The Patch

February 2, 2007

Friday 2nd February

Filed under: Music & Film — Free Edinburgh Podcast @ 12:10 am

The Greatest British Band of All Time: Part Two

Well, not really. After attempting to start this article a couple of times, I’ve realised just how hard it is to describe why a band is so loved and appreciated, when really there is no definitive way to categorise or order in such a way as to truly come up with who is the Greatest British Band of All Time. In any case, it would only be my opinion as it is me writing these words here not you or anyone else, and people would probably complain and I couldn’t be bothered dealing with that. What we should all take from this though is that Queen are not the all time best, most awesome band these shores have ever produced. And Take That will be forgetten about again in 12 months. So don’t worry.

What then I have I got to entertain you loyal Patch fans this Friday? Well, a bumper edition this week sees the first proper album review as Sheffield’s latest indie posters Little Man Tate unveil their debut long player in the shape of About What You Know. Not only that, but there is also an interview with the stupendously entitled Chris Funk of The Decemberists and a look at one of the greatest films ever that is Hercules in New York. Oh, and the now legendary ‘Record of the Week’ of course. I wonder what record it is. Well, what are you doing reading this closing sentence to the introduction when you could already be on the oh so meaty main section packed to the brim with words about music and film.


Little Man Tate – About What You Know

Of all the proposed British albums that were promised to arrive in 2007, this offering was, for me, as highly anticipated as new LPs from the likes of Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse and Radiohead. Far more than just another indie band, Little Man Tate are an act of real intelligence and inegrity, who graced 2006 with a plethora of wonderfully simple yet brilliant indie pop songs such as The Agent and that joyful ode to good times that was House Party At Boothy’s. As with another well known Sheffield band, their demos were swapped around internet forums with glowing recommendations from those in the know, and many of these found their way onto my hard drive. I was blown away by what I heard then, and am somehow even more impressed by the studio cuts that have found their way onto this 12 song (well 11 + the bonus one) modern masterclass in how to make a great guitar album.

Man I Hate Your Band is the perfect opener, with its tantalising intro leading onto a well-crafted rant at the pointless scene bands that populate the British music industry. A perfect one-line sing-along chorus constructed from the title followed by a roudy outro demonstrates the simple fun aesthitic that fills this record and makes it such a joy to listen.

Other old favourites grace the track listing here as the dirty delight that is Down on Marie closes proceedings, with visits to old friends as This Girl Isn’t My Girlfriend and Court Report along the way. Lyrics are packed with witty one liners (“I thought are those great boobs or a wonderbra”) and tackle subjects like cross dressing hooligans, showing a band with a great humour and gift for creating real, interesting characters in smart pop songs.

Of the entirely new tracks, Little Big Man is probably the stand out, taking the best bits of Kaiser Chiefs and The Jam, with added hand claps and ‘ooh ooh’ chorus. The inclusion of This Must Be Love is the reason why there is no Hello Miss Lovely (So You Like My Jeans), with the thought that one slightly soppier moment was enough. It does show a softer side to the band, and unlike so many of their peers, deals with real moments and situations concerning modern romance (“You said ‘well do you love me?’/I said well I think you’re fit.”)

Who Invented These Lists is in similar vein to Bromhead’s Jacket’s Celebrityism and Just Jack’s Stars in Their Eyes and is just as cynical and clever a take on the world that Heat magazine commentates on so religously.

There’s no pretension here. There are no gimmicks. This is just a collection of big anthems that every 16-25 year old in this country will find something the relates to their own life in. Such 3 minute wonders as Sexy In Latin tell tales that could happen to anyone out there (“we stay out drinking in the park/ I walk you home after dark”) and it’s this everyman attitude that is this band’s biggest attraction.

Alex Turner may have been the one to re-invigorate the northern indie scene with his kitchen sink dramas, and while Little Man Tate may not have that insightfulness that turned Arctic Monkeys into such a phenomena, they have shown here that can write just as fantastic pop tunes as the best of them. The album every British rock ‘n’ roll band want to make. Marks off for not including The Agent though.




The Decemberists Come To Our Patch

With tales of prostitutes, murderers and vengeful mariners, The Decemberists are far more than your typical alt pop band. Articulate, entertaining lyrics combine with ambitious orchestrations that cover everything from prog rock to Jewish folk to shanties, with their latest offering The Crane Wife managing to be their most complex record yet. I managed to catch up with multi-instrumentalist, Chris Funk, to discuss what makes The Decemberists so special.


Thomas Meek: The Decemberists have built up a reputation as an entertaining and unique live band. How integral a part of The Decemberists is your ability to perform and live and create an exciting, memorable show?

Chris: Considering we tour over half the year, I’d say it’s very important. With more and more folks coming out, we don’t want to let people down. The shows are really for the fans, I mean, we already know the bits and see each other in our undies on the bus so we’re not going to learn anything new about the band the 5th month of a tour. All for you fine people, all for you.


T: Have there been any occasions where a gig hasn’t gone according to plan?

C: Nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual sickness, ill flying weather and deafening feed back that happens to us all. Sorry, no hotel O.D.s yet, touch wood.


T: Your My Space profile has described your ventures as “five wan vagabonds … playing their peculiarly styled pop music in various concert-halls and brothels.” What sort of reaction does your music receive in the latter?

C: Brothels? Can’t say I’ve ever actually been in one. Though I have a friend who works in a strip club and told me that one of his gals dances to “16 Military Wives”. Weird.


T: Where did the interest in the story of ‘The Crane Wife’ arise?

C: Children’s’ section of Wallace Books, Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.!


T: What makes a tale have special enough resonance in order for The Decemberists to write a song about it?

C: Such a nice image, the crane…and it’s really a tragedy of some sort though it’s “tale of morality” which are usually so explicit in folklore is a bit clouded, perhaps part of the attraction.


T: Do you think you’ll ever do an album based entirely on one concept, and if so what story would you like to tell?

C: Well, we did an EP called “The Tain”, which was based on the Irish tale “The Tain”. I think we are going to move away from “concepts” for a bit, but who knows. It will be 2 years before we start then next record.


T: Where do the characters that form the basis of your lyrics come from?

C: All over. Literature, movies, books…Google. Just kidding.


T: Do you have a favourite?

C: The dead ones?


T: Are there any plans for any members of the band to go beyond writing song lyrics and turn their talents to novels or short stories?

C: Well, Colin and Carson are working on some children’s books. Colin has toyed with some other formats, but it seems like music is the focus.


T: The new album shows a lot more variation and experimentation in terms of how your songs sound, and the sort of instruments your using. Did you feel the need to really push yourselves in terms of your ability for this record?

C: No. I think we just made the next record, meaning we all went into a room and just went at it. I suppose in the subconscious you are aware of what you have previously done, but that’s what makes you a band, perhaps revisiting those ideas.


T: Where can you go from here?

C: From here? Home, then to the airport, then to sunny, fair England. Perhaps Paris.


T: One of the things that sets The Decemberists apart from other bands is your attention to beautiful, traditional album artwork. Who do you get to create this visual side of your music, and is this something you feel important to keep up in the wake of digital music and demise of the traditional album?

C: It’s Carson Ellis. Sure, we think it’s important, but we don’t sit around a table like a bunch of record executives and talk about how we are going to keep the dying format of CD buying alive by adding amazing artwork to a package. I think we just are accustom to making records and the art being a part of it, and Carson has always done it, I think it’s that simple.


T: Why are hygrometers such a joy for Colin to behold?

C: So one’s guitar does not crack in dryness nor bend in over saturation.


T: Has he ever been tempted to have a go at a ‘sling psychrometer’?

C: That’s like a water witch; pure hogwash.


T: What do you think goes through a turtle’s head when they’re hiding in their shell?

C: They are listening to John Fahey’s “Voice of the Turtle” of course on their iPods, I mean, their turntables.


T: And finally, do you have a word of advice for any young bands out there? Just ‘a’ word.

C: Fun



Hercules in New York

Some films are remembered for their engaging story and script. Some are remembered for their compelling performances. Some are remembered for revolutionary direction and set pieces. Others are just remembered for being so abominably dire, hopeless and downright awful that it’s near impossible to comprehend just how it was allowed to slip through the net and have audiences able to witness its sheer dreadfulness. Guess what category Hercules in New York falls into?

The first foray into feature films for its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Arnold Strong as he is known as on the credits, is a remarkable one. For all the wrong reasons. All of them. Yet it’s what makes this film such a travesty that also turns into one of the most enjoyable movie watching experiences I’ve ever had. Introduced to its charms by some compatriots, each of which eager to proclaim just what a phenomenon in this film is to behold, I feel it is my duty to pass on this message and let the world hear of this epic tale.

The best place to start when trying to analyse this film is probably the cover of its DVD. After ripping off the £1 price tag (yes, it really was that much, and for an awfully good reason), the full joys of this astonishing artwork were to be seen. On the left is Arnold’s brooding face, full of determination, or is it despair? Only ‘Schwarzenegger’ is needed at the top to detail cast members, presumably because no other actor in this movie has worked since, their names lost to time, and shit films. An explosion is seen above New York’s night time skyline. There are no explosions in the film. And indeed no New York skyline. To entice the potential viewer, there is the spectacular blunt tag line – “It’s an adventure, in the Big Apple.” Not even a ‘big’ adventure in the Big Apple. Just a whimsy. A pleasant, dignified affair perhaps?

The plot? Well, that’s of no real significance. Needless to say, famous Greek half-God, Hercules, banished from Mt Olympus (complete with its famous railings and awfully inclement weather) finds himself in New York, via a rather eventful boat ride. How no-one in New York seems to have heard of Hercules is just one of the many mysteries that populates this film, though the biggest of which is just how can Arnold move his pecks like that, and why the hell does he do it in every scene where he has his top off (of which there are many)?

Befriended by local basket owner, Pretzie, adventures are to be found on the athletics field as Arnold shows off his muscle bound body and demonstrates just how far he can jump (a heck of a long way). Javelins are thrown, extremely wimpy looking athletes are shown up, and soon Hercules, and his biceps, are the talk of the town.

Hercules’ ways of dealing with people that irritate him – picking them up a lot, and threatening them with wooden planks – lead to a great many hilarious mishap. Yet despite these shortcomings, our hearts are warmed when romance comes the way of the Greek deity. Just how, or why, this happens is anyone’s guess, yet it’s played out so beautifully by the two leads you won’t care. Not even bears can stop this devotion

….only lazy scriptwriting and shoddy direction. As Hercules’ beau disappears from our screens with no real explanation, things go astray for the great man. His pal, Pretzie, seems doomed to alcoholism, as poetically shown by daytime Emmy nominee Arthur A. Seidelman’s direction, and dodgy deals with dodgy looking gangsters go astray.

This film has everything – love, betrayal, friendship, hope, pecks, a chariot chase across New York city. For a film with so little plot, it’s amazing how confused and aimless it actually is. Ideas and characters are thrown in with no explanation or development, and the whole thing just looks a ridiculous, sodding mess. Yet this is why I love it so. When you’re tired of thinking when watching a film, and just want to hear a badly dubbed Arnold Schwarzenegger topple giant rolls of paper onto some badly dressed gangsters, then this is the film for you. Let’s hope you love it as much as Vega Smith from Bath who is often known to scat about it being ‘the seventh be boppiest bap bap da bap best filly filly fi lo film ed dedely ever.”



Record of the Week

You Should All Be Murdered by Another Sunny Day. Why? Becuase Nadia told me to. And it’s uber ace.



Next week should maybe see a look at Straight Edge culture or my take on the Brits depending on what I feel is suitable. And something to do with films. I’ve not decided yet. Maybe a wee look at Powell and Pressburger. Oh, and the Record of the Week of course. Possibly Hired Guns as well.





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