Let’s face it. Mainstream radio is rubbish, isn’t it? Commercial radio is like an iPod on shuffle, but with only 10 songs of the same genre interspersed with ads. There are public broadcasters who are a little more interesting, certainly with the odd entertaining DJ, but they are still scared of not being “down with the kids” or of only playing well-known oldies.
The situation is saved, though, by a host of largely unpaid heroes on the internet. This is by no means an exhaustive list but those heroes include:
Keith Newman, Punky Paul and Lisa Etherton – two smutty, 50-year-old teenagers and a sex therapist, masquerading as “New Wave with Newman” on Radio Northumberland.
Diego RJ, or El Sotano who has a national, drive time FM show in Spain playing punk, power pop and garage.
Stephen Doyle on Salford City Radio, Gary Crowley on BBC Radio London and Soho Radio, Paula Frost at Way Out Radio, Mike Rogers with his Tokyo breakfast show on acid, Dave Renegade, Danny Mac, The Alternative Aycliffe Punk Radio Show ………… the list goes on and I apologise if I’ve left you off, there are so many of you. All of these presenters have a passion for music and a particular taste which makes the listener feel they are listening to a curator who loves what they play, rather than an ego with a playlist. They are, however, islands on their particular stations, isolated hours on say a Monday evening or a Tuesday afternoon.
But in Jersey City there is a whole FM radio station, funded by its listeners so it has no ads and therefore no pressure to deliver particular listener demographics and where the DJs just play whatever they like. WFMU can be heard across the whole of New York, a large part of New Jersey and online here.
And what a weird mixture it is. A bit like having a whole station of John Peels. And, like that long missed purveyor of the obscure, parts of it are unlistenable. But much of it is exciting especially if, like me, you seek good new music.
It was the saturday afternoon presenter Todd-o-phonic Todd who made our recent shows on the East Coast possible and we played a set on Evan “Funk” Davies’ Wednesday evening show. Both of these fellas have impeccable taste and are afficianados of glam, punk, garage and power pop.
Underneath the station they have a fine venue, Monty Hall, which, like the radio station, is staffed by volunteers. It has no liquor licence so people bring their own beer and as part of the service they film the whole show, edit and mix it to a professional standard and give a copy to the band. That is worth thousands of dollars to those who play there.
Here’s a couple of excerpts from our show:
So, long may WFMU continue, a bastion of the weird and individual in this increasingly uniform and corporate media world.
PS: There is a footnote to our show at Monty Hall.
The traffic from Manhatten to Jersey City is horrific. About 10 roads converge into 2 lanes as you approach the Holland Tunnel to pass under the Hudson to New Jersey in a frustrating and nervewracking crawl, hoping against hope that you’ll move forward more in the next hour than the 400 metres you managed in the last. Cops with improbably large backsides lurk as you approach junctions, happily awarding you a $100 dollar fine if you get caught inadvertently blocking the route of cars approaching in another direction. If you need to be in Jersey City at 7pm it makes sense to go there at 3pm when the traffic isn’t quite so voluminous.
So Sophie, myself and Camille Phillips (stepping in for Karen Jones who couldn’t make the trip) arrived in Jersey City at 4pm with a few hours to spare and headed for a local bar.
Without realising the effect we would have, we entered the establishment in V formation. Myself at the apex: purple/pink suit, red shoes, floral shirt. I was flanked by Sophie to my left: leather jacket, T shirt, long black hair, hot pants, black tights and Doc Martens, and to my right, Camille: leather jacket, tatoos, boots and chains.The bar fell silent. The security fellas checked the bulges in their inside, jacket pockets. From the party of older ladies having a birthday celebration in the corner we heard:
“Check the pink guy!”.
“What is he?”.
“He’s a pimp!”.
“No, he’s a gangster, stay out of his way”
“They’re the worst”
We chose a table and sat down. A very kind waitress brought over some water and placed a glass in front of Camille. As a joke I said: “She’s not allowed that!”.
“I’m so sorry, I’m really, really sorry”, said the waitress,”I promise I won’t do it again”, quickly removing the offending item. “What is she allowed to have?”, “Scotch”, I said which arrived in approximately 30 seconds flat.
So, moral of the story: if you are a shortass wimp in New Jersey and want the respect of security guards, to strike fear into the hearts of matrons and lightening quick service from terrified waitresses, dress up in pink and get yourself a posse of striking looking women.
Last week we played Bristol, Boardmasters Festival (to huge acclaim I must add) and Abertillery in the beautiful valleys of Wales. A fella called John Lovell was in Bristol and Wales. We had a chat at both shows and afterwards he sent me this review. “Please rewrite it”, he said, “and don’t mention my name”. Clearly a man of great confidence.
In fact, I enjoyed the piece which evoked the evening so much I didn’t change a word. And, as for not mentioning his name, …………. Ooops!
Here it is:
A Lunchtime Superstar and his Big Heads…
Without being labelled a stalker this was the second time I’d seen Duncan Reid and the Bigheads over the August weekend.
Abertillery met me with a greeting of typical Welsh sunshine. It was pouring down!
I eventually found The Dolls House via the satnav and surprised myself by the location and surroundings.
Houses and mountains. Loads and loads of big Welsh wet mountains with lashings of rain.
Third gig for the band and a very different view.
Bristol with all the shops and road works and, I expect, Boardmasters with sunshine and blue sea.
Paid a few quid to a guy on the door and got a nice black stamp on the back of my hand. No ticket stub to add to my memorabilia.
The venue was downstairs, a compact area with a small stage, bar, dance floor, tables and chairs at the back which the bands used as a set up for their merchandise.
Met and had time to chat to Duncan who always finds time to talk. Usually the chat is after the gig.
The first of the two support acts went on and one song didn’t half sound like Honest John Plain’s “New Guitar “…
When they completed their set, Duncan chatted about songs he had written for his forthcoming fourth Big Head record.
The second support act (Plague UK) played and that’s when it struck me that The Bigheads wouldn’t be on till way past 10pm.
I’d put some pics on facebook from Bristol with the title “First Time I’d seen Duncan Reid and the Bigheads sober”: very ambiguous.
This time we all were sober (all driving home after), and first time I’d had free drinks in a pub even if it was only soda water.
The band opened with “Can’t Stop”, straight into “Montevideo”, “Soda Pressing” and “C’est La Vie”.
Then came “Baby Doll”, ”Let’s Skip to the Good Bit”, “Thinking” and “Just Because You’re Paranoid”.. but for the love of me can’t remember the banter during the pause in “Thinking”..
They were speeding through them and it wouldn’t have been believed that they had previously played the West of England and traveled hundreds of miles.
“Rolling On” was next and there was some banter which included new lyrics featuring tequila and almost a version of rawhide!
It was hot, humid and sweaty. Duncan took his jacket off and chatted about the travels of the Welsh flag seen at many a gig.
He was going to speak some Welsh taught to him by Sophie, the non-rude translation being “I love to eat cornish cheese bell quays”. The literal translation is not fit for a family publication!
An introduction of the band members followed and somehow they all became Jones or Evans: quite apt for Abertillery.
The venue like many others is under threat from residents which seems a little unfair as the wedding party from upstairs joined in, but to the disappointment of the band, failed to bring down any food.
Looking round there were wedding guests dancing in the hall and children’s faces pressed against the doors’ glass windows.
People started to drift in after hearing the music blasting onto the street.
Not sure but maybe those living nearby opened their windows. Rain or no rain, I would have. Maybe the Bigheads saved the Doll?
“Rolling on” was followed by “Bombs Away” which saw Duncan throw in some well-rehearsed choreography moves pointing to each guitar player.
Some more “Boys” tunes followed in “Brickfield” and “First Time” which got the crowd singing and jumping, and “Terminal love”, the Old Grey Whistle Test guitar version, my favourite.
Duncan joined the crowd during “First Time” doing well to avoid the water on the floor from the air conditioning unit above the front of the stage.
After a few more it was into the encore: “That’s the Way it is”, “Shortest Song in the World” (three times), “One Night in Rio” and “Sick on You”.
One of the best performances from the band I have seen and, looking at their smiles and the body language between them all, they did as well.
At the end they looked exhausted. I took about five photos of the evening: unknown for me to take so few, and the reason why? It’s hard to snap when you’re singing and jumping.
I know they went down well with a good Welsh crowd from seeing the people round the merchandise table at the end of the gig.
They liked The Kid and hope he comes back with his Big Heads sometime in the future, and there is a future for The Dolls House.
So, a fourth album in the pipeline, the songs are gonna have to be belters to get any chance featuring in any future Big Heads sets..
Sorry Duncan you’re going to have to play the set faster or longer 😉
We have just a handful of the following shirts left so we are giving them away for the price of the post (which is about £2).
If you would like one please email email@example.com with the model and size you would like and your address. We’ll give you the amount of post to pay by PayPal and send it to you. Simple as that! There aren’t many though so get in quick.
Here they are:
Purple “Thinking”: Sizes available: XL (Now SOLD OUT), Small, Ladies Large (All Gone!), Ladies Medium (All Gone) and Ladies Small
2. Black “Thinking”: Sizes available: Small and Ladies Large (Ladies Large now SOLD OUT)
3. Black “Action”: Sizes available: Ladies Medium and Small
Looking out on a freezing London spring my mind drifts back to a day spent with my great friend, supporter and talented artist, David Apps , taking photos for the album cover of Little Big Head.
It was a cold day, then as now, and I had the bright idea of taking snaps on the Thames Clipper, a fleet of boats which pass up and down the River Thames, through the heart of London, as part of the public transport system. If you visit London the Clipper is the best few pounds you can spend. First take the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to Greenwich. This is pronounced grenitch in that illogical way that Londoners invented purely to mystify American tourists -see also Marylebone, pronounced marlibone with no Mary in it, and Madame Tussaud’s, pronounced two swords. At Greenwich wander round this historic oasis of old world charm, a rare South London survivor from the ravages of WW2, and then past the Cutty Sark, a preserved tea ship which looks like it ran aground from The Pirates of the Caribbean.
From there you’ll reach Greenwich Pier and can alight the clipper in the direction of Embankment, to partake of the best near free show in London. The Thames viewed from the river is magnificent. Best seen at night, some inspirational lighting shows off such treasures as The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and a host of other beauties too numerous to mention.
Much to the curiosity and amusement of passing tourists (“who are you?”, “What are you doing this for?”, “I love your shoes!”) Dave and I took some snaps around Greenwich, The National Theatre, and on the clipper. But the best was reserved for the jetty at Embankment.
At that casting off point on a Saturday, party boats galore take gangs of Hen Parties and Stag Dos off down the river for bacchanalian nights of drunken reverie. At about 7pm the evening had not yet started so hens were not yet mingled with stags. Rather the two were in separate groups, eyeing each other from their own territory, the boys drinking cans of beer and the girls laughing as they waited for the boat. We took some shots but by this time I was frozen right through to my eyes.
Shivering by the water, we called it a day and strolled across Trafalgar Square and up St Martin’s Lane to The 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street, previous centre of London’s Music Land. Most of Denmark Street has now been redeveloped and certainly the 12 Bar is no more. Back then it was a dark refuge for London’s rockers and home to the highest, smallest and therefore easiest to fall off stage in the world.
And so I thought: “I can’t call another city home” a line which stuck with me and grew into the song “Another City” on “The Difficult Second Album”.
For those of you blessed with Spotify you can hear the song here:
If you don’t have Spotify you can hear it on our bandcamp page HERE
One of the New Year bonuses for us has been the multitude of “best of 2017” reviews where our third album, “Bombs Away”, featured highly. Completely at random, we had the No.15 spot in Vive Le Rock’s albums of the year (total bollocks, of course: we should have been No.1 🙂 ) and even as far as New Zealand that man of taste and distinction, Steve Scanner, had us as one of his highlights (See here).
The majority of retrospectives have picked highlight tracks as “The Man on the Desk” (which I wrote about here) and “I Can Fly”, neither of which we currently play live. So: February will see us in the rehearsal studio trying both out to see if we can bring them into the set.
But in the meantime there lies a spot in France on the border with Spain at the western end of the Mediterranean, where the Pyrenean mountains tumble into the sea. There’s a Spanish flavour to the area. In the local markets you’ll find paella vans plying a brisk trade, selling take away tubs of that rich mixture of rice, saffron, chicken, seafood and chorizo. The restaurants specialise in fish grilled “a la plancha”, palm trees abound in the capital Perpignan, and the locals keep their superb wines to themselves: both sweet and dry muscats, and rich, smooth reds which are better than most wines from more famous regions.
In a place I call the garage (because it looks like one) you can take your own bottle and they’ll fill it up from a pump for three euros a litre. The same wine, if you buy it in a bottle on a supermarket shelf, will be in the expensive section for 15 euros.
The odd graffiti you come across will declare, if you can decipher the language, “We are not French, We are not Spanish, We are Catalan”. Rugby is big in the area (both Union and League) and attending a match at Perpignan (or USAP as it’s known)’s Stade Aime Giral is like being at an international. It’s “Us against the French”. They even sing the Catalan national anthem.
As you might guess by now, I go there often. As often as I can in fact. And not just physically. If I’m having a tough day, if some cad has said something nasty to poor, little sensitive me, if it’s raining and howling outside, if Nottingham Forest have once more lived down to expectations, if Rebellion have ignored my emails , if I have this damn Australian flu that’s doing the rounds and can’t think, if …………….. (you get the picture) off I fly in my mind to the land where the Tramontane blows, where the beaches merge into the horizon to the north and mountains to the south, where the colours are blood and gold, where the exiled Picasso paid for his supper by sketching on the back of cheques so that restauranteurs wouldn’t cash them, and where the days merge into a slow reverie of sun, wine and the rosemary tinged scent of the garrigue.
And so I must thank Anna Donarsky, first guitarist in the Big Heads, and now guitar tech to Ron Woods, Pete Townsend and other sundry superstars, for giving me the musical inspiration for my love song to the “Pays Catalan”. Anna provided a gorgeous, haunting bridge and chorus to which I added intro, verse, instrumental passage and, of course, lyrics.
If you have Spotify you can hear “I Can Fly” here:
The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is a gem of a venue. Perfect size, great stage, proper backstage, great city, lovely Yorkshire people: all was set fair.
We were a bit worried about playing on the first Friday after New Year. Would everybody be on dry January or skint or just recovering from the excesses of the previous week? And in truth advance sales hadn’t been great. We’d even resorted to some promotion which was demanding as there was no way Facebook was tolerating the advertising of a show including a band called The Fuckwits who, along with the witty, quirky and just generally wonderful Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies, were our support for the night.
But commeth the hour and the good folk of Yorkshire didn’t desert us. A great turnout was present as we took to the stage.
Now there’s one thing my voice seems not to be able to survive: stage smoke. Just one puff seems to be enough to remove all the moisture from my throat and leave me with a croak where my once mellifluous, seductive, uplifting, honey-dewed tones of a siren used to be. The effect is quite horrible to hear.
And as we stood ready to crash into the opening chord of Can’t Stop, first song of the show, I spied the tell tale trail of deadly, white, puffs of doom escaping from a blower above the stage, drifting toward me like The Fog in that film by John Carpenter.
And so, quite reasonably, I let out a little girly squeek of panic and leapt into the air, waving my arms about in order to grab the attention of the sound and lighting guy, the man responsible for spreading the end of the world (-well my voice anyway) across the stage.
Unfortunately, after decades of practice with a heavy Rickenbacker bass (now resplendantly purple, by the way) slung round my neck, I am rather good at jumping. And so my head went straight into the sharp corner of a pa speaker cabinet hung above the stage.
For the first time ever, after many decades of experience, I heard and saw an entire audience, in perfect unison, to a man and women, with shocked looks on their faces, say: “Ouch!”.
Karen, Nick and Sophie had similar looks (actually Nick was laughing, the heartless bastard!). “You’re bleeding”, said Karen, a vegetarian so not used to such things. I rushed into the dressing room thinking: “Shall I put a plaster on” but realised there’s very little you can make stick to your hair. The wonderful Chris Jones, promoter for the night, had left some lovely soft, white towels for us. They didn’t stay white for long.
I thought I’d stopped the bloodflow and so ran back on stage to launch into the show. Completely oblivious, I had no idea I still looked like an extra from a spaghetti western until the next day I saw this photo on Facebook, a testament to the unfaltering bravery, and never say die willingness to suffer for his art, character of your humble bass playing Big (Red) Head!
Most songwriters write about themselves, things that happen to them in their lives or people they come across. After all, what do we all know the most about? Our own lives and thoughts of course.
But I don’t know Jed Lifeson. Like so many people these days he’s just someone I came across on the internet. Not even a facebook friend, just someone on YouTube.
He’s had a hard life. Moved to Hamilton, Ontario from Serbia as a kid and hated it. The people seemed so hard, miserable and cold. It was only later he realised the only hard thing about them was their lives. They were down trodden but capable of great kindness. When Jed was near rock bottom he discovered they would treat him as a human being and lift him up.
And he had hard times. He fell into drugs and ended up in jail sleeping on concrete.
But the hardest time was when he came home to find his mother in a diabetes induced coma, on the point of death. Jed prayed that if God would allow him one last chance to tell his mum how much he loved her he would mend his ways. So when she recovered, Jed ran out into the street, dancing all the way home.
He hasn’t stopped dancing since then. He sees it as an act of positivity to brighten the days of the hard pressed folk of Hamilton. So now, he doesn’t see sad people because everyone who sees “the dancing guy of Hamilton” is smiling. And they see him dancing everywhere because that’s what he does – all the time. Waiting for the bus, at the shops, in the street: he’s dancing.
Here’s a great little film about Jed. It’s well worth taking 10 minutes to listen to Jed telling his own story much better than I can:
And have a listen to this: the song inspired by Jed’s story:
Or if you don’t have Spotify please follow this link: