The xx claim Barclaycard Mercury Prize

The xx - mercury prize winners

The Barclaycard Mercury Prize award ceremony took place last night at Grosvenor House in London, presented by the ever popular musician Jools Holland.

Nominations for the esteemed prize were selected from all musical genres by an independent, possibly slightly pretentious judging panel including musicians, producers, presenters and music journalists.

The Prize recognises and celebrates music in the UK and has a reputation for highlighting a wide range of bands and artists. Albums released between July 2009 and July 2010 were eligible for this year’s Prize.

To be fair the panel’s decision is based solely on the music on the albums and all genres of music are treated equally and of course it is important to include music from all popular genres.

The twelve albums that were nominated for this years award were:

Biffy Clyro –  Only Revolutions
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Sea
Dizzee Rascal – Tongue N’ Cheek
Foals – Total Life Forever
I Am Kloot – Sky At Night
Kit Downes Trio –  Golden
Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
Paul Weller – Wake Up the Nation
The xx – xx
Villagers – Becoming a Jackal
Wild Beasts –  Two Dancers

Following sterling live performances from all of the nominations the judges awarded the 2010 Barclaycard Mercury Prize to The xx for their album xx.

Simon Frith, Chair of Judges commented, “The xx have a unique sense of time and space – urban and enigmatic. The result is a wonderfully atmospheric album – sparse, urgent, hypnotic and powerful.”

Mercury rising for Brigadier Ambrose

Fuzzo, the debut album from Brigadier Ambrose, has been long listed for this year’s Mercury Prize. To mark this musical thermometer ride, the band is set to release a new digital singe – Yours, Danube Song, available from all good digitised outlets.

Fuzzo - Brigadier Ambrose

But when did the mercury begin to rise for Brigadier Ambrose? Well, it all started not so long ago, just 30 miles from Old London Town in a suburban sprawl by the River Medway. Come with me…

Returning home to The Medway Towns, after a 13-year hiatus, I breathed in the salty river tears, looked skywards to the stunning Victorian architecture and bruised my nostrils with particles of rotting kebabs lining the street, from Rochester to Chatham. I sighed with a resigned happiness; it was good to be back.

But within days I’d heard the same smacked-face story: “The towns are a dive, full of chavs, rubbish castle, stinking prospects. Dead or dying. Modern life is rubbish.” A very English pessimism. And then I was introduced to the music of Chatham’s Brigadier Ambrose, a very English band.

Early singles shone lights on the night ladies straddled on New Road, painted flesh torn pictures of post-pub violence, picked at the nit-wit proprietors of gel-angled hair and magnetised the airwaves with garage-pop sonics. Two and three minute vignettes told with wit, verve and often a wry wink.

See the video for early single Decembered


Mostly ignored in their home town, Brigadier Ambrose lit fires in the eyes of notable musical luminaries including Alan McGee, Stuart Maconie, Mark Radcliffe and Huw Stephens. BBC sessions and festival slots followed and still Chatham slumbered. Boo! Wake up Chatham; it’s time to get fuzzy.

Released digitally in November 2009 and on CD in March 2010, Fuzzo follows in the footsteps of great English guitar pop albums, records that blur the lines between first and third person, between the mundane and the fantastical and between ideals and reality.

In 1968 The Kinks ignored the mind-expanding platitudes of their peers and wrote an extraordinary album about a village green society that was falling apart. The remnants of that society – decency, respect and a sense of innocence, as well as pomp and class divisions – have stoked the flames of some of England’s brightest, wittiest and inventive bands for the past 40 years and with Fuzzo, Brigadier Ambrose are carrying on that tradition.

The intro Wurlitzer swirl on album opener Mind Reel hints at the circus-act hoax that can be modern living; all preening and posturing with little substance. What follows is a five-song opening salvo that gives XTC’s classic White Music a run for its money, in terms of breath-snatching, fuzzy-pop brilliance.

Mischievous chord changes and time alterations blow a mallard-sized puff of smoke in the direction of Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish; none more so than on Uh-Oh, which beautifully reflects the discordant uneasiness of Oily Water.

Musically, Brigadier Ambrose are lithe, able and playful, jumping from one hook to another, subtlety altering tone and texture without stunting the flow of the arrangement; a skill Syd Barrett displayed wonderfully on The Madcap Laughs but a potential banana skin for mimics and fakers.

Brigadier Ambrose’s lyrical intent, at times, also brings to mind Mr Barrett. A flash of a story whips into the next as the montage is built. But unlike Barrett the misanthropic glint in this band’s eye is more sharply focused. Not that Fuzzo is an idiot-friendly rant or tirade. But as Dave Goggin sings on Yours, Danube Song, “ It’s not like me to make a fuss but I’ve been getting rather cross with things.” Small talk, the self obsessed, mindless menacing, fat heads and slim-fit jeans. They’re all on the list.

Fuzzo is on the Mercury long list and on 20 July we will find out if it’s on the short list. An album that is packed with insight, dry wit, dazzling song-writing – and one that can be so uplifting, despite its melancholic airs – should be. But however this particular chapter of the story ends make sure that Fuzzo and Brigadier Ambrose are top of your list.

The band have no live dates planned at the moment but visit the Brigadier Ambrose website for updates.

Listen to Helium, from Fuzzo


The Live & Unsigned Music Festival


If camping out in field of mud for the weekend is not your idea of a great music festival, there is a festival with a difference this year, held in London’s indigO2 at the O2 arena on July 10th is the Live & Unsigned Festival.

Why not be different this year and go along to see the unsigned band’s of the moment performing for the right to become the festival headliners of the future – see them now before they make it big and bore your mates forever with “I saw them before they had a record deal’ stories!

The Live and Unsigned Festival is an all day event, packed full of entertainment and will play host to an eclectic mix of artists – including Rock, Indie, Pop/Acoustic and Urban, so it’s packed with something for everyone.

The L&U Festival will bring together the cream of the crop of unsigned talent from across the UK – providing plenty of opportunities to dance your socks off to something other than the regurgitation of the top 40 chart.

There’ll also be a host of celebrity judges on hand to cast their eye over the bands, as the acts have all battled it out in Live Regional Heats to make it to the IndigO2 in London. Celebs confirmed to be there on the day include the legendary Slade front man Noddy Holder, Radio 1’s prime time presenter Greg James,  Urban DJ and Radio 1’s Ras Kwame, RnB mega star Shola Ama, TV star Gail Porter and many more!

A live crowd of over 2, 500 people and the celebrity judges will all be there to celebrate under the radar acts. And for those wanting to hear something familiar, there will also be performances from guest acts and DJ’s. Innovative, fresh and brimming with new music.

Tickets for festival are available from The Live & Unsigned website.

The event takes place in the indigO2 at the O2 London on July 10th. Doors open at 1.30pm.

John Peel’s Festive 50 is dead – long live the Festive 50!

The festive 50 is dead … long live the festive 50!

Now I do still remember those nights with fingers paused over the cassette deck, with the tuner tuned to the dulcet tones of John Peel in the lead up to Xmas, clicking the record button on as he perambulated through his Festive 50.

We were all safe, of course, in the knowledge that each year about 25 of John Peel’s Festive 50 would include the hallmark of Mr Mark E Smith and The Fall!

But come early January, I would be able to profusely debate the highs and lows of the years sonic adventures and their placings on Mr Peel’s chart; and with the additional bonus of getting to hear some of the unexpected and come to love them too. Of course we no longer have that pleasure and somehow, those other DJ’s don’t quite have …the knack.

So, where does the ear of the music lover go to be able to argue the toss with some other fools opinion over the best of the year?

The NME Top 50? I think not.

I’m too old and I know that the Last Shadow Puppets will be there at number 1 with Crystal Castles not far behind.  You can’t go for the dance rags… , well lets face it, there isn’t enough good dance music to fill a top 10 at the moment (honestly – do you think so? send us the proof).

The Mojo Top 50?

The Mojo top 50 will have the Last Shadow Puppets at number 1 again.  And although I’m too old for the NME , I’m not THAT old that I’d want to put a Joni Mitchell reissue in the top 10.
For me, this leaves only one source for annual music quarrelling– the Rough Trade Top 50 albums of the year.

Oh I know the top 10 will be infested with neurotic white men – but have you heard the Bon Iver ‘For Emma’? It’s a heartbreaker and can we argue with Fleet foxes at number 2?

I defy anyone to dislike the Vampire Weekend album ( well, apart from my 10 year old headbanger of a son – but then he loves My Chemical Romance!)

We also have the El Guincho and Benga albums crashing the top 10, both an absolute treat and radically different to the usual guitar led business…things get yet more interesting later in the 50, with Earth and Dengue Fever popping up.

My big surprises? What on earth are Foals doing in the last 10? Surely they managed to be a significant part of the move away from the usual English guitar sound, heralding in the opportunity to play with sound and structure a little more; and of course, everyone loves the MGMT album but don’t want everyone else  to know.

I’d also be wanting some inclusions – Kills ‘Midnight Boom’, surely the best post pub hip wriggler to slam on; No Age ‘Nouns’? No Deerhunter ‘Microcastles’?

The Rough Trade 50 best albums of 2008 list acts as a point of argument, a prompt to albums you’ve forgotten came out, a chance to reconsider your previous ill founded opinion and your chance to discover musical pastures new….now, where’s my download of the Earth album?  Anything called  ‘The Bees Made Honey in the Lions Skull’ has just got to be worth a listen or two……

Here’s my Top 10 Best Albums of the Year 2008

Bon Iver ‘For Emma’
Foals ‘Antidotes’
Flying Lotus ‘Los Angeles’
The Kills ‘Midnight Boom’
El Benga ‘Diary of an Afro Warrior’
White Denim ’ Workout Holiday’
Matthew Dear ’Body Language Mix 7’
Gang Gang Dance ‘ Saint Dymphna’
No Age ‘Nouns’
Vampire Weekend ‘S/T’
That’s my best albums of 2008.  What’s yours?

Rough Trade Albums of the Year 2008

Caribou wins Polaris Music Prize

Caribou wins Polaris Music Prize for Best Album 2008
Caribou wins Polaris Music Prize for Best Album 2008

Last night in Toronto Daniel Snaith aka Caribou won the coveted $20,000 Polaris Music Prize for his 2007 album Andorra.  Caribou now lives in London but win best Canadian album as he was born in Dundas, Ontario.

Andorra is a departure from heavily influenced electronica of previous albums such as Start Breaking My Heart and The Milk of Human Kindness. With Andorra, Caribou has produced a great album with traditional instruments and influences of sixties pop harmonies and psychedelic traces.  I can hear Brian Wilson and early Pink Floyd in amongst the deep and profound trip-pop grooves.

It is only on the very last track of the album, Niobe, that Snaith blends the Wilson-esque vocals with a more experimental electronica music that I have previously associated him with.

Once again Daniel Snaith is treading his own path.  After making a splash in the world of electronic music with such great tracks (and titles) as Dundas, Ontario, Tits & Ass, and the brilliant If Assholes Could Fly, This Place Would Be An Airport, Caribou has received the Polaris Music Prize award for a much more commerical sounding but no less brilliant album.

Andorra shows yet another side to this very talented individual; an album that really deserves commercial success to bring this wonderful music to a much wider audience.

For more information visit the Caribou MySpace page.