Archive for the ‘Releases’ Category

The Boxed Set #9: Tank vs. Cat

August 9, 2011

The penultimate reissue of my illustrious career is my second EP, and first CD, ‘Tank vs. Cat’.

Let’s start with the name… I can’t remember. I remember drawing a cartoon of a tank and a cat engaged in battle. I remember where I was when I drew it. But I can’t remember the thought process that led to it. So there we go – it’s lost to history.

Next up, the music. This is what I’d charitably call the ‘least excellent’ of the records I’m reissuing. Two bad takes of ‘okay’ acoustic guitar songs, two bad takes of ‘quite good’ acoustic guitar songs and three wonky instrumentals. Again recorded onto tape, the whole EP was done at my parents house in one day (except track 7) and then fed inexpertly into a friend’s computer to put it onto CD, lending the whole thing a sheen of distortion.

Again there are hints of what was to come. The tracks to listen to are 5 and 6 – which both point to the trademark PWL direction. The rest of it is getting into ‘curio’ territory.

Me performing in Aberystwyth in 2001 - my third ever gig.

Having done reasonably well with my first EP – not least because I had several years of pre-university songs to pick from – I sort of rushed into releasing another one. Admittedly in my own fantasy world where there was any demand for such a thing.

I actually ‘reissued’ this CD with a different cover (having lost the files for the one scanned here) and I don’t have a copy of the second version. If anyone has one please scan it in and e-mail it to me for the archives.



The songs:

Intro

Two minutes of interminable guitar noodling with backwards lyrics. Believe me when I say there is no point in your reversing this to hear what I am saying. Skip.

Xmas Song

Nice enough guitar part with some quite tediously obscure lyrics about a girl I fancied. Not very christmassy.

Guilt-free Shag

A bit more like it, this song sounded like Low in my head. Sort of juvenile but from what I recall it was a decent summary of how I felt about the individual in question. The bitterly ironic title should be duly noted. Also the lyric you are going to mishear is ‘I cwtch you’ not ‘I cut you’. ‘Cwtch’ being the welsh word for ‘cuddle’.

Sharleen Spiteri (machete the bitch)

An attempt to replicate Squarepusher using only a casio keyboard and a 4-track tape machine. The slightly unpleasant title was a reference to the singer from Texas who I, at the time, considered the absolute nadir of musical enterprise.

Ideas & Fighting

And with a sigh of relief we arrive at a song that I’m not ashamed to call my own. Not the greatest, but again I see my younger self branching out beyond the ‘girls who have made me sad’ template into an attempt to articulate feelings of solidarity and struggle, and tying that in to hating night clubs. Very much the first step on a long journey to where I’m ‘at’ now.

Jaded Wannabe Parade

The third appearance (from your point of view) for this song but its first from mine. This version has a slightly worse second verse than later ones. It was a song about performing a gig, the ‘jaded wannabe parade’ of the title. The fact that I was writing cynical songs like this about the live music scene, having played only a handful of gigs in my entire life, says a lot about me I think. The chorus looks outwards a bit more, towards the then-fashionable anti-Nestlé babymilk formula campaigns. Another early glimmer of me attempting to write about ‘issues’.

(sorry jenny)

A slightly inept piano instrumental recorded in the music room of the Penbryn hall of residence at Aberystwyth.

And there we go! Next month will be the final reissue. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion/beginning….

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The Boxed Set #8: The Aberystwyth Cliff Railway Disaster 1902

July 12, 2011

The boxed set goes analogue! From here on in we’re into the realms of material recorded all during the two years of PWL’s existence on a Tascam 4-track cassette machine.

This EP was recorded in 2001 and probably released in early 2002 – my memory is a little hazy. I recorded at least some of it in my bedroom on High Street in Aberystwyth (quite near Siop Enoc Hughes, for the record), then I think I physically made the CD’s over Christmas.

This is also the only PWL release to feature outside help recording-wise right up until I did ‘The Independent Scrutineer’ with Napoleon IIIrd in 2006. It was cleaned up, edited, and mastered at Aber Sound Productions by a nice man called Huw.

Sound wise we’re in mostly acoustic guitar territory on the proper songs, but with a few curveballs coming in. I took a bit more care with this record than the first two, which was also reflected in the snazzy packaging complete with stickered CD and full jewel case. The photograph is of a Halloween pumpkin that lived in our student house. The back cover depicted him months later when he had rotted into a little pile of orange mulch. Deep.

The Lord Geraint / The Lords Marks

The first and last tracks are actually the same piece of music played backwards then forwards. It was made with delayed guitars and a bit of kalimba. The names of the tracks are the carriages on the Aberystwyth cliff railway. On the cd ‘The Lord Marks’ was listed as ‘tniareg drol eht’ – made by flipping the handwritten tracklist sideways in photoshop. This was because I couldn’t remember the name of the other carriage, and the railway was closed for winter so I wasn’t able to check. The internet could not help me.

Asking you to dance

A simple tale of romance. Inspired by a particular girl at university (yeah, we’re getting into that territory) but re-cast in a school setting for reasons I now can’t recall. Pretty damn twee, but likeable enough I think. Certainly a million miles away from some of the cynical stuff that would come later….

Life’s too good (for other fkers and not for me)

A superior version (i.e shorter & more upbeat) of one of my ‘live favourites’ from my first year. It first appeared on the first EP and I’ll talk it about it properly when we get to it there.

Straight to Video

Despite the bongos I prefer this version to the one on ‘Restless Revolution Day By Day’ a few years later. My first real attempt at a political song, in the context of watching my little brother grow up. Obviously this was 2001 so everything was very ‘post 9-11’ even in sleepy coastal Wales. I think the positive response to this song was what encouraged me to move a bit more in that direction in later years.

This song is one of those ‘gems’ that made me feel like it was worth unearthing all the ‘slightly less good’ stuff from these archives. But yes it does sound a little bit like ‘Stand By Me’ by Oasis, well spotted.

The Buck Stops Here, Merritt!

Odd guitar instrumental, using a delay as a looper. I was totally ahead of the curve on guitar looping. When I first saw someone use one (a guy called Karl Blau FYI) it was like a revelation. The thing I had been waiting for so long was here! This was in 2004. I finally bought a loop pedal in 2009 and have hardly used it for PWL. They’re just totally overdone now, and don’t lend themselves to interestingly structured songwriting. Anyway…

This track is basically three minutes of screeching atonal, shrill noise. Utterly out of place on the EP. A friend said around the time that ‘it terrifies me’. You’ll see why.

Control

This recording actually pre-dates Pagan Wanderer Lu entirely and is lifted from one of the nine albums that I made before university*. Using the actually pretty decent synth setting on a Yamaha keyboard I made a reasonable sub-Joy Division dirge about some girl or other. You’ll notice I seem to be feigning a little Stuart Murdoch lilt on this. I used to do that a lot. I genuinely don’t think I realised at the time that ‘Control’ was a Joy Division song title.

Sweetheart

Another ‘about a girl’ dirge. This time with clanging electric guitar and please-god-forgive-me out of tune vocals. Your ears will not like this. Lyrically somewhat self-pitying. A song from a whole different human being.

The Glen

This was the bonus track. During my first year I recorded each of the 25-ish people who lived on my floor in the ‘Ifor Evans’ hall of residence talking about things… various questions about their lives. I then used the results to make a whole EP which for some reason or other never got released. This was the only track from it I used. Much of it is in-jokes.

‘The Glen’ in question was, at the time, a deeply awful seafront night spot. It was the sort of place where you could ask for fourteen vodkas in one glass and they would happily serve it to you. The chorus line refers to an ‘incident’ on the speaker’s birthday. The reason everything is so out of time is that I made the loops by editing the tracks on a minidisc using my hi-fi. I had no laptop or sequencer at the time, so I was hand-editing minidisc loops then trying to record them onto a cassette machine. So, erm… yeah… a comedy/novelty bonus track full of in jokes. Enjoy.

As usual, pay what you like! Two more releases to go, see you next time.x

*These will not be getting reissued. Ever. Ever ever ever…

The Boxed Set #7: Enjoy Travelling & Keep It Real

June 14, 2011

Onwards with the reissues as we race backwards in time towards the end/beginning. This month’s is ‘Enjoy Travelling’ – named after a Greater Manchester bus slogan. This title was later referenced in ‘Stop Traveller! Stop and Read!’ – I do that shit a lot.

A change in recording quality will be the most immediately apparent thing. This was done on a laptop using Cool Edit Pro, with absolutely everything going in via the built in 3.5mm microphone input. As a result it’s overall pretty tinny and the vocals sometimes get a bit lost. The laptop concerned began emitting smoke in about 2004 and is currently in an inert state at my parents house, still containing a copy of Ryan Adams’ ‘Love Is Hell (part two)’.

The cover forms an aesthetic trilogy with No More Roads and Restless Revolution Day By Day. All of them used different coloured card and different photographs to make a unique cover for each copy. This time the picture was of a wine holder doing the rounds of a reservoir near where my parents live. I still have the wine holder, it looks like the barrel of a gun.

This was recorded in Bolton in the summer between my second and third years of university, and is on the lighter side of the ‘where do we go from here?’ musing of No More Roads. In-jokes and self-references abound here, I wasn’t really writing with an audience beyond Aberystwyth in mind. We’ll get into that…

In Threes…?

This was a song about a girl I fancied, but it evolved into a sort of self-referential thing as it went along. With references to earlier songs, and friends of mine who were in local bands. The two people mentioned were the joint lead singers/songwriters of a band called Seven Words – who once won the Aberystwyth battle of the bands. Seven Words later split into two other bands, Cardiff-based Vend, and Chichester-based Revolution 74 whose singer Jon Swain (namechecked in the song) did a brief stint as bassist in the first PWL band. Keep up!

When I was recording this song my brother Kieran, who at the time would have been about ten, came into my room, listened to the intro and promptly asked ‘What’s this? Grandpa Joe?’ which is a comment I treasure to this day…

B.O.A.T.S.

Later re-recorded in a bleepier form for my first album as ‘Based On A True Story’. For a while this languished here under a more cryptic name. Not much to say, you’ve got an acoustic version with harmonica instead of synth. It was a ‘live favourite’ for some time.

Goodnight

Another song that was much improved later on ‘Build Library Here (or else!)’. This version was a struggle to recreate a song that was only really played by the three piece PWL band. It contains some extra lyrics on backing vocals which were written/ad-libbed at band gigs by the aforementioned Jon Swain, but it’s me singing them here.

If you were a Kilroy guest

An example of my strange tendency around this time to occasionally try and sing like Roddy Woomble (see also ‘Make a Mediocre Dinner’). It also sails a little close to being a ripoff of some particular Idlewild song at times, though I can’t remember which one now. That aside, this is one of the better songs from this era, a blackly humorous look at the way your views can diverge from the views of the people you grew up with. I’ve often considered re-recording it – and even re-wrote the iddlywiddly bit at one point – adding lyrics some of which finally found a home in ‘Show Me Yr Knuckles’. But ‘sadly’ Kilroy’s show was cancelled, meaning the reference no longer worked.

I told her I was gay

Jon Swain makes his third appearance on the EP here. This track is crafted from no sound source other than him saying the word ‘words’ onstage at a PWL band gig in 2002. Strange clicky instrumental made in Cool Edit. The title is utterly unrelated to anything ever.

One Eye On The Clock

If you can get past the slightly embarrassing ‘oh he’s just heard Original Pirate Material’ opening – and please believe me that it was tongue in cheek – this is my first groovebox pop song, and a genuine ‘hit’ amongst the discerning Aberystwyth indie crowds of 2002. I’ve no doubt it could stand a slight re-write and polish and be re-done today. ‘We don’t think about the future’ being the key line, compared to ‘are there really no more roads to walk down when I leave this town?’ from the next EP. The ‘got booed by FUOD fans’ line references the same gig sampled in the previous track. The lyrics refer to the world of the Aberystwyth internet troll. Jon Swain is namechecked yet again, as is his Seven Words bandmate Richard.

I still love this song, it’s great. You’ll think so too, promise. I rap. Yes, I rap.

Last Song Ever

I genuinely can’t remember why this song is called ‘Last Song Ever’. It sounds a bit like Jimmy Eat World – or at least it was meant to. Vague lyrics about cocaine, nice guitar picking and stuff. It’s… you know… an okay song. Nice ‘where did that come from?’ lyric on the chorus though I think.

It’s followed by an inept stylophone solo which was the bonus track. I named it ‘kitsch me no kitsch’ but it is in fact an attempt to play the melody to ‘Straight to Video’ which is/was on next month’s/the previous year’s EP.

Keep It Real (single)

This month I’m also making available ‘Keep It Real’ – this was a two track single I made copies of the following Christmas as presents (vanity). The title track was re-recorded for No More Roads and doesn’t merit mention again. The b-side was ‘Jaded Wannabe Parade’ which has made one appearance so far on in electronic form on ‘Goodbye Workshy‘. This second version was a basic acoustic recording closer to the original, but with different lyrics. The first version will surface in two months’ time and will be discussed then.

The Boxed Set #6: No More Roads

May 17, 2011

For the next reissue I’m turning to 2003 EP ‘No More Roads’. Because I’ve chosen to reissue these things in reverse order it’s very confusing to spell out how many ways this record was the first and last of various things. It was the last record I made at university, the last record to be predominantly acoustic, and the first one to be recorded (mostly) on the BR1180 which everything uploaded to date was done on.

It’s also the last one, from your point of view, that I consider to be well…. actually, properly good. Sure it’s rough, the recording is a bit yucky in parts, all the stuff that, if you’ve stuck with me thus far, you’ll be well used to. But this is a decent set of songs start to finish. Nothing on there that I’m not proud to call my own. As future EP’s come along I’ll be cringing a little at some of the songs. But we’ll worry about that next month….

So, context. I started work on it in Bolton in summer 2002, carrying on during my last year in Aberystwyth as an undergrad. Living in a terraced house near the seafront I think you can hear cars and seagulls if you listen very hard.

Lyrically there’s lots of future-gazing. I was in a period of, for me, quite deep contentment – having settled into a number of nice little networks of friends and keeping very busy with lots of things I enjoyed and cared about. A deadline was looming at which it would all be coming to an end before I was ready. Like anyone in their final year of university I guess.

I recorded most of it myself but ‘Matthew/Mark’ was recorded by Luke Taylor, best known as the guitarist and songwriter from the Hot Puppies, and lately of Love Parry III. He also played the roughly two seconds of theremin at the start but it barely seemed worth crediting him for that…

The title was taken from a joke my friend Stuart made about launching a protest movement called ‘No More Roads’ which would oppose the building of any new roads under any circumstances (yeah, we were students… it was that kind of ‘joke’). So it was a jokey title, but I worked it into the lyrics in a more serious way as well.

It was ‘released’ sometime around April 2003. There were probably about 30 copies. It was the second release to feature a unique photographic print on the cover. Featuring myself and two friends who had sung backing vocals on ‘Matthew/Mark’. This was the first time anyone else had appeared on a PWL recording.

It’s a fucking shame

An odd time signature guitar riff inspired by an unreleased Pavement song (points if you say which one). As with many things I wrote about at the time the lyrics are looking to the future and the uncertainty of becoming an adult. Would I change who I was with the creeping onset of maturity? I’m still asking myself that question.

Keep it real

This was a ‘single’ the previous Christmas dished out to friends. Continuing my foul mouthed tendencies at the time I don’t think the lyrics were really meant to be taken as a whole. Just a sort of steam of consciousness sloganeering thing. I think musically I was going for something White Stripesy.

I dream of Soledad

This was written for a friend of mine. It’s sort of about things which were going through her head at the time and it’s not really fair to say much more. I’d sent her an earlier recording the previous summer and she’d commented that the bit in the middle reminded of her of Satellite of Love by Lou Reed, so on this version I made it sound even more like that. This was the first song I recorded on the new portastudio.

The Cynical Little Train

This is officially the first ever Pagan Wanderer Lu song. It was the first song I played at my first PWL gig, and it was the first song on my first EP. This is a re-recording with some piano and extra backing vocals. I would happily play this song today, as a statement of intent it pretty much remains unchanged and aside from a dodgy line or two I think it’s stood the test of time.

2 Bullets

My indiepop hit that never was. I think the later version on ‘Build Library Here (or else!)’ is a lot better. A simple two chord punky song that gets faster. The song was written about the time we were preparing for war in Iraq and was built around the deliberately fanciful notion that the whole thing could be prevented by simply shooting George Bush and Tony Blair in the head. I always imagined the protagonist of the song (for it is indeed a work of fiction, oh CIA agents scanning blogs for credible threats) as some sort of slightly past it hippy fellow in a dressing gown sat on the sofa ranting at his TV next to a pile of pizza boxes.

No More Films

Slightly shrug worthy instrumental using the Roland D2. The title was a reference to being asked to do various film soundtracks by film student friends. Including one who informed me at about 11 in the evening that he needed it by the next day. I delivered, and to be fair the film was pretty good. Wonder if it’s on YouTube?

Matthew/Mark

The second substantially electronic song I wrote. Again using the D2. Someone long ago compared this to Death in Vegas but I don’t know enough about them to know if this is accurate. This is another one from the more oblique style of lyrics that I used to write more of. Kind of like to keep it that way.

Montreal 33

I’ll come clean. This song is a straight rip off of a Canadian band called Molasses. Right down to me adopting a slight Americana accent. It’s also mostly a long ebow solo. Nice though.

Bonus Track

This was an untitled hidden track on the original CD, but I saved it on the 8-track as ‘PWL Blues’. A slidey blues thing addressing my plans to ‘head down south’ and move to Brighton, which I indeed did. More of the ‘growing up’ anxiety in there too. This is the only Pagan Wanderer Lu song to include the words ‘Pagan Wanderer Lu’.

As an utterly geeky aside this is also the only recording I’ve chosen not to upload exactly as it was originally released. For dull reasons the original CD of this went via a computer and as such all the copies had that distinctive ‘lossy’ wibble running gently in the background. For this reissue I’ve made a new master copy and worked straight from that.

Of course Bandcamp gives you the option to download in the format of your choice, so if you want to have high quality wav files of my badly recorded nuggets then you can! As ever it’s pay what you like. But I like it when you pay.

The Boxed Set #5: Restless Revolution Day By Day & Goodbye Workshy

April 19, 2011

Around four years after I first took the stage as PWL I finally got around to releasing my long awaited debut album. ‘Restless Revolution Day By Day’ was released in 2004, around two months before last month’s EP ‘Jazzy Jungle Memorial Hall’. It took around a year to do, started in Aberystwyth before I left university, a few songs done in Bolton, a few in Brighton, then finished off in Cardiff.

It’s one of the last wilfully rough and ready PWL releases. Songs banged out with little re-take or polishing, after this I started gradually to take a little more care with things. Here you will find things which are shockingly out of time/tune and boomy production. I like to think that under all that there’s still a set of decent pop tunes.

Still not quite integrating the electronic/acoustic/rock styles, the tracklist was royally screwed up by an attempt to shoehorn in the newly written ‘Hypersanity’ at the last minute, resulting in a damn weird opening portion. I was tempted to re-do it in a different order for this reissue but decided against.

Artwork wise every copy had a unique cover, all made from different bits of a collage I made and photocopied, and stuck onto different coloured bits of card, with different coloured plastic disc trays. Quite an eyesore all told. It was in a jewel case with cut out handwritten tracklisting, and some sort of long waffly essay glued into the ‘booklet’.

The line ‘Restless Revolution Day By Day’ is from Paradise Lost, and refers to the movements of the planets.

Vote With Yr Feet

I’ve quite a soft spot for this song, though it’s a rubbish opener. It was one of my first successfully ‘rock’ recordings and I listened to it on repeat quite a lot. My recollection of the lyrics is hazy, but I think it just touched on a lot of stuff that was happening as I left university. I’m pretty sure this is the last song I wrote in Aberystwyth (the first time).

Believe Everything You Read

When I said above that some of this album was out of time this is the song I was thinking of. My approach to recording drums at the time was to do the guitar first and then play along underneath using a midi keyboard to trigger the sounds using two fingers. I never really did more than one take so it didn’t really work out most of the time. This song was already about three years old when I finally recorded it so lyrically it’s the earliest thing that’s been released. I think the line ‘I read it somewhere once that they put baby’s tears in bombs’ is an early manifestation of the multi-lateral cynicism which I think has often been my lyrical angle ever since.

Hypersanity (Kiss & Refrain)

At one stage I planned to do an MA thesis on my notion of ‘Hypersanity’ – by which I meant people who are so rational that it almost becomes a form of mental illness. I.e. people like me. It was much easier to just write this bangin’ techno number about it.

Based On A True Story

Previously cryptically entitled ‘B.O.A.T.S.’, this was the second appearance for this song following its first outing in 2002. Did a crudely ‘Idioteque’ style beat and replaced harmonica with synths. Lyrically it concerns complacency and watching TV too much. A kind of ‘grasp life with both hands’ message filtered through the usual negativity.

Molly’s Lips

The first instalment in the ‘Molly & Victor’ song series – was followed by ‘My Victor’ and ‘At the hairdressers…’. Again I’d like to just leave it to you to enjoy the story. This also appeared in acoustic form on ‘Goobye Workshy’ and is tacked on the end. This version is more upbeat and girl groupy.

(You & Me and) Winston Churchill

One of my first bona fide hits, and the earliest song to re-emerge on a record since signing to Brainlove. This version has slightly different lyrics and is a bit more raucous in its production. It was written after seeing a Brighton bus called Winston Churchill.

Telling Stories

This was written and released as a single in a limited edition of one as a Valentine’s Day gift for Siân, the girl I later married. Mostly consists of in-jokes. Only proper love song I’ve ever done really…. Yes the opening is a Bright Eyes reference, well done.

Make A Mediocre Dinner

One of a couple of early songs to feature me doing an impression of Roddy Woomble doing an impression of an American. Took roughly 20 minutes to record as I recall. Quick little punk number. Played it as a techno-fied version for a while back in ’05 – sadly uncaptured.

Billie Holiday

Sort of Jesus and Mary Chain-y, girl group-y thing. Not the best song on here, suffice to say….

Straight to Video

An early acoustic ‘hit’ re-done after first appearing in 2001. I’ll save discussion of it for the earlier version, which I actually prefer.

“Headaches” Girl

Inspired by some utterly insensitive newspaper coverage of a friend’s sister’s sudden death. I still play this quite regularly.

Take Only Photographs

Originally entitled ‘Take Only Photographs, Leave Only Weblogs (The Spire Collapses)’. Wish I’d gone with that. Just a straight acoustic number.

Respect Your Mother

Another Brighton song, follows an early trend of setting traumatic thoughts to inane music.

The album originally came with an unlisted Track 14, which I have chosen to omit in this reissue. Instead….

Goodbye Workshy

Also included are two songs from ‘Goodbye Workshy’ – this was a four track EP I released the year before. The first two tracks were ‘B.O.A.T.S.’ and ‘Vote With Yr Feet’ which were included on RRDBD anyway so I didn’t want to give it its own special reissue. I’ve tacked the others on the end here as ‘bonus tracks’.

They are an acoustic version of ‘Molly’s Lips’, and an electronic version of ‘Jaded Wannabe Parade’ which I’ll talk about when we get to ‘Tank vs. Cat’ in a few months time. It came in a plain black slipcase with a marker pen drawing on the front and a bit of purple card inside with a hand-drawn tracklisting.

And that’s it! For the first time this is available beyond its initial circulation of about 20 people. As usual it’s ‘pay what you like’. As usual the money is going into a new record – which I’ll be playing songs from for the first time at some gigs in May. Stay tuned.

The Boxed Set #4: ‘Jazzy Jungle Memorial Hall’

March 22, 2011

So another month, another EP. I was recently asked by a Brainlove colleague whether I had finished ‘this week’s album’. I always remind people that Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane all came out within a two year period. Less than an album a year is just plain lazy. It’s only with hindsight that the PWL ‘back catalogue’ looks hugely prolific, mostly I was doing one EP of six or seven tracks, including some instrumentals, each year. It was only in around 2004 that I began banging them out like Robert Pollard collaborating with Jandek.

That period began with this month’s reissue ‘Jazzy Jungle Memorial Hall‘.

It’s somewhat of a favourite of mine, if I was going to recommend only two of the reissues to bother with it would be this one and ‘Build Library Here (or else!)‘.

Written and recorded entirely from scratch in May-July 2004, immediately after I finished my first album. Most of the songs would have been done in a few hours. Mixed ‘live’ and mastered at the same time. I wasn’t one for going back and editing in those days. The only one I remember making any changes to at all is ‘My Victor’ where I re-did a piano part.

The title comes from a children’s centre in Llandaff. My then girlfriend (now wife) discovered it whilst out for a walk and I liked the incongruity of the two phrases together. ‘Memorial Hall’ the song would come the following year, after seeing lots of them on the west Wales coast. Already having an EP with that name meant it stuck in my head. At the time it was just a name.

Musically it’s still relatively light on electronics, apart from the beats and a keyboard or two. Ramshackle but starting to get to grips with the technology I was using at the time, limited to eight tracks and no ability to slice & dice takes. Lyrically it marks the start of a more literal approach to writing about Politics And That.

Picture used on the back cover - the famous protest house in Riverside, Cardiff.

Our New Hospital Sucks
The song that got me signed to Brainlove Records when I made it part of my demo in 2006. John Brainlove still prefers this mumbly rough version to the later ones. I’ve told this story many times, but here goes again… The song was inspired by Captive State by George Monbiot. A book which describes the immense idiocy and wastefulness of the Private Finance scheme in public services. In the epilogue he acknowledges how boring the book is, despite being on an important subject. So ONHS was my attempt to re-write his boring ideas into a more accessible format of a 3 minute pop song.

Kofi Annan TV
Another song in a similar vein. The title clearly a pun on ‘Coffee and TV’ by Blur which had been wibbling in my head since I was in school. Inspired by my experiences working in a government office at the time, and the clear difference between that and the ideological wonderland I was simultaneously watching in the West Wing DVD boxed sets. Could update it if anyone can think of a pun on ‘Ban Ki-moon’….?

My Victor
This is part two of a three part kitchen sink drama of songs. I actually won’t say what they’re about as I think they unfold nicely on their own. Part one is ‘Molly’s Lips’, and part three is ‘At the hairdressers…’. All of these songs were written and released about a year apart which tallies fairly nicely with the events in question. Musically this is straight guitar pop. I had vague aspirations that it would sound like ‘Buttons and Zips’ by Elbow, but it really doesn’t at all.

Teach Yourself Patience
This took a very short bus journey to write and probably half an hour to record. Done spontaneously one day after work. It’s sort of like an old gospel blues thing. Written from the point of view of someone in a developing world giving their opinion on the effectiveness of ‘trickle down’ economics. When you put it like that it doesn’t sound as much fun….

Don’t Hang Up
My attempt to be a bit Tom Waitsy, a reasonable success. Thankfully I didn’t attempt the voice, instead opting for a slightly pitch shifted croon. It’s long and rhythmic and yes it has bongos on it. Sorry. Lyrically it concerns the anxieties of manning a Samaritans-style listening line, which I have some experience of.

Knight -> King 4
Like ONHS this was re-recorded two years later with Napoleon IIIrd for ‘The Independent Scrutineer’ and despite not really removing anything from the structure we managed to chop about 4 minutes off the running times, not entirely sure how. This version is looooong and features me drumming somewhat ineptly on a child’s toy drumkit. The song itself pretty much came to me out of nowhere as I descended the cliffs of an isolated south Wales beach. Perhaps someone was trying to tell me something from the beyond?

Another Ghost
One of many many many songs about death. The one most specifically about my own. One day I’ll do a nice re-recording of it that can be played at my funeral. It’s all churchy organ and slowness. Not much more to add.

You all know the drill by now. I’m doing these as pay what you like. Plenty of you are paying and I appreciate it. You’re helping to fund the mixing of a new record.

The Boxed Set #3: ‘The Monkeys of the Shitty Island’

February 22, 2011

Slightly earlier than originally planned I’ve decided to upload another EP into the ‘Boxed Set’. Because this was the companion EP to the previous reissue it makes sense to have them both together. This also then concludes the reissuing of the material from the final ‘academic year’ of PWL 2004-2005. Ladies and gentlemen… The Monkeys of the Shitty Island!

This was the ‘electronic’ EP, but with hindsight it’s not as electronic as I originally intended it to be. One track features mostly acoustic instruments. I also had a ‘no guitars’ policy which I broke on three of the songs. It’s an oddball collection. Not much in the way of pop hits.

The title came from Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ – I seem to recall it’s a fable like tale where some Monkeys gradually fill up their entire island with poop until they all die or something.

A bit about each song:

Ten Cities is not a European tour

This arose in an evening in a kind of ‘automatic writing’ way. The lyrics were partly improvised and recorded immediately on being written. It’s one of a number of songs I’ve done in this way that get under my skin later and I grow very attached to them. So much so that I re-recorded it on FMBFM. This version is longer and probably more abrasive, it features me drumming on a child’s toy drumkit.

Punctuation

A song that started life as a different song called ‘Third and Final’. A strangely aggressive techno-ish track the adopts a persona of a grammar fascist to decry all society’s ills. Possibly in response to those ridiculous ‘Eats, Shoots, and Leaves’ books.

Cutting Corners

A groovebox instrumental. Not much else to say. Mildly irritating perhaps. This is the last instrumental to appear on a PWL record. There’d been quite a few up to this point. I played this live a few times back in 2006/7 to end shows.

England Expects

The only conventional verse/chorus/verse song on the EP. Some of the lyrics were scribbled hastily down on waking from a dream. Some were taken from labels on my MIDI keyboard. It all added up to being a reaction to nationalist paranoia about terrorism. Or something. This also appeared on FMFBFM in a version that was a bit richer than this, but the best version of this song is the live version we did at Dreamtrak.

I’ve never played it since.

Brecon Beacons

The refrain to this came to me at the second ever Green Man festival, surrounded by grassy hills and mountains. Most of the rest was then ad-libbed over the top. Strangely haunting and relentless I think. Not particularly electronic, I think there’s a synth pad in there. Other than that it’s guitars and drums.

The Boxed Set #2: ‘Siop Enoc Huges’

February 8, 2011

Recorded mostly around the same time as last month’s reissue, this was sort of conceived as the acoustic companion EP to the electronic ‘The Monkeys of the Shitty Island’ – which will be next month.

This one is more successful in that it does in fact only feature acoustic guitars and vocals – albeit slightly out of tune ones. ‘Monkeys’ managed to break all the rules I’d imposed on it, but this EP sticks to its remit of only using one instrument. As such it’s hard to find a lot to say about it! It’s the most traditional singer-songwriter record in the PWL discography, everything else mixed it up a little with other instruments and experiments and such.

The title is the name of a little heritage site in Aberystwyth. A shop has been preserved as it would have been during the 1930s, with items that would have been on sale at the time in the window. There’s a hand sewn sign explaining its presence saying it hopes to ‘delight’ you as you pass – which is incredibly cute. I’m not sure who Enoc Hughes was.

Here it is on Google Streetview, as far as I know it’s still there….

Here’s a little about each song:

J.L.B. Smith

This song was inspired by reading the book ‘A Fish Caught in Time’ about the rediscovery of the Coelacanth, a pre-historic fish which was thought to be extinct for 65 million years before being found alive in reasonable abudance. They’re very rarely seen because they live so deep in the water that low pressure kills them, hence they don’t get kept in aquariums etc. They have legs and are an example of a still-living evolutionary ‘missing link’.

Kittens and the Sea

No particular thoughts on this one. Some nice fingerpicking and pretty self explanatory lyrics. I think I wrote this just so I had a song with ‘kittens’ in it for Mrs Lu.

———-

Later re-recorded for ‘The Independent Scrutineer’.

A song for when yr just tired

This song is quite a bit older than the others. Having been recorded live and very quickly in Cardiff the previous year. Another straightforward song. Unusual in that it names three real life people. I remember being very worried they might be offended at the time.

An Easter Island statue in my bed

Probably my favourite on this CD. Another finger picky one but running through some more complex and abstract lyrics that I favoured for a while. Some of the imagery came from a dream. Some of the lines will strike a chord with anyone who took their English GCSE from the same workbook as me in 1998.

Again the EP’s up for ‘pay what you want’, and everything you pay gets put back into future PWL music (of which more soon…).

The Boxed Set #1: ‘Build Library Here (or else!)’

January 11, 2011

Part of my plan for this tenth anniversary inspired ‘break’ I’m currently enjoying was to make the pre-Brainlove PWL stuff available again. I released two(ish) albums and eight(ish) EP’s whilst I was at university and in my post-uni wilderness years, and I always thought of them as ‘stuff for the boxed set’ that would come out once I was mega famous and rich – like I am now.

So here comes the ‘boxed set’, albeit a digital one via bandcamp. The plan is to do one release a month for the next ten months. Having considered other options I’m going to start with the most recent and work backwards, mostly for quality reasons. I think this way they’ll start off as records I genuinely think people will enjoy owning, and end up with things that people who are interested will find interesting (and no one else need concern themselves with).

The first release in the series is one that’s already had a minor re-release a few years back. It’s my second album ‘Build Library Here (or else!)’.

This album was recorded in Aberystwyth on a digital 8-track during 2004-2005. I also recorded two EPs at the same time, which were ‘released’ first. Songs were split off as I went along, acoustic songs going onto the ‘Siop Enoc Hughes’ EP, electronic ones going onto ‘The Monkeys of the Shitty Island’ and ones which were sort of in-between or just plain better went onto the album.

I think it’s as good, in terms of quality of songwriting, as pretty much everything I’ve done since. It would sit nicely in a trilogy with European Monsoon and Fight My Battles For Me. John Brainlove once described it as ‘the album Blur should have made after Parklife’, and whilst I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that I do take it as a compliment.

There’s a spontaneity and simplicity to this record that I miss a little. Most of the recordings were done from start to finish in a few hours, sometimes after a few months of writing and arranging in my head, sometimes they were written that day. I can’t imagine putting something as ‘knocked out’ sounding as ‘Yr On My Shoulder’ on an album now, but then there clearly wasn’t the same ‘pressure’ on me then… ‘Build Library Here’ was handmade in the low double figures and not released or promoted in any way other than copies given to friends.

Most of ‘European Monsoon’ took months to write, then months to record. I’m trying with some success to get back to a quicker approach where I get the basic song done and mostly finished in one go then tweak it later – which is something I definitely didn’t do in 2005. I think there’s a satisfaction in throwing something together quickly without much thought, then getting to know its quirks and qualities later. It’s a very different feeling to slowly putting something together and already knowing every part of it inside out before it’s complete.

Where it was recorded.

Maybe I’m rose-tinting a bit here? Certainly ‘European Monsoon’ sounds better and has more consistently good lyrics (imho) and that’s a result of the time I took on it. Great British Public took over a year, but Self-Doubt Gun was written and recorded in a day. Version 5 probably sounds like it took a while but actually it was made in a few quick sessions with little pre-planning. The pleasure I got from that song was similar, in that the results were a surprise. So the spontaneity is still there.

Anyway…. I commented to a friend at the time this came out that I felt like Build Library Here was the end of something, thinking that perhaps it might be the last PWL record. He said not to be daft. But in many ways it was the end of phase one. Everything since has been on Brainlove. When this came out I think I’d only played about four gigs outside Aberystwyth, I’ve now been all over the UK and beyond. I occasionally wonder if I’d have got there a bit sooner if I’d made any effort whatsoever to get this record heard.

This appeared on the back cover

The press release for the ‘boxed set’ is doing the rounds, it has a Q&A which tells you a bit more.

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.