Archive for December, 2010

Pagan Wanderer Lu (2000 – 2010)

December 13, 2010

Ten years ago today, at about half past nine, I took to the stage at the Outback Bar in Llanbadarn, Aberystwyth and nervously played some songs to a room full of my fellow students for the first time.

Through a quirk of fate I set up a PWL website not long afterward and, through lack of content, did a section where I wrote about gigs I’d played. So there is still a record of what I wrote at the time:

“Bottom of a bill also featuring deflour and The Jonny Narcissist songs played were:

1.The Cynical Little Train
2.Life’s too good (for other fkers and not for me)
3.New Fountains
4.The Mystery
5.Defence Mechanism
6.Fragile Thing.

Some teething troubles with an absent P.A. led to me singing through deflour’s guitar amps, thanks to them for that. No thanks to The Jonny Narcissist for sitting on the stage with their girlfriends/groupies and talking all through my fucking set, being generally arrogant, slagging deflour off before they’d even come on, and being one of the shittest bands i’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through twice.”

Between then and now I’ve played a further one hundred and ninety eight gigs, and every single one is documented with setlists and notes here.

I’ve also made four albums, about twelve EP’s, and written more songs than I could feasibly remember. I’ve played at festivals, been on Radio One and Xfm, met countless fellow musicians and music enthusiasts, some of whom have become firm friends, some of whom have been utter tools (you know who you are).

As I look back across the records I’ve made I can see them almost as a diary of the past ten years. Starting out as fumbling, slightly inept chronicles of love and longing, later starting to look outside myself to the world around me and let a little bit of politics trickle in, as I reached the end of student life some angst about the future starts to creep in, the songs are suddenly questioning whether I’ll still be the person I am in 2003 when I’m all grown up and have a mortgage etc… I think I’m still asking that question today.

Then I think there’s a sudden lurch forward around 2004 where suddenly I find some confidence, kind of a voice of my own. We’re entering territory where you, gentle reader, will have heard some of these songs. After writing a few songs like ‘Our New Hospital Sucks’, ‘Winston Churchill’, ‘Good Christian/Bad Christian’ and above all ‘The Memorial Hall’, playing a few gigs back in Aberystwyth to, for the first time, genuinely positive response I started to feel that I might actually have something people want to listen to.

I mark the transition from hobbyist to ‘taking it seriously’ as occurring on the 13th August 2005. I played at Night & Day Café in Manchester. This wasn’t my first gig outside Aberystwyth – I’d played open mic’s in Cardiff, and a bizarrely well attended headline slot in Brighton when I lived there which went down a treat. But the Manchester one stands as a milestone. It was done on the legendary ‘flyer deal’ which I’ve since concluded is a slightly less iniquitous form of pay to play. On this occasion pretty much everyone I had known or cared about made the trek from whichever bit of the world they’d landed in after uni and turned up to support me at ‘my first big gig’, I made about £50 from flyers. Clearly I was destined for greatness.

As someone frequently (and somewhat fairly) described as ‘cynical’ it’s notable how naive I was back then about the music business worked. I really thought that there were people out there who just picked bands they liked and pushed them hard until they became successful. I thought ‘word of mouth’ actually existed, and that news of my greatness would thereby spread. Everyone involved in music knows the reality it a little more depressing, and I shall not labour the point.

Thankfully for me, I have been fortunate to work with John ‘Brainlove’ Rogers since 2006. A man whose passion for music and attitude to the place it should have in the world is comfortably close to my own. But he’s less hard line, and more pragmatic about what needs to be done to make a record successful. Which is good for me, because I’m not particularly adept at it myself. He often has to patiently deal with my telling him that I plan to release three EP’s and an album this year, and does he have time to promote them all in between everyone else’s records?

John has turned a CD-R label releasing 50 copies of everything into a well respected independent purveyor of consistently excellent records – pretty much through sheer enthusiasm alone – and it’s been pretty exciting to be part of it for all this time. Even if a massive wodge of cash from some alien source to back up the enthusiasm wouldn’t go amiss.

I occasionally grumble to my dear wife, Sian, about the fact that I don’t sell more records. A while ago she pointed out ‘well you don’t exactly make it easy for yourself, do you?’. Or words to that effect. The point being that if you make obscure, wordy, ostensibly brainy pop songs, full of swearing and odd transitions, slightly provocative turns of phrase, and lots of songs that go on about how stupid the public are, people aren’t exactly going to queue up in droves.

But on the other hand I got ‘the Tree of Knowledge’ – a song about religion and sexual repression in private schools, which begins with an incantation of mercilessly obscure references for 70 seconds, and contains about twenty uses of the word ‘fuck’ – played on national Radio One (by Huw Stephens – thanks Huw). So I count that as a small victory.

And despite the slightly waffly preamble, this is what this post is supposed to be about. The last ten years have been a succession of small victories. My, Andy Regan’s, life cannot be separated from Pagan Wanderer Lu – everyone I know in Cardiff I know because of doing music (except my wife). I once ‘bumped into someone I know’ walking down the street in Stockholm – music has made the world a smaller and friendlier place for me. I’ve had incredible amounts of fun, met amazing people, and been inspired and frustrated in equal measure. God alone knows what I would be doing with myself if I’d never picked up a guitar.

For a while there was a message on my website that said ‘Pagan Wanderer Lu activity will cease on 13/12/2010’. I don’t recall exactly when I put that message up there, but it came at a time when I felt I was putting a lot of myself into something that was, because I wasn’t becoming ‘successful’, mostly making me unhappy, so I gave myself an end date.

That date has now arrived, and….?

Well, the message disappeared earlier this year because I wasn’t sure I could go through with it.

2010 has been particularly successful and fun. The album I did this year got the best reviews I’ve had. I’ve done two very different tours with great sets of people, I got to play in Iceland (Iceland!) – more small victories. I’ve also kind of made peace with the level of success at which I appear to have plateaued (though I wouldn’t say no to a bit more). So why stop now?

The main thing is that the ideas haven’t dried up. I have around twenty new songs written since ‘European Monsoon’ and ideas come through as thick and fast as they ever did. I still idly scribble endless tracklists for albums that will never be released. I still write the lyrics with care, just in case anyone is listening with care. Just going through the process of writing new songs has always been the best bit. The idea that I would stop is just… well I don’t think I would know how. What would I do instead?

What I am going to do is take a break.

I need to recharge batteries a little. Refocus on life a bit more to help me write. I’m not going to attempt to pre-decide how long this ‘break’ is going to be. It could be a few months, a year… who knows? I plan a little celebration to mark the PWLiversary and of course I’ll let you all know about it.

I feel, if I’m honest, pretty fucking proud of the stuff I’ve written over the last ten years. For someone who can’t really play an instrument or sing I think I’ve done pretty well. I think I’ve earned a celebration (and an over-long slightly self-indulgent blog post).

Above all, I want to thank the people who read this, and the people who’ve supported me over the years in various ways. If you’ve ever booked me a gig, said hello after a show, played in my band, helped me make something, bought a record, or just hung out with me before the gig starts (yeah especially all of you) then thank you.

See you soon.

PWL.x

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Pervert Oven

December 9, 2010

I am pleased to announce one last release for 2010.

This is a four-and-a-bit song EP of nominally lo-fi punk. Kind of a curio release. Rather than a full on ‘new direction’ statement thing.

I’m also experimenting with a pay-what-you-want release via Bandcamp only. If it succeeds then I’ll probably do quite a few more things like this in future alongside the full-blown albums with Brainlove.

So what is this record? Well, it just sort of happened. ‘Straw Donkey’ was written to go on European Monsoon but it didn’t really fit the rest of the record. Then I was listening to a lot of Guided by Voices for a while and I did a few songs like ‘Crustaceans As Castanets’ that were in that vein, and when I was writing ‘The Great British Public…’ I was considering doing away with the dark funky version from the album and doing it as the straight guitar pop one that’s on the EP. I called that version ‘GBP/GbV’ because it’s done in Guided by Voices style. Then once I’d had the idea of a lo-fi EP I picked out some old songs that fit with that sound.

It’s named after the artwork. It looked like a suitable scrappy picture for the cover of a rough and ready EP. I drew the picture one day after I burned my hand on my oven at home. I wanted to get my revenge on the oven so I drew a picture of it wearing a raincoat and exposing itself like a pervert. As anyone would.

Two of the songs require a modicum of explanation:

Big Eggo

Big Eggo was the original cover star of the Beano. He was a male ostrich who had adventures invariably revolving around having his eggs stolen (no one ever seemed to question how ‘he’ laid the eggs). Then he was replaced by Dennis the Menace. In the song he’s looking at how Britain has changed and he blames Dennis because he was the original ASBO teen. Eggo feels that if he were to return to the cover of the Beano it would return Britain to a more innocent age. Secretly of course he’s just jealous that he’s out of the limelight.

Jhavishna is a much older song that was done around 2007. That’s why it sounds even worse than the others! It’s not based on anyone in particular. I had a dream that I was watching the Fall and they were playing this song where the chorus was ‘Go back to Jhavishna for help!’ exactly as in the song. That’s why it sounds quite like early Fall, and why the backing vocals are me doing a quite blatant impression of Mark E Smith. Jhavishna doesn’t mean anything – I just googled it now and there are no results – but it sounded like a name so I envisaged this cynical fake new age guy who just manipulates people into doing stuff for him.

So there you go. This is the last batch of ‘European Monsoon’ era stuff*. I think it’s kind of fun.

Listen/buy links should appear below.

*You may not be surprised to learn that this isn’t actually true.

Albums of the year 2010

December 6, 2010

For no particular reason, here are my albums of the year.

1. Sam Amidon – I see the sign

This is without at doubt the album I’ve listened to most this year so I think by default that makes it the first choice. Nothing stellar or earth shattering about it. Just a man with a wonderful voice singing songs written a very long time ago (and one by R Kelly), and giving them a contemporary feel without resorting to piling on superfluous beeps and whistles. Sublime arrangements by Nico Muhly, pristine warm production by Valgeir Sigurdson. See also: everything released on Bedroom Community.

2. Napoleon IIIrd – Christiania

I always feel kind of a dick listing Brainlove releases in my albums of the year, and to be honest I’m not sure if I’m not deliberately bumping this one down a notch solely to avoid the embarrassment of butt-kissing my friend and colleague Mr IIIrd. Still this is an incredible record which sounds like nothing else. Plus it’s funny if you sing ‘You’re going home in a fucking ambulance’ to the tune of ‘Let’s all go to Christiania’.

3. The National – High Violet

The National have a novel approach to making great albums. They simply make sure that the music is excellent, the lyrics are excellent, and the production is excellent. Matt Berninger makes abstract, borderline nonsensical couplets sound like the most profound meditations on 21st Century ennui and despair imaginable, and croons them gently and warmly over the shifting, subtly original progressions and rhythms of his band. The music goes to a place which is entirely its own, and whilst there’s nothing to knock the socks off in terms of the attention starved ‘hot new sound’ brigade they just continue being quietly devastating for album after album. Swoon.

4. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

A triple CD album? Well, were we surprised? ‘Ys’ was my album of the year in whatever year it came out, as was ‘The Milk Eyed Mender’, and she’s almost done it again this year (I’m sure she’s devastated at missing out). There are quite definitely two CD’s of beautiful transcendent music on here, and a few tracks that are okay on their own but do make the thing drag a little. What’s most striking, listening back to TMEM this year, is how much her voice has come on. The scratchy, witchy vocals of yore are replaced with a much more controlled approach here, and the tweeness and aren’t-I-clever moments are toned down in favour of some genuinely heart stopping expressions of sorrow. At risk of patronising someone I don’t know, I think you can tell that she’s now actually lived through some shit, rather than just drawing all her inspiration from books and fantasy. Is it wrong to pair this up against her ex-BF Bill Callahan’s ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’? View each record as one side of an argument? Perhaps I’ll get a slapped wrist from the literal interpretation squad. Whatever, this is a great record – even if it is definitely a bit too long.

5. Beach House – Teen Dream

Can’t make out a word she’s saying. Can you? Even when you can I’ve no idea what she’s on about. But she makes it sound good. I can’t be bothered to google Beach House and find out who they are or what the deal is. I went to watch them in Cardiff and couldn’t even see the stage, so I don’t even know how many people are in the band. Kind of prefer it that way. Anyway, like Broadcast they seem to make a virtue of just doing the same thing over and over again. Having initially found them dull as ditchwater at ATP two years ago they’ve now either improved immeasurably or I’ve had my ears waxed because this album has a bizarre grandeur to it, sort of like if someone on X-factor tried to do the Cocteau Twins, only somehow managed to not make it utterly utterly shit, but great.

6. Four Tet – There is love in you

At a loss to describe this. Everything Ecstatic kind of left me cold, a bit too much random percussion fluttering around some not very interesting melodies. This time he’s gone straight for a more clubbier structure and allowed everything time to breathe. Still sounds like Four Tet. Still great. *shrug* #notareviewer

7. Matthew Dear – Black City

This is my first experience of Matthew Dear and I like it. He seems to draw on the same sort of Eno/Talking Heads era stuff that LCD are into but focuses on a different aspect. Much more melancholy. A soundtrack to a slightly drunk and emotional evening, rather than a cocktail sipping, lean on the trendy bar style night that ‘This is Happening’ seemed geared towards. There’s some real 80’s kitsch staples mixed in there too, almost Yello like vocal samples rubbing up against Joy Division balladry and something hard to put my finger on that reminds me of My Bloody Valentine. Apparently the lyrics are quite rude but I haven’t really noticed.

8. Olof Arnalds – Innundir Skinni

On impulse after a wonderful second visit to Iceland to perform at Airwaves I’m once again predisposed to love anything Icelandic, the people, the food, the music, the temperature…. So I bought this based on nationality (and a positive Pitchfork review) alone. It’s really quite beautiful. One or two songs in English reveal an honesty and simple poetry to the lyrics which presumably carries over into the native tongue songs too. But it’s really the voice that carries it all. There are a million records where someone with a pretty voice sings pretty songs. This is the one I love this year.

9. Sufjan Stevens – the Age of Adz

After a deceptive intro that makes you think ‘here comes another Sufjan record’ you suddenly get this massive impolite squelch of synth and off you go on a trip on the mental wagon. After ‘You are the Blood’ from the ‘Dark was the night’ compilation I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that every song on here is half an hour long and features about twelve different solos. This record as a whole rambles incredibly, when it’s good it’s really fucking good. The rest of the time – well maybe sometimes it’s better to just play some nice songs on a banjo.

10. The Books – The Way Out

Perhaps I’m guilty of jumping the gun on this one, having only heard it twice since buying it last week. But for sheer originality it deserves a mention (and do you really need me telling you that ‘The Suburbs’ is pretty good?). The Books create nominally electronic/folktronic music which props up odd found-sound monologues and snatches of dialogue. If you heard their previous record ‘Lost and Safe’ then this one seems to focus more on single sources, rather than snippets from all over. My favourite is ‘Cold Freezin’ Night’ which features a comically aggressive monologue from a very young child detailing exactly how much he hates some unnamed person and how easy he will find it to kill them. Reminds me of (and may in fact be sourced from) that ‘Street Gangland Rhythms Band’ album that came out a few years ago.

Honourable mention: James Blake

James Blake hasn’t released an album yet. But if you compiled the three EP’s and one single he’s done this year onto a single disc it would probably be the album of the year. Showing an envy inducing versatility across tracks which are oh-so nominally dubstep inclined but really span electro-folk, R&B and classical piano – every one is unique and quite brilliant. Klavierwerke in particular does my favourite trick of taking something that definitively should not work on paper and making it brilliant. Half of it isn’t even in time!

Other good records:

The Suburbs, Episode 2 by Spencer McGarry, Valgeir Sigurdson’s ‘Draumalandid’ soundtrack, Crooks & Lovers by Mount Kimbie, Bastardgeist, Oversteps/Move of Ten by Autechre, Darwin Deez, Down There by Avey Tare, Field Music’s new one, and Owen Pallet’s Heartland.

Fail of the year: Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

This record is a fucking chore. All the worse for having two genuinely great songs on it (‘Stylo’ and ‘Superfast Jellyfish’). This is an hour of expensive and disgusting sounding synth dirges with phoned-in cameo after phoned-in cameo. Beyond boring and into the realm of wanting this record to be un-recorded, un-made and started again. Have Gorillaz really managed to become this shit in the space of only three records? Albarn’s got the talent to make a good record with this band on his own. He should do that instead of using cartoon characters as a front for making sub-par collaborations with whoever takes his fancy.