Tuesday, 2 May 2017


It's an incredible story - Welsh Punk band, Foreign Legion have been around now for decades and are a much respected part of the independent music scene - as a collective unit the band first drew breath in 1984 and have remained fiercely independent ever since - not for them the interference of a major label....They have their own vision and they stick to it. That's something that deserves  respect.

They continue to gig regularly and over the years have built up an impressive fan base, as well as the odd stalker or two. Vocalist, Marcus Howells told me of one particular fan who inspired the track, Stalker on the Light at the end of the Tunnel album -

'When you've got a bird phoning you a hundred times a day, throwing stones at your window, following you everywhere. Nutcase.'
Marcus Howells - stalkers beware

Stalker, stalker.
She's stalking me.

Over the years the band have gigged around the world, and have shared the stage with some legendary names - Stiff Little Fingers, The Ruts, GBH, Cockney Rejects. They are the only Welsh band to play the legendary CBGB in New York and have given storming shows at many festivals including the likes of Back On The Streets, Punk & Disorderly and the Rebellion Festival. They are also no strangers to the legendary 100 Club, and have torn up the venue many times.

Foreign Legion were formed in 1984 out of the ashes of several other punk projects, and are very much a product of both their environment and times. Hailing from Merthyr in the South Wales Valleys the young band were there; witnesses to the great industrial battles of the 80's - the miners' strike of 1984 obviously colours their world view and it's a view that this writer very much agrees with. I come from the Rhondda Valleys which is now part of the same unitary boundaries as Merthyr and like the band's valleys my own has been forgotten and ignored by politicians. Those same politicians who took all of the wealth out of the valleys - these days the valleys are run down but the people remain strong, defiant and angry...there is, it seems, a light at the end of the tunnel.

'Valleys had no future Maggie no jobs run down etc but the people keep going heads up not down.'
Foreign Legion...fucking angry
Marcus Howells

 The lyrics are typically political and angry...boy, are they angry. But then how could not be? Foreign Legion are the real deal - there's no false posturing here. They mean every word they say, and they are all the better for it.

The album opens with a storming guitar driven track - Jenny. It's a great place to start, a catchy anthem-type song which is followed up by, What A Place to Be. There's a lot of melody amongst the power chords and expertly delivered vocals. Then we have, what is a stand out track for me - the excellent Regenerations (Council List) sticks it to the man in a way that had me punching the air in delight. This song is followed by My Radio which features a stunning bass introduction. This powerful first side ends with Hey Girl followed by George Best. The latter track reminded me of early Clash and I mean that as a compliment.

Onto side 2 - turn over that neat looking green vinyl with the red splatter effect. We're into the aforementioned, Stalker which is a throwaway track but one with substance and a driving beat. Maybe more poppy than anything else on the album, but it's power pop along the lines of Green Day and Blink 182. Next up is Market Trader, which is again a stand out track and speaks of the decline of UK towns. The bass hook on this track is absolutely addictive. Three Years follows and this is an uncompromising track that attacks paedophiles and the light sentences handed down by the law. It's an uncomforable track to listen to but then given the subject matter maybe that's the point. Miners follows - subtitled, The Father's Sacrifice the song plays tribute to the working men who shaped the valleys. Next up is Drunken Heroes - a punk anthem that once again displays the fact that the band are the real thing. The album ends with, Pheonix From The Flame and the song is a statement of intent that firmly places the band as spokesmen for a lost generation.

Light at the end of the Tunnel then is a brilliant album that deserves your support - if you like Indie music then go to the band's Facebook page where you will find links to purchase their music and keep the music alive - https://www.facebook.com/Foreign-Legion-149893361856696/

I'd also recommend the latest album from the band, Always Working Class...support indie music, together we are legion.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Great Record store day Swindle

It started off as a great idea - Record Store Day started in 2007 in order to get people into physical record stores. Each year the day is celebrated with limited releases, only available on that day, and has been a resounding success. However there is a dark side and recent years have seen people who never visited a record store throughout the year standing outside stores all night, snapping up the limited edition, and then fleecing the fans on online auction sites such as eBay.

This year, yesterday in fact, April 4th, record store day saw a limited amount of 45 singles of penny lane and Strawberry Fields issued - these are already turning up on eBay for upwards of £50.

Way back in 2014 Paul Weller said he would never again be involved in record store day because of the touts and Beatles producer Giles Martin hinted on Twitter that he wants to try and get this year's  RSD release of Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields available for everyone.

It’s such a shame because as you know I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting and goes against the whole philosophy of RSD. It only takes a few to spoil a wonderful concept for everyone else. Shame on those touts.” Paul Weller

There have also been reports on Twitter of record stores holding back on these special items and then selling them on eBay for a fortune...Record Store day has indeed become a disgrace.

The incredible rebirth of Vinyl

More than 3.2 million records were sold in 2016, a rise of 53% on the previous year, according to the BPI, which represents the music industry. BBC News

More than 3.2m LPs were sold last year, a rise of 53% on last year and the highest number since 1991 when Simply Red’s Stars was the bestselling album. This was also the first year that spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads.  The Independent

In comparison to recent years, vinyl has made a significant surge, clawing back from what seemed like extinction. With a 52 percent increase in vinyl purchase in 2014, hitting the highest number of sales since 1991, it seemed clear that vinyl was poised to make a comeback as a common means of music consumption. Huffington Post

I grew up with vinyl being the main format for music consumption - I think I was around ten years of age when I had a small Dansette type record player for Christmas. I can still remember the three albums I had with it - one was that perennial favourite Elvis Christmas Album, and the other two were tribute albums by artists whose names are long lost to me. One was some guy doing the best known songs of Elvis Presley and the other was some band covering Beatle hits. Back in those days records were expensive and my parents were never the hippest of cats - they would have no doubt figured these albums were super,fab,gear,groovy and like those cheap Hallmark Top of the Pops albums, music covered by non original artists was a thriving industry.

You know what I played each of those records to death, and no doubt that Beatle cover album likely had something to do with the beginnings of my life long obsession for the fabs. And don't even mention those cheap and tacky Top of the Pops albums, usually sold in Woolworths and John Menzies. These days those albums are hugely sought after by collectors.

I though kind of ignored those albums as I got more and more interested in music - during the mid Seventies I fell for the punk explosion in a big way, and all my pocket money was spent in Wendy's Record Shop in Tonyrefail - a shop now long gone. I wonder what  ever happened to Wendy? There's a song title that would fit wonderfully on one of those Top of the Pops albums.

Fast forward to the late 1980's - a time of rampant consumerism, industrial disputes and putting old records in the rubbish bin. Or, even more fun, using them as quite deadly frisbees.

Now during the late 80's/early 90's I, like everyone else, fell for the con that was compact disc - 'they sounded better than vinyl', we were told - 'they were indestructable', we were informed.  And CD quickly became the biggest selling format for music while vinyl was consigned largely to the history books, loved by only a small number of audiophiles who were mocked when they said, 'Wait, CD doesn't sound as good as vinyl'  However these cro-Magnon hipsters were right all along. Vinyl pisses all over digital music, whatever the format.

 It is not CD that has made a comeback in the age of digital downloads and streaming. Nope it's vinyl and in 2017 the format is looking healthier than ever.

A couple of years ago my kids bought me a copy of Sgt Peppers on 180g vinyl - now I already had that album but not on vinyl. And holding the record I felt the years falling away, so yeah nostalgia may be a part of the new found love for vinyl. I couldn't play it, mind. I didn't have a record player. And so I went out and bought a turntable and amp and gradually the vinyl collecting fever overtook me and now fast forward to early 2017 and my vinyl collection numbers a couple of hundred (with more being added weekly) and I've spent far more than I should have on good equipment to play my records. But you know what - I'm actually listening to music again, I mean really listening not just humming along to reconstructed bits and bytes.

There is a tactile quality to vinyl records...They are large, you can hold them.In this day and age where everything has gone digital, people are kind of pushing back against that a little bit. A record seems much more real than a digital file.

Recent figures show that during the first quarter of 2017 vinyl sales have outstripped digital downloads. This is good news for us Vinyl fans.

There is definitely something appealing about holding the album in your hand. The sleeve art really comes into its own with the larger format. Often albums come with gate-fold sleeves containing all manner of information from lyrics to recording information. That in itself is so much nicer than a digital file which, when all is said and done, has no more substance than fresh air.But I firmly believe that the main benefit of vinyl is that the music just sound so much warmer, much more real. With a good system the separation between instruments is much more apparent, the vocals sweeter or rougher depending on the music itself.

Vinyl offers a richer sound than downloadable digital songs, which although hiss-free lack the 'warmth' of vinyl records. There is also the satisfaction of owning a beautifully packaged artifact. And there's a certain coolness in the rejection of the sprawling, multi-tentacled reach of the digital world.

Vinyl is more expensive than digital and takes effort to play - good art deserves a little effort.

Vinyl rocks baby, and don't you forget it.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Station to Station David Bowie Review

Starting off with the sound of a train moving from one channel to the other until the soundscape fills the surroundings, we're into the epic Station to Station, a 10 minute long track with a rhythm that sounds like a death march over which Bowie croons, 'The return of the thin white duke throwing darts in lovers eyes.'. It's a startling opening to a truly startling album.

Side 1
Station to Station
Golden Years
Word on a Wing

Side 2
Wild is the Wind

The European canon is here -  the opening track mutates into a full on kruat-rocker at around the five minute mark. That this brilliant opening track doesn't overshadow the rest of the album is testamount to who good this platter is.

Golden Years follows and this is an immediately catchy track with a disco vibe and Bowie's vocals seem to twist and merge with the electronic soundscape of the vibe. The song was a big hit in both the UK and US and remains one of Bowie's best known tracks.

We're then into the first of two big ballads with Word on the Wing.

'In this age of grand illusion'

Side 2 kicks off with TVC15, a jet propelled rocker with insanely delivered backing vocals. Apparantly the  track was inspired by an episode in which Iggy Pop, during a drug-fuelled period at Bowie's LA home, hallucinated and believed the television set was swallowing his girlfriend.

Next track, Stay sees Bowie back into his funk persona so evident on previous album, Young Americans and then we're into the epic length ballad, Wild is the Wind - made famous by Nina Simone, Bowie evokes Sinatra for his truly remarkable vocal performance.

Bowie's backing band are electric throughout (no wonder he kept them for subsequent albums) and they never balk at the challenge of following the front man's lead, even getting ahead of him several times.

Bowie may have recorded far more popular albums but few are as enigmatic and fearless as this truly essential creation.