“The way someone like Dave Grohl plays the acoustic guitar… you get a sense of why that song exists.” Gil Norton’s journey from minding the 8-track tape machine in Liverpool to producing global smash-hit albums for Foo Fighters and Counting Crows, not to mention classic records by the likes of Feeder, Throwing Muses, Terrorvision, Jimmy Eat World and Twin Atlantic, has been one of rock production’s most stellar success stories. Chris sat down with his friend and colleague to get to the bottom of what makes Gil such a sought-after producer, including his focus on pre-production, commitment to the power of the song, and the experience of making perhaps his most influential album, the Pixies’ Doolittle.
Logo design by Dawn Kelly, Additional commentary by Bertie the dog.
EPISODE 3 – THIS IS THE KIT – November 2019
“There should never be a barrier between making music and not making music.” For the last ten or so years, the words This Is The Kit have meant the inspirational songwriting, rewarding albums and endlessly listenable vocals of Kate Stables. Together with bassist Rozi Plain, Kate sat down to talk to Tim in the summer of 2019, a few days after a great Glastonbury performance. They discussed gigging, recording, writing and the burning question of which other countries they might like to hail from, if not from the UK. Contains one very small swear word (entirely Tim’s fault).
“U2 came out of nowhere. I thought someone was taking the piss.” Flood has been a legend in the world of music producing for the best part of thirty years. Having presided over some of the alternative rock scene’s most dynamic and groundbreaking acts – Warpaint, Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey, Soulwax, Nine Inch Nails – he sat down with Chris and Tim to talk about some of the pivotal moments in his illustrious career.
“If Paul and John can be in the same band, then me and you can be the same band” – Dave Brewis. This episode of Game Changing features a conversation between Tim and Sunderland-based band Field Music.
Brothers Peter and David Brewis have been trading under the name Field Music since 2005, when they released their debut, eponymous album for Memphis Industries. Since then they’ve released five full studio LPs, including 2012’s Plumb, which was nominated for a Mercury Prize. In 2018 the band were commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to make a sound and light show to commemorate some aspects of the end of the First World War; this project formed the basis of their upcoming 2020 album Making A New World.
Late last year my cousin, producer Chris Sheldon, and I were chatting about starting a podcast. Next thing I knew, I was driving up to Sunderland with a dictaphone to chat to Field Music for the first episode of the show – which we’ve just launched!
The podcast is called GAME CHANGING, and the aim has been to speak to our favourite musicians and producers about those key moments in their careers when things changed, and why. If you like getting into the nitty-gritty of how songs and albums are put together, give it a listen – and big thanks to the Field Music boys for being the first guests.
(Coming soon: Chris and myself speak to Flood, I speak to This Is The Kit… and more…)
The latest Fink album is a thunderous beast. Fin and Flood have achieved what they set out to do: to create a bracingly coherent work, and it’s been, as ever, a pleasure to be involved.
BLOOM INNOCENT is a string-laden slice of sunshine featuring some of Fin’s best vox and Guy and myself grooving heroically. WE WATCH THE STARS in an intergalactic trip, boosted by strings/piano/guitar maestro Tomer Moked and the awesome drums of Nicky Hustinx. ONCE YOU GET A TASTE is a chocolatey piece of songwriting, shades of Beck and Bill Withers. OUT LOUD has some of the best lyrics Fin’s ever penned and an urgency worthy of This Is The Thing. THAT’S HOW I SEE YOU NOW is a bleak slab of tortured rock. I JUST WANT A YES is the sound of a musical universe collapsing in on itself. ROCKING CHAIR is a swampy gem and MY LOVE’S ALREADY THERE is a bittersweet ballad, a haunting moment to finish.
All in all, a thrilling addition to the Fink canon. Buy it and put it on and turn it up.
When you’re old and you go to festivals, you begin to care about different things. You think about access to toilets and the time it takes to walk between stages. You notice the quality of the beer and the crowd bottlenecks. And you also care about personalities of performers, rather than how breathtakingly fast and loud everything gets played, and is it a decent and packed-enough audience to crowd surf?
Visions Festival, set in and around the trendy post-industrial warehouses and wastelands of South Hackney, has clearly thought all this through rather well. Venues are interesting and appropriately sized; they’re spread out, but no further apart than you’d get at rural equivalents (and there’s a Sainsbury’s Local on the way from one big stage to another – yay). Beer selections are imaginative, security are friendly and – best and surely most important of all – the music selection is varied and of a very high standard. Some of the acts suffer a bit from what we used to call, back in the mid-1800s, “Shoreditch cool”, but they usually make up for it by cranking out crunchy and full-bodied riffs and beats. Visions – at which I didn’t see an acoustic guitar all day – is not a festival graced by whimpering singer-songwriters, and thank the Lord for that.
Speaking of “Shoreditch cool”, the first act I see, at the pleasant wooden hovel of the London Fields Brewery, is Maria Somerville, and I’m happy to report that shoegazing is well and truly BACK. She presents some marvellously languid, but still somehow banging, noise-guitar and electronica, not a million miles from what a collab between My Bloody Valentine and I Break Horses might sound like. She also behaves as if she isn’t conscious of whether anyone’s watching or not, let alone if she should try performing to them. It’s like trying to get served at the Spitz restaurant in 2001, as those over the age of 35 might remember. Luckily, her indifferent style mixes seamlessly with the gloriously unconventional sound she makes, and I come away elated at the welcome absence of a vocal harmoniser or autotuner.
Black Country, New Road provide my introduction to the underground Hangar venue and, most importantly, the unofficial star of the show: the door at the back of the stage. When I say “back of the stage”, I mean literally: the middle of the back of the stage, and when you consider how dark the Hangar space is, and how bright it is on the other side of the door, you might begin to spot the problem. If the door opens once at the beginning of the set (for the band to come on) and again at the end (reasonably enough, for the band to leave), that would be one thing. Sadly, during the performance of Black Country, New Road (or BCNR to their mates) there are dreaded technical issues, so the damn thing keeps opening and shutting throughout as panicking techies race to fetch new mics, cables or whatever it is. I’m not sure whether I’m the only person in the room to find this hilarious. I’m pretty sure none of BCNR do. That said, it’s difficult to tell, such is the stern intensity with which the septet play their music. And their music, fortunately, is pretty startling. Poetry and bizarre time signatures mixed with post-punk guitar shapes, broken-up Gang Of Four basslines and the twin masterstrokes of saxophone and violin, ensuring that nothing you’re hearing you’ve heard before. Influence-wise, I’m picking up dEUS, The Fall, Tom Waits, I’m even getting a whiff of the more discordant end of Arcade Fire. Thrilling and compelling, BCNR sadly seemed – to my eyes at least – under the impression that the show itself was a technical disaster, and on stage it may have been. We in the crowd loved it, though. But Visions – get a backdrop or something next year so we can’t see that damned door!
After that, I power through a quickfire parade of different acts on various stages: the cool nordic soul-pop of Otta, the jazzy flaves of Steam Down, the energetic desert rock of Imarhan and the bonkers reference-fest that is Lazarus Kane. All accomplished, all tuneful and mostly providing groovy rhythms to bounce the afternoon along, but it’s interesting that the most memorable acts clearly give thought to stagecraft and how best to present their personalities. As such, Lazarus Kane sticks in the mind, creating a cheesy character for himself, his band members also picking roles, from the Dexy’s Midnight Runner chap, to the blonde pop kid, to the Miami Vice dude. Who knows what the songs were about, but they were so cheap and cheerful (in a good way) that they made Electric Six sound like Radiohead.
Running low on personality is something Anna Meredith will never be in danger of. Quite apart from her avalanche of ideas, beats and melodies that torrent from the ample Oval Space stage, Meredith herself also donates between-song banter that betrays a witty charisma, instantly filling the vast hall with unstoppable smiles and good vibes. But the music commands the most attention, as well it should; there are very few people for whom the word “unique” isn’t a lazy exaggeration, but Meredith’s blend of electronica, classical and indie really does prove that eclecticism, in the right hands, is an effervescent delight. It’s been some three years since I first heard her music but I haven’t seen her play before tonight: happy surprises include her band being stuffed with musicians who appear to care every bit as much about the music as she does, and also that they all sing. In uber-cool post-industrial Hackney it’s a treat to see people who quite obviously have no interest in the traditional hipster values of nonchalance and aloof reserve; by the end of Meredith’s set, all inhabitants of the Oval Space have well and truly forgotten any self-image they might have had, roaring out the guitar lines and nodding heads so vigorously to the pounding beats that I might have to go and see the osteopath on Monday.
After a brief debate, we next decide on the Sebright Arms and Wooze. Amusingly, the band’s inert mascots – two brightly dressed, life-sized papier-mâché millennial dolls slouched in a couple of chairs – are holding court on the stage as we enter the tiny basement venue, and as the band’s stage time comes and goes I worry that this is actually all we’re going to get. Thankfully after ten minutes the colourful trio amble on, and prove themselves surprisingly giving as performers, rocking out and bouncing up and down as they present their strangely infectious brand of bubblegum glam-pop. Twin vocals slide out from the direction of the drummer and the guitarist, as anthemic as MGMT and as ironic as LCD; at least, that’s what I suspect, as my usual talent of completely mishearing live lyrics is holding up fine.
Back at the Hangar Stage, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs remind me of that line we used to trot out about The Jesus and Mary Chain: they only do one thing, but they do it bloody well. In the Pigs’ case it’s a brand of Sabbath-influenced doom rock that capably manages to sound like it’s being played in a vast stadium (probably somewhere in Germany or South America). Think Bleach-era Nirvana but produced by Andrew Eldritch. After a burst of pre-set banter that largely consists of the word “bowels”, the glittery-boxing-robe wrapped singer launches into his lurching, prowling, hollering routine, making you simultaneously wish you were watching them somewhere much bigger than the boxy Hangar stage, and glad you’re catching them somewhere this small before they scale up operations to arena level. That said, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs might have to find a few new tricks up their sleeves if that’s going to happen, and maybe the point and charm of them is: they shan’t. (Fans of the conspicuous door at the back of the Hangar stage will be disappointed to note that it only opens and shuts twice during the Pigs’ set. Next year I think the door should be given its own slot on the bill, and perhaps a small range of merch.)
Sadly we only catch about ten minutes of Demdike Stare before the plug is pulled, but they deliver filthy, itchy, syncopated beats and blasts of white electronic noise to a handful of diehards, happy to finally have some space to frug about a bit. Our pint is a bit stale but the night is young, and as we’re turfed out by the endlessly cheerful security staff, the glad-ragged London Fields millennials head off to the various afterparties and one gets the sense that the evening is just kicking off. For me, though, it’s a kebab and bed. Visions, you were an inspiring, curious and eager cacophony of brilliantly played noise. Until next year…
You know how the Pulp song goes… “If we get through this alive, I’ll meet you next week, same place, same time…”
What if the song went: “If we get through this alive, I’ll meet you in TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS’ TIME…”
My friends Mike and Pete are two of the most original thinkers I’ve met. To know them is to constantly have to think about the world and the progression of life a little differently. The project they’ve just launched is absolutely no exception to the rule – in fact, it’s the epitome.
They’ve started to plan a party. That’s not very original, you might think. But let me tell you: this party will be taking place in 2269. Not this century, not next century, but the one after – and then some.
A massive proportion of activities we’re involved with today constantly references the past. And I’m not just talking about stately homes and history programmes. Everything, from commerce to music to sport and film, envisages the past and celebrates it, often tries to emulate it. Nodding to the past, and especially, how long ago the particular product or organisation was established, has become the ultimate quality mark.
There is nothing wrong with all that. But wouldn’t it be cool, fun, creative, innovative and – most important of all – OPTIMISTIC to create something that, by its very definition, only looks to the future?
This isn’t just planning a party. This is planning for something that will only come to fruition if we powerfully visualise, and protect, the future. Think of what could occur in the next 250 years if we think big, and positively. It’s not all about hoverboards and AI. It’s about sustainability, inclusivity, and protecting the one world we’ve been given. Not just celebrating the old ways – there’s enough of that already, and rightly so. This is about picturing an event that will happen with a whole new world (don’t break into song please) built around it. What will it look like?
This is only the very start of the project, and it all starts with the invitation to the party: the ultimate forward-looking line in the sand. How many times have you looked through old stuff in an attic, or old pictures or maps on people’s walls? Imagine, in place of seeing something on those walls describing something that happened long ago, seeing something which gazes forward to an event that hasn’t happened yet, and for which we’ll spend the next couple of hundred years planning – with all the collaborations and innovations that will bring?
To bastardise a Trainspotting quote: take the worst quality mp3 you’ve ever heard, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near it.
Of all the cultural aspects of a 1970s or 1980s childhood I have to patiently explain to the younger generation – and believe me, the list is long – perhaps the most challenging is medium-wave radio, or as it’s generally termed nowadays, AM (amplitude modulation). The notion of having to enjoy music via such a lo-fi format – and I’m not talking “cool” lo-fi – is as baffling to anyone born after 1995 as the concept of missing your favourite television programme. It is also, unlike mixtapes and visiting the video rental shop, not something looked back on with fondness even by those who experienced it. In fact, having to suffer AM radio at all seems to have been largely forgotten.
Until about 1990, most popular music radio stations in the UK were flung out to the public on AM. Consequently, almost every pop song I heard until I was 16 first reached my ears sounding like someone had wrapped the speakers in a 12 tog duvet. I’m sure this is why I’ve never been remotely moved to debate the sound quality of an mp3, because next to AM radio, listening to even the most compressed of streaming services is like having Nick Drake perform a private concert while Vashti Bunyan gives you a foot massage. But despite its crapness, AM radio had two slightly dubious advantages.
One: when you eventually managed to buy that single you’d heard for weeks on Radio 1, it sounded much more awesome than you’d anticipated, even if your hi-fi was the cheapest Saisho model in the Dixons catalogue. It’s a little remarked-upon fact that after the superior FM (frequency modulation) took over the airwaves in the 90s, your records, cassettes and CDs ceased to sound dramatically better than the versions you’d heard on the wireless, and I’m pretty sure this is one of the reasons music’s physical sales began to decline.
Two: the ridiculously muffled sound rendered many of the songs’ words indecipherable, thus giving birth to the great Twisted Lyric game.
Oh, consider the fun we had! Scratchy radios around the country burbled out the hits of the era, and we wandered around haplessly singing the completely wrong lyrics to everything. BBC Radio 1 DJ Bruno Brookes dedicated an entire, nightly, ten-minute feature to the concept, and even had a weekly Twisted Lyric chart. Let us pause briefly to remind ourselves of some corkers:
⁃ The title line in Billy Idol’s Eyes Without A Face sounded like “how’s about a date”
⁃ The Pointer Sisters’ Jump featured the rather saucy line “if you wanna feel my kisses in the night, dear” – but in my school playground we were definitely singing “if you wannit mate, I’ll give you ’til the 19th”
⁃ “You can feel it all over” from Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke inexplicably became “Mick and Phyllis were lovers”
⁃ Lipps Inc. kicked off their classic Funky Town with the line “gotta make a move to atomic rice pudding”
⁃ In the chorus of Whitney’s How Will I Know, she confusingly told her confidante “I’m asking you ‘cos you know about bee stings”
⁃ The grand double champion was Mr Mister’s 1985 smash Broken Wings, on which not only did the verse feature the line “Baby, I don’t understand why we can’t just hop along into each other’s pants”, but the chorus – “Take these broken wings” – was an absolute dead ringer for “Jake has broken wind”.
But these days, the fun is all over. Download or stream any of the above (playlist below), and the woefully pristine sound quality will reveal the perfectly annunciated, infinitely more boring real lyrics. However, all is not lost. I’m happy to report that some twisters do stand the test of time, and there are even some new entries from beyond the AM radio era. Here are some of my personal favourites:
⁃ Robert Plant continues to open the final section of Stairway To Heaven by telling us “and there’s a wino down the road”
⁃ Desmond Dekker is certainly singing “me Israelites” on his 1969 hit, but I can’t hear anything other than “me ears are alight”
⁃ Olivia Newton-John, making one of her rare technological predictions, sings “I took you to an internet restaurant” halfway through the first verse of Physical
⁃ As pointed out by Lauren Laverne, rapper Ivy distinguishes her guest appearance on Tricky’s 2015 track Beijing To Berlin with the line “knock knock knock on me Chalfonts”, in an unlikely nod to the clutch of Buckinghamshire villages
⁃ Seek out the closing track on Eurythmics’ 1983 album Touch, and hear Annie Lennox sing “Paint a rumour… pass the colours, Fred”
⁃ Bryan Ferry wraps up the final verse of his John Lennon tribute Jealous Guy by singing “I was swallowing my pen”
⁃ Three-time Mercury nominees Everything Everything claim that the lyrics of their debut single Suffragette Suffragette are “cos you’re gonna sit on the fence when I’m gone”, but I’m almost certain they’re really singing “who’s a-gonna sit on your face when I’m gone”.
Hearing the genuine lyrics? Overrated. May those heroically mumbling singers continue to be gloriously misunderstood.