December 4, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

Christmas songs that are actually worth listening to

Everyone knows that the majority of Christmas songs are awful. Properly, sickeningly awful.

Thankfully however, you can chuck out the Now That’s What I Call Christmas! CD, as it turns out that there are some hidden gems that will help you get in the festive mood without making you want to gouge your eye out with a fork and drown yourself in a boiling hot vat of mulled wine. Here are some of our favourites…

Joni Mitchell: ‘River’

Julian Casablancas: ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’

The Sonics: ‘Santa Claus’

Smith & Burrows: ‘This Ain’t New Jersey’

Kate Bush: ‘December Will Be Magic Again’

Best Coast and Wavves: ‘Something For You’

Slow Club: ‘Christmas TV’

Bob Dylan: ‘It Must Be Santa’ (ok, so this one is pretty weird to be honest…)

Have we missed any? Probably. Give us a shout and let us know: @StareAtBooks

Oh, and Merry Christmas etc…

November 24, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

Chapter and Verse – Bernard Sumner in conversation

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of the work of Bernard Sumner. From Joy Division to New Order, via Electronic and Bad Lieutenant, he’s been one of leading figures in British music for over 30 years now.

So when the chance came up to see him discuss his incredible career and brilliant new book, Chapter and Verse, we just couldn’t say no. A large crowd came along to the Tabernacle in Notting Hill to see Bernard in conversation with Ed Potton, rock and pop editor for The Times.

They covered a wide range of topics, particularly focusing on Bernard’s early career and the foundations on which the legendary Joy Division were built. Discussing his ‘austere’ upbringing in industrial Manchester, he described how his record collection had been the bright spot in his life. Rather than his music teacher at school, it was actually his geography teacher who introduced him to many new sounds and artists. If they behaved themselves, he used to let the students bring in their LPs and play them on his record player during the break that followed his lessons. If only our geography teachers had been so cool…

When Joy Division first got together, Bernard and Peter Hook, the group’s bassist, advertised in the Virgin record shop in Piccadilly to try and find a singer. After receiving lots of calls from ‘weirdos’ at all hours of the day, Bernard was quite relieved when Ian Curtis got in touch – he already knew about him and was a fan of his coat, which had the word ‘HATE’ stitched on the back. Finding a drummer was even tougher, and they developed an interesting technique for sacking those that they tried but didn’t quite fit the bill; they’d go round to his house with a box of Milk Tray and tell him that he was simply ‘too good’ for the band, claiming that they didn’t want to hold him back.

Chapter and VerseChapter and Verse (Bantam Press)

At times hilarious, at others moving, this was a fascinating 90 minutes of discussion. With topics ranging from the tragic suicide of Ian Curtis, to Joy Division and New Order’s financially reckless manager, Rob Gretton (‘He just didn’t give a shit about money…’), via the acrimonious split between Peter Hook and the rest of New Order, Bernard was a charismatic storyteller who had the whole theatre hanging on his every word. His story of corrupting poor little Johnny Marr (featuring a cameo from Seal, bizarrely) whilst promoting the Electronic album in New York was a particular highlight, and the hints that he gave about the current New Order recording sessions suggest they’re creating another classic. Credit must also go to Mr Potton too, who did a great job chairing the event.

The huge queue that formed for the book signing after the event was a testament to what a popular and influential figure Bernard is. A cracking evening with a true legend to celebrate a ruddy brilliant book, every last Joy Division and New Order fanboy in attendance went home happy.

Chapter and Verse by Bernard Sumner is out now, published by Bantam Press. It’s so good in fact, that we picked it as one of 2014’s best memoirs

November 11, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

6 top tunes from Idlewild

We’re big fans of Scottish rockers Idlewild, so it’s rather great news that they’ve just announced their first new LP in five years, Everything Ever Written. Hitting record shops in February 2015, the album will be followed by a full UK tour in March. We’ll see you at the Roundhouse.

February is still quite a while away, so in the meantime here are just a few reminders of why Idlewild are such a ruddy great band. It’s nice to have them back.

American English (from The Remote Part)

Love Steals Us From Loneliness (from Warnings/Promises)

The Bronze Medal (from 100 Broken Windows)

In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction (from The Remote Part)

No Emotion (from Make Another World)

Roseability (from 100 Broken Windows)

The new Idlewild album, Everything Ever Written, is out February 9th and is available to pre-order now. You can also catch them on their UK tour in March 2015…

idlewild tour

October 31, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

Q&A: Life on tour with a rock ‘n’ roll band

What is life on tour with a rock band really like? We wanted to find out, so had a chat with session musician and songwriter Josh Carruthers…

Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you play and who are you currently touring with?

Josh, 24, based in London, touring keyboard player for pop artist Ella Eyre. You may know her as the voice behind Rudimental’s Brit-award-winning No.1 song ‘Waiting All Night’.

Photo 1

How did you end up with this gig?

Many years of hard work playing in my own bands since the age of 13, alongside playing keyboards for a few other smaller artists. Then I guess a bit of luck; being in the right place at the right time when a friend who was asked to put together a band for a new unknown artist asked if I wanted to get involved. 18 months later it is now my full time job.

Walk us through your average day – is it all sex, drugs and rock n roll? We hope so.

We’ve spent a good majority of this year on tour so the average day on tour would be as follows: wake up early, go for a run to the nearest football stadium and take a photo (a habit I am alone on but try and keep up to stay fit), shower, lunch, soundcheck, dinner, pre-gig rituals (huddle, prayer followed by our own take on Matthew McConaughey’s chest beat chant as seen in The Wolf of Wall Street), performance, after party, bus call and set off, wake up in the next city. Repeat!

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What’s the best venue or festival you’ve played with this band?

The whole summer has been pretty crazy, so it would be hard to isolate and chose one. Highlights would definitely include performing on the Main Stage at the Isle of Wight and Parklife festivals, plus the MOBO Awards at Wembley Arena. Of course, my lifelong ambition of performing at Glastonbury Festival has to be up there too. The following day however our tour bus was involved in a collision with two other cars in Ireland, catapulting me over the upstairs lounge table and landing with a suitcase dangling precariously above my face. Luckily all involved were merely bruised, a little shaken and released from hospital in under a few hours.

Photo 2

This was the start of our ‘curse’, including the following…

  • A tyre on the bus falling off in the middle of Belgium (totally different driver) and arriving at Pukkelpop Festival for our stage time by mini bus with seconds to spare.
  • Being stranded in Ibiza because of an overbooked flight.
  • Forgotten passports by various band members and crew.
  • Realising swimming pools and mobile phones don’t mix on three separate occasions by three separate members.
  • My keyboard falling off its stand on the last song of our Sundown Festival performance, one of the biggest crowds of the summer. I somehow managed to get it back on its stand and finish the song.
  • My personal favourite: our tour bus pulled away from UK customs at 4am with one of the backing singers still inside the building in her pyjamas! Luckily we didn’t get too far before realizing.

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And have you met anyone along the way you’ve been particularly star struck by?

After playing Glasto Ella was invited back personally to Worthy Farm by Michael Eavis to perform at a party thrown by himself to thank the local residents. He spent our whole set stood about 2 feet away from my keyboard, clapping his hands and dancing away. That was quite nerve wracking! Also, performing in front of Harry Shearer from Spinal tap live on Sunday Brunch, and in front of the legend that is Lionel Ritchie on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man were pretty scary.

Photo 5

Away from this band, do you have other music projects on the go? How do you balance these with life on the road?

I’m currently working on my own project, and every day off I have I’m in the studio writing with different people. We’re about to embark on an arena Tour of the USA supporting Bastille which will take us through until the end of November with Ella, and after that we’ve been given some time off until the end of the year. The plan is to hit the studio hard and release some of my own stuff early 2015.

To keep up to date with on tour goings on and my own stuff, check out my
Twitter @JoshCarruthers_ and Instagram @joshcarruthers_

October 28, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Live reviews, Music

Gig review round-up: The Antlers and British Sea Power

Everyone loves a good gig, and we’ve been to a few recently. Here’s what we thought of them…

The Antlers at Hackney Empire

Rolling in to East London to promote their fifth full-length studio album, the excellent Familiars, The Antlers lit up the Empire with their atmospheric brand of indie rock.

Sounding something like a ruddy lovely blend of Local Natives and Sigur Rós, the Brooklyn-based three-piece (plus an extra pianist/trombonist to beef up the sound – he even played them both at the same time! Hero) barely said a word as they drifted their way through an almost flawless set. Opening with the devastatingly beautiful ‘Palace’, they played a large chunk of material from the recent LP, but dipped into their back catalogue for choice cuts such as ‘Kettering’, ‘Widows’, and a surprisingly heavy rendition of ‘I Don’t Want Love’.

photo (17)

The Empire is a properly beautiful venue, and was well-suited to hosting a band like this. The audience spent the majority of the gig in respectful silence, but the rapturous applause the band received as they made their way off stage following the main portion of the set showed how much of an impact they’d had.

They returned for a two song encore of ‘Refuge’ and ‘Epilogue’ that was perhaps even more hypnotic than what had come earlier. They’ve been on a steady rise for the past few years and, although they might be a bit too ‘weird’ to ever be a festival-headlining commercial success, The Antlers proved again that they’re a formidable live act, more than capable of replicating the exquisite sounds of their records live. If you’ve never given them a spin before, you know what to do.

Also, a shout out for the brilliant support act, singer/songwriter Marika Hackman. Having toured with the likes of Laura Marling and appeared on alt-J’s recent second album, she’s definitely one to watch.

The Antlers played:

No Widows
I Don’t Want Love
Putting the Dog to Sleep

British Sea Power ‘Sea of Brass’ at the Barbican

Cancelled due to a power cut, unfortunately. Disappointing.


September 29, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books, Music

Chapter and Verse – Bernard Sumner’s finest moments

With his bloody fantastic new autobiography, Chapter and Verse, out now, we thought it seemed like the opportune moment to celebrate the musical genius of Bernard Sumner.

Since rising to prominence as the guitarist with Joy Division in the late seventies, he’s been a pioneering figure in British music ever since. Here, in no particular order, are five of his finest moments. Go easy on us – it wasn’t easy to pick just five. Love Will Tear Us Apart isn’t even in there, for God’s sake…

1. Transmission (with Joy Division)

2. Getting Away with It (with Electronic)

3. Ceremony (with New Order)

4. Disorder (with Joy Division)

5. True Faith (with New Order)

Chapter and Verse is out now from Bantam Press. If you’ve ever cried along to Atmosphere, danced to Blue Monday, or tried to do the John Barnes rap from World in Motion, it’s an essential bit of music reading.

Chapter and Verse

September 16, 2014, Posted by Tom in Film & TV, Music

20,000 Days on Earth and 5 of the best music documentaries

20,000 Days on Earth is a ‘documentary’ following a day in the life of musician, author and general hero Nick Cave. The day covered, as the title suggests, is his 20,000th day living on Earth. Having being launched to much acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival back in January (it picked up two awards), the film receives a general UK release from the 19th of September in selected cinemas (find your nearest here). We will definitely be attending a screening, and, if you watch this trailer, we’re pretty sure you’ll want to see it too…

So this got us thinking about our favourite music documentaries. Here, in particular order, are five other superb pieces of musical film making from the last few years that you should definitely check out…

1. No Distance Left to Run (2010) – The story of Blur’s 2009 reunion tour, which culminated in the huge headline gigs at Glastonbury and Hyde Park. It’s emotional stuff…

2. Shine a Light (2008)
– Martin Scorsese documents a Rolling Stones concert from their A Bigger Bang tour, interspersed with archive footage from throughout the band’s (extremely long) history. The live footage looks amazing.

3. Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)
– The story behind LCD Soundsystem’s mammoth final gig, where they played virtually every song from their career in a huge 3-hour concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. It follow’s frontman James Murphy over a 48-hour period, as he struggles to come to terms with the closing of a huge chapter in his life.

4. Sound City (2013)
– Foo Fighters frontman/Nirvana drummer/nicest man in rock Dave Grohl makes his directoral debut in this film about the legendary Sound City recording studio in LA. It’s not just one from music geeks, we promise…

5. Made of Stone (2013)
– Shane Meadows documents the reunion of The Stone Roses, one of Manchester’s most influential bands. It’s clearly a director paying tribute to his favourite band, and is all the better for it. Cracking stuff.

What do you think of our choices? These are all from the last few years, so we haven’t gone very far back (give us a break, we were only allowed to pick five…), so let us know which ones we’ve missed: @StareAtBooks

September 3, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Live reviews, Music

Benjamin Booker live review – the night New Orleans came to London

When listening to Benjamin Booker’s (brilliant) self-titled debut album, you can only imagine the songs being performed in small, sweaty, dimly lit rooms, which is why London’s iconic 100 Club was the perfect venue for last night’s gig. It was like New Orleans had come to Oxford Street.

Sharing the stage with a drummer and bassist, Booker opened with the energetic ‘Always Waiting’ and instantly had the audience in his hand. Moving around the stage and bending his body into shapes you’d usually see in a yoga class, the signs were there that we were in for a special night.

As well as the raw, riff-heavy numbers like ‘Chippewa’ and stand-out track ‘Wicked Waters’, Booker’s lush vocals were most apparent on the beautiful and haunting ‘I Thought I Heard You Screaming’. As though he’d gurgled a bottle of Jack Daniels, Booker’s voice sounded like it was coming from someone far older than the 25-year-old on stage. You could hear a pin drop.

Closing numbers ‘Violent Shiver’ and ‘Have You Seen My Son?’ saw Booker swigging champagne, spraying it over the audience and looking like he was having the time of his life.

Speaking with him at the bar after the gig, he was a true gent and seemed genuinely humbled by the crowd’s reception. After signing an LP and planting a smacker on Mrs Stare at Books’ cheek, we left knowing we’d seen a future star. Watch this space.

Benjamin Booker’s self-titled debut album is out now. For a full list of  remaining tour dates visit his website.