even the most bitter of hearts, rarely has Bush penned such a brutally truthful, painfully sensual song.” And that’s exactly what It’s A Sin is – truthful, sensual, painful, visceral. It’s everything. It’s life. That’s why, for me, Running Up That Hill is undoubtedly the best song from the drama.

It’s A Sin‘s five episodes are now available to stream on All4.