Tag Archives: grunge

Happy 20th Birthday Reading ’95

This blog post is dedicated to anyone who has ever had an asthma attack at a festival.

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I know that it’s easy to over exaggerate the importance of past events when writing blog posts about days gone by, but, bare with me, because I feel that what happened 20 years ago this August bank holiday weekend can easily be classed as a milestone event in my own personal musical history. And with that, justifies having a whole blog post dedicated to its memory. It seems weird to say, as if it can’t quite possibly be true, that this weekend marks exactly 20 years since I first attended the Reading Festival. Reading ’95 was the first time I had ever been to a ‘proper’ gig where big and famous bands were playing, so as of this weekend I can say that I’ve been going to see live bands for 20 years now. An incredible amount of mind-blowing things have happened in the decades since and it all started with that one life changing weekend.

 

I imagine that most people get misty eyed about the decade they lived their teenage years through and I’m no different. For me, the 90’s was amazing time. The last decade before the internet and mobile phones took over, a time when high streets were still packed with shops that were open, kids could play in the streets and you would watch TV shows when the TV scheduler’s dictated you should watch them. It was also a time when bands and music really mattered. For example, a whole week in the summer of 1995 the news focussed on whether it would be Oasis or Blur who would score the number 1 position in the singles chart that week. I couldn’t even tell you if there is a singles chart anymore let alone name the pop combo who sits on top of it at the moment.
In the July of 1995 I turned 15. At the time I had long greasy hair, played guitar in a band called Toothpaste and had a group of friends at school who everyone else there referred to as the ‘Grunge Club’. Music was all that really mattered to me at the time. I hated school, for the most part, but I had a cool group of like-minded friends there for whom music was everything. We wore Doc Marten’s, had band names scrawled across our school bags and spent our lunch times practicing Nirvana/Pearl Jam/Stiltskin covers.

That year had already been a turning point, our bands had started to try to play gigs in public and not just at school and we were allowed out in the evenings more and more. We would spend these at shows where slightly older teenagers would play slightly better covers than we could (my favourite local band, Flannel, could do a near perfect version of ‘mayonnaise’ that would blow my teenage socks off) or drinking sickening amounts of White Lightning cider at the beach. As part of our work experience fortnight our school had paid for us to spend a day at a recording studio to record songs we had written to form part of our Music GCSE coursework. That day cemented our obsession with playing music, we felt like rock stars to walk away with a cassette with our songs on it. We repaid this privilege that the school had bestowed on us by playing a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing in the name’ at the end of year school music competition which ended with a group of us being suspended from school for the last couple of days of the summer term.

Despite the amount of trouble I had gotten in at home for this misdemeanour, and to my great surprise, my parents agreed to allow me to go with a small group of friends to the 1995 Reading Festival. I had been going on about going since my best friend at the time had been to the festival in 1994 and when I had seen the line up announcement in Kerrang a few months before it was due to take place I quadrupled my efforts. I repeatedly emphasised how this was a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see all my favourite bands in one place and in the end they said yes and gave me the money and permission to go.

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This will tell you how different things were back then. To obtain my ticket my parents had given me the cash, I caught the bus in to Canterbury and walked hurriedly to Richards Records believing everyone would know I was carrying more money than I ever had before. I entered the shop, asked for one weekend camping ticket for the Reading Festival and put my £65(!!!) on the counter, the man produced a book of tickets, tore one out and handed it over. I carefully put this in my wallet and headed straight to get the bus home. The thought of being able to go in to a record shop and buy a ticket over the counter a few weeks before the event seems so alien now.

There was a group of 5 of us that were lucky enough to go that year, all of us 15 and for me, at least, it was the first time I was allowed to travel away from home unaccompanied overnight. The sense of freedom was both liberating and maybe a bit overwhelming. I’d gotten the train to London plenty of times before that point, so everything seemed pretty normal until the point. When we boarded the 2nd train to take us to Reading I started to realise that pretty much everyone in the carriage was going to the same place. Then on exiting the train station at Reading and seeing the mass of people who were all heading in the same direction and for the same reason, it hit me that this was really happening. The first sight of the main stage in the distance as you head along the road to the festival site got me really excited, I think it’s safe to say that night I got a little carried away.

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The Thursday night at the Reading Festival gives you no option but to go crazy. The bands don’t start until the next day, you’ve set up your tent, had a walk in to town for supplies and something to eat, played ‘Bollocks’ a fair amount, so then you’re there in a massive field with thousands of young people all wanting to party. So that’s what we did. My memory of that night is pretty vague, I remember sitting in my tent with one of my friends and starting off a 2 litre bottle of cider but from then on it gets hazy. I have a vague memory of being in some strangers tent laughing but apart from that the only thing I can really remember was stumbling into my own tent, throwing up on my sleeping bag, turning it over and then getting in it and going to sleep. It must’ve been quite an eventful night because in the morning I had a massive headache and as I sat outside my tent to eat some cereal I’d bought with me all these people, whom I have no idea who they were, kept saying hi to me and knew my name.

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Absolutely ruined in my tent

There wasn’t a lot of time to wallow in a hangover as there were bands to go and see. Being allowed in to the arena for the first time of the weekend is always a fun feeling. You’re finally allowed to see the stages up close with the promise of bands about to come out, plus there are cleaner toilets here at opening time than there are in the campsite and usually better food options. Although by the Saturday I was usually relying on the salvation army to supply the rest of my weekend’s sustenance, soup and a roll for a quid is all you need to survive. That Friday in 1995 I made my way straight to the front row centre to take up my place for the day. Being naïve I thought I’d stay here all day, not realising that pretty soon the weight of thousands of people pushing up against you is pretty hard to take. It worked out ok for a good while that afternoon though. And at one point, when I felt really sick after the first band had played, I seemed to be in the best place as the barrier provided a nice buffer between the vomit and the rest of the crowd and I. Plus a nice security guard was on hand to give me many cups of cold water to try to hydrate.

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The main stage lineup on the Friday is something etched in my mind and will probably stay with me forever. Even though I was mainly there for the bands playing later in the day, I really enjoyed every band that played that day which is rare with festival lineups. China Drum isn’t a band I would ever go on to buy any albums of but they’ll always be the first proper band I ever saw live. They did a great job of kicking the festival off with their inflatable Newky brown bottles and Kate Bush covers. I pretty much fell in love with Juliana Hatfield from the time she took to the stage, back home I would go on to buy her records and ‘Only Everything’ still gets regular plays to this day and evoking memories of that summer every time. Deus were good fun, it’s always enjoyable when you’re watching a band you barely know at a festival and they play a song you both recognise and like too. ‘Suds and Soda’ was definite highlight and I can still picture them playing it in the sunshine that day.

I was a bit disappointed with Beck, not because he wasn’t good , he was the opposite in fact but because when I’d seen him perform ‘Loser’ on Top of the Pops a few months earlier his backing band had all been really old people. I thought they just must be his band and was a bit gutted when these young guys in backwards baseball caps walked onstage and started playing. Not that it put me off though, I really like Beck and he was great that afternoon playing all the hits from ‘Mellow Gold’.

 

It was during the next band, Teenage Fanclub, though that being in the front row had become unsustainable. The crowd had swelled in size and the pressure felt by being squashed against the barrier, coupled with being at the point where all the crowd surfers landed meant I could stay there no longer. I had desperately wanted to be in the front row for Hole but I couldn’t hack it and shouted for a security guard to pull me out of the crowd. I felt comforted by the fact that I must’ve got some pretty decent photo’s that day from my front row vantage point but even more frustratingly my camera jammed later on that day. I made the rookie error of opening the back which exposed the film and with it wiped every photo I had taken. There was no bringing them back, they were all lost and I feel annoyed to this day just thinking about it.

The next 3 days formed the main basis of why it was that I was so desperate to go that year. Just the mere thought of watching Hole, Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins all in the same evening sent me into hysterics. I was besotted with all 3 of those bands at the time, spending many hours in my bedroom at home playing my guitar along to their CDs whilst staring at their posters on my wall, fantasising that one day they would ask me to join them onstage.

By the time Hole had taken to the stage I was in the much more appropriate place in the crowd of towards the front but to the left. It is still my go to place to stand during shows and it worked out well then too. Not only did I have a great view of the band, I also narrowly missed a section of the crowd that seemed to just fall to the ground whilst pogo-ing to ‘Violet’. I was blown away by seeing Courtney Love in the flesh, I was used to seeing her all the time on MTV and in magazines but here she was screaming in to a microphone just a few feet away. My love for her at the time had been impacted partly by how much my Dad hated her. Not to sound too much like a stereotypical teenager but when Hole were on Top of the Pops to play ‘Doll Parts’, my Dad spent the entirety of the song spewing forth anti-Love vitriol based on how talentless he thought she was. For some reason this made him really angry and this hardened my pro-Love stance. To be fair, he may have had a point and my opinion of Courtney Love has certainly changed over time but back then I couldn’t disagree more and seeing Hole play live that day was one of the most exciting times I had as a teenager.

As a 15-year-old I think I was the perfect audience for Green Day’s set. Not only was it packed with all the hits from ‘Dookie’ but sandwiched in between this was loads of jokes, swearing and audience interaction. Being told by Billie Joe Armstrong to , as part of thousands of people watching, yell ‘Fuck off you Yankee cunts’ at the band felt like the coolest thing ever. The energy didn’t let up for the whole time they were onstage and they even treated us to a new song, ‘Geek stink breath’, which makes me feel really old to say now.

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Talking of new songs, most bands headlining festivals would limit the amount of new material in their sets to appease the crowd. But then most bands aren’t Smashing Pumpkins. And considering those new songs happened to be some of the best songs on ‘Mellon Collie…’ you can understand why they wanted to play them. It was amazing to hear songs like ‘Zero’ and ‘Bullet with butterfly wings’ for the first time in this setting, especially as I would never see Smashing Pumpkins play again having gone off them by the time ‘Adore’ was released. Plus they played my favourite SP song, ‘Geek USA’, just after I’d bumped into my friends in the crowd, one of whom let me watch from upon his shoulders. That moment really topped off an incredible day, my hangover had gone, Billy Corgan had a full head of hair and all was good in the world.

The next day though, things went downhill. Having been asthmatic since I was 6 years old I had done the sensible thing by packing my inhaler. However, no one had warned me how dusty it would be at the festival site and what an adverse reaction I would have to this. In those days the emergency inhaler I carried around with me was really old-fashioned. It required a caplet to be inserted into the bottom of the inhaler, which you would then twist back and forth before breathing it all in. The case I took had the space to carry 8 caplets which you could take up to once every 4 hours as required. In a normal summer I’d probably use my inhaler 5 times tops, it’s always been mild asthma that I suffered from. By the Saturday morning that weekend, I was down to my last caplet. I sat in my tent about to take it when my friend Gee piped up with the classic line, ‘Al, are you sure you wanna use it now, we’ve got Skunk Anansie later!’. However much I wanted to join him in the mosh pit for ‘Selling Jesus’ and all the rest, I was struggling to breathe and needed the momentary relief the Ventolin would provide. Shortly after this I followed my friend’s advice and took myself off to the medical tent in the hope that they would prescribe me some more medicine. This started a long tradition of visiting the medical tent at the Reading Festival. In total I’ve been to the festival 6 times and only have only avoided requiring medical assistance on one of those times, and that’s only because 1996 was a rainy mud fest so it was nowhere near as dusty.

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My friends

Luckily the medical team there saw what a bad way I was in and ordered me a new inhaler, it would take until the next day to arrive so they hooked me up to a nebulizer in the meantime. This got me through the rest of that day, a day that was nowhere near as jam-packed with bands that I wanted to see as the previous day had been.

I made it back in to the arena to watch Skunk Anansie, I didn’t risk getting stuck right into the middle but enjoyed them from my new favourite position to the left. They were a definite highlight of an afternoon that also included watching Tricky and the Boo Radleys out of sheer laziness of not wanting to move from where I had chosen to lay down near the sound booth at the main stage. After a second visit to the medical team later that evening, I headed over to the Melody Maker tent for the first and only time of the weekend, ignoring Paul Weller as I passed the main stage and found myself a decent position for the Foo Fighters.

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The Boo Radleys from afar

The Foo Fighters performance at Reading that year is the stuff of legend. Having booked the band before the release of their self titled album, the organisers had taken a bit of a punt on putting them on the second stage. Little did they know that approx. 20,000 people would try to fit themselves in a tent that could barely hold a third of that. People were climbing the scaffolding holding the tent up and sitting on the fences at the side of the tent. Because of this Dave Grohl had to repeatedly tell people to get down otherwise the organisers were threatening to pull the plug on their set. If only everyone had known that all they needed to do was to get down early and patiently stand through Echobelly’s set to get a good space in the crowd. Maybe the thought of that was too much for some to bear, I never liked Echobelly and they seemed to drag on for an awfully long amount of time but the lure of the Foo Fighters to my 15-year-old self was worth it. And it paid off because when they took to the stage I had a great view of the band and enough space around me to not feel the pressure of the crowd. They tore straight in to ‘Winnebago’ and didn’t look back. Although the atmosphere in the tent that night was pretty electric, I really wasn’t well. By the time they launched in to ‘Weenie Beenie’, which was about halfway through their set, I needed to get a drink and sit down. It took me forever to reach the outside of the tent as the crowd seemed to go on forever but I could still hear them as I reached a refreshment stand, bought a coke and sat down. They sounded amazing and I regret not seeing it through to the end, at the time though all I wanted to do was go back to my tent and try to get some sleep. I made my way back, pausing for a couple of minutes to watch Bjork be great from afar on the main stage.

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This is Foo Fighters, honestly it is. Not that you can tell

I still felt really rough on the Sunday morning, I don’t know whether this is the case for most festivals but Reading is really not the place to be if you suffer badly from a mix of hay fever and asthma. Luckily though there was some good news though when the arena opened that afternoon. My new inhaler had arrived at the medical tent, going to get it meant missing Pennywise and NOFX on the main stage but that was a small price to pay to be able to breathe again. My spirits were instantly lifted, even to the point where I was able to join in a water fight with a friend in the arena.

My friends and I planted ourselves in front of the main stage again that afternoon and that’s where we stayed for the rest of the day. Blind Melon did a good enough job of easing me back in watching bands play, ‘No Rain’ being both a pleasant soundtrack to lazing in the sunshine and an apt description of the dust fest Reading had turned in too. They were nothing, however, compared to what was to come next. I loved White Zombie at the time, ‘Astro Creep 2000…’ being an album I would listen to repeatedly and they didn’t disappoint. I even stood up and moved nearer to the stage for them, which considering the circumstances was a great honour. I still remember being confused though at one point when Rob Zombie was telling the assembled masses how great it had been to play Donington the day before and asked if anyone had been there, a huge roar went up in the crowd as if to say ‘YES!’. Bloody liars. I don’t know why that has stayed with me but it seemed to get under my skin.

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This could be anyone

Babes in Toyland and Buffalo Tom continued that afternoon’s great entertainment but both were blown away by Mudhoney who were truly awesome.

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Mudhoney

By the time they were done, my friends and I decided it was high time we got some dinner and go for a walk. Looking back this was an awful idea as it meant missing most of Pavement. If I had known what a massive fan of Pavement I would become then I would’ve stayed put. Luckily I would get to see them properly a few years later but that was still a dumb thing to do. I wanted to make sure to make sure I was refreshed and ready for the next band so at the time it made sense. For up next were Soundgarden.

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Soundgarden

In my eyes Soundgarden were legends and a huge reason for me to attend the festival that year. To this day their performance that glorious summer evening continues to be one of the most disappointing musical experiences of my life. They were dreadful. They sounded weak, they looked bored, there was zero energy and I was gutted. Being 15 and watching big bands for the first time I must’ve been someone who was easily impressed, I’d much rather be able to enjoy something and was nothing like as cynical as I can be now. So, they must’ve been pretty awful for me to feel that way then. They completely bored me and were the only band that I had wanted to see to do so that whole weekend.

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Neil Young

I stuck around for the whole set though because I wanted a good spot in the crowd to see my absolute heroes. Up next were PEARL JAM!! Well, kind of. It was actually Neil Young, but this was ‘Mirrorball’ era Neil Young so it meant Pearl Jam, minus Eddie Vedder, were his backing band. It was a great thrill to see Neil Young, who I’d come to like by proxy of being a massive Pearl Jam fan, but an even greater thrill to see Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard on that stage that night. I didn’t last, however. About an hour in there was nebulizer in the medical tent calling out my name and I needed its help to breathe once more. And that’s where I stayed until the bands had all finished.

The next morning I was glad to be going home. That Monday morning trudge to Reading train station is never fun, it is amusing to get back in to London to change trains and realise you are amongst normal people again though. You wear the festival stench with pride as you get back in to normality. I felt instantly well again once I was back home and just wanted to stuff my face and tell everyone I knew what an amazing weekend I had just had.

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The following week’s issue

My friend Gee and I talked about Reading constantly for months after, there wasn’t a school day that went past without it being mentioned. we kept our Reading festival wristbands on until they eventually fell off at around Christmas time. Our stories of the weekend must have had an impact on our friends as come Reading 1996 there was a massive group of at least 20 of us that went. A few years later my friend Gee had Reading 1995 tattooed on his wrist where his wristband had once laid such was the impact that weekend had on our impressionable 15-year-old selves.

I felt rough, but it was worth it!

The festival seems so different now, I haven’t been since 2003 and even then it had started to lose that magic and charm it once had. Overbearing corporate sponsorship, strict security firms patrolling the camp site, the addition of Leeds and the main stage moving further and further away from the crowd have all taken the shine away. But then I guess that Reading isn’t meant for someone in their mid thirties who likes home comforts more and more. It has a youthful energy to it, a spirit that won’t stand being fobbed off and will bottle second-rate performers. I really hope teenagers that go this year for the first or second time get something like that same experience we had back in 1995. It was life changing, I’ll never forget it and still dream one day that, however unlikely, I’ll be able to be in a band that plays the festival. Obviously, as long as there is a nebulizer on stand by at the side of the stage.

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REVIEW: PLAYLOUNGE – PILOT

Band – Playlounge

Album – Pilot

Label – Dog Knights Productions

It’s around this time of year that I start to wonder what album will be the soundtrack of my summer. What album, for years to come, will always remind of awesome memories from these upcoming summer months. I know you shouldn’t force these things, overthinking everything is a bit of a habit and tends to take the edge off spontaneous moments but I can’t help it. Ever since the long hot summer of 1997 when my best friend got his first car and we spent the whole time driving around listening, pretty much exclusively, to 2 tapes he had in the car, ‘Everything Sux’ by the Descendents and ‘sublime’ by Sublime. Now, I haven’t listened to Sublime in forever but ‘Everything Sux’ still gets regular plays and always takes me back to being 17 and enjoying the freedom having a car brings with it. An early favourite for what will be my soundtrack of this summer has to be ‘Pilot’ by Playlounge and let me tell you why.

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The first time I listened to this album was in my car on a stupidly sunny day so from the word go I had a summery vibe going on. But the music itself is so upbeat and catchy that it would’ve given me that same vibe had it been cold and miserable that day. Playlounge are loud, their guitar sound is as distorted as it could possibly get yet their songs are full of melody and poppy happiness. Like the way Dinosaur Jr can manage to be unfeasibly loud without being classed as heavy. Their grunge heavy sound has a lot in common with Dinosaur Jr, it’s so great to hear a new band that you can say reminds of great grunge bands past without having to label them as ‘nu-grunge’ or lazy Nirvana rip offs. ‘Pilot’ starts with a blast and doesn’t back down one bit until all 10 songs have reached their completion.

‘I am a lion’ kicks the record of with thumping drums, you’re drawn in by the hazy, dream like vocals and when the guitar literally doubles in sound you’re completely sold on this Brighton 2 piece. They then follow this punch in the guts with a massive right hook, ‘Skulls’ is catchy, infectious and will make you happier than most songs you’ll hear this year. The rest of the record follows a familiar pattern which in now way gets stale or old, Playlounge play amazingly good, grungey noise pop and don’t feel the need to introduce gimmicks or other elements. And, hey, when they’ve got their sound absolutely nailed as good as this why the fuck should they??

I’m pretty convinced that I’ll have this record on constant repeat all summer long and far beyond that too. They seem to pretty much be constantly on tour so make sure you go and see Playlounge slay it live. I get to see them live this week and cannot wait to go all out crazy to their incredible noise!!!

You can buy the album HERE

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Thank you Kurt Cobain, for everything!

Recently, my wife and I got a call from our letting agents that our landlord was selling up and that we would need to find somewhere else to live. Thankfully after a few very stressful months we did just that. Whilst packing up for the move I stumbled across some awesome things from my youth that I’ve been holding on to, hidden deep inside various cupboards. The thing that stuck out the most was a folder I had made in year 8 of school which contained clippings from magazines and newspapers about Nirvana. Year 8 of school for me was 1992 and the clippings dated from then until the middle of 1994 when I had filled up all of the sleeves in the folder.

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Amongst the various clippings, which were mostly from Kerrang and Raw magazine (both of which I never missed when I was a young teenager, which made Wednesday my favourite day of the week), were articles cut from newspapers the day the news had broken that Kurt Cobain had taken his own life. Reading the dates these articles were written made me gasp, can it really be almost 20 years since Kurt died?? This made me feel incredibly weird and emotional and it got me thinking a lot about the last 20 years and how those couple of years of being a Nirvana fan before Kurt’s death had had a massive impact on my life as a whole.

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Now, inevitably with a big anniversary looming you will find article after article about Kurt and the legacy he left behind. A lot of these will say very similar things, probably along the lines of ‘he was a spokesperson for his generation’ or that ‘he changed the musical landscape for the better’. Which is all fair enough but so much has been written in this vein that it feels like white noise, it starts to detract from the truth because you get bored of hearing it. From my perspective, Nirvana were around at a time when I was at the right age for them to make a big difference and they really did. To look at the US billboard chart pre-Nirvana and post-Nirvana clearly tells a story of how alternative music suddenly became the mainstream. It is remarkable, but if you just concentrate on the fact that a different kind of band was now occupying positions on the pop chart then you’re looking at something that means nothing to me. We all know major labels will jump on any old bandwagon if it makes enough money and looking at the state of popular music in the last 10 years you can see that this didn’t last as long as was once thought. In the short term Nirvana paved the way for me to discover more bands that I would really like but in the long term it’s so much more than that. I can look at my life as a whole up to this point and can say wholeheartedly that Nirvana had a hand in shaping most aspects of it, from the music I listen to now to the way I view things, the friends I have and the woman I’m married to. I am not overstating it when I say that Nirvana has had an incredible influence on my whole life whether they meant to or not and I can safely say that Kurt Cobain is my hero.

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I was awoken on the morning of the 9th of April 1994 by my brother, who at the time was a paperboy. He came in to the bedroom we shared and tried to wake me up, I was fast asleep on the top bunk of the bunk bed we had in our room. I remember waking up to the sound of him telling me Kurt Cobain was dead, he had said it a few times before I came to the conclusion that he was being a dick and as such I told him to piss off. Kurt couldn’t be dead so I went back to sleep. Later that morning I got up and found out that was probably the only time my brother hadn’t been winding me up about something and had actually been telling the truth. It stated in the newspaper as a fact that he was dead, a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head and that he had been found the day before on the 8th of April and had possibly been dead for a few days. I was shocked and gutted but didn’t really know how to process these feelings. I remember being back at school the following Monday and it being a weird topic of conversation amongst my friends. I also remember talking to my guitar tutor about it later on in that same week and telling him how I’d cried when watching a hastily put together programme about him on MTV but it seemed weird to be saying these things. I don’t think this had ever happened to me before, I knew what it felt like when a family member died but this was someone who I had never met or even seen in real life. Someone who only existed in magazines, on the telly or on the CDs/tapes I had collected. Initially I had felt really upset that I would never see Nirvana play live, I had been begging my dad to get tickets to see them at Brixton Academy where they had been due to play 4 nights later that year, he said he would try but he was having trouble getting them and then after Kurt had been in a coma in Italy a couple of months prior to his death had given up completely. I don’t know if he had tried or not but I had been convinced I was going to that show and the fact that that was no longer possible upset me a lot. These days a celebrity seems to die on a very regular basis which is dealt with by a standard tweet or Instagram tribute and then moving on. This wasn’t an option in 1994, I spent the day I had found out about his death asking my dad to buy most of the newspapers so I could cut out the bit about Kurt and stick them in my folder. I has been in love with Nirvana for less than 2 years at this point but in that short time a lot had changed.

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Before the long hot summer of 1992 I had already become a big fan of music. I liked it when, as a young boy, my mum and dad would play the Beatles or the Beach Boys in the car and then towards the end of the 80s I had become obsessed with Michael Jackson. I spent hours watching live videos of him and playing my copies of Bad and Thriller on cassette. My cousin Becka would always teach me a Michael Jackson dance routine when she came to babysit, she was also a massive fan and responsible for introducing me to other music too. When I was 8 or 9 she made me a tape of all the songs on Appetite For Destruction by Guns N Roses that had no swearing on and this set me off on my obsession with music, records and bands. Soon after, in 1989, I bought my first record. I spent my weeks pocket money on a 7″ vinyl copy of ‘Poison’ by Alice Cooper from Woolworths. I remember getting home and asking my Dad if I could put it on to which he said yes and then became annoyed at the sound that was pouring out of the speakers, he didn’t like it which didn’t make sense to me as I thought it was incredible. My brother and I would then go on the regularly spend our pocket money on 7″ singles of varying genres. Our favourites were, Groove is in the heart by Dee-Lite and Batdance by Prince. About the time I started at Secondary school in 1991 something happened that opened me up to whole new world of music, my parents bought a new washing machine.

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Now, it wasn’t the washing machine as such but more to do with the thing that came free with this new purchase, which happened to be a massive satellite dish. And this thing was massive, I remember being scared yet completely excited on the cold November night while my Dad was trying to attach the dish to the chimney on top of our house. Once this was operational, what seemed like an endless list of new tv channels became available to us, most importantly of which was MTV. MTV or MTV Europe as it was back then was nothing like it is now. Apart from The Real World the schedule wasn’t packed with reality shows, it was music video after music video interrupted by programmes about music and I fell head over heels in live with it. At this point in time, I had moved on from my Michael Jackson obsession and was developing a passion for rock music, most notably of which were Metallica and Guns N Roses. This was the Use your Illusion and Black album era, both of which we’re providing plenty of MTV friendly videos that had captured my attention. Around me, friends were developing similar ideas. My best friend at the time was already in to Iron Maiden in a big way and pretty soon all things metal became a big topic of conversation.

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But then, watching hours of MTV led me on to discovering Nirvana and things quickly changed. There was something new and exciting about this band, the music was loud and powerful, the lead singers voice was raw and beautiful but this was very different from the other loud rock music I was listening to. I seemed to be able to identify with Nirvana more than I could with other bands I had been getting to, even as a 12 year old boy. Metallica, Guns n Roses and other bands of that type and their fans you’d see in the crowd in their live videos always looked like definite grown ups. They were identifiably a lot older than I was but Nirvana and the people you’d see in the crowd at their gigs looked young. I may have had ideas above my station but I could say that this was my generation, when people started talking about generation x then I felt that they were talking about me, my friends and people my age. Also, there wasn’t this macho, tough guy bravado going on that always left me feeling a bit detached from proper metal bands. I had found a niche that worked for and made sense to me.  This was the first time I had ever noticed a movement was happening and I wanted desperately to be part of it. The word Grunge had started appearing everywhere and there were other bands with similar appeal that were being mentioned under this umbrella.

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Pretty soon my group of friends at school were kids from all different year groups Who shared a love of music. Without really noticing we all soon had long hair and wore Dr Martens boots and had picked up the nickname from all the other kids at school, ‘grunge club’. This term was used by everyone to mock us consistently but I didn’t care, I felt proud to be part of this club. I didn’t care if this was making us unpopular or outsiders because we had found our identity and with that a really close knit group of friends who shared the same views and tastes.

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On Christmas Day 1992 I got my first guitar and by the time Kurt died I was forming bands and writing songs. My first proper band that actually played in front of other people held Nirvana as more than just an influence, half the songs we played were Nirvana songs. We were called ‘Toothpaste’ and we made a point of covering the more obscure songs from Bleach like ‘Big Cheese’ and the punkier songs from other albums like ‘Tourette’s’. It had already seeped into our subconscious that the more obscure the better. Nirvana probably never set out to be a life changing band, a gate way for so many people to discover an alternative to the mainstream but that’s exactly what they became. Armed with our Nirvana covers and original songs, which were all written using the Nirvana template which ventured further out than just playing in our school hall. Our first show must’ve been disastrous but at the time I felt like I had arrived, it was at a venue that became a big part of our teens and early 20’s, the Lido in Margate. I was 14 at the time and this was early summer in 1995, we got through our set and it was enough to get the attention of someone who would become my best friend to this day.

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That person was Paul, he is now my best friend and was in attendance that night, he thought we were awful but liked the fact we liked good music and were nice people. We soon, after several Friday night visits to the lido and other haunts that let bands play around Margate, became good friends. Being a few years older than me he became someone who would pass on a vast musical knowledge and open me up to several new bands and ways of finding new music. Paul had seen Nirvana play at Reading 1992 so I knew I could trust his judgement, it was in his company and under his guidance, at a record fair that I bought my first Fugazi album (Red Medicine) and it was in his bedroom that I first heard Sunny Day Real Estate. We would talk for hours about bands, record labels and everything that that entails. We would read fanzines and go to shows. We played in bands together which would take us around the UK and Europe, opening us up to experiencing first hand what D.I.Y and underground culture was all about.

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I’m not close friends with everyone from this time or who I went to school with but all my friends and my wife are in my life right now because of this time. We still hold all of the values of punk rock and D.I.Y culture that were introduced to us by growing up and finding similar bands at similar times. We are left leaning, music obsessives, many of us are parents who want to be able to pass these views on to our offspring.

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I hope all of my kids find this kind of influence that takes their lives off into an amazing direction. It’s hard to think that someone will come along and change their world like Kurt and Nirvana did for me. Maybe if Nirvana hadn’t broke big then I would still have somehow found my same way to discover everything that I did, but they did and I can relate it all back to them. I will always love Nirvana and I will forever miss Kurt. I hope all the teenagers I see from time to time who walk around looking awkward with weird hair and Nirvana t-shirts are getting the same benefit as a teen now as I did from discovering Nirvana in the early 90s. I hope that, even with the benefit of the internet and all the luxury and ease of use it brings with it, kids these days learn to dig deeper and explore an alternative world that exists outside of the mainstream.

Thanks Kurt for everything  xxxx

Thanks for reading, get in touch here or on Facebook www.facebook.com/isthisthingonblog or on twitter @alex_itto or email ittoblog@gmail .com

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Newsletter #1

This is the first Is this thing on? newsletter, I will be posting these every so often to roundup what I’ve been meaning to post about and haven’t got round to yet. I always have far too many ideas of what I want to write about but never seem to have enough time to make these a reality so I thought a Newsletter every so often would be a nice way of keeping up. Each one will have a bit of a theme to it and this one is no exception. The theme this time is: Bands who have sent me music. I know it’s not the catchiest title but, hey, what you gonna do??

Every so often people will get in touch with this blog via facebook/twitter/email etc with music they’d like me to listen to. Sometimes said music will be described as ‘Christian Technical Metal’ which as an atheist emo blog writer I tend to ignore. But sometimes I’ll get sent something by a band that is really good, too good to ignore so I thought I better get on and share some of these with you.

1. Bag of Bones – Deep Thought

bag of bones

John Molfetas is a musician from Long Island/Purchase, NY, who performs under the name Bag Of Bones. He got in touch with at the end of last year, as is always the case it took me a little while to getting round to listening to this record but as soon as I did I knew I had to share it with you. Deep Thought is 10 songs of really thoughtful, slow-paced and atmospheric emo. There are shades of Appleseed Cast here, mixed in with bits of Joan Of Arc and plenty else in between. Using samples and an array of varying musical instruments, Deep Thought feels like a really collaborative album with John Molfetas being the creative through line. It is a beautiful collection of songs which you can currently download free from his bandcamp page.

http://bagofbones.bandcamp.com/

2. Squeamish – Hammerhead

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Squeamish are a band it’s very easy to like for two main reasons; Firstly they play big, twiddly, poppy emo with a huge Braid-like sound and secondly they’re from Ohio, which is just shorthand for saying their awesome. It seems every band I’ve been falling in love with recently have been from Ohio. ‘Hammerhead’ is a five song EP and it’s available as a free download from their bandcamp page, it’s upbeat, infectious and brilliant. The kind of thing you’d wanna throw on at a party if you wanted everyone to get a bit crazy. YES!

http://squeamish.bandcamp.com/

3. Month – Bath Salts

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Month come from Cleveland, which obviously makes them another great Ohio band. If this carries on the Rock’n’roll hall of fame, situated in their great city, could open a dedicated emo wing and fill it with bands from this state. ‘Bath Salts’ is a short two song EP, which matters not as both songs are great and show 2 different side to their sound. Track 1, ‘Vernal’, is a driving rock song in the vein of Daylight. Track 2, ‘Thermal’, is more of a 90’s inspired, downbeat, fiddly emo number. Again, you can download these songs for free from Bandcamp. Sweet.

http://month.bandcamp.com/

4.Placeholder – Thought I Would Have Been Somebody By Now

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If you know me well then you’ll know my two main loves, music wise, are grunge and emo. When bands started to mix these two genres it was like the best Christmas ever, Placeholder are one of these bands and they do it bloody well. This EP is four songs, it’s available for free and it’s loud and catchy as hell. Trying to think of a good description and the best I’ve come up with is like a grungier early Planes Mistaken For Stars, I hope that will do.

http://placeholderpa.bandcamp.com/

Nobody, Ever – Everyone Stood By The Side Of The Road

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Now, I did get sent this to listen to but that’s because I know these guys so I’m kind of cheating to include them here but SO WHAT?!? They’re great so they deserve the extra mention. I recently reviewed them for Tight to the nail which you can read HERE. In short I described them as a chunky Dowsing which I think they were happy with. Again, IT’S FREE, WOOP!!!

http://nobodyever.bandcamp.com/

Hope you’ve found something here to enjoy. To any of the other bands that have sent me stuff, sorry if I’ve not included you on here but I will be doing this again so all is not lost. And to any other bands, keep sending stuff over you lovely people.

Thanks for reading.

Facebook – http://www.facebook.co./isthisthingonblog

Twitter – @alex_itto

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Review: Basement – Colourmeinkindness

Band – Basement

Album – Colourmeinkindness

Label – Run For Cover Records

Coming up in tonight’s review:

“Holy fucking shitballs why the hell has this band split up!!?!!?!???!”

Last year Basement released one of my favourite records of that year, ‘I wish I could stay here’. It was a solid album full of Title Fight-esque melodic hardcore that I played time and again. I also got to see them play a show in Margate which really showed me what a great band they are so when news came that Basement were going on indefinite hiatus (splitting up) I thought it was a real shame. Now that I’ve heard ‘Colourmeinkindness’ I think this news is a fucking travesty.

This record is getting me all kinds of excited. If someone had said to me that all my favourite musical sub genres (grunge, punk and emo) would someday be combined together by bands to amazing effect I would’ve wanted to believe them but known that this’ll never happen. But to my disbelief it is happening. Playing ‘Colourmeinkindness’ and I’m suddenly transported back to that 13-year-old kid who lay in bed thinking my brother was a lying cock for coming home from his paper round with the news that Kurt Cobain was dead, or to the 17-year-old sitting in my friends flat being played Sunny Day Real Estate for the first time. Times when music seemed to be all that mattered, Basement make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and make me wanna get up and dance like an idiot the way all my best-loved bands do.

The album blasts in to life with ‘Whole’ and it’s an incredible start to the album. It shows Basement’s intentions from the start, they’re here to make a career defining rock album and they ain’t mucking about. The briefest of guitar intros quickly make way for the full band to kick in and already you’re left blown away by how loud and full on it is. What a way to start the record. The chorus makes you wish you were in front of the band in a packed venue screaming along with them and then the massive riff at the end makes you wish you were in the middle of the crowd going every kind of ape shit.

Before you know it the second song, ‘Covet’, has begun and here you have the first major nod to the early 90’s grunge sound with a song that owes a massive debt to the Pixies. Maybe it’s because I am still so in love with the music from that era but I’ve found a mass of grunge influences throughout the record. Maybe intentional or maybe I’m the only one who thinks it but here are a few examples of what I mean. ‘Spoiled’ reminds me of Alice In Chains, ‘Control’ has hints of ‘Superunknown’ style Soundgarden, ‘Black’ puts me in the mind of a sleazy early Stone Temple Pilots, ‘Comfort’ has a Yellow Ledbetter-esque intro and ‘Wish’ gives a big nod to a ‘Gish’ era Smashing Pumpkins. All of which are meant as huge compliments and all the while still retaining that Basement hardcore edge which attracted you to the band in the first place. You could hear this record a hundred times and get none of the references I just mentioned but you should be left with the same feeling. The feeling that you want to scream “Holy fucking shitballs why the hell has this band split up!!?!!?!???!” again and again until someone rings the council to make a noise pollution complaint against you.

Amongst all this you also have a couple of indie pop gems thrown in to the middle of the album. ‘Pine’ and ‘Bad Apple’ highlight a band capable of writing incredibly catchy pop songs that still never compromise on what the band is about. It’s another reason to love Basement and stops the record from becoming too much of one thing, it refreshes you so when they’re ready to unleash more 90’s inspired heaviness on you you’re more than ready.

‘Colourmeinkindness’ is a real surprise of a record. Not a surprise in the sense that Basement have made a truly brilliant album but a surprise in how they’ve done it. It at the same time feels like a unique record whilst also wearing their influences on their sleeve. Just over 10 years ago a massively exciting post hardcore band released a genre defining record called ‘Relationship of command’ and subsequently broke up before their time. Only time will tell if this record has that same impact, it could well do. I just hope that if it does that Basement don’t reform in 10 years time to headline Reading and appear like ghosts of their former selves. But, sod it, if they do I’ll be there singing along.

I love this record so much I’ve paid actual money TWICE for it. Downloaded from the Run for cover bandcamp page HERE.

And bought it on vinyl from Banquet Records HERE.

Basement play 2 final shows but they sold out quicker than I could say ‘ah, I’d quite like to go to that’

November 16 – Leeds – The Well

November 17 – Camden London – The Underworld

Thanks very much for reading. xx

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Review: Title Fight – Floral Green

Band – Title Fight

Album – Floral Green

Label – Side One Dummy

Shouldn’t it be impossible to make a fresh sounding punk rock album in 2012? Hasn’t it all been done already? The fact that Green Day are releasing a triple album, having a paddy onstage and judging the Voice (?!?) you’d think that punk was a dead duck having been stripped bare and laid to rest many years ago. But yet, here come Title Fight to get you back in check. Punk rock is alive and well as long as you are looking in the right places.

Having taken forever to release their first full length studio album, ‘Shed’, they are back just one year later with their second, ‘Floral Green’. It’s a big ask to follow-up what was one of my favourite albums of last year but Title Fight are more than up to it. ‘Floral Green’ can even be seen as a huge step forward, Title Fight have taken the energy and excitement of ‘Shed’ and added a maturity to their sound which makes for a more diverse and extraordinary record.

The album blasts in to life with the incredible opener,’Numb, but I still feel it’, which builds up and fires in to 3 minutes of trademark Title Fight punk excellence. The next 2 songs, ‘Leaf’ and ‘Like a ritual’, continue in this vein taking us to ‘Secret Society’ which is definitely a standout track on the first listen of the album. It’s a straightforward and catchy as hell pop hit with its massive, rumbling, overdriven bass and huge chorus. It’s a nice setup for what comes next, ‘Head in the ceiling fan’ is a song that couldn’t be more different but one that has grown to be my favourite on the record. It’s slow, melancholic and utterly gorgeous and presents a shift in the album. This is the moment you realise how much Title Fight have progressed in the short time since ‘Shed’, it adds another element to the band without taking anything away. It kind of makes them seem more grown up without seeming any older, if that makes sense. I hate using this as a description because it can be taken the wrong way but it also introduces a bit of grunge to their emo tinged punk rock, I hope you get what I mean.

After ‘Head in the ceiling fan’ you feel a shift in the record, the song makes you see the rest of the record in a different light. You know now that what you are listening to is a classic record in the making and Title Fight don’t put a foot wrong. ‘Make you cry’ and ‘Sympathy’ hit out at you and make a lasting impression, ‘Calloused’ has a Nirvana-esque chorus which will always get me on side and ‘Frown’ is a certain contender for song of the record/year with the simplest yet best of guitar lines over the intro and chorus. When the album is brought to a close by another 2 really strong songs, ‘Lefty’ and ‘In-between’, you are left gagging for more. Especially because ‘In-between’ finishes with no rock star ending, no big stadium finish, it just ends and makes you shout “Holy shit, I must put this record on again!!!”.

‘Floral Green’ is one of the most completely brilliant albums of the year and one which I seriously cannot fault. Some of the songs may take longer to grow on you than others but given just a few listens you get over this. There is so much to enjoy like the added ‘shoegaze’ moments which were totally unexpected. If Title Fight keep this quality up then, in a few years, I can see them being viewed in the same way Hot Water Music are now. Everyone’s favourite scene heavyweights if you know what I mean. Go and enjoy the record now!!!

Click here to go to the Title Fight website.

Cheers for reading, any feedback is most appreciated.

www.facebook.com/isthisthingonblog

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Football, etc.

This post accompanies a post about Joie De Vivre, if you haven’t read it then click HERE to do so.

If you have read many of my older posts then you will know how much I bang on about how stupidly bad my back has been. I’m aware that it is annoying to keep mentioning it but here goes anyway. Much earlier this year I was awaiting my second operation on my spine and wasn’t able to do very much apart from annoy my good lady wife and make lots of ouchy noises. And also be overly jealous of anybody that was able to just go out and about in a normal manner. A friend on facebook updated their status with the fact that he’d been to see Football, etc and that it was brilliant. Predictably I was instantly envious and cemented that by going on to read on various sites about how brilliant their whole tour had been. Great! I thought, another band I’ve missed out on seeing. Luckily though, they didn’t waste much time in returning to our fair Isle. There were touring the UK with Joie De Vivre and I wasn’t going to miss out on this one.

There was such an incredible atmosphere in the venue that night. This was last friday (6th July) at Sticky Mikes Frog Bar in Brighton. Maybe it was just my excitable fanboy disposition that was giving me this impression but there did seem to be a real buzz about the place. The singer of Holland, the band on before Football, Etc had mentioned during their set about how amazing Football, Etc had been when they payed the Albert in Brighton on their last UK tour, so I knew there was a lot of expectation in the audience. Again, they didn’t disappoint and, if anything, surpassed any expectations that I had.

Playing a set that included songs from their full length, ‘The Draft’, and some new songs that featured on a split cassette with Square Business, which I’ll mention again in a moment, their gorgeous indie emo sound came over perfectly. They played tight as a group which was to their credit as their drummer on the night wasn’t their usual drummer and just a stand in for this tour. Not that you could tell though as they sounded like they’d been playing together for years. The newer songs were exciting as they showcased a band with a knack of writing consistently enjoyable songs and hinted at the fact that another full length from them will be just as brilliant as thir last one. Everything about the set was enjoyable, from watching the band having a great time to watching Brandon from Joie De Vivre looking annoyed to be having to hold a lead in place at the back of Lindsay Minton’s amp so her guitar wouldn’t keep cutting out.

Football, etc ended their set just as I’d hoped they would by playing ‘Safety’. A few months ago you may have read that I posted the Is This Thing On? top 100 emo songs of all time, ‘Safety’ came in at number 89, which having listened to that song a lot since publishing the list seems to do the song a bit of an injustice. It’s not only my favourite Football, etc song, it’s also one of my favourite songs of the last couple of years. The chorus is unbeatably perfect and seeing them play the song live seemed to heighten my admiration. The song begins with a really simple yet catchy guitar melody, having the full crowd in Brighton that night singing along to that bit made the hairs on the back of my neck stand tall. Add that to the fact that Lindsay Minton’s voive sounds as incredible live as it does on record and getting to see Joie De Vivre dancing along deliriously at the side of the stage made it a very special moment. It left me with a smile I found very hard to get rid of. Especially when after the show I spoke to Lindsay whilst buying a Football, Etc T-shirt and mentioned the list to which she replied that she had already seen it and was very flattered, woop!!

I also got myself a copy of the split cassette that I mentioned earlier. I love that bands are releasing cassettes again now, I am hoping to rectify the fact that I don’t currently own a tape player very soon. Luckily it came with a download code so I could enjoy the music straight away. And enjoy it I do. The split is 3 songs each and is definitley worth trying to get a copy of. The Football, etc side is pure Football, etc. 3 songs that totally live up to their full length. The first song, ‘Hut 1’, begins with a dreamy emo guitar riff with full band backing it up which then turns in to a verse which is catchy as hell. From then it doesn’t stop getting better. ‘Hut 3’ starts with bit more pace to it but turns out to deliver slower, dreamier parts that are equally as good. Their side of the split is then rounded off nicely with the laid back, ‘Hike’. The other side is my introduction to Square Business and I have to say that my first impression is a really good one. What starts out with some nice jangly, lo-fi emo paves the way for some really good grunge rock. Being a fan of grunge and emo makes this particularly appealing, Daylight are another band who really succesfully marry these two genres together and I love that band so Square Business are in good company. I will definitley be on the lookout for more from them in the near future.

If you missed on seeing Football, etc on this tour then I hope for your sakes they come back soon, they seem to really enjoy it over here so here’s hoping. In the mean time check out the split, you can stream the Football, etc half of the split HERE.

Just started a facebook page for this blog, come and say hi www.facebook.com/isthisthingonblog

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Mikee/Living Well Productions for the live photos.

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